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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

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

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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

Halloween (2007)

What a tragic figure that Michael Myers was.

Michael Myers is considered the Boogeyman of Halloween. He’s what every drunk, horny teenager fears, and is the kind of “person”, you don’t want to be stuck with in an abandoned home – especially not his own. And now, we get to see where he got his start as a serial-killer. Although, to be fair, he was only killing small rodents, rather than small people, but he was soon pushed because of his stripper mom (Sheri Moon Zombie), drunken, dead-beat step-dad (William Forsythe), and sister Judith (Hanna R. Hall), who couldn’t give less of a crap if he lived or died. That’s probably why he decides to hack most of them up and land his little rear-end in the state penitentiary, where he gets psycho-analysis check-ups regularly from Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell); a guy who genuinely cares for him, but Michael seem to care about at all. Hence why when Michael gets the first chance to escape, he does so and sets his sights on going back home, where he’ll possibly get to see his old digs, as well as run into his estranged little sister, Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), who also just so happens to be stuck baby-sitting two brats one night. But this just isn’t any night, people. This is Halloween for gosh sakes! And guess what?

Bad stuff happens on that date!

That's how it starts. Usually.

That’s how it starts. Usually.

If any of you out there are going to watch a horror movie on a night like tonight, it’s most definitely got to be John Carpenter’s classic. I don’t care how many times you’ve seen it; tried to remake it in your Halloween-themed student film; or even, if you’re hanging out with a bunch of people who don’t like to get scared – you’ve got to watch it. Because, if nothing else, it will probably remind you why some movies, no matter how ripe they may seem for the remake treatment, sometimes, just don’t need one.

Especially when that remake is done by the likes of Rob Zombie, a director who yes, I do think is talented enough to make a movie work, but just seems like he can’t help himself from throwing all sorts of blood, gore, sex, drugs, booze, and F-bombs to save his life. However, if there’s one element to this film I can give him credit for, it’s that he at least tries to draw out some depth within this character of Michael Myers and possibly even give us all an explanation as to why he grew-up to be a screwed-up, serial-killing individual who wears William Shatner masks. But it’s also probably the laziest-attempt at doing so; we’re told to believe that the reason why Myers grew up to be the way that he is, was all because his mom was a stripper, his step-dad was an a-hole that drank all of the time, and he was bullied at school. That’s pretty much it.

And while, yes, I do believe that there are some real-life cases out there that do resemble a person with the same mind-set as Myers, for the same reasons, to watch it here, not only seems like poor-writing, but a real lame excuse for somebody who goes legitimately bat-shit crazy about half-way through. It also ushers in the problem that Zombie’s trying to make us identify with this character, even though he’s sick, twisted, and unrelenting in his murderous-spree, which, unless you too are a sick, twisted and unrelenting serial-killer, may be a bit hard to relate to.

It’s the same problem I had with Zomie’s the Devil’s Rejects – I get that he wants us to like/sympathize with them, but why? It’s not like they’re misunderstood, tragic-figures; they’re cold-blooded, unforgiving killers that need to be stopped, and at all costs. Same goes for Michael Myers, even though it is sometimes rather pleasing to watch him hack away at a totally clueless/stoned teen trying to escape his clutches. But whereas with Carpenter’s movie, we got a horror flick that took its time with its violence, in order to make it hit us even harder than originally imagined, Zombie just lets loose as soon as possible and doesn’t seem to ever stop.

Which, yes, is something one can expect and be happy with when seeing a Rob Zombie flick. But, when you’re remaking a classic like Halloween, sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

You'd trust Alex DeLarge over Michael Myers? Suit yourself honey.

You’d trust Alex DeLarge over Michael Myers? Suit yourself honey.

That said, I know it’s probably not right to constantly compare and contrast between the original and the remake, because, quite frankly, it’s not fair. Not because one movie is a whole lot better than the other (which is totally true), but because it’s clearly obvious that Zombie isn’t at all trying to remake, or simply, re-do anything Carpenter did in the original. Zombie is simply putting his own stamp on the story and therefore, deserves it to be treated as such, which means that it doesn’t work. It’s so much carnage and slasher-violence that after awhile, you’ll just grow numb to it all and wonder, “What’s the point?”. Sure, there is some fun to be had with these kinds of horror movies, but Zombie loves to make it apparent that he isn’t all about having a blast when it comes to murdering random innocents; he wants us to harp on these actions and the fact that we want to see such actions displayed for joy.

And yes, it’s a bold move on his part, but it doesn’t work for the movie. It takes away from some of the fun and at nearly two-hours, makes this feel like a never-ending trip, with hardly scares, shocks, or any bits of actual terror. It’s just death, after death, after death, after death, and after some more deaths, made with hardly any style or sense of excitement. It’s just a dull, boring time at the movies. Which is good for most of us who actually still go out trick-or-treating on a night like tonight.

The rest of us, however, can just stay home and get spooked out by this legendary track every time it plays.

Yup, still gives me the creeps.

Consensus: Rob Zombie sets out to make his own version of the Halloween story, and while he does make some rash choices here and there, they hardly ever work and contribute nothing to a movie that’s already dull, aimless, and mostly repetitive of its grisly scenes of murder.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

Eh. Lame.

Eh. Lame.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)

Hey, if torture can work for Jack Bauer, it can work for anyone! Right, guys? Guys?…….

Late one fateful night, an Afghan taxi driver by the name of Dilawar picks up a passenger and isn’t ever seen again by his friends or his family. Reason being? He killed himself while being imprisoned inside the Parwan Detention Facility where he was questioned by American soldiers. However, did these soldiers do more than just questioning Dilawar? Did they rough him up a bit to ensure that they’d get the answer they wanted? Or, did they do a whole lot more than just “roughing up a bit”? And even if they did do that, would they even be in trouble? Documentarian Alex Gibney examines the story of Dilawar, those who were charged in his brutal treatment at the detention center and how so many other Afghan prisoners were taken in on a daily basis, with little to no reason other than they may have information regarding Osama Bin Laden, or other known terrorists at the time.

What’s so interesting about what Gibney does here, is that while he does go all over the place, focusing on the whole picture of what’s really going on here, from the beginning of the war, to Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush themselves, he never loses sight of what really made this story possible in the first place: Dilawar and what happened to him. Because deep inside of all of the numerous threads explored here, no matter how distasteful some of these truths unearthed may have you feel, no matter how enraged you may be by the end, there’s something completely and utterly depressing about Dilawar, his story and how he met the end of his life.

At least he's got a fresh-ass shirt on him now...

At least he’s got a fresh-ass shirt on him now…

See, with Dilawar’s story, we realize that he, along with so many other detainees in these detention centers, is just a normal, everyday citizen, as if he were you or I. However, the only thing separating him from us is that he was an Afghan citizen and at that point in time, the U.S. Army wasn’t taking any chances one bit and was just picking up each and every person they found to be even the slightest suspicious of being a possible terrorist. Didn’t matter if it was true or not, the Army needed to bring people in, torture the hell out of them, and see if they could get any possible answers out of them whatsoever.

Dilawar just so happened to be one of those people and he met his end in such a sad, brutal way because of so.

His story is the launching-off point for what Gibney wants to talk about and explore, and it’s deserving. Not because everything about Dilawar’s story is what helps Gibney come back to some sort of human-connection when all is said and done and he gets off of his soap box, but because it shows us that Dilawar was like every other captive inside one of these detention centers. Sure, there were definitely a few whose suspicions turned out to be actually true, but you have to think of how few that number is, compared to all of those who were taken in, brutally tortured, humiliated, made out to be “less than human”,  and even died in the custody of the U.S. Army.

And trust me, this isn’t just going to be a whole post of me attacking the U.S. Army for all their immoral-doings in the war; in fact, I’ll give most of them the benefit of the doubt. They’re all doing a job that I would never be able to bring myself to in my life and because of that, I give them a salute. However, there is something to be said for when those soldiers take advantage of the certain amount/level of power they have. It’s like what was discussed in the Invisible War (a documentary you must see, if you haven’t already done so) – does being a soldier for the Army and protecting your country mean that you can practically get away with anything that would be deemed “illegal” if you were still living in your country and not on the battlefield?

The answer to that is clearly no and Gibney knows this. However, he doesn’t give us any easy answers to make it clear exactly what he’s thinking, or even what he’s trying to say at any given moment. He easily could have made this a whole two hours of just him getting on everything that has to do with the Army; those who enlisted into it, as well as those powerful politicians who back it up with all their might, but he doesn’t. He keeps everything away at a relatively minor distance that’s hardly ever over-stepped, even though it could have easily been.

Tsk tsk.

Tsk tsk.

But like I was saying before, with this movie, Gibney reminds us what it’s like to be and stay human, even in the times of war. It made sense for most of the country to go absolutely and completely gung-ho about violence right as soon as the World Trade Center was attacked, but does that really mean we as a country are justified in acting the way we did, or hell, still do act? We’re paranoid for a reason, but does that really mean that we have to unreasonably make others pay for our thoughts and perceptions, regardless of if they turn out to be wrong?

Like every other question posed here in this movie, Gibney never gives a clear answer. Sometimes that’s a bit frustrating; other times, it’s comforting because so many documentarians feel the need to take a stance on a certain topic, without ever giving us a full, rounded-out story of everything we are being told. Here, we get to listen and learn from just about everybody who was involved with these detention centers and, after awhile, begin to realize that they too are just like you or I – normal, everyday human citizens. However, the only problem was that they were the ones with all the guns, the power, and the control to do anything that they wanted, when they wanted.

And Dilawar was the one who had to pay for it all. Although there are still plenty more where he came from and there shouldn’t be.

Consensus: Presenting as much facts as possible without over-cramming his movie, or our brains, Alex Gibney allows for Taxi to the Dark Side to be a thoughtful, mostly upsetting documentary about all those involved with the war and how all societies are affected by it.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

At least they held the sign up for him.

At least they held the sign up for him.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Hannah Takes the Stairs (2007)

Write this down men: Twenty-something blondes who play the trumpet are bad news.

Recent college-grad Hannah (Greta Gerwig) is working as an intern at a production company and realizes that she needs to make a big change in her life if she wants to be happy at all. Therefore, she decides to break-up with her boyfriend Mike (Mark Duplass) and set her sights possibly on other men; even if those other men just so happen to be her co-workers, Matt (Kent Osborne) and Paul (Andrew Bujalski). Hannah begins one with the later, while the former sort of just sits around, does his work like he’s supposed to be doing and basically be all upset that he’s being left out of the mix. But Hannah’s the type of girl who can’t seem to stick to one thing, regardless of if her life depends on it or not, so you can never tell exactly what she’s going to do next, or with whom either.

It’s a short premise, but at an-hour-and-23-minutes, it’s a short movie, and there’s something inherently charming about all of that. See, writer/director Joe Swanberg likes these small, intimate and rather raw stories about people just living their lives, on a day-to-day basis without all of the schmaltzy, over-dramatic bullshit that we usually see in much-larger, more mainstream movies. Does he do this to save some money and actually be able to make his movies? Sure, you could definitely make that argument. However, there’s something nice and refreshing about a writer/director who likes to create real stories, about real people, doing, well, real things.

Even if one of those “real things” does consist of constantly being shacked-up with whomever is around you.

Oh, Gret.

Oh, Gret.

And yes, that is exactly what Hannah does here. To be honest, the hardest aspect to like about this movie is Hannah herself; she’s self-involved, yet, not overbearingly so. She clearly has a nice conscience and wants to do the right thing for herself and those around her, but when it comes right down to it most of the time, she takes matters into her own hands and doesn’t always fully think things through. Does that make her flawed? Of course it does! But does it also make her somewhat human? Oh, totally!

So with that said, it may be hard to at least accept Hannah as a person you want to watch a movie about, but this isn’t necessarily a movie that’s trying to test your patience. It’s trying to give you a story of a young, sometimes brash and difficult lady that doesn’t know what she wants with life, except just to be happy and feel like she’s working for, or towards, something. Hannah herself doesn’t want to be left behind by the wind and forgotten about – she wants to be remembered, loved, and most of all, happy. Though her ways of making sure that happens are a bit questionable, it’s still interesting to watch because there’s a feeling that this is a real woman we’re watching on screen, and not just figment of a dude’s imagination.

And if she was, she’d be a pretty depressing one, considering that there’s a lot of heartbreak and sadness here, all as a result of her own doing, mind you.

Also, another reason why Hannah is so enthralling to watch is because Greta Gerwig’s an on-screen presence worth paying attention to every second her lovely face is on screen. Which, in the case of this movie, is the whole, damn time. So, if you’re annoyed of Greta Gerwig’s bubbly, warm mug, then this is definitely not something you should bother with. Especially since Swanberg seems to really love focusing in on that mug and watching as each and every emotion she feels, is spelled out on her face. In a way, it can sometimes be annoying by how much zooming-in Swanberg does on not just Gerwig, but on everything else, but I felt like it was something you have to sort of expect with a mumblecore movie, and it’s easy to accept after awhile. Is it uncomfortable to sit around and watch sometimes? Yes, but it’s something that’s easy to get used to once the story actually gets going.

Gerwig does something quite exceptional here in how she’s able to make us see Hannah as a female, rather than a contrivance that Swanberg would have created. She’s more than just a gal who likes to kiss boys and try them out as if they were a new pair of shoes; she’s trying to work towards something. Of course Gerwig’s a lovely presence, but it’s in these spare, raw moments of emotional truth where you really get a sense for who she is, and you sort of feel sympathy for her. Even if she is making a lot of problems for herself, rather than solving them, but that’s who she is. She’s a complicated, confused gal and Gerwig’s great at displaying both sides of Hannah’s personality.

Trumpet-playing is still a thing?

Trumpet-playing is still a thing?

That’s not to say that the whole movie just ends up being Gerwig’s show from beginning to end – in fact, quite the opposite. Because this is a story about Hannah and the sorts of men she interacts with in this short time-span in her life, we get to view a different side to her, all depending on the guy she’s gunning for at the point in time. Though he’s displayed quite apparently on the poster, Mark Duplass isn’t in this film as much as you’d like to think and it’s a bit of a shame. The dude’s always a charming presence in anything he shows up in and here, he’s no different. But because the story needs him to be kaput early on, it’s only necessary that we get a small dosage of his charm, and get a chance to see it head-to-head with these two other dudes, Matt and Paul.

Both are pretty charming dudes, but in a nerdy kind of way. But they’re not totally nerdy in that they can’t ever hold a conversation with any normal human being; they’re just sort of the type of guys who have their own set of interests, in their own little circles. Bujalski and Osborne both display enough likability and realism to make it easy to see why they’d be both perfect, and not-so perfect for Hannah’s wants, needs and desires, and it makes you wonder who she’s going to end up with in the end.

Which, like it is in life, is incredibly unpredictable.

Consensus: The constraints in budget and scope may make Hannah Takes the Stairs feel a bit claustrophobic, but for those who can get past that, will realize it’s a heartfelt, emotional and sometimes funny drama about a gal just being herself, while trying to figure out who it is she wants as a mate in her life.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Me. Everyday of my life.

Me. Everyday of my life.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

In the Valley of Elah (2007)

Surprise! Surprise! The war fucks up young people and their minds.

Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), a former military MP, finds out that his son has gone AWOL and that there might even be a possibility of him dead. Hank then decides to take it upon himself to drive down to the Army base, and figure out just what the hell has happened to his kid and all of the fellow soldiers that were with him. The problem is, nobody’s giving him straight answers. That’s when Hank asks the help of Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), a New Mexico police detective, who finds it harder and harder to not only discover the truth, but be taken seriously among the rest of her fellow, more-masculine detectives.

Most movies that deal with the war, usually aren’t the pretty ones where everybody loves the war, hangs their flags, high-fives their fighting boys, and ends by chanting, “U.S.A!! U.S.A.!! U.S.A.!!”, altogether at once. Nope, Hollywood is a bit too liberal for that crap and instead, decides to usually stick it’s nosy head in, peek around a bit, and have a thing or two to say. And usually, it’s not a pat on the back, or a simple “thank you”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, nine times out of ten, you’ll usually find me talking shit against the war, some of the people that take part in it, and just what the hell is the reason behind all of it, but still, Hollywood never seems to have anything nice to say about it at all, and even when they do, it usually turns into over-patriotic shite like this.

Still, though, you have to give credit to movies like these that are able to tell us some obvious and well-known ideas about the war, but still make it feel honest and raw, rather than blatant and preachy. Some of it does feel like that, but not all of it, and that’s a sigh-of-relief, based on the fact that this movie is written and directed by the same dude who gave us this scene. Yeah, if you’re with me on this, Paul Haggis is the notorious writer/director behind Crash, everybody’s favorite-hated Best Picture winner of the past decade and tries to bring that same heavy-handedness to this story. Thankfully he doesn’t get too far because he always has a sense of human depth and emotion that keeps it surprisingly grounded in reality most of the time. Not all of the time, but most and that’s great to see in a flick where it could have easily been a train wreck of non-stop patriotism, from start-to-finish, but ends being something honest.

"Here, take it. It's called "The 100 Steps to Being One, Grumpy-Ass Motherfucker."

“Here, take it. It’s called “The 100 Steps to Being One, Grumpy-Ass Motherfucker.”

But what this flick is more concerned with, is its characters, and showing how they deal with their daily hardships they encounter day to day, and how they get through grief, sadness, and the war our country is currently fighting in. Seeing how most of these characters can relate and act with one anothe, is a beautiful thing to watch because it feels natural. Some scenes are coated in sugar, and some don’t go down quite as well as Haggis may have imagined in his head, but to see these characters realize more about their lives by just relating life-experiences and stories with one another, really touched me in a way that was hard to explain when it happened, and especially after too.

I was actually really surprised how the movie depicted not just the war in Iraq itself, but it’s soldiers and how much we can still trust them with our country and our lives, but may not think the same when they get back. The most prime example of this is the fact that Hank’s son isn’t really a nice guy, and in fact, turns out to be more of an asshole as we find more out about him, what he was up to, and how he caught himself going AWOL. This movie could have definitely gone down that wrong path of making him seem like everybody’s, true American hero that fights for The Red, The White, and The Blue, sings John Mellencamp all day, and does it all for our safety, so we may live, breath, sleep, eat, and die in peace, like we were meant to be. If this sound’s lengthy and over-exposed, then you get my point: This flick could have easily gone down that path, but decided to show him as a human, rather than a figure we all like to imagine each and every one of our soldiers as. They all have problems, they all get sad, and most of all, they are pretty fucked-up once they get off the battlefield, and back at the dinner table with ma and pa.

It’s sad, but it’s reality, baby.

However, the movie isn’t focusing on it’s characters, it’s themes, or it’s harsh-realities, it’s focusing on it’s police-procedural that feels more like a cheap-version of NCIS that I didn’t need to be bothered with seeing in the first place. Usually, I don’t mind when movies keep this element in because it entertains, excites, and keeps the mystery afloat, but after awhile, there was no mystery nor was there any case. It came pretty clear to me that the kid was not going to be okay, and that somebody did do something bad to him. No real gray area to be found whatsoever. And before people get on my ass, I’m not trying to give anything away, but you’ll start to see that the movie isn’t trying to reveal more details and clues about what happened, it’s just trying to show it’s characters. We already know, they don’t. And that’s what felt unnecessary and stupid to have, even if it was worth it for the first 45 minutes or so.

Thankfully, Tommy Lee Jones was the one to keep this whole movie going and always rose above the material, even when it seemed to sink, lower and lower as it went along. Jones surprised the hell out of everybody when he was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Hank, as it not only came out of nowhere, but little to no one even heard about this movie nor that Jones was even in it. Maybe I’m wrong, but I still rarely ever hear this movie mentioned, which is a shame, because Jones’ performance is a great one that could have only came from this man who may always be known to be cranky and quick-whipped, but can play it subtle like nobody’s business. Jones shows real heart and emotion with this character and as time goes on and we see more about his kid, we start to see more him layer-out, especially in ways that I didn’t think were possible from Jones and Haggis. Jones’ character began to bother me a bit when he started to show unbelievable ways in how much smarter he was than the police, but after awhile, I stopped caring and just enjoyed the show that Jones was giving me to see. Maybe “enjoy” isn’t the right word to describe this movie or this performance, but I think you get my drift.

Her only scene. Nah, jaykay. But seriously. She's like barely here.

Her only scene. Nah, jaykay. But seriously. She’s like barely here.

Charlize Theron doesn’t back down from Jones’ acting either though and actually makes her character more than just another run-of-the-mill, strong female that we need in a flick like this, to show that she can not only hang with the big boys but learn a little something in life as well. Yep, her character is pretty conventional with the whole single-mommy thing, but yet, still works because Theron is not only a strong actress, but one that is able to adapt to any environment she is placed in and that’s a skill that most actresses haven’t been able to master just yet.

Susan Sarandon also got top-billing in this movie, and is pretty solid (as usual) as Hank’s equally-grieving wife, but doesn’t get much screen-time to develop her character. Then again, it’s Susan Sarandon and the girl can act alongside a piece of wood, and make it work. She’s that damn good. Also, James Franco is randomly here trying to look tough, buff, and cool, but seems like he’s really trying to hold in the fact that he just wants to smoke and eat some munchies. It’s so painfully obvious.

Consensus: Paul Haggis isn’t known for being all that subtle when it comes to his themes and messages about life, liberty, and war, but In the Valley of Elah still benefits from a wonderful cast, especially Jones, and characters that give us a darker look at the boys in uniform who are over there, fighting for us, protecting us, and yet, are just as equally as messed-up as we are.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Sir, yes sir?

Sir, yes sir?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Like they say, “Once you go black, you never go back.”

When we last left Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), things seemed to be going relatively fine. Not only did he save the day, once again, but he got the girl of his dreams, M.J. (Kirsten Dunst), patched things up with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), and finally told his best-friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) about the fact that he’s not only Spider-Man, but that his father tried to kill him. Sure, the relationship between those two may be strained and even have Harry himself go a bit coo-coo with vengeance, but for the most part, Pete’s life is happy, joyful and one that makes him happy to wake up in the day. However, that all changes one day when he finds out that his Uncle Ben’s killer, believe it or not, is still out there, and he’s going by the name of the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church). To make matters even worse, Peter’s finding it hard to keep things going steady at work, and is finding some stiff competition in the newsroom with aspiring, fellow photo-journalist Eddie Brock (Topher Grace). Also, remember the girl of his dreams that he thought he won, hook, line and sinker last time? Well, she’s starting to get second-thoughts about dating a superhero. Oh, and as if that wasn’t all bad enough for Spidey, for some reason, there’s this black, venomous acid following him around and latching onto his suit, changing up his hair-do, and making him act in a totally different way, that may make him feel great and all, but pushes those whom are close to him, further and further away.

Okay, so yeah, that’s a long premise. But it needed to be because let’s face it: This movie is a total, complete, over-stuffed mess. I knew that the second I walked out of the theater back in the early days of summer ’07, and I knew that less than three or four days ago when I found enough guts to go through with it and actually give this movie another try. Shame on me, but you know what? I gotta do it for all of you.

"Kame me, kame me...huh?"

“Kame me, kame me…huh?”

All you mofo’s better be happy with this.

But, to be honest, even though I’m getting off of on the wrong foot and making it seem like I absolutely loathe the heck out of this movie, I can’t say that I really do. Because somehow, I was able to find little, itty, bitty, pleasures here and there throughout the movie. Now, whether or not these pleasures were indeed intended to be “pleasureful” is totally up to Sam Raimi and the creative-powers that be whom got behind this, but the fact remains: Spider-Man 3 isn’t all that terrible. It’s not good, that’s for certain, but it’s not shitty either.

Confused by what I’m trying to say? Don’t worry, I am too. Here, let me try to explain:

What I like to think of this movie as being is one, big, nearly-two-and-a-half-hour long “fuck you” from Sam Raimi. No, not a “fuck you” to us, the dedicated, lovely audience that spent all of our minimum-wages on seeing his past couple of Spider-Man movies, but more as a “fuck you” to those who tried to get in the way of his creative-vision way too many times before. Maybe I’m just making this all up in my head to make myself feel better, but there’s no way in hell that Sam Raimi, the creator of some of the greatest, most iconic cult films of all time, thought that this was a good idea. Or hell, even this! And oh god no, dare I even talk about this travesty!

No, no, no! I refuse to believe that the some mastermind behind Ash would ever stoop this low and give us something as painstaking as most of this movie can be! I don’t care what anybody says, I will stand by my grave if I have to! They always say that “money can’t buy happiness”, well, nor do I think that it can buy creative consciences either. It’s clear to me that Sam Raimi doesn’t know what to do with each and everyone of these subplots, so instead, he just crams them altogether in a way that’s incoherent, but wholly uneven. One second, you’ll be getting something out of a comedy-sketch in which Peter Parker is walking down the street, dancing, walking all fly, acting cool and hitting on the ladies, while some funky bass-action plays in the background; and then, all of a sudden, the next second, you’ll get a scene or two in which the Sandman talks about his dying-kid and how he does all of this crime and whatnot for her.

One second, it’s a laugh-out-lough, camp-fest; the next second, it’s a total downer that will make you want to say “party’s over”. I’m not saying that certain movies can’t be both frothy and dramatic at the same time, there’s just a specific-balance that these movies are capable of handling and maintaining, and it’s clear early on that Raimi is not able to do that. Whether or not this was him just having an off-day and deciding to hell with it all, is sort of beyond me, but there’s just so much going wrong here, that it’s almost too hard to think of it as anything else other than a ruse played on all of us, as well as the numerous Hollywood producers backing this thing.

Which is a total shame, because with all of the material and promise Raimi had at his disposal here, he could have done some wonders – given that he had a three-hour run-time and at least took away a villain or two. But what happens here is that we get just about three villains, four-to-five conflicts for Spidey (not including his own conflict with himself), three-to-four extraneous subplots that literally add nothing to the story, and a two-hour-and-twenty-minute run-time that goes by quick, but only because the movie is never comfortable enough focusing on one thing. Raimi always has to be moving from one end of the story, to another, which makes a lot of sense since he clearly has a lot on his plate to chew on, but made it seem like it didn’t really know what to do or say with its plot, or any of its characters. So instead, it just fell back on the same old, high-flying, CGI-galore action that was always there to make things better for these movies in the past.

Yup, they're totally boned from here-on-out.

Yup, they’re totally boned from here-on-out.

However, this time around, everything else is so poorly-developed, that it just feels like a cheat to get our minds out of everything else that’s going on so wrong with this movie – especially with the characters. And hell, if there’s anything about this movie that fuels me even more is how they wasted the whole potential that Eddie Brock/Venom had as a villain. Don’t get me wrong, I think Topher Grace is a fine actor that’s been trying his hardest since day one to get out of that Eric Forman-shell that’s been carved for him since, well, yeah, day one, but he’s not right for this role. I get what Raimi was trying to do with the casting of him – make him something of an over-the-top, immoral, sneaky and sly son-of-a-bitch – which yes, does work when he’s being Eddie Brock, the photojournalist for the Daily Bugle, but when he has to transform to Venom with about 15 minutes left of the movie, it feels like an after-thought. Almost as if the producers wanted Raimi to throw him in there for good measure, only to realize that the rest of the movie was stacked with so much to begin with.

And since I’m on the subject of new faces to this franchise, I have to say that I feel very bad for Thomas Haden Church here, because the dude is a great talent who just about makes everything better the minute he shows up in it. The problem with him here, as the Sandman, is that he’s given just about nothing to do. We get enough back-story to his character so that we can sort of see where he’s coming from, but it gets so convoluted once they start talking about how he apparently killed Uncle Ben in the past, that I just wanted them to stop with it all and move on. Give me the action, give me more scenes of Thomas Haden Church actually talking and showing some personality, and give me more of the core that really makes these movies tick in the first place: Pete and M.J.

It doesn’t matter what you’re own, personal opinions may be on Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst as working-professionals, but it should be noted that without them and their chemistry (or in some cases, lack thereof), this franchise would have fallen flat on its face as soon as it hit theaters. There would have been no “superhero movie boom”; no Spider-Man 2; no Amazing Spider-Man; no Amazing Spider-Man 2; nobody remembering who the hell James Franco was; and sure as hell no Spider-Man 3. Maybe we could have lived peacefully with that last aspect being gone and lost forever, but you get the picture – M.J. and P.P. gave these movies an extra oomph of heart and emotion that so many superhero movies try to recreate nowadays, but just can’t seem to get down perfectly.

However, here, the whole idea is that M.J. and Pete stop loving one another and grow apart, which kind of sucks to see since we’ve invested so much of our time in them, but by the same token, needs to happen in order for us to make them just a tad bit believable in terms of character-development and rounding the two out as individual beings, rather than just a couple. If this was done right, it would have been phenomenal to see, in a big-budget, superhero movie no less, but the movie really stumbles when it’s paying dear attention to this subplot. Pete eventually becomes a bit of a dick because of this venomous, gooey thing that keeps on attaching to his suit and making him act differently; and M.J. is coming at a bit of an existential crisis where she wants the focus to be constantly on her, her failing-career as a Broadway actress, and the fact that she’s been so loyal and dedicated to Pete, despite going around and starting to sleep with Harry, once again.

Ain’t nothing like old times, right peeps?

Yes, get as far, far away as you can from this movie, James. Don't just do us the favor, do yourself one.

Yes, get as far, far away as you can from this movie, James. Don’t just do us the favor, do yourself one.

Tobey Maguire, god bless him, tries his heart out but once Peter Parker gets that new, emo hairdo, it’s all downhill for him from there; Dunst looks bad because Mary Jane is so unlikable and unsympathetic in her whiniest performance yet; and James Franco, believe it if you will, probably has the best performance out of everyone here, just by getting a chance to live a little and show some of that Daniel Desario charm that was so absent from the two other movies. Which is strange considering that right as soon as this movie came out, hit theaters, broke a bunch of box-office records and basically ended the franchise that came to be known as “Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man“, Franco started popping-up in some interesting movies like Milk, Pineapple Express and In the Valley of Elah that not only stretched him a bit as an actor, but also showed the world that he wasn’t going to be doomed by his infamous past as “Harry Osborne, snobby, prick-ish son of a crazy billionaire”.

So yes, if there is anything, heck, anything at all good that you can take away from Spider-Man 3, it’s that it allowed James Franco to break-out from his cage and start trying his hand at some weird, quite frankly, goofy shit. But hey, we’re better as a society for it. Because seriously, when was the last time you actually got amped-up for something either Kirsten Dunst or Tobey Maguire were doing?

I rest my case.

Consensus: Long, overstuffed, uneventful, confusing, incoherent, and definitely disappointing, Spider-Man 3 may go down in the history books as one of the weakest superhero movies made in the past decade or so, but it isn’t without its small pleasures found along the way, if only for its most dedicated, easy, and calm viewers.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Shit. Gotta remember to take my suit off next time I tan."

“Shit. Gotta remember to take my suit off next time I’m trying to get that summer glow.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net