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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Bob Balaban

Wormwood (2017)

The government lies? Say no more!

It was a cold, winter night in 1953 and Frank Olson, an American biological warfare scientist and CIA employee, was found dead on the sidewalk, just below his hotel window. The idea was that he through himself, due to paranoid visions, depression, and a general sense of craziness somewhere in his mind. However, as the years have gone by, and more information has come out, there’s been more mystery surrounding the death of this man. Now, many decades later, his son, Eric, is telling the story the way he sees it, with all sorts of shady characters coming in and out, information being swept under the rug, conspiracy theories, and oh yeah, lots and lots of LSD.

PIGS!!

Wormwood is typical-form for Errol Morris, one of the greatest living documentarians we have around. At first, Wormwood seems like a simple case of a man, pushed to the edge of his own mind, having to kill himself and get rid of all the pain, anguish, and general craziness that overtook his mind. But as time goes on, and the story continues to develop, we realize that there’s something much more complex, more dangerous, more scary, and more upsetting than that. If anything, it’s a case of another man wrongly killed for the sole sake of the government possibly protecting its ass and making sure that there are no loose-ends.

Then again, maybe not.

The real genius surrounding Wormwood is how it never seems to really center in on one theory, idea, or theme about where it’s headed, what it’s story’s about, and just exactly we’re supposed to learn from this whole story being told to us. Morris is such a smart director that he allows for Eric to tell the story, the way he sees fit, and sort of allows us to draw our own conclusions about this man, his father, what happened, and who exactly to trust. It’s a smart choice on Morris’ part, as this could have easily been a generic-affair, where it was clear where the story was headed, what surprises we were going to get, and especially, all told by a guy we didn’t care about.

But that’s the thing: Eric Olson is actually a pretty interesting guy, in such an odd way. He’s clearly dorky and a little weird, but like his father was before his untimely death, he’s not crazy. Sure, he’s got conspiracy-theories rolling all over his head and he’s sure as hell willing to talk about each and every single one that he sees fit, but he also knows and understands that even he can get a little far-fetched with his theories, too; one theme surrounding Wormwood is how Eric, after decades and decades of not letting this go and searching far and wide for the truth, somehow needs to just let it go.

“Dear Diary. S**t’s ‘effed-up.”

He knows this, but he just can’t stop and absolutely won’t stop. Why? He believes an injustice has been done and so does Morris.

And it’s why Wormwood, despite its long running-time, and often times, annoying reenactments done by a great ensemble, it’s worth the ride. So much information gets tossed at us, but Morris knows how to settle it all down to where we can keep up, join this so-called “adventure”, and come to our own conclusions of what really happened, what didn’t, and what we are, or not, being told from daddy government. It’s just solid investigative journalism and in a day and age where all of that is being threatened by scared politicians, it’s a nice reminder that it still exists in a world such as this.

Let’s just hope it sticks around and especially, with Morris leading the charge.

Consensus: Even with it being nearly four-hours or so, Wormwood is a spell-binding, thrilling, and rather complex tale of intrigue, family-relations, and government-conspiracy that seems to get more and more interesting, the more we learn and think about it.

8 / 10

It’ll be okay, Frank. I think.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

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I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House (2016)

Houses that creek way too much aren’t good places to stay. Usually.

29-year-old Lily (Ruth Wilson) is going through a little bit of a crisis in her life and is in desperate need of some peace, quiet and, oh yeah, money. She gets all of the above when she takes a job as caretaker and housekeeper of one Iris Blum (Paula Prentiss), a retired horror author who has made some of the genres biggest and best classics. However, Lily has read none of them because she scares easily and doesn’t quite have the patience for stuff like that, nor does she have the patience for some of the weird stuff that begins to happen in this tiny, two-bedroom house. For one, there’s odd noises when there shouldn’t be, but sometimes, that’s to be expected. What really has Lily freaked-out is a growing piece of mold in one part of the house that seems to be getting worse and worse as the days go by and without much of a rhyme, or reason for why it’s happening. Lily just sort of has to depend on her sanity, which also seems to be going away, too, slowly, but surely.

Pam?

Listen up, folks: If you’re going to do a haunted house flick, you really have to step up your game. It is literally one of the oldest genres in the book and it’s been done, time and time again, and only rarely are there certain exceptions where the genre feels like it’s fun, exciting and a little bit fresh.

Unfortunately, I Am the Pretty Thing that Lives in the House is not that movie.

If anything, it’s a solid reminder of why these kinds of movies don’t work as well when it seems like they’re just going through the motions and yes, show their age. And for writer/director Oz Perkins, son of Anthony, you can tell that there’s small, brief glimpses of some originality shining through, but mostly, he relies on the same old quirks and clicks that we’re so used to seeing with these typical kinds of stories.

Weird images appearing in hallways? Check. Weird creaks and sounds coming from certain places in the house? Double check. An old lady who seems to be losing her mind, while also saying weird stuff? Yup. Images that don’t quite make sense? Indeed. There’s these, and trust me, plenty more, which all come when you expect them and have about the same shock-value as a clown at a five year old’s party does – we’ve seen it before, we know what’s going to happen, we know that there’s nothing quite sinister about it all, and yet, we still watch.

Perkins does have a certain bit of style here which, I guess, is interesting, but it also feels meandering. For instance, Perkins takes the material as slow as he possibly can, focusing more on the quiet and sometimes eerie tone, as opposed to getting down to everything about the story and characters. It’s a neat take and does pay-off, what with the crazy amount of dread built-up over time, but it also feels like he’s just padding on more and more time to a movie that could have probably been at least 30 minutes shorty.

Uh, why? Doesn’t one need to see?

Or heck, maybe even 30 minutes altogether.

And it’s a shame, too, because at the center of this very small, very intimate, yet, very plodding horror flick, is a pretty good performance from Ruth Wilson who, actually, deserves a whole lot better than this. When the Affair was good and not silly, Wilson was quite a revelation, balancing a certain deal of sadness and heart for a character who, in much weaker-performer’s hands, would have come off as shrill and boring. Here, as Lily, we don’t get to know a whole lot about her, other than that she’s a bit weird and has a bit of an off-kilter performance.

To me, and probably me alone, this is the most interesting aspect of the movie that, sadly, does not get nearly as developed as it should. We see, through a phone conversation and a conversation she has with Bob Balaban’s character, that she’s got some issues to wade through, is a little off, and definitely needs something like this to help her get through this next stage in her life. So why on Earth don’t we get to see/hear/understand more of that? Why are we getting all of these spooky ghosts who appear in the hallway, or random flashbacks that don’t make any sense in the long-run?

Honestly, it’s because the movie is, when you get down to it, a haunted house flick. It’s an old, tired genre that shows its age and in Perkins case, isn’t getting any younger, hipper, or fresher.

Consensus: Even with a dark atmosphere and a solid performance from Wilson, I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House also relies way too heavily on conventions and suffers from a sluggish pace.

5 / 10

Two sides to every story. Oh wait. Not the Affair. Whoops.

Photos Courtesy of: Moviepilot, The Hollywood Reporter, Indiewire

Mascots (2016)

mascotsposterThose annoying guys in suits and costumes? Yeah, still annoying out of them.

Every year, mascots from all around the world come together to battle out all of their showmanship skills in the one and only World Mascot Association championship’s Gold Fluffy Awards. And this year, the competition is quite fierce, with a couple who can’t seem to be on the same page (Zach Woods and Sarah Baker), a pro who may have this be her last year (Parker Posey), and plenty of others. Of course though, the competition is really about the judges and who determines who the real winners, and losers are. And with the likes of A.J. Blumquist (Ed Begley Jr.) and the famous Gabby Monkhouse (Jane Lynch), it’s hard not to trust the professionalism.

While Family Tree hit HBO a few years ago, in a way, it’s been a decade sine Christopher Guest has made an actual movie. And if you really want to get as descriptive as can be, it’s been even longer since he last made a movie using his usual mockumentary-style, as For Your Consideration strayed away from the form, to mediocre results. But now, have no fear, as Guest is back with his usual brand of humor and cast of characters and, well, the results are still mostly the same.

I imagine a lot of mascots are hitting the ER.

I imagine a lot of mascots are hitting the ER.

Which is to say that Mascots is, yes, funny, but that’s about it. And come to think of it, shouldn’t it have been so much more?

With Guest, it’s hard not to compare something like Mascots to all of his other pieces like, A Mighty Wind and especially Best in Show. For instance, they’re movies about a group of people, coming together for one single event, and while in the former, they may not be competing, they’re still finding some ways to create some sort of actual tension with one another. And that’s why Mascots, seems to not just roll with the same formula and conventions of those similar movie’s plots, but doesn’t seem to do much with them, either; in a way, Guest is actually recycling material.

Take, oddly for instance, the inclusion of Corky St. Clair, one of Guest’s best characters from Waiting for Guffman. It’s weird to see Corky pop-up here, because even though I loved him in that movie, here, he seems completely random and out-of-place – even Guest himself seems weird uncomfortable bringing the character back with a terrible “boner” joke that goes and ends nowhere. But Corky himself also brings up the fact that Mascots, while bright, shiny and funny in spots, never quite hits the mark as much as it would like to.

Sure, some of that comes down to the improv, but a good portion of that also comes down to the fact that the material just isn’t all that funny. Everyone here is clearly giving it their all and showing why they deserve to be able to pal-around in a Christopher Guest movie, but with the exception of all the regulars who are used to Guest’s style, no one really works wonders. Zach Woods and Sarah Baker never quite fit well and just seem like lame replacements for the incredibly-missed Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara, while Susan Yeagley fares a whole lot better as a character who, believe it or not, has a little bit more heart to her than you’d expect.

Not quite a stinker, but close enough.

Not quite a stinker, but close enough.

But if anyone’s really the star of the show here, it’s the mascots themselves.

This isn’t a surprise because Guest always loves the little worlds that he portrays for film, but here, he really puts us into it and makes us see these professionals work their magic and, needless to say, it’s quite entertaining. The movie does actually take time out of itself to show us just what sort of talents these mascots are and what sort of shows they have prepared to put on and they’re just about as fun as the last. It’s nice to see this in a movie, because while Guest does a lot of poking fun, he also shows that they’re quite talented individuals who know how to make people laugh and enjoy themselves for however short of time they’re around for.

Now, if only the rest of the movie felt like that.

Consensus: Though the cast is dependable, Mascots never quite gets going and isn’t nearly as funny as it should be, despite some good moments spread throughout.

6 / 10

Judges never get old. Or lovable.

Judges never get old. Or lovable.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Collider, Consequence of Sound

Best in Show (2000)

Are people this crazy at cat shows?

Eccentric show dog owners travel to compete at the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. Some are crazy, some are determined, and some, well, nobody really knows. Regardless of what they are, they are all under one roof, going for the number one spot of having the best dog in the show.

Improv comedy is sort of a gamble in that, if you have the right people, it works. For Guest and his usual suspects, it tends to normally go by all fine, but there are the times in which you can tell that he’s just rolling with whatever weird and crazy stuff he can find, even when some of it can be cut. Such is the case when you have a whole cast just ad-libbing whatever comes to their mind naturally, but somehow, Guest can get by fine with it because he’s had enough material to work with and of course, the solid cast and crew to play with, too.

America's favorite ad-lib couple.

America’s favorite ad-lib couple.

And really, that’s the main thing to talk about when discussing Best in Show, as they’re all the reason why the movie does, and honestly, doesn’t work.

Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara probably deserve some of the highest praise out of the whole cast, because not only is their chemistry perfect, but the little running-gag about O’Hara’s character is probably the best in the whole film. The whole gag is about how she was pretty funky and wild when she was younger, and before she met Levy’s character, so therefore, every guy that she sees in person comes up to her, talking about their wild nights together and it just gets even crazier and crazier as you hear more about it. Especially the one scene with Larry Miller who plays an old flame, and just knows how to make everything so terribly uncomfortable for all. Also, Levy is probably the most endearing character out of this whole film since this guy just never seems to cut a break and get away from a guy his wife hasn’t slept with.

There’s also the terribly neurotic, snooty couple, Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock, who both do terrific jobs with their roles as they are the type of people you get with any one of these high-flying competitions where people literally lose their cool over the smallest things out there. All of the fights they have are hilarious and seem so over-the-top, but in all honesty, who the hell cares? Each one is funny and they all have great chemistry together, you know, when they’re just going at it on one another.

We also have the stereotypical gay couple, played by John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean, and have a great chemistry together, very surprisingly, and also have some of the best lines in the whole film. Higgins is always a comedic actor that I have always appreciated when I see him show up in random junk like Fired Up or The Ugly Truth, because he always ends up stealing the show, as he does here. Sure, it’s a stereotype of what we normally see made of gay characters in movies and TV, but it still works and not necessarily made to offend.

After all, like everyone else here, he’s just a character.

The true couple.

The true couple.

Then, there is also the one “couple” that has the dog that’s one two years in a row, played by Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge, and they both play their typical characters that we have seen them both play before. Lynch is probably the better of the two because there’s a deep and dark intensity to her character that I feel like this film could have went into more about, in order to create funnier and more memorable moments, but I guess it was all about going with the flow on this one.

The weakest character out of the whole bunch would probably have to be Guest’s own character he played. It’s not that this character isn’t interesting or funny, he just seems very unoriginal in the fact that he is the usual dumb hillbilly that comes from the roots of the woods, and says things very strangely in his country-bumpkin accent. It’s understood what the one single joke about this character is going to be from the beginning, and rather than trying find variances on it, Guest sort of goes with the same one, over and over again.

Still, the real show is left up to Fred Willard to steal and that, thankfully, he does.

As the head color-commentator, Willard gets to do a whole lot of crazy and random things, by mostly just saying whatever comes to his mind first, even if it has nothing to do with the actual dog show and you know what? It works so perfectly well. Willard has perfect comedic timing and whenever he says something dumb, you don’t care because the guy just continues to roll and roll with it, almost to the point of where you feel bad for the straight-man British actor that calls the show right next to him. It’s one of those moments where it makes me realize that Willard always makes me laugh no matter what it is that he does.

Consensus: Though it’s not always a winner with it’s improvisational jokes, Best in Show is still a very funny comedy mainly because of the talent that’s on-display here, especially Willard who will have you in stitches by the end of it.

8 / 10

Who needs Joe Buck when you have Fred Willard?

Who needs Joe Buck when you have Fred Willard?

Photos Courtesy of: Film Experience Blog

Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Everyone’s got the acting bug. Some more than others, obviously.

The town of Blaine, Mo., approaches its sesquicentennial, there’s only one way to celebrate: A musical revue called “Red, White and Blaine.” And to ensure that everything goes all fine and smoothly with this musical, Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest) is assigned the duties of director, writer, choreography and just overall boss of everything that goes on. Corky tries out a few talents but ends up settling on a bunch of excited but also, unfortunately, untalented locals (Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara). For awhile, everything seems to be going fine – the musical-numbers are performed well and the actors themselves seem competent enough that they’ll be able to remember their lines when it’s showtime. But when Corky and the rest of the cast and crew find out that respected critic, Mort Guffman, is coming to see what the show is all about and how it’s going to go down, then everyone loses their cool and feels as if it’s time to crank the show up to 11.

Everyone needs a Remains of the Day lunchbox.

Everyone needs a Remains of the Day lunchbox.

What’s odd about Waiting for Guffman is that it’s probably Christopher Guest’s less known, or seen feature, yet, it may also be his best. It’s not perfect, but it’s tight, hilarious, and most of all, heartfelt. See, there’s something that seems to be missing from some of Guest’s other flicks and it’s the fact that he actually does love and appreciate these characters for what weird specimens they are; he may crack jokes at their expense and enjoy making them look silly, but he also enjoys their company and loves hanging around them.

And that’s why, Waiting for Guffman, despite featuring Guest’s typical jokes and gags, also seems like a tribute to the kinds of characters he likes to poke fun at and get plenty of laughs from. It’s less of a movie about the theater world and how thespians may, or may not, take their work a little too seriously, as much as it’s about these small-town, seemingly normal folks trying to make a difference in their lives, as well as the numerous lives of other people around them. Guest is a smart writer and director in that he doesn’t try and get sappy, or hammer this point away by any means, but there’s a feeling to these characters and this town that they live in that’s easy to feel a warmness from – something that’s not always so present in Guest’s other work.

However, it’s still the actor’s showcase no matter what and it’s why Guest, as usual, is able to work so many wonders.

Because a good portion of his movies are ad-libbed, Guest can sometimes forget when to cut a scene, or an actor’s antics, but here, he seems as if he knew exactly what to do and when to do it all. Everyone gets their chance to have fun and shine like the bright diamonds that they are, but Guest also doesn’t forget to cut things whenever necessary. Sometimes, it’s not about how much funny material you have, as much as it’s about how much of it works when cut-and-pasted next to one another; having someone go on and on about airline food is one thing, but to have a person make a line about it and keep moving on, especially when your movie is barely even 80 minutes, makes all the difference.

Yep, don't ask.

Yep, don’t ask.

I know this makes it sound like so much more than it actually is, but this kind of stuff and attention matters in comedy and it’s why Waiting for Guffman is one of Guest’s better flicks – a lot of the stuff that he would somehow miss the mark on in the next few films to come, he seemed to have nailed down here, which makes me wonder why mostly all of the ones to follow were, at the very least, disappointing. That said, Guest himself is quite great as Corky, playing up one of the best caricatures he’s ever had to deal with; while most of the jokes thrown around about Corky is his flamboyancy, the movie, nor Guest’s performance, comes off as homophobic. Sure, it’s funny that Corky constantly, day in and day out, still says that he’s straight, but the fact remains that Corky himself is still the brains of the operation here and without him, the play itself doesn’t go too well.

In a way, the same could be said about the movie, too.

Cause honestly, Corky is such a fun and lovable character, it’s hard not to miss him whenever he’s not around. Sure, the usual suspects like Levy, O’Hara, Willard, Posey and Balaban are all here to pick up the slack and still have us enjoy what it is that we’re watching, but Guest’s performance takes over the movie so much that whenever he’s absent, it’s hard not to think of where he’s at, or what he’s doing. Guest is obviously behind the camera, doing what he does best, but what about Corky? Sometimes, it’s best to just give us more of a character who is stealing the show to begin with. Maybe it’s not always the case with every great character, but it seems like it would have been perfectly fine for Corky.

Consensus: Funny, smart, quick, and a little touching, Waiting for Guffman is one of Guest’s better flicks that shows just what he can do when he’s thinking on his feet and is still capable of editing his material to perfection.

8.5 / 10

Somehow, it's not embarrassing. Or at least, not as embarrassing as some high school plays I've seen have been.

Somehow, it’s not embarrassing. Or at least, not as embarrassing as some high school plays I’ve seen have been.

Photos Courtesy of: Theater Mania, The Film Authority, Cinema da Merde

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Screw too many women, trust me, you get screwed, too.

Harry Block (Woody Allen) has had a pretty crazy and unfortunate life. He’s been with many women, has made many mistakes, and has a lot of opinions that don’t always make him the most popular guy in the room. And now, he’s gaining fame and fortune off of all of that by putting into a new book of his, one that people love, with the exception of the few he’s actually writing about. Most of the women from his past have disowned him, which depresses Harry to a great degree. However, the only thing keeping him alive and well is the fact that he has a son, who he knows will have a bright future. Also, Harry finds out that the university that once kicked him out, now wants him back for a ceremony to honor him and all of his accomplishments. This gives Harry an idea: Take his son with him on this trip and allow for all sorts of fun and adventure to occur. Little does Harry know that he’s kidnapping his son to go along for the ride with him, along with the likes of a friend (Bob Balaban) and hooker (Hazzelle Goodman).

Way more loyal than Annie Hall.

Way more loyal than Annie Hall.

Due to the fact that Woody Allen likes to make a movie almost every year, a lot of people tend to get on his case. Obviously, some movies are better than others and, especially as of late, it appears like some of them aren’t even worth watching, but because they’re movies by Woody Allen and feature great talent in front of the screen, people can’t help but see what he’s got cooking up next. After all, a bad Woody Allen movie is at least better than most of what we seem to get out there, right?

Well, either way, where it seems like some of the issues with Woody releasing a new movie every year is that the movies tend to all follow the same formulas, ideas and themes of all of his movies. They’re mostly all lighthearted affairs that have to do with dysfunctional families, Judaism, forbidden love, sex, writing, poetry, classical music, jazz, or anything else of these natures. They’re all very similar and it honestly makes me wonder why Woody himself doesn’t bother to go deeper and darker with himself, or his material.

Cause, honestly, Deconstructing Harry is that perfect example of what Woody Allen can do when he decides to throw all caution to the wind and just not appease to anyone. While some of themes and ideas may be the same from before, here, they’re much more darker and sinister; rather than appearing to play for the big and broad laughs, Woody’s going for something much more meaner and angry, where it appears that he does in fact have an ax to grind.

Who is he grinding it at/for?

Well, no one in particular, but it allows for Deconstructing Harry to be better than most of his other flicks, because it proves that the guy actually has a point. He’s not just making a movie because he’s got the budget, the stars, and an inchworm of an idea that he’ll decide to play around with after the first-half – nope, this time Woody is going for the kisser and not apologizing for it. This is all to say that Deconstructing Harry is quite funny, but in a far different way that makes me feel better about Woody Allen, the writer – his jokes aren’t necessarily played-up for the smarter people of the crowd, but more for anyone who appreciates a good joke when they’re given one.

It sounds so stupid in hindsight, but honestly, good, consistent humor in a Woody Allen movie can sometimes be hard to find. Sure, every once and awhile, you’ll get a sly or witty line passed by some character here and there, but here, Woody’s throwing out jokes left and right. Do they all work? Not really – the whole bit involving Billy Crystal as the Devil could have probably bit the dust in the editing-room – however, the moments where the comedy works, it really works and is worthy of a big, howling laugh.

Focus on the finer things in life.

Focus on the finer things in life.

Yes, I know, it sounds stupid, but trust me, it totally matters.

But it’s not like Deconstructing Harry is better than most other Woody Allen movies because it’s darker and funnier (although, those are two attributes that help it), but because what Woody himself seems to be talking about is interesting. Harry Block’s life is such a whirlwind filled with heartbreak, anger, resentment, and controversy, that writing about it, gets him into hot water with those around him and eventually, he alienates himself from the rest of the world. Clearly, Woody seems to be channeling his own, inner-most demons and it’s neat to see play-out, as Woody himself definitely feels guilty for hurting the people that he’s hurt in the past, but also knows that the same hurt that he’s caused, is the same kind that’s brought him so much fame, fortune and respect in the biz.

So yeah, Woody’s talking about himself a lot here, but it works. Woody himself is quite good in the movie, but really, he’s meant to let others do all the work for him and show that they’re worthy of being here. People like Tobey Maguire, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Robin Williams, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Kirstie Alley, and others, don’t have a whole lot of screen-time, but are still funny and well worth their short time here. Why none of these people have bothered to show up in a Woody Allen movie is beyond me, but then again, maybe they, too, don’t want to waste time on something that’s going to just be “mediocre”.

Then again, neither do I, and I still can’t stop watching his movies.

Consensus: With a darker, more energetic edge, Deconstructing Harry shows a meaner side of Woody Allen that we hardly ever see, that’s both funny and interesting.

8 / 10

Everyone loves Woody. Except obvious people.

Everyone loves Woody. Except obvious people.

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

I guess aliens really do like Simon Says.

Somewhere out in the rural lands of Indiana, giant UFOs sweep around and cover the sky, capturing everybody’s attention and imagination. One such person who is most definitely captured the most happens to be Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a married father-of-three who, after witnessing the unidentified flying object, gets a “sunburn” from its bright lights. From here on out, Roy is hooked and will not listen to a single person who tells him everything he saw was nothing more than his mind playing tricks on him. And because Roy refuses so much, not only does he lose his job, but he also runs the possibility of losing his family, too. Meanwhile, a single mother, Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon), is having issues keeping her young son in line and in check, especially now all he seems to do is be chasing after the UFO, and now makes them, or better yet, him, a target for them. All while this is going on, French and American scientists get together to figure out just what it is that these aliens want and most importantly, how to communicate with them in a simple, but peaceful way.

Still have no clue what this is.

Still have no clue what this is.

A part of me really wants to love Close Encounters because of the special place it holds in the history of film. It’s one of the first big-budget, mainstream extravaganzas to deal with aliens, UFOs, and science fiction in a realistic and humane way where we weren’t actually terrified that the aliens were going to take over our planet, kidnap our families, and ruin our lives, but wondering, quite simply, “What?” What do they want? What are they doing? And really, how can we communicate with them to where we can not only just get along, but build for a better future where, possibly, humans and aliens can live alongside one another in perfect peace, love and harmony.

For that, Steven Spielberg deserves a lot of credit.

He also deserves a lot of credit for not backing down when it comes to approaching the hard realities one person can face when they are absolutely, positively so willing to dedicate their lives to some sort of belief, that they grow mad. In the case of Richard Dreyfuss’ everyman, Roy, this happens when he believes that he sees a UFO and that they’re going to set up shop on their planet. However, because nobody around him believes him, he loses his mind and therefore, acts out in so many freakish, nearly insane ways, that you can’t blame anyone for wanting to pack up their stuff and leave as soon as he started making some sort of creation with piled-up mashed potatoes at the dinner table.

Then again, you sort of can. Spielberg is smart enough not to blame any character in particular, or make someone more of a villain than others, but what he does do is show that these characters don’t believe Roy, even if he most definitely is correct. Still, at the same time, none of us actually know what to expect with these aliens, or what their motives may be, so while we’re watching Roy loosen his grip with reality, we’re constantly wondering about the cost of it all and whether or not this is actually for anything. Even amidst of all the crazy, sometimes entrancing spacey sci-fi stuff, Spielberg never forgets that there’s a human heartbeat at the center of the story, no matter how crazy or whacked-out it may be.

And oh yeah, the visuals, even by 1977’s standards, are still pretty solid.

Having watched this on my flat-screen in the year 2016, it’s hard to really judge a movie’s special-effects based solely on what’s out and about in today’s day and age, but really, they still work. Not only does Spielberg seem like he’s having a lot of fun featuring huge, canvas-filling spaceships cover-up a solid majority of the screen, but he also enjoys the sounds, the bloops, the bleeps, and the brangs they make, even when it seems to take over every other sound in the movie. But really, that’s sort of the point; these spaceships are so ginormous, that they block out any sound, loud or not, to the point of where it’s the only thing you’re going to ever hear.

So yeah, the movie definitely deserves my respect, however, there’s a feeling that it maybe goes on way too long.

Uhh, what?

Uhh, what?

Most of this has to do with the fact that the scientist/government stuff, as well as Melinda Dillon’s character, really gets in the way of the meat of the story, which is Roy and his connection to the unidentified flying spaceship. I understand that it’s perhaps necessary and a nice add-on to tell these two subplots, along with Roy’s, but really, they get in the way of the emotion, the tension, and most of all, the impact that the final shot ultimately has. Every chance we get to spend with Roy, his middle-class family, and his slow, but sure descent into insanity, the movie breaks away elsewhere to either the government and Dillon’s character – all of which break the momentum the film’s clearly building on, all up until the final shot.

In fact, I’d say that you could have a very good movie without Dillon’s subplot altogether. Of course, this leaves Spielberg without something of a possible romantic love-interest for Roy by the end, but it wouldn’t matter because it would cut down on some time and not really interrupt the main flow of the movie. Nothing against Dillon, as she’s very good in this somewhat tragic role, but her character doesn’t offer-up much except a bunch of yelling and crying that’s not totally needed.

Same sort of goes for the scientist/government stuff, although not to the same certain extent.

This subplot offers up at least some interesting avenues into the way the movie approaches the idea of the UFO, without ever trying to get too conspirator-y. Of course, because this is a Spielberg film, the government can’t be trusted, which is fine to talk about, but really, this was an idea better explored in E.T. and it doesn’t always hit the kind of strong notes that Spielberg clearly wants them, too. That said, this inclusion is still pertinent to the story and helps with that powerful, but surprisingly majestic ending.

So yeah, hate me now. I guess.

Consensus: Close Encounters of the Third Kind may not be the ultimate Spielberg class it’s made out to be, but still features him in his element of blending eerie, but interesting sci-fi stories, with heartfelt, intimate ones about humanity.

8 / 10

"They're here!" Oh wait, wrong movie.

“They’re here!” Oh wait, wrong movie.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Fading Gigolo (2014)

Always count on a neurotic Jew to score you some major poon.

Fioravante (John Turturro) is an aging man living in New York City who has come to a bit of a stand-still in his life; his bookshop has just recently closed down and now his flower shop may be in trouble as well. However, his best buddy, Murray (Woody Allen), comes up with a plan that may be a bit ridiculous, but ultimately, may work out for both of them in the end: Become a male prostitute. Murray believes this is a good idea because he knows a couple of lonely women that are in need of some male lovin’ – especially a Jewish widower by the name of Avigal (Vanessa Paradis), who, despite being all about her faith, and the strict guidelines that come along with it, is willing to give Fiorvante a shot and see what all of the fuss is about. However, problems ensue for all three of them once a local policeman (Liev Schreiber) discovers what’s going on, and wants to take them all down. Which won’t just ruin the business Fioravante and Murray have going on, but the relationship they’ve built with Avigal herself.

You’ve got to hand it to John Turturro – the dude isn’t just writing and directing here, but he’s doing so in a movie that has him being portrayed as a total ladies man, that each and every girl he meets is willing to pay nearly $1,000 to bang. Not saying that Turturro isn’t a charmer by any means, but what I am saying is that since he’s the one who is all behind this piece, it does seem like he’s giving himself so much credit, that it becomes nearly “a fantasy”. Then again, you could say the same thing about more-than-a-half of Woody Allen’s movies, so I guess it all evens out.

"Love truly isn't something another person can understand. You know?"

“Love truly isn’t something another person can understand. You know?”

And speaking of Allen, his inclusion here in the cast seems very reasonable, although quite distracting to the final product: The movie itself seems like something Allen would write and direct in his own spare time, yet, isn’t. Instead, as mentioned before, this is a John Turturro movie and, needless to say, not everything’s as lovely as we’ve come to expect from a Woody Allen movie, no matter how mediocre one may be. Most of that has to do with the fact that Turturro just doesn’t seem like all that much of a charismatic director. Sure, he has a neat story on his hands, but surprisingly, it’s a rather dull, unexciting one that doesn’t take full advantage of the “fun” premise concocted here.

Some of that could be attributed to Turturro’s rather bland writing and directing, but some of it could also be pointed right towards he himself, the actor. See, Turturro, despite being one of my favorites, was surprisingly boring here. Not only does it seem like he’s sleep-walking through the role, but has intentionally written himself out as being so, just so that he can use that as a tool to allow the supporting cast to shine on and on, like most of them do on more than a few occasions. But, there’s a problem with that, because although Turturro allows the others to do their thing, his character constantly stays in the spotlight and when you have somebody as uninteresting as Fioravante, it’s hard to really want to see what happens to his character next. This is all bizarre too, because Turturro, in almost everything I’ve seen him in, is as charming as he could possibly be. But here, he’s just dull and painfully so as well.

And like I said before, this allows the supporting cast to do whatever it is that they want to do and have a good time doing so. Out of everybody, Woody Allen is the one who really seems like he’s having a blast, by just playing his typical, neurotic self. It’s an act that never ceases to get old or tiring, regardless of whose script it is that he’s reading. And although Sharon Stone and Sofia Vergara bring some much needed sex-appeal to this story, their characters seem more like the stereotypical rich, horny and bored housewives that need more sexy-time than what they get from their own spouses. While it’s fun to see this unlikely duo play friends and be a little sexy, they don’t seem real, just two characters cobbled up from Turturro’s own imagination.

"So, uh, is that a Picasso or something?"

“So, uh, is that a Picasso or something?”

The only character who really seems to be devolved from any bit of reality is Vanessa Paradis’ Avigal, who plays this sad, lonely and slightly scared Jewish widow. Though she is fine in this role and she and Turturro create some nice bit of chemistry, the whole idea that the Jewish community would be going absolutely insane over such a unity is downright extreme. Maybe I’m wrong and this is what happens in those small, intimate Jewish communities, but something tells me the portrait Turturro has created here isn’t just unrealistic, but somewhat insulting. That these highly respected Jewish men would capture a person and take them in for countless lines of questioning relating to their business-dealings seems so goofy, that it’s not even funny – it’s just stupid and seemed like a lame way for Turturro to bring out any bit of comedy that he could.

That’s not to say that the whole movie is bad, it’s just that you can tell that, in the right hands, it could have been so much better. Maybe had this been in the hands of a more capable creator like, well, I don’t know, say Woody Allen, then this movie probably would have been better off and been able to actually be more than just a ludicrous “sex comedy”. Instead, it’s a ludicrous sex comedy that doesn’t have much of anything interesting to say, nor does it really seem to know what it’s about. It just goes through the motions and depends on its charming cast to win everybody over.

Which, in a way, it does, but only because of that damn Woody Allen.

Consensus: While it gets by mostly on its charming cast, Fading Gigolo doesn’t really have any point or direction in which it wants to go in, so instead, just relies on cheap gags and unbelievable plot-points that border on being “fantasy”.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Exactly what I want to come home to every day. But sadly, don't ever get.

Exactly what I want to come home to every day. But sadly, don’t ever get.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

This type of nonsense would never occur at a Motel 6! That’s for certain!

In 1968, a writer (Jude Law), staying at a beaten-up, run-down hotel called “the Grand Budapest Hotel” meets millionaire Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who apparently has a lot to do with the history of this hotel – the same type of history not many people actually know the exact story to. Together, the two decide to meet-up, have dinner and allow for Moustafa to tell his story and why he is the way he is nowadays. The story goes a little something like this: Back in 1932, young Zero (Tony Revolori) was hired as a Lobby Boy at the hotel, where he eventually became concierge Gustave H.’s (Ralph Fiennes) second-hand-in-command. Gustave, for lack of a better term, is Zero’s role-model and he’s a pretty darn good one at that: Not only does he treat his guests with love, affection and respect, but he even gives them a little “something” more in private. And apparently, he treats one guest of his, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), so well, that he’s apparently the owner of one of her prized-possessions, the same prized possession that her bratty son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) won’t let him have. But you can’t tell Gustave “no”, when he knows what is rightfully his, so therefore, he takes it, which leads onto all sorts of other crazy, wacky and sometimes deadly, hijinx.

So yeah, for the past week, I’ve been kicking ass and taking names with all of these Wes Anderson movies, and if there is one thing that I myself (as well as most of you) have learned about, is that I really do love his movies. I mean, yeah, I knew Wes Anderson has always been a favorite of mine, but what really surprised me with this past week is that not only have I been watching and taking note of how his style changes over time (or in some cases, doesn’t), but also, how he’s grown as a film maker and decided to get a whole lot more ambitious.

Did the elevator really have to be THAT red? You know what, never mind!

Okay, but on a serious note: Did the elevator really have to be THAT red? You know what, never mind!

And I don’t mean “ambitious” in the form that his movies are a whole lot bigger or more ensemble-driven, but more that they tackle on so many different-threads of meaning, rather than just being all about family-issues amongst a group of dysfunctional, troubled-characters. Don’t get me wrong, I usually love those said “family-issues”, but even I know when it’s time to move on, start trying something new and most of all, stretching yourself as a writer, director and overall creator.

Thankfully, not just for me, or you, or even Wes Anderson, but for all of us: Wes has finally shown us that he’s ready to take a swan-dive out of his comfort-zone and shock us with something that he’s almost never done before.

Key word being “almost”. More on that later, though.

First things first, I feel as if I am going to talk about any notable, positive aspect of this movie, it’s going to be the overall-style. Now, I think we’ve all known Anderson to be a bit of an eye-catcher with the way he has his flicks so colorful and bright, that you almost practically go blind because of them; but this, he truly has out-done himself. Since most of where this story takes place is made-up inside that creative little noggin of his, Anderson is practically given free-reign to just ran rampant with his imagination, where every set looks as if it was taken-out of an historic, field-trip brochure, dibbled and dabbled with some pretty colors, and thrown right behind everything that happens here. In some cases, that would usually take away from a film and be just another case of a director getting too “artsy fartsy”, but due to how crazy and rumpus most of this story is, it actually helps blend these characters in to their surroundings, as well as make this world we are watching seem like a believable one, even if they are so clearly made-up.

Which is why this is probably Anderson’s most exciting movie to-date. Of course though, Anderson’s other movies like Rushmore and even Bottle Rocket had an hectic-feel to them, but they were done so in a type of small, contained and dramatic-way – here, the movie is all about the vast, never ending canvas surrounding each and every one of these characters, and just how far it can be stretched-out for. So while those other movies of Anderson’s may have had a sense of adventure where a character would want to get out of the house, only to go running around in the streets, here, you have a bunch of characters who not only want to get out of their household, or wherever the hell they may be staying at, and get out there in the world where anything is possible. They could either go running, jogging, skiing, sight-seeing, train-riding, bicycle-hopping, parachuting, and etc. Anywhere they want to go, by any mode of transportation whatsoever, they are able to and it gives us this idea that we are not only inside the mind of Anderson and all of his play-things, but we are also stuck inside of his world, where joy and happiness is all around.

Though, there definitely are some dark elements to this story that do show up, in some awkward ways as well, the story never feels like it is too heavy on one aspect that could bring the whole movie crashing down. Instead, Anderson whisks, speeds through and jumps by everything, giving us the feeling that this is a ride that’s never going to end, nor do we want to end; we’re just too busy and pleased to be enjoying the scenery, as well as all of the fine, and nifty characters that happen to go along with it.

And with this ensemble, you couldn’t ask for anybody better! Ralph Fiennes isn’t just an interesting choice for the character of Gustave, but he’s also an interesting choice to play the lead in a Wes Anderson movie. We all know and love Fiennes for being able to class it up in anywhere he shows his charmingly handsome face, but the verdict is still out there on the guy as to whether or not he can actually be, well, “funny”. Sure, the dude was downright hilarious in In Bruges, but being that he had a dynamite-script to work with and was one out of three other main-characters, did the dude have much of a choice? Not really, but that’s besides the point!

What is the point, is that I was a little weary of Fiennes in a Wes Anderson movie, where most of the time, comedy and drama go side-by-side and would need all of the best talents to make that mixture look and feel cohesive. Thankfully, Fiennes not only proves that he’s able to make any kind of silly-dialogue the least bit “respectable”, but that he’s also able to switch his comedy-timing on and off, giving us a character we not only love and adore every time he’s up on the screen, but wish we saw more of. Because, without giving too much away, there are brief snippets of time where we don’t get to always be in the company of Gustave, and when those passages in time happen, they do take away from the movie.

No Luke?!?! Fine! I guess this chump'll do!

No Luke?!?! Fine! I guess this chump’ll do!

It isn’t that nobody else in this movie is capable enough of handling the screen all to themselves, but it’s so clear, early on, that Anderson clearly beholds this character as much as we do, and we can’t help but follow suit and wish to see him all of the time. Most of that’s because of Anderson’s witty and snappy dialogue that’s given to Fiennes to work with, but most of that is also because Fiennes is such a charismatic-presence that the fact of him actually making me, or anybody laugh, is enough to make you want to see a biopic made about him, and him alone.

But, like I was saying before, the rest of the ensemble is fine, it’s just that Fiennes was clearly meant to be the star of the show and plays it as such. Newcomer Tony Revolori feels like a perfect-fit for Anderson’s deadpan, sometimes outrageous brand of humor that’s practically winking at itself. What’s also worth praising a hell of a whole lot about Revolori is how he more than holds his own when he’s stacked-up against certain presences that aren’t just Fiennes (although the two make for a wonderful duo that they are another reason why it sucks whenever Gustave isn’t around). All of these other familiar faces that pop-up like Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson, and Saoirse Ronan, and even Jeff fuckin’ Goldblum are all great, but surprisingly, Revolori doesn’t get over-shadowed and keeps the heart and soul of the story clearly alongside with him, as it was intended to be. And yes, even though that heart may not be the most richest, most powerfully emotional we’ve ever seen Anderson bring to the screen before, it’s still the same kind of heart that has go along with Anderson on any ride he takes us, all because we know that, at the end, it’s all going to be totally worth it.

That, and also, that we’ll have something new to recommend to our white friends.

Consensus: The Grand Budapest Hotel is definitely Wes Anderson’s most ambitious work to-date, meaning that we get plenty of laughs, jumps, thrills, some chills, heart and enough familiar, talented-faces working with some wacky, but fun material from one of our finest writers/directors working today.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

All in the 'stache, ladies. All in the 'stache.

All in the ‘stache, ladies. All in the ‘stache.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

The Monuments Men (2014)

Tell ’em, Nic! Nothing’s more important than stealing the Declaration of Independence and they know it!

During the final, winding-days of WWII, art-historian (George Clooney) is gripped with a task on his hands: Assemble a group of seven, fellow art-groupies, go through basic training, and find a way to gather and collect all of the ancient pieces of art, sculpture and paintings that the Nazis have apparently been hiding during the war. At first, once the men get taken into behind enemy lines in Germany, they realize that this whole mission may be a ball – one soldier (Matt Damon), comes close to even getting laid by a stern, but somehow stunningly hot French-gal (Cate Blanchett). But sooner than later, things begin to take a turn for the worse once the Nazis begin to see themselves getting more and more desperate as the days go by, therefore, having Hitler himself order that all art be destroyed, in hopes that it won’t reach their rightful, original owners. Smart idea on old Adolf’s part, but he soon realizes that he is no match for the Ocean‘s crew! With the exception of Brad Pitt, Don Cheadle, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, and even Rob Reiner. Yep, none of them are here, but at least we got Bob Balaban to spice things up, right?

George Clooney, the actor, is known to be a class-act that you can always count on to deliver, no matter what piece of material he may be in. He’s always got that cool-look, that charm, that wit and that swiftness to him that makes every dude in the theater lobby want to be him and discover his make-up team’s contact info; whereas he makes every lady swoon for the day that she may just be able to get snatched up into good old George’s hands. And ladies, if you’re less than two times his age, you run a pretty good chance at being his next-in-line!

"Wow. So this really was painted by Leonardo DiCaprio?"

“Wow. So this really was painted by Leonardo DiCaprio?”

But I digress….

While George Clooney, the actor, may be somebody we can trust and rely on to give great work, George Clooney, the director, isn’t always someone we can count on. Most of the time, Clooney seems to not only do stuff that only seems to interest himself and his buddies, but he more often than not, drops the ball on what could have been something cool and interesting. The Ides of March, for the most part, just relied so heavily on the performances from its stacked-cast, that I almost forgot Clooney even directed it, or even had a story written-out for it; Leatherheads didn’t have much of a chance of being anything spectacular, but at least he tried with it; Good Night, And Good Luck will always seem to be his crowning-jewel where everything he sets out to do, he nails to near-perfection; and then of course, we have his debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind that seemed to only get away with the fact that it had rich source-material to begin with, despite Clooney finding a way to make a story about a game-show-host-turned-CIA-agent somewhat depressing and rather boring.

So yeah, as you can tell, I know a thing or two about Clooney’s track-record as director and most of the time, it doesn’t always pan-out so well. That’s why I gave this movie the benefit of the doubt, even despite it being pushed-back from its original, Christmas Day release-slot (apparently due to “special-effects problems“). However though, once again, I digress…

Anyway, what I am trying to get at here is that while Clooney may not always be consistent as a director, he’s always the kind of guy that interests me with anything that he touches his palms with, solely because it’s him, and he knows quality. Here, on the other hand, we have a movie that definitely seems like the type of movie he feels strong and passionate about, yet, never really seems to let come-off of the ground. But you’d never know if he felt any passion or love for this true-life story of heroism, and men fighting for what they truly believed in, because we never get the right details we should to fully believe in these characters, this story or anything else that happens. Yeah, I know that all of this is true, but watching this movie, you’d still never get a full clue as to what is happening, why, how and who was involved. For all I know, the actual, real-life soldiers who were involved with this mission could have been a rusty crew of old geezers that loved to make jokes while they were standing on deadly land-mines, hung-out and smoked cigs with Nazi soldiers wanting to kill them, and even crack some funny-ones while half of Russia’s army comes storming after them, wanting their heads, as well as the various paintings they can’t seem to get enough of.

But what’s so surprising to me about this movie, is that it never seems like Clooney knows that he’s messing-up by not giving us any reason to care for these people, their mission or the heart and soul they shed for these pieces of art; it’s almost as if showing us that they were willing to risk their lives for these paintings was already enough assurance that they do wholly, and fully care about these paintings. However though, it doesn’t work and it should have. Even if Clooney decided to give us maybe one or two minutes dedicated to these guys being wrangled-up and ready for the mission, it would have made a huge difference – we would have not only cared for these dudes, but cared about the mission they were setting-upon as well. Also, probably would have given this movie more of a drastic-feel to it, especially once these guys started getting perishing.

Somehow though, as much as I may rag on this movie, as well as what Clooney does as a director, I was able and more than willing to just let myself have fun and enjoy the old-style, nostalgic kind of war-flick that George himself was so obviously going for. Personally, I don’t think he hits all of the right notes, but if there was ever a war flick that I could sit-down and watch with my whole family, even my much-younger cousins, it’s this one. That’s not saying it’s great or anything, and surely doesn’t get past the fact that movie itself has its fair-share of faults and problems, but it definitely kept me entertained throughout most of the movie.

She's French, she's willing and best of all, you probably won't ever see her again in your life. Why wouldn't you tap that?!?!?

She’s French, she’s willing and best of all, you probably won’t ever see her again in your life. Why wouldn’t you tap that?!?!?

Once again, I stress the fact that it wasn’t perfect, but, if you have nothing else better to do for your Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or what have you, evening, then I can’t say this would be a terrible. There’s definitely plenty of other options to go and check-out before this, but if grand-mom and grand-pop want to spend some “quality time”, I’d say point their head in this movie’s direction, and you’ll definitely be promised a spot in the will. Sounds harsh, but I’m just saying.

Love you G-Mom and G-Pops!

Most of where my enjoyment with this movie came from was just through the cast and how, despite how thinly-written most of their material may have been, they still prevailed and kept me smiling. Like I stressed before, Clooney the actor is fine and is charming enough to make you see past the obvious-faults that this role only serves him to break-out into soliloquies every once and awhile about how men should always stand-up for what they believe in, no matter how looked-down upon it may be from others; Matt Damon is entertaining enough to watch as his second-in-command, James Granger, who is gone for quite some time and separated from the rest of the action, but is still somehow able to make his story the least-bit interesting, just by showing up and smiling (because we all know, once Matt Damon smiles, we all gotta smile!); and Cate Blanchett somehow makes a thankless-role as a French-spy, somewhat memorable by making her out to be a bit of a weirdo that also longs for a connection. Then again, maybe I’m just reaching.

As for the rest of the cast, they’re fine, but it’s obvious they aren’t doing anything exceptional. Bill Murray is always Bill Murray in anything he does, but he’s slightly less charming and “Bill Murray-ish” than he usually is, and less of that has to do with him as a performer, and more with just how the script does not use him; in fact, I’d say that they use Bob Balaban a bit more in the sense that they give him a scene where he gets to be somewhat “bad-ass”, as you’ve never seen him before (and trust me, you sure as hell haven’t!); John Goodman is his usual lovable, big-hearted, always cheery-self that also happens to be a soldier named “Walter“; Hugh Bonneville is fine as one of a British soldier who puts his life-on-the-line, as does everybody else, but gets to show his bravery in a slightly-memorable way; and Jean Dujardin, despite having an interesting role in Wolf of Wall Street, still feels like a previous Oscar-winner gone to a bit of a waste by now, however, I hope the tide turns around for him sooner than later. Because surely, we wouldn’t want another Roberto Benigni on our hands, now would we?

Consensus: Another misstep in Clooney’s directorial-catalog, the Monuments Men takes what could have been a very thrilling, exciting and emotional war-tale, and makes it uneven, poorly-developed and only entertaining in its bits and pieces, which is mostly thanks to all of the effort the cast puts into it.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"Hey, remember that time when we almost got our heads shot-off by a bunch of Nazi soldiers? Hahahahaahah!!!"

“Hey, remember that time when we almost got our heads shot-off by a bunch of Nazi soldiers? Hahahahaahah!!!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

The Mexican (2001)

Should have just stayed in the States. Hell, they should have just stayed the hell together.

Jerry and Samantha (Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts) are a couple that obviously loves each other, but yet, still go to marriage counseling even though they don’t seem to need it and aren’t even married. Whatever though, that’s just how these two roll and like it, but what Samantha doesn’t like about Jerry’s rolling is that he’s not only a con, but has yet to leave the work of it because he’s trying to protect his ass, as well as hers. However, after originally screwing-up his “last job”, Jerry is given one more opportunity to make good and end it all when he has to travel to Mexico for an antique gun that seems to have more than enough history than Jerry, or his mob boss (Bob Balaban), expect. Since Jerry has to leave out on the job once again, he leaves Samantha all alone and with a whole bunch of worry in the world, especially when she’s kidnapped by a hitman (James Gandolfini) who specializes in bits and pieces of torture, despite him being a bit of a softy once you get to know him.

Movies like this get a bad-rap, as they should. Before this movie had names attached to it all and whatnot, it was originally going to be an independent production, with lesser-known names in the lead roles, and probably a smaller, tighter-budget than we see used here. However, Pitt and Roberts wanted to hang out with one another and so they thought, “What better way to take advantage of our star-power, then to just pick up a small, meaningless script, and run with it, just so we can have some fun and make money while doing so?” That may sound stingy and bratty coming from these two A-listers, but Christ, it’s something that can work for these two in a heartbeat and actually did. Nope, not just because they had the star-power to attract any type of audience-member in the entire world, but because the script was just simple enough that it didn’t matter whether or not the material they were working with was actually good; all that mattered is that people would see it, especially with these two in the lead roles.

Better cherish this moment. It's all you're going to get between these two for quite some time.

Better cherish this moment. It’s all you’re going to get between these two for quite some time.

So overall, no problems for anyone, except for maybe the actual movie-viewers themselves who have to sit through some meaningless junk like this. They’re the ones who end up suffering the most.

Which is exactly why movies like this have me pissed off to high heavens because I know there are plenty other great films, with great scripts, great acting out there, and were certainly released at and around the same time as this, but yet, would never get the same type of exposure as this one because it didn’t have the popular-names in it like this one had. It’s sad to think about, and maybe it’s not worth all of the crying over spilled-milk, but it’s a fact of life and a fact of Hollywood. However, I can’t bitch too much because the flick isn’t that good and is only good for the sole reason that it actually got Gore Verbinski’s career off-and-running, whereas Pitt’s and Roberts’ just stayed the same as its always been, if not gotten better (especially in Pitt’s case).

But see, what makes this flick such a strange star-vehicle, is that it honestly isn’t the type of mainstream flick you’d see get the type of release this did nor would you see it’s two leading-stars in. It’s a weird flick for the sole reason that with just about every new scene or sequence, the tone switches, and it does so in a not-so subtle-way. It begins as a rom-com, with bits and pieces of dark humor thrown in there for good measure; but once the first con is killed off and the threat of death is alive and well, then things take a turn for the worse and get very dark, very soon. Sometimes it will touch the idea of a mobster comedy, with slices of drama thrown in there for good measure, and then in the very next frame, will even go for a darker moment where somebody gets off’d in a very disturbing, harsh, and unfunny way, despite how hard this flick seems to be trying to pull the laughs out of us.

Verbinski is a talented director to make even the slightest bit of dark humor go a long, long way, but at this time, during this movie, he shows problems in keeping the light and blissful tone up, even when it takes detours into dark areas; the kind of dark areas you see explored in Guy Ritchie or Quentin Tarantino movies, but used in a better way because they have the slightest sense of how to make humor and bloody spurts of violence work and seem cohesive. Verbinski begins to lose all focus after awhile and although it continued to interest me, as if I didn’t know what was going to pop-up next, whether it’d been a twist or a tone, I still feel like it was a missed-opportunity on his and everybody else’s part to really allow this flick to get up, breathe, and stretch it’s legs. It just goes on and on and on, for a whole two-hours that I’m usually fine with if you can excite and entertain me, but this one didn’t seem all too concerned with me or that fact of the matter. It just did it’s thing, as if it was only made to collect money from hopeless movie-goers.

Which, sadly, it did. You poor, poor people, falling for the same old traps of Hollywood, time and time again.

Speaking of which, that idea sort of pisses me off, not because it’s as blatant or as obvious as it is 12 years later, but because the actual reason behind this movie being made and advertised as such a big deal, was useless considering that Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts rarely are together on-screen here. What would have been shocking, but impressive on this movie’s part if the creators worked out negotiations with the stars beforehand, wrote the script, and kept it the way it was, even throughout filming, but knowing that the script was made way ahead of time and altered only slightly, loses it’s sense of originality. Most of the time, this doesn’t bother me because if Michael Mann can do the same thing and get away with nothing but applause and unanimous praise for this decision, then so can Gore Verbinski dammit!

But the problem with this is that the movie has nothing else going for it, other than Pitt and Roberts. Which means that when they aren’t together, doing their thang and keeping us happy to finally see them together on the big-screen, even after all of these long-awaited years; there’s nothing really left worrying or caring about. When they’re together, they’re fun to watch and makes you feel like it would have been a better choice to watch these two play the same characters, in a small-indie where instead of venturing out in search of a gun, they stayed together, worked through their problems, and thought about their future, whether it be one spent together or separated. It would have been way, way more interesting and compelling movie than this one, but that’s all just “fantasy-talk”. The reality is that these two barely show up in this movie together and when they do, it’s the best parts of the movie, despite feeling like a sad-attempt to be on screen together because, well, they have to. It’s the rules of Hollywood, folks.

"Hey, whatever you do, do not put on "Don't Stop Believin', got it?"

“Hey, whatever you do, do not put on “Don’t Stop Believin’, got it?”

Separately, which is about 85% of the damn movie, they’re good if nothing new or groundbreaking that they haven’t already pulled-off before. Pitt’s nutty and goofy as the con that’s a bit too over-his-head, yet still knows what to do when the shit gets hot, and Roberts is a sassy and fire-cracker-of-a-lady, but still has those moments of pure sweetness to her that helps balance the character out in some sense of reality. Some, but not too much. Most of those moments come between the scenes of her and Gandolfini’s character, the hitman with a softer-heart than you might suspect from our first introduction to him.

With the recent, sad news of his passing, watching Gandolfini absolutely have a blast in a role like this and steal the movie away from it’s big stars, really brings a tear to my eye because the guy had so much talent, so much energy, and so much worth watching, despite what crap-fests he may or may not have shown up in. The fact is that this man was a great actor, and will continue to be remembered for years and years to come. Hopefully this movie doesn’t come to many people’s minds when they think of his work, but if it does, it won’t be such a sin because he’s easily the best part about it and gives it a reason worth watching.

Consensus: The Mexican will disappoint many average, movie-goers because Pitt and Roberts are barely together here throughout the whole two-hours and some-odd minutes, but what will disappoint others is that the tone never seems to find itself in one place, make it’s presence known, and stay there for the rest of the movie. It just constantly moves up, down and all around as if the creators knew they had to do something to keep fans happy that two of Hollywood’s most-beloved weren’t on the same-screen together for anymore than 5 minutes each.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

A two-hour movie, all for this piece of shit?!?!?

A two-hour movie, all for this piece of shit?!?!?

Lady in the Water (2006)

I wish there were mystical, sexy-ish creatures swimming around in my pool after closing time. Instead, it’s just me and my drunk friends.

This part may be a little hard to talk about, but hell, I’ll give it a try. Cleveland Heep (Paul Giamatti) works at the Cove apartment complex and does whatever he can to get by throughout the day. He cleans bathrooms, kills bugs, changes light-bulbs, does everything really, but he never seems happy. All of that somehow changes when the mysterious creature Story (Bryce Dallas Howard), shows up in his pool saying that she needs to go back to land. She tries to, but finds out that a scary monster is there to attack her, and it’s up to Cleveland and the rest of the tenants to fight back and help Story get back to her home-land and hopefully, tell her story.

We all know that M. Night is a story-teller and loves to give us somewhat strange, wacky tales that can only occur in his mind, and his mind alone, but this is where I think people started to grow impatient with the dude. The Village was a bit of the last-straw, but I think more people were apologetic on that one because it had some good features to it. If not, and it’s only me who feels that way, so be it because I will go-to-bat for the dude anytime of the day, night, or week. But this is where things started to not only change for me, but for plenty others as well. And it hasn’t been pretty since.

It’s obvious that M. Night is making this story so that kids will want to go with their families and see all of the wonderful, wildness that M. has to bring to this slightly-original fable, but I highly doubt that’s what came out here. Yes, it is a fairy-tell that captures the wonder and imagination of a kids mind, but it also seems too confusing in terms of what it’s trying to say, where it’s trying to go, and how freakin’ pretentious it is. It’s been said that M. Night is a bit of a cocky dude who feels as if he can do wrong (just watch some of his movies and you might just see differently), and I’ve always put my hand of separation between me and those nay-sayers, but now I can totally see where they are coming from. The dude thinks he’s the shit, and if I’m not just talking about his story, I’m also talking about the character he plays here.

If you're going to throw a banger, the pool has to at least big 3x bigger than that kiddie-shit!

If you’re going to throw a banger, the pool has to at least big 3x bigger than that kiddie-shit!

Instead of having himself play a small-role, or even a cameo like he usually does, M. gives himself a character that is not only one of the biggest parts of the whole movie, but probably the most important since his character is a writer, who’s future piece-of-work is supposed to inspire and influence generations and generations to come. A bit self-indulgent? You think!??! And hell, it wouldn’t been half-bad if the dude could have backed it all up with some nice acting, but the dude seriously can’t act for shit in this movie. His character is supposed to be pretentious and cocky, but instead, he just comes off like a whiny-ass that always comes to Cleveland whenever he needs a light-bulb fixed, his rug washed, or house ram-sacked so that people can see what he’s up to.

However, M.’s problem with his character is the same problem that everybody else in this movie seems to be having as well. God bless Giamatti, but the dude really seems to be phoning it in here. And that’s not just his fault, but more of the character’s and how M. writes him as being. We first see this Cleveland dude as an obviously sad, lonely, and depressed dude that has a stutter, so why the hell would he all of a sudden help out, let alone, actually believe this mystical creature as a thing from a different world? Oh, I don’t know, maybe cause he’s had a tragedy bestowed upon him that’s only brought up once? Yeah, maybe that’s it. Regardless of what the real reason was, I didn’t care, I didn’t understand, and I felt bad for Giamatti as it seems like he got roped into doing this, just so he could work with “that guy who did the Sixth Sense.”

Somehow, I feel that’s why anybody still works with the dude, even until this day.

Everybody else suffers from the same problems that Giamatti does as well. Jeffrey Wright’s character is the type of dude that seems to know almost anything and everything about the English language, just through doing a whole bunch of crossword puzzles, and yet, we are actually supposed to believe that the fate in humanity rests in his hands, as well as his own kid’s, who reads cereal boxes all day. Yup, believe that for sure! But the list of characters go on and on and on, almost to the point of where you stop feeling bad for M., not realizing that he’s losing all control, but for the obviously, very-talented people involved with this movie.

People like Freddy Rodriguez, Jared Harris, and Sarita Choudhury are all here, and trying to do whatever the hell it is that they can, but all fall fate to M. Night’s crappy-writing. He tries to make these characters funny with their own little quirks here and there, but none of it even comes together for the finale to make sense, nor does it ever come together to make us laugh. The movie tries whatever it can to do both of those things (laugh and make sense), but fails miserably and it’s all because of M. Night. The dude may know how to make a shot interesting and make any type of atmosphere as every-bit of tense and eerie, but he can’t write snappy-dialogue, unless the actors/actresses are up to it. I don’t know if everybody was up to it here, but something did not mix so well.

He's got the whole world of this chick's life, in his hands....

He’s got the whole world of this chick’s life, in his hands….

The only person I can say who wasn’t involved with any of the shit-talking I was doing up there is Bryce Dallas Howard as Story, and the only reason I don’t include here is because her character is so dry (funny, because she’s the lady in the WATER), so dull, and so boring, that you don’t ever understand what makes her such a wonderful creature to save, let alone, go nuts for. I get it, she’s almost like a mermaid and has mystical powers, but does that mean we too are supposed to give two shits about her character and how her fate rests in these num-skulls’ hands? Hell to the no! Obviously M. Night cares, but we can’t share the same feelings, which is probably how most people have been feeling for the longest time when it comes to them and the dude.

Poor guy. He’s from Philly, he likes his twist-endings, and he’s got a great name that’s easy to make jokes about, but he just can’t seem to win nowadays.

Consensus: The Lady in the Water is a self-indulgent mess that finds M. Night at his most cocky and arrogant, for the sole-purpose that he thinks everything he’s doing is right, smart, and makes sense, but doesn’t care too realize that he might, just might, be going a tad over-board with the ideas and turns his story takes, as obvious as they are.

2 / 10 = Crapola!!

Go on, Paul. Take a dip. You deserve it buddy.

Go on, Paul. Take a dip. You deserve it buddy.

Ghost World (2001)

High school may have blown, but post-high school, sucks even worse.

Enid (Thora Birch) and Rebecca (Scarlett Johansson) are a pair of outsiders who have just graduated from high school and are trying to figure-out to do with their lives. There’s the possibility of college, getting an apartment together, making money, having boyfriends, spending time together, getting jobs, and all of that other, annoying crap that you have to deal with after the days of high school. However, Enid is more concerned with her friendship with a strange man she met through an ad in the classifieds, a nerd named Seymour (Steve Buscemi).

People may make fun of it a lot and write it off as it’s some sort of plea for help or pity, but seriously: it’s hard being a teenager, let alone, a young adult. It really is, especially after you hit that ripe-part in your life where not only are you out of high school and have the rest of your life to think about, but also realize that for the past 4 years of your life, you’ve been sleep-walking in a state of normality, without any ideas or consequences of what you want to do next with your life. I know this all comes off as very angsty and straining, especially when you know that this is coming from a 19-year-old male, who lives with his parents, goes to a city college, and makes a living off of Craigslist, but it’s the truth and that’s what resonated with me so much throughout this whole flick: it’s just like me, in one way or another.

I’ve never read or even given a look at the original graphic novel that this flick is based-off of but from what it seems like, the author, Daniel Clowes, definitely knows a thing or two about being stuck in the middle of your life and having no idea how the hell to get out of it. I was never an outsider throughout school, hell, not even life, but I really connected with these two gals in the ways that they weren’t able to connect with the rest of the world around them. They sulk around their days as they go-by, make fun of every person they see, and never seem to be happy with anything that comes their way. They are just the typical, normal, neo-cool teenagers that are way too hot for their britches and act like everybody else around them are a bunch of idiots and as annoying as that may sound to watch a whole, hour-and-50-minute long movie about, trust me, it’s a lot darker and dramatic than it may have you think.

Nothing spells-out, "Confused and Lonely", quite like two people laying on one another.

Nothing spells-out, “Confused and Lonely”, quite like two people laying on one another.

The flick never really gets down on these girls for being such a bunch of bummers, it actually, more or less, shows them-off as being true, near, and dear human-beings that just go about their lives in different directions than say, you or I. Watching them interact with one another was great because I felt like they were two friends that knew everything about one another, and loved each other for all of it, but yet, it was also sad to see at how rapidly they were changing and how things between the two become a bit hostile, once one person’s laziness gets in the way of the other person’s happiness. It shows that these two are friends that love each other for all that that are, but maybe not for all that they are going to be, considering that their lives may soon be changing, as well as their personalities and whatnot.

That “friendship” aspect is what really touched me in a way, but the whole idea of not knowing where to go when your life of high school is all said and done with, well that, really got to me. Not only is it done in such a way that’s pitch-black humorous with all of it’s insights on how stupid and annoying people who give into conformity can be, but it also done in a way where life doesn’t always hand you out questions, as if they were lemons. It’s sort of like that old saying, “You get more out of life, by what you put into it”, and in a way, that’s sort of truthful. You can sit around all day, watch movies, critique them, talk shit on other people because they aren’t like you in every, which-way, and at the end of it all, just go back to your bed and be peaceful with your own anger and self-misery. In a way, that’s sort of my life story, but yet, it isn’t because I actually do a lot more than just all of that boring, dull shite that I just mentioned. I like to be happy with friends, hang-out, go to parties, listen to some neat-o music, and just do all of the typical things that make a person happy, no matter how old or young they may just be.

That’s why the old saying that I just mentioned up there, is, relatively true to the point of where you understand where you’ll life will go if you don’t do anything with it, and yet, still expect it to give you the happiness and pleasure that you so rightfully desire. If life can’t do it for you, then you just have to do it for yourself and it’s a lot easier said, then actually done, but it can, and it will be done if you give yourself the time and pace. This main theme resonated with me very well and I love how everything played-out here in a very brutal, honest way that made me laugh, made me a bit emotional, and also, made me realize that there is more I can do with my life than just sitting around and talking shite on people. I don’t want to say this movie is a “life changer” by any stretch of the imagination, but it is one that will definitely connect with you, if you have ever felt out-of-place in the world, or just don’t have any sense of general direction of where you want it to go.

However, I felt like that main theme was sort of ruined by the ending that plays it almost a little too safe. Without giving too much away, there is this red herring that continues to pop-up throughout the whole story and at first, it seems like a sweet, little quirky touch from the writers and director, but after awhile, it becomes so insistingly obvious, that you sort of just want them to get it over and done with. It got so annoying that by the time the actual ending came about (which there seem to be 2 of, mind you), I was left a bit more dry than I originally expected. Yes, the thoughts, ideas, and messages that this movie made me think about were still left in my head, but did not impact me as much as if the film just knew the right time and place to end, exactly when I thought it should have. Oh well, not everything can be perfect I guess.

Going back to my point about the friendship between these two gals, the main reason why it works so well is because Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson are so good in the roles, whether they are together, or not. Johansson is the type of actress that doesn’t seem to get cut-enough slack, but as of late, she’s been proving that, time and time again, she can knock it out of the park and shut all those naysayers up, but here, in one of her earlier roles, she’s great. She’s young, brass, full of attitude, but also a bit different from Enid because she has more of an inspiration for what she wants to do with her live and understands the concept of, “Having money, allows you to buy the things you want, and therefore, you are happy”.

Even though she was about 17 in this, she was still foxy, don't even lie you pervs.

Even though she was about 17 in this, she was still foxy. Don’t even lie you pervs.

Enid, on the other-hand, does not roll that way and god bless her for that. After American Beauty boosted her to stardom, Thora Birch seemed to go straight for the same, exact role she played as the misunderstood outsider, but this time, with more of a comic-edge to her here, than that role. Birch’s comedic-timing is just perfect with her deeply deadpan, sardonic delivery that makes you feel like this girl is way too smart to hold a conversation with, or let alone, even be around in the same area with. That doesn’t make her the loveliest of lovely characters to watch grace the screen, but it still makes her a very honest character, albeit, a female teenager in a teen-dramedy. She’s full of angst, but not in the way you’d expect, she’s pissed at the world, angry at how it doesn’t accept it, and and mad at how it’s not making her happy. It’s a very honest-portrayal of a girl that has no sense of direction and doesn’t really care to have one, and it really makes you wonder just why the hell Birch left the spotlight after this and hasn’t really done a movie, as big as this? Seriously, Thora! Come back to us and show these whiny, little teenaged, Twilight-girls what going through angst is all about!

The highlight of this whole cast, mostly has to be Steve Buscemi who plays the endearing nerd, Seymour. When we first see Seymour, we see him as this type of loser, that doesn’t really talk to many people, have great-enough social-skills to be bothered with the rest of the world, and even better, doesn’t give a shit about anything, really. It’s sort of sad, but Buscemi plays it up so perfectly to where you really feel for the dude, especially when things start to really come-out of his soul and character that at first, may seem a bit strange, but once you get to thinking about it, realize, that maybe, just maybe, it’s what was going to happen to this guy all-along. Buscemi has such a great look and feel to him that doesn’t make you cringe at how awkward or weird he can be sometimes, but more or less, at how he’s just sad dude, who’s nice, but still very sad that the rest of the world hasn’t fully been able to make sense of him, either. It’s a wonderful performance from Buscemi that basically shows the guy can do anything, especially a comedy where he’s all about being subtle, and way, way too serious. But hey, that’s the Buscemi charm!

Consensus: Ghost World may end on a bit of a dinker, but it’s themes and central-message hit harder than any, other teenage-dramedy of the past decade or so, and the performances from everybody feel fully-realized, and never used as caricatures even though that’s definitely the type of direction this film could have gone in.

8.5/10=Matinee!!

RED HERRING ALERT!!!!!!

RED HERRING ALERT!!!!!!

Moonrise Kingdom (2012)

Wes Anderson’s mind is finally a fun place to be at again.

Moonrise Kingdom centers on two 12 year-olds (Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward) who fall in love and decide run away together into the wilderness. Naturally, the local community frantically scrambles to find them before a violent storm hits shore.

For awhile now, it seems like Wes Anderson has really started losing any credit he’s ever gotten since his debut, Bottle Rocket. Mainly, the reason for that is because his style is just overly-quirky, to the point of where you don’t feel like you’re actually watching real-life human beings, you’re just watching a bunch of twee characters made from Anderson’s sketches. However, that all changes here but at the same time, doesn’t change all that much. Which is very strange considering it’s probably my favorite from him since The Royal Tenenbaums.

This is probably Anderson’s best-looking flick he has ever done but it’s also with the same style he’s been using for his whole career, it’s just that it works so well with the story. All of the trademarks from Anderson’s direction are here in this flick, but the difference here that sets it apart from all of his other, beautiful-looking movies is that this one is set in the 60’s. The bright colors, sets, costumes, and camera-tricks that Anderson pulls out of his pocket all work rather than just seeming like another hipster attempt at being “cool” because of how he sets it in the 60’s. 60’s was a time for fun, relaxing, and being yourself and Anderson totally taps into that mind-set with just how gorgeous he makes this film look and even if you don’t like Anderson films (and trust me, there are plenty out there who absolutely despise the hell out of him), you can still sit there and just gaze at the beautiful portrait Anderson has on-display here.

Anderson always has beautiful films, no surprise there, but what makes this one so different is that he has a great script to give us something else to sink our teeth into. Anderson has a very dead-pan way of comedic timing but it’s put to great use here just because the film is so damn funny. As usual, you have to look out for little sight gags here and there but it’s the fact that this film continues to get more and more goofy as it goes on, that makes you feel like you’re having the time of your life. There’s a certain unabashed “fun” feel to this film that had me entertained so much but it’s more about how the story made me feel, rather than what it made me do.

This is probably Anderson’s most innocent piece of work to date, and with good reason because when you have a story about two runaway, little kids being together and falling in love, how can you not get a little cutesy? There are so many moments here that are so pleasant to watch because you really feel something for these two kids whenever they are together, and you want them to be happy, you want them to never grow-up and be old, angry people like Suzy’s parents, and you just want them to live their lives together, forever. I know it all sounds uber cheesy and lame, but this story really bring you into to its sweetness and Anderson takes full advantage of that showing us that the outside world for these two, is just not a fun or happy place to be, especially together. It was a story that actually reminded me a lot of my little crushes I had on some chickity-doo-da’s when I was little tike and made me feel young again, just watching how happy they were being able to connect to somebody in their lives. It’s some great stuff to see up on-screen and it’s a real surprise that Wes Anderson almost had me close to tears by the end of it all. “Close to tears” is what I said, people! Don’t worry, he didn’t get me just yet.

The reason why you love these kids together so much, is because the performances from Jared Gilman and Kara Hayward are so damn good that I was even surprised to hear that this was their first film-roles ever. Gilman has this nerdy, but endearing look to him that makes him easy to like especially when he starts acting all cool and tough, while he’s trying to protect his “girl” from the cruel outside world. While Hayward is absolutely great as this somewhat disturbed girl, that seems like she would most likely be one of those emo freaks, had she been born 30 years later. They both seem so natural with each other, which really shocked me because they have to do some pretty “intimate things” together that would more than likely have some kids turn their heads and go, “ewwww coootieeeeesss!!”. However, that’s not either of these kids and they’re definitely a perfect fit for one another and I hope that they both get some real, bright futures for themselves because I think they deserve it with the work they put out here.

They’re the real stars of this flick, but everybody else is pretty damn good, too. Bill Murray is great as the dead-pan, always sad daddy of Suzy; Frances McDormand is fun to watch as the very messed-up mom of Suzie (also, Hayward looked a little bit like a younger version of McDormand, just a little bit though); Edward Norton is a whole lot of fun as the cheesy Scout Master Ward, and totally had me by surprise by how spot-on his comedic timing was considering this was the guy who got nominated for an Oscar where he actually curb stomped some dude (doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that would have me really laughing at all); Tilda Swinton is evil and bitchy as Social Services, then again, what other kind of character would she play; and Jason Schwartzman also pops-up for about 5 minutes as Cousin Ben, but is still a lot of fun.

Actually, the most surprising piece of good work here was probably done by Bruce Willis as the sad and lonely guy that searches all over for these kids, Captain Sharp. Willis has been so many damn action roles as of late that so many people almost forget about how great of a “dramatic” actor this guy can be at times and he totally surprised me with the depth he was able to go through with this sad-sack of a character. He’s not really all that tough, he’s not really all that happy, and he’s really not at all like John McClane in the least bit. All of which, are a great thing and I hope this shows that Willis has more to him than just shouting out “Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker!”.

If there was one complaint I had to throw out from this whole movie it would have to be Bob Balaban as the narrator. The guy opens up the film and is a funny joke, but every time he comes on, for some reason just bothered the hell out of me and it seemed like it was a joke that went on too long. Not a huge problem by any means, but any time the guy showed up, I seemed to have gotten more annoyed.

Consensus: Moonrise Kingdom is Wes Anderson’s welcome back to being a top-notch writer/director, and with good reason. The ensemble all bring out great work, including the little kiddie leads, the writing is hilarious in its subtle, dead-pan way, and the story itself will drag you in with its sweet innocence. Classic Anderson and I hope he’s back to stay for good.

9/10=Full Price!!

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Sometimes Woody Allen can be such a trip.

Self-absorbed novelist Harry Block (Woody Allen) sees his literary chickens come home to roost after he pens a roman à clef that offends, enrages and alienates everyone in his orbit. The film’s sterling cast also includes Elisabeth Shue as Harry’s ex-girlfriend, Kirstie Alley as his former spouse, Bob Balaban as his best pal and Judy Davis as the erstwhile sister-in-law who wants to murder Harry.

The central plot features Block driving to a university from which he was once thrown out, in order to receive an honorary degree. Three passengers accompany him on the journey: a prostitute, a friend, and his son, whom he has kidnapped from his divorced wife. However, there are many flashbacks, segments taken from Block’s writing, and interactions with his own fictional characters. The random cuts between fact and fiction may confuse some but once you understand the characters who are real and fake, then you’ll get the story.

A lot of this is taken from Woody Allen’s own life as sort of an autobiographical take, and I must say this is probably one of his most challenging, tragic, and mature work to date. This film still has his great writing that is witty and packed with many of his smart ideas about his own personal life and overall everything else in the world. There is a lot of dirty talk which I was very surprised about coming from an Allen film, and I think he hits the mark on how he uses his art to connect.

The jokes I had a huge problem with though, and its that it isn’t the smart way Woody Allen uses his jokes. Its too much about the stereotypes of Jewish people, and black people that kind of got old by the third act. Also, the joke of how Robin Williams was always out of focus was funny at first then they used the joke probably about 14 more times to the point where it became an annoyance.

The best thing about this film is its leading performance from the always great Woody Allen who basically takes this lead role, and make it into a real-life person. He captures the confusion, and depression of his characters life, and always seem real. Except that his character is such a dick and has messed his life up so much that its kind of hard to root for him and enjoy him when he’s on-screen. The film has a lot of good side performances but nothing memorable, except for probably the Billy Crystal who uses a lot of ad-lib between him and Allen, and is a great thing to see.

Consensus: Woody Allen doesn’t make his best work with Deconstructing Harry, but surely one his most mature work. Too many jokes seem out-of-place, and over-used, but with enough smart writing and a good central performance from Allen, its a pretty difficult enjoyable trip.

7/10=Rental!!