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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: 2015

Bone Tomahawk (2015)

Hey, somebody’s gotta eat.

A bunch of people start going missing somewhere around in the West and it gets people thinking, “Just what’s going on?” Some believe that the people tailed-off and died, whereas others think that they were kidnapped by a savage tribe of cannibals that hide-up in the mountains and are most definitely best left alone and to their business. Problem is, Sheriff Franklin Hunt (Kurt Russell) can’t allow that to be enough for him, so he decides that it’s time to find these people, infiltrate this cannibal-tribe and oh yeah, save some lives. But in order to do so, he’ll have to get the help of some of the most trusted gunslinger’s he knows. Like, Arthur O’Dwyer (Patrick Wilson) who, despite a leg-injury, sticks it out on this mission. Or like Chicory (Richard Jenkins), the Sheriff’s Deputy who knows that time has passed him by, but he’s not willing to settle down just yet. Or, like a random cowboy named John Brooder (Matthew Fox), who shows up randomly into town and makes it his duty to stop these cannibals, all for a hefty-sum of course.

The more out West they are, the more scraggly the facial-hair.

Bone Tomahawk is the kind of movie that won’t be for everybody and that’s why it’s pretty great. It starts off as a slow, meandering and rather meandering Western that’s languid and taking its time, but then rapidly changes into something far more disturbing, barbaric and grueling that we never see it coming, nor do we know what to do with it. Writer/director S. Craig Zahler deserves loads of credit here for not just turning the Western-genre on its side, but also realizing the pulpy-limitations that can be reached when such things as convention, or good-taste are thrown to the side; sometimes, it’s better to just show a bunch of blood, guts, bullets, and cannibals.

Something that, honestly, the John Ford Westerns always seemed to be missing.

But I kid. Zahler does something interesting with this material in that he lets it breathe and move at its own pace. That can sometimes mean that it’s a bit slow and boring, but it also means that Zahler is using his time wisely, setting-up and building characters, giving us a better idea of who, or what exactly, we’re working with. It may not seem like much in the world of film, but when it seems like almost every other movie feels the need to rush itself, get going, and immediately jump to all of the gore and action, it’s a nice change-of-pace to get a movie that doesn’t rush things along.

It also helps that Zahler knows that by doing this, he’s also building tension, which is exactly why Bone Tomahawk works as well as it does. Cause when we get all of the necessary build-up that we need, the movie’s tension snaps like a rubber-band that’s been stretched too tight; the action that we’d been waiting around for so desperately, does eventually come around, but it hits a lot harder than we expect. It’s quick, brutal, unrelenting, and oh yeah, pretty damn shocking – all factors that seem to be missing from today’s film’s violence, without seeming gratuitous or over-the-top.

Why would anyone want to leave her at home, all alone?!?

Nope. In Bone Tomahawk‘s case, the violence is just a sick and savage culmination of all the building and waiting around that’s been done and it’s hard not to be gripped by this. Zahler is a smart director in that he knows the best way to film this kind of heartless action is not to look away, shake the camera, or pull off some sick style-points, but keep the camera there, tightly and firmly, so that we can see just what sort of carnage is being done. It makes it not just more hard-to-watch, but rather disturbing.

Another factor missing from most of today’s movie violence.

But if anything, Bone Tomahawk is a solid B-movie that wants to be a bit of an A-movie, what with its stars and possible ideas about land and freedom. Then again, the movie is best when it’s not caring about this certain kind of stuff and just allowing for these characters to blow each other’s heads off. Sure, there’s something more to this small dynamic of characters, but really, the movie’s not necessarily as character-based, as much as it just uses them to be pawns in a much larger, much more dangerous game. Zahler knows that it’s best to have us care about them and sympathize with them, even when we know that it’s all going to blow up in their face, as well as our own.

But hey, that’s just the price we pay for caring.

Consensus: A tad long, Bone Tomahawk isn’t high-art, as much as it’s a B-movie with some pretty horrifying violence, a solid cast, and a smart direction that plays on genre-thrills, but never shying away from the sheer brutality that’s actually shocking, given today’s standards.

8 / 10

Uh oh. Look out cannibals. Or, I guess, prepare the hot-sauce.

Photos Courtesy of: Image Entertainment

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Cartel Land (2015)

Drugs and guns, yes, are bad.

It’s a well-known fact that the Mexican Drug War is a pretty awful one and it only seems to get worse as the years go by, with more laws being passed, and criminal acts being pushed away to the side. But what makes these Wars so awful is the fact that the  cartels that run so rampant in/around Mexico, seem to be getting away with it all. After all, they’ve got so many connections in government that they are, essentially, protected and free to do whatever they want. Cries from fellow citizens who have fallen prey, or victim to the cartel and their vicious ways, continue to go unheard from everyone involved with the Mexican government, as well as to the American government who, oddly enough, always make it a point to set out and take down drugs, whenever the world is watching and the cameras are set on them. It’s almost as if these cartels need to be stopped, but if not by the government, then by who? Enter Dr. José Mireles, a Michoacán-based physician who is a man of the people, for the people, and is essentially deciding that it’s time to arm fellow citizens who want to stop these cartels’ evil reign, thus creating the Autodefensas. This is an account of the non-stop battle and just how far and wide it’s willing to go.

Yep. Sorry, pal. No one really cares about you and your “American” ways.

Above all else, director Matthew Heineman deserves a huge amount of credit for, literally, putting his life on the line here, getting down, dirty, and not shying away from showing the absolute nit, grit and sometimes disturbing parts of this world. Not to mention that, yeah, the guy easily puts himself in some pretty dangerous situations where even he himself could have been killed and left without a film to finish. But because he was so willing to take the risk, he got some truly eye-opening footage that only news-outlets like CNN, or FOX, only dream that they could get and talk about.

And for that alone, Cartel Land is well worth the watch.

It provides a bird’s-eye view of what’s really happening in this awful and downright sadistic drug-war, without ever batting an eye away from the truly disgusting nature of it all. While it’s easy to assume that Heineman himself has an agenda here of showing the good guys taking down the bad guys, one by one, little by little, it soon becomes clear that in this war, nothing is ever black and white, therefore, nor should the documentary. It’s safe to say that Heineman, whether intentionally or not, got a lot of footage that should seem sneaky and awfully scary, but it also seems like these cartels and Autodefensas truly liked him around – it’s like they say, “no exposure, is bad exposure”.

But what works best in Cartel Land‘s favor is that, even though Heineman is able to get a lot of great, absolutely stunning footage, he’s also able to show that there’s more going on beneath the surface of this war. The idea that the Autodefensas who so clearly want to take down the cartel, sooner than later, end up adapting to the same tactics and maneuvers as them, is an obvious road the movie takes, but it also deserves to be seen. It calls into question just what constitutes a certain level of death and violence, but also what really matters: Human lives, or dignity?

See? This is what us Americans really want!

In Cartel Land, there’s no easy answers and it’s why the movie’s hard to shake off.

The only aspect of it that is easy to shake off and, honestly, a downside to an otherwise compelling flick is the B-story Heineman takes it upon himself to constantly fall back on. Every so often, whenever the film is focusing on the Autodefensa and Mireles, it’s focusing on a man named Tim “Nailer” Foley, the leader of Arizona Border Recon, who is fighting the battle on the front-lines of the Border. It should be interesting stuff, but honestly, feels a little misplaced; Heineman seems to be showing this man’s adventure and dangerous journey to help make better sense of what’s going on down deep inside of Mexico, but it doesn’t quite resonate. If anything, it just takes away from any of the intensity made from everything involved with the actual cartels.

Not that this material wouldn’t already be interesting elsewhere, it’s just that everything else Heineman seems to be getting and doing with the cartels, is already plenty enough, so why pack on anymore?

Consensus: With a stunning and shocking amount of footage taken at such close-lengths to everything, Cartel Land is pretty exciting and eye-opening, as well as a thoughtful and interesting look at the current war on drugs and why, unfortunately, it’s basically a lost cause for all involved.

7.5 / 10 

It’s not legal, but hey, I’d take him as our President. Hell, I’d take anyone at this point.

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

James White (2015)

WhiteposterSome kids just need to grow up. Especially when they’re nearly 30.

James White (Christopher Abbott) has been through a lot in his life, but at the same time, not really. While his father basically abandoned him at a young age and his mother (Cynthia Nixon) has been going through frequent battles with cancer, he has no job, no girlfriend, and no real place to live. But James feels as if life has chewed him up, spat him out and left him for dead, even if that hasn’t actually happened. But in order to get his back in-check and be prepared for what life has to throw at him, James decides to go to Mexico with his best pal (Scott Mescudi) where they drink, party, and do drugs, while also meeting the very young Jayne (Mackenzie Leigh). However, all of the fun comes to an end when James is called back home to tend to his mother and his needs – something he’s not quite ready for, especially when it turns out that her cancer has returned and it’s rougher than ever. Now, for James, it’s time to grow up and shut up, even if he can’t seem to do either.

Sometimes, Mr. Rager just wants to hug it out.

Sometimes, Mr. Rager just wants to hug it out.

We all know someone like James White. That self-pitiful, bratty, almost immature guy who cares only about himself, his needs and always has something to whine about. He’ll complain about not getting what he wants and being asked to do too much in his life, when, if you look at it, he’s not called on for anything. He is, for lack of a better term, a bum.

But that doesn’t make him any less interesting.

What’s neat about James White, both the character, as well as the movie, although, what’s the difference, is that the movie never tries to make any amends for the way James acts. In the first fifteen or so minutes, we see him pick a fight in a bar, let it settle down, and then start it all back up. Then, we also see him outright threaten a family member with violence at his father’s wake. There’s something to James that’s so despicable, yet, he’s so relatable that it’s hard to actually hate him; if anything, I quite enjoyed my time with James

Sure, you could say that writer/director Josh Mond is using James White as a way to spend time with an a-hole, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. In a way, there’s always been something inherently compelling about what drives and draws a person to always constantly being an a-hole; something about how that character doesn’t give a crap about what people think of them or their actions, is, in a way, very intriguing. These types of people in life may bother us, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist, which is why every second spent with James White, watching as he navigates through his life filled with sex, booze, drugs, hotel rooms, and couches, I quite enjoyed.

You could say that I wasn’t supposed to, but somehow, that actually happened.

Mond keeps his focus so tight on White that it’s hard to stray away from him and to anyone else here. The movie uses close-up like its day job, where we are right up James navel cavities, not seeing what’s around him, but only peering down at him, seeing his eyes and that’s it. This is an effective, if very suffocating device, as it really draws us closer to this character; we may not get greater ideas of what kind of person he is, but it makes us feel trapped and alone with this guy, the way he would probably love and enjoy.

It also helps that Christopher Abbott is pretty damn great in this role, too. Even though Abbott was probably best known for his stint on Girls, time will probably change after this, and we’ll start to see more of him, which is great because he’s a naturalistic talent. As James White, Abbott gets a chance to do a lot, with seemingly, so little; while we get small outlines of who this character is, the movie leaves a lot up to Abbott to pick up the pieces and he does a good job with it. There’s this unpredictable feeling with James where we don’t know if he’s going to do something nice, or better yet, relatively sweet, or downright reprehensible, and screw-up his life anymore that he already has.

Just can't handle it right now.

Just can’t handle it right now.

Abbott, as well as Mond, keep us guessing, which is definitely a testament to the fine acting-display from Abbott – someone who deserves every role that’s probably getting thrown his way about right now.

Cynthia Nixon plays James’ mother, and even though a lot of what she has to do her is look and act sickly, especially given that her character is battling cancer, she does a good job with it. You get the feeling that she’s the warmth and love in James’ life that he so desperately holds onto and needs – not just to keep him alive, but to keep him from sleeping on the streets. They have a nice chemistry that isn’t always love-love, nor is it always hate-hate – as with any mother-son duo, they have issues, but they also have qualities that make them love the other and it’s nice to see.

If anything, James White doesn’t so much as lose focus by the end, as much as it just narrows it down more. To me, this was perhaps the weakest parts of the movie; while I understand that a story like this needed to narrow its focus down even more than it already has, there was still a part of me that was missing watching James go out into late night-NYC, cause all sorts of havoc and chicanery wherever he want. Then again, that’s not the movie I continued to get – instead, I got something that showed him more as a human being who, of course, may not be perfect, but still has any qualities like you or I and because of that, should be seen as a human being.

A very troubled, almost imperfect human being that I wanted to hang around more.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe I see a little bit of James within myself.

Consensus: With a stellar lead performance from Christopher Abbott, James White is an interesting look at a person’s life that we don’t always see portrayed in the movies.

8.5 / 10

Nothing like a son and a mother love. Even if the son is a spoiled brat.

Nothing like a son and a mother love. Even if the son is a spoiled brat.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Tribe (2015)

Some things are better left unsaid.

Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) is a young deaf kid who is starting a new point in his life by attending a boarding school for the deaf. And as if the case with coming into a new school, more often than not, you’re welcomed in with fists and fights, than actual open arms. This is exactly what happens to Sergey who, from the very beginning, shows his toughness and loyalty to the certain bad kids at the school, leading him to join their group and all the other bad that they do. Meaning, Sergey gets involved with a whole lot of drinking, drugs, sex, prostitution, crime, and above all else, murder. But through all of this dark stuff, he finds some solace in Anya (Yana Novikova), a fellow student who is making her own living as a very young prostitute. Though she has plans to leave the country for somewhere better, Sergey tries to disrupt these plans as he not only falls head over heels for her, but is willing to do anything to make sure that she stays in the Ukraine with him. Even if that means risking his own life, as a result.

Uh oh. Someone's gonna get it. I think.

Uh oh. Someone’s gonna get it. I think.

Yes, the Tribe is indeed a movie where not a single person speaks. Instead, every character communicates solely through sign-language. And if that wasn’t hard enough for audiences to get teased by, well, get ready, because there’s also no subtitles to accompany this form of dialogue, either. So basically, the whole film is told through the ways characters act, flagellate their arms and hands, and that’s about it. Everything else is basically left up to us, the audience, which makes this a movie you must, I repeat, must pay absolute and undivided attention.

Otherwise, well, you’ll have no clue what’s going on.

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, because a good part of the Tribe is easy to decipher, if you’re just solely judging it by how plots of this nature tend to go and play out. Of course, once the new kid comes to school, he’s going to fall in with the crowd, make enemies, make friends, cause all sorts of hi-jinx and, oh yeah, fall in love with a barely legal prostitute. Yeah, so you get the idea – the Tribe isn’t so much of a predictable film, as much as it seems like a “type of film”, where we know how the story goes and the only reason why any of it is compelling in the first place is because it’s all told through sign-language.

And yes, this would make the movie, in and of itself, a “gimmick”, but not really. While the idea of these characters not speaking to one another, and writer/director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s (try saying that name five times fast, or at all) insistence on not actually letting us know what’s being said, or what’s happening, and just allowing for the images to tell themselves, may ultimately seem like a trick, but in the end, it actually does work. What starts as a very ordinary, coming-of-age tale with some darker themes, ends up being a far more deep, depressing and screwed-up tale about growing up with the wrong influences around you and how, if you’re not careful, it could all succumb you and leave you high, dry and nearly dead.

Then again, maybe that’s not at all what the movie’s saying.

"Hey, turn down the radio! We're trying to sign-language back here!"

“Hey, turn down the radio! We’re trying to sign-language back here!”

Because the Tribe is so messed-up and uneasy, it sometimes become almost too much. And I don’t mean “too much” in the sense that, “oh, it’s really hard for a simpleton like me to stomach”, but more that the plot can sometimes get so ugly, that it’s a tad unbelievable. A Ukrainian deaf-mob? Okay, maybe I’m willing to buy that for a dollar. But then the movie goes even further and further to show that there’s more powers at be, that not only pull the strings, but are the exploiters to begin with. While I’m not doubting the fact that this might happen in certain parts of the world (and it probably does in Ukraine), the way the movie uses it can get a tad cartoonish. Like, for instance, we’re told from the start that the school has some very strict employees and teachers, and if so, then how come there’s literally an underground chock full of these students who go around, drinking, smoking, sexing and committing all sorts of crimes, that anybody in their right mind would hear about, let alone catch wind of eventually.

They probably spoke about why this never happened, but then again, how would I know? Nobody’s speaking!

But I digress.

Regardless of what bad things I have to sat about the Tribe, there’s no denying that for nearly two-and-a-half hours, it’s hard to turn away from. Sure, it takes its time and, more often than not, manipulatively leaves you in the dark, but this world that Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy himself is peeking into, remains an interesting one. Even when it’s clear that a world like this is too hard to believe in, there’s still this driving force behind the movie and the story that makes it emotionally and physically gripping. It’s hard to imagine myself ever seeing the Tribe again, but really, I’m fine with that. The time that I took to give it a watch, and put away all of the distracting electronic devices, was worth it. So what if it’s a trip I won’t take again?

People probably say that about the Ukraine all of the time. But at least they go in the first place, see what it’s all about, give it a try, and head on home, never to look back again. That’s my reaction to the Tribe and it’s about as divisive of an opinion I’ve had on a movie for awhile.

Which means, yes, I liked it. A lot.

Consensus: Not for everyone, the Tribe will definitely test some people’s patience, but for those who are willing to take the time and dedication to it, will find themselves ultimately rewarded, if not as excited to take another gander at it.

8.5 / 10

I think I know what they're talking about here. If so, typical kids.

I think I know what they’re talking about here. If so, typical kids.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

I Smile Back (2015)

Drugs, sex, booze, and other stuff is bad. Remember that, kids.

Laney (Sarah Silverman) is going through a bit of a rough patch. For one, she’s a housewife who doesn’t know what to do with her time, except do drugs, drink, and have sex with a married-man (Thomas Sadoski). Obviously, this is fun for a little bit of time, but after awhile, it begins to not only take a toll on her life, but her husband (Josh Charles)’s as well. This leads to plenty of fights and random shouting matches, but what this really gets down to the bottom of is that Laney, no matter if she wants to admit it or not, needs help. So, she seeks it out by going to rehab and finds out more about her life than she had ever expected. Through rehab, she realizes that due to her poor childhood, she’s never learned to love anyone else or even herself, for that matter. Knowing this now, she wants to get back into the groove of her normal life, but sometimes, that’s better said, then actually done, leading Laney possibly back to her old life of risque raunchiness where nobody is happy, including especially, herself.

Hubby?

Hubby?

For the past few years or so, Sarah Silverman’s been itching herself into far more deeper, more challenging, and overall, more dramatic roles as of late. But none of them have ever been nearly as dark or as demanding as her role in I Smile Back. Not only is Silverman hardly cracking a joke here, but she’s crying, doing drugs, having crazy, wild sex, humping teddy-bears, and basically seeming like she’s about to crack open at any second.

And yet, it’s not enough to fully help I Smile Back from being what is, basically, just another Lifetime movie, but with more nudity, more cursing, and most importantly, more sex.

This isn’t to discredit Silverman herself as she portrays what it’s like for a woman, who clearly has manic depression, in the most honest, raw way she can possibly do without sinking herself almost too far into such a role. Laney herself seems like the kind of woman who, at one point in her life, may have been a sweet and endearing gal, but now, seems as if she doesn’t understand much about life, its pleasures, or what exactly she’s supposed to do with it. That’s why, watching Silverman go from scene to scene, making it seem as if Laney herself is lost in some sort maze she can’t get find the nearest exit out of, is relatively hard and, at times, disturbing.

But that’s mostly because Silverman is a good actress. The rest of the movie, I’m afraid, isn’t nearly as up-to-par as she is, or smart, especially because it never really draws much more about her character, other than that she’s a pissed-off housewife who’s got a lot of problems in her life. Sure, there’s no problem with highlighting that aspect of a character’s life, regardless of how depressing it may be, but the movie doesn’t really give us any more context other than that.

Or boyfriend?

Or boyfriend?

Also, as good as Silverman is at creating this Laney character, we still don’t understand much about her to begin with, or how she was before she started feeling as depressed as she currently is. We get a certain idea through her troubled relationship with her estranged father, but it’s so late in the game and so tiny, that it almost doesn’t register. So instead, we’re left to watch as this character, one we don’t know from Adam, do all sorts of troubling, downright terrible things to herself, as well as those that surround her life.

Once again, there’s nothing wrong with having these kinds of stories, about these kinds of complicated figures, but there has to be more behind all of the events. To just place someone in this role and leave it at that, without any added-on info or anything, just doesn’t quite work. There’s one scene between Josh Charles’ husband character and Laney that’s supposed to give us at least some background info on how the two met and got together, but like it was with the father character, it’s too little, too late, in a film that’s already just relying way too heavily on Silverman herself to pick up the pieces.

Which she does, but it’s really obvious what’s going on here.

But if anything that surprised me about I Smile Back, in an at least somewhat positive way, was that it had an ending that, believe it or not, is way different than from what you’d get from a Lifetime movie. For one, it’s not pretty and it sure as hell isn’t the feel-good, happy ending some may expect, like I myself did. However, it also brings up the smart idea about people’s life stories and how, in most cases, not everything it tied-up in a neat little bow. Sure, certain movies may have you think that, but in reality, that’s not the case.

In fact, life can be very messy. There’s no real beginning or ends to an issue, instead, it’s always existing and controlling your everyday life whether you want to admit it or not. But what I Smile Back deals with, at its end at least, is that Laney’s life, as well as everybody else’s, will continue to live on as they were before. Some things may change, some things may not, but most of all, life will continue to be just how it is. Sometimes sad, and also, sometimes happy.

Even though the movie itself doesn’t quite work, I Smile Back at least has something to say when all is said and done.

Consensus: Despite Silverman’s raw, challenging performance, I Smile Back doesn’t seem to really have much to say about any of its upsetting material, even if it does end on a solid, if surprising, note.

5 / 10

Or family? Pick your poison!

Or family? Pick your poison!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Sleeping with Other People (2015)

Men and women can be friends. But attractive men and women can’t be.

Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and Lainey (Alison Brie) haven’t seen each other for over 12 years, but they mean a whole lot to one another. Meaning, that, well, they both took each other’s virginity’s and never really talked about it ever since. However, many of these years later, they get back into contact with one another somehow and remember just how great of friends they truly were. They talk to one another about basically anything, have the greatest of times together, and yet, they still don’t see the reason in getting together in a strictly sexual, almost romantic way. For one, they know each of their own personal lives happen to be a bit of a mess. He’s currently playing the field, but getting a tad bit more involved with his strict boss (Amanda Peet), whereas she is having all sorts of hot, sordid sex with a married man (Adam Scott). Both know that they’d probably be great for one another, but when you’re having this much fun together and there’s nothing serious going on, then why ruin it all? After all, romance is so overrated after all, right?

Sometimes, all you need is a platonic friend who will lay with you in bed without ever making any moves.

Sometimes, all you need is a platonic friend who will lay with you in bed without ever making any moves.

It’s hard to do a really good rom-com in today’s day and age in which even though it follows through on the same old conventions and tropes of that never ending genre, there’s still enough interesting material brought to the table that it almost doesn’t even matter. The ways certain movies do get past the rom-com genre and do something neat, can obviously vary, but where the actual enjoyment of the said movies is that it not only feels funny and romantic, but also feels at least somewhat genuine. You can have all the meet-cutes, awkward exchanges, falling-in-love montages, and random conflicts to tear them apart that you want – as long as your romance feels somewhat believable, then you’re fine.

And that’s exactly what is the case with Sleeping with Other People.

While it isn’t necessarily the kind of rom-com that sets out to light the world on fire and make a comment on the actual rom-com set-up itself, it still does something good in that it allows for us to see the two people falling in love, further beyond their archetypal writing. While you may read that both characters are “sex-addicted” and have “commitment phobia”, writer/director Leslye Headland sees them more as troubled and beaten-down human beings who, yes, clearly make stupid decisions in their lives, but are still capable of giving love, as well as feeling it, too. At the same time, the whole idea of “friends with benefits” is another rom-com trope that’s been nearly done to death by now, but Headland shows that, in some cases, this most definitely can happen – whereas in other cases, it can’t.

Most of all though, Headland gives these characters personalities and likable traits that make them more than just types. Alison Brie’s Lainey, for instance, feels especially raw and hurt, even though she has plenty of sex and seems to go out with many good-looking people. What Headland shows us about Lainey is that it doesn’t really matter that she’s doing all of this stuff, as much as it matters that she doesn’t feel anything about them, or simply put, needs them in her life. She doesn’t know why she feels the way she does, or does the things that she does – all that she knows is that she can’t help herself and it’s a bit sad to watch.

Of course, Brie livens her character up a lot and shows that there’s more fun and charm to her sad-sack of a character, but it’s this extra attention to character detail that makes the movie a whole lot more compelling.

Same goes for Jason Sudeikis’ Jake, who very much feels like a typical character Sudeikis would play, but slowly but surely, starts to unravel and show more shades to his character. While he may seem like the typical womanizer who goes from woman to woman, with absolute reckless abandon, the movie shows that maybe there’s more to him than just all of that sly stuff, and maybe he does want something more meaningful and love-like in his life. He may not realize it, but we certainly do and it’s what keeps him interesting practically all throughout.

Or, a platonic friend who will go to random parties with you.

Or, a platonic friend who will go to random parties with you.

It also goes without saying that both Sudeikis and Brie have great chemistry together and it feels like they’re not just best friends, but the perfect kind of couple. We see them go through all of the motions of being friends, then going to becoming best friends, and then, predictably, getting to that awkward spot in their relationship where they don’t know whether or not they really want to give each other a try, or just take the safe route and stay as friends. For anyone who has ever encountered this sort of situation, it goes without saying that Sleeping with Other People feels almost too honest and real, but it still works.

But if there is anything to say about Sleeping with Other People is that I feel like it’s more “entertaining”, and less actually “funny”.

Of course, this may not sound like me saying much of anything at all, but as the movie progressed, I found myself more interested in what it was trying to do and where it was trying to go, rather than actually laughing hysterically at the jokes it had to say or do. Most of that seems to be due to the fact that the movie relies a tad too much on Sudeikis’ own brand of humor, and not on the actual jokes that are written themselves, but it’s still not a terribly bad thing. I just feel that if you’re movie is as reliant on having humor as Sleeping with Other People is, it would be smart to actually have some of that humor land and make a mark, rather than just being, at best, chuckle-worthy and leaving it at that.

Then again, I’m just nit-picking.

Consensus: Anchored by two strong, incredibly charming leads, Sleeping with Other People may not shake the rom-com world up, but it still shows the world what you can do with a familiar premise, and add a little heart and humanity.

7 / 10

Or, most importantly, teach you a thing or two about your own body that you never knew.

Or, most importantly, teach you a thing or two about your own body that you never knew.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Keeping Room (2015)

Stick together, ladies. Can’t trust those men and their penises.

In the waning days of the Civil War, everybody seemed to be on their own and left to fend for their own darn selves. Two sisters, Augusta (Brit Marling) and Louise (Hailee Steinfeld) live out in their family’s home, strapped with plenty of guns, food, and shelter to keep themselves alive and well during this whole time. And of course, they have their trusted and loyal slave, Mad (Muna Otaru), by their side no matter what. But now, with the Civil War starting to draw closer and nearer to its end, that means that more and more stragglers will start showing up at these ladies’ front doors, leaving them with no other option other than to defend themselves, by any means necessary. And after one fateful trip into the city, it seems as if a certain bloody and violent hunter by the name of Moses (Sam Worthington) now wants something to do with these girls and even though it’s clear he isn’t going to stop by for a simple “hello” and leave it at that, the girls still don’t know what to do. Do they go to a small war with him and see if they can survive? Or do they run away and head for the hills, all over again?

Brit's got a gun.

Brit’s got a gun.

You can call the Keeping Room, “feminist propaganda” if you want, but you wouldn’t necessarily be right in saying so. Sure, it’s a story about women staying strong, sticking together, and facing all sorts of adversity, united as one, but really, it’s deeper than that. The movie is less about making some sort of point or message about gender, or sexuality in general, and more or less trying to speak about what can happen at the end of a war – when practically all hope and faith in humanity is lost, civil order has gone out the window, and practically everyone is on their own.

In that sense, the Keeping Room is a way better movie than you’d expect.

What director Daniel Barber doe so well, for so very long with the Keeping Room, is that he takes his good old time with the material and doesn’t really tell us too much at the very beginning. For the first ten minutes or so, with the exception of a gun-shot and a dark barking, there’s hardly any words spoken, or any other noise heard; instead, we hear the whistle of the wind, trees, grass and whatever actions certain characters are doing. Nobody in the movie really laces out into long, tired and winding tirades about war, death, or love, but more or less, think about it, without ever telling the audience.

This works in the movie’s favor because it really sets the mood for what sets out to be a very tense movie that doesn’t always realize how tense it can be, until it decides to let loose and just crank up the excitement. But the movie never overdoes it by any means – more or less, it just seems to still take its time, developing characters, setting a stage, and letting all of the cards and pieces fall together. Though Barber doesn’t have a lot to work with here, he still does his best to not forget that taking things in a more melodic nature can sometimes work out the best.

That’s why, in the last act or so, when people start shooting one another, pants are pulled down, and everybody starts, suddenly, opening up, crying and yelling, it becomes a bit of a shock.

Not a good one, though.

See, the issue with the Keeping Room is that for so very, very long, it doesn’t really seem to be about the big movie moments, but instead, the smaller, more intimate ones that feel much more to real life, than to the sort of crap we see on the big screen. That all changes during the last twenty or so minutes where all sorts of action occurs; most of it’s exciting, but still feels oddly-placed in a movie that, for so very long, felt like a kind of a drama that was smarter than convention. Because we get to know and understand these characters, as well as the terrain they’re currently setting up shop in, the killing is a lot more compelling than it would be, had there been no development either way, but still, something feels slightly off.

Hailee's got a gun.

Hailee’s got a gun.

That said, the cast is great and given that they have very little to do, except stare into space, they work wonders. Brit Marling’ Augusta is perhaps the strongest of the three female characters here, as she not only feels like the most determined, but perhaps the smartest one. She knows what to do in a situation such as this, where law and order has been practically shoved to the side, and also knows that she needs to keep her girls together, so long as they want to live on and not be killed, raped, or left for dead.

Same goes Muna Otaru’s Mad who, despite not saying much at first, eventually shows a side to her character that’s not just unexpected, but also welcoming. There’s a certain backstory to her character that isn’t just tragic (what with being a slave and whatnot), but also telling of the time and why she is, the way she is. I won’t give it away because it’s a very special moment in a movie full of almost hardly anything happening, but just know, it’s a very good scene and shows that Otaru, even without having to say anything, can work on levels. Same goes for Hailee Steinfeld’s Louise, who definitely seems like the more unlikable, bratty of the three, but soon learns to grow up very fast.

And then, there’s the two men of the story that take up another good portion of this movie, with Kyle Soller and Sam Worthington. Neither character really get as much development as they probably should, other than being seen as dirty, ruthless rapists, but both try. Worthington especially does a good job because, for once in a very long time, it seems like he’s playing a character that isn’t asking for you to love him, but rather, see him as something of a human being. Though he’s a very unlikable one, he’s still someone who has probably seen plenty of death and tragedy in life, so for him to act the way that he is now, sort of makes sense.

Doesn’t excuse who he turns out to be, but it’s thoughtful enough that reminds me that Sam Worthington may actually be something of a good actor.

Consensus: While it may take its own, meandering time to get going, the Keeping Room still works best in the smaller, quieter moments, with its talented cast and scary setting placing you right in the action.

6.5 / 10

Sam doesn't. But that's okay, because he's still making plenty of money from Avatar.

Sam doesn’t. But that’s okay, because he’s still making plenty of money from Avatar.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Saint Laurent (2015)

Fashion’s cool and all, but partying is probably better.

Yves Saint Laurent (Gaspard Ulliel) has become synonymous with the fashion world. However, he also had his fair share of personal and professional issues that kept him away from being a person people would want to be around and appreciate. Through many years of his life, we see as Yves goes through all sorts of love-partners, as well as co-workers, most of whom either despise, or adore him. Either way, people know that Yves has a certain style that the people want and because of this, everybody is willing to stick with all of his odd, almost preposterous idiosyncrasies. All of this is chronicled at the time during his life from 1967 to 1976, when everybody was at his beck and call, yet, so little people actually loved or cared for him and were more concerned with milking the cash cow for as long as they could. Yves knew this, however, and it’s one of the main reasons why he would continue to break away from the rest of society for so long throughout his life.

Strike a pose!

Strike a pose!

I’m all for a biopic not standing by conventional route we tend to see with a biopic, or a story about a certain famous person in which there achievements are told through something as deep and meaningful as a Wikipedia entry. However, Saint Laurent is the kind of pretentious piece of film making that makes me wish more movies did follow a structure of some sorts, wherein we understood and learned more about the biopic subjects, and not just follow its own rhythm and pattern. After all, there is something to be said for a movie that does what it wants, when it wants, and plays by its own rules, when its subject did the same exact thing in real life, but really, there could have been so much more done here had some rules been followed.

Actually, scratch that. A lot of rules.

See, what director Bertrand Bonello does here is that he focuses on one time in the life of Yves Saint Laurent that may have been the most successful, as well as exciting, but he doesn’t really show how or why. Instead, the movie just more or less shows us that Laurent tended to be a bit of a perfectionist, something of a drama queen, and a generally closed-off human being who didn’t really treat those who loved him or worked with him, to the best of his ability. In fact, there’s one key scene in which an employee of Laurent’s tells him that she needs to get an abortion and doesn’t have the money for it. Laurent gives her the money and tells her that she’ll always have a place to work, except that, moments later, he’s seen at a dinner table talking about how he wants that employee fired.

If anything, this scene not only tells you everything you need to know about Laurent, but is perhaps the only bit of insight the movie ever actually gives us. Other than that, we just get a bunch of scenes where Laurent slowly pans around, looks at fancy clothes, touches his chin, engage in promiscuous sex, do drugs, drink, dance, party, and most of all, be an a-hole to everyone around him. That’s pretty much all we get to see about Laurent here and while it’s nice to see a biopic that doesn’t necessarily set out to glamorize its subject, it would have also been nice to see more about him that made this movie worth watching in the first place.

And then, of course, there’s the pace.

I'd party with her. Not him.

I’d party with her. Not him.

Saint Laurent meanders so much, for so long, that by the time the two-and-a-half-hour run-time had hit its limit, I got up out of my seat, took a walk, took a shower, and then, continued on with my watching. Rather than getting started on another movie/show right off the bat as soon as it ended, instead, I had to do something else more productive with my time, as well as get past the fact that I wasted so much time with a movie that seemed to go hardly anywhere from the very start. And while there’s no issue with a movie taking its time, when it turns out to be very clear that the movie has no set destination in mind, after awhile, all of the waddling around can get to be a bit of a pain.

None of this is particularly any of the cast’s problems, either. Basically, they’re trying their absolute hardest to make sense of what’s going on and just how exactly they can make things better. Gaspard Ulliel looks great as Laurent, but doesn’t really get a chance to dive deep into the inner-soul of what made Laurent such a tragic, rather misunderstood figure. We see him do a lot of crying and whining, but that’s not enough to really have us see him for all that he was when it came to not just being a fashion-designer, but also a human being.

In fact, it’s those around him who are probably the most humanized and understood. Jérémie Renier’s Pierre Bergé constantly wants to be there for Laurent no matter how hard times between the two get, but also can’t seem to help himself from sponging off of the goods, too; Louis Garrel’s Jacques de Bascher may seem like he’s just there for the sex with Laurent, but really wants something loving and caring, too; and Léa Seydoux’s Loulou de la Falaise may not go all that deeper than just being “the party girl”, but hey, it was nice to see her around. Wish there was more for each of these talented actors to do, but for what it’s worth, it was nice to see them at least try in a movie that didn’t seem to care for them, or anything else.

It just wanted to be cool and stylish, sort of like its subject.

Consensus: Saint Laurent may daringly play by its own rules, it still doesn’t offer enough glimpses of heart, humanity, or even insight into its subject, but instead, just shows him as a guy who did some stuff and that’s about it.

2 / 10

Just chillin'.

Just chillin’.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Chi-Raq (2015)

Stop the sex, then you stop the guns, and then you stop the violence. Or something like that.

Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) is getting absolutely sick and tired of her gang-banger boyfriend (Nick Cannon) taking advantage of her sexy body and using her just strictly for sex. After all, she wants him to stop all of the shooting, killing, and drug-dealing, but he just won’t. So therefore, Lysistrata steps up, bands her fellow friends together and start a revolt against allowing their men to use their bodies for sex. Because if these men don’t get their sex, then possibly, they may stop killing one another and things may be a whole lot safer in Chicago. Clearly, certain people aren’t happy about this, whereas others are, but mostly, it calls into question the rest of the community and how they’re willing to handle this whole change. Some people, like Father Mike Corridan (John Cusack), love it and wants to see all of the crime gone at last, whereas others, Cyclops (Wesley Snipes), doesn’t even care about the crime stopping and just wants his sex already! He may get it, after all, but he, along with the rest of his gang-pals, need to cut-out all of the shooting and killing if they want to get what they want.

Sadly, seen this one too many times in real life.

Sadly, seen this one too many times in real life.

Spike Lee has never been the most subtle writer/director out there in the world and for the longest time, that was alright – until it wasn’t. What seems to have been going on with Lee’s career as of late is that it doesn’t appear like he’s really fired-up or passionate about anything he’s making anymore. Sure, there’s clearly movies like Miracle at St. Anna, or more obviously She Hate Me, where it’s obvious that he has points to make and wants to say something, but he can’t keep himself away from getting all caught up in a bunch of other stuff, that eventually, it all just becomes a mess.

And although Chi-Raq finds Lee back to his old ways of being passionate about something, it’s still very much, in the end, a mess.

But an interesting mess is, in some ways, better than just a dull, uninteresting mess – which doesn’t seem like something Lee himself ever creates. This is why the idea of incorporating the Greek comedy “Lysistrata” into the modern day world and land of the violent and ruthless streets of Chicago, may seem rather weird at first, but eventually, it’s easy to get used to, even when it seems like certain dialogue comes off stranger and more stilted than others. That said, perhaps the most moving moment of Chi-Raq is when there’s no old-timey, stagey dialect anywhere to be found, in which John Cusack, playing a local priest, unleashes into a tirade about all of the murders, crimes, and guns in the world that he sees around him and it’s too hard to not get wrapped up in.

For one, it features Cusack’s best performance in the longest time (excluding Love and Mercy), but it also reminds us of the sort of power and beauty Lee’s “angry” writing can sometimes have. While he is most definitely preaching and yelling at his audience, he is also spelling-out truths about society that most movies tend to shy away from, or are too afraid of even bringing up. Rather than doing so and joining his weaker counterparts, Lee reminds the audience just what he’s talking out against and shows us why he is the first and last person to have a say on the matter.

And this is all to say that Lee has a lot to say in Chi-Raq, mostly all of which is great and uplifting to hear.

But at the same time, there’s also way too much going on around this central message. To say that Chi-Raq is “jam-packed”, would be an absolute understatement. Now, to say that it’s “filled with one too many subplots, all taking place in different movies, and seemingly having no way of connecting with one another”, then you’d be absolutely right, because that’s exactly what it is about Chi-Raq that makes it a hard movie to watch or get totally invested in. One second, you’ll see a character get plenty of attention and automatically assume that they’re the protagonists or characters you should be looking at the most, so you sit there, study them, get to know them, and take them all in – that is, until it turns out that Lee’s bored of them and their story, and is off to the next character/story to focus on.

John Cusack knows "the struggle", everyone.

John Cusack knows “the struggle”, everyone.

This happens at least five or six times and after awhile, it begins to be a bit tiresome. Casting a wide net for your film when you’re tackling such a big issue as violence in America isn’t a problem, but to do so and not really offer up much development to any of these points you want to focus on, is. Maybe Lee could have benefited from getting rid of one or two subplots, and devoting more of his time and attention on other, way more important ones, but really, it still doesn’t seem like that would solve any of these issues.

In other words, Chi-Raq is the usual kind of mess we’re used to seeing with Spike Lee, but feels like more of a missed opportunity, and less like a piece to solve the puzzle he’s trying to put together.

The only one of the cast who gets the most eyes from the Lee is Teyonah Parris. Parris has been putting in some solid work as of late in pieces like Mad Men, or in last year’s Dear White People, but here, she really gets her opportunity to light the screen up. Not only does she have presence, in terms of her beauty, but she’s the one who handles all of the stagey material to the best of her ability and shows that there may be something of a pulse underneath this, what appears to be, something of “a type”. And while there’s a huge cast featuring the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Wesley Snipes, Nick Cannon, D.B. Sweeney, La La Anthony, Dave Chappelle and Samuel L. Jackson, basically replaying his role as Mister Señor Love Daddy, nobody ever gets nearly as much to do as she does.

This is fine, but really, it would have been nice to see Lee give each and everyone a chance to do more, as well as remind the audience why it is that Lee himself is such a master at getting these crazy ensembles together and yet, make them work so well together.

Consensus: Lee is firing on all cylinders in Chi-Raq, and while he definitely makes his voice heard and his points understood, they’re sometimes tucked underneath a mess that’s hard to wade through and not feel frustrated by.

5.5 / 10

"Do the right thing, ya'll."

“Do the right thing, ya’ll.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Where to Invade Next (2015)

Apparently, America does not rule. How could this be?

Having gotten tired of roaming around the United States, heckling for people and looking for something to complain about, Michael Moore has now headed overseas. Why, though? Well, it’s because he wants to, theoretically that is, “invade” these other countries on behalf of the United States of America and prove the countries dominance. And through this tour of his own doing, Moore sees how Europeans view all sorts of things differently from Americans like work, education, health care, sex, equality, and plenty more to come from there. Through all of his travels, we realize just how different America is from the rest of the world, sometimes, in good ways, as well as in some bad ways.

It’s obvious from watching Michael Moore’s movies that, well, he loves America. While he does an awful lot of moaning and criticizing the country, deep down inside, Moore just wants to be loved, accepted, and listened to as America’s spokesperson who, when a crisis arises, he is the first one the President makes the call to because, well, it’s his decision that matters the most. While this will probably never, ever happen for as long as anybody, as well as Moore himself, is alive, it’s still nice to see Moore constantly try his hardest to make himself seem and sound more important than he may actually be.

"So, does America suck? You can tell me. It's okay."

“So, does America suck? You can tell me. It’s okay.”

Which isn’t a hit on Michael Moore, as I found almost all of his documentaries as entertaining and interesting as the next, but Where to Invade Next is an especially odd addition to his filmography.

For one, it’s not nearly as controversial as you’d expect. With a title and premise like that, as well as knowing what Moore can do, you’d expect that a lot of Where to Invade Next be a lot of Moore knockin’ on doors, shocking conclusions being drawn at the drop of a hat, and plenty of those overly sentimental, downright annoying pieces of narration from Moore himself, but what we actually get is far different. Which is fine, as we get to see a lot of Moore talking to people about so much out there in the world that may be new information or not, but there’s still a feeling of disappointment watching this.

Most of that has to do with the fact that Moore doesn’t really seem to have much of a point to all that he’s doing here. In a way, it’s as if Moore himself wanted to travel to all of these countries for fun, see what they were all about, get paid to do so and, oh yeah, make a documentary about it all. Sure, he got to eat plenty of food, see plenty of lovely sights, and best of all, meet some pretty cool and happenin’ people, but really, he was there to really document just how different other countries are from America, right? Well, yeah, it appears that way, but the conclusion Moore makes at the end about how most of these European countries got their ideas from America is interesting, but seems to come at a time when Moore’s gone on for far too long about all of these other countries.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s no issue with highlighting some of the great things about these other countries around us.

A lot of the points, too, Moore makes, actually do seem to tickle the brain. The idea of free tuition seems totally fictional to me that hearing a whole country actually allow that for college students, as well as foreigners, was an absolute mind-blower. Not to mention that the point Moore brings up about how Germany hasn’t forgotten about the atrocities of the Holocaust and has instead, decided to teach its kids about what happened and why it matters. There’s plenty other interesting tidbits and anecdotes that Moore makes, but really, there’s a lack of focus that makes it seem less like there’s a message connecting everything and more or less, like Moore himself just wants to play around with all sorts of different ideas and methods.

Pictured: People we can trust. Maybe.

Pictured: People we can trust. Maybe.

There’s nothing wrong with this, but there’s a feeling that Moore’s better than this. Of course, a Michael Moore documentary can tend to be better than what most of us get out there and it’s nice to see him still trying his hardest to remind people that he still matters in today’s political landscape, but at the same time, where’s the hard-hitting questions and conclusions? Just saying that other countries are better than the U.S. because their economy is more lenient and nicer to its citizens, isn’t really enough; it may be true, but it doesn’t go anywhere if you don’t have the gall to back it up more.

Moore definitely does have the gall, but for some reason, it’s hardly shown here.

Instead, he’s too distracted by the different cultures and lifestyles these other countries have, most of which seem pretty normal. The kids in France have better school lunches; the kids in Iceland have no homework and instead, go outside and play more; the working-class in Italy have paid vacations are allowed to take off whenever they get sick; and yeah, there’s more. All of these are facts of life that Moore himself takes a look at and barely even scratches the surface of. Sure, he asks the questions, but to what length or extreme? Is this the same guy who constantly badgered away at Roger Smith, even when it was clear that he wasn’t going to get a single word in with him? Or, hell, is this the same guy who approached Charlton Heston and grilled him all about the NRA, to his face?

It definitely is, but here, it’s not really showing and it’s a huge issue when mostly everybody knows just the real Michael Moore is in there somewhere.

Consensus: Though it has some interesting points to make about many countries, Where to Invade Next misses the mark when it wants to feel important and have a point to introduce, but Michael Moore himself can’t really figure out which one to deliver on.

6 / 10

Leader of the United States? Uh no thanks.

Leader of the United States? Uh no thanks.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Nasty Baby (2015)

Babies are a pain, both before and after they’re around.

Freddy (Sebastián Silva) and Mo (Tunde Adebimpe) have been together for quite some time and they feel as if now is the right moment to finally start the family they’ve always wanted. However, considering that they are both men and aren’t able to get pregnant, they decide that their best friend, Polly (Kristen Wiig) is the perfect person to go through with the procedure, especially since she doesn’t at all mind and considers both men to her best friends. However, as Freddy, Mo and Polly continue on and on to get pregnant and have this damn baby that they’ve been craving for all these years, certain issues arise. For Polly, she is having problems actually getting pregnant, with some sperm working and some others, not. As for Freddy, well, he’s starting to get a tad crazy. With pressures at work and at home, Freddy is finding himself constantly acting out in an erratic manner where he’s lashing out anybody around him, even if he knows full well that he’s being a terrible person. Still though, what keeps them all together is the idea of this baby, regardless of if it actually is conceived or not.

The director?

The director?

There’s at least two movies within Nasty Baby, one is fine, whereas the other shows promise through and through, until it eventually just plays itself out and becomes oddly placed in a film that, quite frankly, can’t be bothered with it. What I mean by saying this is that whereas one half of Nasty Baby plays out like a funny, rather insightful tale about sex, gender, and the idea of a modern-day family, the other half seems like a tense thriller, where we don’t have a full grasp on what’s going to happen next, nor what’s going to happen to whom. All we kn ow is that things are getting more riled-up as they move along, and in ways, it’s interesting to see how writer/director Sebastian Silva places it throughout the movie.

At the same time, however, it still causes an issue for the film’s tone.

Cause, for one, it’s incredibly uneven. One scene, we’ll be sitting back and watching as a bunch of characters pal around with one another and just seem to chew the fat, but then, in the next scene, we’ll get one where Reg E. Cathey’s homeless character is terrorizing characters because, well, he’s crazy and homeless and that’s how all homeless men act, apparently. Regardless of whether or not this makes any sense, Silva does present this character enough times to make it clear why he’s around, but never seems to actually make better sense of why he exists. It seems like Silva wants this character around to create some sort of obstacle, or better yet, villain for these characters to overcome? Which is fine and all, but this is an indie that’s supposed to be about a anybody’s lives – having Cathey around to just be an evil nut-job, constantly causing havoc wherever he goes, feels a bit silly and over-the-top.

Cathey himself is fine in the role, but really, all he has to do is act like a crazed lunatic and have you feel like he could fly off the handle at any second. Cathey’s effective at this aspect of the character, but still can’t make it clear why his character, or his character’s subplot, needs to exist in Nasty Baby after all. After all, the movie would have been fine, had it just paid sole attention to what was going on with Kristen Wiig’s character.

But considering we didn’t get that movie, it’s probably best not to talk “what ifs”, and more about “what’s actually on the table”.

Or, the guy from TV on the Radio?

Or, the guy from TV on the Radio?

And what’s on the table for Nasty Baby is a promising tale about fertility, starting a family, and deciding whether or not you’re actually fit to be a parent in the first place. If anything, Silva brings up some interesting ideas about what constitutes the normal, American family of today and, in a way, sort of skewers it. There’s a scene involving a family dinner in which the idea of a gay marriage comes into play, and rather than coming off as preachy and obvious, it actually plays out both sides quite well. One side has reasoning for being against gay marriage that doesn’t have to do with the fact that their just bigots, and the other side who is for gay marriage, doesn’t go around spouting about it and how everybody should feel the same as they do.

And even the scenes with Kristen Wiig’s character, where the situation tends to get more and more awkward when more sperm needs to be produced, but really, it all goes away once Silva sets his sights elsewhere with the story. Also, it’s worth mentioning that Silva himself, despite being a talented writer and director, isn’t quite the best actor. Some of that has to do with the fact that he hasn’t quite perfected his English just yet, but another good portion of that has to do with the fact that his character is kind of boring in that he doesn’t really seem to have much more to him than just a bunch of whining and complaining and that’s it. We get some background on his own father, but really, it seems like filler and an excuse to give Silva more time to work in his own movie.

Wiig and especially, Tunde Adebimpe, fare a lot better off, but neither are flashy here. Wiig may not be as reserved as she’s been in some of her previous indies, but still shows a lot of heart and humanity, as well as her much-adored charm. As for Adebimpe, he’s a very calming and relaxing presence on screen, that goes a long way whenever it seems like Silva’s character is getting on our nerves and doesn’t really have anything interesting to say. It’s not just the character he’s playing, but also Adebimpe himself, who keeps Silva, as well as the rest of Nasty Baby grounded, even when it seems to go absolutely bonkers at some of the most random moments.

Consensus: Essentially two movies into one, Nasty Baby works better with the more insightful of the two, whereas the second story comes in, goes and then feels forced, making everything feel off and disjointed.

5 / 10

Either way, Kristen's gonna continue to be Kristen.

Either way, Kristen’s gonna continue to be Kristen.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

He Named Me Malala (2015)

The Taliban is bad.

As a young girl growing up in Pakistan, Malala Yousafzai has always had a lot of stuff to say on her mind. Most of that comes from the fact that her father was and has always been the same way, but seeing the world for what it is, Malala always had something to say, especially about the injustices in the world that so often tended to be occurring right around. Sob that’s why, when she realized that women in her native land were being treated terribly and not at all how women should be treated, as well as their education, Malala spoke up for the whole world to see and hear. Obviously, the Taliban wasn’t too happy about this, so they attacked her and her family with rocks and guns, actually going so far as to shoot Malala and leaving her in a coma. Unfettered, Malala eventually woke up and believe it or not, continued on with saying whatever it is that she wanted to say, and as a result of this, became a leading advocate for children’s rights and the youngest-ever Nobel Peace Prize Laureate.

Just another girl and a friend.

Just another girl and a friend.

There is nothing wrong with a movie being as completely enamored and in love with Malala Yousafzai. She’s a smart, independent, and compelling woman who, believe it or not, isn’t as old as her wise ways may have her appear to be. However, there is such a thing as maybe being “too much” of being enamored and in love with her? In a way, director Davis Guggenheim can’t keep himself away from focusing on everything great that Malala herself has done, said, and is still doing for the world around her, that he actually forgets to go any deeper or further into just who this woman is.

Sure, we know that she spoke out against the Taliban, was shot, and made into this hero, but how does she feel about that? Does she like it? Hate it? How does she get by in the world around her, with all of this fame and notoriety chasing her everywhere she goes? Also, how does she feel about what’s going on in the current political climate? Is she for all of Obama’s policies? What’s her feeling about ISIS? What does she feel should be done to stop terrorism as a whole?

All of these questions may seem a bit much, but are absolutely necessary for a movie like He Named Me Malala – one that doesn’t ask a single one of these questions.

Instead, Guggenheim focuses in on Malala’s significance, her achievements, and her whole family. There’s nothing wrong with this and, in ways, Guggenheim probably gets the best bits of insight out of these moments where it’s just Malala and her family hanging around one another, but really, there’s not enough of these moments. We get to hear a lot about her father, his upbringing, as well as her upbringing, and they can do a lot to fill in the spaces between the present and the past, but really, they amount to just giving us backstory.

What He Named Me Malala so desperately needs is substance, and a whole lot more of it. To just show Malala herself as a woman who stood-up for what she believed in and spoke her mind, only to then get punished for it all, isn’t quite enough. In a way, all you’re doing is writing a news article, with possible follow-up stories to occur. But considering that this is a documentary in which Guggenheim had all of this access to Malala, her family, as well as their thoughts and feelings on just about everything, it’s a wonder why he didn’t go any further.

Was it not to offend the actual subjects themselves? Or was he, once again, not too concerned with actually digging deep into these people’s inner-thoughts and ideas, and more about what sort of purpose they serve in today’s day and age?

Whatever choice it may be, what’s apparent is that Guggenheim could have done more here and really give us a compelling, if multidimensional look inside the mind of Malala. After all, the few moments where Guggenheim does seem to bring out the best within Malala, he gets some interesting tidbits of info that he could have actually ran wild. For one, he finds out that Malala, actually does miss her home and where she grow up, which is interesting considering that she’s not only banished from there, but will probably be killed on site, had she ever decided to actually walk back on that land.

Try saying that name three times fast.

Try saying that name three times fast.

Then, there’s also the dynamic she has with the rest of her family. In Malala’s case, she is the closest with her father, as they seem to be utterly in-sync with their thoughts and ideas for how a country should be ran and why. There’s clearly a love and adoration the two share for one another than cannot be stopped or toyed with. As for Malala’s relationship with her mother? Well, let’s just say it’s less loving and caring.

Of course, Malala and her mother love one another, but it doesn’t go to the certain lengths that it does with her and her father. In a way, her mother wants Malala to shut her mouth and not cause all of this trouble that they’ve already been in, which brings into consideration the question: Should Malala have opened her mouth? Or she should have stayed back and let all of the wrongdoings, continue to happen and live with it all until her dying day? The answer is obvious, but the question itself is an utterly compelling one that deserves to be brought up.

Then again, Guggenheim would have dug into it, either way. He would have just shown his appreciation for Malala and that would have been it. After all, that’s what he did and while there’s no harm or foul in doing so, it does make you wonder where the real, hard-hitting documentary is at?

Consensus: Despite its subject’s worthiness of being documented, He Named Me Malala is still a frustrating, if occasionally interesting look at the life of a woman who is already wiser beyond her years, but at the same time, is still very much a young kid, with a lot more going on in her life than just boys or school work.

4 / 10

He just can't help himself that Davis.

He just can’t help himself that Davis.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Look of Silence (2015)

People who do bad things, tend to not think that they did anything bad.

A few years ago, Joshua Oppenheimer made a documentary about the Indonesian killings that took place in and around time years of 1965 and 1966, in which people who were accused of being “communists” were all killed and sometimes, never heard from again. What was so strange about all of this, though, was how the people who actually went out and savagely murdered these so-called “communists”, were never put on trial or convicted for what were, seemingly, crimes. Instead, they continue to walk the Earth and live free among any all citizens, most of whom’s relatives, they either killed, or had a hand in killing. That’s why, in 2013, Oppenheimer decided to focus on these murderers, their viewpoints, and recollections of events in the Act of Killing. Now, Oppenheimer wants to turn his camera onto the other side of the discussion where we sit and watch as Adi, middle-aged man, who’s brother, Ramli, apparently was killed during this time, goes around and confronts the known killers for doing what they did and trying his hardest to understand why they did any of it. Obviously, the answers are a lot harder to come by.

60 Minutes with Adi is definitely something I can get behind.

60 Minutes with Adi is definitely something I can get behind.

The Act of Killing was a very rough watch, for many reasons. One was that it was really hard to sit there and listen to a bunch of known and celebrated killers, basically bragging about all of the people they killed, and do so in some very descriptive, especially gory ways. It’s hard to listen to a guy boast about how many girls he’s slept with, but it’s even harder to listen to someone, who is still walking free mind you, go on and on about people they murdered, the reasons why they did it, and why they feel absolutely no shame or guilt whatsoever.

Another reason why that movie was such a hard watch, too, was the fact that Oppenheimer doesn’t just leave the movie at that point. Instead, he takes it one step further in allowing us to see their inner psyche, as well as their realization with everything that they had done, the pain they caused, and just the actual number of supposed “communists” they had in fact, killed. In a way, that movie wasn’t really asking us to sympathize with these retched and terrible human beings, but more or less to see them as actual human beings.

Was it hard to do? Oh, of course it was!

Did it ultimately work out, though? Somehow, yes.

That’s why with the Look of Silence, Oppenheimer’s viewpoint not only changes, but so does the impact his movie has on the audience. Now, we have someone to sympathize with. Now, we have better questions being asked. And now, most of all, we get to see these countless killers actually get everything thrown in their face, just as they deserve to. While Oppenheimer went to some risky and daring places with the material and footage he was able to get with the Act of Killing, here, he takes a step back and allows for the would-be protagonist, Adi, take over the reigns as interviewer and provocateur, and it really works.

Not only is Adi a sympathetic figure, regardless of what we know about his family and their history, he actually seems like a pretty level-headed guy, even despite the situation he’s been thrown into. All things considered, he could have easily grown-up angry, pissed-off and ready to blow people’s heads away, knowing what he knows about what happened to his brother, but instead, he decided to push all that to the side, focus on the future, and remember that he’s got his own life to live and legacy to maintain, which means that he had to get used to seeing a lot of his brother’s killers, sometimes for work, and other times, just for social situations. It’s actually ridiculous just how much of a tolerance that Adi and, I assume, others need to have when it comes to living in Indonesia, but it also drives home the point that, sometimes, it’s best to just leave things in the past.

In this situation, however, that is not the case.

He even makes glasses for these guys! Why is he so nice!

He even makes glasses for these guys! Why is he so nice!

Adi really does level in to these cast of characters, all of whom are either the killers themselves, or close relatives of said killers, going deeper and further than you’d expect him to go. Sure, his interview style can tend to get very predictable – he starts off with a few softball questions, asks the big, “Why”, shows evidence proving that the killers did in fact, “kill”, they get pissed-off, threaten his life, and the rest starts to teeter-off from there in awkward, but revealing silences. Still though, each and every interview is more and more insightful than the one to come before it, especially when we start to see just how obtuse a lot of these killers are to admitting, face to face, with another person that they had a hand or two in killing a family member. One whom Adi never had the chance to meet, unfortunately enough, but it makes even more sense why he would sink to the certain depths that he does here, trying to scourge up any information he can from these killers, as well as the information left over from the previous movie.

That said, there’s a feeling that the Look of Silence ends at a very abrupt moment. However, this could be intentional.

Seeing as how the movie is, essentially, about the many, countless lives lost in this mass holocaust of sorts, it only makes sense that there’s hardly any “moving forward”, or “looking past” moment; people have died, everybody left on Earth is still around, suffering and sad, and the tension is still felt. While Adi himself realizes that it’s best to look towards the future, he also knows that in order to grow stronger as a community, it’s also best to remember the sort of tragedies and wrong-doings that have been done, in a way to make sure that they never occur again.

Of course, I could also be talking about Germany, the U.S., or any other country out there who has dealt with one moment in their nation’s history that they frown upon and remind its citizens of its significance, but in this particular discussion, Adi reminds Indonesia that not only did his own brother die for, what seem to be, idiotic accusations based nowhere in reality, but remind others as well. That’s why these questions need answers, even if they never actually come. Maybe that’s the point: Life will continue to go on for most of these people, with questions still hanging in the air and over their heads. Nobody will answer them. They’ll just continue to live life, hope it all gets better, and people eventually forget about what happened.

Problem is, nobody will.

Now, who’s fault is that?

Consensus: More emotional and tragic than the its predecessor, the Look of Silence is also, unfortunately, more frustrating with questions intentionally never being answered, but plenty of ideas about society and the human condition still being brought up and left to dangle.

8 / 10

There's the future, everybody! Don't screw it up!

There’s the future, everybody! Don’t screw it up!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

Don’t worry, fellas: Girls definitely think about sex more than us.

You go through a lot when you’re 15 years old. For Minnie (Bel Powley), this is especially true. Not only is she going through that transitional period in her life where her boobs get bigger and her sex drive is becoming more and more heavy, she’s also now started hooking-up with her mom’s boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). Although mommy (Kristen Wiig) doesn’t suspect a thing, Minnie and Monroe still want to keep it a secret enough so that they continue on to have fun, regardless of the serious consequences surrounding them. But considering that Minnie is still very young and has a life to live, she goes out searching for other men on her own. Sometimes, she finds winners, other times, she doesn’t. But most of the time, she always finds herself back into the illustrious, sexy arms of Monroe. Same goes for Monroe, who can’t seem to keep his eyes, as well as his penis away from Minnie, no matter how hard he tries to remember the fact that he’s with her mom. Regardless of all this though, Minnie’s just trying to get by in life, for the time being, and if that means having a little sex, then so be it. She’s just happy being herself.

Ah, who doesn't remember that awkward car ride with your mom's boyfriend who you secretly want to bang?

Ah, who doesn’t remember that awkward car ride with your mom’s boyfriend who you secretly want to bang?

We’ve seen this kind of coming-of-ager done before, but where the Diary of a Teenage Girl does service well to its source material is that it never, not for a single second, seems to judge its characters for behaving how they do, or being just who they are.

Case in point: Minnie.

Not only is Minnie your classic case of a teenage girl going through the process of womanhood, she’s also an understandable and relateable one, to both girls and boys. Minnie’s at that point in her life where’s seeing her body go through all of these sorts of transformations, understand the world around her a bit differently, and most of all, be horny basically all of the time. She acts out in some devious ways, however, no matter how far she goes with her sexuality, writer/director Marielle Heller never makes the false step in judging her.

And as Minnie, Bel Powley does a wonderful job, not only being able to show us the frustration that can go through this woman’s mind as she’s coming to terms with everything in and around her, but also the delight. Right from the very beginning, when she has sex, you can tell that there’s a certain bright glow and charm to Powley that’s not hard to love or enjoy; after awhile, that same glow and charm starts to win you over, even if the character of Minnie herself, seems to make some tricky decisions throughout. Which isn’t to say that it’s bad for a girl to act-out sexually, but when it’s with your mother’s boyfriend, who also happens to be a bit of a self-destructive being in his own right, well then, some judgement is deserved.

But once again, the movie never does any of the judgment and instead, allows her to be herself.

This goes for the rest of the cast and crew. Wiig’s mother character isn’t seen as a mean, cruel and despicable woman who is mean to those who love and surround her – if anything, she’s more sad. She’s still getting over a divorce and taking control of her life, but also knows that she’s getting older and losing out on options she once had in her life. It’s a tender performance that we don’t tend to see from Wiig, yet, it still works all the same.

Same goes for Skarsgård who, in the past few or so years, has proven himself to be quite the acting-talent, when given the right material to roll with. Sure, he was hot and sexy on True Blood, but that show didn’t really allow for there to be any semblance of subtlety or humanity, however, with movies like Melancholia, What Maisie Knew, and the East, he’s shown that he’s gotten a knack for taking certain characters, and showing that there’s more to them that just meets the eyes. At first glance, Monroe may seem like a total and complete loser, 70’s porn-‘stache and everything, but really, you start to feel a bit of sympathy. Whether or not he actually has feelings for Minnie is left up in the air, but the slight possibility that he does remain in the air and it’s what keeps him, at most, a compelling character.

"You look a lot like your daughter."

“You look a lot like your daughter.”

Oh and as for the movie itself? Yeah, it’s still pretty good.

However, in today’s day and age, it’s really hard to figure out a way to make coming-of-age themes really resonant or change anybody’s life, considering that almost everything’s been said, in all sorts of ways. That’s not to say that the Diary of a Teenage Girl doesn’t find some interesting avenues to look down to uncover what it means to be a kid going through their own sexual transformation, it’s just that a lot of it’s been done, said, and studied for so long, that if you aren’t bringing anything and everything to the table, then sometimes, yeah, it won’t hit as hard.

Still, what the movie has to say is fine enough, which is that being going through puberty can, more often than not, suck. You’ll go through all sorts of changes that you don’t see coming, your emotions will go from dead to electric in the span of a minute, and your mind will probably be thinking way too many things at one time that you’d want it to, but the fact that you’re still kind of a kid, makes it somewhat okay. The world’s not depending on you just yet, so have sex, drink, smoke, party, and have a good time, because sooner or later, before you know it, life is going to come a callin’, and it’s going to be up to you to see whether you answer it, or leave it at the door.

The choose is up to you, but for now, enjoy the party.

Consensus: The Diary of a Teenage Girl deals with familiar themes within the coming-of-age genre, but also finds ways to unravel heart, humanity, and most of all, humor within them, especially due to solid cast.

7 / 10

Yes, girls really just wanna have fun.

Yes, girls really just wanna have fun.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Grandma (2015)

Sometimes, the oldest people are the coolest.

Sage (Julia Garner) just had sex with her boyfriend (Nat Wolff) and, well, wouldn’t you know it? Turns out that she’s pregnant. So, rather than keeping it around and having to deal with all of that in her young life, she decides that she wants to get rid of it and have an abortion. Issue is, she doesn’t have the money. And even though her mom (Marcia Gay Harden) has plenty of it, she doesn’t want to bother her with the situation. So, that’s when she turns to her hip, cool grandmother, famed poet Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin), who is going through some issues of her own. One, she just broke up with her girlfriend (Judy Greer), and secondly, she doesn’t really have any money. So this means that the two will have to band together and search for money anywhere they can. For Sage, this mostly means going to the father of the unborn child and that’s it, but for Elle? Well, this means that she’s got to go way back in time to all of her friends and confidantes over the past many years, hit them up for money, and promise them favors she doesn’t really seem to keen on holding up.

I'd take the ride if she was offering it.

I’d take the ride if she was offering it.

A typical Grandma, you see?

Grandma is the type of vehicle that someone of Lily Tomlin’s talents deserves. Though people have loved seeing Tomlin show up every so often in random films, some good, some bad, it seems like she’s never been given that extra time to show and remind the world why she kicks so much ass. Heck, even Grace & Frankie, a show that’s purpoted as “Lily Tomlin’s”, really seems to be wasting her on tired, old hippie clichés.

Something that Lily Tomlin herself is much better than.

That’s why Grandma works as well as it does; not only does it give Tomlin the chance to shine and show the world the true talents that have been lying within her for so very long, but it also presents a solid character worthy of our attention, care and, possibly, love. Because as Elle Reid, Tomlin plays the typical stereotype of an aging lesbian who does what she wants, says what she wants, kicks whoever she wants to in the nuts, doesn’t give a flyin’ hoot about whatever anybody else says, and bangs whomever she oh so pleases. Are there people out there like this? Of course! But is this a bit of a bore to see?

Oh definitely!

However, that’s why Tomlin is so good here, as she not only transcends that stereotype, but shows that there’s a reason behind the way she acts. Not only is she still heartbroken and destroyed over the death of her long-time girlfriend, but she also’s coming to terms with her own mortality, as a whole. That’s why, on this little road trip Elle and Sage take, we start to learn more and find out about Elle herself – not just through what people tell us about her, but how they act towards her, even after all of these years. It’s this kind of story-telling and character-development that isn’t just smart, but engaging, as we don’t really know just what Elle’s life has been, but we get a good idea through the constant interactions she has with those around her.

And every step of the way, Tomlin is there to make it work. A lot of the “funny” dialogue that she has to work with can occasionally come off as cloying, and sometimes, annoying, but that’s only because the movie feels as if it has to present Elle as a wise-cracking granny. Having her just be a no-bullcrap woman is fine as is, all the added-on punch-lines and jokes at other’s expense, don’t really matter or work. There’s one painful scene with Nat Wolff, where he ends up getting kicked in the nuts and it’s played for laughs, in a shocking. almost outrageous way, but it never works and feels like a scene thrown in there because Wolff himself decided that he had a day or two to film his scene.

Who wouldn't want the kid from Paper Towns, who also bares a striking resemblance to Adam Goldberg, as their baby daddy?

Who wouldn’t want the kid from Paper Towns, who also bares a striking resemblance to Adam Goldberg, as their baby daddy?

There are a few other weird scenes that play-out just like that, but it’s always Tomlin who keeps these moments, as well as these characters, grounded in some sort of reality that makes sense and can be, at the very least, relateable.

Aside from Tomlin, the rest of Grandma is pretty stacked with some heavy-hitters, all of whom are game for Paul Weitz’s script, adding in their own two cents whenever necessary. Julia Garner doesn’t really need to do much as Sage, instead just sit there and let Tomlin do all of the work, but she’s fine as is; Judy Greer gets a few solid scenes as Elle’s former-lover; Marcia Gay Harden is funny and exciting as Sage’s mom, which makes me wish that this probably was a movie about Sage, Elle and her character, all hangin’ around one another and getting into the occasional squabble; and there’s a few nice appearances from Colleen Camp, Laverne Cox, John Cho, and the late, great Elizabeth Peña.

But the real star of the supporters is Sam Elliott, playing one of Elle’s former lovers, as well as ex-husband, and gives perhaps one of his most “human” performances since Thank You For Smoking. This isn’t to say that all of Elliott’s little pop-ups in random pieces haven’t been unwelcome or bad – it’s more that it seems like he’s playing that same kind of character he’s been known for all along and rather than upending that appearance, he’s been fine with just staying the same, adding the grizzle whenever he feels necessary. Nothing wrong with that, but watching his performance here, it makes you wish that he was more demanding with his own roles, as he’s not only a bright spark of liveliness this movie needed, but gives us everything and anything we need to know about Elle and the sort of affect she had on those people in her life. We get the basic idea of what happened between them both, but really, we don’t know everything and that’s fine.

Grandma isn’t about knowing everything. It’s about the little details that can sometimes make people’s lives the most interesting.

Consensus: With a solid, but rare leading role from Lily Tomlin, Grandma works because of its gentle, tender care and attention to its characters and heartfelt themes, without overdoing it, even if the comedy doesn’t always work.

7.5 / 10

Daughters become grandmothers, but turn to mothers. Why am I quoting John Mayer?

Daughters become grandmothers, but turn to mothers. Why am I quoting John Mayer?0

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Goosebumps (2015)

Welcome back, nightmares.

Pissed-off about having to move from the big city to a small town in Delaware, teenager Zach Cooper (Dylan Minnette) is already restless. However, when he meets the beautiful girl, Hannah (Odeya Rush), living right next door, he can’t help but fall head-over-heels and get easily distracted. But soon, Zach finds out that Hannah’s father is famous author R. L. Stine (Jack Black), whose best-known work is with the Goosebumps book series. And even though Stine makes it so that Zach doesn’t see his daughter, because these two are teens, they find a way to do so, regardless of what daddy wants the most and unfortunately, it leads to some very tragic circumstances. The main which being that the original copies of Stine’s books open up and release all sorts of evil monsters, goblins, ghouls and dummies get released out into the open, where they begin to wreak havoc on just about every citizen of this small town. Seeing a show they need to fix this bad situation, Zach, Hannah, and R.L. band together to try and stop this predicament from getting even more dangerous than it already is – which will mostly rely on having R.L. create a new book.

There's the Abominable Snowman.

There’s the Abominable Snowman.

If you were a kid growing up in the 90’s, chances are, you read a Goosebumps book. It doesn’t matter which title, or which one (I did prefer the “choose your own destination” ones later on in life when I became older and boring), because you were intrigued by the book-covers, the titles, and most of all, the idea of being apart of the cultural wave that it seemed like all of your fellow friends were abuzz about. And even if you didn’t read a single Goosebumps book, or care to bother to figure out what they’re about, you still got the gist of them all: They’re scary stories, written to have kids scared to go to sleep at night.

Which is why the Goosebumps movie is perfect for any and all audience-members, as it doesn’t matter if you’ve read a single book, or not – either way, you’re going to enjoy the movie.

That Goosebumps isn’t made to just appeal to the dedicated fanboys of the franchise, already puts it in line with some of the better kids movies. Though there’s definitely some scary stuff that may take some kids, as well as parents off-guard, there’s nothing here that’s meant to offend or disrupt anybody’s natural-born home life. If anything, the Goosebumps movie sets out to entertain you, make you feel safe (which is odd considering that it’s supposed to be a “spooky tale”), have you laugh, and, if everything works out perfectly, give some kids newfound interest in the books that haven’t quite picked up steam since the early days of the 21st Century.

So in that general aspect, yeah, Goosebumps is a fine movie. It doesn’t set out to light the world on fire and is, for most of the people who don’t know much about the franchise to begin with, accessible. There’s no real in-jokes or references to the books that will surprise people or have them pointing at the screen in self-adulation, but mostly, just laugh in the way you would with any normal comedy. Except, in this movie’s case, it’s a kids movie and a solid one, at that.

And this is definitely thanks to the fact that Jack Black’s R.L. Stine is actually kind of a dick.

There's, of course, Slappy.

There’s, of course, Slappy.

Even though the movie got the go-ahead from Stine himself, it’s still interesting to see how he’s portrayed as a bit of a pompous a-hole who loves to brag about his books, doesn’t like to be mentioned in the same sentence as “that hack” Stephen King, and likes to explain the difference between hims domestic and worldwide sales. Sure, he’s not a total and complete deuche that you want to punch him in the face, but he’s still one in that entertaining way where you want to hear him talk about himself more and more, just because he’s so ridiculously in-love with himself, that it’s not hard to laugh at it all. Of course, Black is to be credited with this, too, as he doesn’t fully dive into “Jack Black territory” that most of us have come to know, expect and basically hate, and shows that he can a solid screen-presence on the screen, even if he isn’t the star of the show or the one everyone has come to seen.

And heck, after the Brink, I think Jack Black deserves any kind of love he can get.

Aside from Black’s Stine, everybody else does a solid job, too. Though I’ve seen Dylan Minnette play this role before as the self-aware, but everyday teenager, he’s still likable enough to let it work its magic; Odeya Rush is, of course, beautiful, but her character has a bit more personality to her than just that; and Amy Ryan, though may seem oddly-placed here, still works fine as Zach’s mom who occasionally shows up and delights us all.

Then again, when is Amy Ryan not a delight!

Consensus: Like most kids movies, Goosebumps doesn’t try to re-invent any wheel, but instead, entertain the whole family with fun, humor, and a nostalgic adoration for its source material that definitely deserves a new audience.

6 / 10

And, uhm, some hug ant-creature-thing. Yeah, don't know if I read that book.

And, uhm, some hug ant-creature-thing. Yeah, don’t know if I read that book.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Walk (2015)

Everybody in NYC just gets to do what they want!

Frenchman Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) had lifelong dreams of entertaining huge groups of people that he would literally do anything to garner people’s love and adoration. For instance, at a young age, he would perform acts on the streets where he would do all sorts of magic tricks and whatnot, ask for money at the end, and then, get chased down by police, sometimes getting, and other times, not. However, Philippe felt as if his life wasn’t fulfilled to he most extreme point yet, which is why, by in the early 70’s, he got the idea of walking across a wire between the two towers of the newly-built World Trade Center. Problem was, as you could expect, that security would be tight and tough on this plan, which is why Philippe, along with a few of his pals, got together a crack team to pull it all off. Whether or not they’d be able to pull it off was one obstacle they had to overcome, but actually making sure that the daredevil Philippe himself would actually survive the stunt and not fall to his death, was a whole other one to digest and come to terms with.

Guess they've never seen Man on Wire?

Guess they’ve never seen Man on Wire?

If you’ve seen Man on Wire, you’ve basically seen the Walk. Sure, one’s a documentary, whereas the other is just a theatrical re-telling of that whole story, with glitzy and glamorous actors, visuals, and a tad bit more background on things that may have needed more clarification the first time around. Does it really matter which one you see first, or at all? Sort of, yes. Definitely see the documentary, but if you just so happen to catch the Walk before that one and think there isn’t something more to the story than just a dude walks a tight-rope across the Twin Towers, then please, go see Man on Wire as soon as possible.

You’ll be surprised and happy you did, especially since the Walk is, for lack of a better term, mediocre.

However, it does have good qualities in that it features Robert Zemeckis, once again, playing around with neat and cool-looking visuals that definitely grab your attention. Mostly though, this comes at the end of the flick where we’ve wadded through all of the character and story-stuff and now, after much time and dedication, finally get to see as Petit walks across the wire and perform for thousands and thousands of on-lookers. Is it worth the wait? Kind of, yeah.

What Zemeckis always does so well with his movies, rather than focus in on the visuals, is how he makes them all seem so real, and almost as if you’re right there, at that exact moment while it’s happening. Though there’s definitely a few shots during this final sequence that look a bit chintzy, for the most part, Zemeckis does a good enough job at putting us right then and there with Petit, not knowing what’s going to happen, or how this whole stunt is going to work out, if at all. Of course, if you’ve seen Man on Wire previously, you already know what happens to Petit, but still, there’s a small feeling of suspense in the air that carries this final sequence on longer than it probably should have.

Then again, like I’ve said before, this final sequence comes after everything else Zemeckis has to give us with the Walk and it’s quite painful to sit through.

Most of this has to do with the fact that the script is very hokey and already suffers from the problem that the documentary on this tale has already been told, and it’s not just that it was amazing, but also painted a perfect portrait of just about everyone and everything involved with this miraculous stunt. Sure, there was maybe one or two points of conversation not touched on in the documentary, but really, that’s just nitpicking for the sake of nitpicking – basically, Man on Wire does an amazing job of giving us every side and factor of this story to make it worth telling and getting invested in.

Okay, going to throw-up now.

Okay, going to throw-up now.

The Walk, on the other hand, doesn’t know how to do any of that, so instead, just gives us a whole bunch of scenes where Joseph Gordon-Levitt, using a very silly French accent, runs around all spirited and such, performing tricks, and always exclaiming that he’s “going to walk between the Twin Towers!” Granted, this is most definitely how the real life Petit was at the time, but really, it goes on for quite some time. Then, Ben Kingsley walks in as his mentor of sorts, and hams it up so incredibly that it’s actually quite fun to watch. All of his scenes are just him teaching Petit how to walk a tight-rope and somehow relating those teachings to the rest of all that life has to offer, but Kingsley seems to be having fun, so why not!

And Gordon-Levitt seems to be having fun, too, but really, his character is so one-note, that it hardly matters if he’s trying. It’s already made abundantly clear to us early on that the only form of Petit we’re going to get is the fun-loving, constantly excited, joyous person, and that’s it. Gordon-Levitt is more than up to the task of playing this character and shining more light on his more human-features, but really, Zemeckis doesn’t quite care about all that. What he really wants to do is get to the Twin Towers, show us that his visuals are as rad as they could ever be, and remind us that a man like Petit existed, whether any of us care or not.

But hey, at least it gives everyone a movie to see! In 3D, no less!

Consensus: With a hokey script, the Walk suffers from treading the same waters that the way better documentary Man on Wire did, even if it does offer some fun and lively jolts by the end.

6 / 10

Yeah, uhm, don't look down.

Yeah, uhm, don’t look down.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Everest (2015)

Staying at home is fine, too.

Mount Everest is considered to be one of the greatest snowy mountains to climb up and sights to see, ever. That’s why, in March 1996, there were a few commercial expeditions all getting ready together and prepared to climb the mountain, even if they knew it can sometimes be rough and not so lovely, even if you do reach the top and complete the trip. One group in particular was lead by Adventure Consultants’ Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) who, with his latest group with the likes of Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), who’s dealing with some marital problems of his own, as well as mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), who is apparently using the trip as a way to prove himself to his wife, as well as some sponsors of his. However, these two are just a slight few of the many who decided to travel up the mountain, reach the top, and achieve their goal. There were plenty others like traveling journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) and Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal), just to name a few, but no matter how many there were, they still all faced the extreme weather conditions and storms that would soon sweep their area.

If Everest can take these three on, it can take on anyone!

If Everest can take these three on, it can take on anyone!

When all is said and done, all Everest really has to say about climbing and traveling and all that fun stuff is, that well, “it’s really hard to do”. For one, you have to have a whole lot of money to actually get the right treatment. Secondly, you have to train and prepare for it so much that, it comes to an eventual point where you don’t know how to live your own normal life, in normal society. And then, of course, there’s the risk-factor where, any wrong turn, slip, slide, or move in any way, can actually result in your fatal death. And while Everest can sometimes work as a way to get more and more tourists up there to check out the mountain for what it is, at the same time, that’s not at all the truth.

Because as the movie tells us, people die there. In fact, a lot of people.

And that’s about all Everest really has to say about this one particular, if true, story. People got cold, people got swept up in the huge storm that began to form right over them, and yes, people died. Of course, it’s very sad and there is no way of shining any sort of light or hope on it, however, there is something to be said for a movie that presents these deaths in a surprising manner, but also doesn’t shed any thought on them. It’s almost as if every character in Everest who dies, was around not to just die, but to also show us that hiking up a mountain like Everest is as scary and as terrifying as you’d expect it to be.

Which is a huge shame, because the cast here is pretty well-stacked and great. One can only assume that this great deal of talent got together in a movie like this because the paycheck was nice and there wasn’t too much heavy-lifting needed to be done, but still, you can tell that everybody here is trying and giving it their all. Jason Clarke finally gets a chance to shine and be charismatic for once, here as Rob Hall – somebody you just feel so incredibly safe and comfortable with, that you’ll almost forget your climbing one of the biggest mountains in all of the world. Though we get to see that he’s a generally nice guy who takes care of his free-loading buddies, picks up those that have fallen down, and loves his wife, it’s really Clarke who does most of the work here and shows just what he can do with such a limited-role.

Because frankly, everyone else’s characters don’t get much to do, either. And once again, it’s a total shame.

Josh Brolin gets to show us some semblance of humanity as Beck Weathers, the character we expect to be “the villain” of this whole story, only to realize that he’s nicer than expected; John Hawkes’ Doug Hansen is a bit of a corny character, but Hawkes is so likable that it almost doesn’t matter; Michael Kelly’s character feels like he serves more importance to the overall story, but doesn’t really get to stretch any of that out; Jake Gyllenhaal is hardly here as Scott Fisher, someone who is constantly drunk, miserable, tired, and hopped-up on some sort of drug, which Gyllenhaal works fine with, even if we don’t get any sort of background as to why; Emily Watson and Sam Worthington stay in the safe parts of Everest, for the most part, but still show enough humanity as much as they can; and Robin Wright and Keira Knightley are mostly downgraded to “wife roles” where they sit at home, watch over the house, and have occasional conversations with their spouses.

That snotty Keira, all tucked away and cozy in her warm home.

That snotty Keira, all tucked away and cozy in her warm home.

In case you couldn’t tell, that’s a lot of characters for a two-hour movie. So, it’s probably no surprise that a good handful are just left to act for a scene or two, and leave it at that. Most of them are effective, but overall, you can tell that, had the screenplay been more with their interest at-heart, something special would have happened.

That said, Everest is still pretty hard to look away from and get discouraged from, mostly because it does the job right in painting this storm as one of the most terrifying ones ever.

Director Baltasar Kormákur obviously didn’t set out to make some sort of thought-provoking piece of drama, but instead, wrap us in on a suspense-ride from beginning, to end. And honestly, it kind of works. The movie not only looks beautiful, but truly does make you feel as if you’re there at Everest, watching as each and everyone of these characters grapple with each one’s lives and try their hardest to stay the hell alive. Honestly, once the storm kicks in, which isn’t until about an hour in, is only when the movie really gets going, but it’s so enriching and compelling, that I was able to forgive it for all of the missteps it made before.

Even if the cast gets wasted on roles that are way too limited, there’s still the feeling that, deep down inside, Kormákur wanted to chronicle this tragedy. Sure, he went about it in such a manipulative manner, but he’s a film-director – how could he not want to make a little bit of money out of other people’s suffering?

Consensus: Despite not feeling as if it’s fully up-to-par with the extreme talents of the ensemble, Everest still works a chilly thrill-ride that keeps you enamored with the spectacle, so long as you don’t try to look too deep enough.

7 / 10

"Yeah, it's uh, it's pretty cold up here."

“Yep. Still pretty cold up here.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

45 Years (2015)

A lot can happen in 45 years.

Kate Mercer (Charlotte Rampling) has been with her husband, Geoff (Tom Courtenay), for many years – 45 to be exact. So that’s why, after a slight mishap five years ago, they’re getting ready and prepping-up to celebrate the 45th anniversary of their wedding, with a big ball full of friends, booze, food, and dancing. And while it’s a very joyous time for the couple, something from Geoff’s past comes back to life and not only disrupts his life, but also Kate’s. All of a sudden, a lover from Geoff’s past has been found dead in the Alps, which leaves Geoff wondering just where or what his life would have been, had he decided to stick with her and not get married to Kate. As a result of this, Kate herself starts to question her own marriage and life with Geoff, realizing that she may not be the ultimate woman and also trying to come to terms with the fact that this is not only the man she’s spent a huge portion of her life with, but probably will for the rest of it.

Men are always focusing on food, whereas the women are always spent looking out into the air.

Men are always focusing on food, whereas the women are always spent looking out into the air.

There’s really not a lot going on in 45 Years, except for Charlotte Rampling and everything that she puts into it. It’s probably no surprise to anyone who’s paid attention to film over the past decades, to know and understand that Rampling is a great actress. It doesn’t matter what she shows up in, for no matter how long or short, Rampling comes, she conquers, and she reminds you why great actresses like her still exist.

That’s why it’s probably no surprise she got nominated for an Oscar (for the record, we hope she proves these prognosticators wrong.)

However, it’s not just her who makes the movie great, as writer/director Andrew Haigh does what he seemed to do with Weekend and the cancelled-too-soon Looking, and that’s give us simple, small tales about simple, small people, and yet, not make them simple. Rather than just giving us a story about a wife and husband trying to connect after being together for nearly 45 years, Haigh takes it up one notch and gives us a reason to see why these characters deserve our attention and thoughts. While it’s a bit silly that the recent news of a person’s death is what causes all of these issues so coincidentally, it still works because Haigh takes his time with these character, this situation, and most importantly, their lives.

After all, while watching 45 Years, we never forget the fact that we’re watching two characters, who have been living and loving one another for so very long, are still doing the same thing. Obviously though, they’re older, more tired, and perhaps, more bored with one another. However, rather than making all of this seem like a slog to wade through, Haigh makes sure the smallest bit of detail catches our attention and have us think, even when it seems like nothing’s happening at all. These two could just be sitting there, having tea, talking about past times, certain people they do, or don’t like, and/or just doing nothing at all but staring into space, and still, there’s something interesting about watching it all happen.

In a way, it’s as if we’re watching a documentary of two people who have been together for so very long, just live life.

This seems to be the exact feeling Haigh is aiming for and it works make this situation, as well as these characters, more relatable and universal. It’s interesting that Haigh, someone who was pegged as “the next big voice for Queer cinema”, decided that he didn’t want to be pigeon-holed and give his own take on a relationship that, quite frankly, anyone could have. It’s also worth noting that it’s great to see a movie about two near-70 characters, who love one another and aren’t really doing much other than just discussing their past and soon-to-be future. While most studios feel as if these aren’t the kinds of stories that get butts into the seats, they’re still probably the most honest and, above all else, sad, because well, this is how we’re all going to end up one day, if we’re lucky.

Whether or not it makes money, shouldn’t really matter, but such is the case as to why we don’t really get many movies like 45 Years.

And yet, at the same time, the movie still comes back to Charlotte Rampling and what she’s able to do with this performance as Kate Mercer.

Oh, Char. Take it easy, girl.

Oh, Char. Take it easy, girl.

From the very beginning, we don’t know much about Kate, other than that she loves her husband, her house, and her dog, and that’s about it. But as time goes on and the movie develops, we start to realize that she’s in desperate need in something out of her life; even though she’s older and has seen all that she’s needed to see, she still feels underdeveloped in some way, shape, or fashion. That’s why, when this tragedy from her husband’s past comes back into the fray, she doesn’t really know what to do or make sense of, so therefore, she tries her hardest to depend on herself for just about anything she needs.

And Rampling, even with the smallest look in her eye, tilt of her head, or walk in a general direction, she makes you think. You never know full well what’s going on in this character’s head and it’s hard to imagine what a lesser-actress would have done with such a non-showy role such as this, but that’s why we have actresses like Rampling to remind us why she deserves every role she gets. It should be noted that Tom Courtenay does a solid job as her husband, too, but really, he’s here to frustrate and anger Kate, as well as she he should. In a way, he sort of becomes unlikable and unsympathetic, but then you get to thinking, too: He’s also got to be thinking of how it feels to have spent the past 45 years with this one woman and one woman only.

In some ways, it feels like 45 Years should have been, or at least, could have been that movie. Though it’s great to see the movie focus in on Kate and her issues, it still would have been great to know and understand just what it was that Geoff was going through, especially considering his situation is all the more tragic. Perhaps we would have had a longer movie? Or maybe, even a better movie?

Who knows?

All I know is that, even though she won’t win, Charlotte Rampling definitely makes the case for the Best Actress Oscar.

Consensus: With thoughtful, heartfelt writing, and a superb performance from Charlotte Rampling, 45 Years is a slow, but interesting look at marriage, as complicated as it may be.

8 / 10

45 years? Maybe too much time.

45 years? Maybe too much time.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Shaun the Sheep Movie (2015)

Good thing this movie wasn’t bad.

Shaun is a sheep who, for the longest time, has been forced to do the same thing each and everyday. He’s always made to stay within the confines of the fences around him, allowed to play with his fellow other sheep, and at the end of the day, get sheered and continue on with the next day. However, one day, sick and tired of just doing the same crap day in and day out, Shaun decides to take the day off and have some fun for once. However, Shaun gets a lot more than just fun and is now realizing that perhaps breaking from the schedule maybe wasn’t the best idea. There’s a small mix-up with the Farmer, a caravan, and a hill that lead Shaun, as well as the rest of the flock to the Big City and now, it’s being left up to Shaun to gather up the flock and the Farmer, and return safely to home, all safe, sound, and in one piece.

One sheep.

One sheep.

There’s not much of a plot to Shaun the Sheep, nor does there need to be – it’s just fine in its own, simple skin where it isn’t asking much of its audience to follow along with, but still pay attention. For instance, due to the fact that this is an Aardman piece, it goes without saying that there’s a bunch of small jokes, visual gags, and bits of humor that need some sort of attention from the brain to not just understand, but actually laugh at. Sure, the animation itself is great to look and still, even after all these years, impressively original, given the general landscape of the world of animation, but really, it’s the jokes here that set Aardman apart from the rest of the competition.

And with Shaun the Sheep, they can rest safely knowing that their streak has not been broken.

As is the case with most of Aardman pictures, the humor can be considered easily accessible to all parties who decide to check this out. Because a good portion of the audience who will want to actually see this are in fact, little kids who don’t really get certain jokes, or pay attention at all, it would make sense that they’d be given all the usual slapstick that you’d expect them to laugh and point at. But Aardman takes it one step further and also doesn’t forget about the adults who are mostly dragged-out to see these movies and give them a little something to laugh and point at in their own right.

However, unlike other comedies like Shrek or Despicable Me, they aren’t given a bunch of modern-day pop-culture references that would show the creators as being “hip” and “with the times”, but instead, just witty jokes that continue to build and build and build. Eventually, yes, there’s a pay-off to a lot of these jokes and while they don’t always land as well as certain others, they do, for the most part, all bring a chuckle or two to the movie and shows what can happen when you put just a bit more thought into writing humor. It’s not just how funny the end of the joke is, or what it’s punchline is, it’s how you get to said punchline, as well as what you’re able to do to try an distract the audience so that they can be surprised when said punchline does arrive and actually makes them laugh.

I’m definitely putting a lot more thought and process into Shaun the Sheep‘s humor than I probably should, but so be it.

Two sheep.

Two sheep.

The people behind Shaun the Sheep clearly care for their product and aren’t just trying to cash in on some sort of name-brand that will either be appealing to kids and families, or their target audience. Yes, they know that the people who have been coming to see their movies for years, will continue to do so because they know that their brand of animation is far more smarter and thoughtful than most others out there (aka, crap like Norm of the North), but they also do realize that other people who don’t pay attention to the substance and effort they put into their movies, may want to go see the movies as well, mostly due to the fact that their animation. But instead of dumbing themselves down to the highest-bidder, they keep with their original identity, and keep things fun, exciting, lovely, and most importantly, hilarious.

And sure, Shaun the Sheep may not be the key piece of animation that Aardman proves its dominance with, but it’s an obvious sign as to why they do still work, given all of the movies they’ve done. Kids love to watch the goofy-looking characters fall, do silly things, hurt themselves quite a lot, and yet still get back up, whereas parents love to watch them set jokes up, continue to add more to said jokes, and then, at the end, deliver on them. In other words, everybody’s a winner with Aardman’s movies and it makes me, a film-lover, happy to know that there are people out there who still care for animation and aren’t just leeching off name recognition or popularity – if anything, they’re just trying to give the people what they want, as well as staying dedicated to the die-hard who continue to come back to them, time and time again.

Now if only Pixar remained that faithful.

Consensus: Shaun the Sheep is another piece of Aardman animation that not only looks great, but also flows nicely, is funny for all ages, and perfect for the whole family to sit down, not watch for too long, and enjoy – something all animation should be.

8 / 10

So....many...sheee...zzzzzz

So….many…sheee…zzzzzz

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz