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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Corey Stoll

Gold (2017)

Greed is sort of good, so long as your ugly, bald and fat.

After his father dies, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is left without much to do in his life. He was so successful for so very long, but now, without the inspiration of his dear old daddy to help him out, he’s basically hitting rock bottom, drinking, smoking and eating a whole lot more than he used to. Even though his wife (Bryce Dallas Howard) is there to cheer him on every step of the way, there’s still something just dragging Kenny down and not making him able to catch that big break just yet. Then, out of nowhere, it hits him: Set out on an adventure to the uncharted jungles of Indonesia and look for gold. Kenny feels that this idea is great enough that he could get funding from just about any person with half a brain – unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. Instead, Kenny has to reach out to a local businessman, Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), to help him on this adventure and see just what kind of gold mine they’re actually working with here. Turns out, there’s a whole lot of it hidden, and now, it’s up to Kenny and Michael to get it all out, make a whole lot of money, and not get dragged down by other various greedy sons-of-bitches.

"Trust me, bro. I can smell the gold. Or it could be my liver rotting away."

“Trust me, bro. I can smell the gold. Or it could be my liver rotting away.”

It’s interesting to compare Gold and director Stephen Gaghan’s last movie, Syriana, to one another because while they definitely have a lot in common, they’re also quite different in many ways, too. For one, they’re both movies that preach about billionaires, greedy businessman, and the whole mentality of making more money, by any means, at whatever costs. However, while the later was far more ambitious, taking on what were basically four different subplots all at once, it also happens to be the far more boring of the two.

Gold, on the other hand, is quite a wild ride.

The only issue is that it does take some time to get going. For at least the first hour or so, it seems like the movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be; does it want to poke fun at this overweight, balding businessman who can’t seem to get the idea that he’s just lost “it”, or, does it want to celebrate him for the courage, the drive and bravura that it takes for him to get up, each and every day, expecting to make millions and millions of dollars? Gaghan, for the longest time, seems like he doesn’t quite know and it’s why the first-half of Gold is probably going to start people off on the wrong foot.

Because after said first-half, things are a whole lot better, in that they’re quicker, more interesting and most of all, just fun. After a short while of not knowing what it wants to say or do, Gold eventually figures out that making there’s some true joy and loveliness to be had in making all of this money; it seems as if it’s never going to end and basically, the world is your oyster. Gaghan cranks up the pace and all of a sudden, rather than having a dark, dramatic and rather slow piece about businessmen doing whatever they can to stay afloat, we get a dark, yet, slightly comedic, and rather exciting piece about businessmen making all sorts of money and having a great time doing it.

What? You're telling me you wouldn't trust this guy with your livelihood?

What? You’re telling me you wouldn’t trust this guy with your livelihood?

It’s not hard to get swept up in all of this fun and excitement, either, which is why Gaghan deserves praise for knowing just how to tell this story, the right way. Because even while it’s all fun and games, the movie still does have a little something to say about the ridiculousness and cut-throat world that all of these men seem to inhabit and it turns the movie on its head a bit. Of course, the Founder explores the same ideas and probably does a better job, but the fact that Gold does, at the very least, try and discuss these very real issues, is smart and makes it feel like something far more different than one would expect from the first-half.

And yes, it also gives McConaughey to have a great time with this role, too.

Of course, Gold will probably be best remembered for the absolute dressing-down and uglying-up of McConaughey in a role that gives him weird teeth, a potbelly, and a balding hair-piece. While it may seem like a showy-stunt to show us all just what lengths McConaughey will go to, it still works for the character; this Kenny Wells can be so vile and disgusting at times, it’s hard not to feel irked by him, if only by his appearance alone. That said, McConaughey is more than capable of showing the dark sides of this character and it’s hard to take your eyes off of him, even when it seems like the movie’s getting a whole lot more nuts and convoluted.

And yeah, the rest of the ensemble is pretty amazing, too. Édgar Ramírez has a nice chemistry with McConaughey, making it seem like the two could be more than just business-partners, but actual buddies; Bryce Dallas Howard doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but does have a few moments to shine; Corey Stoll and Bill Camp show up as vindictive and toothless Wall Street dudes and are perfect at it; Bruce Greenwood has an odd British accent, for some reason; Toby Kebbell puts on a weird American accent, for some reason; and yeah, there’s more.

Just know this: Gold is fun. End of story.

Consensus: Despite starting off relatively weak, Gold gets going and shows us that greed isn’t good, but with a great cast and lively pace, it’s hard not to enjoy.

7 / 10

See! Making money is fun! Now shut up!

See! Making money is fun! Now shut up!

Photos Courtesy of: Hollywood Reporter, Indiewire

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Café Society (2016)

Hollywood was so much better when people drank all the time.

Bobby (Jesse Eisenberg) is a Jew living in New York during the 30’s. He’s not very inspired with his life there and even if he can join his brother (Corey Stoll)’s line of business, he opts not to, in hopes that he’ll make it big in Hollywood once he gets there and hooks up with rich and successful uncle Phill (Steve Carell). While it takes awhile for Bobby and Phill to eventually meet, when the two do get together, Bobby gets a chance to meet the nice, lovey and sweet Vonnie (Kristen Stewart) – a gal Bobby becomes smitten with right away. After all, she’s the opposite of everything Hollywood stands for – she’s pure, original and not at all expecting to be rich, famous, or on the silver-screen. The two end-up hitting it off, even if Vonnie has a boyfriend already, which makes Bobby try even harder for her heart. Little does Bobby know, however, that Vonnie isn’t just going out with anyone in particular – she’s going out with someone very near and dear to Bobby. Someone that will change Bobby’s life and aspirations altogether.

Blake knows beauty.

Blake knows beauty.

Another year and guess what? Another mediocre Woody Allen movie. That seems to be the general theme with Woody’s past few movies over the last couple of years; while none of them have ever been “awful”, the haven’t been as nearly “outstanding” as we’re sometimes used to expecting from Woody. Gone are the days of Annie Hall, Manhattan, and Hannah and her Sisters – now, we have to get used to more Woody Allen movies like Café Society.

Which, in all honesty, isn’t such a terrible thing, because the movie is actually quite nice.

This isn’t to say that it’s “great” by any means, but what Café Society does, and does well, mind you, is give us that sense of old-Hollywood nostalgia that, yes, can be a tad bit corny, but also feels genuine and allows you to feel closer to these characters and these settings. Of course, old-timey Hollywood is no new territory for Woody to explore, but he gets a lot of mileage of this time and place, showing us how most of the people back in the day who came to Hollywood, all expected to fame and fortune right off the bat – like the sort of place where dreams are made of.

And yes, I know that Woody has already covered this sort of ground in his movies before, but it still sort of works. There’s a certain balance that he’s able to find between “nostalgia” and “corniness” that’s surprising; we’d all assume for Woody to lose his touch and just start making more and more annoying mistakes, but nope, he surprisingly knows what can work for the audience, and how much mileage you can get out of a conventional story, so long as you inject with some humor, heart and most of all, interesting characters.

Though Café Society may not have the most illusive and spell-binding characters to date, what helps most of them is that the actors in the roles are good enough that they make them more compelling than they actually have any right to be.

Case in point: Jesse Eisenberg. As a Woody Allen surrogate this time around, Eisenberg gets a few things right – he knows how to be neurotic without over-doing it, and he knows how to deliver a lot of Woody’s tongue-twisters that aren’t at all genuine, but are still sometimes entertaining to hear. But then, halfway around the midpoint, Eisenberg’s character and performance changes, to where he’s more grown-up, angrier and, well, more adult. It’s a hard transition to pull off in a Woody Allen movie, but Eisenberg does well with it, as he shows that he’s able to get as much out of this thinly-written character as he can.

That comb-over, though.

That comb-over, though.

Kristen Stewart’s pretty good, too, as Vonnie; for the third time, her and Eisenberg are together on-screen and they make it work. There’s a genuine chemistry between the two and you can tell that they help the other when push comes to shove. Though Bruce Willis was initially cast in the role, Steve Carell works just fine as Phill, a mean, sometimes conniving Hollywood agent. Sometimes, he can occasionally sound a little too modern, given the time and place of the story, but because Carell’s comedic-timing is impeccable, it still works.

And the rest of the cast is quite solid, too. That’s something that Woody has never lost his knack for, thankfully. However, if there is an issue with Café Society is that, yes, it does unfortuntaely feel like a whole bunch of previous ideas and themes that Woody has worked with in the past, cobbled-up together to make something that’s a lot like his other films and is sort of made-up as it goes along. In a way, you almost get the sense that Woody had some sort of idea to start with, got enough money and star-power to film it all, and just filled in the blanks once the last-act came around.

There’s no problem with that, but sometimes, a story needs to be mapped-out a whole lot better and not just feel like another wasteful opportunity for someone to make a movie for no reason.

Consensus: Light, funny, well-acted, and surprisingly heartfelt, Café Society hits a sweeter spot in the Woody Allen catalog that may not light the world on fire, but still works and shows that he’s got the goods.

6.5 / 10

Jesse and K-Stew should just get married already! They're damn-near inseparable!

Jesse and K-Stew should just get married already! They’re damn-near inseparable!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Anesthesia (2016)

AnesthesiaposterLife sucks on so many fronts.

Professor Walter Zarrow (Sam Waterston) is coming up on his last day of teaching after nearly 40 years and now, he’s starting to put a lot of his life into perspective. His son, Adam (Tim Blake Nelson), is going through an issue of his own when he finds out that his wife has cancer and needs to have surgery immediately. Meanwhile, a student of Walter’s (Kristen Stewart), is dealing with and trying to come to terms with her depression, that can sometimes lead her to deadly and dangerous thoughts. While this is happening, Sarah (Gretchen Mol), a suburban housewife is getting tired of her husband running around on her and leaving her with the kids, which is when she starts to think long and hard about what it is that she wants to do with her life, or if she even wants to stay married in the first place. Then, there’s Joe (K. Todd Freeman), an acclaimed writer who is now suffering from an addiction to heroin; one that his brother (Michael K. Williams) wants to resolve and fix as soon as possible. And then there’s Sam (Corey Stoll) and Nicole (Mickey Sumner) a couple who, for some odd reason, are out on a trip where they talk about life, love and what their current situation is.

Cheer up, K-Stew. Life for you, is getting better and less controversial.

Cheer up, K-Stew. Life for you, is getting better and less controversial.

So yeah, as you can tell, there’s a lot going on in Anesthesia, and while it may seem like none of the stories have anything to do with the other, once time begins to roll on, it’s easy to piece together the pieces of familial-tree in which we can see why this story is being told and what their overall significance is to the story. Does it really work? Not really, but writer/director Tim Blake Nelson, gives it all that he’s got, offering us a handful of stories that can occasionally spark interest and life into a pretty depressed tone, but still sometimes feel like there’s a whole lot missing.

For instance, the main story here is Waterston’s Walter character who, having seen plenty of the world and done a lot for the young, impressionable youth out there, has finally come to terms with the fact that his career is coming to an end. Waterston, as well as the rest of the ensemble, is great here and clearly gives this character his all, but he’s really the only fully-developed character here as we get to see everything about this guy, without any questions left up in the air as to why he is, the way he is. Everybody else, on the other hand, isn’t so lucky and it’s a bit of a shame because, once again, Nelson’s got a lot going on here that’s, on the surface, intriguing, but is all put together and cobbled-up in an-hour-and-a-half movie, that no plot seems to get as much attention as they should.

Even the ones that are, perhaps, the most compelling of all, still have to side the bench for some stories that are far more dull and boring.

One of the later stories in question is Kristen Stewart’s in which she doesn’t do much except look sad, act a bit crazy and question life’s meaning. That’s about it. Considering that Stewart has been showing more and more promise as an actress in the past year or so, it’s a bit of a shame that she’s given such a limited-role to work with here, but once again, it’s less of her fault, as much as it’s Nelson’s for giving it to her and not getting rid of it all completely. And this would have definitely been a smart idea, so long as it meant that there was more room for such stories like Stoll’s and Sumner’s – both of whom are fantastic here and, quite frankly, I’d love to see in their own movie, removed from all of the other sadness going on around here.

And really, the only reason I’m focusing so much on these subplots, is because that’s all the movie is made-up of, without much rhyme or reason. Nelson, from what it seems, is only trying to tell us, with Anesthesia, that life is connected in some sad, utterly depressing ways.

And yeah, that’s about it.

You too, Glen!

You too, Glen!

We get this and understand this clearly from the very beginning and while it’s still interesting to see how some of these small stories play-out in their own, mini ways, there’s still a feeling that a lot is being left out. Of course, having to deal with such a huge cast, Nelson himself probably ran into scheduling issues and couldn’t get each and every actor in the movie together for one scene, but that wasn’t as much of my problem, as much as it was that some weak stories, got in the way of the more engaging, stronger ones, leaving a good portion of Anesthesia to feel as if it’s constantly starting and stopping back up. While it’s admirable that Nelson doesn’t shine a judgmental light on any of these characters, at the same time, there’s only so much we can handle when watching certain characters not do anything of interest, just sit there, argue and talk about things we don’t really have any prior knowledge about.

In ways, the movie can sometimes feel like we’re walking into a party late, only to then realize that either everybody’s been acquainted, too drunk, or already friends with one another, to the point where you almost don’t want to bother introducing yourself or joining in on the fun. You’ve already shown up later than everyone else, they’re now looking at you and they don’t really care because, honestly, they’re getting on fine just without you. Of course, the actual viewing-experience of Anesthesia isn’t as harsh as I may write it out to be, but it is still, in no way, a party you want to be apart of or fully invested in.

Maybe eavesdropping or scoping out from across the room is fine, but that’s about it.

Consensus: Given the cast and crew involved, Anesthesia should hit harder than it does, but instead, focuses on a slew of subplots that can occasionally engage, but never fully-developed.

5 / 10

Just be with Charlie Skinner and everything will be fine.

Just be with Charlie Skinner and everything will be fine.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Push (2009)

X-Men clearly did it better. They always do.

Due to a government experiment gone wrong, Nick Gant (Chris Evans) is what some call “a mover”. Meaning that, well, he’s able to move things with his mind. However, he’s been on the run at an early age and in a way to stay even further off the grid, he’s been holding up shop in Hong Kong. But due to a couple of bad decisions made on Nick’s part, he ends up getting found out by these sinister powers-that-be who want to kidnap Nick and take away his powers. Or something like that. Along with Nick is 13-year-old Cassie Holmes (Dakota Fanning) who is what people call “a watcher” – someone who can see the future and certain tragic events before they happen. So yeah, Nick and Cassie are on the run from bad and evil people, meanwhile, they’re trying to meet up and find Kira Hudson (Camilla Belle), who may have all the answers to the questions that they need answering so that they can defeat these villains and get back on with their lives. But as time rolls and Nick and Cassie start to talk with her more, they realize that Kira may not be who she is and better yet, actually may be playing on the same side of those people they’re on the run from to begin with.

Round 1, eh, who cares!

Round 1, eh, who cares!

I think.

The whole thing about Push is that it’s incredibly convoluted. Certain powers of these characters, when they’re able to use them, what keeps them from using them, is hardly ever explained; all we’re supposed to make up our minds about is that they do have powers and they want to use them for the greater good. This makes it all sound like an over-extended episode of Heroes which, quite frankly, I would have been totally fine with.

But nope.

Instead, what we get with Push, is an overlong, overly complicated, very silly sci-fi flick that doesn’t know where it wants to go, or even what it wants to be. While the movie does stage some flashy action-sequences, they come so few and far between, that they become an afterthought. Instead, the movie wants to focus on the inner-workings of these characters, what makes them tick and just how it is that they get by in a world that, honestly, doesn’t quite accept them for who they are or what skills they possess. Obviously, I’ve seen this all done way better in X-Men and it just goes to show you just how easy it is to make a tale like that.

But for some reason, no one on-board with Push seems like they want to give anything an honest effort. Director Paul McGuigan tries his hardest to give this movie a cool, slick feel, but overall, can’t overcome all of the issues that the script has going on. While he gets a lot of play out having his movie shot on location in Hong Kong, the shame about this all is that he hardly gets a chance to use it to its fullest extent. Sure, there’s a few chase scenes through fish markets and narrow, over-crowded streets, but really, these scenes aren’t ever around as much to make an impression.

In all honesty, we just have to sit around and watch as these characters piss and mope about whatever problems they have and, you know, it’s nothing to ever care much about.

Which is to say that yes, despite the script thrown at them, everyone in the cast seems to be trying. Chris Evans, pre-Cap, was still trying to find his feet in Hollywood and not be type-cast as “a poor man’s Ryan Reynolds” and though he tries to inject his character that winning personality and charm of his, it doesn’t help. That’s nothing against him, though – it’s more that Nick Gant, the character, is way too bland and boring to ever register as a strong protagonist that we get behind and cheer on until the very end. We just sort of watch him move things every so often, then cry, and that’s it.

Oh well. Chris Evans is doing better things now, thankfully.

Together, they're not scary. Like at all.

Together, they’re not scary. Like at all.

Dakota Fanning gets to play an against-type role as a cranky smart-ass who can see the future and despite her seeming like she’s having a good time with it, it’s a terribly annoying role that just goes on and on without ever ceasing. She’s not funny, over-bearing and if anything, ruins just about ever scene she’s in; which, in something already as dreary as this, is definitely saying a whole lot. None of this is against Fanning, because she’s clearly on-board with this character, but the movie itself thinks she’s so hilarious, that they keep her going with the wisecracks and none of them ever conjur up a chuckle or two. Instead, it’s just sighs. And then, the always bland Camilla Belle shows up, hardly do anything; Djimon Hounsou shows up and tries to be scary, but never does; and Ming-Na Wen is, yet again, another worker who can feel happy that she’s apart of the Marvel universe.

But regardless of these performances, the true problem of Push lies with its screenplay. Writer David Bourla never seems to make sense of anything that’s happening and doesn’t even seem interested; he’d much rather try to distract us with random scenes of action and mutant-like things that, because we’re never fully explained on where they came from or what they’re capable of, are random. Bourla also tries to dive in deep into what all of the mytholgy surrounding these characters mean, and really, it never goes anywhere. All we know is that the government was up to some shady dealings and now, they want their product back. 

Or something.

Seriously, I’m still trying to figure out just what the hell this movie meant and why it went, where it went. But instead of focusing on it even more than I need to and wasting more of my precious time, I’m just going to say that, yeah, Push blows.

That’s it.

Consensus: Despite some fun and flash to be found, Push is a mostly dull affair, without much understanding of what’s happening, nor anything happening of actual interest.

2.5 / 10

Run from her, Chris! Hell, run away from this movie! Do what's best for you!

Run from her, Chris! Hell, run away from this movie! Do what’s best for you!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Black Mass (2015)

Tim Burton must feel pretty useless right about now.

Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) was one of the most notorious criminals in history. He ran South Boston by his rules, which, for the most part, consisted of a lot of drugs, booze, women, and murder – actually, there was lots and lots of murder involved. But the reason why Whitey was so able to get away with all of his criminal escapades was because he aligned himself with an old pal of his, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who just so happened to be part of the FBI. Because Connolly looked up to and adored Bulger, he gets the FBI to strike some sort of deal where they’ll take down all of Bulger’s enemies (the Italian mob, local kingpins, etc.), and Bulger himself will practically be able to get away with anything he wants. Nobody quite catches on to this fact just yet, but eventually, the blood-shed, the drugs, and the murders become too much and too frequent to the point of where people start to notice that something is awry with this deal between Bulger and the FBI. And it all comes down to Connolly and Bulger’s relationship; one that will ruin both of their lives forever.

"Don't you dare say your sunglasses are cooler than mine!"

“Don’t you dare say your sunglasses are cooler than mine!”

Finally, after a few months of sitting through some okay-to-good movies, it seems like the time has come for extraordinarily great movies to start hitting the cinemaplexes. While I am very tempted to say “Oscar season is upon us”, my better-half doesn’t want to because that seems to have recently given off a negative connotation. Rather than just being about good movies that deserve our attention, Oscar season is more about how studios finagle and manipulate their way into getting more votes and notice from the Academy, so that they can make more money, become more successful, and continue to do so for as long as they want to. And while Black Mass may not be a total Oscar-bait-y movie, through and through, it’s still a sign of good things to, hopefully, come in the next few or so months.

Oh yeah, and Johnny Depp’s pretty good in this too.

In fact, he’s really good. As good as he’s been since he started hanging around with Tim Burton. And while you could make the case that, yes, Depp is once again playing a notorious gangster (like he did in Public Enemies as John Dillinger not too long ago), there’s still something that feels different about this portrayal here that makes it seem like we’re not watching Johnny Depp playingJohnny Depp“. But instead, we’re watching Johnny Depp play Whitey Bulger, a ruthless, cut-throat, mean and sadistic crime-boss that intimidated practically everyone around him, that nobody ever dared to step up to him.

Sure, some of that has to do with the sometimes-distracting make-up job that’s trying so desperately hard to make Depp have some sort of similarities to the infamous Bulger, but Depp is so dedicated to making a character, that it works throughout the whole movie. He’s one-note for sure, but he’s so scary and terrifying to watch, even as he holds conversations that seem to go south as soon as somebody steps slightly out-of-line, that it’s hard to take your eyes off of him. Which is an all the more impressive feat when you consider that Black Mass isn’t exactly a Depp-centerpiece, as much as it’s an ensemble piece, where everybody gets their chance to show up, do some solid work, and give Depp a run for his money.

Depp may still own the movie at the end the day, but it’s an effort that’s compelling.

This is mostly evident with Joel Edgerton’s performance as John Connolly, a close friend and confidante of Bulger who, after awhile, you begin to feel bad for. Though Connolly is dirty, corrupt, and tries to avoid every idea that Bulger may get incriminated for all the wrongdoings he’s committed, there’s still something interesting to view and dissect. That Connolly looks up to Bulger more as a big brother, rather than a pal, makes it all the more clear that there’s something inherently wrong with Connolly’s own psyche, but he doesn’t own up to the fact and watching Edgerton play around with this character, showing-off all sorts of shadings, is enjoyable. It may not be as showy of a performance as Depp’s, but there’s something that sits with you long after that puts Black Mass over the hill of being more than just “an entertaining gangster pic”.

Come on, David Harbour and Kevin Bacon: If you're an FBI agent in the 1970's, you've got to have a sweet-ass 'stache!

Come on, David Harbour and Kevin Bacon: If you’re an FBI agent in the 1970’s, you’ve got to have a sweet-ass ‘stache!

Which is to say that, yes, Black Mass is in fact, an entertaining gangster pic. Director Scott Cooper and co-writers Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth clearly have a love for these kinds of raw, gritty, and violent gangster flicks in the same vein as Scorsese and do well in constructing a movie that’s both fun, as well as emotional. While it’s hard to really get attached to any character in particular, there’s still interesting anecdotes made about certain character’s and their lives that make it more of an interesting watch.

For instance, though she only gets a few or so scenes, Julianne Nicholson is spectacular as Connolly’s wife who, from the very beginning, doesn’t like a single thing about Whitey Bulger. While she knows he’s helping her hubby out in getting a nice promotion, she also knows that the dude’s bad news; so much so, that she won’t even bother to sit at the same dinner table as him, let alone socialize with him at a party at her own house. Though this role is clearly limited to “disapproving wife”, there’s a lot more to her in the way Nicholson portrays her that makes us want to see a whole movie dedicated to just her.

Same goes for a lot of other characters here, as well.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Bill Bulger, Whitey’s bro, is a mayor who knows that his brother is up to no good, but is so willing to push it off to the side if that means he gets to have more power, politically speaking, that it’s actually scary; Peter Sarsgaard plays a drug-dealer that gets in on Whitey’s dealings and, although a total mess, still seems like a real guy who is easy to care for; Dakota Johnson only gets a few scenes as Whitey’s wife, but sets the basis for what Whitey himself will live by until the day he died; and of course, there’s the likes of Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, W. Earl Brown, Juno Temple, and a very emotional Rory Cochrane, that all add more layers to their characters, as well as the movie itself.

Though it doesn’t make the movie great, or better yet, perfect, it still makes it a highly enjoyable, mainstream gangster pic that has more to it than meets the eyes.

Or should I say, more than just bullets that meets the eyes.

Consensus: Led by a breathtaking performance from Johnny Depp, Black Mass benefits from its stacked-ensemble, but also has plenty more to say about its characters than just guns, blood, and crime.

8 / 10

Jack Sparrow who?

Jack Sparrow who?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Dark Places (2015)

When you bring Satan into any equation, chances are, it’s going to get crazy.

Many years after the rest of her family was killed by her older brother (Corey Stoll), Libby Day (Charlize Theron) is left very screwed-up. While she seems to be getting by, her memory still haunts her to this day and remains one of the reasons people only approach her nowadays. That’s why when a true crime lover (Nicholas Hoult) finds her and offers her a chance to share her accounts of the story, she’s initially against it, but realizes that she could use the money. While she’s remembering the case though, she soon starts to see the case a whole lot clearer now, where it may possibly turn out her poor brother didn’t actually commit the murders in the first place, and maybe, just maybe, it was somebody else. However, in order to get to those answers, Libby has to go back into time a bit, rehash some old wounds, and go back to those people who she’d much rather forget. And heck, even in some cases, they wished the same thing, too.

I'd allow for Christina Hendricks to sit at my dinner-table any day. She can't be my mom, though.

I’d allow for Christina Hendricks to sit at my dinner-table any day. She can’t be my mom, though.

With the huge success of Gone Girl, there’s a high demand for whatever Gillian Flynn can put out next and that’s both a blessing and a curse. Mostly, it’s a blessing if your name is David Fincher, however, if not, then mostly, it’s a curse. And no offense to writer/director Gilles Paquet-Brenner, but he’s no David Fincher. Someone who isn’t easy to be, I understand, but at the same time, it’s hard not to make a comparison when a movie such as this comes out and is easily trying to be a little hard to be like a much better, more entertaining movie.

And there’s the main problem that sets Dark Places aside from Gone Girl.

While I know it’s hard to expect a movie about a murdered family-members, Satanists, and the wrongfully convicted, there’s still something to be said for a movie like Gone Girl, where a dark and eerie premise, was still made watchable due to the fact that it was pulp cinema at its finest. It wasn’t just a quick and exciting movie, but it also felt like it didn’t take itself seriously enough to where you had to feel depressed afterwards; it’s all about murder, adultery, marriage, divorce, and crime, but at the same time, it’s still an incredibly entertaining movie.

Dark Places is a lot more serious than that movie, and as a result, is a whole lot more drab and meandering. Paquet-Brenner makes it seem like he’s really trying to aim for some sort of broken-heart at the center of this story, but what ultimately happens, is nothing. We never get to learn more about any of these characters than what’s presented to us on the surface, and when it comes down to who gets more focus, either the plot or the characters, the former most certainly wins out. Not that paying attention to a plot is a bad thing to have within a movie, but there needs to be engaging and compelling characters to help aid that premise along – something that Paquet-Brenner seems interested in trying to create, but doesn’t quite deliver on.

And it’s a huge shame too, considering that the ensemble here is pretty impressive.

I'm glad he's at least got facial hair, and not whatever the hell they're making him wear on his head in the Strain.

I’m glad he’s at least got facial hair, and not whatever the hell they’re making him wear on his head in the Strain.

Of course Charlize Theron can play this strong, but emotionally-unstable characters to a T by now, and her performance as Libby is no different. However, the role still feels so thinly-written for her, that it gets to become a bit of a bore, not to mention the fact that the movie tries incredibly hard to make us forget that it’s super model Charlize Theron we’re looking at here. I know that Monster did the same thing, but the make-up was so good, that it never once shot into my brain; Dark Places, instead, just throws jeans, caps, and sweaty shirts onto her, as if a way to over-compensate that they cast someone incredibly good-looking in a role as a tomboy.

And then, if casting Theron in a lame role wasn’t enough of a crime, then to have the likes of Nicholas Hoult, Corey Stoll, Christina Hendricks, Chole Grece Moretz, and Drea de Matteo be given the same problems, makes it all the worse. While Hendricks seems to get the meatier role of the bunch, her character goes through so many twists and turns at the end that it’s hard to keep up with who she is, what’s happening, and what is making her act the way she is. In all honesty, I saw her play a mom better in Lost River – a movie that clearly couldn’t give a crap if she existed or not.

And if your movie is already lacking in certain departments that Lost River had, you know you’re in trouble.

The only cast-member I left out of that long list of names who get screwed over by Dark Places poor-scripting, is Tye Sheridan, another young actor who seems to be more than just the real deal nowadays. Sheridan may be given the generic role of the angst-fueled teen, but he does wonders with it and shows that there’s more to this character than may be shown initially. Maybe he’s not a psycho, and more or less, just a kid who has some issues with girls and doesn’t know how to express himself in an understandable manner without acting-out or harming somebody in the process. In most ways, he’s like most ordinary teens and it’s interesting to see how this movie approaches that subject, even if, once again, it’s clearly more concerned the going-ons of what’s occurring with the mystery at the center. And honestly, there’s not much of a mystery to begin with. Once we see Moretz’s character acting all wild and insane, it becomes clear that she has something to do with it – it’s all just a matter of when.

Like, for instance, when the movie finally ends and you can go on back to re-watching Gone Girl for the 80th time.

Consensus: Despite the talented cast on-display, Dark Places is nothing more than a boring, uneventful, and uninteresting mystery-drama that has a whole bunch of twists and turns to boot, but nobody to really care about.

2.5 / 10

Yeah, totally not this girl.

Yeah, totally not this woman.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Ant-Man (2015)

Never be afraid to dream a little bigger. Unless Kevin Feige says otherwise.

After being released from prison for a robbery he committed on some company he worked for many years ago, Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) finally gets a shot to take back his life and make amends for the pain he’s put his ex-wife (Judy Greer) and daughter through. Problem is, Scott’s past is so shoddy, that he’s finding it harder and harder to get a job, start anew and move on from what he once was. That’s why when one of his buddies (Michael Peña) brings up the idea of pulling off a vault-heist on some old dude’s house, he’s initially hesitant, but also realizes that cat-burglarizing is what he’s best at – whether he likes to admit it or not. Little does he know that the old man’s house he’s robbing is Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas), a scientist who once worked for Stark Enterprises and left when he realized that one of his inventions were getting used for all the wrong reasons. But now, with Scott, Hank has found his perfect guinea pig for his pet-project: Ant-Man.

Puns intended.

Sort of like how I watch my next-door neighbor....

Sort of like how I watch my next-door neighbor….

Already going into Ant-Man, there was a feeling of disdain from yours truly. Most of that has to do with the fact that, not only does it seem like the Marvel machine is growing to be more and more of the same entertaining, but generic thing, time and time again, but that there’s hardly a chance for anyone to come in and try to shake that formula up. Case in point, Edgar Wright – someone who is able to make many movie-nerds foam at the mouth at the possibility of him both writing and directing something. And heck, put his own sense of zany style in a Marvel movie, where a bigger cast and budget would be at his free reign, you bet your bottom dollar that the hype-train just gets more and more packed.

But sadly, and predictably, I guess, things didn’t pan out so well.

For one, Wright left and the powers that be within Disney were left scrambling far and wide for the next possible replacement to pick up the slack and see if they could make water out of ice. With Peyton Reed, most people involved with Marvel and Disney felt as if they found the most suitable replacement available and honestly, I can’t hold many qualms with that decision. Even despite the fact that Reed’s previous directorial efforts include the horrendous Yes Man and Break-Up, clearly they were working against a deadline and came up with whomever they felt was more than willing and capable of handling the job.

Sure, Reed’s no Wright, but then again, who the hell is? Though Reed’s directing-style may borderline on “generic”, he still handles a few action set-pieces well enough to where we get the same sort of imagination and frivolous fun that we would come to expect with Wright. If anything, Reed’s style is so mediocre, that it helps not get in the way of what could have been a very pushy and needy movie. Sort of like a pet who wants you to pet it, so it just cozies up to you, never leaves you alone, and stares deep into your eyes until you give in and give it what it wants.

Pretty sure you can’t pet ants, but you get my drift.

So, with that all said, it’s worth mentioning that Ant-Man turns out to actually be a bit of a better movie than I expected from all the controversy surrounding it in the pre-production stage. One of the main reasons that Ant-Man works well, is because it doesn’t feel like it’s trying to get out there in this huge, Marvel universe, and tell a bunch of other stories that it doesn’t need to bother with; instead, it’s focus is solely on Scott Lang and whomever else is around him. Some may be annoyed at the fact that other Marvel superheros don’t get the time of day like they do in other flicks, but somehow, it works in this movie’s favor; it helps keep things simple, contained and most of all, entertaining, without ever trying to be more complicated than it needs to be.

With hair like that, you bet she can kick your ass.

With hair like that, you bet she can kick your ass.

Still though, that’s not to say that this movie doesn’t feel as if, considering what Marvel’s been up to in the past couple or so years, a bit of a disappointment. And this most definitely has to do with the fact that there were so many hiccups before filming even got started, because something does feel a bit “off” about Ant-Man while watching it. Maybe the fact that there were literally four writers on this thing has something to do with it, but also due to the fact that the movie itself doesn’t always set out to blow our minds.

Sometimes, there’s no problem with that; in most cases, all you need is a good time to get you through everything. But something feels odd in this movie where the humor can sometimes feel tacked-on and random, as if it were just thrown in there so Marvel could keep up with the formula that their movies hold so dear to their hearts – exposition, action scene, character development, witticism, rinse and repeat. The jokes themselves are a bit hit-or-miss, but whether or not they’re funny isn’t really the point – what is, is whether or not they feel like they deserved to be tossed in there when they are, and they sort of don’t. I’m glad at least one of the four writers made an attempt, but sometimes, it’s best to just take a back-seat and let things move for a little while.

But when things go wrong in movies such as these, it’s always best to depend on the cast to save the day, which is what they do.

Well, sort of.

Paul Rudd, as usual, is charming, funny and cool as Scott Lang, even if it feels like he’s never quite given that opportunity to shine, break out from his comfort-shell and prove exactly why he deserves to be taken seriously as this superhero. None of that has to do with Rudd himself, though, as it’s most definitely the script’s fault for not spending more time in fleshing him, or anybody else at. Because where it stands, mostly everybody here is fine at playing these characters on a superficial, surface-area level and that’s about it.

Such talented folks like Corey Stoll, Evangeline Lilly, Bobby Cannavale, Judy Greer, Martin Donovan, Michael Peña, and Michael Douglas, all play their characters in such a way that makes it seem like they just came ready to play around for awhile and that’s it. Once again, not their fault, it’s just a bummer considering that with these names, you’d expect something so much better. Way better, actually.

If only Edgar Wright stayed on.

Consensus: Without trying too hard, Ant-Man is a perfectly serviceable piece of superhero blockbuster, but considering the company it keeps, it can’t help but feel like a small step down.

6.5 / 10

Until next year, bro.

Until next year, bro.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Glass Chin (2015)

Don’t be afraid to bag groceries for the rest of your life. There’s some pride in that.

Down-on-his-luck ex-boxer Bud Gordon, was commonly referred to as “the Saint”, but he’s been anything but. He’s got a girlfriend (Marin Ireland) that he’s trying to settle down, but can’t stop cheating on her; has a job as a boxing-trainer, but still can’t keep himself away from working as a guy who looks for loansharking victims; and wants to open back up a restaurant of his that was recently closed down, but in order to do so, he has to rely on whatever the odd, eccentric gangster J.J. (Billy Crudup) tells him what to do and when. Bud may not have a perfect life, but he’s just getting by and wants to continue to do so, even while his night job with his “co-worker”, Roberto (Yul Vasquez), gets more and more dangerous by the minutes. Eventually though, it all comes to a head and Bud’s left to wonder what his next move should be – either, risk everything in his life, or take another easy pay-out for himself and his possible new restaurant? Bud doesn’t know what to do, but he’s going to rely on his ability to do the right thing, even if he doesn’t know what that is just yet.

"Hey, we get Freud, too."

“Hey, we get Freud, too.”

Everything about Glass Chin sounds so very familiar and generic, but somehow, writer/director Noah Buschel finds interesting little ways of how to spin it just so that it doesn’t come off like that one bit. Instead of making this movie about how an ex-boxer found redemption both in-and-out of the ring, it’s more about how this ex-boxer copes with making enough money to support him and his girl, with whatever work comes his way. Though, once again, that may all sound conventional, it doesn’t come off that way; more or less, it seems like the kind of movie made about people we don’t too often see get the spotlight quite as much.

These types of characters here in Glass Chin are mostly all down-on-their-luck, not just Bud, but they have so much more to them that makes them worth watching. Sometimes. they enjoy a little movie, other times, a nice night on the town, getting plastered and reminiscing on the old times. These characters here may all have their quirks that set them apart differently from one another, but they’re all placed into a certain group that’s similar and it makes me appreciate these kinds of movie all the more.

Though Buschel had every opportunity to make this movie so much more than it appears to be, he fights the urge to do so and mostly, just keeps his attention set firmly on Bud and all that happens with him and his life. And by “firmly”, I do mean as-firm-as-a-glove; Buschel has a neat style here where he performs a lot of long takes, sometimes likes to go with a close-up on a character’s face who seems like they’re talking directly to you, and other times, make the colors so jumpy and distinctive, that the characters themselves fall into them.

However, no matter what tricks Buschel uses, there’s always somebody talking here. And it’s always intriguing to hear and watch as it moves the plot along.

Because even though a lot of these characters could be generally considered “the numbskulls of society”, they occasionally drop a smart line about life every now and then, just to remind you that they do an awful lot of thinking, too. They aren’t just placed into one area of society, forgotten about, and allow for their brains to fry – they’ve think, too, and you know what? They want to let others know.

Sometimes, what these characters say or talk about, can border on unique, or plain and simply odd, but it’s always interesting to listen to. Buschel has a knack here for writing dialogue just how these sorts of people would talk, even if they do sometimes go on rather long tangents that either, seem to go nowhere, or have a point, but take forever to get there. The one character that this is proven so perfectly with is Billy Crudup’s slimy and weird J.J.; though you know he’s definitely up to no good and is more than likely to screw Bud up in any way he sees fit, there’s something oddly charming about him to where you just want to believe that he may be as nice of a guy as he presents. You know he isn’t, but still, you hold-out some form of hope.

A little too intrigued by that light.

A little too intrigued by that light.

Same goes for each and every other character here.

Corey Stoll’s Bud seems like a dope that doesn’t always use his head when it comes to making any sort of decision, but you just hope that his mind is in the right place for this moment in his life and that he’s not going to screw it all up due to greed; Yul Vasquez’s Roberto may or may not be on Bud’s side, but you have a feeling he is looking out for the guy, even if it’s to save his own ass; Marin Ireland’s Ellen wants to stay by her man, but he continues to test her patience with all of the screwing around and disappointing that, even if it’s sad to think of her doing so, she might have to get going, pack up her stuff, an leave Bud once and for all; and Kelly Lynch’s Mae is, just, well, sexy. Can’t expect much else from her.

Each member of the cast is good here and give their characters certain level of dimensions that you definitely won’t see coming. Sure, some are more interesting than the other, but they all matter to the story and prove that if you have a good enough cast and characters to work with, then the plot will sort of fall as it pleases to do so. All of the other stuff is just unnecessary used for those who can’t handle themselves if something isn’t blowing up, or if a person’s getting shot.

Those are the kinds of people not made for Glass Chin and that’s why there’s something so special about it.

Consensus: With a talented cast at work, Glass Chin goes farther and beyond its basic-cable premise, and becomes an insightful, dramatic glimpse into the live’s of character’s we don’t always get glimpses of.

8 / 10

Imagine Creed, but without pushing-70 Sly.

Imagine Creed, but without pushing-70 Sly.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Good Lie (2014)

Guess what, white people? Not everybody needs your help!

Mamere (Arnold Oceng), Jeremiah (Ger Duany), Paul (Emmanuel Jal), and Abital (Kuoth Wiel) are four Sudanese refugees who, after having left their homes in 1988 and spent 13 years living in a refugee camp together and bonding. But now, it’s the year 2001 and they are finally ready to come to America, “the Land of Opportunity”. Upon arrival though, they already have some issues in which Mamere gets misplaced with another family, from another town, leaving the rest of the three to feel slightly disjointed. However, they know that it is their time to make up and do what they can to survive in America’s society and common day workplace. This is why they believe Carrie (Reese Witherspoon), an American employment counselor, is their own version of an angel, even though she doesn’t want to ever think of herself in that way, ever. But once the fellas get acquainted their living-quarters, their jobs, and just how everything works in America, they start to realize that maybe this isn’t all that they wanted in life. Or maybe it is, they just don’t know how to get by the problems they faced when they were younger.

Yes, while everything about this movie shouts “GLAMORIZED, HOLLYWOOD-VERSION OF REAL-LIFE TRAGEDIES”, there’s something surprising here in that it’s not fully what you expect. While it may be a PG-13 movie that, most of the time, glosses over certain, painful hardships that its subjects were victims of, something here about the Good Lie still hit harder than I expected to. Better yet, more than I wanted it to.

Somebody must have been a big fan of Legally Blonde.

Somebody must have been a big fan of Legally Blonde.

And I think this is because Philippe Falardeau spends most of his time focusing on our three main protagonists: Jeremiah, Paul, and Abital. See, it would have been totally easy for this movie to just make it all about the rich, better-off white people coming in to save the day whenever these fellas ran into a little bit of trouble, but it’s usually not like that. Now, that’s not to say that the movie doesn’t try to hit us over the head just a bit with the white guilt idea that there’s always Caucasian right around the corner to help out any black individual in need, but it’s not over-done.

More or less, it’s done in a way that makes it seem reasonable; these three characters are coming into America, so obviously, they would need at least some assistance in getting their feet on the ground. Meaning, they’d need jobs, a place to live, some guidance in how different the cultures are, and just how exactly to survive in the wacky and wild place that is America, the land of opportunity. So yeah, though we get plenty of instances in which we spend more time getting to know about Reese Witherspoon’s, or Corey Stoll’s service-worker characters, it’s not done in a way to take the spotlight off of those who matter the most.

But anyways, I digress.

Back to what I was saying about the three main characters here, they are the ones who deserve the most attention here, seeing as how this is not only their story, but they are also the real reasons why this movie works. In terms of how much this movie glosses over these character’s tragic, rather disturbing upbringing in Sudan, when the movie transports them to America and we see how they interact with everything and everyone around them, it’s interesting and rings a lot of truth. Sure, there’s plenty of silly fish-out-of-water scenarios in which these guys don’t know what a telephone is, or how it’s used, and there’s even a nice bit of product-placement for Pizza Hut, which are all played up for cheap laughs. Sometimes effective, but mostly cheap.

But when the movie steps away from this and focuses on how hard it is for these guys to maintain a hard-working, paying-job, whole also still holding on dearly to the morals they were brought up with and continue to believe in, no matter where they go. Because honestly, when you’re working and making money, it’s quite easy to lose a sense of who you really are; one second, you’re giving any bit of your nickels and dimes to homeless men/women on the street, but the next second, you could be trying your hardest to avoid them. It’s all a matter of the type of person you are and I think that’s what this movie addresses the most. Sure, it’s hard to keep a job in America as is, but keeping a job in America that clearly doesn’t always gel with what you fully believe in, now that is especially difficult.

However, like I’ve made a mention to before, the movie doesn’t continuously whack us over the noggin’, trying to get these thoughts into our heads – it just serves them up on a silver platter, asks us to gaze at them, and make up our own minds about what we want to do with them. We, the audience, can toss this off to being, yet again, another hokey piece of melodrama that’s profiting off of real-life tragedies. Or, we, the audience, can choose to see this movie for what it is and try our hardest to connect to what it’s saying, and who it’s speaking out for.

The choice is up to us, the audience. Not just in this case, but always.

Wipe those grins off your face, whites!

Wipe those grins off your faces, whites!

Anyway, I know I’m doing it again where I get further and further away from the review of this movie and more to my own wild ramblings, so I’ll just try to wrap things up. Before doing so, however, I’d like to speak about these three main characters once more, as they truly are the reasons why this movie works so well. Not just in the way they are written though, it’s mostly in due part to the acting by the trio of leads, most of whom don’t seem like they’ve ever had any prior-training to this. However, it totally works for the movie because it makes us seem like we’re watching real-life African guys come over to the U.S. and learning the steps as they go along.

That said, Arnold Oceng, Ger Duany, Emmanuel Jal are all good in their roles, respectively, and you can tell that they have a nice bit of chemistry between the three of them that makes you believe in them; not just as their own respective characters, but as life-long friends who consider themselves “brothers”, especially after all that they’ve been through together. And though they don’t get much character-development other than “they are all kind-hearted spirits”, the movie doesn’t try to make them look perfect, either; one character especially goes down a dark path and while you can see it coming a mile away down the plot-line’s path, it still rings true enough that it works well enough to make you not just feel bad for these characters in particular, but for anybody who has ever had to cross over into America, just for a better life and opportunity.

If only more people had that opportunity in their lives.

Consensus: While most plot-archs are conventional, the Good Lie still doesn’t wholly give into the usual, Hollywood-ized version of events that are supposed to make all us white folk feel happy, and/or safe. There’s some sadness and heartbreak here, but most of all, there’s hope, and that’s what matters the most.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Pretty much how I look every time I visit Universal Studios.

Pretty much how I look every time I visit Universal Studios.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

This Is Where I Leave You (2014)

I’m Catholic, but if Jason Bateman and Adam Driver want me to sit Shiva with them, then yeah, I’m totally Jewish.

After the patriarch of the family passes away, the Altman siblings all decide to honor his final wish and sit Shiva for the next week. Although none of them really want to, they decide to anyway, not to just honor their dad’s wishes, but to ensure that their mother (Jane Fonda) doesn’t have a total hissy-fit. The problem is though, none of the siblings really get along. The eldest, Paul (Corey Stoll), is always so very serious and is having a problem impregnating his needy wife (Kathryn Hahn); Wendy (Tina Fey) is sort of having the same problem of her own with her kids and husband, although she’s finding some peace with her ex-boyfriend (Timothy Olyphant) who happens to still be living in town; Judd (Jason Bateman) is in the midst of divorcing his cheating wife (Abigail Spencer), but finds some solace when he reconnects with a long lost of his own, Penny (Rose Byrne); and lastly, the youngest, Phillip (Adam Driver) is a bit of a wild child that not only brings his much-older girlfriend with him (Connie Britton), but finds it hard to ever really think about why he misses so much of his dad to begin with. Then again, none of them really do, which is how most of their fights pop-up in the first place.

Though I have never read the original-text from which this movie is an adaptation of, I assume that it’s a great piece of work because of how much critics seem to be trashing this movie. Sure, there are some good reviews to be found here and there, but overall, This Is Where I Leave You seems to be a real disappointment. And while I can’t say that I particularly agree, or disagree with the general consensus of this film, I can at least attest to the fact that I’m one of those reviewers who didn’t hate it that much.

There's a Manic Pixie Dream Girl out there for all of us.

There’s a Manic Pixie Dream Girl out there for all of us.

Is this, as most note in their reviews, something of a “letdown”? Of course! You’d think that with this premise and this cast heavily-stacked cast involved that not only would we have something of a classic on our hands, but a near-Oscar contender. Maybe that’s going a tad far, but seriously, just look at that IMDB page and try to tell me you’re not at least somewhat impressed with how many great talents decided to work on this. It’s almost as if director Shawn Levy himself had a piece of evidence that was detrimental to each and everyone of these star’s personal and professional lives, that he was able to bribe all of them into not just working with him on this movie, but actually putting in some fine work.

That said, the movie is not a very good one. You can clearly tell that Levy (the same guy who has directed all of the Night at the Museums‘) doesn’t really have much of a background in directing actual moving, compelling scenes of drama and instead, more or less opts for melodrama that sometimes wants to be about “adult things”, happening with “adult people”, but in the end, just turns out to be not all that important/heavy at all. That it wants to be both a comedy with various poop and sex gags, as well as a heavy-handed drama dealing with infidelity, fertility, family, depression, and other such themes, makes it feel confused and messy.

However though, there is something to be said for when you can get an ensemble this good, to really try their hardest with material that, quite frankly, doesn’t really deserve them. Once again, never read the book so all I can assume is that it was pretty great, but whatever they did with this script here is disappointing.

But that’s why we have movie stars – they’re able to not only make us happy, pleased and be entertained, but also there to remind us each and everyday why they still deserve to work, and why exactly it is that we should continue to see them in whatever they decide to do. And this is exactly why I can’t get too mad at this movie, or what Levy does as a director. Sure, it’s a hack job from someone I didn’t expect to otherwise create, but when he allows for his cast to just do what they do best and interact with one another, the movie hits some highs and makes most of the trip worth taking.

For instance, Jason Bateman is doing what he always does: Dead-pan the crap out every line he has to deliver. It’s definitely an act of his that we’ve seen for a very long time and honestly, it never seems to get old. Not there as Michael Bluth, and definitely not here as Judd Altman; which is definitely effective because he’s the sibling who gets the most attention. He’s a sad sack, but he’s the funny one of the group that also happens to be the voice-of-reason, despite him being severely depressed. Though the romance between he and Rose Byrne’s character does feel a bit tacked-on, the two at least try to create some sort of honesty that doesn’t really show much throughout the rest of the film.

Jane Fonduh!!! Holla!

Jane Fonduh!!! Holla!

But what I’ve said about Bateman, his character Judd, and what he does with him, is pretty much the same thing that could be said about the rest of the cast: They’re all putting in good work, although it’s not much different from what we’ve seen them do before. Tina Fey is funny as the jokey and wiser older sister, although it does seem like her dramatic-acting needs a bit of work; Adam Driver is his usual goofy, eccentric-self and steals mostly all of the scenes he’s in; Corey Stoll is the serious one of the family and does fine with that; Kathryn Hahn plays his wife and seems like she wants to be another one of Hahn’s crazy characters, but just ends up being a repressed wifey-poo; and Jane Fonda plays the matriarch of the Altman family, does what she needs to do, is funny, inappropriate and a bit smug, but she’s a pro and handles this material so well, as one could expect her to do.

And honestly, the rest of the supporting cast is fine, too. Some recognizable faces show up and remind you that they can still put in great work and make something of an impact, regardless of how small their screen-time is (Abigail Spencer makes her conventional-character of the cheating-wife seem somewhat sympathetic). Should this have been a better movie? Oh, totally! It not only should have been an Oscar-contender and definitely something people will keep on turning back to every couple of months or so. But given what it is, most likely, it’ll just be the kind of movie you find while searching through your cable. Not saying that’s a bad thing, really, but it’s definitely not supposed to make you fully pleased either.

Consensus: Given the cast involved, This Is Where I Leave You should have definitely hit harder, but everybody’s so fine that it’s at least worth watching, if only for a single-viewing and leaving it at that.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Usually how me and my siblings start off nights together. How they end is a totally different story.

Usually how me and my siblings start off nights together. How they end is a totally different story.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Salt (2010)

What about Pepa?

CIA officer Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) has served and protected her country for many years, so when she’s accused of being a Russian spy, she’s absolutely baffled. Not just by the claim itself, but the fact that people who know and have worked with her for so many years, would actually start to believe this claim to be a fact and hunt her down as if she was some sort of Splinter Cell. But Salt knows that she can’t just sit around while she’s being thought about, so instead, she decides to take matters into her own hands by going on the run. This puts the CIA on a heavy, electrifying chase of sorts, where they find out more about Salt’s history/background and also see if they can get in contact with her husband (August Diehl). However, what’s strange is that he’s nowhere to be found, but what’s even stranger is that Salt’s past does seem a bit sketchy. Almost as if she could be some sort of spy who, for all these years, has been feeding off countless bits of info to her homeland of Russia. Then again though, nobody knows for sure and that’s how Salt plans on keeping it.

While this seems like a general, run-of-the-mill action-thriller, that would more than likely star either Matt Damon or Tom Cruise in the lead roles, all of a sudden becomes something of a different beast when you get rid of those two, manly-men and replace them with none other than a woman. Better yet, a woman by the name of Angelina Jolie who, despite what you may think about her questionable choices in her personal life, is a movie star in every sense of the word.

Yup. Toates Russian.

Yup. Toates Russian.

She’s not only proven herself, time and time again, that she can in fact act with the best of them, but is also able to kick some fine ass and even have us believe that a skinny little thing like her would be capable of doing so, too. Sure, most of her action-movies are the typical fodder for dudes who are just begging to see her naked to love and adore, but what she does well is that she can turn her “action-mode” off, as well as on, and have us believe her every second. She may not have many fans out there, but for me, Angelina Jolie is the exact kind of Hollywood star I want head-lining my major blockbuster; not just for the major dough involved with having her name attached to something, but because she always seems to put in the best that she can.

That, and the fact that she’s a woman who reminds us why girls can be tough, too.

All that said, this movie isn’t really trying to go out on a limb and make some sort of grand, feminist-statement – much rather, it just wants to be exactly what it sets out to be in the first place: A general, run-of-the-mill action-thriller. However, what’s so different here, is that something feels slightly “old school” about it all. Most of that can be chalked up to the fact that the writing is something of pure 80’s cheese, in which the CIA is running rampant all over the globe and Russians are still the bad guys, but another part of that can be chalked up to director Phillip Noyce, the kind of director that is able to bring us back to the good old days of action-thrillers.

You know, before Bourne had to come around and shake things up a notch. I mean that literally, and figuratively.

But what’s so interesting here that Noyce does, that not many action-thrillers do, or just seemingly forget about because they just want explosions and bullets, is that there’s more to this movie than just a bunch of simple, yet exciting action-sequences; it’s actually a mystery of sorts and adds more to the final product. Sure, the action-sequences are great and all, and more often than not feel as if they are riding the thin line between “absolutely absurd” and “somewhat believable”, but it’s the mystery as to who the hell this character is that really keeps it moving. It also keeps the movie interesting, because even when they do call it a lunch on all the action and decide to explore more and more about this main’s character life, it’s still compelling to figure out. Not that the writing for these flashbacks are great at all, but what they are able to get away with is being placed in at the right times, for the right reasons.

They're still holding a grudge over who's getting paid the most here.

They’re still holding a grudge over who’s getting paid the most.

That said, Salt herself is a bit of a bland character. I get the fact that since she’s a woman and she can kick more than a few asses on a good day is supposed to make her “different” from the rest of the other ass-kickers out there in a genre filled to the brim with them, but here, she does begin to feel less and less human as the movie goes on. And I don’t mean that because of the fact that she jumps on moving, speeding cars while on the highway and hardly ever gets a scratch; I mean that just because the writing never allows us to get to know as much as we should about her, in order to have us fully care for her journey into clearing her own name. Yeah, it kind of blows that everybody around her would all of a sudden go gung-ho after hearing that she may possibly be a Russian spy, but is that it? I needed a bit more, and maybe that’s asking too much as is.

That’s not to say Jolie isn’t bad here, because it’s quite the opposite – she’s good, meaning that she’s capable of having us believe her as both an ass-kicker, as well as a woman thrown into a disaster of a dilemma. The rest of the cast is pretty fine too, with the likes of Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Corey Stoll showing their faces and letting everybody know that they can hang with Jolie, too. However, most of the time, especially for the first two names I mentioned, they’re just spent staring at monitors and spitting in each other’s faces when everything starts to go haywire for them and this mission of tracking down Salt. It’s fun to watch these guys scream and yell, like most of us imagine CIA officials do on a daily basis, but the fact that they’re both technically fighting and hollering over a woman, makes it even funnier.

Better yet, make that woman Angelina Jolie and you’ve got yourself a comedy. Except one with a lot more running, jumping, killing, explosions, shooting, bleeding and death. Does that still qualify as a “comedy”?

Consensus: Exceptionally well-made as an action-thriller of yesteryear, Salt feels like it’s constantly keeping us, as well as itself moving, and while that may not make it more than just a standard action flick, it’s still a good time regardless.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"That'll take care of that fly."

“That’ll take care of that fly.”

 

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.AuGoggle Images

Non-Stop (2014)

If only they gave Liam Neeson a line like this, then we would have had a masterpiece on our hands, folks.

Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) is a burned-out Air Marshall who has about had it with whatever it is that he does. He drinks, he smokes, he’s not a pleasant guy to be around and always stares at a picture of his daughter. So yeah, you kind of get the idea that the dude’s not fully on-point, but he’s at least smart and determined enough to know that when there is danger in his path, he will not stop until it is gone. That’s why when he gets a series of odd text-messages from a number he doesn’t recognize, inside of his secure-network no less, Bill can’t help but feel like he has to get to the bottom of this. To make matters worse, the texts from this unknown person, are telling him to transfer a large amount of money, to a certain account number that, when checked-on, just so happens to be Bill’s. Something is definitely going awry aboard this plane and Bill is going to find out what exactly is causing it, although his tactics aren’t always supported by those around him.

Another year, which also means, another Liam Neeson-starer. To be honest though, I don’t mean to say that in a disappointed-tone, because I actually like Liam Neeson and even the movies he’s been choosing to do. Sure, most of the movies rely on him being a tall, angry bad-ass that, at one point, eventually picks up a gun and shoots it, but overall, his movies aren’t always so bad to watch to where I feel like I’ve seen the same formula done over and over again, until it’s practically rinse, recycled and repeat.

That’s why, somehow, I was actually looking forward to Non-Stop, because not only does it feature Liam Neeson in, yet again, a starring-role where he plays a tall, angry bad-ass that picks up a gun at some point, but also doesn’t seem like your traditional-thriller. Sure, it’s got the whole “who is the secret person texting me these bad things”-angle going for it, but the way in which the story gets twisted, turned and skewered around to make it look like Liam Neeson is the baddie after all this time, really intrigued me. Even then though, I wasn’t too sure who was going to be the baddie by the end of this, which, just by judging a trailer from the year 2014, means a whole heck of a lot.

"Are you the guy with his phone up to his ear? Oh wait, dumb question! Never mind!"

“Can you hear me now? ‘Kay, cool.”

But like I was saying, what was key to this movie’s suspense and excitement was that we have absolutely no clue whatsoever who the baddie is, why that person is doing it and how exactly are we going to find out. It’s all what keeps us in the dark just enough to ensure us that the long-winding, suspenseful-wait for the big reveal at the end, will be ultimately rewarding and worth it. And even if it totally isn’t, at least we were thrown on a wild ride, right?

And honestly, I think that’s all this movie seemed to be going for. Jaume Collet-Serra definitely knows how to wrack-up tension here, but to do so in the right way that doesn’t feel manipulative. Maybe there were a bit too many red herrings thrown in our direction for good measure, but it all felt necessary after awhile, if only because it made the story all the more twisty and surprising. A thriller like this doesn’t have to be a game-changer, all it has to do is keep us guessing, again and again, even if the story itself does continue to get even more and more implausible; which, sadly to say, actually does happen here.

Yes, Jaume Collet-Serra does begin to lose it quite a bit by the end when all hell truly begins to break loose and the person(s) we get revealed as the baddies, not only have a crummy reason but sort of seemed obvious all along. Actually, that’s a lie. No it didn’t, but the movie made it seem so, just by the sheer-fact that the reasoning why wasn’t quite well-written or even all that believable. Not even a lot of the stuff that Bill is somehow able to do in such a small time-frame mostly doesn’t even seem all that logical, but when you have a thriller done in a tense, assured way like this, you can’t help but forget about all of the plot’s shortcomings and enjoy the ride for as long as you can.

Also, another quick note to make a point of is how some may feel a bit uncomfortable seeing a movie that has to do with a jacked-airplane, post-9/11 America. There are a few occasions where the movie indirectly makes a note of that event occurring and it actually made me feel a bit better. Not just because it showed that the creators at least took into consideration that that event would be exactly the first thing to come to these people’s minds, but that they aren’t too afraid to say it either. There’s also a couple of snarky-comments made towards the Muslim in the story who, just by his appearance, is already looked at in a suspicious-manner by just about everyone around him – and even moreso once things start getting racy up in the air. But like I said, it’s strange that a movie made in the 21st Century can be about an airplane being taken over by terrorists, and not just make reference to 9/11, but also how it still affects our psyche today, even just when it comes to taking a step on an actual aircraft. Maybe a bit too deep for a movie so thin, but hey, whatever.

Anyway, back to the movie on hand here.

Like I alluded to before, the reason why most of these movies do work is because of Liam Neeson’s presence, one that’s always been acknowledged, yet, never fully utilized in a role that had him command our attention, at every single second. Nowadays though, that seems to be all that Neeson gets, and we’re better as a society for it, because he absolutely runs wild with his role as Bill Marks. You already get the sense, early on, that Bill Marks is a pretty disturbed-dude, but Neeson actually takes that one step further and shows you how exactly that can affect not only his thought-process, but the whole situation he, as well as everybody else is in, in general. You want to feel bad for him since nobody seems to fully believe all that he’s saying and passing as “truth”, nor do you really get on his side either, since there’s always a shred of doubt in your mind as to what is really going on with this guy. Still though, in every step of the way, Neeson makes Bill Marks a compelling-figure that deserves to be picked-apart, if only because he’s played by somebody as commandeering and interesting as Neeson. Maybe one of these days, Neeson will shake the movie-world up again and show us that he’s got room on his shelf for an Oscar, but until then, I guess we have plenty of shots of him just holding-up guns and looking like a big, bad mofo.

Redheads are always deceiving.

Redheads are always so deceiving.

Can’t say that there’s much wrong with that though, as he’s definitely the right guy for the job.

But of course, Neeson isn’t the only one working his butt off here, as there’s plenty others in this capable-cast worth taking note of. Julianne Moore is charming as the passenger who takes a seat right next to Bill and cozies on up with him pretty quickly; Corey Stoll plays a NYPD cop and reminds me why I miss his ass so much on House of Cards; Scoot McNairy plays a passenger who tells a little white lie about where he’s actually going, only to find out that he’s made the biggest mistake of his life by doing so; Nate Parker plays a computer programmer and shows us that not all black people who are good with electronics have to look like Jaleel White; Omar Metwally plays the Muslim I made a mention of earlier and also happens to be a doctor; and even Lupita Nyong’o shows up here, in what seems to be a role she took, way before she even had a clue that 12 Years a Slave was going to make her a huge name. There’s plenty of more recognizable and notable faces that get paid attention quite an awful lot here, but what makes them all so worthy of our attention is that each and every one of them have enough positive-qualities to where you can believe their innocence, but just enough shadiness as well, to where if they were to turn that other cheek and be the ultimate baddie, then you wouldn’t be all that surprised either.

Basically, it’s a free-for-all where nobody is who they say they are, all up until they are finally found-out and taught their lessons. Sort of like my high school relationships.

Consensus: Kind of dumb, yet, also very tense, exciting and fun that allows Non-Stop to be another winner for Liam Neeson and his love of releasing a winter movie, just about each and every year. Good for him, but even better for us since we get to watch these movies and be entertained by them!

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Hate it when they all know the answer."

“Hate it when they all know the answer.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

C.O.G. (2013)

If there’s no place like home, then don’t leave it!

After a supposed falling-out with his parents, David (Jonathan Groff), now going under the alias of “Samuel”, decides to leave his rich, stuck-up home life in Connecticut, and get some country in him. So, he arrives in Oregon where he becomes an apple-picker and sooner than later, finds himself to be quite good at the job, despite trying desperately to fit in and find something more to do than just pick apples for $40 a day. But eventually, his boss (Dean Stockwell) realizes that he’s of no use in the fields and therefore, sends him to work in the apple-factory where they practically do the same thing, but with less time and effort. Still though, David finds it hard to fit in or connect with anybody in that department, due solely to the fact that he’s just a bit too uppity for those bumble folk’s tastes. However though, David catches the eye of co-worker Curly (Corey Stoll) and they soon begin to start hanging around one another which starts as playful and friendly, only to take a strange turn for the worst. Also thrown into the mix is a local preacher by the name of Jon (Denis O’Hare) who may not be all that right in the head, but means well and tries to help David become a Child of God. Or so he says.

"Mommy? I want to come home. Apparently nobody hear has ever heard of Cat Power."

“Mommy? I want to come home. Apparently nobody here has ever heard of Cat Power.”

We’ve all seen the whole “young guy trying to figure it all out”-idea done a million, gazillion times and for the most part, they usually work. It mainly takes a fresh, vibrant and original voice out there to make it work and I think that known-author David Sedaris is definitely the right voice to make that happen. What Sedaris does well is that he hand-feeds you a plot that you expect to go from Destination-A, to Destination-B, in the most conventional way, with the most obvious jokes and practically little to no surprises when it comes to actual insight into these characters, as well as our protagonist who is actually the one that’s supposed to living and learning. But somehow, Sedaris changes things up and when you think you’re going to get a fish-out-of-water, dark comedy, we get something that is still quite dark, but not necessarily funny anymore.

Instead rather, the movie starts to take a dark-turn for the worst, but it’s done in such a subtle way that it doesn’t feel jarring. We mainly just as watch as this David guy, as unlikable as he may truly be, practically get shit on by everybody that’s around him, regardless as to whether or not he deserved it. Sometimes, however, he does. Sometimes the guy definitely uses his wise-cracks in conversation when he shouldn’t and he definitely doesn’t act the smartest when he’s trying to make a good impression on those around him. But usually, something unfortunate happens to him and it gets very hard-to-watch, mainly because it just feels wrong; but it always stays believable and I think that’s the fine-line this movie draws.

Most movies like this that try to capture what it’s like to live in the countryside where everybody has their own set of morals and/or sets of rules, which are usually so old-school, that they are easily picked-on, pointed at and scoffed at. This movie’s different in the way though that it doesn’t quite pass judgement on these locals, and more or less allows them to be themselves and have you be the judge on if they’re good people or not. Not everybody in this movie is exactly what they seem, and just when they do begin to show their true colors, you still don’t know whether that makes them a good, or a bad person. There’s a lot of thinking going on here, and although that makes there actually less to enjoy, the fact still remains that the movie kept me interested the whole way through; especially when it kept throwing surprises at me in terms of certain character’s-developments, as well as what it was trying to say about the whole “finding God” aspect of this story that it really does hit on the head plenty of times during the final-half.

Not to spoil too much, but the whole religious-angle this movie shows, is never done in a ham-handed or preachy way. Nor does it really hate on people who do hold religious-beliefs either. The movie just shows us that some people need a higher-power like God to make them feel special and worth living for, whereas for others, it just shows that some people don’t really care if there is a God or not. They just want to live, be happy and make others happy as well, even without all of the praying and crosses hanging around the rooms. The movie doesn’t get much deeper than that, but it’s a smart move considering how many movies trash overly-religious folks, rather than just showing how the idea of religion in their lives affects them and makes them who we see on the outside, much more than on the inside.

And I think that much attention and detail to what makes these characters, whom it is that we see, against who it is that they really are, is what keeps this flick moving, even at its most questionable-choices. Most importantly, David himself is a character that continued to interest me, even though I didn’t really like him as much. Hell, I actually couldn’t stand him at certain points either. It’s especially clear to us that this is definitely the type of kid that’s never heard “no” in his life, has always excelled in class, got into every Ivy League school he applied to and chalks up a “bad day” to getting a B+ on his latest Biology test. None of that makes him a bad person, per se, but it does make him a bit of a snob, especially considering how hard he tries to fit in here, despite saying and doing all of the wrong things to do so.

Office-romances rarely ever work out. But between two dudes? Nobody would even notice.

“Hey, hotstuff. Wanna be my lunch break?”

But it’s a real surprise that although we see this guy develop and learn more things about life over time, we never quite see him change. That frustrated me, but it also interested me as well and made me actually wonder if this guy is actually learning anything new about life at all. I can see why he would want to venture out to the countryside and start to live it up in a life that he’s only read of, but the fact that he goes about it in such a lazy way, made me sort of want to smack him in the face and send his ass back to Yale. Don’t get me wrong, Jonathan Groff is very good in this lead role and makes it seem like he’s a lot more fragile and scared than he what he actually shows people as being, but after awhile, it’s pretty clear that David gets shoved to the back of the story, and more of the supporting characters come in and give their own two cents about why they matter and why they should be the centerpiece of what this story means.

And with two great actors like Corey Stoll and Denis O’Hare, you honestly cannot complain about that. Stoll doesn’t get nearly as much to do as O’Hare does here, but as the co-worker-turned-buddy of David’s, Curly, Stoll is a charming, if odd presence that kept me wondering about what he was going to possibly say or do next on-screen. Mostly though, I expected him to just do a bunch of weird stuff and that’s usually what happened, but it wasn’t done in a dumb way. On the other hand though, O’Hare gets a huge-amount of material to work with as the very troubled, very unpredictable local preacher known as Jon that, for reasons I can’t necessarily give away, takes David under his wing in a professional, and spiritual-manner.

O’Hare’s great here and really gets to the inner-demons of just how mean and detestable this guy was back in the day, and how some of that is still left in him today. We know that he loves the Lord Almighty and although he may push it down David’s throat as that being the “answer to all of your problems”, we never feel like he’s annoying or over-bearing presence. He’s just the type of guy who loves God and needs some guidance in his life, and I don’t know about you, but there’s nothing so bad about that. Is there? Okay, maybe so, but not for him at least and that’s why watching O’Hare in this movie was great because of the way he surprised me with his character, showing us just how dark one man can get, despite showing-off this wonderful, beautiful and bright aura about him and what it is that he talks about.

Consensus: Not everything that C.O.G. tries to do with its story may work, but with a cast of wonderful performers and plenty of interesting characters that develop into being more than what we originally see them as being, there’s still plenty more to like here, than not like.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

It's like they say, "Over 300 apples a day will make somebody go freakin' crazy."

It’s like they say, “Over 300 apples a day will make somebody go freakin’ crazy.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net