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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: 2014

A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night (2014)

Yep. Vampires exist. But only in Iran.

Set in some cold, dark and downright mysterious town somewhere in Iran, lurks a skateboarding vampire (Sheila Vand) who preys on almost everyone around her, but most importantly, men who do wrong by women. So in a way, she’s a vigilante, but at the same time, begins to start to realize that there’s more to life than just killing and sucking the blood out of people. Believe it or not, the vampire meets a human being (Arash Marandi) who may not just have the hots for this blood-sucking creature, but she may even have it for him in return! After all, he’s a hot, young, hip, and chill guy, who listens to rad music and likes to be nice to those around him, so what’s there not to love, or better yet, not try to kill and suck all of the blood out of? However, it gets harder and harder for this vampire to make up its mind of what it wants to do, when it not only starts to have the need for blood, but also realizes that the city around her is getting worse, with all sorts of ugly and catastrophic violence occurring.

Got to do that make-up right for the blood-shed.

A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night probably deserves a lot of props for being as odd, as weird, and as original as it can be. It’s a horror movie, about a vampire, lurking on possible prey, which already sounds pretty lame and formulaic, but writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour does something neat with the familiar premise in that she adds a little zest and spice to the whole thing. She adds a unique neo-noir look and feel to the movie, that could have easily been just another tension-piece about a vampire, but instead, turns into this home movie of sorts, where it seems like Amirpour is just using whatever is at her disposal, as opposed to just making a movie, expecting for all of these things to come to her.

Obviously, that sort of stuff takes time.

And yeah, Amirpour makes it all worth it. There’s something exciting about watching a first-time film-maker show their true colors, once and for all, with absolute, undeniable style, as well as a great deal of originality, which helps Amirpour out. She tackles something easy and conventional, and puts a smart spin on it that doesn’t just keep the movie, at times, interesting, but the genre of vampire movies, as well.

Then again, there is such an issue here in that it’s so darn slow. And normally, a deliberately plodding and slow pace to a movie like this is fine for me as is the case with most tension-pieces, where it isn’t about the shocks, the scares, the blood, or hell, even the gore, but more about the suspense racking up, slowly but surely over time, without ever seeming like it’s stopping. In Amirpour’s case, it’s nice that she didn’t lose track of what she wanted to do, but there are times where it feels like she could perhaps pick up the pace a tad bit, and opts not to.

Come on, bro. Be nice to the cat! It’s just a gag, after all!

Is this a case of a first-time director just having a ball with their new toys and not wanting to stop playing with them?

Or, well, is it a little pretentious?

In a way, it’s a mixture of both. It’s sweet to see Amirpour want to play with all of the treats she has, for a much longer time, but there does come a point where all the treats have to be simmered down a bit and an actual story has to go on along. The fact that the movie does have a compelling romance-arch at the center of all the hookers, drugs, guns, murder, blood-sucking, and electronic music, is something to point out, but the movie gets so distracted by its own coolness that, sometimes, it can’t help but feel like the story itself is just playing second-fiddle to Amirpour and her coolio style.

Once again, the style is cool and definitely a nice touch, for once, but at times, it does bring the movie back from being much, much better. It works as a horror movie, that obviously has some goofier, lighter touches, but it also tries to double as a message-piece, about feminism, politics, and the drug wars, that also doesn’t feel like it gets anywhere. Granted, these are themes and ideas you really have to dig down deep for here, but they are there and well, they feel like a stretch, at best.

But hey, it’s her first movie. She’s allowed to let loose a bit.

Consensus: Rather odd and unique, A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night definitely gets points for originality and style, but also loses some points for not knowing when to settle down, pick up the pace, and well, tell the story. Especially when said story is actually a compelling to watch play out and develop.

6 / 10

Vampire? Naw.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

So. Much. Food.

Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is an extraordinarily talented and largely self-taught culinary novice who has taken something that he loves so much, and tried whatever he can to make a living out of it. When he and his family are displaced from their native India and settle in some random, yet lovely little French village, they decide to open an Indian eatery, where all French citizens can get a taste of what they like to call “home”. Unfortunately for all of them, however, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the proprietress of an acclaimed restaurant is literally right across the street with her fancy and well-established restaurant that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be slowing down any time soon. However, Hasson and his father (Om Puri), won’t be taken down by Madame Mallory and decide to band together. But Hassan’s motives begin to change when he realizes that there’s truly something special to the way Mallory cooks, making him decide by who he sticks by in this ongoing battle of the finest cuisine.

Uh oh. Dame's back.

Uh oh. Dame’s back. Look busy.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is food porn to the ultimate maximum. This is neither a good thing, nor a bad thing, because food is good and if you’re able to film it in the right way, then it can practically become the main selling-point of a flick, even stealing the show from the actual living, breathing, human characters making said food. And it’s probably no surprise that the same director who made us all fall in love with chocolate with Chocolat, is making us fall in love with all sorts of food again.

However, maybe not so much as with the characters, sadly.

See, what Lasse Hallström gets right in the look and feel of the movie, he forgets all about in the story-department which can’t help but sometimes feel like an afterthought. Sure, no one is going to mistaken the Hundred-Foot Journey for an exciting, suspenseful thrill-ride, with twists, turns and red herrings galore, but by the same token, that doesn’t mean it has to be a total and complete bore. Or better at that, a two-hour long bore.

And okay, I get it, there is definitely an audience out there who will love and adore this movie, all faults aside, but sometimes, it’s a little hard to get past when you realize that there’s barely any tension here, little to no actual drama, and yeah, a whole bunch of sappiness. Once again, it’s no surprise that we’re getting all of this from Hallström, but it still makes you wish that somewhere deep down within this man’s soul that he would just push himself, as well as the movies he takes on, just a little further. The Hundred-Foot Journey didn’t have to be an overlong slog, but it moves with barely any efficiency that it makes you wonder if it’s going anywhere, or ever going to end.

But I didn’t hate the movie.

If anything, it’s just middling. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t set out to ruin any person’s mood, or lives in the process, but instead, tell a simple, rather sweet story about a bunch simple, rather sweet people, making all sorts of lovely little pieces of food that you’ll want to grab off of the screen. There’s honestly nothing like that, but sometimes, a movie such as this doesn’t have to be over two hours – sometimes, just being an hour-and-a-half is more than enough and gets the point across pretty much perfectly.

New school, meet, well old school? I think?

New school, meet, well old school? I think?

But it is good to have such a talented ensemble here to, thankfully, make things work when they most definitely need to. Helen Mirren tries on this French-accent and it works; while she’s playing a shrew of a woman, she still lets out some bits and pieces of charm every so often that not only reminds us of what a class-act she is, but how she truly can make any scene she shows up in, well, better. Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon both play the two young chefs who learn to cook better with one another, while also making sweet, sexy, yet cute love on the side and they’re adorable enough as is to really make it work, even if it’s hard to care whether or not these two incredibly attractive people end up together in the end.

After all, they’ll be fine anyway.

The real stand-out here is Om Puri who, unfortunately, passed away not too long ago. Puri has been the sort of go-to guy for tough, strict and rather stubborn Indian fathers in movies such as these and it makes sense, because he plays them perfectly. Don’t believe me? Check out East is East and get back to me. Anyway, Puri does a fantastic job here because it seems like, out of all the characters to choose from, his is the only that develops. Over time, his character realizes that there’s more to life than just family and tradition, sometimes, striking out on one’s own is what really matters. Puri’s character never goes the full 180 and you know what? He’s sort of better off that way.

He’s more human that way, really.

Consensus: Saccharine and trite, the Hundred-Foot Journey aims to please those not looking for much excitement or drama, but for the most part, is pleasant and well-acted enough to work.

5 / 10

Don't ever teach Dame on anything.

Don’t ever teach Dame on anything.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Ouija (2014)

Causal Saturday nights with friends has never been so much fun.

Following the sudden death of her best friend, Debbie (Shelley Hennig), Laine (Olivia Cooke) miraculously stumbles upon an antique Ouija board in her room. In a way to say goodbye to her long, lost friend, Laine plays around with it, but somehow, wakes up an evil spirit that begins to toy around with her and all of her friends. The spirit itself is called “DZ” and as more and more strange events begin to occur, Laine tries to figure out just what the spirit wants, rather than fighting with it and basically, getting nowhere. But as Laine and all of her friends delve deeper into DZ’s intentions and history, they suddenly find that Debbie’s mysterious death was not unique, and that they will suffer the same fate unless they learn how to close the portal they’ve opened.

What’s worse than movies based on board-games? Bad movies that aren’t totally even based on actual board-games. If anything, Ouija may have been a commercial to get the old school, retro and hip Ouija-boards back on shelves for a younger, much cooler audience of kids, but if anything, it just shows us why Hollywood, or most importantly, horror movies have been running out of ideas.

Nope. Not a mirror. Sorry, honey.

Nope. Not a mirror. Sorry, honey.

What’s next? A Monster Trucks movie?

Oh wait.

Anyway, in his directorial debut, co-writer/director Stiles White seems as if he’s trying to make something, almost out of nothing; the premise is tired and boring, but for whatever reasons, he sets everything up in an interesting manner. There’s a whole lot of exposition thrown at us from the beginning, like the rules and regulations these evil spirits and monsters have to follow in order to kill these kids, which may seem monotonous, but actually works, as it helps us get in the mind-set of what to expect. So often, horror movies just assume people know what they’re dealing and let creepy stuff happen – to understand what our evil forces are going to do to our protagonists for the next hour-and-a-half, and what can stop them, actually helps in the long-run. It shows that White at least had some nugget of an idea of what he wanted to do with this movie, because surely, the rest of the movie doesn’t show it.

Though it is interesting to have these characters all come together after a friend’s death, the movie doesn’t do anything with any of them to really flesh them out, or even make them slightly interesting. Sure, it’s a horror movie and often times, it’s best to just forget about characters and just let the spooky stuff happen, but honestly, there’s not enough spooky-stuff in this 90-minute movie to really make the lack of actual character-development fine. If anything, it’s far more jarring and noticeable, what with the movie featuring one too many scenes of these characters sitting in rooms, chatting with one another, and not really seeming as if they’re friends at all – they all seem like actors, meeting for the first time and forced to speak some cheesy lines, so that they can collect their paycheck, go home, and continue reading whatever script is up on the coke-infested table next.

Many friendships have been made, and broken because of that board.

Many friendships have been made, and broken because of that board.

Nothing wrong with that, actually. In fact, that’s a pretty great life.

But of course, Ouija itself doesn’t show many signs of life. With the exception of the initial scene of the teens messing around with the board and blaming one another for moving it around and playing jokes, the movie never really seems to have much of any fun. If there’s any tension or suspense in the air to be had, the moment that White senses it, he jumps back and instead, continues to plod his way, further and further into silence that goes little to anywhere. It reminded me a lot of Annabelle (another Fall 2014 horror flick that clearly was made for brand-name recognition) in that it had everything that resembled a movie – protagonists, antagonists, story, conflict, etc. – but for some reason, there’s just nothing there. It feels like White and his crew all knew that the movie just had to make some money, so it didn’t matter if it was actually effective, scary, or even the least bit entertaining.

As long as the kids are still lining-up to buy tickets to see it, then who the hell cares, right?

Consensus: Without hardly any tension or fun to be found, Ouija feels like a waste of a potentially solid premise, all in favor of studios making more bank.

3 / 10

Oh, Olivia. Just stay away from horror flicks. Do more interesting indies. Please.

Oh, Olivia. Just stay away from horror flicks. Do more interesting indies. Please.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Annabelle (2014)

All creepy dolls are bad news. So just toss them in the trash while you still can!

John (Ward Horton) and Mia Form (Annabelle Wallis) are a very young and happy couple with a new baby on the way. While John isn’t around most of the time because he’s trying to finish up medical school, Mia spends most of her time at home, doing everyday, normal chores. John knows that his wife must be incredibly bored, so for that reason alone, he decides to buy her an antique doll with a beautiful dress named Annabelle. Mia loves it and automatically sets it aside on the shelf next to all of her other odd-looking dolls, but as soon as she does this, crazy and disastrous stuff starts to happen. Neighbors are murdered, crazy, savage-like cults start popping-up and for some reason, Mia starts seeing weird figures in and around the household. While there’s no exact reasoning for what is happening, Mia and John start to wonder if any of it has to do with Annabelle and if so, what do they do to get rid of her? After all, every time that they’ve tried to throw her away, she somehow comes back.

So, what do you do when a crazy, killer-doll won’t leave you alone?

"Don't worry, honey. It'll watch over us at night."

“Don’t worry, honey. It’ll watch over us at night.”

You’d think that by the way the creators of the Conjuring have hyped Annabelle, both the doll, as well as the movie, as being, that it would be the scariest thing since cavemen discovered fire. In the actual Conjuring, Annabelle herself is locked away in a glass-box, with a sign telling no one “to ever open”. You’d think that with that kind of warning, that the movie about Annabelle, her origin and her sick, twisted ways she extracts violence on those around her, would be absolutely bone-chilling and if, at that, even scarier than its predecessors.

But unfortunately, it’s not.

If anything, Annabelle, the movie, is just plain and simply put, boring. There’s something interesting about this movie in that it tries to go for a retro, old-school horror-vibe, as in the same vein of a Roman Polanski thriller. The two characters names are “John” and “Mia”, the stringy-score screeches every time something spooky happens, and yes, there’s a lot of talk about flower-power and cults. While I want to give director John R. Leonetti credit for at least trying to make this movie look and sound cooler than it actually is, he fails at actually conjuring up any sort of the same feelings, or raw emotions that Polanski’s thrillers always had, even when it seemed like they weren’t going for that mood at all.

In fact, I’ll just stop bringing up Polanski altogether, as to do so, would be disrespect to his craft, as Annabelle is a pretty crummy movie. It’s the kind of horror movie that uses jump-scares as a back-up plan for every scene, it’s villains aren’t particularly scary or frightening, if only because they’re shown so clear and full in the first thirty minutes, and the movie itself kind of jumps the shark real early on. There’s never any sense of impending doom or dread being built-up; the movie literally starts with a scare and continues to do the same kind of scares, again and again, almost to the point where none of its scary, but just numbing and annoying.

Any good horror movie you see, you’ll notice that the movie doesn’t just start off by giving you all the blood, gore, shrieks, geeks and ghouls right off the bat. That’s because the people behind the movie know that sometimes, having people wait around and wait for something terrifying to happen, is the whole fun and scary part about seeing a horror movie. You don’t want everything thrown at you, all at once and right away – sometimes, you just want to wait around, getting some chilly things given to you, every once and a blue moon, all before it fully gets out-of-hand and crazy.

God vs. a creepy doll.

God vs. a creepy doll. Where’s that movie?!?

That’s how most good horror movies are and, as you can probably tell, Annabelle is not that movie.

It also hurts that throughout the whole 100 minutes, we’re given possibly the most boring, most uninteresting and most dull characters in a horror movie since the days of the Friday the 13th sequels. Say what you will about Jason X, at least all of the characters in that movie were all jack-asses and over-the-top; they’re far more interesting and fun to watch than either this John or Mia ever had a chance to be. And while I don’t blame Ward Horton or Annabelle Wallis for the problems with their characters, they certainly don’t help matters by having absolutely no chemistry together whatsoever, nor do they actually seem interested in doing anything with the characters, either. Sure, you could definitely blame it on the lackluster direction they may have been saddled with, but unfortunately, they just look bad in the process and it’s a shame, too, because I’m sure that they’re really nice people in real life.

And basically, that’s all there is to Annabelle. The characters suck, the performances are even worse, and the scares just aren’t there, which is the biggest issue of all. The movie is, like I said before, roughly 100 minutes and more than half of that run-time is spent trying to scare the pants off of everyone watching it, which, aside from maybe one or two surprises, never happens. It’s just a cash-cow horror flick, made for the sake of more money for the Conjuring franchise and remind audiences that there’s a bigger universe out there.

However, maybe I’d just like to stick with the Conjuring story instead. It’s far more interesting and yes, spookier.

Consensus: Without even trying, Annabelle is a boring, uninteresting and downright silly horror flick that doesn’t seem to have a single fun bone in its body, even if it is, essentially, about a creepy-doll wreaking havoc on 60’s suburbanites.

2.5 / 10

Eh. I've seen far, far worse. Go to my grand-mom's place.

Eh. I’ve seen far, far worse. Trust me. Just go to my grandmom’s place.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Mommy (2014)

Say what you will about Freud, the dude was definitely getting at something.

After her son gets expelled from his school for starting a fire and injuring another student, Diane “Die” Després (Anne Dorval) is forced to take him out and raise him on her own. The only problem is that young Steven (Antoine-Olivier Pilon) is a bit of a hot head, who not only battles with ADHD, but is also going through the most challenging transition period of any guy’s life: Going from being a boy, to becoming a man. Because of this, Steven usually lashes out uncontrollably at those around him, is unpredictable as to when his mood will change, and generally doesn’t know how to love his mother and treat her with the respect she deserves. That looks like it may all change, however, once their neighbor, Kyla (Suzanne Clément), shows up and begins tutoring Steven on such subjects as math, English, and, according to Steven at least, sex. But even she has a dark side that may get in the way of the relationship between Die and Steven, or may even help them reinvigorate it. It’s all sort of up in the air.

Xavier Dolan makes me mad. Not because his movies are incredibly pretentious, or because they seem to all deal with this idea of self-entitlement, but because he’s literally three years older than me, already has five movies to his name, and has been granted all sorts of critical acclaim since day one. If there’s somebody out there in this world who I loathe more, honestly, I don’t know if I’d be able to find them – Xavier Dolan is my arch-nemesis, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t know this, nor even care.

The face of the future, folks. Meaning, we're all boned.

The face of the future, folks. Meaning, we’re all boned.

Then again though, he does make some good movies, so I can’t be too upset with him.

And that’s what he has here with Mommy; a film that has garnered so much love and praise already, that I feel like me writing a review about it nearly six months after the fact won’t do much, but it’s been a movie on my mind since the day I first saw it, so why not? Because with Mommy, sure, it’s a great movie, but is it as perfect as everybody has been praising it as being? Definitely not, but there’s something interesting to that negativity. People haven’t really been upset with Mommy because it throws in there certain ideas about incest, sexual abuse, and even mental illness, it’s more that people have been upset with the movie for not having anything more to really say about it.

Which is, yes, definitely true. For the longest time, it seems like Dolan has something neat, or interesting to say about all of these themes and while it starts off as such, it ends up circling around saying the same thing, again and again. That these people are all inherently messed-up from all sorts of various problems, Dolan uses them as a way to show us that all you need is love, heart and humanity to get you through any sort of situation. It’s definitely a sweet idea, but it’s one that doesn’t necessarily break down the walls of what we’ve already seen or heard before – it’s basically just Dolan letting us know that people are people, and that’s it.

But even while Mommy doesn’t have anything new to say, it’s still engaging and incredibly watchable. My better-part is containing myself from the uttering the word “entertaining”, because it’s painstakingly clear that Dolan doesn’t want this piece to perceived in that way, but that’s sort of what happens when you put all of the right ingredients together and just let them do your thing. When you have wacky, unpredictable characters, thrown into a story that deals with their relationships together, have great performers, and toss in the Oedipus complex for good measure, then needless to say, there’s going to be some fun to be had.

Not just because it’s funny to see how wacky, unpredictable people interact with one another, but because Dolan never judges them or puts them on a peddle-stool. He literally sees them for who they are – troubled, messed-up, emotionally-repressed human beings who are just about ready to explode with anger and tension. That’s what really keeps the heart of this film at level with all of the other crazy shenanigans it portrays these characters of getting into; rather than showing them off as crazy loonies that can’t handle any bit of their emotions, Dolan instead shows us that what they’re going through, together as well as separate, is what you or I could be going through, too.

The only difference here is that they’re a bit nuttier.

The girl next door, except that she ain't no girl! She a woman! Look out, younger boys!

The girl next door, except that she ain’t no girl! She’s a full-grown woman! Look out, younger boys!

And with that said, mostly everybody here is played up to a certain level of nuttiness that actually works for the movie, rather than being so incredibly over-the-top and working against it. As Die, Anne Dorval gives a ruthless performance of a woman who clearly loves her son, but also knows that he can be a total animal and needs to control him more and more. They have a sweet relationship, that sometimes does borderline almost too sweet, but it’s also one that’s believable and doesn’t make you think that there aren’t real life mother-son duos like this in real life. Dorval shows us that this Die woman clearly wants her son to be safe, normal, and even slightly sane, but also knows that it all comes with a price and is sometimes willing to let go of her morals because of that. This transition should make her detestable, but it doesn’t, and actually works for helping to keep her character humane, rather than a caricature of what Dolan wants to show us as “the evil mom”.

Another character who is sort of in the same field as Die, is Suzanne Clément’s Kyla, who seems like there’s something downright deep and disturbing about her, but what that is, we never really know. That mystery about her is what keeps her mostly interesting, but also the fact that she genuinely cares for Steven and Die, even when she’s abandoning her own family because, also makes her feel like someone who is easy to care about. Even if her problems with stuttering and repression continue to act up, she still seems like a person that, at the end of the day, needs a nice, cozy, and warm hug to let her know everything will end up all right in the end.

Same goes for Steven, who is played with absolute ferocity by youngin’ Antoine-Olivier Pilon. As most old people say, “That kid’s chock full of piss and vinegar”, and that is exactly the case with Steven; he’s always spirited, clearly fuming with some sort of angst, and makes it seem like he’ll hump anything that walks, so long as they return the favor (sort of like me). In all honesty, his character is probably the most stereotypical out of anyone else here, but Pilon makes it worthwhile because he is constantly all over the place, making us wonder what he’s going to say or do next, and just who the hell he’s going to make feel uncomfortable in any certain situation. Like everyone else here, he’s a ticking time bomb that’s just about ready to explode, but when and where that happens, is constantly left up in the air and it’s always compelling because of that.

But don’t worry, Dolan, I won’t say “entertaining”, even if that’s exactly what it is.

Consensus: All artistry aside, Mommy is a constantly engaging, if somewhat familiar story about challenging people, thrown into a challenging situation, who are all just trying to make it out of it alive, and with some degree of sanity left in them.

8 / 10

Mommy knows best. Trust me.

Mommy knows best. Trust me.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Citizenfour (2014)

The closest you can get to a computer-geek, without losing any bit of your popularity. Maybe.

After making a few documentaries that put her on the NSA’s “watch list”, Laura Poitras soon found herself chatting online with an anonymously mysterious person who went by the name of “Citizenfour”. According to mystery person, they had acquired, in their possessions, numerous and numerous amounts of confidential sources, documents, etc. that would show the government to be spying on its citizens. Poitras doesn’t know what to do with this information, except to just take it in for herself. That is all until she finds out that Citizenfour wants to meet somewhere in Hong Kong, which she accepts, although she enlists the help of investigative journalist Glenn Greenwald to help her seize this moment once and for all. Once Poitras and Greenwald walk into some high-class Hong Kong hotel suite, they meet the man we would all know as Edward Snowden, who would then let them know a little bit about his life, what he has, and what he wants to do from here on out.

And the rest, as older-generations like to casually drop into conversation, is history; and by “history”, I mean what we are currently dealing with in the past two years now having known what Snowden found and revealed to the whole wide world about his findings. To be honest, too, there’s some problem with that known knowledge and this movie – while the movie likes to think that it’s dropping absolutely shocking, knee-shattering information to its audience, the fact remains, we already know what the government has been doing. Why? Well, because Snowden himself got on TV to tell us all, once and for all.

Boo to the guy on the right! More of the guy on the left! (And no, that's not a metaphor)

Boo to the guy on the right! More of the guy on the left! (And no, that’s not a metaphor.)

While some of you may think this isn’t a fair criticism, especially considering you could say that about half of the documentaries made about notable, infamous figures in today’s day and age, there’s something different to be said for a movie that thinks it’s showing us something new, something revolutionary, but in all honesty, actually isn’t. We know what Snowden found; we know what’s going on with his life nowadays; and we know how the rest of the world would react this newfound information. Nothing else is all that shocking.

So, for maybe the first-half of this movie, I was left uninterested. Uninterested by what this movie was trying to do with its story, how long it actually took to get to meet Snowden, and almost irritated by how Poitras herself manipulatively used bits and pieces of Nine Inch Nails to add tension to what is, essentially, just a bunch of typed-letters on the screen for us to read. As a director, no matter what sort of film you’re working with, feel that you have to add music in the background to make an audience feel a certain way, with a certain emotion, you’ve already lost some of the battle. You seem more obvious than before and, at least from my standpoint, make it hard for the audience to bounce back.

However, that’s what shocked me so much about Citizenfour, because it actually did bounce back. And quite effectively, too, may I add.

Where this movie ends as an informational-piece, it soon then begins as a small, but engaging character-study of one person we like to think we know so well by how the media portrays him as being, but in reality, actually haven’t the slightest clue about. Sure, some of us may think we know Edward Snowden because he, like most of us, is an innocent, seemingly fragile computer-geek that, by all his might and will, saw stuff that he didn’t like and went as far as to expose those wrongdoings to the rest of the world. In his own, maybe unintentional way, Snowden has been declared a “superhero” among sorts, and it’s because of this title, most of us think that he’s like your or I, just with more computer-skills and obviously a lot more paranoid.

Snowden lookin' sassy. Look out, ladies. No seriously, lookout. The government will be after your ass quicker than you can say "web leaks".

Snowden lookin’ sassy. Look out, ladies. No seriously, lookout. The government will be on your ass quicker than you can say “web leaks”.

But what Poitras and Citizenfour as a whole does, and does well, is that it removes all of the stereotypical bullshit about Snowden and reveals to us a very layered, meager and mild guy that, like all of us, just wants the world to be a safer place. Not just for himself, but for everyone else. And what Poitras does well is that it allows for him to tell his story, without any cheap, cinematic short-cuts to be seen; it’s just him, his bland, black T-shirt, his glasses, his fuzzy, frazzled hair, his jeans, his laptop, and his never-ending barrage of stories to tell about what he saw, what he wants to do, and what’s next in this possible plan of his. Occasionally, we’ll get a side-swipe by Greenwald (which were the worst parts of this movie, for me, but that’s just personal preference because I despise him oh so very much), and the Guardian intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill (who I just wanted to give an big, endearing hug by the end of this), but for the most part, it’s Snowden’s story to tell and he’s willing to go deep and dirty with it.

He definitely backs away from giving certain details about his family, his girlfriend, and just where exactly he lives, but that’s all understandable. Maybe one day, in the near-future, when, hopefully, most of the dust has settled, we’ll get a straight-up, no-frills, take-no-names documentary that digs deep into Snowden’s actual life, but for now, and mostly for security purposes, this is as close as we’ll get to seeing Snowden, warts and all. Which works, because not only is Snowden an compelling presence here, in that he is so nerdy and kind that you’d much rather take him out of a locker, rather than stuff him in it, but that he also genuinely seems like a nice dude. You can definitely hold some of that against the movie for not allowing for us to make our own opinion on him, but for what it’s worth, Poitras seems like she wasn’t trying hard to take away from Snowden’s point-of-view or any of the things he had to discuss. She lets him ramble on and on, even if amiably so, but it’s a side of the story that most of us want to hear and she doesn’t take away from that.

Which doesn’t just do Snowden himself justice, but the people who actually want to know more about this possible “superhero”.

Consensus: For the first-half, Citizenfour meanders, but once Edward Snowden enters the picture (literally and figuratively), what we get is an engaging, heartfelt and occasionally stirring look into the personality of a figure we should all know more about.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Grunge-reject, but it's okay. He's better now.

Grunge-reject, but it’s okay. He’s better now.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Force Majeure (2014)

Don’t think I’ll need to visit the French Alps anytime soon. I prefer to be alive.

A Swedish family spends a week in the French Alps for what seems to be a relatively stress-free, enjoyable vacation, as most families want. One afternoon, however, that all seems to change. While the family’s out dining on a deck, they hear an avalanche pop, but they feel as if it is controlled enough that they don’t have to worry and possibly even run for their lives. Several seconds later, it looks as if the avalanche is not at all controlled, is heading straight for them, and leaves them all to do what they assume to be their final moments alive. Ebba (Lisa Loven Kongsli) stays behind and shelters her two kids, whereas Tomas (Johannes Kuhnke) runs away and never turns back. Well, turns out that the avalanche actually was controlled in the first place, but one that was just a tad too close to comfort for all of them. But now, Ebba is concerned about her husband, seeing as how he ran away from them all, rather than stay back and try to protect them in any way imaginable. This puts a lot of their relationship into perspective and, as a result, the vacation a lot more uncomfortable and tense.

Just another happy family on vacation.

Just another happy family on vacation.

It takes a lot for a movie to have me on the edge of my seat. I’m not saying that as some sort of brag; I’m saying that because after all of the movies I’ve seen over a the past decade or so, and realizing that many plot-threads are identical in almost every part of one movie’s nature, there’s only so much a movie can do that totally throws me for a loop and has me not knowing what to expect, where, why, or even how. Though there are many movies that can do this to me, they’re more than likely already crazy pieces of genre film that you expect to throw you for a loop, every so often. However, for a human-based drama to throw me off my game? Now that’s something new!

Not to mention, something I definitely welcome.

And that’s what I had here with Force Majeure, a movie that I didn’t expect to be more than just a family dealing with the aftermath of an avalanche. Although, technically, the movie is dealing with the aftermath of said avalanche, the way writer/director Ruben Östlund goes about exploring it as the movie runs along, is what’s so interesting and what, ultimately, threw me for a loop just about every step of the way I was willing to roll with this movie.

For instance, everything leading up to the actual avalanche itself is really simple, almost too much so. It paints this portrait of a normal, everyday family that seem like they need some time away from their lives at home and just want to sit back, relax and enjoy the slopes while they can. But when the avalanche comes rolling in, and all of a sudden, the family fears that their lives may be in full-danger, then it becomes clear that this is going to be a different kind of movie that isn’t as simple, or peeled-apart as you may think.

And speaking of that avalanche rolling down, it’s one of the more tense, hard-to-look-away from sequences that I’ve seen in something that wasn’t an action movie. Literally, it starts off nice and easy, and then all of a sudden, goes from 1 to 11 and already, you can feel that there’s death in the air. However, what Östlund does so well here is that he keeps the camera as still as humanly possible, without ever shifting around and making it seem like he wants us to feel the same excitement and intensity that these characters may be going through as well. He just keeps the camera right then and there, and allows for us to watch it as it’s happening; which, in turn, makes the sequence all the more terrifying, as we can see the avalanche coming in as plain as day, yet, there’s still nothing we can do about it.

Then, after that happens, Östlund takes down everywhere he can go with this family and it’s where the movie gets to become the most interesting, as well as the most unpredictable – something I didn’t expect.

What I mean by “unpredictable”, too, is to say that every scene starts off normal, as if you could tell what’s going to happen, where it’s going to end up, and what we, the audience, is going to learn more about once all is said and done with. By this, I don’t mean that people engage in constant gun-battles that end in hectic blazes of fire, blood and ammunition-shells; what I mean is that while you expect the scene to be just exposition, it turns into showing us more and more about this family, their dynamic together, and exactly what this terrifying event has done to them. Though Östlund makes the smart choice of picking any sides in the matter, nor does he make it at all clear where he is going to go with this story. This is where the characters come in and show that there’s more to this story, rather than just picking out who was in the wrong, and who was in the right. More or less, they’re all in the wrong; it’s just a matter of who is more so in the wrong than the other.

Just another couple of bros relaxing and having some brews.

Just another couple of bros relaxing and having some brews.

That’s if I’m making any sense whatsoever.

Like I was saying, though, Östlund paints each and everyone of these characters human beings; albeit, ones with plenty of emotion that they may not always be able to take control of. This is most evident in Ebba, but with good reason – not only does it seem like her and her husband haven’t been able to spend quality, loving-time together, now she finds out that he may not even have her, or their family’s best interests at heart. After this, she lashes out at him at random, sometimes inappropriate times and not only puts her hubby into an uncomfortable position, but those around them as well. It makes her, on the surface, seem like an annoying, emotional wreck that needs to either be put in the corner, or given a smack to wake her up and allow her to smell the cauliflower.

But she isn’t, and the same goes for Tomas, which makes the dilemma all the more rich and frustrating to answer for yourself. Except, when you look at the situation in his shoes and through his eyes, the decision is a lot more difficult to figure out: Would you try to save yourself from death, if that at all seemed plausible? Or, would you stay with the ones you supposedly love and tough it out regardless? They’re two roads you could take, which makes it all the more interesting to see not only how Tomas himself realizes this, and refuses to actually admit to it, and also by how he constantly gets it thrown back into his face by his wife who clearly knows his intentions. It all creates plenty food-for-thought and may, more than likely, remind you that even though your family loves you and supports you, they may not be there to save you from imminent death.

You know, happy thoughts.

Consensus: On the surface, Force Majeure seems like another simple family-drama, but is anything but with complex questions, and no easy answers whatsoever.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

AND NOW THEY'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!! AHH!!

AND NOW THEY’RE ALL GOING TO DIE!! AHH!!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Maze Runner (2014)

Mazes usually aren’t this complicated. Just ask Jack. Oh wait, don’t bother.

For no reason whatsoever, 16-year-old Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) is woken up by a loud bang and finds himself on an elevator that leads to a place he has no idea about. He’s in total and complete confusion, but the people that he meets when he gets to the top (all young males) have a good idea of who he is, what he’s doing here, and just what sort of environment they’re in. According to some of the “villagers”, after society broke down, they were all knocked out, had most of their memories erased, and left to complete a gigantic, seemingly never-ending maze that whoever in charge, created for them to complete. Problem is, the maze is incredibly deadly and almost nobody who has gone into it, has came back out alive. And even if they have, they have no idea of just how the hell to get to the end of it. Basically, it’s task to difficult to accomplish; a reality that some of the villagers have accepted and are absolutely fine with. Thomas isn’t and he decides to take it upon himself to try whatever he can to finish the maze, even if he has to risk his own life.

Another year, another handful or so young adult adaptations.

Not Katniss.  Hell, he's not even Tris. Just a boring bro.

Not Katniss. Hell, he’s not even Tris. Just a boring bro.

Typically, this is a remark made by older folks such as myself and with good reason – ever since Twilight ruled the box-office and ushered in a new kind of audience that could not be messed with, there’s been an endless supply of similar movies that cater to practically the same audience, old heads be damned. While these films can sometimes be great and reach more than just their target-audience (the Hunger Games), and sometimes, can just seem like carbon copies of better-told stories to come before them (Divergent and the upcoming sequel, Insurgent), there’s no denying that we are on YA-overload and eventually, the tower will come tumbling down, destroying just about everything and everyone in it’s path.

But until then, we’re still subject to movies like the Maze Runner which, believe it or not, isn’t as bad as the rest of the batch of YA adaptations have been. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s perfect, but given that the story seems to be basically the Hunger Games, with a tad bit of an indie-twist, there’s both things to credit, as well as discredit.

Let’s start off nice with the giving of credit where credit’s due, and that’s to director Wes Ball who, surprisingly, was given this as his directorial-debut. It would seem almost too risky for a large company such as 20th Century Fox to put all of their hopes, dreams and aspirations on a first-timer like Ball, but the risk is actually greater than the reward, because without trying to do much at all, Ball does everything that a story like this needs. Rather than giving us every bit of detail and information we need to know about this world that we’re thrown into, Ball keeps us in the dark as much as possible. Which is, yes, only fitting considering that the protagonist has the same thing done to him, but there’s something to be said for a director who’s not just making his mainstream debut, but his actual film debut.

Also, what seems to help, too, is that the world we’re set in and forced to believe in, seems pretty interesting. Because there’s no clear idea of what the hell is really going on outside the huge walls surrounding these characters, the ideas and possibilities seem endless. Sure, they could all eventually lead to being, yet again, another world where the evil grown-ups have taken over the world and are making the young whippersnappers something of their own guinea pigs, but for the time being, before that big reveal does, or does not get shown to us, what’s going on around these characters and this movie is totally up in the air. It’s mysterious, but cool. And Ball seems to really relish in screwing with us.

That is, until he isn’t allowed to do that anymore.

See, around the half-way mark, we are of course then thrown into the actual maze itself and while I won’t spend my time spoiling each and every bit of it, let me just say that it’s pretty uneventful. All of the mystery that was surrounding this movie so effectively, totally fades into the air once we’re treated to the sight of spider robots.

You heard me right, people. Spider fuckin’ Robots.

"Men! Let the battles for loss of our virginity begin!"

“Men! Let the battles for loss of our virginity begin!”

I have yet to read the Maze Runner novels (and it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever get to reading them, if we’re being honest here), but regardless of whether or not these spider robots are actually in the source material, it calls into question whether anybody involved with thinking of worthy enough antagonists were even trying. Sure, they may be huge, tactical and deadly, but what purpose do they serve, other than to just stand in the way of our protagonists and their ultimate goal of freedom, or whatever? It just seemed goofy to me and ultimately, had me lose interest, just when it seemed like the movie should have grabbed me by the throat and forced me to stick with it every turn it made and every dead-end it hit.

And of course, the half-way point is also when the plot’s cracks begin to show, especially once an actual female jumps in and messes with all of these masculine dude’s heads. Right? I mean, you’d think that with all of these adolescent boys being forced to hanging around members of the same sex, day in, day out and with no promises made about ever a female ever again, that when one would practically fall into their lap, they’d go a little wild over here? Better yet, you’d assume that there would be extreme battles-to-the-death where the last man standing, got the girl and got to repopulate the rest of society (as creepy as it may ultimately have been when a sister and a brother were forced to do the same thing)? Well, honestly, that’s a bit risky and I don’t blame 20th Century Fox for not going with that angle. Heck, even I wouldn’t go with that angle if I was making that sort of movie, for a different crowd, with a lot less money handed to me.

But hey, we dare to dream, folks.

Consensus: A certain air of mystery that surrounds the Maze Runner‘s universe is what makes it so interesting to watch and keep track of, all until the actual maze comes into play and things get pretty dull, predictable and similar to so many other movies released in the past few years.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Inside lies something bad and dangerous. Right, guys?

Ehh. Seems pretty easy.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Hector and the Search for Happiness (2014)

Dude, you’re married to Rosamund Pike. How much more happiness do you seriously need?

London psychiatrist Hector (Simon Pegg) feels like his life isn’t as fulfilling as he would like for it to be. Sure, he’s got a nice job, a nice house, and an even nicer wife (Rosamund Pike), but for some odd reason, he feels like that there’s something more to his life. And if he doesn’t find out what that is, he won’t fully be happy. So, of course with the permission of his wifey-poo, Hector sets out an globe-spanning adventure that takes him all around the world and allows for him to meet some of the most interesting people he’d never have the chance to meet, had he stayed in his boring, posh life in London. However, whenever one travels to a new place that they’re not quite familiar with, they of course run into certain problems with people who don’t take too kindly to tourists – aka, exactly who Hector is. This leaves Hector in many life-or-death situations where he has to take into consideration that sometimes, the life you’re dealt, isn’t so bad at all. So stop whining!

Most of the reviews I’ve read for Hector and the Search for Happiness have been basically calling this, “the indie Secret Life of Walter Mitty“. And while that’s not entirely incorrect, it’s still ill-advised for someone who was actually a fan of Ben Stiller’s piece (such as myself); while the movie wasn’t perfect, there was a certain layer of sweetness that helped the movie get by some of its more dodgy spots. Not to mention, it also had me look at Stiller, the director, in a different light than ever before.

Such an adventure ahead of him. And yet, I could care less.

Such an adventure ahead of him. And yet, I could care less.

But that’s besides the point because Mitty is definitely a better movie than Hector, which isn’t to discredit the later’s leading-man at all. In certain aspects, Simon Pegg is a lot charming and lovable than Stiller, but for some reason, he’s absolutely insufferable here. Pegg’s not doing anything different from what we’ve seen him do before, but the character of Hector, is so dull and thinly-written, that there’s a certain feeling of anger I began to feel with this character. He’s already a whiny mope as it is, with practically everything one could want in life, and yet, he still finds enough time to piss and complain about it, acting as if there’s more to life than living in upper-class society.

Just saying, bud, but many people would be happy to live the life you’re living.

So yeah, already this movie’s not working for me, and then, the plot continues on and once I realize that everywhere Hector goes to, he’ll be involved with some sort of life-threatening situation, my interest was lost. Not only was it unbelievable that Hector himself would just randomly get thrown into these deadly situations for no reason or another than to move the plot along, but the movie never treated them as seriously as they should have to really make it feel like, holy crap, Hector could literally die, right in front of our faces, and we’d be spending the rest of the day in absolute shock and despair. But nope, instead, the movie cracks a smile, even when there’s an AK-47 directly staring them in the face.

For instance, take the whole sequence in the later-half when Hector ends up in Africa – a region of the world that movies such as these love to show as desolate, crime-ridden war-lands. Without getting into the intricacies of what lands Hector there in the first place, basically, he gets kidnapped and taken in by a bunch of thugs, where he is then imprisoned, questioned about his recent whereabouts, and threatened with death, so much so that he’s actually thrown into an execution position. I don’t know about you, but to me, that sort of stuff is not funny. Just go on LiveLeak and you’re bound to find plenty of real, downright disturbing videos of the same thing happening to someone, for no reasons whatsoever.

You're leaving that at home?!?!?

You’re leaving that at home?!?!?

However, the movie thinks differently. Much rather, it thinks that coming close to executing someone is rich with humor, so they treat it as something of a joke. As a result, too, Hector himself does the same and spends the rest of the movie acting as if it had never happened; as if, oh, well, you know, it was all a pure coincidence that was meant to happen so that he could understand and appreciate life a whole lot more. Being dumped by my girlfriend and being kicked out of my apartment has me understand the meaning of life, as well as appreciate it a whole heck of a lot more, and that’s about it for me. I don’t believe I need to be blind-folded, kidnapped, threatened, and have a gun pointed in my face to make me think that.

But hey, that’s just me. I’m not Hector and thank heavens for that.

Basically, in case you haven’t been able to tell already, there’s not a lot going for Hector and the Search for Happiness. There’s hardly any comedy to be found whatsoever (even though the movie insists that there actually is), the melodrama is suffocating, and the message, isn’t just obvious, but ludicrous, especially when you consider all that Hector, the character, had to go through to get to that point in his life. The only moments of actual entertainment that can be found within this movie is whenever some odd-ball from the supporting cast shows up, and even then, they clearly seem to not have much to work with. The only one I can think of off the top of my head that really left any sort of impression whatsoever was Christopher Plummer and even then, I still wondered whether somebody shot him with tranquilizers beforehand to make him numb to the utter garbage he was forced to deliver.

Nobody should have to deliver this junk. Not Christopher Plummer. Not Simon Pegg. Not anybody.

Consensus: Everywhere it goes, everyone it meets, everything it experiences, Hector and the Search for Happiness wants you to enjoy the ride with them, but instead, it’s the kind of trip you wish you took alone, with no annoying Brits found anywhere in sight.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!

Drink up, Simon. And save me some. By the end of this, we'll both need it.

Drink up, Simon. And save me some. By the end of this, we’ll both need a few.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Guest (2014)

As long as they’re in the Army, let ’em in! Or don’t. Actually, yeah. Don’t do that.

One day, completely out of the blue, David Andersen Collins (Dan Stevens) knocks on the Peterson’s front-door and tells them that not only did he serve in the Army with their deceased family-member, but that he was also there for said family-member’s final breathing moment. All David wants to do is stop by, pay his regards, and keep on moving to wherever the hell he’s going, but Laura (Sheila Kelley), the mother of the family, would like for him to stay. She clearly misses her son and if there’s anything at all close to him that she can still get, she’ll keep it for as long as humanly possible. So for awhile, David stays in the house, doing chores, keeping an eye on what happens to the younger kids in the house when they go to school, and overall, just being there to lend a helping hand whenever he’s needed. While the youngest (Brendan Meyer) clearly doesn’t have a problem with this, the older sister, Anna (Maika Monroe), clearly does and isn’t too sure whether she can actually trust David. And then she realizes something very strange about his past, and it puts his whole existence into perspective.

With You’re Next, writer Simon Barrett and director Adam Wingard gave us a movie that lived, slept, and breathed the same air as an 80’s home-invasion flick. However, at the same time, it was still eerily present and because of that, it felt like something new, exciting and relatively original. Of course a good amount of the credit for that film working as well as it did was because of the unpredictable plot that kept on surprising us every step of the way, without ever throwing us down too many random hallways, but where it mattered most, Wingard and Barrett seemed to be making a movie that they clearly wanted to use as both as a tribute to the home-invasion thrillers of yesteryear. By doing so, too, they also made a near-perfect home-invasion thriller in its own right that people, like I imagine Barrett and Wingard were once doing, will be talking about for many, many years to come.

The Guest doesn’t quite hit that peak, but it does come pretty close at times.

Relax over there, ladies.

Relax over there, ladies.

As they did with You’re Next, Wingard and Barrett seemed to highlighting their love for “mysterious stranger” movies; ones where a random person shows up from out of nowhere, has an air of oddness about themselves, and also contain more than a few deep, dark, and dirty secrets that may, or may not make them a danger to whoever’s life they’re being thrown into. These are the kinds of movies that can go one way so cheaply and by-the-numbers, but with the Guest, Wingard and Barrett find a way to keep this tale moving, without ever seeming to focus on the constant cliches that usually make these kinds of stories such eye-rollers to sit through.

For instance, David Collins, the central character here, is an odd duckling, although he’s not really a cartoon. Sure, the guy gives off a strange vibe that makes you think he’s up to no good, but because Wingard and Barrett give him so many awesome scenes that high-light him as something of an endearing bad-ass, it’s hard for us to think of him as any bit of a baddie. There may be some underlining meaning behind the things that he does for this family, but whatever they may be, don’t matter because all we want to do is see him single-handedly get rid of all this family’s problems.

Dad may not be getting his promotion because of some young, hot-shot d-bag? Don’t worry about. Son continues to get picked-on by a bunch of the jocks at school? Once again, don’t worry about it. Daughter may have a boyfriend who is a bit of a shady character? Especially, don’t worry about. David Collins takes care of all these problems in his own manner, and while we want to think of all these scenes as obvious, Barrett and Wingard give them all a certain level of fun and electricity in the air that makes these tropes seem like something new, or better yet, cool.

And as David Collins, Dan Stevens gives off the perfect essence of cool, while by the same token, also has something weird and mysterious about him that we don’t know if we can fully trust. Being as how I’ve never watched a single episode of the Downton Abbey, I can’t really say I’ve ever seen much of a Stevens before, but now, that might change. The guy’s clearly handsome, but there’s something about that handsomeness that makes him almost deadly, which is why when the movie decides to have him turn the other cheek, it’s not only believable, but it allows for Stevens’ comedic-timing to really shine.

So conceited.

So conceited.

Although, the major problem I had with this movie mostly came from the fact that I couldn’t ever tell what this movie wanted to say about Collins, or how it wanted us to feel for him. First off, he’s obviously supposed to be the earnest problem-solver for this family, so of course we’re supposed to stand behind him and root him on. But then, the movie changes its mind about him and starts to throw in a convoluted back-story about his “time” in the army, which eventually brings in the government, SWAT Teams, and DEA agents out of nowhere. It’s crazy, sure, but it’s also fun to see, because you know Wingard and Barrett know better with this story then to allow for all of its wackiness to lead up to nothing.

Then again, though, it doesn’t seem like they want us to hate David Collins, either, even despite all of the evil, devil-ish acts he commits in the later-half. Maybe I’m looking a bit too deeply into this, but a part of me just wanted to know how I was supposed to feel about this guy and whether or not he’s the one I should rooting for. Clearly I wasn’t supposed to, but the movie had me fooled on maybe more than a few occasions and that was a tad disconcerting to me. Whereas with You’re Next, it was somewhat clear who we were supposed to stand behind, and who we were supposed to despise, but with the Guest, neither Wingard and/or Barrett can figure out who we’re supposed to love, and who we’re supposed to hate.

Anything in between is just strange. But maybe that’s just my problem and nobody else’s.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t quite reach the intelligent heights of You’re Next, the Guest is still fun, exciting, and a nice tribute to the kinds of movies that Wingard and Barrett grew up loving, and want to spin-around on their heads for the modern-day audience.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

The pose I always strike in the club. Without the fire-arm, however.

The pose I always strike in the club. Without the fire-arm, however.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day (2014)

Next time, when you’re making a film geared towards kids, go for a smaller, more comprehensible title.

On the eve of his 12th birthday, Alexander Cooper (Ed Oxenbould), nothing seems to be going right for him. The most popular kid in his school seems to be planning on having his birthday party, the same day as he’s having his; his dad (Steve Carell) is out of a job and currently staying at-home to watch the young baby, who also won’t stop crying; his mom (Jennifer Garner) has a new book that’s about to hit the shelves and possibly break records; his older brother (Dylan Minnette) has prom and his driver’s test the next day, so of course, he’s being a jerk; and his older sister (Kerris Dorsey) is currently getting ready to take the stage for her school’s rendition of Peter Pan. Everybody’s getting on Alexander’s case and it seems like his days are just getting more and more bad as they go on. It’s getting so bad that, before he goes to bed, Alexander makes a wish that all of this bad luck for him would just go away. Well, the next day, guess what happens? It does! But somehow, it’s spawned-off to the rest of the family and it just continuously gets worse for all involved, in the worst possible ways imaginable.

So many first world problems just awaiting somewhere in the distance.

So many first world problems just awaiting somewhere in the distance.

It’s difficult to make a family movie, that’s literally made for the whole family. Meaning, that while you don’t necessarily have to be catering towards the kiddies of the clan with fart, poop, and pee jokes, you also don’t have to make your humor so subversive for the grown-ups of the group, to where it’s almost inappropriate for anybody to watch, let alone, for family movie night. But also, in making sure that you’re both funny enough to appeal to all parties of the illustrious fam-squad, you also run the risk of actually being a mess of a movie that hardly anybody would be able to see or enjoy.

Somehow though, Alexander and… (I’m not going to list the whole thing, sorry), runs through that slippery-slope and lands somewhere in the middle. That’s to say that it doesn’t necessarily offend anybody, as much as it just offers little, short splices of adult-humor, amongst all of the crazy, wacky hijinx the non-stop barrage of slap-stick offers. This would usually bother the hell out of me, but considering the time-limit (just under 80 minutes), the family-feel nature of it, and the willing cast, I found myself more entertained and pleased than I would have wanted. Doesn’t mean the movies perfect, or without any types of flaws because it’s serviceable and nothing more, but that doesn’t also mean I should get on the movie’s case much either.

It’s simply not trying to hurt anybody’s feelings, so therefore, I’ll try not to do the same; even though, yes, I’ll probably fail.

Though it’s mostly filled with the same old “whatevers” you’d see in these kinds of family-friendly films, the one interesting element of this movie to note, was that Miguel Arteta directed this and, judging by his past-work, you would never know it. Arteta, if you’re a hip, fly and cool movie-watcher, is known for directing such comedy-based indies like the Good Girl, Youth in Revolt, and Cedar Rapids, and while I’d never call any of them masterpieces in their own rights, they’re still different than what I’d expect from him here. They’re all funny movies, but they’re also a tad darker and heavier on the drama than this movie here. Not to mention they’re also all rated-R, but that’s beside the point.

What I’m trying to say, is simply this: Miguel Arteta doesn’t make movies like this and that’s why it surprised me to discover he was the one behind this movie. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s interesting to see, because Arteta handles the material well; it’s quick, fast, and punchy enough to where the visual, slapstick-gags do their thing and while they may not always hit the mark, there’s not much time spent to think about or dell on them, so you just sort of just take them as they are. Slap-stick, when done right, can be downright hilarious and make me squeal like a 10-year-old girl, but if it’s done wrong, or better yet, too much, then it can sometimes be grating.

#Lolz

#Lolz

Here, the slap-stick continues to get piled on so much, in so many extreme ways because it’s ridiculous as is written – that’s the point. So, because sometimes the slips, slides, prat-falls, and embarrassing moments are so random, they’re actually kind of funny; they don’t need any rhyme or reason, and that’s where some of the fun lies. Of course, the movie tries to barrow itself down and hit some sort of message by the end, but by that point, I didn’t care how sappy it was. The first two-halves of it had entertained me enough to where the movie could have literally ended with them curing world hunger, and so long as they had at least a gag or two dedicated to Steve Carell making funny faces, then I’d have been totally cool with it.

Gosh, now that I think about it, why didn’t they do that? So many missed opportunities here, people!

And speaking of Carell, the dude is so earnest here, that even though the character he’s playing is a bit of a dork, there’s something so incredibly sweet and charming, that it hardly ever matters; Jennifer Garner isn’t my favorite actress, but she’s so down to do whatever the movie throws at her (sometimes, literally), I couldn’t help but respect her just a tad more than usual; Ed Oxenbould is in the typical “smart kid”-role, but the movie doesn’t constantly focus on him, so I was okay with that; and the rest of the cast, with what they’re given to do, all put in some funny moments that may have otherwise been forgettable, stupid and the exactly what this seems to be: A paycheck gig.

Albeit, a fun one where everybody involved seemed to actually be pleased to do.

Consensus: Typical family-fare, but Alexander the… is still charming, fast-paced, and funny enough to where it’s fun for the whole family, as well as for 21-year-old anti-social d-bags. You know, like yours truly.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"Oh my gosh! Minimum-wage jobs!"

“Oh my gosh! Minimum-wage jobs!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Leviathan (2014)

In with the new, out with the old. Or something like that.

Kolia (Alexei Serebriakov) is a simple, care-free Russian citizen who is currently going through a problem right now in his life that he can’t seem to handle. A house that he built and has been living in since an early age, is now being threatened to be taken down by mayor Vadim (Madyanov), a crooked political-figure who wants the property so that he can set-up shop when he eventually becomes a bigger hot-shot in the world of politics. To ensure that Koila doesn’t lose his land, he calls upon an old army friend of his, Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), who is now a practicing lawyer and good one at that, seeing as how he believes that they have enough information to put Vadim away for a very long time. However, personal problems arise for both Koila and Dmitri that not only put their defense into jeopardy, but possibly even their friendship together. Especially considering that neither of them have seen each other in quite some time; who knows who’s changed? You know?

At the end of every year, there always seems to be a foreign film that, for some reason or another, is hardly ever heard from in the preceding 12 or so months, only to then pop-up out of nowhere on everybody’s radar and become the top nominee for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar. That’s not to say that these movies are bad, it’s just odd that there’s hardly ever been a foreign language film that’s been known to be so great and amazing throughout the whole entire year, only to then show up once again when the year’s over and become, what everybody assumes, the clear-winner for the Oscar. Maybe I’m stepping a bit too far beyond my reach, but whatever the case, Leviathan is not a movie I heard of at all, until mid-January, when it was all of a sudden on everybody’s radar to win the Oscar.

Cheer up, man. You're Russian and you're not playing some goofy, over-the-top villain like you would in some American action-pic.

Cheer up, man. You’re Russian and you’re not playing some goofy, over-the-top villain like you would in some American action-pic.

So yeah, if you’re a gambling man or woman, then yeah, I’d say that Leviathan is possibly a wise bet to take a chance on. That doesn’t mean it’s neither good or bad, as much as it’s just something that too often happens in the Oscar-race; some movies get submitted by their own, respective countries, whereas others don’t. Whatever the reasons for this problem may be, it doesn’t seem to matter right now; Leviathan is clearly the front-runner and so be it.

However, I’m not sure it deserves it.

What deserves to win in its place is totally up in the air, for now, but regardless, the fact is that I feel Leviathan does a lot of things right, but is ultimately, another down-beat, depressing and morbid tale that most Oscar-votes tend to lean towards because it focuses on the real, painful struggles that can be felt around the world. While the light, sometimes lovely comedies of the foreign-world get ignored because they’re simply “too optimistic”, downright sad dramas see all sorts of the light of the day. The past three winners were fine (A Separation, Amour, the Great Beauty) were fine, but once again, except for the later, most of them are another pair of upsetting movies made to shock audiences who don’t normally set-out to see foreign flicks on a regular-basis.

Anyway, I realize that most of my discussion is getting further and further away from the movie, but it’s just something I felt I needed to address. Because honestly, Leviathan is not a bad movie per se – it’s just a movie that clearly has faults that may definitely get overlooked in the following weeks to come. For reasons I’ve explained already and won’t bore you with anymore.

Where its strengths are in though, is maybe the first hour or so of itself. For instance, it starts off strong in introducing us to these characters, the situation they’re thrown into and what the main focus of this story is going to be. Though you could say the story isn’t necessarily limited in its scope, there’s definitely an idea that we’re going to focus solely on the rivalry between the mayor of this town, and this man who he has come into conflict. I was sold, hook, line and sinker with this plot-line and was definitely looking forward to where it all went next.

Most of this was probably because the characters were so strongly-written and performed, that I couldn’t take my eyes away from them. Because with these characters, you get real life human beings, chock full of their faults and all; but the movie hardly ever judges them for what they do, which is astounding considering what some of these characters do in the later-parts of this film. Take, for instance, Kolia, our main protagonist you could kind of say he is.

For starters, we get the impression that there’s something definitely deeply troubling this man. He can’t seem to hold himself together when it comes to his emotions, nor when he’s tossing vodka down his throat. Heck, one of the first glimpses we get of him is him whacking the back of the head of his son with hardly even a sense of remorse; it’s not just an element of parenthood he was probably raised on, but absolutely condones, seeing as how it’s made him out to be the man he is today, even if he doesn’t fully realize the error of his ways. But though he’s got his fair share of problems, there’s still an element of sympathy that’s felt for this guy because he is trying to keep his home, as well as his family-tradition, alive and well.

When in doubt, drink up boys.

When in doubt, drink up boys.

In fact, much of this film is made to point out the problems between tradition, versus the modern-way of doing things. Whereas Kolia would probably partition for the local mom-n-pop store to stay open, the despicable mayor would constantly push and push for that Wal-Mart lurking down a couple of blocks to come in, sweep all of the smaller stores away, regardless of if they were up before, or for how long. The movie discusses this in a smart, intelligent-manner that can sometimes be a tad obvious, but feels important enough that it didn’t matter.

However, that all changes after awhile and it’s where the film seems to lose its step.

Because, without saying too much, the movie sort of switches gears to being less about this feud between the mayor and Kolia, and more about each and every character’s own problems with life. Some are happy; some aren’t; and some are just content to keep on going and going until they can’t any longer. Though this would normally interest me, had this been the original plan to focus on in the first place, it just doesn’t here. Not to mention that the movie seems to go on for another hour or so, with nearly three different endings, none of which seemed to fully satisfy the point it was trying to across in the first place.

So yes, the movie definitely gets muddled by the end and it’s a shame. Maybe it’s just me, but I was all for a lean, mean film about the battle between the small-time, local folk, against the large, rather powerful politician that was ready for a change, by any means necessary. Though I’m fine with a movie changing itself up to keep the story’s focus ever-changing, here, it felt more like a missed-opportunity. Sure, people are sad in their own little lives. So what? Do you have anything more to say than that? With Leviathan, it’s never clear. And maybe that’s the point.

Oh well. Time to go shopping at Target.

Consensus: Despite a compelling first-half that sets plenty of promise for what’s next to come, Leviathan sort of collapses on itself once it tries to handle too much, all at one time, further losing sight of what it was originally trying to say in the first place.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Symbolism. Right, guys?

Symbolism. Right, guys?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Black Sea (2015)

Submariners are the new pirates. Thankfully, no Jack Sparrow.

After all of he and his buddies get laid-off from their jobs, a submarine captain named Robinson (Jude Law) catches wind of a possible way to make plenty of dough. The only problem is that it’s from a sketchy backer (Tobias Menzies), who may or may not be exactly who he says he is. However, Robinson isn’t taking any chances because what he really wants is that money so that he can get himself, as well as his lads, back to see their families. So, Robinson gets a rough, ragged and culturally diverse group together and lets them know right away that he won’t put up with any sort of shenanigans going on/around the submarine. Problem is, after he tells them this, he also lets everybody know that they’ll all get equal shares of whatever it is that they find in the sea. Which brings up the question: If people know that there share’s get bigger, once some crew-members die-off, then will they commit any sort of wrongdoings? Well, Robinson and the rest of the crew are about to find out first hand, which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t at the bottom of the pitch black sea itself.

"It's either my way, or the highway! Or, erhm, wherever we stop for air next!"

“It’s either my way, or the highway! Or, erhm, wherever we stop for air next!”

Submarine thrillers, more or less, depend on one element and one element mostly to get its viewers paying attention: Claustrophobia. It works in all of the biggest and best movies in a submarine, and with good reason – normally, people don’t like enclosed spaces they can’t get out of. It doesn’t matter if they’re watching it, or simply witnessing it from a first-hand account, if you are able to create the allusion that you have to be up close and person with the walls that surround you, or else you’ll have to perish, then you’ve already done your job. People will instantly freaked-out and very tense.

This is the element that director Kevin Macdonald uses, but it’s not the only card he shows. Rather than just showing the audience these enclosed-spaces, with plenty of men sweating, Macdonald also takes time to focus on the dynamics amongst the crew that may, or may not, bring everything to ahead. That the crew is split-up between Russians and non-Russians, already gives you the impression that anybody could flip out on another person, because they may have misconstrued something in the wrong manner.

But once again, Macdonald does not stop there. And a part of me sort of wishes he did.

Because while the movie has plenty of excitement going for itself with the constantly yelling, running, crashing, shooting, and explorations into the deep blue sea, there are moments where it feels like maybe Macdonald and writer Dennis Kelly aren’t totally comfortable with just having these various characters argue and threaten one another to create tension. Instead, there’s got to be more twists added-on that maybe, just maybe, these guys are doing this all for nothing? Or maybe, these guys don’t have anything else to live for, so in a way, this job was nothing more than a swan song for all parties involved? Either way, the story gets a little too wrapped up in itself and it made me wish that Macdonald and Kelly trusted themselves enough to know that the simple they kept it, the better it was. The more that they threw on, only complicated matters much worse.

However, there is something to be said for a submarine thriller that is able to be just that, thrilling, without ever feeling like it’s re-inventing the wheel that’s been steered so firmly many times before. Macdonald doesn’t get into the mechanics of this submarine, as much as he just shows what works, why and how it can work for the group. It’s a simple understanding between the audience and the director that we don’t too often get in movies such as these; more special because Macdonald himself doesn’t seem to want to throw any of his intelligence on the audience members who may not know a single thing about submarines except that they go deep underwater and stuff. Macdonald shows an appreciation, almost an adoration for these submarines, but he never forces us to follow him and his love for them – simply, he just wants us to watch as these chums all try their hardest to pull off the greatest heist in submarine history ever.

The face you just can't trust.

The face you just can’t trust.

That said, Macdonald gets a lot of mileage out of his cast, most especially Jude Law in the kind of unattractive, challenging role we’ve been seeing him taken as of late. As Captain Robinson, Jude Law uses a Scottish-accent that may seem like no biggie at first, until you realize that it gives him this kind of hard-edge to make you think that this guy’s seen it all in the world, been through hell and back, and is just trying to make a living, regardless of if it is a simple one or not. With this role and the title-character in Dom Hemingway, Law has proven himself to be a far-better, more talented actor than most of us maybe had taken him for in the past. Sure, he’s still got his good looks, but he’s also getting up there in age and it’s finally about time that he’s at least approached this aspect of his life, and allowed for it to play-off so well in his career-choices.

In other words, I’m interested in seeing what “old-head Jude Law” has to offer.

Though Law’s definitely the one to pay most attention in this flick, he isn’t the only one who leaves a mark as there are character actors aplenty in this ensemble and all of them put in great work. Ben Mendelsohn, as you could suspect, plays something of a trouble-maker early-on, only to then slightly turn the other cheek and become something of a nice guy, even if he’s one you know to never fully trust, no matter how many times he says to grab his hand and pull-up; Konstantin Khabensky is one of the Russians here who doesn’t speak much English, but leaves you with the impression that he wants the same thing as his non-Russian counterparts want, and are just as capable of pulling-off some evil acts of vandalism as well; and Scoot McNairy, despite clearly being the odd duckling out of the whole group, fits in well as the whiny, annoying member who had to come along for the ride, but also works as the voice of reason well enough to put this whole story into perspective and remind all of these characters who they are all on this mission for in the first place – their families.

Consensus: Without trying to change the game of submarine thrillers, Black Sea is a tense, rather fun piece that focuses on all aspects of its story well enough that it makes the finale all the more effective, even if the twists do get a tad over-zealous with themselves.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Marcellus Wallace's dirty laundry?

Marsellus Wallace’s dirty laundry?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Cake (2014)

It’s an easy joke, but no seriously, real cake would have been better.

After an automotive accident, Claire Bennett (Jennifer Aniston) is suffering from all sorts of pain – chronic, emotional, physical, and most of all, personal. But to help her get by, Claire continuously pops pills and drinks cocktails, even though she’s also going to physical therapy and group-meetings to help her with any sort of problems she might be having. However, it seems that the only problem Claire even seems to be bothered with is that she doesn’t understand why everybody is so concerned with a former-member of the group sessions (Anna Kendrick)’s suicide; she’s too mean and nasty for anybody to understand, so of course, they kick her out and hope that she eventually starts to sing a different tune. That sort of happens for Claire, however, maybe not the way some would have wanted it to happen. For instance, she starts an actual, budding relationship with he nanny (Adrianna Barraza), if only as a way to coax her into buying more illegal drugs across the border. And then, if that wasn’t bad enough, she even starts to visit the deceased girl’s widower (Sam Worthington), in what seems to be more than just a normal chit-chat, and something more serious and possibly sexual.

Literally his only scene.

Literally his only scene.

Right off the bat, I feel like it is worth noting that yes, Jennifer Aniston gives a performance unlike any others we seen from her, ever. She’s nasty, foul, cursing, doing drugs, having anal sex, and, what every person has been calling an act of “absolute bravery”, is make-up free. To say that we’ve never seen Aniston like this before, is obvious, because while she’s definitely done movies that have challenged her a bit as an actress and haven’t been the typical, mainstream rom-coms that have plagued her career for as long as the pilot of Friends was aired. But, to say that this is a great performance, isn’t quite right. In fact, not at all.

Though I would definitely like to give Aniston some credit for trying something new in her rather predictable career, she doesn’t seem to have quite the chops as a dramatic-actress that would make a character as vile as her, seem any bit of sympathetic or compelling. Mostly, Aniston spends the whole movie just making miserable, life-is-meaningless wisecracks to all those around her, but rather than seeming like a funny gal, who could actually have something more interesting and hurtful to all of the pain she’s causing to those around her, there’s just nothing. This is maybe more of a criticism of the actual writing for Aniston’s character, but had she’d been a better, more-talented actress, I feel as though she would have been able to somehow pull this kind of character off. She would have still been an annoying, unlikable witch, but there would have at least been more to her act than just, “Oh, she’s mad about life”.

So no, J-Aniston did not deserve an Academy Award nomination for her work here. So nice job, Academy.

For once.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can finally get to the rest of the movie. But honestly, there’s not much to talk about, because it’s pretty terrible. It’s obvious that this movie was made as a possible Lifetime movie-of-the-week that may, or may not have some sort of crossover-appeal, but because so many big stars got involved with it, it all of a sudden shot-up to being the hot ticket come awards season. That it isn’t exactly that, is the least of its problems.

Where the problems with this movie lies is that it has hardly anything interesting to say about depression at all. This may be because the character we’re forced to stick with is so unbearably arrogant, but it may also be because the movie is so stale, it makes you wonder who was trying behind the cameras. Director Daniel Barnz seems like he wants to make some sort of powerful message about how suicide is just a sign that we do have something to live for in life, and that’s precisely it, life itself. However, that’s just all me grasping at straws. What the film seems more interested in developing is how many times and different ways Aniston can groan, moan, or tell somebody to piss-off.

And I know that I continue to wrap-around back to her, but honestly, she is the main problem of this movie. Maybe less so of Aniston’s performance, and more of just the fact that this character isn’t at all worth spending our desired time and/or money on; she’s another one of those rich, stuck-up, self-entitled women who feel as though life is misery and the only way to get by it, is to just let yourself feel like shit, day in and day out. That may be a philosophy that works for some, and if that’s the case, then good for them. I hope that they live lovely, valuable lives. However, I do not want to see someone spend nearly two-hours acting like this. Not only does it become tiresome, but it makes me want to tune away from the movie even more, continue to check my watch, and hope that I can get out soon enough to maybe get home and go on a jog, or something.

So yeah, I guess the movie did its job in that it made me appreciate life in all of its possible glory. However, probably not at all in the way it had originally imagined.

Oh, how I remember the last time I used my friend to get across the border legally. Oh wait! I've never done that because I'm actually a nice human being!

Oh, how I remember the last time I used my friend to get across the border legally. Oh wait! I’ve never done that because I’m actually a nice human being!

But I promise I’ll stop crapping on Aniston’s parade, because there’s actually a lot more people in this cast worthy of talking about. Problem is, they aren’t given anything worthy of their talents, nor to even discuss further than a, “Hey, look! It’s that person, from that thing!”. Like, for instance, we have Sam Worthington, Chris Messina, Lucy Punch, Anna Kendrick, Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy all here, in what seem to be extended cameos that barely go anywhere to drive the point of this movie home, or to even make their presences known as to why we like seeing their familiar-faces in the first place. Which is a shame, too, because the movie’s been advertising the whole ensemble quite effectively, but it seems like none of them were ever around to film a majority of the movie, so instead, Barnz opted to just have them film for a couple of days and leave it at that. It’s not a problem because there’s a dire need of wanting to see more of them (although, that is definitely a feeling), but more of one because their characters’ inclusions only make the structure a bit more flustered and messy.

The only one who gets more attention than the rest, and deservedly so, is Adrianna Barraza as Claire’s caretaker/nanny, who is constantly being taken advantage of for her car, her money, and her nationality, while Claire just soaks it all in and barely even gives her a simple “thank you”. Already it’s easy to feel for this character that Barraza is playing, but there’s a certain sweetness to her performance that made me wonder why the movie wasn’t about her, and Claire wasn’t just a self-agonizing side-character that we saw Barraza’s character have to constantly put up with and try to hold back from murdering in cold blood. Because clearly there’s a few scenes here that seem to be hinting of more explanation of her character and the way she gets about in her poverty-stricken life, but it never materializes to much. It’s simply Claire’s story and guess what?

We don’t care.

Consensus: Truth be told, Jennifer Aniston is trying quite hard to be taken seriously in Cake, but it never delivers because the character she’s playing, as well as the movie itself, is just a thin as the kind of pieces of actual cake you get at a cheap wedding.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!!

Don't strain yourself, Jen. There's always Horrible Bosses 20.

Don’t strain yourself, Jen. There’s always Horrible Bosses 20.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

A Most Violent Year (2014)

It’s rough out there for a oil salesman.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is an honest man, trying to make an honest living, with an honest wife (Jessica Chastain), and an honest family. However, during the winter of 1981 in New York City, that’s a lot easier said then done. Because once Abel makes a deal with a local money-launderer, everybody around Abel who either loathes or envies him, don’t want him to pay any of that money back. Instead, they want Abel to go broke, get found out by the cops, and possibly even dead. Though, the problem for Abel isn’t that it seems like everybody’s coming after him, and only him, it’s that he doesn’t who it is, nor does he want to stoop to their levels of violence, murder, and corruption. He believes he is better and doesn’t want to dirty-up his business one bit. But now that the cops are hot on his tail, Abel believes that it may be time to step up and defend his business, or become what everybody around him wants him to become – a goner.

Sometimes, it’s incredibly easy to classify a movie as what it seems to be, or better yet, actually sounds like. For instance, A Most Violent Year is the kind of movie that looks and sounds like that it would be another violent gangster-pic in the same vein as a Scorsese flick. Heck, it even has the word “violent” in its title, so how could it not have people whacking one another?

"Ya heard?"

“Ya heard?”

Well, sometimes, looks can be deceiving, kids. While that usually means something bad for movies that look good and end up turning out to be junk, here, we’ve got something different – a movie that may seem like it’s chock full of bloody violence and action, actually isn’t. Sure, there’s the occasional gun-fight, or chase through the streets, but they don’t feel thrown in there for the sake of livening up the proceedings; instead, what writer/director J.C. Chandor does best is that he allows them to flow smoothly into the story, and make it seem pertinent. That this is a story of a man who’s trying to keep him, his family, and his business strictly clean and legal, makes it all the more understanding that, when push comes to shove, he can’t help but loose control a bit and take all sorts of drastic decisions.

And that’s mostly where Chandor’s flick stays to talk about; it’s not whether one can stay afloat with their business, it’s that they can do so without having to become one with the rest of the wild and rowdy pack you are sometimes grouped-in together with. It’s an interesting dilemma that Chandor poses with his protagonist and for the story as a whole, but it never actually loses steam. Instead, it keeps us guessing as to whether or not this lead character is going to lose his cool, and if so, how so and at one costs. We don’t want to see him have to be forced to kill anybody, but if he has to, we hope that he does so at a reasonable level that doesn’t put him, or anybody that he loves in harm’s way.

As you can tell, it’s not just an interesting dilemma for the lead character, but for us, the audience, as well.

The parts where I do feel that Chandor as the story lose a bit of steam, is when it seems like he’s being as vague as humanly possible, only to throw us for more curveballs, but to also remind us that his movie isn’t like other crime-thrillers out there. A good portion of that is true, but when it comes to making a gripping, interesting-to-listen-to thriller, you have to give the audience enough details and bits of info to allow for them to draw their own conclusions. You don’t have to spell everything out in big, bold letters and practically hold the audiences hand, but when it seems like you’re not going further into detail about a certain aspect of the story, it seems like you’re cheating the audience out of what could be an even more engaging tale.

That said, Chandor, in my humble opinion, is a director who is three-for-three. Which is even more of an impressive feat considering that the two other movies he’s created (Margin Call, All is Lost) are all completely different from one another. Call was talky and almost Mamet-like; Lost was a Cast Away-ish tale of one character, and one character only; and this one here, is a moral, crime tale, that seems like something Sidney Lumet would have made and been quite proud of. If there is one similarity between all three of these movies, however, it’s that they all feature desperate people, in some very tragic situations, who are trying their hardest to survive by any means necessary. They may not always make the smartest decisions, but they are at least trying to save their own head.

And that’s the exact case with Abel Morales, played to perfection by the always powerful Oscar Isaac. With Morales, we get a character that we like, if only because of what he stands for; he’s an immigrant who came over to this land, to create his own business, and get what each and everyone of us want, “the American Dream”. So already, he’s winning points with us, but once we see him starting to get all sorts of pushed and pulled by these local gangsters that are practically suffocating him, then it’s obvious to see that we may be losing him a tad bit. He’s not just losing his sense of morality, but he also might lose the dream he set-out for himself and it’s hard to fully root for him with the actions he commits. Then again, there’s also the sense that it’s all for a good cause and it puts this character into perspective as to whether he’s a good guy, or a bad one.

Mostly though, it comes down to him just being a guy, trying to make a living for himself, and those that he loves. That’s it.

"Mhmmmmmmmmm."

“Mhmmmmmmmmm.”

Isaac is wonderful in this role and has you totally believe in the constant struggle he goes through with this character. Isaac plays both sides of this character very well in that we never quite know whether he wants to be apart of this bloody, violent underground, or not. All we do know is that his intentions are good enough that makes it easy for us to root for him, even when we don’t know if we’re not supposed to. Once again, Isaac is great at showing these dueling-sides to this character and always has you on-edge, wondering when he’s going to turn the other cheek and how.

Another great performance here is from Jessica Chastain as Abel’s mob-daughter wife, Anna. As great of an actress as Chastain may be, for some reason, I just didn’t know if I could fully believe in her as an Italian, New York-housewife; this isn’t to say that I’m doubting her talents, I just don’t know if she’d been able to pull it of well enough to where we’d see more to her than just the act of what a stereotypical, Italian-woman looks, acts, and sounds like. Thankfully though, I was proven wrong as Chastain absolutely owns this role and allows us to see her as less of an accessory in Abel’s life, and more of a factor in the reason as to why he is as successful as he is. She constantly pushes him further than he could ever imagine and when he needs her the most, she’s there, sometimes, with nearly as much fire-power as he. I don’t want to call her a Lady Macbeth-like character, but she pretty much is; just not nearly as corny as that kind of role was for Laura Linney in Mystic River.

Ugh. So bad.

Anyway, while these two are incredibly solid in these roles, there’s plenty more where they came from, with each and every character still seeming as interesting, and as thought-provoking as they could be. For instance, the character of Lawrence, the detective who is constantly behind every corner Abel and his business turns down, may seem like he’ll be just as dirty and as corrupt as the people he’s going after, but more or less, stays true to himself or any kind of code that he may have set out for himself as a cop. Sure, David Oyelowo is quite solid in this role, but he’s also helped-out quite a bunch by the writing for this role, that doesn’t have him act like the standard-version of a cop we see in these kinds of movies; he goes by-the-badge, but also doesn’t forget about certain aspects of the job that may need to be looked at a bit differently. He’s not a bad, or immoral person; he’s just a person. With his own needs, hopes and desires.

As we all are.

Consensus: Exciting without ever over-exploding, thought-provoking without being too obvious, and well-acted without a weak-link, A Most Violent Year is a solid crime-thriller that asks hard questions of both its characters, as well as its audience.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

The perfect, Reagan-era couple.

The perfect, Reagan-era couple.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Let’s Be Cops (2014)

After this, and especially this, becoming a cop is definitely the last “to-do” on my list.

Justin (Damon Wayans, Jr.) and Ryan (Jake Johnson) are best-friends, who both need a little more to do with their lives, because right now, what they’ve got just ain’t cutting it. So, on the night that they head to their high school reunion, they realize that they want to set a good impression that makes their former-classmates think they’ve got it all under control in terms of their lives and futures; meaning, they decide to dress-up as a cops. But as these phony cops, both Justin and Ryan realize all of the love, gratitude and respect they gain, so they decide to take it out on the road, into the actual real world, and see what happens. And for the most part, the usual, wacky hijinx occur and the guys realize that acting like cops, when fellow, actual cops don’t know about it, is actually quite a treat. Eventually though, the friends end up actually finding out about a real crime occurring, with some real mobsters being the cause for it. Though neither of them want to get hurt, or possibly even killed, they both also know that they’re in too deep now and can’t get out.

Okay, cops do actually do this, but come on! A little more subtlety would have helped!

Okay, cops do actually do this, but come on! A little more subtlety would have helped!

So yeah, in the past couple of months since this movie’s been out, cops haven’t been getting the best press as of late. And honestly, I’m not going to bore you on my thoughts, beliefs, or politically incorrect opinions about everything that’s happened as of late. Although, I must admit, I am quite tempted; tempted because they’re thoughts I’ve been wanting to get known for awhile, but also, thoughts that I feel would just distract you all further and further away from the utter-garbage that this flick is.

But the problem with this movie isn’t just that it’s not funny (which it isn’t), it’s more that it had a pretty neat premise, and decided not to do a single neat, funny, or original thing with it. The movie literally starts out with these two schmoes being normal dudes, then deciding to don the cop uniforms, and literally, all they do is party, take hits of weed, drink alcohol, crash random keggers, and do a whole bunch of other random, idiotic things that no other cop would ever do in their right mind, nor would any person trying to make others believe that they are ones. I know there’s a certain level of disbelief I’m supposed to uphold with these types of movies, but I would, had the movie actually been funny. However, it is not and the fact that it takes a pretty interesting concept that seems absolutely ripe with laughs and social-commentary, makes it all the more disappointing.

Oh, and yeah, the movie is not at all funny. Take aside from maybe a few bits from the likes of Keegan-Michael Key and Rob Riggle (two exceptionally talented dudes who deserve way, way better), most of the movie can be spent just sitting around aimlessly, wondering when it’s going to end, and whether or not that a joke is even going to hit its mark. But hardly a single one does, which makes the premise all the more of a bore to sit through, because while you know that they’re trying to give us a whole story here with action, crime, and cops, the story barely even goes anywhere.

In fact, had this movie just been about these two fellas just driving around and messing around with people, while pretending to be cops, then everything may have been all fine and dandy. Now, of course, that would entitle the movie to actually having a better script to work with, but at least it would get us all away from watching this movie as it consistently tries to remind itself (as well as us) that it is in fact an action-comedy, and one that needs to have bullets and car-chases, next to all of the dick, sex, and drug jokes. Had the movie not even bothered with any sort of life-or-death situation involving dangerous underground criminals, I may have given this something of a better-grade, but I don’t care, honestly.

Crime subplot or not, this movie still blows.

It's alright, buddy. At least you've still got your show.

It’s alright, buddy. At least you’ve still got your show.

Which brings me to the cast, whom all feel like they’ve seen many better days before. While Damon Wayans Jr. and Jake Johnson have lovely chemistry on New Girl, here, the chemistry boils down to Johnson being the obnoxious one, and Wayans Jr. having to be the guy who constantly cringes in embarrassment at his friend and the wild things he makes them do. And honestly, I’d have to say that’s mostly all of Wayans Jr.’s performance – constantly sighing, shrugging, and Shia LeBeouf-ing every time his buddy wants to do something fun for a change. I’m not saying that wanting to be a cop is an action that deserves to be looked on as positive, but the movie could have given this character more motivation to be strongly against it all of the time, and not just have bitched, moaned and complained about it all, yet, still deciding to go through with putting on the blue uniform and acting like a fellow cop. Never made sense to me and just made the characters feel all the more thin.

Then, the cast gets pretty worse from here. And I don’t mean in terms of talent, neither; I mean that the talent that they’ve cobbled-up together here is solid, it’s just that they’re not given much of anything to work with. James D’Arcy is, normally, a solid actor in most that I see him in, but here, I felt like he had lost a bet to play the main villain in this mainstream mess; Nina Dobrev seems like her character was a sweet gal with enough humanity to shed, but she doesn’t go anywhere other than being just “female love-interest”; and Andy Garcia, for one reason or another, probably get a huge paycheck here for literally showing up for three-and-a-half scenes and that was about it. Hey, I’m glad he was able to get a new house in Malibu, but come on, Andy! You’re better than this!

You all are!

Consensus: Uninspired, boring, and just plainly put, unfunny, Let’s Be Cops isn’t just ill-timed in terms of the year it was released, but doesn’t even seem like it’s trying. Like, at all.

1.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Oh, how I wish escapism could be exactly that, but sometimes, the real world just finds its way of peering on in anyway. Sorry, too real?

Oh, how I wish escapism could be exactly that, but sometimes, the real world just finds its way of peering on in anyway. Sorry, too topical?

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

God Help the Girl (2014)

Those little twee singers and dancers. No future!

Eve (Emily Browning) is an anorexic, sometimes suicidal young girl who, one night, decides to escape her psychiatric hospital and see what’s happening around town. While searching far and wide, she finds a small concert-venue, where she discovers this whole world full of fun, excitement, and people singing and dancing. This is when she runs into James (Olly Alexander) a young, up-and-coming musician who just wants to make it big. Eve wants to do the same, too, and soon, the two start up a musical duo that could either make them big, rich and famous, or it could just be a neat little experiment that goes hardly anywhere, although it definitely took up some time. But to show that their serious, Eve and James then decide to recruit Cassie (Hannah Murray), to then make themselves a hip trio. But now that they’ve got everybody together and set firmly in place, now comes the hard part: Actually writing songs! And, to make matters worse, something of a romantic-spark between Eve and James begins to ignite to where they don’t know whether they should be together for the sake of the band, or for the sake of each other’s health.

FEEEEEL IT!

FEEEEEL IT!

Oh, and did I forget to mention? It’s a musical!

That little piece of info I just spliced into there can either make, or break a movie, depending on the viewer. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind when the characters you’re currently watching start dancing and breaking-out into song, then this may be your cup of Joe. However, if not, and you hate all things music and just wish that the separation between music and movies would stay put as they are, then this, my kind friend, is not your bag, baby. That’s where most of the appeal of God Help the Girl comes from and it also calls into question the fact that the film is also written/directed by none other than Stuart Murdoch, of Belle & Sebastian.

Once again, if they aren’t the kind of band you can find yourself enjoying for nearly up to two hours, then I assure you, this may not be your cup of tea.

For somebody like me, however, who normally likes musicals and doesn’t really have a problem whenever people start jumping around, dancing and singing all over the place, then this is definitely my type of thing. But it has to be done right, in that the songs are not only lovely, well-written and somewhat catchy, but that there’s actually a story holding them altogether and it wasn’t just a person jotting down neat lyrics and hoping for a cohesive hit. In fact, it’s like actually creating a song – in order to make it work for most people out there, you need to have solid lyrics, but in order to make sure that those lyrics hit hard for those tuning in, you need to give them a believable platform to stay with. You can’t have a song about depression and suicide, placed into something that sounds as if Ariana Grande herself just recorded.

Sure, sometimes it can work, but more often times than not, it doesn’t and that’s where most of God Help the Girl works. It not only has a sweet, somewhat compelling story to follow through, but also backs it all up with catchy, well-done songs that are all placed in there for good reason. And if you’ve ever listened to a Belle & Sebastian track before, this should probably come as no surprise, but to anybody out there who hasn’t ever heard of them, then they may still work. The songs are bubbly, joyful and will probably have you humming them for days and days to come. Which, for anybody who has ever seen a musical before, knows that’s always the sign of an effective musical that’s able to do its job.

Where the movie doesn’t really seem to do its job as well is when the story begins to take precedence, and it becomes fully clear that maybe Murdoch didn’t fully think his whole script through. That’s not to say that the story smells of BS, like most movies concerning starting a band of any sort usually seem to do, but because it goes on for so long, without ever seeming like it’s going anywhere. To say that God Help the Girl is a long movie, is like saying not everyone of Belle & Sebastian’s albums are nearly-perfect – sure, some may not believe it, but while you’re being a witness to it, there’s just a feeling you get.

Here, with the story, I felt as if Murdoch needed a bit of a tighter editor who was able to cut down on some of the many aimless, rather meandering conversations his characters drop into. There’s a feeling that while these may be actual teens actually speaking about their problems, wants, needs and overall desires, they also seem to stumble and only take away further from what could have been a much more tighter, quick and easy musical. But with all of the non-stop blabber from these characters, it seems to go on for much too long.

#HipsterSelfie

#HipsterSelfie

However, there is something to be said for a movie that still has interesting enough characters to make most of this awkward talking at least somewhat engaging. Because with Olly Alexander, Hannah Murray, and most importantly, Emily Browning, Murdoch has found a nice trio of likable, cute-as-buttons leads who all seem to bring something fun to the picture.

Although, the one I really walked away from feeling most impressed was by Emily Browning, an actress I’ve seen many times in pieces of junk like Sucker Punch, Pompeii, and the Uninvited, and never understood what the appeal to her really was. Sure, she’s pretty, but I’ve never walked away from a movie she’s been in, wanting to see more of her, nor have I really thought much about her performance in the slightest bit. In other words, Emily Browning has never had much of a screen-presence to her and I felt like that would fog this whole movie up.

Thankfully though, Browning stays very far, far away from doing that and instead, makes the movie a whole lot better. There’s this certain feeling to her screen-presence that makes every scene she’s involved with divert all of its attention towards her. She has this innocent look to her that you know she clearly cares for those around her, yet, at the same time, could also deceive them and make a dumb decision as well. It’s the kind of performance that has me feeling like I fully know what she’s all about now and I hope that this spells out good things for her future.

Consensus: The energetic song and dance numbers allow for God Help the Girl to become a sweet, endearing look at a few individuals starting a band, even if it does run on a tad too long.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Look at that camera! It's so old!

Look at that camera! It’s so old and tiny! I must have it.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Jimi: All Is by My Side (2014)

I think we’re all in agreement here that Jimi Hendrix was a talent-less hack, and that Yngwie Malmsteen is the greatest guitarist to ever touch a six-string.

Back before he was setting his guitar on fire, doing solos with his teeth, or playing the Star Spangled Banner on one instrument and one instrument only, Jimi Hendrix (Andre Benjamin) was just another, up-and-comer in the music world who was trying to make it big in any way that he could. However though, in the music-biz, it’s normally about who you know, much rather than how exceptional of a talent you may be. In Jimi’s case, this is good because he’s not only a solid guitar-player, to say the least, but he is also quite close friends with the likes of Linda Keith (Imogen Poots) who, at the time, was pretty close with the Rolling Stones. She sees something special in Jimi and decides to get him hooked-up with a manager and a bunch of promising gigs. Things eventually turn sour between the two once Jimi is introduced to the native-Brit, Kathy Etchingham (Hayley Atwell), who he strikes up a relationship with. Linda is pretty jealous of this, but she’s also afraid of what this may mean for the rest of Jimi’s career to come.

How can one be so interested, in somebody who is just not all interesting? Oh wait, money. Never mind!

How can one be so interested, in somebody who is just not all interesting? Oh wait, money. Never mind!

There’s an interesting note about the production of Jimi: All is by My Side that actually puts the whole film into perspective. Because the film itself wasn’t allowed to use any of Hendrix’s actual, recorded-songs due to copyright issues, writer/director John Ridley is pretty much left to fend for himself and build off of a part of Jimi’s life that doesn’t have any of his original classics we all mostly know and love. Then again, by the same token, it doesn’t seem like much of that problem affects Ridley’s movie as he more or less is just focusing on Jimi Hendrix before he got big and even had the opportunity to record something like, “the Wind Cries Mary“, or “Little Wing“; instead, we see a Hendrix before all of the fame and fortune hit him like a ton of bricks and he became, as what some would call him, “the greatest guitar player of all-time”.

For better, or worse.

However, where Ridley makes the big problem with this small biopic of his, is that he doesn’t do much to help the heart and soul of this movie to begin with, Hendrix himself. See, here, Jimi Hendrix is something of a shy, soft-spoken musician who definitely has a talent worth paying attention to, but he hardly ever makes a single decision for himself to further himself, and also his career. He mostly takes a back-seat to those around him who constantly push, pull, and struggle to put him into places that will not only make him more famous, but them also a lot richer.

You could say that this is just how the music-business just is and to that, I’d say, sure, you may be correct in most cases. However, when you’re movie is supposed to be focusing on the kind of complex, interesting person Hendrix truly was off the stage, it doesn’t quite help. Not because it makes him seem like a pawn in his own chess-game, but because it doesn’t do much to make him even seem like has anything to bring to the story at all. This movie could have literally been all about the people who talked to and interacted with Jimi Hendrix during his early days, and without even having him show up, you could have had a very intriguing movie. But once you put Jimi Hendrix, the main subject of this piece, then all I’m left to do is take what’s given to me and what’s given to me here is that Jimi Hendrix was not only a bit of a dope, but a not-so interesting one, either. He’s just dull enough in this movie to make it easy to understand why so many of his songs are in fact, covers, and not just original pieces of his own.

But that’s a different discussion for a different day, as what we have here, is simply a movie that deserves a better main protagonist. Because, as hard as Benjamin tries with Hendrix, he just really goes nowhere. Even though his character does go through some personal and emotional transformations over the course of the near-two hours, hardly any of it rings true, nor does it really seem to go anywhere. It’s also not very subtle, either, seeing as how once Hendrix gets the tiniest bit of popularity to his name, he automatically starts beating the crap out of his loving, adoring girlfriend – which wouldn’t haven’t been such a problem, had these not been scenes made-up of total fiction.

Obviously occurred while Agent Carter was on-break.

Obviously occurred while Agent Carter was on-break.

And speaking of said girlfriend who gets the crap beat out of her, Hayley Atwell is actually very good here as the kind of character we’d see in this type of movie and not want to like, let alone, sympathize with. But because Hendrix is supposed to be a charismatic figure, albeit a flawed one, we feel more for her, than we ever do for him and it puts Atwell’s performance into perspective. She makes Kathy Etchingham seem less like a whoring-around groupie who wants to sleep with the next big act, and more of just a woman who falls for a certain guy, who just so happens to be famous, and actually wants to make it work with him. Even despite, you know, the odds totally stacked-up against them both.

Imogen Poots also plays another one of Hendrix’s female acquaintances who doesn’t quite get a chance to take their relationship as much to the next level as Etchingham does, but still feels the want and need to. And we actually want her to, too, because not only is Poots likable and sweet as Linda Keith, but she’s also a realist who seems like she could slap Jimi, wake him up, and have him smell the cauliflower. Because, honestly, who knows what would have happened to him had he not broke it off with both of these lovely ladies. Maybe he’d still be alive, jamming out for all the world to see. Or maybe, rather than burn-out, he’d just fade away.

Oh shit. Wrong member of “the 27 Club”!

Consensus: Despite compelling performances from Hayley Atwell and Imogen Poots, Jimi: All is by My Side mostly suffers from the fact that it never offers any sort of interesting insight into its lead character, and mostly falls back on tired, old rock movie cliches.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Oh, just give me "Purple Haze" already!

Oh, just give me “Purple Haze” already!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

American Sniper (2014)

Seems like sniping somebody in real-life is a lot harder than it is on COD.

Texas-born and bred Chris Kyle (Bradley Cooper) knew that he had a calling in life, but until 9/11, he didn’t know what. Once he realized that his country was going to war, he enlisted himself and not only became a Navy SEAL, but also became one of the most decorated, most lethal snipers in war history – averaging roughly around 160 kills over four tours. Surely that deserves a lot of hoo-rah praise and love, right? Well, yes, of course it does. However, at what cost? Kyle doesn’t understand this question until he comes back home to his wife (Sienna Miller) and kids, only to find himself suffering from massive bouts of PTSD, but having no clue how to handle it, or whom to talk to. Basically, he’s left to fend for himself and figure out just what all of the killing meant for him. Was it nothing? Or simply put, was it just to give his life some purpose and stand up for the country that he so heartily loved and adored.

Many war movies are made today. That much is a fact. However, there’s always a problem with figuring out which war movies can be placed into which category. For instance, there’s the kind of war movie that loves to glamorize and pat each and everyone of its soldiers on their backs, without ever going deeper and deeper into those soldiers minds, or even hinting at something being messed-up in their minds (like, say, the Kingdom). But then there’s also the kind of war movie that shows all of the heroic actions its subjects take, yet, still explores the possibility of getting into the minds of them and discovering if any of the fighting, killing and blood was worth it all (like, say, the Hurt Locker).

Well, we're all going to die someday. That much is true.

Well, we’re all going to die someday. That much is true.

Somehow though, American Sniper finds itself placed firmly in the middle. And while that would seem like quite a problem, tonally-wise, Clint Eastwood shows that he’s willing to shed light on both aspects, without ever favoring one over the other. While a lesser-director would have appreciated all of Kyle’s killing of the baddies and shown him as the hero sometimes people would hail him as, Eastwood’s smarter and knows that while Kyle does deserve to be praised for his actions, he also still wants to show that there were definitely problems with the many heinous, sometimes disturbing acts of violence that not only spelled-out trouble for Kyle’s life, but many other veterans of any kind of war.

Although, if there is a problem to be had with Eastwood’s direction and the way he seems to handle the material given to him, it’s that he doesn’t fully come down to any sort of thesis, or point on war itself. Sure, he knows that warfare itself isn’t great and it sure as hell doesn’t have the best affect on those who are involved with it, but by the same token, he never comes right out and voices any of his disapproval with it, either. Which isn’t to say that every movie made about the war has to come up with stance, let it be known to the audience, and stick with it throughout the remainder of the flick, but in the 21st Century, there is a sense that if you’re going to discuss the war, you have to land on one side of the boat and not just be neutral.

You’re going to offend somebody either way, so you might as well go for it while you can.

However, this is getting more and more away from the fact that this is Chris Kyle’s story and it’s one that deserves to be told. Not because Kyle killed plenty of Iraqi soldiers during his four tours, but because he’s the kind of war-figure more should pay attention to; while he had plenty to be pleased with and proud of in his life, he was still clearly screwed-up in his own head-space, and found it incredibly hard to get on with ordinary life. The movie highlights this, and actually seems to be saying that whatever happened to Kyle’s mind when he came back from the war, wasn’t fully worth it. Sure, he killed more enemies than most soldiers could ever dream of, but the fact that when he comes home, he goes straight to a bar and can’t even go see his family, is very strange. It’s also quite sad and it wakes you up to realize that Kyle’s story is among many other soldier’s stories out there as well.

Normally, I would make some joke about Kyle not having to be so sad because he got to come home to a Sienna Miller-looking wife, but I don't know how appropriate that is for now.

Normally, I would make some joke about Kyle not having to be so sad because he got to come home to a Sienna Miller-looking wife, but I don’t know how appropriate that is for now.

And where Chris Kyle, the person, really comes into focus is whenever Bradley Cooper’s on the screen which, thankfully, is nearly ever frame of this film. Cooper has now come to the point in his career where he’s not just a well-known actor, but a very respected one and can get most of the projects he backs, off the ground and ready for the world to see. American Sniper was one of these pieces that he really wanted to adapt and show the world, and it makes sense as to why – not because Cooper gave himself a meaty-role that highlights all of the acting-strengths in his tool-box, but because it allows him to humanize a person we maybe would have characterized as being another “redneck who likes to shoot guns, chew dip, drink beer, and do it all in the name of ‘murica”.

Both Eastwood and Cooper are smarter than just allowing for this cliche to stick. But it’s mostly Cooper who shines the brightest with Kyle’s portrayal, but he doesn’t over-do it. Most of what Kyle seems to be going through is through himself and nowhere else. Sure, you can tell by the looks on his face that he is clearly struggling to grapple with the reality of his actions and the disastrous events that he witnessed, but there always feels like there’s more to what Kyle is really feeling and it makes this character a whole lot more interesting. He’s not happy that he killed so many people over in Iraqi, but at the same time, he isn’t sad, either. He’s just numb. And every chance Cooper gets, he shows this in such a powerful way. So powerful that it’ll be quite the task not to get choked-up a bit during the end-credits. I know I did.

And if I can, so can you.

Consensus: Whenever not focusing on its main subject, American Sniper can’t come to terms with what it wants to say, but as a powerful, albeit disturbing look at the mental-anguish most war veterans go through, both on and off the battlefield, it hits harder than most war movies have in the past few years.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

*bum-bum* *bum-bum* *bum-bum*

*bum-bum* *bum-bum* *bum-bum*

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Top 10 of 2014

Well, ladies and germs, it’s that time of the year again! When we say “hello” to one year, we also have to say “goodbye” to another, as sad and as tears-inducing as it may be.

But 2014, in a nutshell, was a pretty solid year for movies.

Although I’m sure I broke more than a few hearts awhile back by announcing a rather tiny hiatus from this blog, for the most part, I tried my hardest to keep at it with all of the movies that were constantly being flung at me. And quite frankly, I’m happy for that. Not only was I treated to many fine pieces of film, but also, I got to focus more so on what was out there in some of the smaller, less-known theaters out there and shed some light on a few unknown indies that maybe only a handful of people actually knew of. Either way, it was a good year to be a fan of movies, and it made me feel like all my laziness paid-off in the end, as is often the case at the end of every year.

Now, with all that jabber out of the way, onto the real show:

10. Foxcatcher

FOXCATCHER

While it may not have been the most uplifting, enjoyable flick from the whole year, it definitely had some its best performances by far. Steve Carell and Channing Tatum were absolutely creepy and terrifying in every which way, showing us that there was more to their sometimes light, comedic-personas that we’d so often seen them utilize in the past. Mark Ruffalo was quite solid, too, but it was these two whom I walked away from feeling like there was a new, exciting chapter to be discovered next in their already respectable careers. Can’t wait to see how it all goes down.

9. Joe

Joe1

Sure, maybe I’m the only person to actually person to put this in their top ten, let alone remember by year’s end, but still, there’s a reason for that and it goes by two words: Nic fuckin’ Cage. Okay, three, but whatever! What I’m trying to say here is that having been a dedicated and unabashed fan of Cage for as long as I have, it was nice to finally see him get something worthy of his talents and to make matters even better, see him roll so well with it. The movie as a whole was very emotional and disturbing to the highest-level, but if anything, Joe stood as a solid reminder as to why, when he wants to, Nic Cage can be one of the most compelling screen-presences around. He just doesn’t do it as often as he should. Hopefully, that changes and we get more of this, and less of this. Although both options do serve some level of entertainment.

8. The Raid 2: Berandal

Raid2

After watching the first Raid, I thought it was downright impossible for it to be topped. Turns out, I was dead wrong! Not only is the Raid 2 a better action movie than the first, but it may be one of the best action movies of the past couple years or so. It delivers on every bit of action, blood, gore, and weaponry it seems to promise, and even seems to be one-upping itself constantly as it goes on. Truly a feat for any action movie, let alone one that had as good of a predecessor as the Raid: Redemption.

7. Like Father, Like Son

Father3

Here’s one that totally took me by surprise and wasn’t quite as easy to get through as I would have hoped for it to have been, however, the greatness of it is actually in that. Sometimes, there comes a movie where a character is so downright detestable, that you wonder why the hell there’s a movie revolving around them in the first place, if all they’re going to do is just make constant bad decisions and continue to piss the audience off. There’s that kind of character at the forefront in Like Father, Like Son, but it all feels honest, raw and realistic, so that when the plot does come full circle, it hits you like a ton of bricks and may even make you want to hug your nearest family-member. Most movies set out to do that, however, very few actually deliver on doing so. This is not one of those movies.

6. Inherent Vice

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Sure, it’s maybe not everybody’s favorite movie of the year – better yet, it’s nowhere near being anybody’s favorite Paul Thomas Anderson movie. However, all that said, it’s still a wild ride from beginning-to-end and always brings something interesting, compelling, and fun to the table. Whatever they all mean or add up to is sometimes left up in the air, but the adventure that Inherent Vice sets out to create, doesn’t need a clear resolution. All it needed was to allow everybody watching it to join in on the fun and see what the hell happens next.

5. Guardians of the Galaxy

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Not just the best summer blockbuster of the year, but the best Marvel stand-alone since the first Iron Man. While it was hilarious at times, what made GOTG so unique and spectacular was that it had a handful of strange, totally out-of-this-world characters and made them as interesting as Tony Stark or Captain Rodgers ever were. You couldn’t even make the argument that having two mega-stars such as Vin Diesel and Bradley Cooper voice characters and allowing for Batista, of all people, to play a character we actually see in life-like form was something of a gimmick, but man, it was one that worked like gangbusters whenever they were in the same room, talking, or blowing stuff up. Here’s to hoping that Marvel realizes that they’ve struck gold and stray away from making every other movie seem like the same.

4. Obvious Child

One of the “biggest-little surprises” I had the pleasure to see this year. While the plot may read like a terrible TV-sitcom that wouldn’t have even made it to pilot, the movie treats it as if it were like real-life, awkward warts and all. Because though it starts off like any other kind of comedy, a funny one at that, it surprisingly then turns into a lovely, emotional journey for a character who isn’t perfect, but still deserves some sort of love in her life, no matter what form it comes in. Speaking of said character, Jenny Slate is quite perfect in this role and totally shocked me as I had only known her as Jean Ralphio’s sister (or as “the girl who dropped the f-bomb on her first SNL skit“, but we like to forget about that). She nails every shade that this character has to offer and then some, making this whole film, as short as it may be, totally worth checking out and falling in love with.

3. Birdman

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Not only does it feature possibly the best ensemble of the year, but also had one of the neatest, most compelling gimmicks of the whole entire year: It’s all one-shot. Or, that’s what it’s made out to seem like. Regardless, Birdman as a whole was incredibly well-done and continued to surprise its audience, whether it be through the aforementioned shooting-device, certain performances from people we don’t expect to see put in exceptional-work, or just the fact that someone like Alejandro González Iñárritu actually had a sense of humor. All of Birdman was chock full of surprises, but what mattered most, is that it constantly found new, original ways to tell its story and kept the ball rolling, no matter how many times a character’s life seemed to be too depressing. Because, honestly, that’s just Hollywood for ya.

2. Gone Girl

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Though I wasn’t initially expecting to put this one so high on the list, time served me right, and I realized that this was probably one of the more fun times I had at the movie theater this year. And without feeling guilty about being happy afterwards, either! So yeah, it was a win all around. Though many folks out there want to write this down as either a “pro-feminist” tale, or a “anti-woman” one, the fact remains – David Fincher owns just about every second of this movie. Not only is this a return to his old glory days where he seemed to have a good time directing whatever piece was in front of him, but he utilizes everybody at his disposal. Both Rosamund Pike and Ben Affleck are perfectly cast here, but it’s the odd, rather bizarre supporting cast that really won me over. Neil Patrick Harris, Patrick Fugit, Kim Dickens, Casey Wilson (yes, girl from Happy Endings), Emily Ratajkowski (yes, girl from Blurred Lines video), Carrie Coon, and even Tyler Perry, are among the supporters who excel so well in this movie and leave their stamp. And if you can make Tyler Perry not insufferable and seem like he’s actually talented, then you sir, always deserve gratitude in my book.

1. Boyhood

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I know it’s an obvious choice for the number one spot, but honestly, how could I not choose this? It’s literally been 12-years-in-the-making, meaning that I too, have been waiting nearly 12 years for this to come out. And even better is the fact that it not only lived up to all of the hype its risky decision brought up, but it was the kind of movie after my own heart. Some people I know have complained to me about how it doesn’t seem like much is even happening in this movie, but that’s where they’re wrong; it’s life that’s happening. Sometimes you never know that it’s occurring because honestly, you’re too busy living it. Richard Linklater, for the second year in a row, has wowed me to where I can’t believe he hasn’t won any sort of Oscar yet. Depending on how this year’s Oscar race seems to be looking, it looks like his time may finally come. But even if it doesn’t, we’ll always have Boyhood – a beautiful, honest and wondrous tale of just growing up, and all of the perks that come along with it. Gosh. I wish I wasn’t an old-head.

So yeah, folks, that’s pretty much it! Thanks a lot for sticking with me in this past year (I know it wasn’t easy), and here’s to hoping that 2015 brings us all much joy and happiness!

Oh, and some good movies, too.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net