Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Chris Messina

Blame (2018)

High school will never change.

Abigail (Quinn Shephard) returns to high school after a nervous breakdown and hopes to get everything back to normal. Of course, with this being high school, no one ever forgets about her and her crazy tactics, which is why, on the very first day, rumors are already swirling about her. One of the leaders in bringing up the rumors is Melissa (Nadia Alexander), a type of mean-girl who has some issues of her own, but uses her anger and rage to hide it all. But both of their lives change when a substitute teacher (Chris Messina) fills in for the semester and wakes both of them up. Abigail is awoken because she sees something of a tortured soul within him, whereas Melissa doesn’t like the attention that Abigail is getting and decides that it’s up to her to take matters into her own hands.

Damn cheerleaders and their cliques!

Blame, for all of its missteps and flaws, is still an impressive work because of its 22-year-old director/co-writer/editor/producer/star Quinn Shephard, who takes something that could have easily been a dumb, conventional after-school special, and turn into something raw, gritty, mean, and a little sad. It still feels like the work of someone incredibly young, who is just starting out and getting used to the game of making movies, but for the most part, it’s a solid debut and is a sure sign of things to come.

That said, the movie’s got some problems, and it mostly comes through in its plot. Mostly, Shephard likes to have a little bit too much going on; there’s Abigail’s story, there’s Melissa’s story, there’s the subsitiute teacher’s story, there’s a few other girls stories, there’s the Crucible, and oh yeah, there’s the various romantic subplots that come up every once and awhile. While all are interesting in their own rights, mashed-up in a 100 minute movie, it just doesn’t totally work, with some parts feeling much better than others.

Move on, girls. It gets better.

That said, there’s a realism to this that I appreciated, mostly because Shephard seems to know and understand how rough and grueling high school can be, especially when you’re a little different. Some of it may have to do with the fact that she’s young enough to remember high school like it was literally yesterday, but there’s no nostalgia or sunshine here – it’s just mean teenagers, treating each and everyone of each other awfully. Shephard doesn’t shy away from this, nor does she ever seem to be trying to get across some tacky message about bullying and why it’s all wrong.

Basically, she’s just showing us that high school is a pretty rough time and for some, she’s not wrong.

What helps this all out, too, is that the ensemble is all pretty good. Shephard herself is an interesting and compelling presence on the screen, who can get away with a lot, without saying much of anything at all; Alexander is rough, raw, and a little unlikable, until you realize that there’s possibly more behind her evil and possibly cruel intentions; and Messina, while playing a bit of a loser-like character, gains sympathy by showing us that he’s just as sad, confused, and depressed as the students he’s teaching and doing his best to put up with. The whole love-angle feels like it could have been more fully fleshed-out, but believe it or not, Shephard and Messina have a nice chemistry to where you see the attraction and possibly, love, but you also don’t want to buy into it, either.

So conflicting. Yet, so beautiful. High school, in a nut shell.

Consensus: As a debut, Blame serves as a promising, if also messy high-school drama that digs in deep and doesn’t shy away from the rougher aspects of adolescence.

6 / 10

Yes! But also, no! I don’t know! Ugh!

Photos Courtesy of: Samuel Goldwyn Films

Advertisements

Ruby Sparks (2012)

Secretly, all men want a Manic Pixie Dream Girl to spend the rest of their lives with.

Writer Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) is sort of like the literary definition of what it means to be a “one-hit wonder”. The guy had that one book that practically took the whole reading world by storm, and then somehow fell off the face of the planet without a clue or idea of what his next book might be. As his fans continue to wait more and more desperately for what he has next to bring to the table, he can’t seem to get his head around the fact that he simply has nothing. That is, until he starts writing about the latest creation in his head: Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan). At first, Ruby only appears to him in his dreams and in his writing, but suddenly it becomes all too real and Calvin realizes that he actually has a real-life girlfriend that goes by the name of “Ruby Sparks” and will do anything and everything he writes about her doing.

And there you have it: The male fantasy, given to one geeky, antisocial writer. What a waste!

"Hello? Police? Yes, I have an intruding-hipster in my house that won't stop making all my meals vegan and telling me how the man is wrong, man. I need back-up assistance!"

“Hello? Police? Yes, I have an intruding-hipster in my house that won’t stop making all my meals vegan and telling me how the man is wrong, man. I need back-up assistance!”

Ruby Sparks, like a lot of other indies of its own kind, deals with an originally wacky and quirky idea, but you know what? It milks it for all that it’s worth. It’s hard to take it entirely seriously, until you realize that, after awhile, the movie itself is in order to deal with the greater aspects of life, like, for instance, love itself. Ruby Sparks shows us how no matter where we go in life, no matter who we date, or no matter how much we try to change the other person, that idea and sense of love will always be there, as much as we may injure and toy around with it. A person can change their look, style, views, friends, favorite places to eat, etc., but they can’t change the inner-self that makes them a person, especially one that deserves to be loved by anybody or anyone. People forget about that because you think about that one person not being with you and how much he/she has changed without you around to talk or be with, when in reality, they are still the same person, just with some changes here and there.

In other words, the bolts and crannies may be loosened, but the gears are still turning and moving the way they once did.

 

So yeah, Ruby Sparks can be funny and a little silly, but it’s also very deep and has something to say. Where it begins to run its unfortunate course is within the actual characters themselves of Calvin and Ruby. You see, the double-edged sword behind Calvin and Ruby is that you love them when they’re together and being all cute with one another, but once they get away from all the cuteness and start getting semi-serious, mad, and sad, then, you begin to realize that they aren’t as likable as you had once imagined. I don’t know if Ruby can count since she is practically a character that was made on the page and does next whatever Calvin rights her to do, but he sure as hell can since he’s not a real nice dude to begin with.

Maybe I’m alone on this boat, but I’m not always there rooting for the “troubled-soul of a writer who can’t come up with an idea and treats everybody around him like crap”-aspect of most movies. I do get that writers going through writer’s block tend to be awful to those around them, no matter who it is around them, but Calvin turns out to be just an unpleasant guy that you can’t really seem to be happy with when he’s happy, or even sad when he’s sad. You just sort of don’t care. Or, if you do care, it’s mainly for Ruby since the poor gal actually loves the dude for who he is, rather than what he should be in her mind, something he can’t seem to avoid with everybody he runs into.

Prefers long walks on the beach. Wow, that Ruby girl is so unique....

Prefers long walks on the beach. Wow, that Ruby girl is so unique….

That’s not to say that Zoe Kazan and Paul Dano aren’t good in this movie, whether they be together or separate, it’s just that their characters aren’t written as well as the ideas and thoughts of the premise were. That’s especially surprising since Kazan wrote the screenplay herself, and you’d think that there would be more to her characters than just stock, but that’s sadly not the case. Dano does what he can to make Calvin a nice, charming-enough dude to stand to be around, but it doesn’t amount to much other than another case of a guy who can’t seem to check himself into reality just yet. Kazan is good as Ruby, which also helps since the chick is literally as cute as a button that I hope to see more of in the near-future.

But not like a hipster. Please, no more of that.

Though the leads don’t knock anything out the park, the supporting cast is at least better and worth mentioning. Chris Messina plays Calvin’s slightly jealous, envious brother that wants to have the same advantages that Calvin has in his easy-going life, but just can’t because he’s married, has a kid, and a little thing called “responsibilities”. Messina is great at these types of roles and always finds a way to make them the least bit likeable, even if the characters he plays do seem a bit dick-ish, at a first glance. Annette Bening and Antonio Banderas play their parents that are the old-school, stoner hippies that haven’t realized ‘Nam ended some time long ago; it’s nice to see Elliott Gould working again, even if it is just a small-role as Calvin’s just-as-inspired therapist; and Steve Coogan, once again, plays a dastardly character.

Consensus: The idea behind Ruby Sparks is smarter and more thought-out than the actual characters, but Kazan’s writing always remains compelling and interesting, even when it does detour in obvious territories like the fight every couple should have, or the thing that’s keeping them from really loving each other. However, this time, it’s with a twist!

7 / 10

"The girl of his dreams", or, "A girl he can't see because the sun is practically beaming down on his face."

“The girl of his dreams”, or, “A girl he can’t see because the sun is practically beaming down on his face.”

Photos Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight

Live By Night (2016)

Alcohol kills. Literally.

It’s the 1920’s in Boston and Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) wants to make a name for himself, and get out of the shadow of his father (Brendan Gleeson), a Boston police captain. By doing that, he starts robbing banks and taking out local gangsters, getting his name more known, of course, but also putting him on a lot of people’s radars. Eventually though, once Joe does his time in the slammer and gets out, it’s the 1930’s and more people want to get drunker than ever before. What ends up happening is that Joe gets sent to Tampa, where he and his best buddy (Chris Messina), will watch over rum-business, make sure people are drinking it, buying it, and not trying to start any scuffles. However, when you’re a bootlegger, things aren’t always going to go as planned and when you’re with a lovely lady, like Graciella (Zoe Saldana), you’re going to continue to have issues – not just with racist locals, but sometimes, even with your own bosses. This is something that Joe realizes right away and has to start acting quickly, or else he, as well as everyone else that he loves, may soon be killed.

Oh, the hot and stirring possibility of chemistry!

Oh, the hot and stirring possibility of chemistry!

Live By Night isn’t nearly the disaster, or awful train-wreck, so many have been calling it. If anything, it’s just a sure sign that Ben Affleck, like many other great directors/actors/writers/artists/human beings before him, is capable of giving up, admitting defeat, and being a disappointment. Sure, say what you want about his acting resume, as a director, Affleck has rallied-up an impressive roster behind the camera; Gone Baby Gone, the Town, and Argo are all pretty great movies, highlighting that Affleck knows what it takes to make a solid, exciting and compelling piece of film. Are they all perfect? Nope, of course not, but they get a lot more right, than they don’t.

And there’s the ugly stepchild known as Live By Night, that shows Affleck’s directing skills that he continuously building on and on as the years and projects have gone by, perhaps, came back to stab him in the back a little bit. But what’s odd about Live By Night is that it’s not a bad movie because of what Affleck does, it’s more of what he doesn’t do, or better yet, include.

For instance, Denis Lehane’s book could probably be adapted into some sort of miniseries, let alone, its own show altogether.

There’s a lot of subplots, relationships, characters, ideas, and messages toggled around with here, some of which are very interesting to watch and see how they play-out, but unfortunately, they’re all packaged within a movie that’s just a little over two hours, not allowing for there to be enough time and attention devoted to ensuring that each and everyone of these points gets the eyes that they deserve. Don’t believe me? Well, take for example, halfway through the flick, our lead protagonist, Joe Coughlin, goes to prison for what seems like a pretty heavy sentence and then, in the next scene, he’s out and ready to continue on with the rest of his life.

But there’s more of that going on here. Certain characters pop in and out, who are supposed to have some sort of overall meaning to Coughlin, his life, and his work, but for some reason, they are harped on for about ten to fifteen minutes, forgotten about and never to be heard from again. It’s odd, because it seems like Affleck himself knows that he’s got a lot on his plate and seems like he has an eye for this period’s detail and style, but it never quite translates to the story. It feels too jumbled, messy and sporadic, as if it’s not ever safe to get too attached or involved with one major plot-point or character, because they next scene, it/they could all be gone.

What a preacher's daughter!

What a preacher’s daughter!

Which isn’t to get past the fact that Live By Night is an entertaining movie, it’s just sometimes too random for its own good.

It’s a shame, too, because Affleck shows that he can still direct a somewhat compelling movie, all obvious issues aside. There’s a few gun-battles that are tense and fun, there’s a car-chase sequence that’s well-staged, and yeah, there’s even some compelling moments involved with Coughlin and how exactly he runs this rum-business. But like I said, there’s probably six or seven hours worth of material, all cut-up, jumbled and put together in a two-hour piece, that also feels like it’s trying hard to get everything out there, but doesn’t know how to package it correctly.

Even the ensemble, as talented as some of these people may be, don’t always get-off quite easy. Affleck is fine as our lead, although never quite as magnetic as he should have been; Zoe Saldana and Sienna Miller are sultry and sexy, but that’s about it; Elle Fanning’s character has an interesting complex, but it ends on such a silly note that it’s easy to forget about her; a porky and relatively plump Chris Messina shows up as Coughlin’s cousin/go-to man who feels like he deserved so much more attention than he got; Brendan Gleeson shows up as Coughlin’s very Irish dad and feels like he wandered off the set of Assassin’s Creed and thought about collecting a nice paycheck; and Chris Cooper, despite trying very hard as the town’s preacher, oddly enough, gets a whole lot to do, then leave in such a manner that feels rushed and a total betrayal of the character himself.

Oh well. At least Miguel’s in it for about five minutes.

Consensus: With so much going on and to explore, Live By Night can’t help but feel like a jumbled-up mess, albeit, one with a great look and feel to it, that occasionally stirs some sort of emotion resembling excitement.

6 / 10

Walk away from it, Ben. You'll be okay.

Walk away from it, Ben. You’ll be okay.

Photos Courtesy of: GQ, Are You Screening, Metro

Digging for Fire (2015)

Buried treasure is a perfect metaphor for one’s mid-life crisis.

Tim (Jake Johnson) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) are, for the most part, a happy couple. They have a child together, and even though they can’t necessarily agree on what education is the best for him, they still love one another enough that it’s only a slight problem. But having been married for so long can make a person feel a bit suffocated; which is why Lee decides to take it upon herself to head out on a little relaxing trip of her own. This leaves Tim at home, all by himself, for the whole weekend – which he more than takes advantage of. For one, Tim throws a banger full of booze, drugs and women, and then, all of a sudden, discovers a bone and a gun in his backyard. Where it’s come from, he doesn’t know, however, Tim is more than inspired to find out just what the hell else is hidden underneath the dirt that surrounds him and his pad. Meanwhile, Lee herself is having some bit of fun as she goes out gallivanting one night, and stumbles upon the charming Ben (Orlando Bloom), who immediately takers her breath away and makes her ponder whether or not marriage is actually cut-out for her in the first place.

If he can smoke...

If he can smoke…

You could make a fair argument that Joe Swanberg tends to make the same movie, over and over again. While he does switch-around the plots, for the most part, everything is exactly as mumblecore-ish and as simplistic as you could expect it to be. When you go into seeing a Joe Swanberg movie, you expect something with a fly-on-the-wall approach, where it may seem like nothing’s happening, or that it ever will. To some, this can annoy up to high heavens, but for others, such as myself, it’s truly a treat to watch in amazement.

Even if, sometimes, the end results aren’t always so great as you’d hope.

But that isn’t to say Digging for Fire isn’t a good movie from Swanberg in any sort of fashion – in fact, just the opposite. Compared to last year’s Happy Christmas, it feels as if Swanberg has more of a story to roll with here and even though he’s only using them as a way to pass through his metaphor about growing old and marriage itself, it’s still done in such a way that didn’t seem manipulative. Are the rusty gun and odd-looking bone symbolism for how tired and worn-out these two main characters feel? Or, are they just story-telling devices that Swanberg utilizes to make us think that something crazy, or better yet, shocking is going to happen around then, until we realize that, well, not really? Does it really matter?

Nope, not really. And the reason that is, is because Swanberg knows how to tell a story by standing back and letting everyone in front of the camera do the talking for him. Though Swanberg apparently co-wrote this script with Jake Johnson, a part of me still feels like that doesn’t account for anything; there are still many patches throughout this movie where it’s evident that everybody’s just riffing on whatever they feel should come next in the scene that they’re currently filming. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint, seeing as how I usually love the spontaneity Swanberg’s able to draw-out of his performers using this directing-approach, but it does make me wonder how much better some of these films would be, with a little more push here and there in the creative-department.

But, that said, Digging for Fire still works enough as is because it is, for one thing, a funny movie. Sure, some of that has to do with the fact that, in addition to the two main stars, the likes of Sam Rockwell, Mike Birbiglia, Melanie Lynskey, Anna Kendrick, and Chris Messina show up for a little while, but it also has some part to do with the fact that Swanberg takes Tim’s life and main dilemma seriously. Basically, the main question is why Tim’s going to town on digging into the yard? Does it really matter what Tim finds?

Maybe.

Then, so can she dammit!

Then, so can she dammit!

But whatever Tim does find, Swanberg makes it a point to keep himself more invested on what goes in and around Tim’s life and while they may be all a bunch of fun to laugh and be around, it’s Johnson’s Tim who always comes off as the more charismatic figure. For one, his character is given the most background info in that he seems like a bit of a boring, tied-down, but after a little while, shows that he’s capable of having a great time and being the life of the party when he’s called on to do so. Sure, he’s still got a wife and kid, but he won’t hesitate one second to snort that line of coke. Johnson does well with this character in that he shows he’s both smart, but a bit dopey at the same time, and it makes you hope that, even if it isn’t as memorable as he hopes, whatever he finds underneath all that dirt, at least gives him some satisfaction in life.

Of course, because Johnson’s role is so well-done, Rosemarie DeWitt does seem to get cheated here a bit. It’s one thing if DeWitt’s scenes just aren’t that interesting, but she hardly gets that much time on the screen. There’s the first-half of the movie and then, randomly, she’s nowhere to be seen until the final act where she’s now out on the prowl herself. DeWitt’s still solid in this role and shows that she’s able to work with not that much, but at the same time, makes me wish that Swanberg and Johnson, gave her character just as much time and effort as they gave the Tim character.

Like I alluded to before, though, there’s a lot of funny and famous people who show up here, all of whom, do fine. Rockwell is his usual killer-self; Birbiglia is nerdy and twitchy; Brie Larson is cool and full of personality; Kendrick is, for some lovely reason, a bit of a skank; and oh yeah, Orlando Bloom shows up. See, here’s the thing about Orlando Bloom: It’s not that I think he’s a bad actor, per se, it’s just that he hasn’t even really had time to grow out of being anything more than just Will Turner. You could say that he had Elizabethtown, but honestly, nobody had that movie to work with. Bloom shows up here for a short time as an object of Lee’s affection and does a solid job, given the time that he’s given to work with. He’s cool, suave, charming and most of all, not annoying. To me, this shows that maybe, given some time on his part, Orlando Bloom could start showing different layers of his acting-talent, if given the right chance and time to do so.

So, please guys! Try and do that if you can!

Consensus: Though Digging for Fire is typical Swanberg-fare, it’s still funny, insightful, and well-acted enough to where it feels like there was a bit more effort on not just the part of Swanberg’s, but the unexpectedly star-studded cast as well.

7 / 10

And they might as well, too.

And they might as well, too.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Manglehorn (2015)

ManglehornposterWhen you’re sad and lonely, get a cat. Those little a-holes seem to help out.

A.J. Manglehorn (Al Pacino) lives a very quiet, care-free life. He lives with his cat that he loves so much, owns a key shop somewhere around town, goes out to eat when he feels like it, goes to the bank to flirt with one of the tellers (Holly Hunter), and will occasionally head on over to the local casino. Though he has a son (Chris Messina), the relationship the two have isn’t great to where they constantly keep in touch – except for only when the other needs money. But for some reason, Manglehorn is starting to think a tad differently about his life and realizes that maybe it’s time for some things to change. This pushes him to finally ask that bank teller out on a date, reconnect with his son, and above all, try and have something of a relationship with his grand-daughter. For some reason, however, there’s something in Manglehorn’s past that’s constantly keeping him away from doing that. Nobody really knows but him, so what is it exactly?

Last year, with Joe, David Gordon Green finally seemed to have gone back to his roots, and while he was at it, find the perfect suitor for his unique sense of style with the likes of Nicolas Cage. Sure, the movie may have depended a lot on the performance of Cage, but as a whole, it brought Green back to the good old days of when he made smaller, more indie-based flicks that seemed so strange oddly put-together, that they seemed like nothing more than crappy student films. However, for better or worse, they weren’t; they were David Gordon Green’s babies that he wanted to display for the whole world to see. What the world decided to do with them, was totally their choice.

First dates don't get anymore exciting than this!

First dates don’t get anymore exciting than this!

As it will be with Manglehorn – another flick that finds Green back to his old indie-world.

And just like with Joe, Green’s been able to find another talented star who is able to gel with his unique style with the likes of Al Pacino, surprisingly. Over the past year or so, Pacino has really stepped away from the big, mainstream lime-light and stick it straight with the indies, and while they may have not all worked out perfectly as a whole, there’s no denying that Pacino’s very good in them. Now, at this point in his career, Pacino is less concerned with making money and pleasing others, and more or less concerned with just challenging himself and showing the rest of the world that it doesn’t matter how old you get, you can still season and hone your craft.

With this character of Manglehorn, Pacino gets a chance to do so and it surprisingly works for the rest of the movie. Even though a lot of the lines that Pacino mutters are nothing more than a faint whisper, at times, there’s still a sense that there’s something more to this guy than he’s letting on. Pacino has the great ability to make it seem like he’s improving his ass off, even if the script is written exactly as how it’s coming out, and here, as Manglehorn, there are many instances in which it seems like Pacino’s just making it all up as he rolls on along. But somehow, once again, it works – it makes you see that this character may be a bit out-of-touch with the world around him and when push comes to shove, can be as charming as you or I.

That’s if, you know, you or I were Al Pacino, of course.

No, Harmony Korine. Just leave.

No, Harmony Korine. Just leave.

But anyway, what Pacino’s performance in the key role shows about the rest of the movie, is that when Green just allows for the camera to sit down and just observe whatever Pacino’s doing, or saying, or acting with, the movie’s something of a little delight. The scenes Pacino has with Holly Hunter and her character are at times sweet, and at other times, odd, but there’s no denying that there’s an engaging simplicity to them all that puts us all one step closer to these characters, rather than making it feel like Green’s style is getting in the way too much. Even the few scenes Pacino has with Chris Messina’s character run with the same kind of energy, although in a different manner, of course.

However, the problem that this movie runs into is that it feels like it’s a little excessive in certain details. Now, even though Green didn’t write this (Paul Logan did such), the movie still has his certain trademark for letting the weirdest little details sink in, but whereas his movies end with that and just allow for them to be a thing, Logan seems like he wants this tale to be about so much more. For instance, it’s never clear where exactly this movie is going, all of a sudden until the last half-hour and we realize that, oh wait, something’s troubling this character that needs to be resolved as soon as possible. Honestly, I just presumed he was just an old crank and left it at that; anything else seemed to not exist, until it was coincidentally brought up later on.

Then, there’s the odd subplot of Manglehorn’s past life coming into the forefront of the plot, which never seemed to really go anywhere. Throughout the movie, we constantly get to hear little glimpses of a conversation some characters are having with one another about a past recollection of Manglehorn and something he did. Sometimes they’re heroic tales, sometimes they’re weird, but either way, they feel a tad unnecessary. It’s almost as if Green and Logan felt like having someone as talented as Pacino in the lead role wasn’t enough to make him interesting as is, so to add-on all of this supposed backstory would just help him out. Problem is, it didn’t happen and just goes to show you that sometimes, you shouldn’t get in the way of an artist and his art.

Especially when that artist is Al Pacino.

Consensus: Due to Pacino’s great performance, Manglehorn moves in certain areas that you don’t expect it to, to much surprise, that is sometimes both good, as well as bad.

6.5 / 10

I'd trust that grizzle with opening up my car.

I’d trust that scruff with opening up my car.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Alex of Venice (2015)

#SelfDiscoveryProbelms.

After feeling like a prisoner in his own marriage, George (Chris Messina) decides to leave his wife, Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and kid, Dakota (Skylar Gaertner), alone to fend for themselves. Alex is taken aback by this at first, but eventually, realizes that some alone time is exactly what she needed. Though she’s a lawyer who is working on this big time case against a spa-opener (Derek Luke), she realizes that sometimes, you need to put work on the back-burner and just live life to its fullest. That means, yes, partying a lot more, and definitely, having sex. But problems begin to arise when her dad (Don Johnson) starts to struggle with a play he has currently been cast in and, even worse, is acting out in strange ways that she, as well as her sister (Katie Nehra) take notice of. Also, Alex runs into a bit of a problem with her son in that he’s spending too much time with his aunt and is learning certain things about life, love and all of that fun stuff, when Alex doesn’t want him to. Sooner than later, Alex realizes that maybe doing this whole life thing all by her lonesome self wasn’t all that fun to begin with.

Chris Messina’s the kind of character actor I love to see in anything. It doesn’t matter what it is that he’s showing up in, or for how long – as long as he’s in it and has something to do, then consider me pleased. That’s why it’s a huge shock to see him actually put himself on the back-burner and let the rest of the story, the actors and everything tell itself. Surely he has that control, seeing as how he’s the writer and director of Alex of Venice after all, but it does make me wonder: Would this movie have been a lot better with more Messina?

Yeah, Alex! You get 'em, girl!

Yeah, Alex! You get ’em, girl!

Should “more Messina” be an actual complaint sent-out to movies that are seriously lacking in the casting of Chris Messina-department?

Maybe. Maybe not. Basically, I’m trying to avoid having to discuss Alex of Venice and how disappointing of a film it is. This isn’t because Messina isn’t in it as much (although, there’s no harm in that, really), but because the premise calls on for what I’ve come to realize can be labeled as “later-in-life re-awakenings” sub-genre of indie dramedies. In these kinds of movies, we see an adult literally come to a crossroad in their life where they don’t know what to do, where to go, or what to make sense of; all they know is that they want to be happy and do what they want for a change, rather than appeasing those around them and giving in.

These movies are around more than one may think, and for the most part, they’re getting tired by now. Alex of Venice proves this because it shows that it doesn’t matter if you have a strong actor, a strong character, or even a strong message in the middle of it all – if you don’t find certain ways to change or dilute from the formula a bit, there’s not much to really watch or care for. Any movie that goes through the motions in a bland, rather boring manner, always bores me. However, when you’re an indie and are able to break away from the norm of what’s been set-out before one’s sight, it makes me even more upset.

The only saving grace to anything Alex of Venice has to offer is that Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as usual, is solid. She’s the kind of actress we can all depend on now to give heavy, emotionally-draining performances in small indies that may not be remembered in a few months, but are at least worth watching, if only because of the work she’s putting into it all. And as the titled-character, Alex, Winstead gets plenty to do – some good, some bad. But no matter what, we feel bad for this character and want her to reach her everlasting goal: Internal happiness.

Now, while this may be easy to feel for Alex, it’s not so easy for the rest of the characters. Which, yet again, is a bit of a shame considering the top-tier talent Messina was able to assemble here to help him fill-out these roles.

Don Johnson has a meaty role as Alex’s dad who is bordering on Alzheimer’s by the forgetful way he’s been acting, and while watching him go through the process of auditioning for a theater role, is surely unique in the way that it’s from the perspective of an older person, it still doesn’t do much for the overall message of the movie. Then, there’s Katie Nehra’s sister character, Lily, who has this look of the popular/party girl from high school who never grew up and doesn’t plan on doing so, either. Though the movie makes a hint of there being something more to this character than just that, it sort of goes nowhere once Messina realizes that he has to fill-out Alex’s story in full detail. And poor Dakota’s story-line – it’s dead before it even hits the water.

Oh wait, never mind. Sadness ensues.

Oh wait, never mind. Sadness ensues.

This is all disappointing, but it makes sense when you take into the equation that this is indeed Chris Messina’s directorial debut.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making up for the fact that Alex of Venice is messy, due to my love for Messina as an actor, but there is something to be said for someone literally making their first movie for the whole world to see. Sometimes, it works and shows that the person behind the camera was born for commanding the camera, rather than standing in front of it and acting. But other times, it shows that maybe while they shouldn’t give up on trying to commandeer the camera on another outing, to still take some time, mull things over, and realize what you want to do next, how you want to present it, and whether or not it’s going to be worthy of people’s view.

Until then, keep on doing what you do Chris Messina. Just make sure it’s in front of the camera. For now, at least.

Consensus: Mary Elizabeth Winstead is as solid as ever in the lead role, but Alex of Venice still hardly goes anywhere unexpected or even emotional, all because it’s clearly calculated from the beginning and held-down from too many subplots in such a short movie.

5.5 / 10

Who could leave a face like that? Like, come on!

Who could leave a face like that? Like, come on!

Photos Courtesy of: Joblo.com, Youtube

Cake (2014)

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

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

Literally his only scene.

Literally his only scene.

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

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

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

For once.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We don’t care.

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

2 / 10 = Crapola!!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Palo Alto (2014)

California has some creepy-ass parents. And even more messed-up kids.

In California, a group of high school students come to terms with what’s supposed to be “adulthood”, yet, can’t seem to shake the fact at all that they might actually have to go through with it. Fred (Nat Wolff) is a wild, crazed lunatic that is downright unstable and on the verge of having himself a full-on, mental breakdown; Teddy (Jack Kilmer) is a meek, quiet, and reserved kid that likes to do most things that any teen on the face of the planet enjoys to do, but finds himself in a bit of a rut when he gets arrested one night; Emily (Zoe Levin) is a girl who gets around and uses sex as a tool for attention, but finds herself actually wanting a relationship with the wild-card that is Fred; and then there’s April (Emma Roberts). April is a smart one, but she’s also confused, angry and bored, which leads her into the arms of her soccer coach/baby-sitter employer (James Franco), and further away from the one that actually wants to be with her (Teddy). These four teens all know each other and find their stories interconnecting in ways, while also share the same idea: Being a teenager blows.

To be honest, that synopsis there was a bit of a stretch for me because there isn’t really much of a premise here. Instead, writer/director Gia Coppola (if you know the last name, you know exactly which family she comes from) just sort of moves this film from one event to the next, without much conflict, arch, or narrative to be found in there. It’a almost as if Coppola got this whole cast together, plopped the camera on the ground, and told them to “go!”, without really taking much initiative.

Probably listening to the Antlers, or whoever the "hip" band is nowadays.

Probably listening to the Antlers, or whomever the “hip” band is nowadays.

This may all sound like a bad thing, but I can assure you, it’s not. Somehow, this absolutely works for Coppola’s movie because it shows that she’s not judging anybody here whatsoever; there’s no villains, heroes, or clear-cut person that’s easy to predict what their actions next will be. Everybody here is a human being, and because of that stance Coppola seems to take, the movie feels exactly like that: A snapshot of real life, happening in front of our own very eyes. Sometimes, you could even say it’s a bit too real, but there’s something different here about the reality of these teen’s lives that Coppola creates, then against something like say, I don’t know, a Larry Clark movie.

Here, Coppola distances herself away from the material and just allows everyone, and everything to tell itself out; whereas with most of  Clark’s movies, it’s clear and obvious that he has some sort of agenda – almost as if he’s just rubbing all of this meaningless debauchery in our faces to show us how realistic it all truly is. But Coppola isn’t that type of director, and while there may be some lurid acts here that may not sit well with possible-parents out there, it still works as a way of getting us deep inside this small, boring life that these young, privileged kids have surrounded around themselves. While plenty of kids do drugs, drink, have sex, break stuff, drink flower-pot water, get into car accidents, and listen to deafening hip, EDM-jams, it’s never supposed to be seen as fun. It may cause some people to laugh in a nostalgic, “hey, I remember when I did that back in the good old days before I got old and boring”-way, but for the most part, it’s supposed to show us, the audience, that these kids are living dull lives.

Yet, it’s all that they have and somehow, you end up feeling bad for them because of so.

For example, take the character of Fred; the kind of guy you knew in high school who didn’t take shit from anyone, anywhere, regardless of it was reasonable or not. He just loved to be an asshole and get his point across, so therefore, he wasn’t the most popular/loved guy in high school, but everybody still knew exactly who he was. Watching him go around, insult people to their faces and basically say, or do, whatever comes natural to him, definitely strikes a chord with most of us who have ever felt that rebellious spirit burning deep down inside of themselves at any time in the adolescence. And because of this, Fred’s a pretty cool guy, albeit, a very dysfunctional one that doesn’t always make the right choices, with the best intentions.

However, that doesn’t make him a terrible human being, per se. It makes him somewhat thinly-minded, but he’s not a terrible person, which is something that Coppola wants to get across about each and everyone of these characters; they make decisions, not all of which will be morally correct in the eyes of “the perfect human specimen”. Because of this, it’s characters like Fred that are seen as honest and raw kids that you could walk into on the street, or may have even met back in the day, before all of the selfies and Twitter took charge of the young, fragile minds.

Gosh, this generation truly is fucked. You know?

Anyway, speaking of Fred, Nat Wolff is a downright scene-stealer in this role and shows me exactly why this kid is a young talent to be looked after. As I’ve said before about Fred, he’s a bit of a punk that doesn’t always do, or say the right things, yet, has a conscience that wants to be with those who appreciate his company and also wants to have a good time. There’s a possibility that his character and Zoe Levin’s may start up something very serious and committed together, and it shows them two as more than just a bunch of reckless, shallow teens; they want love, but they’ve never felt, or had it before, so they don’t know how to approach it or go on about it. Zoe Levin is great too, by the way, and gives Emily a very sad-streak that reminded me of plenty of girls in high school that I “knew”.

I won’t say anything more than that, but yeah, you get my drift.

"Hey, 'James Franco: Soccer Coach', has a pretty nice sound to it."

“Hey, ‘James Franco: Soccer Coach’, has a pretty nice sound to it.”

The other “love” on the other side of this story is supposed to be between Teddy and April, but without saying too much, that angle gets shelved for April and her soccer-coach to engage in some heavy, full-on flirting and kissing. Which, oddly enough, seems to be the main-attraction for this movie, only because of James Franco, but is probably the least-interesting aspect of the whole movie and isn’t even featured all that much to begin with. Franco is good as the pervy older-guy who creeps on April and possible other young gals her age, but isn’t in it all that much to really show him as anything more than just an “old dude who wants to rob the cradle a bit”. You could pretty much just say “half of Hollywood”, but you get the picture.

As for Emma Roberts, she’s amazing as April because, even though her character does some foolish, child-like things, she always seems smarter and more thoughtful than she lets on. When it becomes apparent that she may in fact love her soccer-coach, it isn’t done so in a way that makes it seem like a total fantasy, it’s shown in an understandable, believable way that has us feel bad for April because there’s absolutely no good that come of this, while simultaneously also feeling happy for her that she’s found a possible love in her life and may actually be pursuing it for the first time. This may sound like a total compliment to Coppola, but it’s really to Roberts who allows April to say so much, without saying anything at all and adding layers to her thought-process and the way she handles certain situations.

But the best for last is Jack Kilmer as Teddy, who, if you don’t know by now, is the son of the almighty Val Kilmer (who cameos up in this movie and just about steals the whole thing with only a few words of dialogue). However, just by taking one look at the kid, you’d know that right away because not only does he look a lot like his daddy did when he was a lot younger (and thinner, just saying), but even shows some of the same strengths as an actor as well. Kilmer does a lot of looking, which may seem boring and uninteresting to some, but really emphasizes a certain amount of mystery this kid has going for him and why it matters how quiet he stays. He’s the kind of kid that didn’t really talk much in high school, yet, was always there and was always doing nice things. Like everybody else in this movie, he’s not perfect, but then again, who the hell is?

Better yet, who the hell is considered “perfect” in high school – the time where practically all of us hardly have any idea of what to think of ourselves as being?

Consensus: Well-acted by just about everybody in the cast and thoughtful, Palo Alto is a promising directorial-debut for Gia Coppola that shows her inherent beauty for some of the more quieter moments in adolescence, as well as the ones that have most of us thinking about what’s right, and what’s wrong.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

No way in hell would this ever work! You really think that this person and that person wants to be related to one another?

No way in hell would this ever work! You really think that this person and that person want to be related to one another?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBAceShowbiz

Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008)

Now I know what the ‘B’ in Barcelona stands for now. Yeah, I’m a dirty boy.

Two American women named Vicky (Rebecca Hall) and Cristina (Scarlett Johansson) spend a summer in Barcelona to re-connect with the lives they think they have, and hopefully be able to find inspiration in terms of love and life. When vacationing and trying to discover themselves in Barcelona, they meet an artist, Juan Antonio (Javier Bardem), who is attracted to the both of them while still enamored of his mentally and emotionally unstable ex-wife María Elena (Penélope Cruz). Somehow, everybody starts boning one-another and it’s all deserved. Why? Because it’s Barcelona, that’s why!

Regardless of whomever the hell he prefers to go to bed with at night, Woody Allen is a film maker that knows his shit and knows how to do it right. He always has a knack for writing these stories that are so simple, so down-to-Earth, and so plain, that they make you feel as if you could have written the general-premise of half-of them when you were still drawing circles with your big crayons. That’s not to discredit Mr. Allen in any way, shape, or form, it just shows you that if you have the talent to make you writing witty and always fun, then you can do no wrong. Sadly, this is not the one movie where he exhibits his best work. Sorry, Midnight in Paris. Maybe we’ll get another like you, sooner or later.

The problem I think that Allen runs into with this flick, is that he’s more concerned with the look and feel of the whole movie, rather than what makes it so important in the first-place: the characters. This may come-off as a shock to you readers out there, but surprisingly, the characters in this movie aren’t as electric or thought-provoking as you’d think. The two female leads that this story practically breathes and dies by, Vicky and Cristina (hence the title), aren’t anything more than just a bunch of confused, American college students that just seem to be the types of people who think too much about the little shit in life, and don’t ever decide to wake-up, smell the cauliflower, and get the hell on with what’s in front of you at the time-being. There’s even this one scene where we see how much of “feeler” Vicky truly is by the way she listens to a Spanish dude play guitar, and practically cries about it once it’s over. Why? I don’t know, maybe because Woody Allen likes these types of characters that make more meaning to stuff than their really is in the first-place.

Looks like Scarlett's wearing the same hair my sister's barbies used to have.

Did Scarlett kill a Barbie doll for that hair?

It may sound weird since I am talking about a Woody Allen movie, where the characters are mostly neurotic to the point of where they have to bring a freakin’ tranquilizer with them everywhere, but it just doesn’t work here as well as it does in other films. You could even go so far as to argue that maybe the same case with the characters being too neurotic and quirky are evident in mostly all of Allen’s work, but what separates the best, from the worst, is the way he’s able to cover it all up with witty and hilarious-dialogue that keeps you interested in seeing/hearing what these characters have to do or say next. I never really felt that with these characters and I sort of just wanted them to stop their damn talking, and get back to the whole love-makin’ idea. But without Javier Bardem in the mix. If you know what I mean?

If there is anything that Woody Allen can fall back on in this movie it’s that he is so determined and inspired to show Barcelona in it’s finest, and most extravagant form, that it actually works. Barcelona is a place I would always love to venture out to, but being 19, with no job, no wife (not that I know of, no kids (not that I know of), and no relation whatsoever to a billionaire, may never get the shot to. And if that is the depressing, but true case, then this is probably the closes I’ll ever get to that trip and I have to say it’s better than nothing because you really feel as if you are there in this setting, where the pharimones between these fellow-residents are just running-wild. Seriously, if this movie doesn’t get you hot at all, I don’t know what will. And I’m not just referring to watching this during the Summer-time, neither. If you know what I mean?

The other key-factor to making this movie work is the cast that, as usual with most of Allen’s flicks, is star-studded but shows everybody doing their best to make it all work out. For the most part, they succeed. Javier Bardem was just coming off of his Oscar-win as the bad-ass Anton from No Country for Old Men, and took a pretty risky, but big-move in his career gunning for a role that’s as suave and sexy as this. Thankfully, Bardem pulls it off like crazy and shows that the guy can play charming and cool, but also have you totally revved-up to go out there and tell babes to get in their plane for Barcelona in an hour. Thank you, Javier Bardem. You give hope to all men out there in the world, in the hopes that they will one day, find woman that are as desperate for sex as themselves. It’s sad, but true.

However much you want baby, I'll pay. I swear.

However much you want baby, I’ll pay. I swear.

People get on Scarlett Johansson’s case for not being the greatest actress since the glory days of Elizabeth Taylor (or some royal beotches like that), but the girl’s got a look and style to her that works and have you feel something for her character, even if you can’t put your finger on what it is. She’s got this real sense of vulnerability and confusion within her act that makes you feel bad for her character when she gets a tad screwed-over from time-to-time, and makes you just want to give her a hug and possible smooch on-the-side. However, we all know that will never, ever happen unless you’re Ryan Reynolds or Sean Penn (present-day, mind you), so it’s all hopes and dreams from here. Rebecca Hall is always showing-up in heavy-duty dramas where she plays the straight-laced, serious gal that does her own thang and likes it, and her performance as Cristina is pretty much the same old song and dance for her, but with a bit of a lighter-feel this time. Hall is good at playing up-tight and shows how one girl can practically go from despising everything, to just wanting more out of her life of living, and life of lust. Hall is always great in what she does, but here, I saw that the girl could really handle comedy and make it work. Let’s just hope Hollywood takes notice of this and stop making her co-star as the female love-interest all movies seem to need.

The most-popular and noted aspect of this movie was probably Penélope Cruz, with her Oscar-winning role as the psycho, ex-girlfriend. It’s a role that suits our usually high-strung actress like a glove, but also doesn’t do much for the story or it’s meaning. The whole movie, you are constantly just waiting for Cruz to show up and light everything on fire and have her presence be known, but she shows up to the party a bit too late, and doesn’t really liven things up like I expected her too. It’s sort of like me that one time at my own Sweet 18th. All I wanted to do was get my ladies, my money, and my food, and I had to wait 3 hours for that crap! What the hell?!? Anyway, back to Cruz. As she usually is with anything she gets thrown at her (even you, Tom Cruise), she’s great with this role and definitely brought out the most laughs from the cast. Everybody was pretty damn serious up until she reared her beautiful self in, but still didn’t keep me as awake as I would have wished for and being that this was an Oscar-winning role: I was expecting a shit-load more from her. But then again, who doesn’t just love when Cruz breaks-out her native tongue? Huh? Huh? Am I right or what, fellas? Okay, I guess I’m the only perv around these parks. Thanks everybody!

Consensus: Allen’s writing in Vicky Cristina Barcelona isn’t as sharp or as entertaining as it has been in the past, but still, with a cast and setting like Barcelona, you could do a hell of a lot worse with a hell of a less expectations.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Despite the beautiful scenery in the background, I think we all know where I'm staring.

Despite the beautiful scenery in the background, I think we all know where I’m staring.

Argo (2012)

See, Star Wars really did save people’s lives.

The movie is on the true story of a secret 1979 CIA mission during the Iran Hostage crisis in which six diplomats are rescued through a bizarre extraction plan involving a fake Hollywood film crew scouting locations for a sci-fi film named “Argo.” Ben Affleck stars as Tony Mendez, the real-life CIA exfiltration expert who came up with the idea in the first-place and has to find the strength and courage to go through with it.

Believe it or not, that silly-ass plot synopsis up there is a real-life account on a secret CIA mission that took place during 1979 to 1980 and may have you think, “just how the hell did the government trust Hollywood with saving the lives of six people?” Well, the truth is that Hollywood is good for many things, and not only is saving the lives of six people one of them, but reviving Mr. Ben Affleck’s career as well.

As director, Ben Affleck is basically three-for-three (Gone Baby Gone and The Town are his two other flicks), but this one is slightly different from those other ones as he is actually stepping out of his friendly-streets of Bawhstan, and upping his game by focusing on something bigger, and a lot larger-scale than from what we usually expect from this guy. The look and feel of this movie just put me right into a late 70’s/early 80’s vibe that not only set me in the right-mood, but never rang a single false-note to me whatsoever, even with all of the goofy mustaches, cars, and hair-do’s running around all-over-the-place.

But what really came as a total shock to me is how Affleck was not only make me feel like I was exactly right there with him in America during this time-period, but also made me feel like in the chaotic shit-hole of Iran during this time as well, and damn, was it freakin’ scary. Right from the start, we are put in this area of Iran that is just full of chaos and on the verge of collapsing, and Affleck shows this perfectly by splicing together his footage, with actual-footage taken at this time to create a realistic, if even scarier view-point of the setting where our main-story takes place in. It’s not only great in it’s realistic/very detailed look, but also how we are able to draw the similarities between the Middle East and the West’s relationship with one another, to then, and how almost nothing has changed whatsoever in the thirty-plus years since this whole “Argo” mission went down.

However, it’s not all about making a point and showing off the politics with Affleck, it’s more about the whole mission itself and that’s where most of the fun of this movie came from. The first hour or so where we are left following Affleck as he tries his damn near hardest to make this fake-movie every bit of legit as he can, is the most entertaining aspect of this whole movie, not just because it takes a lighter, and slightly, more humorous approach than the rest of the film, but because it shows you just how hard it is to actually get something made in Hollywood, regardless of whether it’s the next masterpiece or not. But, all of the hootin’ and holler soon starts to go away once the real plot of this movie kicks in, and that’s where I really started to feel the tension go up my spine and get the goosebumps working. This is where Affleck shines the most, by showing how capable he is of making you sweat your ass off, with every single, tense second that goes by. It’s worked in his other two films, and it sure as hell works here but not as perfectly.

The reason why the whole suspension of this film doesn’t work as well as Affleck’s last, two movies, is because we already know the story going on and if you haven’t already known, chances are, you’re going to be able to tell how it ends. Then again, that’s sort of the basis for all movies out there but when you have a movie that puts the whole aspect of itself, on the fact that you have to feel all tense and worked-up to really enjoy the whole movie, then you kind of have to wonder just when this movie’s time is up. I don’t know want to say that it got to that point for me, but there was a very heart-breaking point where I realized that, “okay, I already know what’s going to happen, so why the hell is Affleck wasting my time with all of these slow scenes and epic score bits?” But, I don’t want to give anything else away and trust me, if you don’t know the story going in, be ready, cause you may already know it from start-to-finish about half-way through. I did, and I think that’s where this film sort of failed in captivating me as much as I would have liked it to.

Then, it seems to get worse for Affleck as the guy doesn’t really stand-out as much with his performance as Tony Mendez. The problem with Mendez isn’t Affleck’s acting, in-fact, the guy’s pretty good when it comes to him showing his near-perfect comedic timing, as well as showing us a character that’s easy to root for, even when the odds are stacked up in his defense, more of the problem is that this character just doesn’t have much going for him that’s interesting or worth really standing behind in the first-place. Yeah, the guy singlehandedly comes up with this plan and is brave enough to go out there and finish it off himself, but he doesn’t really have much of anything else going for the guy. This is fairly evident when the film tries to shoe-horn the whole angle with him and how he misses his son and wife, even though they touch on it for about 6 minutes throughout the whole film, and then at the end, is supposed to have some big, emotional impact on us as we walk out the door. No, no, mister Ben. Not falling for it this time.

Then again, you have to give Affleck more credit because this even and plain performance, almost allows him to take a side-step to the left for the rest of his ensemble to show off and do their own thang unlike anybody else. Bryan Cranston shows up in his 100,000th movie role this whole year as Tony’s boss, and nails all of the snappy dialogue they give him, and his angry soul. I was hearing a lot of Oscar buzz surrounding Cranston and his role here and as good as the guy may be, I don’t really see it all that much since he’s not really stretching his skills as an actor by just yelling and looking mad all of the time. Still, it’s an act that I have yet to be tired of. Alan Arkin is also another guy that’s been getting a lot of buzz for his role here as big-shot, Hollywood producer, Lester Siegel. This buzz is deserved but I don’t really see Arkin getting a nomination, mainly because the guy doesn’t do anything else other than yell, scream, holler, and rant like the old man we all know and hopefully, love him for. Then, there’s John Goodman as real-life make-up artist John Chambers, who also seems to be having a lot of fun with his role and steals a lot of the scenes he’s in. However, the rest of the supporting cast is just filled, and filled, and filled to the brim with actors/actresses that you have most likely seen in about 1,000 other movies and when you see their faces pop-up here, you’re going to be going right up next to your buddies ear and say, “Hey, isn’t that the guy from that so-and-so movie?” Trust me, I did that plenty of times with my sister and I probably missed a hundred more because my mind would still be in heavy thought and not focused on who’s familiar face was going to show up next.

Consensus: Though it’s not as tense or electrifying as Affleck’s last two directorial efforts, Argo still works as a smart, funny, and entertaining thriller that covers a mission that not many people ever knew about, but was also a very important one by how it showed certain sides of the U.S. government working hand-in-hand with Hollywood in a slightly surreal, yet smart way.

8/10=Matinee!!

Celeste and Jesse Forever (2012)

Chicks got to make up their minds.

Best friends and lovers since high school, Jesse (Andy Samberg) and Celeste (Rashida Jones) got married in their twenties and, after a few years of wedded bliss, woke up to discover that they love each other as pals but not as husband and wife. So Jesse moves on, while Celeste is left to wonder just what the hell did she do.

It’s a surprise that this flick hasn’t gotten a bigger distribution than what it already has, because the material here could probably end up making this a sleeper hit of the late Summer, much like (500) Days of Summer did way back in ’09. No, it’s nothing as brilliant and original as that, but it says the same stuff and makes you feel the same emotions, except there’s no Hall & Oates in this one. That already puts it a step-below.

What I think touched me about this story right off the bat was how honest it was about itself. I don’t know how much Jones and co-writer/co-star Will McCormack have experienced in their lives from the past, but it seems like they know a whole lot about relationships, how you make them work, and sometimes, how you can make them fall-apart just by trying to change that other person. There’s a lot here that speaks out to people who think they are too good for their soul-mate and think that it’s time to call it quits just because they aren’t up-to date with them, as much as they are with everything else in the world. There are plenty of people out there just exactly like that, and 9 times out of 10, those people start to realize that they made a huge mistake because they never once thought that the person they’d tried to get rid of, would eventually come back and be the person they always wanted them to be.  It’s a very true testament to not just how relationships work, but people as well, and Celeste and Jesse are no different from that.

What I liked most about this script was how every single part of this flick was set-up as a rom-com cliché. Gay best-friend? Check. Chick that needs to get her love-life back on-track but ultimately fails? Check. Witty best friend that tells it like it is? Check. Big speech at the end where the character tells everybody all that they have been through? Double check. The difference here is that this film sees those conventions, and sort of spins them on its head and give us a true tale of love being lost, love being unrequited, and love almost being found once again. The story I have been describing to you for the past 3 paragraphs now, may seem like a total drag but I can assure you that it’s not. There is a lot of material that is funny here and even though every once and awhile this film will show us something we have seen done before in thousands of other rom-coms, it still feels true to itself and to the situation these characters are in.

By the end, when this story started to show it’s true colors and what it was really trying to say, that’s when I actually started to feel a little emotion here and there. The whole idea of this chick getting fed-up with her old husband because he won’t grow-up and then wants him back, doesn’t seem that sympathetic, but the way it’s played out here makes it seem so and you feel for this Celeste character. Not only is she a very realistic female character that you could easily meet at a bar or somewhere in a downtown night club, she’s also a gal that feels some sort of emotions whenever her feelings are hurt and when she wants to just be loved. You don’t really see female characters in rom-coms go through the type of shit Celeste goes through here, and I think that’s what makes her development as a character, all that much better and smarter.

My problem with this script was that I did feel like they took a little bit too much away from Celeste, just in order to give-up some time to random side characters that could have honestly been cut-out. I liked Elijah Wood as the stereotypical gay boss/best-friend, but he doesn’t add a single thing to this whole product and if they were to get rid of him, I don’t think much would have been missed. Not saying that he’s bad or anything, it’s just that there isn’t much to hold onto when it comes to his character. The same could be said for Emma Roberts who plays a Ke$ha-like teen-star that just wants to rock-out with her whatevers out. Roberts is fine in this role too, but she doesn’t add anything either other than a bunch of dumb dick and butt gags that seem tired by the third time they even mention it. Other characters like Chris Messina as a hopeful boyfriend that will take Celeste out of her funk, and Will McCormick as the stoner buddy named Skillz, are all fun to watch but also seem like another example of this film having too many ideas and too many side characters that eventually take away from Celeste’s real problem at-hand: the chick can’t move on.

Andy Samberg finally gets his real taste at drama and plays it up very well, when he gets the chance to. Samberg, at-first, plays Jesse as his usual jocky, young-minded, goofy persona that always seems to take over his characters but by the end changes it up a bit and starts to grow-up into his own person that is just as confused with what he wants as Celeste is. Jesse’s whole story development seems a little forced (the guy already wants to have a family with this one girl after one date?), but Samberg makes it seem believable with a nice amount of honesty and sensitivity that is unlike anything we have ever seen from him before. It’s not one of those roles that really stands-out and shows that this guy can almost do it all, but it’s a nice way of showing that maybe there is a life for this guy after leaving SNL and doing a shit-fest like That’s My Boy.

The real star of this whole movie, as you probably predicted since she co-wrote it, is Rashida Jones as Celeste. Jones is an actress that we all know can be funny (just watch Parks & Recreation), but she has never really been given that great amount of drama to work with that makes her stand-out from the rest. This performance here is that game-changer for her as Celeste is not only a great character to play, but is also a great performance for Jones where she shows that she can make any character likable and easy to root for just by using her mysterious charm that she has about her. The scenes her and Samberg have are dead-on, as their chemistry is as perfect as you could get it, but when it’s just Jones allowing herself to be shown in such an uncomfortably sad light, it feels real as if Jones is just reliving a past break-up that she still feels terrible about. But even when she has to do the comedy act with her performance as well, she nails it there too and it just shows you that this lady has a very bright future in Hollywood. Hopefully, this is the film that shows it off, too.

Consensus: Celeste and Jesse Forever may suffer from too many ideas and characters but never feels too jumbled up due to a great script that shows the emotional turmoil you go through during heartbreak, as well as what can happen to one person when they realize that the person they got rid of in the first place, was probably the best person for them in the end.

8/10=Matinee!!

Devil (2010)

That’s why I take the stairs.

Five strangers in Philadelphia begin their day with the most commonplace of routines. They walk into an office tower and enter an elevator. As they convene into this single place, they are forced to share a confined space with strangers. They’ll only be together for a few moments. But what appears to be a random occurrence is anything but coincidental when the car becomes stuck. Fate has come calling.

Being a flick that’s from the crazy-mind of M. Night Shyamalan, you have to go in expecting creepiness, monsters, and a fun little twist at the end. And even though the guy hasn’t had a film worth worshiping in say about 10 years, he still somehow makes this film better.

Directed by John Erick Dowdle, the film has a very simple premise where you don’t quite know what’s going to happen next and you wait patiently as you climb towards the climax of the flick. Dowdle does a relatively good job at keeping this mystery and suspense going on throughout the whole film considering there is a lot of weird things that happen for no reason, other than the fact that there just may be Devil’s play at-hand.

As the whole plot unfolds we get to discover more and more about these characters backgrounds and realize that just about everybody we are watching here, are just a bunch of shady people. We also get to see how each one responds with the stress they feel of being all cooped up in this small-space and all of these crazy things happening. The real fun of the film was this factor considering we never know who just may be the Devil in disguise and when I thought I had it all figured out as to who it was by the end, M. Night pulled the rug right from underneath my feet and gives me a little twist that I was not expecting in the least bit. That damn M. Night. He can still make shitty films but somehow trick me.

Where this film really fails is in its way of showing the Devil off with its constant religious talk. We get all of these types of different versions of how the Devil is shown off in this flick: as a cartoon version we usually see in Hollywood, as one that goes around killing people non-stop until there’s no blood left anymore, and as one that is usually talked about in myths around a camp-fire. This annoyed me considering that the film didn’t know how to show off the Devil in one certain way so they tried with all of these other ways and then try to supply some religious ideas on us.

The film tries its hardest to go deeper with these moral and religious ways but in the end, just comes off as hokey and very forced upon the audience. The story frequently goes over towards this Latin security guard that is obviously very religious heavy because he has a cross around his neck, and constantly talks about the Devil and all of his ways. There were actually a lot of scenes showing him doing these things and they came off as dumb considering nobody in their right minds would act the way he does towards a real-life situation like this. Then again, this is a film and an M. Night Shyamalan film at that so I guess it can’t be that realistic.

The cast was also a bit of a bummer as well considering everybody here is one-dimensional except for Chris Messina as Detective Bowden. Messina is pretty good in this role and I can say easily seems like the voice-of-reason throughout this whole film. Even though his story arch doesn’t quite work to make me feel too much for his character, I thought Messina still handled this role very well and made it seem like he was a real person rather than just another “cop with a problem” cliche. Other than him though, everybody else is pretty unmemorable even though I like how the film didn’t really cast any big names, which gave me the feel as if these actually were real people.

Consensus: Devil has a simple but cool premise with a lot of cheap thrills, chills, and a nice little twist at the end but too many times does it try and get religious, which may feel necessary considering the subject matter but also feels incredibly cheesy and unrealistic.

5.5/10=Rental!!

Julie & Julia (2009)

Food: the quickest way to a man’s heart. Remember that one ladies.

A woman verging on thirty (Amy Adams) and frustrated in a temp secretary job takes on a yearlong culinary quest: cook all 524 recipes in Julia Child’s (Meryl Streep) “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” She chronicles her trials and tribulations in a blog that catches on with the food crowd.

I do not cook, I wish I really could because then I could have so much more food that I wanted, but I don’t. However, I do love food, and that is why throughout this whole film, I was just holding my stomach.

It seemed like a challenge for the makers of this film, because they are taking two sources of material, and making it into one and I think that’s where the problem lies. The setting of post-WWII Paris where Julia Child’s story takes place is so intoxicating, that every time we cut away we to New York, I couldn’t wait to get back to it. At times, I just felt like these were two movies about the same subject, copy-and-pasted together.

However, despite this problem with the film, I still found myself enjoying a lot of what’s going on here. I think the overall pleasant mood to this film, and the fact that it just does everything with a smile, is what works here. The whole time I was expecting a standard “chick flick” that was going to be all about cooking, which it was, but it was all so fun to watch, and I had a better time than I actually expected.

Meryl Streep as you can already tell just from seeing that she’s in this film does an amazing job as Julia Child. I had no idea who this chick was before this movie, but after wards I checked her out, and I must say Meryl nails it. She is so alive and flamboyant here that I went from thinking of her as just the PBS cooking lady to somebody who could confront all of life’s challenges with a smile. Amy Adams is her usual cutesy-bootsy self here as Julie, and although her story isn’t as interesting as Streep’s, she still does a good job here and brings out a likability to her character. Also, it was awesome to see Stanley Tucci and Chris Messina up in herre doing great jobs at playing the main-boos for both of these gals, because they are always a pleasure to see, and here they are not different.

Consensus: Streep’s great performance, and along with the overall happy and joyous mood, Julie & Julia is an enjoyable, if flawed treat. See what I did there…

6/10=Rental!!