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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: 2007

Stardust (2007)

Better than Goldust’s brother.

Tristan (Charlie Cox), a young man from the town of Wall, a small, quaint and lovely little town on the border of Stormhold, a magical kingdom where all sorts of crazy things happen. To hopefully win the heart and the hand of his girlfriend Victoria (Selma Miller), Tristan enters the magical world to collect a fallen star, in hopes that he’ll obviously win her over, but prove that he is quite the man that he always thought he could be. After little issues here and there, Tristan eventually collects the star who, to his surprise, is a woman named Yvaine (Claire Daines). However, Tristan isn’t the only one who’s looking for Yvaine; numerous witches, Kings, Queens, Princes, and Princesses also want this star and will do anything to get it, by any means. So now, Tristan’s job just got a whole lot harder. Not to mention that he and Yvaine, while initially not being able to get along with one another at all, start to see each other as equals and even, well, connect. In possibly more ways than Tristan has been able to ever do with his possible future-wife.

A pretty hot star.

Matthew Vaughn is probably the perfect director for a Neil Gaiman book, because no matter how strange, or action-packed, or even tense things get, Vaughn remembers not to take everything all that seriously. Meaning that we do get a lot of jokes aimed at the material, but it’s also very funny in the same way that the Princess Bride was – it respects the fantasy-genre up until the point of where it realizes how ridiculous it truly is. That’s a lot of Gaiman’s material and while there’s been plenty of attempts at recreating the same kind of odd-style that he has, Vaughn’s perhaps the closest one to achieving that.

And yes, it also helps that the movie is buckets of fun, reminding us that, when he isn’t trading quips and smart-ass remarks, Vaughn knows how to keep the action moving and exciting. Cause Stardust is a little over two-hours and about a bunch of silly witches and knights battling it out for a star, it can be a bit too much to ask for a non-lover of the fantasy genre. And yes, I am one of them.

However, Stardust is a much different tune.

It’s in on its own joke, it never really relies too much on exposition, or world-building, or certain other tricks and trades of these kinds of stories that can tend to make them a bit annoying. The story itself is already pretty straightforward and thankfully, Vaughn doesn’t try to over-complicate things; he keeps it simple, effective and most importantly, fun. He could have done anything he wanted with this movie and I wouldn’t have cared, because he knows how to keep it fun, even when you least expect it to remain as such.

That’s Michelle Pfeiffer? Uh. Yeah. Time has not done well for her.

And a whole bunch of that fun extends to the cast, too, who are, as expected, game for this kind of silly material. Charlie Cox, in a pre-Daredevil role, shows a great deal of charm as Tristan, a dork-of-a-man who we like right from the get-go and sort of stand-by, no matter where he goes, or what he does. Claire Danes is also quite great as Yvaine, the star with a whole butt-load of personality. Danes knows how to make this wacky material work and come-off not so wacky, and yes, her and Cox have a neat little bit of chemistry that transcends most other movies that are just like this.

In that we actually care and want them to get together in the end.

The rest of the cast is, thankfully, having a ball here. Michelle Pfeiffer shows up as the main evil witch, vamping it up and having an absolute ball; Robert De Niro may seem out-of-place, initially, as a pirate, but really blends in with this goofy-world; Mark Strong is, as usual, charming and a lot of fun as Prince Septimus, Tristan’s ultimate foe; and well, there’s plenty more where that came from. The real joy is just getting a chance to see everyone here show up, have a good time, and not make us feel like we aren’t involved with it, either.

We are and that’s the greatest joy of all.

Consensus: Despite its silliness, Stardust wears its heart and soul on its sleeve, with a fun and exciting pace, matched by an even more charming ensemble.

8 / 10

There were a lot of Italian pirates back in those days, people! Come on!

Photos Courtesy of: Paramount Pictures

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Year of the Dog (2007)

Save the animals. Don’t save yourself.

Peggy (Molly Shannon) seems to have a pretty normal and relatively safe life going for her. She’s surrounded by friends and family, as well as her beloved beagle that she cares for each and every chance she gets. She’s not married and doesn’t have any kids of her own, so basically, it’s her one and only responsibility. But after the beagle dies, Peggy soon begins to look for all sorts of ways to fill the void in her life. This leads her to getting involved with people she doesn’t quite care for, watching over her friends’ kids, and also doing other monotonous tasks that only a person in the sort of funk she’s in, would ever be bothered with. But then, Peggy gets the grand idea: “Save” all of the dogs in the world. Meaning, it’s time that she doesn’t just adopt one dog, or hell, even two, but maybe like, I don’t know, 15 at a time. Why, though? Is it grief? Or is just because Peggy literally wants to save every dog in the world and believes that she can, slowly by surely, dog-by-dog?

That’s how it all starts: With just one dog.

One of the great things about Mike White and his writing is that no matter how zany, or silly, or downright wacky his characters and their stories can get, he always has a certain love and respect that never seems to go away. In the case of the Year of the Dog, with Peggy, we see a generally goofy, sad, lonely little woman who seems like she could easily just be the punchline to every joke. And, for awhile at least, that’s what she is; Year of the Dog is the kind of movie that likes to poke fun at its main protagonist, while also realizing that there are people out there in the real world just like her and rather than making fun, maybe we should just accept them.

While, of course, also making jokes at their expense.

But still, that’s why White’s writing is so good here – he knows how to develop this character in small, interesting and actual funny ways, without ever seeming like he’s trying too hard. The comedy can verge on being “cringe”, but in a way, White actually dials it back enough to where we get a sense for the languid pacing and it actually works. We begin to realize that the movie isn’t really as slow, as much as it’s just taking its time, allowing us to see certain aspects of Peggy’s life and those around her.

Hey, guys! Here’s Peter Sarsgaard playing a normal human being! Wow!

It also helps give us more time to pay close-attention to Molly Shannon’s great work as Peggy, once again showing us why she’s one of the more underrated SNL talents to ever come around. It’s odd because when she was on that show, Shannon was mostly known for being over-the-top and crazy, but in almost everything that she’s touched since, including this, the roles have mostly stayed down-played and silent. You can almost sense that she’s maybe trying to prove a point, but you can also tell that she’s just genuinely trying to give herself a challenge as an actress and show the whole world what she can do.

And as Peggy, she does a lot, without it ever seeming like it. It’s a very small, subtle performance, but there’s a lot to watch here, what with the character’s constant quirks and oddities, making her actually a very compelling presence on the screen. We don’t know what she’s going to do next, or to whom, and for that, she’s always watchable and constantly keeping this movie interesting, even when it seems like nothing is happening.

But that’s sort of the beauty about a Mike White film: Nothing seems as if it’s happening, but in a way, everything is.

Consensus: With a solid lead performance from Shannon, Year of the Dog gets by despite some odd quirks, but also remembers to keep its heart and humor.

7 / 10

I think everyone aspires to have this car, with all these same types of furry friends in it.

Photos Courtesy of: Plan B Entertainment

My Kid Could Paint That (2007)

Hey, I’ve never seen Da Vinci paint, so who knows if he really did it?

Ever since she was a little girl, Marla Olmstead watched her dad paint. So, at age four, she decided to take up the hobby and wouldn’t you know it? The little gal had some skills! While her paintings may have been random shapes, sizes, colors, and ideas, for some reason, the art world took notice; her age was a huge factor in her popularity, but also because the art world likes expressionistic paintings, like the ones she created, and embraced them no matter who they came from. Eventually, the rest of the world was taking notice to Marla and her extreme talent, which, as expected, led to a lot of praise, but at the same time, questions. After a 60 Minutes piece goes live on-air, Marla’s paintings are question and discussed as to whether or not she actually did paint them, or simply put, just acted and said that she did, so that the paintings could get sold to the highest-bidder? Or possibly, perhaps, she did do the paintings, but maybe not to the fullest-extent that the world was lead to believe? Meanwhile, it’s her parents, Mark and Laura, who seem to be in the spotlight more and more, due to their possible assistance in these profitable creations.

Suckers!

It’s hard to totally talk about My Kid Could Paint That without really getting down to what your own personal thoughts and beliefs on this actual controversy is. The movie itself, for the first-half, is actually pretty boring and feels like nothing more than a lame, amateurish student-project that probably would have been better suited as a ten-minute special for TV, rather than a half-hour puff-piece about this little girl who can create some surprisingly detailed paintings. It’s as if director Amir Bar-Lev couldn’t believe it himself that she could paint all of this stuff, and wanted to be there first and foremost, see what all the fuss was about. Even if you don’t believe she did any of the paintings, the first-half is still a bore, not because you’re waiting for the ax to drop and questions to arise, but because it just seems so one-note and repetitive, that it can’t help but feel like a slog.

Then, it all changes and all of a sudden, the first-half makes sense.

See, for Bar-Lev, it seems like the first-half is mostly used as a way to introduce us to these people, their personalities, and just exactly what he saw, when he first started to film the movie. It’s not as if he’s saying that these people are great, or deserve to be adored, but more or less, seen as possible human beings, right before the world gets an idea of who they are and whether or not they are building up some sort of scam. It’s brave that Bar-Lev continued on with the project when, just about halfway through filming, everything starts to crumble for both the subjects, as well as him, but it’s even braver that he didn’t seemed to get swamped-up into everything.

See, My Kid Could Paint That could have been, and possibly, even should have been, a total and complete hatchet-job on Marla and the family that possibly used her for their own self-worth. Whether or not you believe she did these paintings, doesn’t quite matter once the answers seemed to be brought up, but Bar-Lev, for his part at least, tries to stay as neutral as can be; he never passes all that much judgement on what he thinks to be true, and even when he does, it’s with such kindness and courtesy that you know he even feels bad saying anything.

But once again, the movie isn’t just about the paintings, first and foremost. Sure, the movie is about who made these paintings and what constitutes and actual artist, but it’s also about the art world itself and whether or not a world that lives and breaths on lies and deception, can honestly be sympathized with, when it’s tooled with. Maybe Marla did the paintings? Or maybe she didn’t? Either way, the art world looked upset and pissed-off, and in ways, isn’t there something to be said for that, regardless of who created said paintings in the first place?

Can’t hide from shame, people!

Most definitely.

But then again, it’s also why Bar-Lev is a smart enough film-maker to make My Kid Could Paint That about so much more than the art world, and whether or not Marla created these paintings. There are certain twists and turns that you don’t see coming, but all seem natural in the day-to-day life. For example, Bar-Lev doesn’t just simply tell us what to believe is actually real, or isn’t, who’s lying, or who isn’t, but more or less, keeps the camera on these people as they talk and try to explain themselves. It’s simple film-making, for sure, but it can be quite effective, especially when you have such a hot-button topic as this, with people who couldn’t be more ambiguous as to what the truth is, or isn’t.

Once again, whether or not Marla did these paintings, almost doesn’t matter. It’s the idea of something like this happening that’s probably more compelling and it’s why Bar-Lev deserves praise. He caught something in the knick of time, but rather than jumping on it and going all bananas, seemed to cool himself down and remember that there’s something more beneath what is just seen on the canvas.

Consensus: Despite a slow start, My Kid Could Paint That gets more compelling once its actual story comes into focus, where more and more questions seem to get asked, without clear, definitive answers made all that known to us.

8 / 10

Sorry, kid. Stick to circles.

Photos Courtesy of: True Films

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Eye for an eye. Literally.

Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), editor-in-chief of French fashion magazine Elle, lived a pretty momentous and happy life until he was 43, where he, all of a sudden, suffered a massive-stroke. But his stroke was perhaps the most unique and rare of all time, as the damage to his brain stem results in locked-in syndrome. Meaning, he was practically a vegetable, left for dead, couldn’t move any part of his body, except for one key part: His left eye. Once again, it was a rare case of a stroke, so obviously, no one really knew what to do – the doctors were constantly studying him and figuring out ways to hold conversations with him, which mostly just led to him blinking a lot and getting frustrated. But through it all, Bauby himself kept something of a journal, detailing his inner-most thoughts, his anger, his rage, and eventually, giving a voice to himself, when he couldn’t even mutter a word.

“Books. Remember?”

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly gets by, for quite some time, on the fact that it’s got this unique and ridiculously odd premise, and works despite itself. Seeing as how the movie is taking place from Bauby’s point-of-view, and considering that this is his story mostly after he suffers the stroke, it only makes sense that the movie take place in his head, where we see everything he sees, hear everything he hears, and, well, not really, but sort of feel what he feels, right?

Well, yeah, kinda. And surprisingly, it works.

Director Julian Schnabel takes a risk here in putting us inside the head and mind of Bauby, where we see just what he sees for at least the first hour or so. It’s actually quite mind-boggling how long Schnabel goes with this gimmick, but surprisingly, it never gets old, or grows tired, like so many other camera-gimmicks of the same nature would have; if anything, it makes us feel closer to this subject and have us grow more sympathetic to him, over time. Sure, it may not have been all that hard to do in the first place, but still, it deserves to be said that the gimmick taken on here, pays-off and honestly, could have gone on the whole time.

Because unfortunately, it doesn’t and eventually, Schnabel, out of fear that the audience may get bored, decides to switch it up to more conventional film-making, where we get everyone else’s stories, start to get flashbacks, and of course, see Bauby, both before and after the stroke. Does it still work? Yeah, it actually kind of does. There’s always something interesting and compelling about these stories in which a person literally has all the time in the world to think about their lives, the mistakes they’ve made, the decisions they should have done, the people they’ve hurt, the ones that they’ve loved, etc., and Bauby’s no exception. It helps that the writing is sharp, too, in that we Bauby himself never loses a comedic-edge to the absolute piece of crap he has been handed, making him, of course, more likable, as the film progresses.

“Papa? We do not look alike at all.”

But does it have the same effect?

Unfortunately, no.

See, there’s only so much you can do with your film when you decide to abandon a gimmick more than half-way through, especially when the gimmick was already working heavily in your favor. An odd example of this happening elsewhere is in REC 3: Génesis, where, like the two movies before it, is filmed in the trademark, found-footage style, and, like in those two other movies, still works and is perhaps even creepier. But then, out of nowhere, it abandons this and becomes a traditionally-shot film that’s like any other horror film. Was it a risky move? Yep. Did it ruin the movie? Not really, because it still stayed tense. But did it have the same chilling effect as the first two movies, or better yet, the first-half?

Nope, not really. And that’s what happens with the Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

The story is still there and compelling, but it also feels like a wasted opportunity to really go deeper and further with this gimmick. Some may have been especially happy that the film switches gears about more than halfway through and started to introduce a more ordinary style of film-making, which is understandable, but to me, it felt like a cheap back-away from really sticking to itself in telling the story, the way it probably should have been told. I can’t speak on Bauby’s behalf whether he’d be happy about it, either, but hey, maybe he would have.

He seemed to have liked the artistic, more creative side of the world before, well, you know.

Consensus: Instantly smart, original, inventive, and altogether, compelling, the Diving Bell and the Butterfly maintains emotion throughout its two hours, even if it does flutter a bit when it surprisingly switches gears some time around the middle.

8.5 / 10

Uh yeah. Just kill me now. Thanks. Bye.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Reservation Road (2007)

Still though, those little bastards gotta hurry their asses up off those buses!

Ethan and Grace Lerner (Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly) are more than happy with the way things have been going for their lives, but all of that happiness ends when their son gets killed in a hit-and-run accident. Even worse, the person in the car (Mark Ruffalo) who caused it, knows who they are, is still stuck with the guilt, and has yet to fess-up to what he’s done. That’s when Ethan decides to take matters into his own hands and figure out just who the hell is responsible for all of this pain and misery that has been inflicted on him and his family.

Even though the idea of watching a bunch of people go through grief and suffer through pain and agony doesn’t sound like the most exciting bit of an-hour-and-a-half I’d like to spend, you can never, ever go wrong with a cast like this. People know Phoenix to be the type of guy who takes rich and hearty-material that challenges himself, Ruffalo is always a guy that’s capable of taking anything the world throws at him and make it totally and completely work in his favor, and having Sorvino and Connelly round things out ain’t so shabby, either. So, the big question on your mind may be, “How the hell did all of this go wrong?”

My answer? “Script, man. Script.”

The main problem with this script is that even though it does pay attention to the problems its characters face on a day-to-day basis when it comes to dealing with their own levels of grief, the movie still feels the need to rush things up and make this almost like a type of thriller. That sounds all fine and dandy for people who want more than just a character-based story and want some action and excitement to go along with their tears and heavy-grieving, but for a movie like this where we essentially know what happened, who did what, and what the only way to end this could be, it’s a little silly and not all that thrilling. We know who killed the kid, who’s responsible, where this could go, and that this can only end in two ways, either death or imprisonment  so what the hell is all of the tension supposed to be there for?

Pictured: A guy who just got done thinking.

“Damn. Paparazzi.”

And it’s odd, because the tension in this movie is supposed to lie in the fact that everything this driver goes through in life, always has him ending up in one way or another, connecting with the kid’s family. For example, his ex-wife just so happens to be the kid’s sister’s music teacher that is totally superfluous to the plot, except to only include the always wonderful Mira Sorvino (more on her in a bit). Then, it gets even worse when Ethan decides to take the investigation into his own hands and get lawyers involved and in case you couldn’t tell where this is going, get ready, because guess what? The man who killed Ethan’s son, just so happens to be that lawyer he asks for help.

Shocked yet?

Anyway yeah, this movie is just chock full of coincidence-after-coincidence and they don’t seem to serve any other purpose to this story, other than to keep the audiences minds awake for when the flick decides to actually focus in on its characters. You could also argue that the flick only added in those thriller-elements to appeal to a larger-audience that wouldn’t really feel the need to venture out to some movie about a bunch of people crying and being sad all of the time, and if that is the case, well then that’s a damn shame because there is a lot of promise for this type of material to work, regardless of if it’s a mainstream, or indie production.

But regardless, it almost shouldn’t matter when you have a cast like this, because they’re supposed to be able to do no wrong. And that sort of happens, but not really. Joaquin Phoenix may seem a tad miscast at first as the grieving simpleton father of a suburban-family, but shows us differently when he unleashes those raw and honest emotions we always see in each and every one of his performances. You feel bad for the guy and you just want to give him a hug and tap on the back, whispering into his ear that “everything’s going to be alright.” It’s not Phoenix’s most daring role, but it was a true sign that he could play a normal, everyday dude.

Pictured: Sad actors

Pictured: Sad Actors

The same can definitely be said for Mark Ruffalo who never seems to phone-in a performance, no matter how crappy the movie may be, which is what happens here. Ruffalo is great as the driver that kills this boy and runs away without getting caught, because he makes you feel something for the guy, even though he is totally in the wrong, through-and-through. You can sort of see why a guy like him would run away from the punishment of being arrested, but after awhile, it does start to get a bit ridiculous that it hides this all for so long, and for all of the reasons that he apparently has to himself, as well. Still, Ruffalo prevails and shows why you can give him anything, and he can make it work.

Jennifer Connelly is simply used here to be another grieving character of the whole movie and does that very well. Connelly is always good in what she does and that’s why it’s so weird to barely see her around anymore, but it should always be noted that she’s a good actress, when the material is there. It’s sort of here for her, and sort of not, so it’s hard to fully judge her.

Oh and yeah, I previously mentioned Mira Sorvino and it isn’t because she does anything simply out-of-this-world with this movie (mainly because she isn’t given much to work with in the first place), but, without any type of spoilers or giving-away major plot-points (like it really matters), there’s this one scene with her and Ruffalo that is probably the most endearing and emotionally-truthful out of the whole movie, and it really took me by surprise. Rarely does this movie ever talk about how Sorvino’s and Ruffalo’s character used to be married and a loving-couple with one another, other than when they yell, fight, and argue with one other, but that one scene, that one moment between these two, not only made this movie just a tad better, but made me feel like there could have been so much more had they just dropped the whole death-of-the-kid angle and even went so far as to focus on Ruffalo’s character trying to actually get through the divorce and make ends meet. Sure, it’s not the movie we got, but man, I imagine wonders could have been made going down this road, especially with the always dependable Sorvino who, like Connelly, needs to be in more.

Much, much more. Come on, Hollywood!

Consensus: Even with a solid cast on-deck, Reservation Road can’t get its head together quick enough to where it fully works as a small drama about sadness and grief, or as a nail-biting thriller.

5 / 10

I guess he's going to start taking after his kid. Hayyoh! Okay, I'm done.

I guess he’s going to start taking after his kid now. Hayyoh! Okay, I’m done.

Photos Courtesy of: Focus Features

Into the Wild (2007)

Run away. Far, far away. And piss off everyone you ever knew.

After graduating as a top student at Emory, Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) decides to, essentially, throw any idea of a career away. His very wealthy parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) cannot believe this, but they don’t have enough time to digest it all, what with Christopher literally being out on the road the next day, on his way to the Alaskan wilderness. Christopher doesn’t bring much with him, as he leaves mostly everything back in his house, with the exception of money, his backpack, and oh yeah, most importantly, his notebook. While on the road, Chris meets all sorts of wacky and wonderful characters, all of whom make some sort of a difference on Chris’s life, showing that he may truly have something to live for and above all else, may want to get back into society once he has completed his self-fulfilling mission. But, that may not happen for Chris, as he’s already risking life and death in the first place, while everyone back at home clamors wondering just when he’s going to come home, if ever again.

Be one with birds.

Into the Wild is probably the best film Sean Penn has, or ever will, make in his career. It’s the kind of movie that you don’t expect to work, especially not from an actor-turned-writer/director who has something of a shoddy, relatively fine filmography in the first place. There’s a certain bro-y attitude to Penn, the person, that makes him perfect for this material, but also not; to approach McCandless’ the right way, you sort of have to keep an objective view, never letting your own thoughts or opinions, as a storyteller, shine through.

And of course, it helps that the man himself wrote everything down while he was on this never ending trip of his, therefore, it appears as if we are literally watching him go from one adventure, to another. There’s no clear sign that Penn is trying to say how great it is that he got the chance to just let it all go and soak up the scenery, nor is there a clear sign in him saying that it was a terrible decision for the man to make in the first place, for all of those involved who weren’t him; in a way, Penn leaves it all up to us to decide, while he shows us both sides of the argument. Sure, it was great that he got to see the world and really couldn’t have given a crap about material things in life that waited for him back at home, but at the same time, he really did just get up and leave one day, without ever really telling anyone of where he was headed, when he’d be back, or what his reasons were.

In other words, he’s a bit of an a-hole.

But Into the Wild does work because it doesn’t always portray him as such, or if at all, during certain times. Mostly, McCandless remains something of a blank slate that has enough personality to matter to this story, but it’s really all about those that he meets on this wild and crazy adventure, mostly all of whom are exciting and charming to watch, bringing a little something extra to this journey. Vince Vaughn gets a chance to shed some dramatic-muscles as Wayne, a dude who gives Chris a job for a short time and may have something tricky up his sleeve; Catherine Keener is sweet as an older-gal who’s finding it hard to connect with her husband; Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt, despite playing types, also show some more heart and emotion to said types; Jena Malone plays the sister back at-home who knows and trusts her brother enough to take on this situation with a smile on her face; Kristen Stewart shows up late in the game as a possible love-interest for Chris and shows him that there truly is something beautiful to life; and Hal Hollbrook, in what has to be the most heartbreaking performance I’ve ever seen, plays an older fella who picks up Chris, instantly takes a liking to him, and surprisingly enough, sheds all for him, as well as us. It’s a rich, raw and surprisingly gritty performance from someone who, honestly, we didn’t think needed to prove anything more to us, but here he is, essentially, stealing the show.

Be one with the sky.

Which isn’t to say that all of these people steal the show from Hirsch, either. He’s quite good here, showing that there’s more to this character than just a wannabe-hippy who can’t deal, man. In a way, he’s a lot like most kids who are fresh out of school and desperately need something to do, somewhere to go, and some sort of option/goal in life to have them continue on to live and be happy. Could his decision have gone down better and more thought-out? Sure thing, but it still shows that there’s a reason for what he did, and not just because he wanted to.

Man.

Anyway, Penn deserves the most credit here, taking a very ambitious, long and sprawling tale of one dude discovering himself, as well as the world around him, and never making it seem like it’s wheels are spinning. It’s constantly moving, always touching on interesting characters and points, never harping on any of them too much, and overall, just making us feel closer to this guy and more invested in his journey. We know where he goes, we know how it ends up, and we know how his story ends, but for two-and-a-half hours, Penn allows for us to forget about this all and just revel in the scenery, the people, the vibes, and yeah, of course, the sweet, soulful tunes of Eddie Vedder, in what has to be one of the better soundtracks from a movie in the past decade.

Consensus: While it may not have been easy to take this tale and give it the deserving film treatment, Sean Penn is somehow able to do so with Into the Wild, showing a certain skill for storytelling and character detail that makes this journey all the more compelling and interesting, even if we know just how it all ends up.

9 / 10

And definitely be one with your impeding and foolish death.

Photos Courtesy of: The Mind Reels, Linkedin

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Most cold-blooded killers are, after all, misunderstood.

Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) has been on the run, gun slingin’, robbin’, killin’, and committing all sorts of crimes that have him number one on every person’s bounty list. However, Wade is a pretty ruthless man, to where he can get away from anyone looking to reel him in for justice; it also helps that he’s got the helping hand of his band of fellow thugs, especially his go-to-guy, Charlie (Ben Foster). But eventually, Ben gets caught by the local law and ready for the 3:10 train to take him to Yuma. But in order to get him there, he’ll have to be transported among many lines, where everyone is looking to take Ben down and get a little piece of the reward-money pie. However, Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is just looking to do this so that he can get some money, save his farm, and go home to his family, where he can feel like a responsible man again. As expected though, the trip goes through all sorts of bumps, bruises, and plenty of violence, where one thing leads to another, and it’s never very clear if Ben will ever get on that train and behind bars, like he should.

"Hold it! I'm not Batman here, but other places. Kind of."

“Hold it! I’m not Batman here, but other places. Kind of.”

3:10 to Yuma is the rare kind of Western that not only revitalizes the genre, but also proves why it’s so great in the first place. It doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel of the genre, make up new rules, and play by its own game, but instead, take everything that you know and love from all those other classics, bring them together, and let you have a great time. It’s as if it’s own beast, entirely, even if, yeah, it’s actually a remake, too.

Still, even if 3:10 to Yuma isn’t the most original story out there, it more than makes up for it in all the thrilling, exciting and rather unpredictable action-sequences that take place over its two-hours. James Mangold is a perfect fit for this material, because he knows exactly how to make it all crackle and pop, without ever seeming like he’s out of his depth. Even though Mangold sure does love to jump around from genre to genre, with sheer reckless abandon, it seems like the action-genre may be the one he sticks with, not just because he seems to enjoy it the most, but because he actually seems to know what he’s doing with it, as opposed to those like Michael Bay, or McG.

Why on Earth did I just mention McG’s name?

Anyway, moving on. 3:10 to Yuma more than gets by with its action, but at the heart of it all, and perhaps what makes it more than just another fun and exciting romp through the Old West, is that it’s also the tale of two interesting, challenging, and complex men. Both Christian Bale and Russell Crowe put in great work here, going beyond the silly accents, and showing that there’s more to these two guys. Crowe’s Wade may be a ruthless, toothless (not really, he has quite the set of chompers), and almost sadistic killer, but he’s also got a set of morals and he’s quite the charmer. Whereas, on the other side of the coin, Bale’s Dan is a man with plenty of morals, a simpleton, and family man, but at the same time, won’t hesitate to kill, if he ever has to.

Ben Foster. Up to his usual tricks of not taking a shower to prep for a role.

Ben Foster. Up to his usual tricks of not taking a shower to prep for a role.

Both men are different, yes, but they’re also quite alike in many ways, too, and it’s what makes 3:10 to Yuma quite compelling to watch.

Even when the action is gone for a short while and everyone’s sitting around a fire, eating beans, chewing the fat, it’s still entertaining to watch; the cast is so good, the characters so well-defined, and the script is actually polished. And with Bale and Crowe’s performances, we get to see two men who, despite being on opposites of the social spectrum, still respect the other enough to know where they come from, what their ideals are, and why they are, the way they are in the world. It almost comes close to a bromance, except for the fact that they do try and kill each other every so often, but even then, who knows.

Bromances work in mysterious ways, sometimes.

But anyway, aside from both Crowe and Bale, the ensemble’s a pretty good one. A very young Logan Lerman shows that he can hold his own as Dan’s son; Dallas Roberts plays the sheriff who has to take Wade in with Dan and shows that even the scrawniest of men, with a gun, can still kind of be bad-ass; Peter Fonda shows up and brings some class; Kevin Durand is, as expected, pretty crazy; Luke Wilson has a fun cameo; and Ben Foster, as Wade’s right-hand man, is so crazy, so deranged and so evil, that he almost ends up stealing the show. But still, it’s Bale’s and Crowe’s show to the end and when they’re together, their scenes never stop igniting the spark and make you wish that they’d work together more and more. It doesn’t even have to be in Westerns.

Couldn’t hurt, though.

Consensus: Even if it’s still a Western through and through, 3:10 to Yuma is a tense, exciting and incredibly well-acted piece of entertainment.

8 / 10

Look at 'em. Trying so hard not to make-out and measure sizes.

Look at ’em. Trying so hard not to make-out and measure sizes.

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, Rotten Tomatoes 

The Great Debaters (2007)

Yell as loud as you can.

Poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) wants to teach the current youth so that they don’t grow up to be angry, spiteful human beings, despite all of the racial bias and prejudice sent towards their way. That’s why he decides to teach at a predominately black Wiley College in Texas. The year is 1935 and he decides that it’s time to start a debate team, which wasn’t something ever heard of at a relatively black school. While people aren’t initially all for the idea, eventually, people begin to join and Tolson’s got himself a pretty loyal, smart group of youngsters, looking to not just have a good debate, but tell the world of what’s really going on out there. However, it’s Tolson’s own personal politics that end up getting in the way and overshadowing the team and their efforts, leading him to think long and hard about how he wants to stick with this team, or if it’s best to just walk away and let them debate their lives off.

Denzel Washington does something very smart with the Great Debaters – he frames it all not just as a movie about a bunch of people who hoot and holler at each other in long, winding monologues that seem to last for days, but something of a sports movie, where a bunch of rag tag people who have a particular set of significant skill, band together, use their strengths and take on the ultimate opponent. In this case, the ultimate opponent is racism and if there’s a sport, then yeah sure, it’s debating. It may sound incredibly boring, but believe it or not, Denzel is able to make it quite fun and exciting.

So, will it be televised?

So, will it be televised?

Then again, there’s not much debating in the first place.

If there’s an issue to be had here with the Great Debaters is that while there quite a few scenes of actual debating occurring, we never really get to know much more about what goes into debating, or planning an argument, or framing it in a way. Of course, early on, we get the typical training monologue in which the characters use words and get frustrated on how to use them and whatnot, but it doesn’t really feel like we’re actually getting to know how to debate in the process, or better yet, what makes a good debater in the first place; what can be taken away is that whoever yells, hoots, screams and hollers the most and the loudest, seems to actually win. Surely, this isn’t how debating actually works, but a few more scenes dedicated to us understanding just what it is that can help a person become a better debater, would have definitely helped.

Cause instead of getting these scenes, we get a lot more character development, which okay, isn’t always such a bad thing. It does help, however, that Denzel has put together a very good ensemble that knows how to work with this sometimes preachy material and at the very least, keep it grounded and focused. For instance, whenever Denzel himself is on the screen, you can tell that he’s the absolute pro; you feel his presence in every scene he’s in and hell, even the ones he isn’t in. Of course, that’s probably purposeful considering he’s practically behind the camera every scene, directing, but still, it goes to show you just the class-A actor he truly is.

Hell, even the very few scenes he gets with Forest Whitaker, make you clamor for a movie where they just sit in a room together and talk about whatever is on their mind. Honestly, a smaller, much more contained movie like that probably would have been better, because here, while they make the best of what they’re both working with, it still makes you wish for more, more, more.

Debate team, or the rugby team?

Debate team, or the rugby team?

Thankfully, the young talent here is quite good.

Despite all of the controversy surrounding him that seems to probably killed his career, Nate Parker seems to be a perfect acting surrogate for Washington, channeling a lot of the same charisma and energy that the later always showed in his earlier roles. Parker’s Henry Lowe may not always be believable as a character, but Parker’s good enough to where you can see that this brash, sometimes arrogant guy would want to get up on a stage and yell for a few minutes, about all of the injustices he has been of witness to in this world. As his fellow teammates, Denzel Whitaker and Jurnee Smollett-Bell are also quite entertaining, showing different sides to how they feel about debating, and the certain hardships that they too face on a daily basis.

In fact, the movie does get across a very smart and powerful message about race and equality that, yes, may seem conventional, but also doesn’t make it less true. Late in the last-half, the movie brings up certain issues about how the rest of the world, mainly, the Northeast, look at racism a whole lot differently than those in the South; the former is predominately a lot whiter than the later, which also brings more questions into the discussion. The movie shows that people who think differently about racism because of what they’ve been brought up and raised around, aren’t necessarily bad people, just very limited in their viewpoint – sometimes, it’s best to wake up, open your eyes and realize what’s really going on out there in the world. Sure, arguing about it and having a nice little debate is always good, too, but it’s always best to know what’s really wrong with the world, before you go off and start talking about it and all of its changes.

It’s definitely a relevant message that plenty could benefit from today.

Consensus: Entertaining and important, the Great Debaters may be formulaic and conventional, but also packs a hearty punch and shows us that as a director, Denzel’s skills still translate.

7.5 / 10

Please. More. Of. This.

Please. More. Of. This.

Photos Courtesy of: The New York Times, Popcorn Reel

Bee Movie (2007)

Not the bees, indeed.

Now that he’s fresh out of college, Barry the Bee (Jerry Seinfeld) can finally spend the rest of his life doing what he’s always been wanting to do: Work. However, Barry doesn’t quite know what he wants to do just yet, or better yet, knows that he doesn’t want to work with honey. So, he decides to take a brief stroll out into the real world and realizes that there’s something incredibly wild and magical about this outside. He also gets to meet a human lady named Vanessa (Renée Zellweger), who he not only strikes up a friendship with, but continues to learn more and more about the world outside of the beehive. Eventually, this has Barry thinking less and less about the life and career he lives inside the hive, and more about the one outside of it, where he can do whatever he wants and not have to worry about certain ideas that society mandates. That is, until he realizes that the outside world isn’t all that it’s made out to be, either.

"Get back in, ya bee! Get it? Cause we're all bees when you think about it, bro!"

“Get back in, ya bee! Get it? Cause we’re all bees when you think about it, bro!”

For some inexplicable reason, Bee Movie is currently having a moment. Why? Who started it? And when will it end? Well, I don’t know the answer to any of these questions – what I do know is that all of this attention is being placed on a nearly decade-old movie that, quite frankly, was never something to really talk or get all crazy about in the first place.

In a way, it’s odd watching Bee Movie now, in 2016, knowing full well how far and advanced animation has come. Sure, 2007 may not have had nearly as many of the technological advances that we do now, but still, Bee Movie, even in the clearest, brightest and prettiest HD imaginable, still looks kind of murky. The bee characters don’t have much to them, except maybe one physical difference, the humans all look dull and dead in the eyes, and when the movie is adventuring into the great big world that we call Earth, you can tell that a lot of the budget went to certain shapes and figures, and not to the rest of the image.

Still, that’s all silly technical stuff that doesn’t quite matter.

What does matter, and what mostly every meme has been pointing out, is that Bee Movie is a pretty ridiculous movie, but not like the kind we’re used to seeing with animated flicks. With most animated flicks, like how Bee Movie starts out initially, is that they take us to this fantastical, weird and unbelievable world, where inanimate objects speak, have thoughts, feelings and can do things, like you or I, except, maybe, yeah, in their own way. At first, this is exactly what Bee Movie seems to be, but eventually, it turns the other cheek and doesn’t know what it wants to say or do.

In fact, it all changes when we’re introduced to Zellweger’s Vanessa, who is perhaps the dumbest human character in an animated flick to-date. It’s odd that she can not only talk to bees, or other inanimate objects, but how, despite the movie trying to make as many jokes as possible, is still totally cool and normal with it. I wouldn’t mind this in an animated flick, but there does come some idea that the movie has to not only explain itself, but even make sense of it all; to even say that “there’s a force in the air”, or some silly mumbo jumbo like that, honestly, is fine with me. All I need is an explanation and I won’t complain.

Corporations, man.

Corporations, man.

However, Bee Movie doesn’t give that.

Instead, it just takes what could have been a very simple, easy and relatively fun premise of a bee seeing the outside world for what it is, a la, A Bug’s Life or Antz, but instead, drives for something more ambitious. Is it an admirable effort on the writers and directors behalves? Sure, but does it pay-off? Not really.

Once the movie starts getting into a honey-producing corporation headed by Ray Liotta and takes us to court, the movie gets all too wild and insane to really keep up with. This isn’t to say that the jokes aren’t good, because they mostly can be, however, that’s when the movie itself isn’t enamored with finding every bee pun that they can find. It gets annoying after awhile and almost feels like a bunch of 12-year-olds just discovering what comedy is and constantly trying to one-up one another.

It’s nice to hear the voices of Jerry Seinfeld, Matthew Broderick, Patrick Warburton, Chris Rock, and others, but they all feel oddly-placed. Seinfeld and Broderick are both voicing characters who are, essentially, 21-year-old dudes, and don’t sound a single thing like it, Warburton is, as usual, hilarious and the most understandable character out of the bunch, Rock is in it for maybe five minutes, makes us laugh our pants off, then leaves for good, John Goodman shows up at the end as born-and-bred lawyer from Missippi and I probably would have paid to see his face while uttering some of these lines in the voice that he uses, and Zellweger, as mentioned before, feels awkward. Her character not only looks it, but even Zellweger’s line delivery still feels like she’s maybe not in on the joke, or simply, understands it and is not a fan of it in the first place.

Why she or anyone else signed-up is beyond me. But hey, at least the movie made some money, was for the kids and continues to live on in the internet-age.

So, who knows? Maybe everyone’s a winner.

Consensus: With an awkward premise, Bee Movie seems like it could have been a lot funnier and interesting, had it tightened-up its writing and gotten rid of all the inane bee jokes.

5 / 10

"Yeah, at least we're getting paid."

“Yeah, at least we’re getting paid.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Lust, Caution (2007)

Love works in mysterious, dastardly ways.

During World War II, Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei) is just another young, ambitious and politically-aware college grad looking to make something of her smart mind. Eventually, through meeting up with old friends, she becomes something of a secret agent who is planning to take down the government, or in some ways, just rebel and get her causes voice out there, heard loud and clear for the rest of the world. One of her first and perhaps, most important missions of them all, is to seduce and even assassinate an corrupt political official Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), who also works for the Japanese puppet government in Shanghai. While Wong is initially thrown off by the mission and thinking that she’s not quite capable of getting the job done, she sticks with it, believing that it must be done. However, as time goes on, she starts to find herself falling for the sometimes sad Mr. Yee – a move that may cost her, as well as her fellow rebels, their lives.

This could be us, but we watch Ang Lee movies.

This could be us, but we watch Ang Lee movies.

Lust, Caution is perhaps most notorious and controversial for its explicit sex scenes that, unsurprisingly, led to the MPAA giving it the dreaded NC-17 rating. And to speak of those sex scenes, well, yeah, they’re quite explicit, but most importantly, they matter. In a story chock full of lies, deceit, death, violence, and corruption, the one aspect that really speaks volumes is the actual sex itself; it’s graphic, in-your-face and barely leaves anything to the imagine, but it’s also kind of beautiful, too.

In fact, “beauty” could definitely be said for the movie as a whole.

Surely, this isn’t much of a surprise coming from Lee, who’s definitely been known for his movies to have an eye for the exquisite details in the certain ways his movies look. And it helps – the movie literally transports us all the way to Japanese-occupied Shanghai during World War II, and never seems phony, fake, or as if any of it took place on a major, Hollywood studio. There’s an air of authenticity that works for the movie and also makes us feel like we’re watching more than just another sick and twisted tale of love and murder, but more or less, a sincere look at a love story in the first place.

Lee is no slouch when it comes to the look of his movies, but at the same time, he also doesn’t back down from giving his characters the best work to deal with and because of that, the two leading performances from Tang Wei and Tony Leung are quite great. Wei’s especially great as she starts off as this young, naive and rather silly college school girl, who is still trying to make sense of her life and what she wants to do with it, yet, gets wrapped up in a situation where she has to act and be an adult, real quick, or else. It’s a transformative performance that shows her range and helps makes us feel more and more for her character, as we always know that she’s doing the right thing, but also question her motives, or better yet, how far and willing she is able to keep up with this mission, even when she knows that it can’t end on any sort of good note.

Yeah, I bet we can all predict what's happening here. Scandalous!

Yeah, I bet we can all predict what’s happening here. Scandalous!

Tony Leung is also quite great in the lead role as Mr. Yee, because he never seems like a true-and-tried villain. Sure, he’s definitely got despicable qualities to him, but the movie doesn’t just make him this one-note villain, who can’t wait to kill or screw anything that walks in his way; believe it or not, he actually is a human being, who has feelings, thoughts and ideas, which in ways, makes him all the more terrifying to watch. The movie may want him to be a villain, but Leung can’t help from making this man somewhat sympathetic, even in the slightest regards.

The only aspect about Lust, Caution that truly keeps it away from being another Ang Lee classic, is its length.

At a little over two-and-a-half hours, the movie more than wears out its welcome, as it is, yes, a little slow and even, at times, meandering. As hard as Lee may try to spice things up with sex, violence and lies, there’s still this never ending feeling that the movie is going to continue to go on and on, even when it should be wrapping itself up. And this isn’t to say that there isn’t anything wrong with long movies, so long as they give us a reason to understand why they’re so long in the first place – Kenneth Branagh’s four-hour version of Hamlet comes to mind, as it’s perhaps the most condensed version of that play and still feels necessary – but for some reason, Lust, Caution never makes a reason for it. Sure, there’s a lot of killing, sex, twists, turns and nudity to be had, but for how long and why?

The movie does eventually give us that answer, but unfortunately, it takes maybe way too long to get to it.

Consensus: With a certain eye for beauty, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution is a sensual, well-acted, and rather tense thriller that may also be too long for its own good.

7.5 / 10

Love is so suffocating sometimes.

Love is so suffocating sometimes.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert, Focus Features, Drama Fever

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

Everyone needs a little cut, no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It actually works.

Oh man. RIP.

Oh man. RIP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

Love at first slash.

Love at first slash.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aceshowbiz

The Kingdom (2007)

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

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

Jamie's packin'.

Jamie’s packin’.

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

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

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

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

So is Chris.

So is Chris.

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

In a way, that’s perfectly fine.

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

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

6 / 10

And you know what? Even Jen is.

And you know what? Even Jen is.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Encounters at the End of World (2007)

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

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

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

What?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Huh?

Where’s that pineapple under the sea?

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, And So It Begins

Death Sentence (2007)

Nazis never back down from a fight. Except when they’re swarmed by the Allied forces and have no way out.

On the way from a hockey game with his son, Nick Hume (Kevin Bacon) decides to stop for gas, because, well, the tank is low and he needs to. However, the station that he’s at gets robbed by a gang of thugs and in the process, Nick’s son gets caught in the crossfire. Obviously, this leaves Nick, as well as the rest of his family as devastated as can be. And while Nick may be just another simpleton, after something as tragic as this, he can’t help but think what’s next for him. Should he just sit around, mope and wallow in his pain and misery? Or, should he go out there and take down said thugs who are causing said pain and misery? Well, Nick being the inspired fella that he is, chooses the later option and is now tracking down and taking out these thugs, one by one. But by doing so, Nick also brings more terror and violence to his family, with the thugs now extracting their own kind of revenge.

Bacon does not like what he sees. And that means a whole lot.

Before facing-off against heartless thugs.

A movie like Death Sentence is a hard one to recommend, because you know full well what it is, but at the same time, you still enjoyed some piece of it. At its heart, Death Sentence is nothing more than a dirty, disgusting and downright mean-spirited revenge tale, made out to be Y2K’s answer to Death Wish, where the good guys go around extracting revenge, baddies get killed and justice is kind of served, without their being any grey area in between. And because of that, the movie is an ugly piece; one that doesn’t try to make any smart messages about life, humanity, justice, death, or violence, but instead, just wants to see people kill one another in bloody, incredibly gory ways.

Can there be some fun in that?

Sure, there can be! Director James Wan, who has now become something of a godsend for horror flicks, actually does a solid job as director here, because he lets a lot of the action speak for itself. He doesn’t get in the way by jilting around the camera, nor does he try to make it “about anything”; with this kind of material, you’d almost wish that Wan at least attempted to make this about something more than just plain and simple blood-stained revenge, but oh well. The fact remains that, when the action is on-screen, it’s quite riveting and exciting to watch.

Take, for instance, a near-20-minute sequence in which Bacon’s character has a chase sequence with the villains of the story. What starts off of as a conventional run through the streets, eventually turns into something intense, unpredictable, and most importantly, exciting. Wan uses a few camera-tricks here and there to make it seem like nothing you’ve ever seen before and well, it works. Because the rest of the movie doesn’t try to get in the way, these small, brief instances of style from Wan are fine enough because they show that he does care to some degree about the material.

However, when the action is gone, dead and off the screen, Wan loses Death Sentence.

There’s no doubting the fact that Death Sentence is just a trashy, gory and downright grueling B-movie, however, at the same time, there’s no denying the fact that it also takes itself very seriously and at least attempts to try and be more meaningful than it is. Wan loves the action and violence and wants to solely focus on that, which is fine, but because there’s an actual story here, it all feels a slight bit uneven. Whereas the story wants to have its say about what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s sort of “okay” with the world today, Wan just wants to see people get killed for the sake of being killed because, well, their bad people and they probably deserve it anyway. Once again, I’m not trashing on Wan for giving bad people some disturbing deaths, to try and have us feel bad, or at the very least, upset that we’re entertained by watching this, is silly.

During meeting said heartless thugs.

During meeting said heartless thugs.

Wan knows that he wants us to all stand-up, cheer and root for Bacon as he takes out all of his revenge on these thugs, so why not enjoy it while we can? It may be vile and upsetting, but isn’t that sort of the point? Violence isn’t supposed to be this pretty, beautiful thing that’s just around in ordinary life – it’s supposed to be ugly, sad, and scary, regardless of who is involved with the violence. Wan gets the ugliness of the violence right, but when he tries to put the lens on everything else, it seems like he’s confused to which movie he’s making, or just what he’s trying to say.

Then again, he’s got Kevin Bacon to rely on, so he’s not all that left alone.

And as Nick Hume, Bacon is as good as he can be, given the script and material he has to work with. Nick doesn’t have much development beyond “sad, but vengeful daddy-figure”, but Bacon gives it all he’s got, whenever he’s not kicking people’s asses because he’s ticked-off and not going to take it anymore. Garrett Hedlund shows up as one of thug’s older brothers, who basically becomes the arch-rival of Bacon’s and, well, he tries. What’s interesting about Hedlund and his career is that even though he’s been around forever, it’s only just now that it seems like he’s hit his stride and gotten to really show some charm in these movies.

Back in 2007, it appears like Hedlund was confused with every role he took; some relied on him to just be annoying and whiny, whereas others relied on him to be somewhat sinister. It’s an odd mix-and-match that he had to play around with, which is why his performance here can get to be pretty laughable at times. However, it seems as if everything has been looking up for Hedlund and I hope that stays.

For his sake, at least.

Consensus: Wan definitely knows his way around an action scene or two, but Death Sentence also tries to be so much more than just another bloody, gritty revenge tale, which is its biggest problem.

5 / 10

After meeting said heartless thugs.

After meeting said heartless thugs. What a transformation!

Photos Courtesy of: Head in a Vice

Hot Rod (2007)

Evil Knievel seemed like a pretty smart guy.

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

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

Look out, comedy world!

Look out, comedy world!

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

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

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

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

Meh.

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

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

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

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

Literally.

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

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

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

7 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Rendition (2007)

How sad is it when the only thing you remember from a movie is the water-boarding?

Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a CIA analyst based in North Africa is forced to question his assignment after he witnesses the brutal and unorthodox interrogation of an Egyptian-American by secret North African police. Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) is an Egyptian-American chemical engineer whose family emigrated to the States when he was a boy, and who is now suspected of a terrorist act. And his very pregnant wife Isabella El-Ibrahimi (Reese Witherspoon), does everything in her power to find her missing husband. All three stories are connected in strange, if tragic ways.

"You can trust me. I've never played anyone sinister before."

“You can trust me. I’ve never played anyone sinister before.”

Whether or not you agree or disagree with the act the U.S. Government calls, “Extraordinary Rendition”, is not relevant, hell, it’s not even needed to understand or appreciate this movie anymore. It’s basically just a way for Hollywood to preach and say how they are so against the war in Iran and how George Bush is a big, old dummy. There’s no issue with these statements, but when it seems like that’s all your movie’s got to say or do, then you don’t really have a movie.

You just have a soap-box you can’t get off of.

It’s safe to say that Rendition‘s plot is, for the most part, intriguing and deals with all sorts of political questioning and intrigue that makes political-thrillers like this so appealing. Taking all of these different stories, from different continents and having them all make a lick of a difference of how they all connect, is what keeps the interest-factor of this alive and well for about the first 30 minutes or so. Director Gavin Hood is a skilled-enough guy to make it seem like he has a clear head and idea of what he wants to do and where he wants to go, but also what he wants to talk about.

Hood shows that, while our anti-terrorist tactics in America may be considered “necessary” they are, in no ways, the most pitch perfect way to infiltrate any terrorist or their activities. In ways, just picking up a person off the street because of what they look like, torturing them, prodding, teasing them, and having them think that they are terrorists, well, believe it or not, can sometimes create terrorists in the first place. While there’s plenty of torture-sequences that go a bit far and beyond what you’d expect from a glitzy, glamorous Hollywood production, it still serves enough of a purpose to matter in what Rendition, the movie, is trying to get across.

Which is why the next two hours seem like a total slog.

Pondering the day of when he'll win an Oscar.

Pondering the day of when he’ll win an Oscar.

But what’s worse about Rendition is how it seems like it had a lot more going for it, but for some reason, none of that’s to be found in the two-hours-and-two-minute run-time. For instance, certain plots go unresolved and there actually seems to be more questions, than actual answers in the long-run. Some of this may have to do with the fact that the studio wanted to trim down some of the run-time to not scare people away, but really, the damage can kind of already be done. Those who veer-off in the leftie territory, may still find themselves a bit troubled with how far this movie goes with it’s preaching, to where it seems like its main concern is letting people know how it feels, and less about actually telling a real, compelling story.

This is all the more of a shame, due to the fact that the cast here is actually pretty solid and definitely deserves better.

Jake Gyllenhaal really nails the part of the young, brash CIA agent that can’t get past the fact of all the crazy stuff he’s seeing right in front of him and it’s another great role for an actor that was really climbing the totem pole at the time. Now, on the other hand, everybody knows what to expect from the guy and that’s pretty cool considering this is Donnie Darko we are all talking about here. Reese Witherspoon has top-billing here as the wife of Anwar El-Ibrahimi, but doesn’t do much mainly because she is probably in the film for 20 minutes. That didn’t bother me much, mainly because every time she’s onscreen, she really seems like she’s struggling to be taken seriously and it even gets to the point of where she’s just screaming at the top of her lungs, “WHERE IS MY HUSBAND!?!?!?”.

Yeah, sorry gal. No Oscar for you this time around.

Peter Sarsgaard is probably the most memorable out of the whole cast, since he really does seem like a genuinely nice guy (change of pace for the dude), and one that feels really convicted of doing the right thing, regardless of how much trouble it will get him in with the higher-ups. Sarsgaard is always great with every role he’s given and he’s probably the most believable character out of the whole bunch, mainly because his problem can’t be as solved easily. Meryl Streep seems like she’s tailor-made for the queen bitch role as Corrine Whitman, a powerful women that makes men soil themselves with the sound of her voice, and as good as she may be with this role, it still feels like a bit of an undercooked character, that could have been used so much more and so much better than what she really was. Alan Arkin also shows up and does his thing, and that’s not so bad, but it’s kind of a waste of a dude that literally won an Oscar a year before this even came out.

Consensus: Rendition deals with plenty of interesting ideas about the then-current political world, but really, despite a solid cast, doesn’t fully come together.

6 / 10

Two vets who clearly just had some vacation time on their hands.

Two vets who clearly just had some vacation time on their hands.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Ratatouille (2007)

Some French people are so pretentious, that they’d actually think a rat who cooks food is “neat” and “ground-breaking”.

Though Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a rat stuck living the countryside, where he has to search for and steal whatever sort of grub he can find, he still dreams of doing something better with his life. In this better life of his, not only is he appreciating his food more, but also making it himself and dedicates plenty of his time to reading a cookbook from the late, but well-known Chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett). One day, however, Remy is forced to take up a different path than he normally does and, much to his surprise, finds himself in Gusteau’s restaurant’s kitchen. Here, Remy feels as if he can let his talents run wild, but how can he? For one, he’s a rat, and as most people know, rats and kitchens don’t quite go well. Then, there’s also the fact that he’s a rat and can’t be understood by humans. So yeah, the odds are stacked-up against Remy, but once a new chef named Linguini (Lou Romano). Despite Linguini’s awkward persona and general lack of prior experience in the kitchen, Linguini happens to be Gusteau’s kid, which gets him the job in the first place. But because Linguini is so desperate and willing to keep his job and make sure that he doesn’t disappoint his supposed father, he actually decides to take lessons from Remy and learn how to not just be a better cook, but in the process, become a better person, as well.

Take that dairy!

Take that dairy!

It’s still surprises, even until this very day, how an idea like this worked? I know it sounds so simple, but really, a movie about a rat making food? It’s so stupid and silly, in fact, that somehow, it made perfect sense why it would all work out. Because Ratatouille is, of course, a Pixar picture, there’s going to be a whole lot more effort, heart and emotion put into play; not to mention that because Brad Bird works on it, there’s going to be a chock full of inspiration, as well.

Which is exactly what Ratatouille is.

Pixar movies, from the very beginning, have always followed a sort of pattern that they so rarely stray away from. Granted, there are certain variations on the structure but, for the most part, there’s always this general sense that every Pixar movie is made out to be the very same as the last one, given the obvious differences in terms of plot, characters and general location. But it’s hard to get on Pixar’s case because they’ve always been known to kick some fine ass; though they definitely had a rough streak of three years-in-a-row with Cars 2, Brave and Monsters University, they still bounced back with Inside Out, showing that not only were they able to get back their creative-genius, but remind people why they fell so hard and deep in love with their movies to begin with.

It’s honestly a manipulative system, but it’s one that I will always continue to fall for, so long as Pixar continues to churn out actual, good movies that don’t feel like they exist to sell a whole bunch of T-shirts and toys.

Even though, yes, that’s exactly what they’re made for.

But despite all of this, Ratatouille is the kind of Pixar movie that makes you wonder just how they do it all. Because, for one, Ratatouille is a funny movie in that it’s not only just cute, but quite witty; there’s certain jokes that are clearly written in a smart-enough way that only an adult paying attention would be able to understand. Of course there are definitely jokes made for the younger-ones out there, but they mostly have to do with obvious slapstick – the adults are the ones who get treated to jokes about French people, food, and critics.

Speaking of which, Ratatouille isn’t just a movie based on the pure humor and fun of its gimmick. Sure, watching Remy and Linguini get together, work in tandem, and create all of these fancy dishes for even fancier people, is more than enough to make you want to step into the kitchen and whip up your own concoction, whatever it may be. Though we’re all talking about CGI food and whatnot here, it’s still hard not to get wrapped-up in everything and start to feel the adrenaline and fun one gets while creating something and absolutely loving every second of it.

Once again, this is an animated flick I’m talking about here, people.

But then again, it’s Pixar, so we all know what I’m talking about.

Like I was saying before, the heart of Ratatouille is what really helps it out in the end. What’s perhaps most interesting about Ratatouille is that there’s no real one, key moment where the water-works are demanded to start working. In other Pixar movies, this is very much the case; the first Toy Story has Buzz realizing that he’s an actual toy and not a real astronaut from Star Command, Monsters, Inc. has that tearful goodbye with Boo, and, as everybody knows, Up has the first ten minutes. Of course, there’s plenty more of these moments in other Pixar movies and I promise you, they don’t sound as obvious as I may make them out to be – you just know to expect one when you’re watching a Pixar movie.

That’s why it’s so strange that Ratatouille, despite featuring some nice moments of heart and kindness, doesn’t really have one of those moments. Then again, it doesn’t need one, because it’s already as sweet and as endearing as can be. Bird, despite working with animated characters who look like over-the-top caricatures, is able to give each and everyone their own bit of back-story/personality that makes them feel like actual characters with personalities that we can identify with.

Rats are cute and all, but they shouldn't be allowed in kitchens. No matter if they sound like Patton Oswalt.

Rats are cute and all, but they shouldn’t be allowed in kitchens. Regardless of if they sound like Patton Oswalt.

The most perfect example of this is the prestigious food critic, Anton Ego, as voiced by the late Peter O’Toole. As most people know, critics don’t always get the soft side of the blade in movies – that’s why, whenever a movie comes out that portrays critics as being something other than miserable, cruel sad-sacks that hate their own lives so much, that they have to project their negative feelings onto other people’s hard work and dedication, it’s quite a lovely surprise. Here, we get the feeling that Anton is, yes, a very intimidating and picky figure, but, just like he states in the movie, it’s all for a reason. He loves food so much, that when he gets food that he doesn’t like or think is actually “good”, he spits it back out.

He loves his trade and he will do anything to ensure that the best players in said trade, continue to get the praise they deserve.

That said, Ego isn’t the only one who gets the lovely treatment here. Remy, as voiced by the lovable Patton Oswalt, goes through an awful lot of transformations here that help this character develop, despite being just a talking-rat; Linguini may have that nerdy shtick, but also seems to have it all come from a soft place in his heart, which helps make his growth, as a character, seem all the more believable; and Ian Holm, as the constantly paranoid and crazy Chef Skinner, also seems like he loves cooking so much, that he will do anything to make sure that his legacy stays alive and running, by any means. There’s plenty of other recognizable voices and nice characters here, both of which, go hand-in-hand oh so perfectly.

And you know what? Despite there being no big moment in Ratatouille, I still teared-up and awful lot!

Damn you, Pixar!

Consensus: Ratatouille is another addition to the long list of Pixar flicks that are not only funny, entertaining and heartfelt, but also have an endearing, rather inspirational message about always doing the right thing and being your best self. It’s typical Pixar, but hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

9.5 / 10

Paris. Still a beautiful place to see. So do it.

Paris. Still a beautiful place to see. So do it.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

I’m Not There (2007)

Wow. Bob Dylan did more than just go electric.

I’m Not There is, basically, a movie about the many exciting, weird and crazy lives that Bob Dylan has lived throughout his lifetime. However, rather than following the traditional, biopic-structure of keeping it with one actor, all the time, the movie switches things up in having these characters take on different life-forms, with different actors, even though they’re all, you know, playing Bob Dylan. There’s a boy who roams the streets, with his guitar and playing anywhere they’ll allow him to, while all going under the name of Woody Guthrie (Marcus Carl Franklin) even though, he clearly isn’t who he says he is. There’s folk-singer Jack Rollins (Christian Bale) who was, at one point, the hip, new thing in music but has a spiritual awakening one day and realizes that he wants to do more with his life than just rock out. There’s Robbie Clark (Heath Ledger), another hip, young star in the world of entertainment who has a loving marriage to a French gal (Charlotte Gainsbourg), that soon starts to go sour once he begins to flirt with other ladies. There’s Jude Quinn (Cate Blanchett), yet again, another hip, young musician who decides to get rid of his old ways and “go electric”, which leads all of her friends, family and fans to go crazy and reconsider their love for her. There’s Billy McCarty (Richard Gere), someone who may or may not have a rocky past to hide.

Not Dylan.

Not Dylan.

And through it all, there’s Arthur Rimbaud (Ben Whishaw) – a dude who’s here to just say weird, cryptic things

It’s noble what Haynes is trying to do here with the story of Bob Dylan; rather than keeping things on a simple, narrow-path that we’ve all seen a hundred times in plenty of other rock biopics, he decides to have it be a whole bunch of different story-lines, at one time, with different actors, but seemingly still playing the same character. It may sound confusing on paper, but surprisingly, it’s relatively easy-to-follow when watching the movie. Right away, the movie makes it a point to remind you that you’re watching actors all play Bob Dylan, and while they may not necessarily actually be named “Bob Dylan”, they’re still different times in the life of Bob Dylan.

Once again, it’s easy to get once you see it all play out, regardless of how weird I may be making it sound.

That doesn’t make it anymore interesting, but hey, at least it’s a noble effort on Haynes’ part for trying to shake things up a bit with a genre that seems too comfortable.

One of the main issues that surrounds I’m Not There, is that nobody’s story is ever really all that interesting to watch or see play-out. While, once again, we know they’re all different versions of snippets of Dylan’s life, none of whom ever really stand-out as taking over the movie and making us want to see them the most. Usually, that’s the kind of issues these large ensemble pieces have – while some stories may be okay, there tends to be the one that takes over everything else and leave you excited for whenever that comes around again. Here though, nobody ever makes you feel that.

Instead, you’re watching a bunch of surprisingly boring characters, mope around, deal with issues that we don’t care about and quite frankly, have all seen before, biopic or no biopic. There are certain bits of style that Haynes tries to work with here to cover up some of the rough patches, but mostly, it seems like what he has to work with here doesn’t really go anywhere all that surprising, or at all interesting. Granted, most of us already know about the life of Bob Dylan, and whether you don’t or not, it doesn’t matter, because the movie doesn’t seem all that interested in telling you much about him, either.

All it really cares about is the music he made, which granted, is fine.

Not Guthrie.

Not Guthrie.

Bob Dylan is one of the greatest musicians of all-time. His music will forever continue to stand the test of time and while some of those out there may have issue with his voice, and the fact that, well he can’t actually sing anything at all, it almost doesn’t matter. The fact is, the man has created some great music and it’s on full-blast in I’m Not There. Which honestly, helps the movie out a whole lot more; it’s surprising just how well any song Bob Dylan goes with a montage, regardless of what may be in the montage or not.

So if Haynes was trying to make this as some sort of tribute to Bob Dylan, the musician, then he did a solid job. At the same time though, he doesn’t really go anywhere else with it, other than that. This isn’t to say that nobody in the cast seems to be trying, either, because they all do. But, for the most part, they all seem like they’re really trying to dig harder and deeper into these characters and give us more than just what’s being presented on the surface.

One in particular, of course, is Cate Blanchett’s nearly unrecognizable performance as Jude Quinn. While it’s easy to assume that it’s just Blanchett doing an impersonation of the young and brash Dylan (what with the iconic wig, sunglasses, jacket, and all), she actually goes a bit further and show that there truly was a tortured soul at the middle of it all. Though it was easy to just assume that he had it all coming to him, there’s still a nice bit of sympathy that’s easy to feel for this character. It’s less of a gimmick role, and much more of, yet again, another chance for Blanchett to run circles around everyone else in the movie.

Which honestly, I’ll watch any day of the week.

In fact, give me that whole subplot/movie with just Blanchett. I’m fine.

Consensus: Todd Haynes deserves credit for trying something different with I’m Not There, but overall, seems to not have the right idea of what to say about the life of Bob Dylan, or at least, present it in a manner that’s intriguing to those who may not already know enough about him to begin with. But hey, good thing they paid for them royalties!

5 / 10

But yeah, definitely Dylan.

But yeah, definitely Dylan.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Comingsoon.net

Boy A (2007)

Boyposter“Let the past, be the past”, is something nobody actually does.

After spending many years in the slammer for a crime he and his lad committed when they were boys, Jack (Andrew Garfield) is finally now out and ready for the real world. That’s why he decides to take up this new name, identity, and start somewhere he hasn’t before. This leaves him to take up a job as a deliveryman, where he not only makes friends, but also possible love-mates. While his social skills are definitely not as up-to-par as they should be, Jack still gets by on trying to fit in, regardless of the social situation. When he’s out at clubs, he drinks a lot and does crazy drugs, when he’s with his girlfriend (Katie Lyons), he’s awkward, but also kind of horny, too. But as much as Jack wants to leave everything he did in the past, exactly there, it still finds its way of coming back to bite him in the rear-end and ruin the great life that he’s been having thus far. This is something that Jack isn’t just afraid may actually happen, but also has him terrified of what he may actually do, once the information of his past becomes known to his newly-made friends.

Does he even age?

Does he even age?

Boy A is the kind of movie that, despite its small scale, still works with the big emotions that can either make, or totally break, dramas such as these. However, what works so well for Boy A, is that it takes its relatively familiar-premise and gives it some fresh new life by just having us interested in this guy’s life, right from the very start. Director John Crowley and screenwriter Mark O’Rowe both do a brilliant job of giving us just enough information of this Jack guy, to get a clear picture of him; while we know that he did something heinous and nearly unforgivable when he was younger, we’re never outright told right away. Instead, we’re left to watch him as he tries to live his life and, in the meantime, experience everything grand that life has to offer, for the first time.

And this is all interesting because Jack himself, is an compelling fellow that’s never too easy to pin-down; we get the sense that he’s a genuinely nice kid, but due to his checkered-past, as well as his incarceration and need for it to stay under-wraps, there’s still an odd feeling about him. We see Jack live life, have fun, make friends, and be as happy as one can be when life is as simple as this, but by the same token, we also see him struggle with trying to make amends for what he did when he was younger, as well as trying to make sure that fact never, ever gets out. Of course, there’s a great deal of mystery surrounding what Jack does – there are countless flashbacks to his childhood – but they never feel unnecessary and just a way to take up more time.

In fact, they tell us more about Jack himself.

But really, what element makes Jack work the most is Andrew Garfield who, in a very early role of his, shows us the type of promise he showed before he got stuck playing Spidey. As Jack, Garfield plays these two sides quite well; he’s sweet and earnest as all hell, but he’s also quite scary to watch whenever it seems like he seems like he may be losing his cool. Through it all though, we feel for Jack and want him to actually be happy. Sure, his crime is almost unforgivable, but that’s why this performance, as well as the movie is so well-done.

There’s actually a case to be made here for getting past what someone did many, many years ago. As Jack, Garfield shows that while those scars may never ever heal, they’ll still be covered-up just enough so that one can move on with their life and remember the better things that make people happy to be alive. That’s why, although it is funny to watch as Jack does such things as initiate sex with his girlfriend, as well as get totally wasted at a club, it’s also quite endearing as well. He’s like a little kid, seeing the bright and beautiful things the world can offer.

Which is why when the harsh realities of the world come crashing down on him, it’s heartbreakingly tragic.

"Don't play Peter Parker, son. The first movie will be alright, but after that, just nope."

“Don’t play Peter Parker, son. The first movie will be alright, but after that, just nope.”

While I won’t get into too much of what occurs during the final-act, I’ll just say that the movie becomes very dark, serious and upsetting, which sometimes, and other times, doesn’t. For one, Boy A gets awfully melodramatic, which isn’t something I thought it could get. While the first two-halves of this are, for the most part, like a thoughtful, but precise character-study, the last half is, as much as it pains me to say, almost like a soap opera. Not to mention that, sadly, it ends on a cliff-hanger that feels completely random and a bit of a cheat. This is why, despite all the greatness within Boy A, it’s hard for me to run to the highest mountain, praising my love and adoration for it.

But still though, I always come back to the performance. Not just Garfield’s, though, as Peter Mullan, who plays Jack’s mentor, as well as his sort-of parole officer, is especially great to watch. There’s a certain degree of heart and pleasantness to this character that, honestly, Mullan doesn’t always get to play with. Don’t get me wrong, nobody does slime quite like Mullan, but it’s also neat to see him play somebody that not only has a conscience, but a very nice one, at that.

Like I said before, though, it’s Garfield’s show the whole way through. That’s why, with 99 Homes already out and about, and with upcoming Martin Scorsese’s Silence, it’s exciting to see Garfield back to his more dramatic-roots, giving us more and more showings of just what kind of talent he actually is. While it’s always been there throughout his whole career, he’s finally going back to it, But if people ever feel like they want to know what the hell I’m going on about, just watch Boy A.

You’ll be surprised, as well as happy.

Consensus: Boy A may have a bit of an odd ending, but features an amazing performance from Andrew Garfield, as well as an interesting look at the life of someone we may not always understand, but see live his life. Heartbreak, happiness and all.

8 / 10

Childhood: Where it all begins.

Childhood: Where it all begins.

Photos Courtesy of: Vagabond’s Movie Screenshots, Indiewire, Masculinity Movies

After the Wedding (2007)

Never be the odd-man-out at a wedding.

Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen) is something of a loner that spends his time in the company of orphans at the shelter he runs in Bombay. As much as Jacob is attached to these children and tries so hard to make everything the absolute best for them all, he still can’t get past the fact that the place needs money, and needs it quick before the place is all closed up and the kids are thrown out onto the streets, where they are most likely going to be left to rot and die, or lead a life of sex, drugs, and crime. Either way, it’s a crummy situation. That all begins to change when Jacob receives a call from a very rich man from Denmark named Jørgen (Rolf Lassgård), who shows a slight amount of interest in donating money to this orphanage. Reasons why? Well, Jacob, as concerned and curious as he may be, decides to venture out to Denmark to see what this fast-cat is all about and realizes that there may be a little more to this man’s deal than originally thought of before.

In all honesty, I can’t go on any further with this flick’s plot because that would just spoil the mystery behind what’s happening here. While everything seems so crystal clear and simple on the surface, there’s more shadings underneath all of this and rather than surprising us with twists to keep us interested, the movie instead shows us just how these secrets can come out in a way that tells us more about ourselves, much rather than the actual secrets themselves.

"We are supposed to be smiling in this movie, right?"

“We’re supposed to be smiling in this movie, right?”

Co-writer/director Susanne Bier knows that her audience should expect anything from her movies, and does so in a way where it doesn’t seem manipulative or random at any point in the movie. Once one big reveal is shown to us, another one comes, then another, and another, and even when we think we’re done, another huge one shows up and really blows our mind. Each and every twist to the story isn’t used as a way to keep our minds on the story at all times, as if everything else about it blew, but more as a way to show us that life is unpredictable at times, realistically so too. Once you think you have the story figured out, Bier gives us something new, and hell, more shocking to deal with. However, it’s not us who has to deal with these twists the most – it’s the characters in the flick who have to and that’s where most of the brutality of this story comes into play.

I don’t mean to say “brutality” in the way that it’s disturbing and gruesome to watch; I mean to say that sometimes, no matter how long this story goes on for, you always feel like your emotions and your heart are constantly being hammered away at. Bier does this in a way to where we feel the same exact feelings and ideas that these characters are, and doesn’t allow us to let up one bit, even when it seems like everything with this story is all fine and dandy. Also, the characters in this movie all serve a purpose for knowing one another and that’s what makes the twists all the better because instead of making the movie seem like a twisty and turny thriller of some sorts, it becomes more of a stepping-stool for these characters to get to know one another better and connect with each other more than they ever thought was possible. It’s more beautiful than it is harrowing to watch, although I do have to say that the flick itself can get pretty damn depressing at certain points.

Honestly though, I don’t mean to use the word “depressing” in a bad way neither.

Stories like this should be sad, but for the sole reason that their honest and realistic. Not used in a way where it’s like we’re watching a melodramatic soap opera, where the creators behind-the-camera just want to see how surprised we can be by the stupid roads the stories go down. Sometimes the movie’s bleakness does become unbearable to watch and grip, but it’s all the more rewarding because it feels like a story worth telling, especially since it’s about the people around us that make up our lives and round us out to who we are today, even if we don’t quite take a knowing to it just yet. With time though, like with anything in life, we get to realize what’s important and what’s bollocks. And most likely, the people that you meet in your life are more part of the former. However, there are also members of the latter as well, so don’t be fooled by my sure surprise of optimism.

For Mads Mikkelsen here, this is less of a showy role for the guy as he gets the chance to play it soft, quiet, subdued, and subtle when the movie calls on him to be, but is totally able to unleash the raw-fire emotions when he needs to as well. Any type of feeling that Mikkelsen has to convey with this sweet-natured character of Jacob, he achieves and does it so honestly, that I wouldn’t be surprised if Mads himself cried a little bit on-screen. He would never tell us, but I wouldn’t be surprised either.

If you're as rich as him, you could afford to have this mug all day too.

If you’re as rich as him, you could afford to have this mug all day. too.

However, as good as Mads is (which, trust me, he is) the one who really steals the show from him is Rolf Lassgård as the surprisingly generous billionaire with a long, extending hand: Jørgen. At first when we meet Jørgen, the dude seems like a bit of a dick. He’s rich, pompous, throws his money around, and seems to be up to same shaky business-dealings with this Jacob dude; so shaky, that you begin to wonder just what movie this is going to turn out to be. That is, until we finally get ahold of who this character is, what his intentions are, and what he’s been meaning to do all of this time, and we realize that he’s actually a humble guy, if a very messed-up one, both emotionally and physically.

Despite me never seeing him in anything else before this flick, Lassgård shocked the hell out of me with how far into this character he could go. He shows all sides to this dude that was ever humanly possible of seeing, and then some. We see him as a drunken-galoot that can’t hold his liquor in, even when it’s in the afternoon; as a con man that’s less than subtle with his manipulative ways; as the rich and inspired business man that’s able to make a room smile and cheerful in a click of his watch; as the loving and caring family man, who not only is always there for his wife, but wants nothing but the best for his kids, even if they don’t see the bleakness of life coming right at them, straight in the face; and last, but certainly not least, as the type of guy you can’t help but love, even as all of his motives for the things that he does come crashing at his feet. Lassgård is perfect in this role, lights the screen up every chance he gets, and made me cry my eyes out, just by being there.

Take for instance, the last scene with him. I won’t give it away, but I will tell you that it’s going to hit a soft spot that you can’t help but watch, but at the same time, try to hide away from as well. Seriously, he’ll get you and that’s not to take any credit away from Sidse Babett Knudsen and Stine Fischer Christensen either – it’s just that it’s so obvious where the heart, body, and soul of this film lies within.

Which is why you shouldn’t judge a person by the size of their wallet. Or something.

Consensus: Occasionally wallowing in its own sorrow a bit too much, After the Wedding still hits its emotional-marks with its upsetting story, as well as the great performances from the cast, especially Lassgård.

8.5 / 10

All the happiness in the world: Ends here.

All the happiness in the world, sadly, ends here.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images