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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: 2013

The Lunchbox (2013)

Without greasy food, what would couples talk about?

Lonely housewife Ila (Nimrat Kaur) does what she can to ensure that her marriage stays intact, so as a result, she decides to try adding some spice to it by preparing a special lunch for her neglectful husband, so he can get a nice little treat at work and hopefully, come home, be happy and appreciative of the slaving away his wife has done for his own needs. However, that doesn’t quite happen. In fact, the delivery goes astray and winds up in the hands of Saajan (Irrfan Khan), a relatively grumpy and annoyed widower. Curious about her husband’s lack of response, Ila adds a note to the next day’s lunchbox, and thus begins an unusual friendship in which Saajan and Ila can talk about their joys and sorrows without ever meeting in person. But the more and more they talk, the more the two lives’ unravel and, in a way, come together. For him, he starts to open up and come out of his shell a bit, whereas she begins to think of the next step after her marriage and begin to wonder just what the hell it is that her husband is up to.

Everyone just needs a little father-figure in life.

Had the Lunchbox been made in the States, it would have most likely been a cheesy, sappy, and inorganic rom-com with fart-jokes and pop-culture references everywhere you look. Granted, that’s not to say every rom-com ever made in the States shares that kind of ingredients, but it’s hard not to sort of see where things would have gone with a premise as simple and relatively easy as this. But thankfully, the Lunchbox, as done by Ritesh Batra, isn’t just an organic, funny, sweet, and honest rom-com, but it’s a very good one.

And hell, I’m not even sure how much of it is actually considered “comedic”.

There is some humor, as well as some light moments. But mostly, the movie’s rather small, subtle, and dramatic, while moving at a slow, mannered-pace. But it all works; Batra has more on his mind here than just making the line between good food and love. He’s much smarter than that and instead, uses that as a spring-board to talk about aging, regret, death, love, loss, and most importantly, figuring out where to go when you think you’ve done it all. It’s a smart movie that knows what it wants to say, but doesn’t hit us over-the-head too much and Batra is to be commended for that.

Seriously. This woman can’t find love?!?

He’s also to be commended for giving both of these characters more to them than just these notes that they pass to one another and, of course, food. See, Batra uses the lunchbox, as well as the notes the two pass to one another, as a way to sort of go in further to each of their lives and figure out what really makes them tick and why, above all else, they need to do this. Sure, it’s a silly conceit, but given these two characters’ lives and what we learn about them, it makes sense and it works for as long as it goes.

Once again, if it was made in the States, it probably wouldn’t have worked quite as beautifully.

Mostly, too, because Irfan Kahn and Nimrat Kaur wouldn’t have been in the leads. Both are terrific in their own respective roles and a certain amount of color and, well, sadness when needed. Kahn’s expressive eyes can give off any mood in any scene, whereas with Kaur, she’s just so beautiful, it’s hard not to take your eyes off of her. Nawazuddin Siddiqui also shows up in a supporting role as Saajan’s replacement who, at first, seems like he’s going to be annoying comedic sidekick, who shows up, acts silly and helps us laugh and get through some of the pain and sadness of the material. But nope, there’s actually more to him and the connection he builds with Saajan isn’t just nice, it’s beautiful.

Maybe the romance should have been between them?

Consensus: Cute and sweet, but without trying too hard to be either, the Lunchbox works as a rom-com that deals with a lot more than just two lonely people falling in love and much more about life itself.

8 / 10

“Please stop eating my hubby’s food, dick. Thanks.”

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures Classics

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It Felt Like Love (2013)

Oh man. Young love. What the hell.

Lila (Gina Piersanti) is a teen from Gravesend who doesn’t have much going on in her life. Her mom’s out of the picture, her dad’s always working, and the few friends that she has are, well, to say the least, unreliable. But she’s growing up now and with that, she’s starting to realize more about her self and her own sexual-being, but most importantly, she’s starting to like boys for once. And then she meets Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein) a local guy who’s a bit of a thug and a bit of a hard-ass who is the complete opposite from the shy, introverted Lila, but for some reason, she wants him. She wants him so bad, that she even concocts a story about the two going out to those around her. Why? Well, no one really knows, but eventually, Sammy finds out about this and begins to even take a liking to Lila, too, although, it’s a much different kind of love or passion that Lila was ever expecting.

Ew. Get a room! When your parents aren’t home, that is.

It Felt Like Love deals with young/first love, meaning, it’s a movie right up my alley. But it’s a much different kind of one that doesn’t just rely on smart, lovely insights about growing up, coming-of-age, or discovering who you are, but more of just putting us in the feeling of being in love. Writer/director Eliza Hittman has a very unique style that’s raw and grainy, wherein times it almost feels like a Cassavetes film, but it also never leaves the view of Lila – it’s her movie, the whole time and because of that, we get the rare glimpse at young, somewhat predatory and confusing love, through the eyes of a young girl.

And it’s honestly something that we don’t often get to see, or at least, not at this deep of a level. With Lila, we see her act out in ways that not only surprise her, but shock those around her who feel as if they’ve known her all of this time; it’s actually interesting to see how Lila acts in certain situations, because while we get a general idea of who she is from the beginning, it’s never made clear just what kind of person she is. She stares into space a lot and rather than having everything to say, she mostly allows her eyes to do the talking for her, making her not just a compelling protagonist, but a very believable one who is, yes, a young and shy girl, discovering the world around her.

Love at first strike.

Which is to say that Gina Piersanti is pretty phenomenal in the role, because she does so much, with so little.

Granted, a lot of it is staring into space and looking as if she’s going to say something, but a lot of that is hard to do and pull-off, without it seeming lazy, or forced. Piersanti was about 14 at the time of filming, too, so it helps give it an even more realistic feel, but even besides that, there’s a certain aura surrounding her that just works and made me want to see more and more of her, just interacting in her day-to-day life. It reminded me a lot of Sandrine Bonnaire’s role in À Nos Amours, in that there’s this youthful, burning passion alive in every scene within this girl, that’s not just waiting to come up, but is ready to explode at any second.

It’s honestly a shame that I haven’t seen anything from Piersanti since. Here’s to hoping that changes very soon.

Consensus: Stylistically speaking, It Felt Like Love is a raw, rather gritty film that looks like it could use a shower, but fits perfectly well with the underlining feeling of obsession, love and passion, anchored all by a great performance from newcomer Piersanti.

8 / 10

Don’t worry, gal. It gets better. Wait. Actually, nope. It doesn’t.

Photos Courtesy of: VHX

The Look of Love (2013)

The Look of Love (2013)

At one point in his life, Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) seemingly had it all. He was a Soho adult magazine publisher and entrepreneur that seemed to have all of the money, all of the drugs, all of the women, and all of the fancy people around him to help him out. However, it wasn’t always like that. In fact, before he got on top, Raymond started with just a few adult burlesque houses, where nudity and sexual innuendo was a constant cause for controversy. Eventually, it all came to work out for him, because not only did people want to see naked women, they also wanted to be in the company of them, as well as Raymond, who was, in all honesty, a charming chap. And while he was closer and closer to becoming one of Britain’s wealthiest men, he had some issues to deal with, mostly those in his personal life with wife Jean (Anna Friel), who he can’t seem to stay faithful to, or his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots), who seems to be taking all of the drinking, sex, and drugs a little bit to hard and may prove to be her ultimate undoing.

Life is good when you have Anna Friel on your arm.

The Look of Love is one of those glossy, glammy, and glitzy biopics about rich people having all of the fun in the world. It doesn’t really try to inform or educate us, nor does it ever really set out to change the nature of biopics as we know it; it has a subject, it has a story, and it has a sort of hook. That’s all we need.

But for some reason, coming from director Michael Winterbottom, something seems to still be missing. See, it isn’t that the Look of Love can’t be entertaining when its living it up with all of the excess of drugs, sex, booze, and partying, because it does, it’s just that when that is all said and done, it doesn’t have much else to offer. A good portion of this can have to do with the material just not working and Winterbottom’s rather lax-direction, but it may all just come down to the fact that Paul Raymond himself just isn’t all that interesting of a fella to have a whole movie about.

Or at the very least, a movie in which he is shown as a flawed, but mostly lovable human being.

And it’s odd, too, because Raymond definitely gets the whole treatment; everything from his success as a businessman, to his failure as a family man is clearly shown and explored. But for some reason, it still feels like the movie is struggling with what to do, or say about this man. Sure, he brought himself up from nothing, to become more than just someone, or something, but is that about it? What did he do to get to that? Who was he with? What was the rest of the world like? Any sort of conflict?

And above all else, why do we care?

Truth is, we sort of don’t.

It’s even better when you’ve got a fine ‘stache.

That isn’t to say that Winterbottom and Coogan especially, don’t seem to try here, because they do. As Raymond, Coogan gets a chance to be light, funny, and a little dirty, which is something the man has always excelled in. But when it does come to the movie showing us more to Raymond behind the lovable and wacky facade, the movie stumbles a bit and Coogan’s performance can’t really save things in that department, either. We see that he loves his daughter and is fair to his ex-wives and lovers, but does that really give us a total reason to have a whole hour-and-a-half-long movie about his life and successes?

Once again, not really. It helps that Anna Friel and Imogen Poots are good in supporting-roles, but even they feel a bit underwritten. Friel’s ex-wife character is gone for such a long stretch of time that we almost forget about her, until she shows back up, gets naked, gets drunk, and has some fun, and Poots’ daughter character, while initially promising at first, turns into a convention that biopics like these love to utilize. Granted, she was a real person and the movie isn’t taking any narrative short-cuts in this respect, but still, it just doesn’t wholly feel right.

Was there more to her? Or her mother? Or even Raymond? Once again, we may never know.

Consensus: At the very least, the Look of Love is an entertaining, if also by-the-books biopic of a man we probably didn’t really need a whole movie dedicated to in the first place.

5 / 10

And when you’ve got plenty to drink and snort. But that’s obvious by now.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Lenny Cooke (2013)

Don’t put all your hoops into one basket.

Lenny Cooke, at one point in the early-aughts, was considered one of the best, most-sought high school basketball players. He was fast, smart, and incredibly athletic. But the one thing that brought him back was the fact that he didn’t really care much about school. Like, at all. And considering that he grew up in poverty, he didn’t believe that having an education would really amount to much, other than just more annoyances in his daily life. So, rather than spending a year or two at a nice college, getting some form of education, and then heading for the NBA, where he would most likely be a top choice, Cooke decides to just skip college altogether and go straight for the NBA where, he hopes, to be the #1 pick of the NBA. Involved with the same draft were players of names like Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade, among many others, meaning that while it didn’t look totally terrible for Lenny, it also didn’t look too bright, either. Fast-forward nearly a decade later and yeah, Lenny’s life is a lot different than he could have ever imagined.

Who’s that chump?

Lenny Cooke is probably one of the best sports documentaries ever made, but only because it doesn’t forget that in sports, just like in everyday life, there is above all else, failure. Most sports documentaries that we see talked about and constantly praised, have to do with the underdogs facing all the odds and winning the grand prize – or if not the grand-prize, at least something close to it. But in Lenny Cooke, the documentary, it’s less about achieving that grand-prize, or even working towards it, and more about just watching a person do whatever he can to avoid it, for no real reason other than, well, life.

And in that sense, Lenny Cooke can be a little frustrating.

Both the person, as well as the documentary. Then again, however, I feel as if that may be the point. After all, Lenny isn’t an easy guy to totally pin-point; he’s young, a little brash, and so incredibly talented, he almost doesn’t know what to do with himself. It’s actually hard to sit there and watch as he possibly squanders his future away, due to decisions that he’s just not fully equipped to make just yet. It almost makes you want to shake his head and tell him what to do, but it also has us grow a lot closer to him, as an athlete and as a person who could have possibly been one of the best.

But why didn’t Lenny become one of the best? There’s a lot of ideas and questions brought up about this, but really, there’s no clear answer. There’s a few – like how Lenny’s friends may have influenced his final decision – but not a whole lot to really nail down and have as the final say. In this sense, once again, the documentary can be a tad bit frustrating, while also making exact sense as to why it is frustrating.

So interested.

Cause, after all, in life, there are no clear answers, or solutions. Just moments and certain choices that eventually lead to something happening. And such is the tragedy about life.

And a lot of the credit here deserves to go to the Safdie brothers and producer Adam Shopkorn, who gets a huge deal of footage from the early-aughts, when Lenny was the next best thing in basketball. This footage, while remain gritty and in-your-face, also puts us right there with Lenny, watching his life flash before his eyes, allowing us to see his skill, and just exactly who he was off of the court. The movie never tries to paint him as a hero, a saint, or even a terrible kid – mostly, they show that he’s a kid. Insecure and way-in-over-his-head, like all of us when we’re 18 or younger and, essentially, have the world at the base of fingers.

Which is why when the movie does abruptly shift into a final-act where we see Lenny, in present-day, it’s downright shocking. Not only is he bigger, but the life he lives, is pretty depressing. It’s hard to really say why this is, if you haven’t seen it, but what the Safdie’s are able to capture and get in this final-act, without ever passing judgement whatsoever, is a down-and-out tragedy. It shows you that time can pass you by and even the smallest, teeniest, tiniest decision, can affect the rest of your life for good. It doesn’t matter if you’re great at basketball or not, life is unfair and sometimes, it can bite you right back.

You know, general happy feelings that arise with sports.

Consensus: Smart, affecting, and absolutely tragic, Lenny Cooke is one of the rare sports documentaries that views its failure with an unblinking view and never shying away from getting even deeper.

9 / 10

Ugh. Time flies. Savor it, people.

Photos Courtesy of: CBS Local Sports, IndieWire, Worldstarhiphop

Cheap Thrills (2013)

Why can’t truth or dare with my buddies ever be this fun?

Craig (Pat Healy) has just become a new father, which means that there’s a lot more responsibilities on his plate, and in fact, they’re probably more than he can handle. He doesn’t have enough money to pay the bills, for his kid, the gas for his car, and he doesn’t even have a job anymore. Basically, his life blows, but when he meets back up with old pal Vince (Ethan Embry), all of a sudden, his problems seem to go away. Sure, he’s still kind of a loser with no job or money to show for anything, but he’s hanging with a buddy who’s life is almost worse, so yeah, it makes him feel a little bit better. Then, the two meet-up with Colin (David Koechner), a very rich random dude who, along with his wife (Sarah Paxton) are celebrating their anniversary with a night on the town. They invite both Craig and Vince out to join them, to go to various places and eventually, back to the mansion, where they’ll spend the rest of the evening playing a downright brutal and sometimes vicious game of truth or dare. Except, in this case, the reward is much greater, as well as the risk.

What happens when teen-idols start doing way too many drugs.

You’d think that with a title like Cheap Thrills, a small budget, a first-name director, a group of core characters rounded-out by character actors, and of course, a premise like that, that this would be nothing more than just a straight-to-VOD crap-fest, where the only ones who bother to check it out, are the people who didn’t have anything better to do with their time, nor actually know what good movies are. But for some reason, Cheap Thrills is surprisingly much more than that; yeah, it’s scummy, dirty, disgusting, and raw, but it’s also got a little more on its plate than being just one gross-out-gag-after-another. It’s got something to possibly say about classicism and the way our economy has made normal, everyday citizens out to do the worst possible things imaginable, just so that they can stay alive and well in a world that’s constantly changing and making it harder for a normal person to just survive.

You know, in between all of the feces, hacked-off limbs, blood, gore and nudity, but still, at least there’s something there.

Director E.L. Katz and writers Trent Haaga and David Chirchirill know that they’re working with some slimy material, and because of that, they don’t try to hide it. Sure, the themes about the modern-day society are there, but only if you decide to really look deep into it all; mostly, Cheap Thrills just wants to be a down-and-out, dirty and rather shocking movie that takes a fairly simple, and almost silly premise, and go into uncharted territory with it. Think watching a bunch of grown-ass adults actually playing a game of truth or dare would be stupid and a waste of time? Think again.

Cheap Thrills is the kind of movie that probably won’t work for a lot of people, but Katz, Haaga, and Chirchirill take this material into some crazy, unpredictable areas that are hard to see coming, only because we’re so used to movies having risks and limits, all to make sure that they’re sticking by a certain set of rules and standards that are made so that movies can appeal to anyone out there. Cheap Thrills isn’t that movie and is much better off for it, as it doesn’t try to be nice, or sweet, or appeal to anyone out there – it’s its own damn beast and while I wouldn’t normally applaud that pretentious bravery, it works here, so it’s okay. The fact that Cheap Thrills doesn’t want to be the perfect portrait of what people expect to get with a movie, makes it all the more likable and, dare I say it, charming.

“Whammy!”

Of course, it is low-budget and does look like it was made on the cheap, but sometimes, that’s actually fine.

Cheap Thrills doesn’t need to be a movie that big-budgets, or studios need to get their hands on; it’s the kind of movie that’s made by people who have a sort of love and passion for these sick, twisted and almost sadistic stories. It helps, too, that those acting in it, aren’t really big names and, at the very least, seem like real people. Sure, you’ve seen Pat Healy, David Koechner, Sara Paxton, and Ethan Embry in many places before, but here, they feel like raw, real people that just so happen to be in a very crazy movie; Embry is especially realistic playing a total loser who, over the course of the movie, you just want to give a hug, even when he does and acts in despicable ways. Still, you’ve got to give credit to Katz for casting these folks, all of whom show that they may be better than the material they’re playing with, but at the same time, aren’t sneering their noses at it – they’re enjoying their time slumming and getting all down and dirty. There’s something appealing in that, and it’s why Cheap Thrills doesn’t just work for them, but for those who actually take the time to see it.

Then again, depends on what you want.

Consensus: Rough, raw, and gritty, but also surprisingly fun, unpredictable, and smarter than you’d expect, Cheap Thrills benefits from its small, but welcome surprises, as well as giving us something more to look for beyond the B-movie thrills and premise.

7.5 / 10

True pals.

Photos Courtesy of: And So it Begins Films

I’m So Excited! (2013)

Trains are so much lamer.

A plane setting off for some sort of destination runs through all sorts of problems while up in the air. It all starts when a technical failure endangers the lives of everyone aboard the Peninsula Flight 2549. The pilots are in constant communication with the Control Tower to figure out just how to fix the issue; the flight attendants and the chief steward are, even in the face of danger, try to put on a happy face for the passengers, forget their own personal problems and devote themselves body and soul to the task of making the flight as enjoyable as possible for the passengers; and basically, yeah, everyone sits around as they wait for a solution. But it’s not all that bad, boring and miserable because first class is tended to by Joserra (Javier Cámara), Fajardo (Carlos Areces), and Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo), three fellows who know how to throw a good party, even if they’re up in the air and probably, most likely going to die by the time the plane hits the ground.

Hey, just be happy there's no snakes and Samuel L.

Hey, just be happy there’s no snakes and Samuel L.

The most interesting aspect surrounding Pedro Almodóvar and his movies is that there is, essentially, two beasts to him that he’ll play around with from time-to-time. There’s eccentric, rather crazy, unpredictable side that takes these whack-o stories that he’s thinking up and just get as insane as he wants with them. Then, there’s the other beast that’s far more reserved, emotional and sensitive, with the occasional burst of craziness thrown in for good mix. Almodóvar has made a career of this and while the results aren’t always perfect, needless to say, they prove that Almodóvar, no matter how old he gets, no matter how movies he makes, and no matter how long he stays around, he’s always finding something fun and fresh to keep himself going.

And that all goes away by the time you I’m So Excited, perhaps his most wacky, wild and silly movie, but probably his least compelling.

Which for some, may be all that’s needed; there’s nothing wrong with a seasoned writer/director taking some time away from the heavy, emotionally-gripping tales that they usually create and laying back, popping-up a bottle and letting the good times roll. Almodóvar himself has done this on quite a couple of occasions, for sure, but here, it feels like it gets away from him a tad bit too much. For one, I’m So Excited is, essentially, one-joke spread very far and wide for a premise that’s already too thin in the first place.

It also doesn’t help that Almodóvar’s sense of humor seemed to have gone away this time around, with him making some very lazy and obvious jokes about sex, drugs, women, men, gays, race, and even blow-jobs. In fact, there’s maybe a few too many blow-job jokes, which isn’t bad to have around, but they’re just not funny. It’s as if Almodóvar actually sat himself down and watched an Adam Sandler comedy, tried to reenact some of what goes on in those movies, make his own little twist, and see what happened.

Well, I’m So Excited happened and unfortunately, for everyone’s case, let’s just hope and pray that Almodóvar stays away from the Sandler filmography.

Is it too soon to be making cracks about pilots being messed-with in a live plane?

Is it too soon to be making cracks about pilots being messed-with in a live plane? Still?

That said, there are bits and pieces of I’m So Excited to enjoy, but they’re very few and far between. There’s a quite a few dance-and-music numbers that work well to keep the momentum going and the usual cast of characters that we all know, love and associate with Almodóvar are all here and having a very good time, but still, there’s something missing. Almodóvar, you can sort of tell, seems to know this about halfway through, when he’s gone too far with the possibility that all of these characters may die and doesn’t even try to have us sympathize with them.

Instead, we sit around and watch as if they act crazy, say silly things, do drugs, get drunk, have sex, and yeah, cry a whole lot. The movie does try to get across some idea that on this plane, there’s a real issue of classes that needs to be addressed, but in all honesty, it’s a bit underwhelming and feels thrown in there. Almodóvar tries and because of that, it’s really hard to attack a movie, because it seems like he always knows what he’s doing, even when he’s not, but yeah, sometimes, it’s not too hard to realize when a movie just isn’t quite coming together, so you decide to stick around, see what happens next, and, if worse comes to worse, join in on the escapades a tad bit.

After all, the movie’s done in barely 85 minutes, so what kind of harm could be done.

Consensus: Not necessarily “bad”, as much as it’s just “off”, I’m So Excited shows the fun and wacky side to Almodóvar, but without the stellar results we know and usually expect from him.

4 / 10

First class must be a blast. Too bad I'm not a millionaire.

First class must be a blast. Too bad I’m not a millionaire.

Photos Courtesy of: Reel Talk Online

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013)

Sorry, Edgar Winter, but some albino dudes are just downright creepy.

Julian Assange was like any other tech-lover in the world – the internet was his play-place where he could, say, and act anyway he wanted to. This is why he decides to do certain things like hack into certain security systems that show negligence on the company’s behalf. First, it was banks, then, it became government agencies who did not take kindly to someone as random and mysterious as Assange. Eventually though, word got out about Assange and sooner than later, they had a site where they could put any and all classified information that they stumbled upon – a little old website called “WikiLeaks”. On the site, users were able to anonymously and because of this, the government continued to target them more and more. However, Assange knew that these whistle blowers expected their identities to be hidden, which is why he stood up for almost every single person who was being looked into. And then, somehow, some way, it all changed; Assange, WikiLeaks, the whole internet world. Changed. And nobody really knows why, or who’s to blame.

"See? It's like Wikipedia, but not!"

“See? It’s like Wikipedia, but not!”

It’s mighty difficult to approach a subject like WikiLeaks, or even Assange, without getting bogged down in all of the crazy, never ending bits of info, twists, turns, and new happenings that never seem to end. However, Alex Gibney is the kind of director who can be trusted in these sorts of situations; he knows that the best way to present any piece of information, is to do so in the most comprehensible, slow-manner imaginable, so that everyone feels as if they know what’s going on and what’s just been brought to the table. This may not sound like much for a person who has literally been making documentaries every year since 2005, but it matters a whole lot, especially when you’re dealing with murky waters like WikiLeaks and especially Assange.

In fact, definitely Assange.

However, what’s probably the most admirable choice that Gibney takes here (among many), is that he never really digs into Assange as much as he should, or definitely could have. Clearly, the movie isn’t very pro-Assange, but at the same time, they also don’t hate him, either; if anything, the movie shows that he may have started out with good intentions and a smart head on his shoulders, but after awhile, once fame and praise got in his ears, he couldn’t help but run wild. Gibney shows that the tech-world may have, at one point, been totally behind Assange’s back, no matter what, but then drastically turned on him once it turned out that he may not be exactly who he appears to be.

But really, Gibney doesn’t want to make the whole movie about Assange, even though he could have definitely done that and it would have been no problem. Instead, Gibney decides to bring up ideas and points about the current world in which we live in, where no secret is hidden and unable to be found. Nowadays, there’s hardly any privacy, everyone has a computer/technology-device, and you know what, anybody can hack into something in order to uncover those private secrets you may have hidden from the rest of the world.

But what Gibney asks about this reality is whether or not that’s a good thing in the first place?

Yeah, let's hate this guy, apparently.

Yeah, let’s hate this guy, apparently.

Or, as he asks, are we giving random strangers too much power and control?

The movie itself falls somewhere in the middle, knowing that certain secrets ought to be brought to the news, because everyone has a right to know, but at the same time, knowing that certain things that aren’t really a matter of public concern deserve to be out and about for everyone else to see, either. Take, for instance, the iCloud Leak scandal – sure, a lot of pervs got their kicks off of nude pics from celebrities, but did this leak really need to happen? Could all of that energy and attention been devoted elsewhere to, well, I don’t know, the FBI? The CIA? Or, hell, anyone else except for Jennifer Lawrence?

Gibney brings these questions up, yet, never answers them and that’s fine – the movie isn’t necessarily as much about the answers, as much as it’s more about the world in which we live in. Also, Gibney doesn’t forget that a story like this, as compelling as it already is, can still be as exciting and fun to listen and watch, even if you already know everything that’s coming a mile away. If you don’t know the Assange and WikiLeaks story, then get out from underneath that rock.

But if you do, have no fear, because Alex Gibney still finds a way to make it all work.

Consensus: Informative, smart, exciting, and most of all, thoughtful, We Steal Secrets finds Gibney in top-form, even if the story itself is constantly expanding and getting more and more convoluted as we speak.

8 / 10

He's basically an albino Wes Anderson.

He’s basically an albino Wes Anderson.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Welcome to the Punch (2013)

Why can’t gangsters and cops just get along?

Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) is going damn near-obsessed with Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), a notorious British gangster who shot him in the knee, left him injured, and with a burning flare of revenge in the pit of his stomach. So, in order to get this criminal, Max decides to devise a set-up in which they’ll use Jacob’s son as bait. The plan sort of works, but it sort of doesn’t; while Jacob shows up, he still doesn’t fall prey to the tricks and trades of Max, therefore, leading to another battle of gunshots and violence. Meanwhile, the city’s law enforcement is cracking down on crime by issuing in new, state-of-the-art facilities and plans, all of which seem to promise a better, less-criminalized future for London, but really, seems like it may just be a pipe dream. After all, when you have cops as unprofessionally obsessed as Lewinsky handling very serious, almost life-changing cases, it’s hard to wish for a better tomorrow, when the present is already so screwed up and muggy.

"You fell for the free ice cream bit, too?"

“You fell for the free ice cream bit, too?”

Welcome to the Punch is, for lack of a better term, a very bloody, very violent, and very dour adaptation of cops and robbers. I say this intending for it to sound so exciting and fun as you’d expect something along those lines to be, but in reality, I can’t help but let you know that the film is very far from being exciting, or better yet, even fun. If anything, Welcome to the Punch is so cliched, serious and boring, that by the end, you may actually want to go out and play a simple, seemingly harmless game of cops and robbers yourself.

If you want to add the guns, the violence and the cursing, then sure, knock yourself out, but trust me, the entertainment you’d find with that game, you won’t find here.

A big part of that has to do with the fact that writer/director Eran Creevy doesn’t seem to know what to do with his set-up. While you can’t say the story here is particularly “original”, or even “surprising”, per se, there’s still a lot of promise up in the air. British gangster tales like this, when done right, can be every bit as compelling as they were back in the heydays of cinema – you just have to find the right approach and spin to make them as such. Creevy seems like he’s interested in these kinds of characters, but doesn’t know where to go with them, what to do with them or how to do anything that doesn’t bring anybody’s attention to far better, more engaging movies of the same genre.

Sure, this is expected with the British gangster genre, but still, there should be something different to make a note, instead of nothing. The violence and the few action-sequences we do get are, thankfully, fun and slick enough that they nearly save the movie, but everything else, when there isn’t shooting, or killing, or bleeding, or stuff blowing up, is just dull. Creevy seems to have a bright idea of staging action-sequences and how to get them going when push comes to shove, but actually getting there and bringing enough tension and turmoil to the action-sequences, he seems to have issues with.

Nobody lives in London except for James McAvoy, apparently.

Nobody lives in London except for James McAvoy, apparently.

This is a big problem, too, considering that he’s got a very solid cast to work with, yet, also seems to saddle them with dry, almost two-dimensional characters. McAvoy’s Lewinsky is so unrealistic and ridiculous, that he’s already hard to sympathize with, but McAvoy tries. We’re supposed to believe that a character like this would be such a live wire that, despite him brimming with rage and anger, he’d still be able to maintain himself in a place of professionalism and handle such a high-profile case as this. We don’t get to know anything more about McAvoy’s Lewinsky, other than that he’s obsessed with catching his shooter and that’s it.

Yawn.

Mark Strong’s Jacob seems like he’s going to be more than just your average British crook, but turns out to be just that. Sure, he’s not a total bad guy, but other than the fact that he seems to be doing everything for his son, there’s no real development to him that sets him apart from the rest of the other gangster characters who show up here. The only aspect is that he changes his mind about killing McAvoy’s Lewinsky, which almost doesn’t matter because, well, it’s hard to really care for that character in the first place.

Other welcoming presences show up like Peter Mullan, David Morrisey, and Andrea Riseborough show up and try their damn hardest to add some bit of electricity to the movie, but ultimately, seem like they’re not given anything in return for their efforts. Everyone here reads their script and does their absolute best, but Creevy isn’t really there to pick up the rest of the slack; they’re all sort of left working with thin characters we don’t come to care about, nor really identify with. They’re just place-holders for a bunch of action-sequences that, yes, look nice, but ultimately, don’t add up to much other than a bunch of in-focus explosions.

Give me a Diet Coke, Mentos, and a video-camera, and honestly, I could do the same thing. Except that it wouldn’t cost over 10 million dollars, nor would it be 100 minutes – it would cost five bucks, and last only about two minutes. Everybody would be a lot happier and not feel as if they’re time was just wasted.

Basically, the opposite feeling you get from Welcome to the Punch.

Consensus: Despite a great cast, Welcome to the Punch flounders their talents on a lame script, predictable storytelling, and uninteresting characters that are only meant to push us to the next action-sequence.

3 / 10

"Just do it. Make this thing interesting."

“Just do it. Make this thing interesting.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

What Richard Did (2013)

This Richard fella sure does like to do a lot of “things”.

Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor) is the golden boy athlete who seems to have it all. Good looks, good parents, plenty of money, actual talent in rugby, and a very bright future ahead of him. However, there’s some quite dark lying inside of Richard that he doesn’t let everybody know about, but instead, just bottles it up all in. For some, that can work, but for others, it can’t – consider Richard in that later group. But the good thing for Richard is that he meets an out-of-towner named Lara (Róisín Murphy) who he ends up falling in love with. Problem with it though, is that he eventually begins to grow jealous of her and the numerous looks she’s getting from various men around her. Richard takes notice of this and one drunken night, it all comes to ahead when something very tragic occurs and he, as well as his lads, are left without any idea of knowing what to do next. Because, after all, they’re just teenagers and teenagers don’t always make the right decisions, especially when their futures are held in the balance.

So yeah, obviously from just reading that title, seeing that poster and reading that synopsis, we know that Richard does something that’s not too kind. However, in order to avoid from totally spoiling it all for you out there, I’ll just beat around the bush and not say what he does; even though it doesn’t really matter. Sure, there is an element of surprise here as to finding out what Richard does in fact do, but that’s not the main aspect this movie pays attention to the most.

Richard likes to cozy-up next to his girlfriend.....

Richard likes to cozy-up next to his girlfriend…..

See, what director Lenny Abrahamson does so well here is that he doesn’t just focus on what it is that Richard does to others around him, he pays more attention to the person of Richard, what makes him who he is and why he does the things he does to those around. His actions make him who he is, but there’s also a certain layer we get to watch and study delicately that not only gives us a glimpse into what he is thinking, at any given moment, but how he feels about what he’s thinking. Because, to be honest, Richard doesn’t always do/say the right thing, and rather than making him a detestable human being for doing such, the movie keeps us a couple of steps away from him so that we don’t judge him too harshly.

One could say that Abrahamson’s trying to have us sympathize for somebody who, for lack of a better term, is a bit of a dick, but you could also say that there isn’t really a stance Abrahamson takes with this character, or this whole movie for that matter. We just sit back and view Richard for what he is – questionable morals and all. And since Richard is such a challenging character to not only like, but watch, it makes the task all the more challenging for somebody like Jack Reynor, a relative new-comer at the time, to really pull it all off without over-doing it.

And somehow too, he’s a revelation to watch on screen. But it’s not that Reynor over-does it here with his acting; he’s actually quite subtle. Sure, the script and the direction calls on him to be so, but there are so many times that the camera just stays still straight on his face, as he watches those around him, or staring into space, and we’re left thinking, “What the hell is going on inside his damn head?” He always looks pissed and, in a way, slightly disappointed; disappointed with his life at the present, with his future, the fact that he doesn’t have the dream girl he oh so desires, his mates, we don’t know. It’s all pretty much a mystery to figure it out and that’s why Reynor’s performance is so great here – he keeps us guessing the whole entire time.

Which, for a young, sterling cat like Reynor, may not have been an easy job on his part. Without saying much at all, he’s given the task of just letting his facial-expressions do the talking at any given moment, but the guy handles it effortlessly, as if he’s been doing this his whole life. It’s nice to see that the U.S. has finally picked up on this kid’s talent and actually throw him in some movies. However, it’s such a shame that some of those movies happen to include pieces of junk like Delivery Man and, probably far more-known, Transformers: Age of Extinction.

That damn Michael Bay, man. He snatches up the talent as soon as they’re hot and ready and ruins them for the rest of us.

Bastard.

..Richard even likes to talk to his daddy....

..Richard even likes to talk to his daddy….

Anyway, like I was saying earlier about this character of Richard – while Reynor is superb as him, it’s really Abrahamson and writer Malcolm Campbell who deserve the credit here. Like I said before, they give us an unsympathetic character, and don’t necessarily judge him; they simply present his story to us and allow us to make up our own minds about what decision of his is a good one, and a bad one. Better yet, it allows us to draw conclusions as to what really makes this guy, the guy we see at parties, just glaring blankly at the scenery at him. Is he sad? And if so, why? What’s he going to do about it? Hell, who is he going to do it to? So many questions are left up to us to figure out on our own and it can sometimes be enraging, but mostly, it’s just a challenge we ourselves have to think about long and hard.

That’s why the movie doesn’t always work, because while it doesn’t want to give away every answer, to every question it brings up, it still wants to keep on adding more and more fuel to the fire, almost to the point of where it seems like overkill. Sure, that’s not so bad if you have a rather large, ambitious movie, filled to the brim with numerous story-lines, going around all over the place, but when you have a small, hour-and-twenty-minute character-study, it does seem to be a bit of a selfish move. A selfish move not to give us a little more tokens for paying attention to certain things, but also because it just keeps on bring more to everything it wants to do. Maybe I’m just nit-picking and making problems that aren’t even there in the first place, but for me, I wanted just a bit more. A bit more of Richard, his back-story and just why he was such an angry bloke pretty much all of the time. I guess it’s something I’ll have to live with never fully finding out about.

Oh well.

That damn Michael Bay, though.

Consensus: Featuring an amazing performance from Jack Reynor in the lead titled-role, What Richard Did proves to be both a thought-provoking, as well as a sometimes enraging drama and exploration into the mind of a challenging character.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

...but most of all, Richard enjoys lounging out on the beach. That's what Richard does.

…but most of all, Richard enjoys lounging out on the beach. That’s what Richard does.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The We and the I (2013)

Take a cab next time.

It’s the last day of school for these high school students from the Bronx and they’re already to get a start on their much-anticipated summer. However, in order to do so, all that’s standing in front of them is a very, very long bus ride from school, all the way to their each respective stops. On the bus, is obviously the bus driver and a few civilians here and there, but for the most part, it’s mostly the student-body who take over everything; being that they’re young and rowdy and all. And with practically the whole school being on the bus, that means we get all of the usual cliques and social groups one sees in high school: the bullies, the nerds, the smelly kids, the drama queens, the homosexuals the skanks, the stoners, the musicians, the tools, etc. We even get an old lady that makes to fun of kids’ penis sizes. So yeah, this bus has got everything and everybody you could imagine, which also means that there’s going to be a whole lot of drama, too. And when there’s drama, there’s always a bad fall-out, no matter what the problem may be.

Whenever Michel Gondry’s name is attached to anything, it doesn’t matter what it is, you always have to expect the unexpected. Which, in most cases anyway, means that there’s going to be a whole lot of strange things popping out, left and right, up and down, exactly when you least expect it. Some may call this “pretentious”, whereas others may just simply call it “artistic”, or even “original”; but whatever the word is, it doesn’t matter, because Gondry likes to make movies that absolutely surprise us and take us back for a moment. Sometimes those bold decisions on his behalf work exceptionally well, and other times, they don’t, but for the most part, the surprises we get from him are a hell of a lot better than those we probably get from our parents on Christmas morning.

Basically me in high school. Nope, the one in the middle. Yes, the one with the wig.

Basically me in high school. Nope, the one in the middle. Yes, the one with the wig.

Sorry, mom and dad. Love ya guys, but I’ve about had it with socks for the fourth year in a row!

Anyway, like I was saying about Gondry and the flicks he chooses to do, it’s always a surprise with him, which is why when I heard that he decided to direct a movie that took place solely on a bus, with unprofessional actors, I was sort of confused. Was the dude really that desperate to save as much money as humanly possible without pissing his studios off enough? Or simply, was this just another case of Michel Gondry pulling a fast one on us and showing us that, even if he’s been around for a little longer than a decade, he’s still capable of surprises in his rather storied-career?

For the most part, it’s a little bit of both, but more so leaning on the later. Which isn’t to say that what Gondry does here isn’t respectable – it totally is. What Gondry is able to do, is that he’s able to make one, single location seem to expand into being something more. And although there a whole bunch of flashbacks/dream-sequences in which we get inside a certain character’s head when he/she is speaking about something, the real feeling of there being a larger world outside of this bus is solely by these characters and listening to them talk. When a character here speaks, you believe them in everything they’re saying; not because they feel so real, but because they look so real as is. You automatically buy them as young kids just getting out of high school (mostly because they probably were in real life), but you also buy whatever it is that they’re are going on and on about.

Most of the time, too, what it is that they’re talking about isn’t very interesting at all – the subjects range from being about parties, drinking, smoking, hookin’ up with hotties, the usual drama crap, etc. – but since these characters look so real, you are slightly interested in hearing what they have to say. Just like you’d probably be if you met someone at a party and they just started going on about whatever comes out of their mouth next – it may not be interesting, or even remotely “cool” to listen to, but hey, if they’re talking and they’re the only thing in front of you, then that you’ll listen. Or, you could be a total dick, leave mid conversation and act as if you’ve never met that person in your life. Ever.

Then, it all comes down to a judge of your character really. So the choice is up to you on that one.

And most of the time, the script doesn’t really try to go for anything deeper here than “problems high school kids have”, but it’s still slightly nostalgic in the way that it reminds you of the early days of summer in which you didn’t know what to expect next, except just fun with friends, That’s what summer is all about in the first place, and even if you haven’t yet had that “ideal summer” in your life, then don’t worry, because it’ll come your way. And if not, just watch this movie and have that feeling in the pit of your stomach.

Basically me before high school. Yes, both of them.

Basically me before high school. Yes, both of them.

That’s not to say though, that because this film is so pleasant in its look and design, that means that it’s easily a great film, with barely any problems, because it totally is. For starters, while the idea of casting non-professionals in these roles may have been a bold one on Gondry’s behalf, not all of it works out quite well for him. Some of these actors feel as if Gondry just plopped the camera right in front of their faces and gave them some cue-cards on how to act when and where, and just let them roll with it. While that would work and feel as natural as natural can be for some great actors, here, there are some weak-links that feel like they’re trying too hard, or not trying at all. The ones that don’t seem to try at all and just be themselves are fine, but when you have maybe seven or eight cast-members who feel like natural, realistic teens talking, out of a cast that features maybe 20 or so, then you’ve got some problems.

Not a lot, but some.

Not 99, but maybe 30. Don’t know why there’s a random Jay-Z reference thrown in there, but hey! Whatever!

Consensus: In his typical, quirky-fashion, Michel Gondry takes some surprisingly bold moves with the We and the I, most of which work and show that he’s capable of a bare-bones dramedy, while some, don’t and show that maybe he went a bit too deep into his mind.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Where I'll be living once my parents kick me out when I turn 45.

Where I’ll be living once my parents kick me out when I turn 45.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Afternoon Delight (2013)

Sky rockets in flight….

Rachel (Kathryn Hahn) is your typical, suburban mommy. She’s rich, she works-at-home, she cares for her kid, she has barely any sex with her hubby (Josh Radnor) and she routinely sees a therapist (Jane Lynch). But worst of all, she’s just bored. It’s that plain and simple. So, in order to fix that and get some spice back into her uneventful marriage, Rachel decides to go to a strip-club where she gets a private lap-dance from a much younger girl named McKenna (Juno Temple). The two don’t necessarily hit it off, as much as it’s just Rachel who sees McKenna as a possible source to not only cure her boredom, but make her feel like she is saving somebody from this world, if only it’s to take her away from the sex world. This is when Rachel gets the bright idea to have McKenna stay in her house and tell everybody that she is her “nanny”, while also trying to make sure that McKenna herself stays away from the pole, as well as her other job, being a high-class hooker. As the cracks in Rachel’s lie begin to show, so do the ones with her marriage, her friendships with her fellow neighbors, as well as her and McKenna’s relationship as well, which causes hell for just about everybody surrounded around them both.

Though it’s easy to characterize anybody who lives in the suburbs as “uptight”, “boring” and “stuck-up”, among other things, it’s not exactly fair. See, I actually live in the suburbs, even though I venture out to Philly for most of my natural, breathing-life, and I can’t help but see this differently sometimes. Some of the people that I do know that live in the suburbs, definitely don’t always have a firm grip on reality, or what actually is occurring out there in the world, so they just act like it’s all a big deal, and donate to a charity or some fund, just in order to make themselves feel better about their contribution to a needy-cause. That’s only “some” people I know though.

Dude's totally tucking it in right now.

Dude’s totally tucking it in right now.

As for the others that I know, they’re just as simple as you or I. Sure, they don’t always have the best clue on what is really going on out there in the world, but they aren’t necessarily dummies either. If you take them into the city where crime and violence supposedly runs amok, they won’t fret or freak-out. Yeah, they’ll be a bit tense and all, but who wouldn’t?!?!

But what I’m trying to get at here is that most of the ideas we think we have about those upper-class, suburbanites, aren’t always exactly true, and I think that’s the type of idea this movie tries to get across – not just in its message, but through its main character, Rachel. See, here is the thing about Rachel: You know that she’s this woman who longs for something more and isn’t too into-her-own-head to get all bothered and bugged about what most of her neighbors get all crazy about. However, you can also tell that she still wants to look good in their eyes, not seem like a total “rebel”, and just make sure that she keeps the peace between her and all them, without ever stepping on their toes, or offending them in any way. And to be honest, when you watch Rachel, you can’t help but just root her on because you know that she’s a lovely lady and means well, but the group of gals that she’s thrown into, aren’t really the right fit for her and are the type of walking, talking and living cliches we usually see of these upper-class, suburban women: Uptight, boring and stuck-up.

However though, that same dilemma built for Rachel, is what makes her such a compelling character to begin with. We want to despise her and look down on her for being so dumb and thinking that she could, or “should”, save a girl like McKenna, who has practically been screwing, lying, cheating and stealing since she first learned how to speak; but by the same token, we also can’t hate her because she has good intentions, she does nice things for people and, at the end of the day, she’s just like you or me, and has the same wants, needs and pleads. It’s what makes her so interesting to watch, not because we never know how she’s going to react next to McKenna’s dirty and gritty world, but because we never quite know how she’s going to react to those other women around her. You know, the women she’s supposed to fit-in with, but yet, just doesn’t seem all that interested in doing so.

Writer/director Jill Soloway definitely made a smart decision in making someone like Rachel, feel as real and as genuine as you could get, but she also made an even smarter-decision in casting someone like Kathryn Hahn in the role, someone who, in case you didn’t know, loves to be very funny, crazy and wacky, just about ALL of the time. And in all honesty, I think that’s what makes this performance so worth watching: We know Hahn’s background and we know how much she can make us laugh, but watching her sort of play-up the whole serious side of acting-skills and actually emote, is really surprising to see on-screen, not least because she isn’t any good at it. Because she totally is and makes Rachel someone we can sort of connect with, as well as empathize with, because we all know she wants to do the right thing, even if her intentions are in a bit of a jumble as to why, and for what reasons.

But, make no mistakes, we never hate Rachel, nor do we ever hate someone like McKenna either, which is mostly due to the fact that Juno Temple practically has this whole “young, sexpot”-act down to a T by now. Though we hear that McKenna comes from a sketchy-background, I never once felt like she was all that bad of a woman to have around the house, or bring out into public. Sure, she’s been around the block maybe one too many times, but leaving her alone with my kid? Eh, I could do worse. However, leaving her around my hubby while I was gone? Not at all! But, once again, Soloway makes the smart decision in giving somebody like Josh Radnor, another dude we mostly see as the charming, funny dude in stuff, a dramatic role, but also, a very believable one as a husband that loves his wife, his kid, his house, his salary and his buddies he smokes pot and surfs with, but still may have that lingering-eye a few times.

Very subtle.....slut.

Very subtle. Slut.

Still though, the movie doesn’t always entertain the idea that Radnor’s character may actually go behind his wife and cheat on her with McKenna, which is sort of a disappointment, because there are many times where it seems like this movie could have definitely benefited from some more emotional fireworks thrown into the mix. I mean yeah, we get a couple of scenes where we see Rachel try and understand who McKenna is, where she comes from and why she loves what she does (screwing), but there was never enough to fully wrap us into either of their stories. They were sort of getting to know one another, but at the same time, sort of not. They were, more or less, just peaking into each other’s lives to see what it was all about – which I get was probably the point, but Soloway never allows for there to be much tension added into the proceedings.

Instead, we get a bunch of characters who are definitely very interesting and may make you reconsider some previous-stances you may, or may not, have had on those who choose to live far, far away from the suburbs, so that they can live in peace in harmony, without much excitement in there to shake things up. You can call their life-styles “boring”, and hell, you can even call it “unrealistic”, but for some people, this is probably for the best. So next time, just let those suburbanites settle into their lives and move, as you do the same. Unless you are one, then in that case, get outside, get your ass to the city and see what life is all about!!! Woo-hoo!

Consensus: Most of what Afternoon Delight presents here are used more as just thoughts, rather than as a full-blown idea to keep the narrative going, but when you have such great performances from the likes of Josh Radnor, Juno Temple and most surprisingly of all, Kathryn Hahn, it doesn’t hurt to just sit back and watch as these people live their lives. Even as monotonous and dull as they may be, at times.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

So if I just wanted to watch, would I have to chip in as well? Know what I'm saying, guys?

So if I just wanted to watch, would I have to chip in as well? Know what I’m saying, guys?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net

The Armstrong Lie (2013)

Burning my Live Strong wrist-bands as we speak.

At first, when director Alex Gibney decided that he wanted to do a documentary on Lance Armstrong, it was to honor his legacy and hype-up his 2009 Tour de France comeback that came and went. However though, as time went on and more rocks began to get turned over, Gibney started to realize that there was maybe more to what Armstrong wasn’t just letting him on about, but also the rest of the world. See, Amstrong was being investigated on doping-charges (the same types of suspicions that have plagued his whole career), but it didn’t get nearly as bad up until Armstrong’s former teammate, Floyd Landis, came out and said that he was there throughout all of those times that Armstrong himself was doping-up left and right. This is when Gibney decided that instead of making a documentary praising Armstrong, that maybe it was time to focus in on just what was true about these allegations, and just what type of person Lance Armstrong, really is. The results, as expected, aren’t pretty.

I’m pretty sure I speak for everybody out there in the world when I say that I was pretty inspired by Lance Armstrong’s story, all before he went on Oprah and finally came clean. Not only was he able to make a sport like cycling actually seem “cool”, but he seemed to do it all for a cause to help others out there, raise awareness for those who need it the most, as well as give it his all, each and every race he partook in. Back in the day, Lance Armstrong was no joke and he was definitely the type of athlete just about every kid looked up to, regardless of if they had aspirations to play any sports whatsoever.

Even the professionals got to work with training-wheels sometimes.

Even the professionals got to work with training-wheels sometimes.

That’s why when you hear about someone like Lance Armstrong and how much of a dick he was, but a lying dick at that, you can’t help but think, “Why Lance? Why?!?!?” Because the truth is, Lance Armstrong stood for everything any moral, kind, humane person in this world wanted to stand for, but the one thing that he had going for himself was that he was a master at riding a bike and never seemed to lose. Whether or not all of those races he won were done on-the-sauce or not, doesn’t matter, because what matters is that he won, showed everybody out there that you can persevere in the face of danger, and most of all, you can be all that you want to be, just as long as you believed in yourself.

And this is why Alex Gibney’s-stance on this story works so well for this subject, because even though he is judging Armstrong for all of his wrong-doings, he’s also shining a light on the whole media-frenzy surrounding him. Because, if you think about it, the main reason why most of us loved Armstrong, was because the media kept their eyes on him and gave him all the fame, fortune and adoration one man could possibly need. We all fell in love with him because that’s what we’re practically shown everything we could ever imagine this man as being, with barely any cracks to be found whatsoever.

Sure, there were teenie, tiny whispers going around back in the day of how he may have been juicing, or how he may not have had that squeaky-clean image he prompted so firmly out there in the media, but none of us really wanted to believe it. We wanted to believe what it is that we saw, was exactly who Armstrong was, and therefore, we fell for the lie. We were all duped on this one, people! We were told that Armstrong was the most perfect human being ever created, and we practically stood-by it because, well, it’s what we were shown and told.

Now of course, I’m getting further and further away from the man himself, and more towards the media, but I definitely do think that aspect plays a huge-role in this story, much like Gibney thinks as well. He saw the type of man Armstrong was in front of the camera, which is why when he saw who the man was behind it, not only was he a bit taken aback, but he couldn’t help but find out if there was more to this. Was he actually a fraud that just used drugs to get ahead of the game? Or, as he always defended himself in saying, just the victim of what seemed to be a whole lot of jealousy going around in the world of sports? Obviously, we know now what question’s answer is “yes”, and what is “no”, but these are the types of questions that I bet Gibney had rolling around in his head the whole time during the filming of this movie and they translate perfectly to a movie that allows us to see Armstrong for all that he is – as a person, as a figure of the media, as an athlete, as an endorser, and most importantly, as a role model for all of those out there who need one.

And that’s what brings me to my main subject for the hour: Mr. Lance Armstrong himself.

Personally, I’ve never always been a fan of the guy. While I did hold a lot of respect for the guy when I was a lot younger, I grew-up to begin to realize that maybe he wasn’t all that he appeared to be. Now, I am not saying that I expected him to be using steroids this whole time, because quite frankly, I didn’t care. Some parts of me felt like he was a genuinely nice guy, and other parts of me felt like maybe he was just doing it all for show, in order to gain more popularity for himself or the sport he played in. Not saying that the causes he spoke-out for weren’t worthy or anything, but once you figure out that Armstrong himself did a little dirty-dealings on the side to protect his image as this lovely, wonderful peace-keeper, you have to wonder if he really did feel so strongly for these supposed-passions of his. Better yet, it also makes you question just who the hell he is: A nice guy, or a bad guy?

The same type of expression most husbands have whenever their wife stumbles in on them with another woman.

The same type of expression most husbands have whenever their wife stumbles in on them with another woman.

And I do mean to say that in a general, movie-sense where he’s a villain or a superhero; what I mean is that do we know if he truly is a good guy that cares for these people and these causes he backs-up in the public-media, or, is he just a show-boy who knows how to work the camera, work a statement and have enough muscle to make sure that nothing of his public-image gets skewered? Honestly, for me, I feel like it’s more of the later, but I came to that conclusion on my own, which is definitely want Gibney wants. For instance, every interview we ever get with Armstrong, whether it’d be in the past or present-day, we don’t hear Gibney telling us what to think. Instead, Gibney lets Armstrong speak for himself, in lying, cheating and stealing way. Of course Gibney probably doesn’t think the world of him, but it’s not like Gibney’s the one to make us think that – he gives us a subject, gives us his story and tells us why we should pay attention to each and everything the guy says, because you never know if you’ll miss-out on something he accidentally admits to or still feels wrongly about.

Nowadays, it seems like Armstrong’s career, for mostly everything, is over, said and done with. However, what we do have left is a story about a man who, at one point in his life, took the whole world by storm and made us all see him for what he was. Only to then to hit us right back in the face, make us feel betrayed, because what we saw, wasn’t actually the truth. It was Lance Armstrong, being Lance Armstrong, the inspiring, conquer-all-odds medal-winning cyclist; not Lance Armstrong, the human being that was pretty much a dick to everyone that he met or ever worked with, and didn’t play the sport he loved so much, fairly.

Consensus: There’s a lot here in this story that Alex Gibney decides to throw at us with the Armstrong Lie, but it also happens to make us humanize the main subject for the type of person he was in the media, against the type of person he was when the lights went on and the cameras stopped rolling.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Okay, cool. After this, can you all get the fuck out? Thanks."

“Okay, cool. After this, can you all get the fuck out? Thanks.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider

20 Feet From Stardom (2013)

Screw you, auto-tune! We got humans to do the singing for us!

Whenever you listen to your favorite band, artist, singer, etc., you usually go for them because they are what sells the record, inspires you and basically gives it all they got in order to make you like them, and the music that they create. However though, in many cases, there are times when one person singing a song isn’t enough; sometimes, studios bring in what we call “back-up singers”. In case you didn’t know what “back-up singers” do, it’s all pretty self-explanatory: They stand-behind the lead singer, do a bunch of “oohs”, “aaahs”, and “la la las”, and sometimes, even contribute a bit more with their own singing parts. They are more important to the piece of song music than you’d think, but you don’t know any of their names. Instead, you walk away, remembering all there is you need to know about Mick Jagger, Sting and Bruce Springsteen, but you don’t know the names of Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Patti Austin, or even Judith Hill. This is their story, their time to shine and a chance to tell all about who they are, their adventures and just what the heck it is that they are doing with their wonderful, glorious voices.

Rather than having this be another Behind the Music-like rockumentary we’re so used to seeing, director Morgan Neville is able to find a way to get all of these different gals, track them down, get their stories and show how each and every one of them were affected by the fact that, in some cases, weren’t known as “the big, head-lining act”. In some of these cases, these gals were just session-players that didn’t step-out from the background, and kept on trudging on for as long as they could with their voices, their inspiration, their pride and their ambition; but there are some cases where we do see that, after awhile, all of that begins to go away.

White girl be like, "Da 'eff am I doing here?"

White girl be like, “Da ‘eff am I doing here? These girls are way better than my white ass!”

See, rather than making this a story where we see the rise, the fall, and the eventual re-emergence of these gals and their careers, what we do see are stories told in their own words, and through their own eyes. Sounds all so damn simple, which it is, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that each of these lovely women have a great story to tell, and barely leave any small detail out. Some stories are obviously a lot more up-lifting than others, but for those who want to know what the music-business was, is and will be like, then this is definitely the right documentary to see, especially since it deals with real people, having real talents, and struggling with real problems that any and all musicians practically deal with on a day-to-day basis.

And yes, we all know that the music world is a harsh one, because when you’re not dealing with crummy-sales, you’re usually having to deal with the even-crummier politics of the music-business that either: a) don’t think you’ve got enough talent, b) aren’t good-looking enough, or c) all of the above. It’s a shitty reality, but it’s one that most musicians learn to deal with, as hard as it may be to swallow. That’s why watching all of these ladies talk about, reminisce on and give their own two cents on their lives and the state of the music world, is something interesting. The movie itself doesn’t go any deeper than showing these ladies just talking, singing, living and learning, but there isn’t much more you need than that.

If anything, this documentary could have gone a bit deeper into the various social-issues it seemed to bring up and show some interest in, but seemed to only scratch the surface enough to say that they at least “tried” to handle wider-issues. It’s a bit disappointing, really, especially once we dive right into the 60’s/70’s-racial issues that most of these back-up singers had to deal with, and we realize that not only would the record-producers not accept these girls for what they were, but also the rest of the world, too. They pull the same shenanigans during the part in which the idea of computer-based record-producing is brought-up, and only seemed to scratch the surface, but only slightly.

Also, another strange thought I had when watching this movie was why did it just focus on all of the women, all of the time? I know this may seem weird and somewhat “pro-man” in some people’s eyes out there, but we do get to see some men talk and are listed as “back-up singers”, despite them not nearly given as much time in the sun as these ladies do. Granted, most of the focus is thrown on what these ladies bring to the table with their voices, but it seemed odd that we’d get a glimpse at a couple of male back-up singers, yet, the only one who seems to get the most focus is Luther Vandross, who, from what most of us now, ended-up becoming a huge, respectable artist in his own right, and also happens to have passed-away. Seemed odd to me, especially since I’d be quite interested in seeing the story of a male back-up singer, all because we don’t get to hear them in music quite nearly as much.

Mick sure did love his ladies "dark". And I'm not just talking about on the stage.

Mick sure did love his ladies “dark”. And I’m not just talking about on the stage…..

Then again though, those are all small, minor complaints I had with a documentary that really did show me, once again, what it was like to have ambition with something you so obviously want to do with your life, especially if it’s in the world of music. This is definitely not the best “rockumentary” I’ve seen of 2013 (Sound City definitely takes the cake on that one), but for any boy, girl, male, female, father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, son, dog, cat, alien, etc., who wants to follow their dreams and give it a go in music and see what they can do, then I’d definitely say check this movie out and watch these women, listen to their story and realize that if you do have the talent, just know that you may not get as big as you want. Sounds all pessimistic, I know, but when you’re making music, money and all sorts of famous friends, just realize that not everything will go as according to plan; and when, and if, that moment happens, you have to rely on one thing: Your drive to keep on doing what it is that you love, no matter what.

In other words: Keep on singin’, folks!

Consensus: Maybe not the best documentary to ever be made about music, by but sticking its attention straight to those unsung heroes in the world of music (pun intended), 20 Feet From Stardom becomes an engrossing, interesting and honest look at what one individual can expect when making music, becoming successful and earning a load of money, while also realizing that it may go away, at any second.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

There's a dude singing! Represent!

There’s a dude singing! Represent!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net

Labor Day (2013)

Escaped convicts always make the best stand-in daddies. Honestly don’t know why they aren’t more frequent.

13-year-old Henry (Gattlin Griffith) and his depressed mother Adele (Kate Winslet) are going through a bit of a rough-patch right now. Mainly her though as she’s trying to get over the recent-divorce from her ex (Clark Gregg) and find her way back into being the normal, spirited gal she once was. However, Henry has it pretty bad too, with puberty and all, but he doesn’t think he has it all that bad when he just so happens to stumble upon an escaped convict by the name of Frank (Josh Brolin), who then urges them to come with him and not be suspicious in any way. At first, both Henry and Adele are frightened of this man, but sooner than later, they begin to realize that he’s got a heart of gold, but also just so happens to be a murderer – a murder he consistently lets us know is “not what it appears to be”. As time goes on though, the three all begin to bond, with Adele and Frank even going so far as to start doing a little hanky-panky, which leads them to their next stage: Move-away and become a real family? Or, just let the law take control and send Frank back to the slammer, where he rightfully belongs? Decisions, decisions people.

It pains me to see a movie like this, where one of the most promising directors in the longest while, Jason Reitman, tries something new and slightly bold, and somehow, falls on his face. Not flat on his face, but you can definitely tell that his “smart idea” of changing his directorial-choices up a bit and going for something that’s far more dramatic, romantic and in some cases, suspenseful than what we’ve seen him do in the past, definitely wasn’t fully thought-out.

"Don't mind this goatee-sporting man that just so happens to be wearing a sweat-top and baseball-cap next to me. He's just an old friend I just so happened to stumble upon."

“Don’t mind this goatee-sporting man, who also happens to be wearing a sweat-top and baseball-cap next to me. He’s just an old friend I just so happened to stumble upon while shopping.”

Reason being: There just isn’t much, or any at all spark to be found in this story that should have made it work.

The one aspect of this movie I will give Reitman some credit for is at least trying to give the audiences something new, in terms of an “adult romance”. And by that, I don’t mean that we see much sex between the adults, or nudity, or even that much of sappy, love-struck moments that would make even Nicholas Sparks get all red in the face; it’s an “adult romance” in the way that we see two, older-aged humans that have clearly experienced life for what it was has brought to them, and now how they want to continue on their lives with one another. It’s kind of sweet when you think about it and definitely gives you the idea that this is not something very “popular” with audiences out there. However, the fact remains that adults do in fact, “fall in love”, and it’s time that we started seeing more movies that depict that fact of life.

But to add on that, we should also be seeing good movies that depict that fact of life, not something like this. Which, I kind of do hate to say because I love Reitman; he’s the type of writer/director who’s not afraid to take chances, or depict characters that may not always be perfect, but feel like full-fledged characters we can actually care about and connect with. Here though, we have a bunch of broken-down, beaten-up people that would definitely seem like perfect matches-made-in-heaven for one another, but don’t really add up to much. It’s believable that somebody as repressed as Adele would look twice at a guy like Frank who, may even be more emotionally-disturbed than she is, but treats her like the Queen Bee she hasn’t felt like in some odd time. That aspect of the story definitely makes sense, but it just doesn’t play-out in a believable manner.

Which, I think, is to put the blame on Reitman for having this story be told in the point-of-view of Henry. Granted, I never read the book this is an adaptation of, so it could definitely be just a case where somebody is following by the guide-lines presented to him, but it doesn’t work. Not only do we get too much focus on Henry oddly and awkwardly talking to this fellow teenage girl (that, unbelievably, keeps talking about sex and how he should get ready to be kicked-out of the house because the adults he lives with are having too much of it), but we never actually get to see Frank and Adele develop much as a couple, or even soul-mates. We just see them sad, lonely and in need of some lovin’, which is all fine and dandy because we’re all human in the end, but we never quite see them talk, get to know one another, or even see them initiate the act of sex. We just hear their moans and groans, which is supposed to be played-up for laughs, but just feels like Reitman trying very, very hard to secure a PG-13-rating without over-stepping those boundaries or offending anybody in the process.

In this case, as dirty as I may sound to state this, but those boundaries needed to be taken-off and shoved in front of our faces, just like he’s done with all of his movies.

And trust me, this all hurts me to say because while I definitely did see promise in this material and in this director, I felt the most of it with the cast. Which I wasn’t wrong to think, because they are all actually fine and make this movie the least bit “watchable”. Kate Winslet gives us, yet again, another performance where she acts her ass off as a sad, slightly disturbed heroine that definitely does seem like a nice lady when she’s functioning, but she rarely is and doesn’t even bother to go out there in the real world. It’s kind of sad to see this type of character, really, and while, without saying anything, Winslet tells us everything there is we need to know about her character, Adele does become a bit more implausible as time goes on and she starts to change every aspect of her life, just to be with this man she’s known for all of four-five days. I get it, that’s the point, but the point didn’t work for me. Sorry.

One of the very rare instances in which it's "okay" to have your woman bake you a pie.

Hey, shouldn’t “the woman” in that equation be making the pie? Men? You with me on this?

We also have Josh Brolin here as Frank, who, like Winslet, is fine at displaying this type of character that seems like he was, at one point in time, a very nice and genuine guy, but has been through the ringer a bit too many times to where he’s a bit scary to be around. He’s still nice and definitely the right kind of guy to teach you how to throw a baseball, but is also a bit unpredictable as you never know when he could turn that other cheek, and commit some questionable actions. He already did once, so what’s stopping him now? Nada, that’s what!

Gattlin Griffith shows some promise here as Henry, but he too gets bogged-down by some unbelievable twists and turns his character takes, and it makes you wonder if this kid’s scared, sheltered, or just dumb. Tobey Maguire also narrates the older-version of Henry, and while it’s nice to hear his smooth, gentle voice over the speakers when we least expect it, it still doesn’t add much to the film and just tells us everything that’s happen on-screen. Poor Tobey. From just standing-around and looking like a fool in the Great Gatsby, to this, it seems like the guy will almost never catch a break. Somebody give him a hug already!

Consensus: Winslet, Brolin and relative new-comer Griffith, definitely make Labor Day somewhat interesting, but everything Jason Reitman does as writer/director feels like he’s just trying too hard to be anything like he’s been for all of his other movies, and by doing so, doesn’t allow this story to ever pick-up any tension or blissfulness that it so clearly needs.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"Don't be nervous, kid. Cause if you are, I'll freaking snap your mom's neck in-half. Like I said, don't be nervous."

“Don’t be nervous, kid. Cause if you are, I’ll freaking snap your mom’s neck in-half. Like I said, don’t be nervous.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Gloria (2013)

It don’t matter how old you get, the good times just don’t end.

58-year-old divorcée Gloria (Paulina García) is a woman who sort of beats along to her own drum. She’s got two, grown kids, a couple of friends, a cat that always wanders into her apartment-complex and even a housekeeper that she sees regularly, so she isn’t necessarily lonely. But that still doesn’t stop her from going out to all of these “Single’s Nights” at these countless bars where she drinks, dances, jams out to music and, if lucky, finds a cute guy that she may, or may not want to go back home with. It’s like she’s all young and free again, when times were simpler. One night however, she ends up catching the eye of fellow divorcée Rodolfo (Sergio Hernández), who she doesn’t actually need in her life to make her feel more complete, but hey, he’s a nice enough guy that she’ll start something with and see where it goes from there. Eventually, the two begin to get all wrapped-up into one another, but it’s not before long when problems start to arise from both sides, and they’re left with the questions: Just where should we go with this? Or better yet, does it really seem to be going anywhere?

Every so often, we see the quintessential, “woman on her own” flick and for the most part, it’s all pretty standard-stuff. First of all, we get an older woman who is trying to get over her messy divorce, with a more-than messy ex of hers; watch as she tries to rekindle that flame within her soul with other, possible love-interests out there; and we also get to see how her past life, is also colliding with her newfound freedom that she can’t help but express every chance she gets. So yeah, we’ve seen this formula done so many times by now, it’s almost too hard to shock us, or give us something new that spices up the conventions.

Cause it's every older-woman's dream to shoot people with balls of paint.

Cause it’s every older-woman’s dream to shoot people with balls of paint.

However, in the case of Gloria, we aren’t necessarily shocked by the story, nor does anything really get mixed around to where we could call it “innovative” – it’s just another simple tale, of a simple, older woman, who also happens to just want to have a bit of fun in her life, without getting bogged-down by all of the dumb, useless shite in life like marriage, kids, mortgages and death.

Who needs that crap when you have happiness, right?

And that’s pretty much the general-basis for what this story holds: We watch as this woman Gloria, a woman we just met, go throughout her later-life where she experiences things she may never, ever have before, and seems to embrace it all with a warm smile and a huge heart. Even if she has experienced some of this stuff before, it doesn’t matter because she’s still happy to be walking down memory-lane, and we feel happy for her as well. We don’t know too much about her past, other than the fact that she was married, has kids and is close enough with them to stop-by every so often. I didn’t see anything wrong with that picture, so I just took for granted that everything I was seeing about Gloria, on-display in front of me, was all I needed to know about her.

That’s why, even though not much may happen throughout the whole hour-and-a-half, it’s still interesting to see where Gloria’s life takes her. Sometimes, she surprises those around her by how open she is to new things; and heck, sometimes she even surprises herself. But she’s experiencing life in a way that she may never, ever have before where she does activities such as paint-balling, sky-diving and having sex on the beach. Yup, every new thing is that Gloria does is just a new experience for her to add onto her list, but we never judge her for doing anything and we never really see her as bad person, per se. More or less, we just see her as a “person”, who may not be perfect and may get caught-up in some sketchy situations that she doesn’t know how to bail herself out of, but she’s still a person that I believed in every step of the way.

Most of that really comes down to Paulina García’s wonderful performance as Gloria, where she gets a lot to do here, and doesn’t shy-away from getting raw and gritty if she needs to. Which does mean that yes, for all of you horny, over-50-year-old-loving pervs out there are wondering: She does get naked an awful lot. But it’s never done in a gratuitous way, and as strange as this may sound, makes us feel closer to who she is as a person, because more often than not, she’s able to use that said naked-body as a weapon of sorts to get what it is that she wants. Sure, she’s got a lovely-presence about her and a care-free spirit, but when any guy, it doesn’t matter who, is getting some woman’s nakey-wakey body thrown right in their face, they can’t help but say, “Get over here!” Regardless of whose body it is, too.

Quiet, stern, determined and altogether, very classy. I don't know about you, but that's my kind of woman.

Quiet, stern, determined and altogether, very classy. I don’t know about you, but that’s my kind of woman.

What I am trying to say here though is that while Gloria may not always make the best decisions a woman her age should make, García always remains astonishing to watch as she never hits a false-note. Though I’ve never seen García in anything before, had I been able to associate the name with the face and all that stuff, I probably still would have seen her as “Gloria”, and not just “Paulina García playing some chick named Gloria”. That’s a real, class-A acting-job on her part and it makes me wonder if I’ll see more of her in the near-future, or if this is about all the exposure to her I may get. I hope that’s not the case, but you never know with Hollywood casting-agents.

Always so picky, those bastards.

Also playing alongside García for quite some time is Sergio Hernández as Rodolfo, the one man Gloria meets and ends up spending an awful-lot of time with. His performance here is very good and, in ways, could almost be declared as being “more challenging” as García’s, due to the fact that his character goes through some very strange ups and downs, and you never know what it is you should think about him. Don’t want to give too much away because his character’s choices will surprise the heck out of you, but the way he goes about things with Gloria and with his own family, is very interesting as you can tell that he seriously, really and truly does want to be with Gloria, forever and ever, but also can’t seem to get away from his own family that he left almost one year ago. His intentions are never clear and that’s why, I think at least, Rodolfo may have been a more intriguing character to watch, because you never know what he’s going to do next, or why, and how it is that Gloria is going to react to him and his actions. Like Gloria, he too is a bit suspect with the countless choices he makes, but their his choices and they feel deserved. Which is probably why he and Gloria are so drawn to one another, but then again, they don’t need to be.

They’re just with one another because, well, they can. That’s all you need in life; somebody to be there when you wake up, come home and go to sleep at night. Lovely, lovely stuff.

Consensus: Anchored mainly by both García and Hernández’s stellar performances, Gloria isn’t anything new that you haven’t seen done a hundred times in the “late-blooming woman becomes independent”-sub-genre, but it still worth the watch to see just who this woman is and why it matters that we have a whole movie dedicated to just her, experiencing life in its fullest, finest form. Most of the time, that is.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Old people doing it. Eww!

Old people doing it. Eww!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider

The Past (2013)

The more you sleep around, the more drama it creates. What else is new?!?!

To sign some papers for his divorce and, as a result, to complete the whole procedure of it, Ahmad (Ali Mosaffa) arrives back in France after four years where he meets back-up with his soon-to-be-ex, Marie (Bérénice Bejo), as well as her own daughters from a previous marriage. Ahmad also just so happens to be walking into something far bigger than he had initially intended when he not only realizes Marie is with this new boyfriend of hers (Tahar Rahim), but that there’s a lot concerning his own marriage, that Marie’s oldest daughter, Lucie (Pauline Burlet), is having a bit of a problem understanding and getting clear into her head.

Basically, in other words, there’s just a lot of crazy stuff going on around here that if I got into it, I’d be spoiling, so, let me just put it this way: Everybody yells at one another.

While that may sound boring, tepid and not something you want to venture out and see on-paper, trust me, it’s the furthest thing from being either of those things. In fact, it’s just as emotional and compelling as you’re going to get with anything that has to do with that I, Frankenstein movie. Definitely more tense, because while you think you may have a general-idea as to what this story is going to be about, how it’s all going to play-out and which characters end-up being the cold, heartless son-of-a-bitches that they present to be in the first 20 or so minutes, it doesn’t play-out like that one bit.

Oooh, looks as if somebody said the wrong thing and are about to pay for it....

Oooh, looks as if somebody said the wrong thing and are about to pay for it….

In fact, more things go on here than you may suspect, but it should be noted that everything that does happen here, is done through the act of speaking. Everybody in this flick has conversations with one another, and while some of them may come pretty damn close to converging into violence, they never quite hit that peak. Instead, every conversation a character has with another character, feels like actual people speaking to one another; it doesn’t matter what about, it just matters that they’re speaking to one another and in ways, you can kind of get a sense for who they are, judging by how they hold themselves in these conversations.

I know that I am focusing a lot on the dialogue here, but that’s mainly what this movie is all about. However, it’s not a problem in the slightest bit, all because writer/director Asghar Farhadi knows how to make a dialoge-heavy movie as interesting as humanly possible, just by giving us characters we’re not only intruiged by, but know that there’s more to, than just what they present on the surface. Such the case couldn’t have been even more true here as we see each and every one of these characters shown to us in a light that would have us automatically stereotyping them in some way, form or shape. Sometimes, we’re right to think this and other times, which is a common motif throughout this whole movie, we just don’t know the full story surrounding them.

For instance, the character of the boyfriend, played by Tahar Rahim, seems like a total dick that not only can’t control his own son, but seems to be lending his eyes a bit too heavily to his girlfriend’s teenage-daughter. Also, we hear inklings of how he might have influenced his own wife’s suicide by starting-up this affair with Marie, so that just adds insult to injury for his case. But as time goes on, and we start to see him rationalize the situation he’s in and get a chance to talk it out with everybody around him, we see that he’s just a damaged-guy that yes, has a bit of an anger-issue, but is a genuinely nice guy when he wants to be, and can definitely do the right thing. He’s going through a bit of a rough-patch right now with his wife being in a coma and all, but he’s trying his hardest to get through it all in one piece, and I have to say, I acknowledged that. Not only is Rahim good in the role, but his writing continues to improve over time and have you think that this is just a guy, thrown into a shitty-situation that he may have in fact caused, but is still trying whatever he can to make-up for it.

Same case goes for every other character we have here: Marie starts-off a bit like a psycho beotch that doesn’t have a clue how to raise any kid in the world, let alone, her own, but does seem like the type of woman that wants to make things right between her and everybody else she knows and cares for in her life, mainly Ahmad. It should be said that Bejo is very, very good as Marie because while she never does quite turn that leaf over from being a “crazed-nut-to-simple-person”, she is still very compelling to watch as you’ll never know when she’s going to flip her own switch and raise all sorts of hell. Definitely a lot different from her star-making performance in the Artist, then again though, she’s actually speaking here. So there ya go!

Past2

She must have said something mean to him, because he sure is sad now.

And everything that I said for Bejo and Rahim’s characters, goes exactly the same for Ali Mosaffa’s, however, I do have to say that he impressed me the most here by presenting us with a character that legitimately seems like a nice guy and, for one reason or another, gets thrown into a situation where he’s being fired-at from all cylinders and has to make sense of it all in a cohesive, respectable manner. We never get a full-idea as to why he and Marie’s marriage ended, but what we do hear makes you think that there is a bit of a dark side to him we rarely so often see here, which is a good thing since we’re on his side so much. We know that he’s could easily be considered “the voice of reason”, but more likely, he could also be the only guy willing to pull this whole family back together, even if he isn’t apart of it in the first place. But, nonetheless, he’s a sweet guy who I feel like would give me a ride somewhere if I truly did need it.

That’s generally how I judge people on their “niceness”: Whether or not they would be willing to give me rides somewhere.

So while most of this may just seem like a review on the characters, as well as the performances that inhibit these characters, it’s definitely for a reason. Because, for the bulk of this movie, that’s all you get. Most of it’s just exciting to watch because you never know where this story will lead you next, what secret is about to be revealed, by what character, for what reason, and so on and so forth. And while some of it may get a tad bit ridiculous with how many instances in which people decide not to tell the truth and just be all odd, mysterious and vague about a situation, it still had me guessing at every step. But that’s doing it without any action, blood, car-chases, guns, or explosions; it’s just by simple conversations that can sometimes turn into arguments with the drop of a hat. But nonetheless, they’re simple, realistic conversations that you or I could have. However, it’s definitely a lot more entertaining to watch other people hold those conversations, so see this instead.

Consensus: Not much really “happens” in the Past, but that’s why it needs to be seen. Not just for the wonderful performances from its small, intimate cast, but because everything you see, hear or feel is done so for a reason, and it just adds more complexity to this tale, as well as these characters we’re forced to deal with here.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Past3

And she just gives him that cold-hearted stare that’s sinking deep, beneath into his soul. Think it’s safe to say, she won this battle.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBComingSoon.net

Ender’s Game (2013)

Kids will be kids, until they have to lead an army into battle. Then they’re just immature adults.

An alien race called the Formics has attacked Earth, and as you could presume, the citizens of that said planet aren’t too happy. So, that’s when they decide to set-up a military school in which they will enlist pre-teens to learn the tricks of the trade, be tested, be challenged and be the best that they can truly be, so that one day, they too can get a chance to fight in the war. The reason why a school like this even exists is because the government feels as if they get kids, whose minds aren’t as developed or as complex yet, then there will be no problems whatsoever with the enlisting or training-process. However, that’s where a boy named Ender Wiggins (Asa Butterfield), comes in a screws everything up. Not only does Ender have something special within him that lead Colonel Graff (Harrison Ford) can see, but also has a bit of an open-mind to any situation he finds himself in. Sure, that impresses a lot of the instructors, but doesn’t make him the coolest kid on the playground. But, it’s fine because Ender doesn’t care, all he cares about is putting his skills to the test and see if he can take out the Formic threat once and for all. Like with most war-fare though, there do come some prices one must pay.

So yeah, a lot has been said about this movie, but then again, it’s not necessarily about the movie itself. Nope, it’s more about how author Orson Scott Card himself was a bit of a loony and took it upon himself to let everybody know that he’s homophobic. Personally, whatever the guy wants to say or do, is fine by me. Sure, he may be a bit shallow and narrow-minded, but he’s a human, he’s entitled to his opinion and quite frankly, he didn’t make this movie, so why should I care? What I should care about here is the actual movie I have on hand here, and if it actually does its job in being some sort of meeting between Harry Potter and Star Wars, as I heard it being compared as.

Oh, young love. But they'll be dead soon, so whatever.

Aw, young love. But they’ll be dead soon, so it’s whatever.

It doesn’t meet those standards, but it’s not a total bomb. Here’s why:

For the most part, this flick is kind of weird. Director Gavin Hood clearly knows that he’s working with some heavy-duty source-material here that may not entirely be for kids, nor may it not entirely be for the adults either. In fact, Hood himself finds a bit of a problem in trying to find a cohesive, senseless juggle between the two demographics: For the kiddies out there, we have a few scenes of other kids playing video-games, goofing around with one another and getting into tiny scuffles; as for the parents, we have all sorts of war-fare, mixed with thought-provoking ideas about the humanity kept in one’s mind during war, the act of genocide itself and war crimes. So yeah, if you like your teen, sci-fi-thriller to be mixed with plenty of social-commentary, this is definitely the film for you.

However, it doesn’t quite work out that way, all due to the fact that we never know what this movie is working-up to, nor do we know what it’s trying to say. Most of the actual interesting stuff that does occur in this movie, probably happens in the first-hour when we see Ender go through this military school, where’s he’s made an example of, gets picked on and in some ways, picks fights with fellow students. It’s also interesting, if not tonally jarring, to see a movie that so clearly makes it a point to dehumanize these kids, just so that they can be “better soldiers”. A bit scary when you think about it happening to these small, innocent kids we see on-screen, but it’s even more frightening when we realize that it is actually happening out there in the real world that we live in. In some cases, maybe even right outside your door-step.

But like I was saying though, the movie makes it a point to always “be about something”, but at the same time, never seems like it’s really going anywhere with its countless bits of action or scenes where we see a bunch of kids yelling out random codes/jargon/exposition, in order for it all to make a lick of a difference. We know that whatever threat these kids are battling, is something that may be deadly and strike them at any moment, but instead of actually seeing these kids go to war and get their hands a bit dirty, we’re just watching them go through simulations. Sure, the simulations, as well as everything else in this movie, look mighty pretty and definitely have you feel like you’re right there in the moment, but they’re just simulations. Meaning, they aren’t the real-deal, so why in the heck do we have to have a film that builds up to that, and only that?

And then, the strangest part of this movie comes through when we get a “shocker” of an ending in which we see that the government itself is up to some sheisty-dealings. Won’t give too much away as to the “how’s” and the “why’s”, but I will say that it didn’t surprise me much here. Also, the notes that the movie ends on are some pretty interesting ones that you wouldn’t quite see in something that’s as slightly aimed towards kids as this is (ideas about sacrificing thousands of fellow soldiers for the almighty “win”, risking anything and everything, etc.), but then it also seems to just straggle those ideas out, in a way to make us realize the actual tension this story is supposed to be creating. It never materials to much, other than just a bunch of smart ideas, that probably would have been better, used in a far less-messy movie. Not to say that it’s all pretty crappy, but once things begin to get heavy, then the weight of the actual story itself begins to crush all of the fun and life that’s trying to get-out.

Perhaps though, the most interesting aspect surrounding this movie is the handling of its lead character, Ender, a character whom, from what I’ve heard, isn’t the most likable protagonist in the world. I can definitely see that too, because while the kid definitely seems like his heart may be in the right place with certain decisions made here and there, somehow, there’s this under-lining sense of sociopathic behavior to be found and that comes out quite a few times in this movie. It’s not fully fleshed-out to where it provides a huge inner-issue for Ender, but is seen on occasion and makes you think that maybe he’s a bit of a nut-job that not only shouldn’t be the head of the military-force, but also shouldn’t be allowed to walk the same streets as regular-day citizens like you or I.

"Yes, I had a hard night of partying the other night. Anyway, moving on...."

“Yes, I did in fact “party hard” the other night. MOVING ON!!”

That’s why it seems like this character would be terribly unlikable, but he actually isn’t. Which, in a sense, is more of a credit to Asa Butterfield’s acting, rather than the way the movie portrays him, because while the kid definitely seems to be a bit of stuck-up arse that needs to always get things right, he’s not necessarily a “bad” kid, that does bad things, for bad reasons; he’s just a kid who has been thrown into a situation that he wasn’t expecting, but is more than willing to give a try. Butterfield is good here and shows that he could definitely grow-up into some real, leading-man potential in the next couple of years, but it’s mainly the character of Ender that keeps us watching this kid, all because we don’t know who he’s going to humiliate next, or who he’s going to mouth-off to either.

Like Butterfield, everybody else is good, too, it’s just that they are given some pretty shaky dialogue to work with that I don’t even Daniel Day himself would be able to handle (that’s a joke, of course he would, he’s Daniel freakin’ Day-Lewis for gosh sakes!). Harrison Ford tries, but can’t help but give a one-note performance as the Colonel who believes in Ender so much, that he’s able to growl for him whenever necessary; Viola Davis shows up for a few scenes to show that she has “humanity” because she doesn’t want these kids tested, but is basically told to “take that crap elsewhere”; Hailee Steinfeld shows that she has potential as a leading-lady in the future, but is given a lot of jargon to say and none of it really makes sense, so it would be kind of hard to decide whether or not she’s good here, based solely on that; and Ben Kingsley shows up with a whole bunch of face-tattoos that make Mike Tyson look like a wuss, and doesn’t do much here either. Nice to see him and Ford share the same screen though, even if all they do is deliver exposition when they’re around one another. A damn shame passing up an opportunity like that when you have two great talents in the same room. A damn shame.

Consensus: There may be a very strange demographic that this movie is for, but Ender’s Game can’t quite figure who or what that is, so instead, gives us all the special-effects, action, sci-fi elements and social-messages it can possibly handle, but doesn’t do much to really build towards anything that could be deemed “exciting”.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"Ask anybody in a galaxy far, far away from here, they'll tell who not to mess with."

“Stand-up straight when I’m talking to you, boy! Chewie would have!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Cutie And The Boxer (2013)

Art and love, for some reason, don’t always mix.

Meet Ushio and Noriko Shinohara: They’re both artists, they’re both married, and they’re both in love with one another. However, both sides feel different about all three of these aspects of their lives. Although, there is one common conclusion they can come together on: They’re struggling and living in poverty. And yes, it does suck. However, they both try to get through this as best as they can by creating art, holding shows, trying to get any bidder who’d be willing to throw away their money on one of Ushio’s infamous “boxing portraits” and eventually pay their rent, that’s already long over-do. It’s a hard life that these two have, but they live it together and through what we see of Noriko’s own art that she’s trying to get noticed, is that it’s always been an uphill-battle with Ushio. There are some very dark aspects surrounding Ushio’s past-life that we find out about, through himself, as well as Noriko, and we also begin to realize what sort of effect those dark problems have had on their child, Alex.

It should be of no surprise to anyone that, even in the 21st Century, making an honest living as an artist is a lot harder than it looks. Not only do you have to find a way to bring something new to the table that hasn’t already been done before, but you have to get the right exposure from all sorts of the right people. Thanks to the internet that we are so blessed with to have nowadays, it’s a lot easier for artists to get recognition and money for what it is that they create, but it’s still hard and it’s only going to get harder. We even see a scene early on in which both Ushio and Noriko try their damn near hardest to “sell” a potential buyer on one of their most unique paintings, yet, come-up short, all because it doesn’t hold any sort of “cultural significance”. Just goes to show you that being an artist can blow sometimes, but when you’re trying to get money for it, it’s probably easier to not even bother.

I could only imagine the type of "art" Bernard Hopkins or Butterbean would create.

I could only imagine the kind of “art” Bernard Hopkins or Butterbean would create.

However, one of the best aspects behind this documentary isn’t that it’s trying to make some long-lasting statement about the modern-state of art or how artists from all-over-the-world should be noticed, praised and given money; it’s more of a long-lasting statement about the most universal aspects a person can have in life: Love. And what comes with every love, is a story about the love itself – how it began, how it felt, how it carried-on throughout the thick and thin and, in some cases, how it still stands to this day. That’s why when you see and hear a love story like the one of Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, you can’t help but get that warm-feeling in the pit of your stomach, but realize that love itself is one of the most powerful feelings one can have in their life and how, no matter what type of hoops and loops that said love may go through, the feeling never goes away.

Yes, I know, I know, I know! This is all beginning to sound quite like my Her review, but whereas that was a fictional movie about a man and his operating system falling in love and sharing life with one another, this one’s a true story about two aging-artists that still seem to love one another, but both have very, VERY different ideas about that love, and it’s all the better because of that. But for instance, whereas Ushio believes that his love with Noriko is one built up on a friendship and understanding that will never go away; Noriko is sort of the opposite. Norkio feels like she can be trapped by how much Ushio has caused strife in her life and holds plenty of resentment towards him for that. Sure, she loves him with all her heart, but there are some parts of that heart that makes her wish that she may have had taken a few different paths along the way.

Speaking of that path, we actually do get to see plenty of it in her art, which not only shows us the early part of her life where she met Ushio, fell in love with him, had his baby, got married to him and found herself in absolute debt most of the time, but also her current, day-to-day feelings about how she wants to make a name for herself, and not simply known as “Ushio Shinohara’s wife”. Though the movie could have easily painted her as something of a villainous figure that has it out for her dear, old hubby, day in and day out, it does exactly the opposite. In fact, we probably sympathize with her, more than we do with Ushio, but we also still see the traits that make them who they are when they’re alone, as well as when they’re with one another. We also get to see a lot of what Noriko has been through in her life with Ushio and how, no matter how many times her husband may think differently, there will still continue to be problems, just as much as there had been in the past. This could have easily made this a very sad documentary that painted this couple’s lives together as a uneventful, poverty-stricken existence, but doesn’t do so and shows that their love for one another, as well as the art that they create, does give them plenty of happiness to get through the day.

And in some cases, may even help them pay the rent.

Don't tell Ushio this, but I think his wifey-poo may be a bit of a better artist. Just saying.....

Don’t tell Ushio this, but I think his wifey-poo may be a bit of a better artist than he is. Just saying…..

That’s pretty much all that this documentary really talks about, although I must say, it does it quite well. We see these two as lovers and, on occasion, as artists. In fact, I wished that they would have shed more insight into the art that these two create, like for instance, how and why Ushio himself came-up with the idea of creating art by punching a blank-canvas with painted boxing-gloves. It seemed like an interesting form in which somebody would actually create “art”, but it’s never explained; rather, we see more about how much of a drunk he was, causing emotional and financial problems for both he and Noriko. Which is fine considering that it’s the main arch of the story, I just wish there had been a few more bits of insight into how this art makes Ushio who is today, or who he was back in the days when he was odd and mysterious, but also still well-known.

Maybe these are small gripes with the film because at the end of the day, this documentary really is the story behind Ushio and Noriko Shinohara: Their love, their lives and their passions. While you do get an idea that there was plenty of footage left on the cutting-room floor, what we still get to see here is a couple that made it through hell, came back, went through some more hell, and came back once again, only to get a smaller-version of that place they were previously at. Yes, it all sounds so sad, mopey and a tad bit depressing, but they have love and adoration for one another, and if anything, that’s what keeps them going the most in life.

Consensus: Without trying too hard to try and make any huge statement about the current-state of the art world, Cutie and the Boxer keeps it straight and narrow to the story of both Ushio and Noriko Shinohara, two people who clearly love one another, but also have a checkered-past, that can bring out plenty of sadness, as well as happiness. Just like love itself, folks.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

For any annoyed house-wife who has just wanted to let their hubby "have it".

Pretty sure that this is how plenty of housewives must feel towards their husbands on a day-to-day basis.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider

Crystal Fairy & the Magical Cactus (2013)

Cactus’ are pretty much useless, except for when you want to trip mad balls.

Snobbish, college-grad Jamie (Michael Cera) travels all the way to Chile for one reason, and for one reason only: To find a famed cactus that contains hallucinogenic material. It’s definitely something that Jamie feels excited for, and can’t wait to tell everybody about it. However, at a party one night, he may have told the wrong person when he meets a fellow-American named Crystal Fairy (Gaby Hoffmann). Crystal Fairy is a bit of a free-spirit who goes her own way and doesn’t care too much about the little things; which also just so happens to be the exact opposite of who Jamie is and he lets her know about it, and somewhere amid the conversation, accidentally informs and somewhat invites her to come along on this trip with him and a few Chilean friends of his. But Jamie doesn’t think much about it, all up until he actually gets a call from her saying that she’s ready-to-go. Many times on this trip, Jamie considers dropping her off somewhere along the way and practically abandoning her, but his friends think that’s not the cool thing to do. So, Crystal Fairy stays with these guys as they look for this cactus where she preaches, meditates, puts rocks in their drinks and gets them to open-up just a tad bit; all of which Jamie doesn’t like and thus why he butts heads with her the most.

He loves that cactus, man. No, I mean, he reaaaaaaally loves that cactus.

He loves that cactus, man. No, I mean, he reaaaaaaally loves that cactus.

You can just tell when a movie was clearly made all because the cast and crew had some time, money and ideas on their hands. Nothing wrong with that really, because I feel like any and all directors would love to be at that point in their career where they can just “do” a movie, all for craps and giggles. However, the only problem may be is that it almost feels a bit too much like they just don’t care and are doing it just to do it (looking at you, Sandler).

But, like I said before, making a movie just because, isn’t always a bad thing, as you can tell that there’s clearly a lot of talent and effort involved, so why not? And there’s the great aspect behind Crystal Fairy: It may be a minor movie, but it somehow works wonders without even seeming like it’s trying to. Writer/director/co-star Sebastián Silva clearly just came-up with this movie on the top of his head and it actually makes this movie feel like a realistic-look at a bunch of people that just want to go out onto the beach, drink some cactus fluid and trip insanely. Of course that premise alone could make for a pretty boring movie, but there’s something naturalistic to this whole movie to where it feels like you are actually watching these guys go out on a road-trip, only to be screwed over by the utter-presence of a female.

And while it’s clear that Silva definitely didn’t think this whole film through to where it’s perfectly-written down to the last character-arch, the situations and discussions he gives his character’s to deal with, all feel fully-realized and are ripe with a lot of interesting ideas. Though most of that ideas don’t come together as perfectly in the abrupt ending, for the most part, the movie’s funny without being over-bearing; dramatic without being ham-handed; and slightly compelling, without trying to throw too many turns and twists at us.

In other words, it’s just like real life. Except this time, real life that takes place in Chile, where all young people want to do is get a wild trip.

Speaking of these young people, they are all pretty fine, even though the two highlights in this cast are clearly both Michael Cera and Gaby Hoffmann who both show that those cute, adorable child roles they had all of those years back, are all but long ways back in the distance. We’re always so used to seeing Cera playing the awkward, twitchy and nervous guy who never finishes his sentences and doesn’t quite know how to talk to girls, let alone anyone for that matter, but here, he’s definitely a bit changed-up in terms of what who his character is. Jamie, for lack of a better word, is a dick – he’s the type of guy you probably met in high-school that offended you one day and you never talked to him again, and your life was never changed because of it because he’s so unpleasant to be around. He always picks people apart, says dumb things to make himself seem “cool” and just does not know how to be a nice guy, which could have been terribly annoying to watch, but Cera’s good with it. He shows us that there may be some attractive-features to this guy and his personality, but so far, from what we see, there isn’t many. But Cera’s good with this role and shows that he is a bit more versatile than what his previous, ten or twelve roles may have you think.

That's all I'm going to show you.....pervs.

That’s all I’m going to show you…..pervs.

But the real stand-out here is Gaby Hoffmann who has been making quite a splash as of late showing up in these adult roles, where you’ll have to rub your eyes maybe once or twice and think, “Is that really the little girl from Field of Dreams? And even Uncle Buck? Whaaaaaat?” Especially here, considering she gets full-on naked quite a few times in this movie, but isn’t done in a gratuitous or manipulative way for her to show us that she’s an adult now, with “things”; it’s done to give us the impression that Crystal Fairy truly is everything she claims to be, if not more. Now, to be honest, I know plenty of people out there in my life that are exactly like this gal, and while I always find myself somehow drawn to them, they always seem to get on my nerves when push comes to love, man. That’s why, when I first met Crystal Fairy here, I couldn’t help but side with everything Jamie was saying: She looked, dressed and acted weird, as if she was all doing it for the attention of others. However, as time went on, I began to see that Jamie was in fact “the weird one”, and really liked how open Crystal Fairy was as a person, and how she didn’t really hide herself from these people she just met. Hoffmann is fun to watch on-screen, not because she gets nakey quite an awful lot of times, but because she brings a lot of energy to the film, which is why when she’s not around, you can feel the movie sort of deflate. But when she does show up, she more than makes it a time to remember, and that’s all I’d like to say about that.

While some of you may think I’m being slight and a bit vague, there isn’t much more to this movie than that. It’s basically just a bunch of people, on the road, who do have a destination and run into some fun, wacky situations along that way. Most of them are entertaining, and others are quite inspired, but that’s pretty much it. It won’t change your life, it won’t have you remembering much after watching it, nor will it ever crack anybody’s “Top 10 Lists” (I actually don’t think it did), but it’s a nice piece of film that goes to show you that you don’t need a lot of big bucks to make a simple, but entertaining movie. All you need is a little time, talent and energy to want to make something.

Consensus: May be a slight feature altogether, but Crystal Fairy & The Magical Cactus is an alright watch, if solely to see what else it is that Gaby Hoffmann and Michael Cera can do, now that they’re all grown-up, primed and ready for whatever Hollywood throws at them.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Yo guys, you feel that yet? Like, a burning sensation in my pan...I mean, brain!"

“Yo guys, you feel that yet? Like, a burning sensation in my pan…I mean, brain!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

The Book Thief (2013)

WWII occurring right outside your window? That’s okay! Get away from it all through reading!

Liesel Meminger (Sophie Nélisse) is just a young girl when her brother dies, and her mother runs-out on her. Sucks, but at least she has two foster parents, Hans and Rosa (Emily Watson and Geoffrey Rush) that are more than willing to take her in, take care of her, look after her and make sure that she follows their rules, as if she was their own child. Hans takes more of a liking to Liesel than Rosa, but that’s only because the latter’s a bit of a meanie and doesn’t take anybody’s crap, but she does mean well. After much time, Liesel eventually gets used to her new surroundings where she gains a new friend, Rudy (Nico Liersch), and actually becomes quite involved with reading and stealing books, all because this was during the Nazi-Germany era, and books were considered “wrong”. And since this was Nazi-Germany, that also means that plenty of Jewish people were usually captured, taken away and put “somewhere” they had no clue of, nor did anybody else around them. This is when Liesel meets the runaway Jew that Liesel’s family is hiding (Ben Schnetzer), whom she actually strikes up a friendship with. But being that this is in and around the time of the war, things weren’t always so smooth and relaxed in Germany, and more often than not, Liesel and her foster-parents run into a bit of problems with the paranoid law.

"Ugh! Like you're so annoying, blond-haired German boy!"

“Ughz! Like you’re so annoying, blond-haired German boy!”

Oh, and before I forget to not even mention this, the whole story is somewhat narrated by what is supposed to be considered “Death”, but is also voiced by the highly-entertaining Roger Allam. I tell you this because not only is it the most appropriate usage of voice-narration I have ever heard, but it’s also one of the many reasons why this movie isn’t that good. Not meaning that it’s total and utter “Oscar-bait” , and nothing more, but do know that there is a reason why this movie was released around Thanksgiving, is about the WWII, features a lot of talk about the Holocaust and even has a score by John Williams.

I mean, come on people! It’s obvious that this just has every ingredient for the recipe that is “Oscar-bait”! However, it isn’t terrible, and here’s why:

It’s pretty clear what this movie set-out to do right from the beginning: Put a human-face on those who were on the side of the Germans during WWII. We rarely ever see this in movies, but when we do, it’s usually by a German film company, or some low-budget, independent production that wants to get their message out, clear and fair. However, this is a pretty big-budget flick, with some heavy-hitters involved with it, so you can definitely be curious about how director Brian Percival handles this material; and for the most part, he does some good things. But then again though, he also does some very bad things that truly do ruin this movie from being a little bit better in hindsight.

What I liked the most about Percival’s direction is that he definitely gets into the eyes and mind of our protagonist, Liesel. Not only does she not fully see the real, actual horrors that are going on all around her, but she refuses to really accept them for what it is that they really are. That’s why when you see little kids like her, her friend Rudy and countless others, all “heiling Hitler” because it’s what their “parents told them to do”, it’s a bit sad. Yes, it’s a no-brainer that kids are influenced by what it is that they see elders around them do and preach as “being the correct thing to do”, but it’s a bit more disconcerting when those kids in fact are from Germany, and are being influenced by elders that are, from what we usually see, Nazis.

And most of the time when Percival is getting right down to being what his movie is about and painting this little village in the heart of Nazi-Germany as something out of a fairy-tale, as if it all played inside of Liesel’s head, it’s somewhat interesting. It’s still a kids movie that has more for the adults, than it could possibly have for them, however, it’s smart in some of the directions it takes and why. But then comes the bad moments when this movie does in fact realize it’s about a war-torn Nazi-Germany, when everybody was in fear of if they were going to get suspected next of some evil, wrong-doing that would label them as a “Communist”, and have them go away for a long, long time.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that seeing this so many times in countless other movies makes this seem a bit “boring”, because that’s just wrong, but I will say that it definitely didn’t have me reeling with emotions like those countless other movies have. There’s plenty of ham-handed moments in which the movie tries to make a political-statement; and then at other times, tries to discuss the reality of humanity, and what lengths one will go to ensure it stays the moral; and then, lastly, there’s always that crutch of making this a crowd-pleasing, easy-going movie for the whole family to see, despite it also being around and during one of the more disturbing periods of any country, let alone Germany. I get the fact that it’s a PG-13 movie that’s trying it’s hardest not to offend or fully scare anybody half to death with the images they could have definitely gone so far as showing, but there seemed to be too much sugar-coating here, and less actual “realism” thrown into the proceedings.

"And the cow j-j-j-jumped over the-the-the moon...."

“And the cow j-j-j-jumped over the-the-the moon….”

And on top of that, the movie just juggles too much, that by the end, when the whole “gotcha!” ending does happen, you won’t be able to find yourself caring too much. That’s not to discredit the actors in this movie at all either, especially since they are all fine with what they’re given, no matter how small or big. Geoffrey Rush feels fun, full-of-life and vibrant as Hans, the type of guy that wouldn’t quite work-out fully as a daddy, but is a nice enough guy to charm even the blackest of holes; one of those “blackest of holes”, also just so happens to be Emily Watson’s Rosa, who is a bit of a hard-ass, but still heartfelt enough to see that she really does care and support others when they need it the most; and child-actress Sophie Nélisse does a relatively nice job as Liesel, especially considering that a lot of this movie depends on her to have a wide-range in which she has to go from happy and joyful, to absolutely scared, at the drop of a hat. She’s not always good, but she’s a kid, so I’ll give her time where time is due.

Anyway, like I was saying, it’s not all their faults, because they’re all fine and dandy; it’s just that when the movie ends, there doesn’t seem to be much learned, thought-of or even point to the whole proceedings. Yes, I am sure that there were plenty of German citizens that felt awfully terrible during this time of war, but what else is there to that? Not much else, and you’ll probably be wondering if this movie ever really needed to be made, or if made, made with a stronger, more compelling heart at the center of it, cause quite frankly, a family movie isn’t going to fully cut-it when it comes to a story like this. Then again, I didn’t read the book, so what do I know? No seriously, somebody tell me. I need all the help I can get!

Consensus: Some interesting and rather compelling choices were made on the behalf of the Book Thief to give it that extra “oomph” it so clearly needs to be more than just another story about Nazi-Germany, the Holocaust and WWII, all played to the fine tuneage of Mr. John Williams himself.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

MCDBOTH FE003

Obviously took place before the arrival of the iPad.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net