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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Hugh O’Brien

The Program (2016)

Come on, guys. Let’s cut Lance some slack. Dude dated Sheryl Crow after all.

Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster), as they like to say, came from nothing, only to then become something. Though he was just a small-time cyclist from Texas, eventually, Lance began to train more and more, to the point of where he was competing in national competitions like, well, for starters, the Tour de France. However, while he was definitely successful very early in his career, he ran into problems when it turned out that he had testicular cancer. Eventually, he got treatment and got back on his bike, except this time, it was with a whole new mission: To help those with cancer. With all sorts of support on his side from everyone around him, Armstrong created the Live Strong foundation, won the Tour de France a few more times, had all sorts of sponsors, was generally seen as “a hero”, and heck, was even in a long-term relationship with Sheryl Crow. It seemed almost as if Armstrong was the king of the world and couldn’t be brought down from his title. However, journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) saw differently and was one of the key people in challenging Armstrong’s past issues with performance-enhancing drugs. These are the same sorts of issues that would ultimately prove his downfall in the public eye.

Cars vs. bikes. Who's going to win the transportation war?

Cars vs. bikes. Who’s going to win the transportation war?

By now, I’m pretty sure that nobody’s holding a “Lance Armstrong pity party”. The dude may have fought for a meaningful cause and won a slew of Tour de France’s, but was a jerk to mostly everyone in the media, anyone who associated themselves with him, and used his good deeds and charities to almost make an excuse for all of the performance-enhancing drugs he took. Oh, and not to mention, that he lied about almost all of this. So yeah, no time soon will everybody crowd around a picture of Lance, and memorialize the person who he was and cry on his behalf.

Some people may do that now as we speak, but it’s probably a very limited number.

However, that’s what’s perhaps most interesting about the Program: While it does treat Armstrong in a sometimes negative, almost mean light, it still has an effect and makes you wonder if all of this piling-up on him is, well, enough. After the Armstrong Lie, it felt like we already had Armstrong’s story and nothing else needed to be told, which is pretty true in this movie’s case, but director Stephen Frears does something interesting in that he turns the story around ever so slightly and make us think that maybe Armstrong, while not misunderstood, was attacked way too heavily. Sure, he was a cocky dude who brought a lot of these issues on himself for just not sticking to his guns, not staying clean, and gaining a God-complex, but at the same time, he still had some nice qualities to him.

I know that statement literally means nothing in most cases, but here, it means something; rather than painting Armstrong as this completely distasteful, immoral son-of-a-bitch, the movie shows that while he was most definitely a dick, he was one that also wanted to fight for a good cause. Also, the movie likes to focus on those around him, like Lee Pace’s Bill Stapleton, or Denis Menochet’s Johan Bruyneel, and show that they most definitely had a hand or two, or more, in constituting just how far Armstrong went with his success. While he may have wanted to use his wealth and notoriety for the greater good of society and to find a cure for cancer, those around him mostly just saw a piggy-bank that needed to be constantly tapped and used.

Once again, none of this is excusing the fact that Armstrong lied on many occasions, but it brings up some valid arguments about him.

His journalistic sense is tingling.

His journalistic sense is tingling.

That’s why the Program, the movie, feels very mixed. In a way, we didn’t really need this story to be told to us, but because it’s a movie that exists, it’s hard to hate on it for existing. What I can hate on the movie for is not really offering anything fully meaningful to the debate of whether or not we should all, as a society, go back to letting Lance Armstrong into our tender arms. It makes you think if he was a total dick or not, but that’s about it; all the movie really sets out to do is tell Armstrong’s story once again, as if some of those at home didn’t already know a single thing about it, or him.

Also, what’s odd about the movie is how, even at an-hour-and-43-minutes, it goes by very quick. This isn’t something I note as a positive either, as a good portion of the film just feels like a Lance Armstrong highlight reel, where all of the good things he did, gets shown, as well as the bad things, and they’re just constantly put up next to one another, back-to-back. For instance, we’ll get a scene of Armstrong at a children’s hospital, being nice and sweet to the kids, but the next one, we’ll get a shot of him sticking a needle into his bum. While this may be effective editing, it still doesn’t help when there’s at least three or four of these transitions of seeing Armstrong do something nice, only to then have it all juxtaposed by him doing something bad.

We get it! What we didn’t see in the spotlight, was sometimes darker than what we wished!

As Lance Armstrong, Ben Foster is very good in that he’s doing a lot of acting and having seen Armstrong in plenty of interviews/public appearances, it almost doesn’t feel right. Don’t get me wrong, Foster is good and gives this all his every bit, but there’s a lot of yelling, and screaming, and posturing from Foster that I don’t feel was very necessary to this character, especially the real life Armstrong wasn’t totally like this. He was definitely a bit smarmy, in a way, but no way was he a total a-hole like the way he’s portrayed here. If anything, he was just a dull guy who had a lot of championships to his name, his own cancer foundation, and a severe drug habit.

That’s basically all there was to Lance Armstrong – the man, the myth, the cheater.

Consensus: Without making its own mind up on its subject, the Program feels a tad short-shifted, but with some good performances and entertaining, slightly easygoing pace from Stephen Frears, it gets the job done and may have you thinking a bit differently about Armstrong himself. Or, then again, maybe not.

6.5 / 10

He's a hero to us all. Now give me back my money for all those damn wristbands!

He’s a hero to us all. Now give everybody back all their money for those damn wristbands!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Suffragette (2015)

Sadly, it doesn’t seem like much good has come of this.

During the early 20th Century, women in Britain were able to do a lot of things. They could work, get married, breed children, cook, clean, smoke, drink, and a whole bunch of other things that are most associated with living. However, the one, and perhaps, most important task that they could not, hell, were not allowed to do, was vote. Because of this, many women stood-up and let their voices be heard, spearheading the suffrage movement; it’s also the same movement that one woman named Maude (Carey Mulligan) doesn’t quite care for to begin with. For one, she knows that her job is valuable, her husband (Ben Whishaw) loves her, and that she doesn’t want to lose her, so she decides to just keep her mouth shut and move on. That changes one day, however, when she’s recruited by Edith New (Helena Bonham Carter) and brought to an appearance by the suffrage movement leader Emmeline Pankhurst (Meryl Streep). Now, Maude understands what the fight is all for, and although she risks not just her family, but her own life as well, she’s still very inspired to do the right thing and make sure that women are granted their given right.

"I wish I were a gal, too."

“I wish I were a lass, too.”

Like most other civil rights movies, Suffragette likes to point out just how ridiculous it was that a certain group of people couldn’t do something, because of an even more ridiculous ideology that, in hindsight, doesn’t seem to ever make much sense. In this movie’s case, the certain group is women, and the ideology is the right to vote; why women weren’t allowed to vote for so very long is based on pure sexism, but that’s about it. While it would have been one thing for the movie to dive deeper into exactly why so many British men/politicians thought that this idea was right, the movie doesn’t ever go for that.

Instead, it just focuses on a few stories of a few women who may, or may have not existed during this movement, but hey, that’s what movies are all for.

And honestly, the best parts of Suffragette are when it’s focusing on all the backlash these women received for making their voices heard. There’s something incredibly disturbing about watching a group of women getting beaten and clubbed by a group of policemen because they, “were felt as a threat”. There’s also the not-so violence backlash these women faced – whether it be through losing their jobs, their families, or being tossed aside from the rest of society as “trouble-makers” – it’s all sad, but serves a greater purpose to make the movie’s message go down a lot less smoothly.

But the problem with Suffragette is that it also deals with these women’s lives which aren’t all that interesting, if I’m being frank. Not to say that I had a problem with the movie trying to focus in on these character’s lives and show how they were affected by each and everything, but at the same time, it was still hard for me to wholly care when everything was laid out in such a conventional manner. Take, for instance, our lead protagonist, Maud, and her story; though I’m sure she shares her story along with many other women, hers, above all the rest, is given the most focus and attention because she doesn’t actually start out as a suffragist.

In fact, she was actually recruited into it all, and the hows and whys of that all, are probably a little more interesting than the character herself. Which isn’t to say that Carey Mulligan doesn’t do a solid job in this role, because she does, but still, it’s very much the same kind of Carey Mulligan performance we’ve seen her do a hundred times before, but in far more prettier clothes and wigs. She’s emotional, sad, and supposedly dirty and ragged, but somehow, her hair still finds a way to be in the right place at that right picture perfect time. Don’t worry, I’m not ragging on Mulligan for being beautiful, however, most of the movies that she does, can’t seem to help but pay as much attention to this aspect of her, and sort of put the rest of her versatility on the back-burner.

No matter how much pain or strife she goes through, that Carey Mulligan is always ready to make sadness, beautiful.

No matter how much pain or strife she goes through, that Carey Mulligan is always ready to make sadness, beautiful.

The only exception to the rule is, of course, Shame, for obvious reasons.

And everybody else here is fine, too, if a tad underused. Helena Bonham Carter seems like she had a more fun and fiery performance here, but is mostly just called on for some witty one-liners to deliver when the movie needs a joke to clear the air; Anne-Marie Duff is also fine, but it seems like her backstory and what her character goes through during the duration of the film, is actually more interesting than Maude’s, but hey, that’s just me; Ben Whishaw plays Maude’s husband and, as expected, is sort of there to just serve as a needed window-dressing; Brendan Gleeson gets a meaty role as a police inspector who may, or may not be pleased with these suffragists, and to see how he constantly fights with himself over what the next best move to make, is very engaging; and Meryl Streep, despite being advertised heavily in the promotion for this movie, is hear for maybe five or ten minutes, and that’s about.

But, in true Meryl Streep fashion, she’ll probably win an Oscar for it. Just you wait.

In case you couldn’t tell, though, there’s a lot of interesting subplots going on here, but sadly, none of them get nearly as much attention as Maude’s does and that’s a bit of a problem. It isn’t a problem that Maude’s was actually given some attention to begin with, but because she’s the main one, and it’s not all that compelling, it does feel like she’s taking a bit away from the rest. Once again, she doesn’t ruin the movie, but she does keep it away from being as smart and as powerful as it could have definitely been, considering the message and all.

Consensus: Though the message is strong and the cast is fine, Suffragette still suffers from a less-than-engaging main story, that doesn’t always blend in well with the rest of the proceedings.

6 / 10

You go, girls!

You go, girls!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Secret spy agents have never been so cheeky!

Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) is a post-WWII antiquities smuggler who gets recruited by the CIA to help catch the baddies and put himself in dangerous positions that no pencil-pusher would ever even dream of being caught in. His latest mission, however, may test him to his utter limits. An East German mechanic by the name of Gaby (Alicia Vikander), has a father who was a former rocket scientist for the Nazis and may be currently developing a nuclear bomb for a bunch of shady fascists. Because the mission itself is so complex, Solo’s boss (Jared Harris) assigns him to work with KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer); somebody Solo already has a bit of a rivalry with as is. This leads to constant tension and bragging between the two where they sometimes find that they are at odds with one another, rather than with the enemy. But while Solo is busy fighting off whatever pretty honey that comes his way, Kuryakin is trying his hardest to not show off any sort of emotional feelings for anyone, especially not for Gaby, who has now been assigned to use cover as his fiancee. Will all of these personal problems get in the way of the mission? Or will Kuryakin, Solo and Gaby combine their forces and beat the villains, so that all us citizens can live a happy, healthy, and care-free life?

Still not Kristin Scott Thomas, even though my brain keeps making me think so.

Still not Kristin Scott Thomas, even though my brain keeps making me think so.

Love him, hate him, don’t care for him, or hell, don’t even know who he is other than the dude who married Madonna, Guy Ritchie’s got style. And no, I’m not talking about the way he dresses or acts in real life – I mean the movies that he makes. While some may get tired and bored of his energetic and frenetic style, to me, Ritchie feels like the kind of director we’re very lucky to have. None of his movies (even his really terrible ones), can be called “horrid”, “stupid”, and “annoying”, but they can’t be called “dull”. This is because Ritchie refuses to let a movie of his get made without some form of color or fun thrown into the proceedings.

And if anything, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. is the perfect example of this.

What makes me most happy about U.N.C.L.E. is that it’s the kind of action-thriller that likes to have fun. What was that word? “Fun”? In a current action-thriller, you say? Well, funny that you may ask because yes, U.N.C.L.E. is indeed a fun movie that doesn’t try to frown or grim too much; more or less, it’s concerned with kicking-ass, stunts, guns, babes, booze, spy-gadgets, fancy cars, and most of all, humor.

In today’s day and age where Bond seems to be losing his smirk as each and every movie goes by, or where every hero’s trying to be the next Bourne, U.N.C.L.E.‘s characters all have lovely personalities, seem to have some bit of fun in their systems and, most importantly, have a good joke to end a sentence on. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all jokes and play for Ritchie’s characters here, however, even when they do get serious and melodramatic, it isn’t at the high cost of the movie where all of the exciting and fun times are over and now we have to get all stern and cold.

Ritchie doesn’t care for those kinds of thrillers and it’s way U.N.C.L.E. works as well as it does.

Some of this has to do with the fact that the setting (post-WWII, Cold War-era) just screams white-blooded nostalgia right at you, but a good portion has to do with the fact that Ritchie seems interested in this story all around. After all, it’s his fault that a TV show from the 60’s is being brought to the screen where half of the audience who watched that original show may not be alive, or even remember it, so if he screws this up, it’s off with his head. But Ritchie seems absolutely enthused to be giving these locations, these characters, and this decade the light of day and it’s hard to not get caught up in all the good vibes going around.

After all, it’s getting to the end of the summer, so it’s better to get out with a happy, healthy bang, rather than a down-beat, depressed and down-trodden whimper like some of these blockbusters have been this summer.

But perhaps the best thing about U.N.C.L.E., isn’t that it’s filled with plenty of cheeky humor, or impressive set-pieces, but is that it makes you want to see more of these characters in whatever the next adventure it is that they’re getting involved with. While Henry Cavill may be seen as Superman for quite some time, he’s very charming here as Napoleon Solo – who is basically Bond, except that he’s got a perfect chin, hair, body, and cheeks that makes you wonder if Ritchie too thinks this guy’s handsome as hell, too. This gives me hope that whatever side-projects Cavill decides to do away from being Kal-El, that he chooses to take ones that test him as an actor a bit, but also show what his strengths are as an actor.

Doesn't get anymore British than him.

Doesn’t get anymore British than him.

Same goes for Armie Hammer who, after the Social Network, hasn’t had the most lovely career. None of that really has to do with him, because even the crappy movies he participated in, he was at least fine in them, but there is something to be said for a person when they just become a one-hit wonder and you wonder whether or not they’ve actually got some sort of acting-skill in their soul, or are they just another good-looking. In Hammer’s case, he’s definitely the later, but here, he shows that he’s got skills as an actor and is at least able to make this stiff character funny and engaging to watch.

Of course, the whole joke surrounding him is that he’s all too serious and emotionless for his own good, but what Hammer does well, is that he shows that there’s more to this character than just what’s presented on the surface. This is what makes the later-portion of this movie actually interesting, because Hammer and Alicia Vikander have good chemistry between one another where it seems like their characters would be perfect as partners in life, as well as in work. It should be noted that Vikander is great here, too, and is another female character we get this summer that seems like she’s there as nothing else but just a damsel-in-distress, but soon shows her true colors and turns out to be smarter than her male counterparts.

But I’ll save my praise for Vikander for a later-time, considering she’s got plenty of more movies coming around the bend.

Consensus: Stylish, colorful, and whimsical, the Man from U.N.C.L.E. isn’t just an entertaining action-thriller, but one that signals why Guy Ritchie is one of the better directors we have working today; he just needs to be given better material to work with.

8 / 10

Please, movie audiences: Let us see these three again.

Please, movie audiences: Let us see these three again.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Riot Club (2015)

Rich kids get a bad rap. They’re just like you or I – except with lots more money, is all.

Milo Richards (Max Irons) is a first-year student at Oxford University and doesn’t really know what his place in the world, let alone at college. But he knows that he wants to start something up with fellow freshman Lauren (Holliday Grainger) who shows him that being popular and cool doesn’t matter once you’ve got someone special in your life. However, that doesn’t register with Milo, as he still finds himself drawn to certain people in and around the University that are deemed “cool”, or typically “posh”. That’s why when a group of young, rich hot-shots from other universities recruit Milo for what they call “the Riot Club”, he doesn’t go against it; in fact, he allows it. Once Milo’s apart of this group, he acts out in all sorts of ways he never quite expected himself to act out in the first place: Running, cursing, breaking things, partying, and generally causing all sorts of havoc. Eventually though, all of the good times Milo has with the club start to come to a close when he realizes that all of these fellas are up to no good and are absolute menaces to society – something Milo doesn’t want to be, nor associate himself with.

What we have here is another case of an interesting premise, and a movie that doesn’t know what to do with it, or how to go about saying what it wants to say in a smart, understood way. Instead, the Riot Club is a movie that wants to be two, completely different things: A) It wants to be the pint-sized version of the Wolf of Wall Street where young, British whippersnappers go around drinking, sexxing, and causing all sorts of chicanery for the hell of it, and B) It wants to be a cautionary tale for kids out there to not conform so easily to what all of the cool kids are doing, no matter how fun it may seem. The later element is a thoughtful one, but when it’s thrown-up against a movie that wants to praise the same assholes it’s talking out against, then there becomes something of a problem that’s hard to get by.

"To asshole d-baggery!"

“To asshole d-baggery, lads!”

This is a shame, too, because the Riot Club just so happens to come from the hands of Lone Scherfig, a director who seems to have fallen on the forgotten-path of life since One Day. Scherfig does a solid job of setting these characters up to be total and complete jackasses that, despite all of the fortune and fame that they may have, are absolute dicks that nobody wants to be around, let alone spend up to two hours with. However, Scherfig seems like she actually wants to hang out with them for two hours and because of that, the movie becomes a mess.

We want to not like these characters because of what they stand for – Scherfig knows this, too. However, she doesn’t allow for these characters, for the first two-halves that is, actually show their dark sides. They’re just young, rambunctious, and rowdy kids that like to cause mayhem wherever they go because, well, they can. They’re rich, spoiled and don’t have an absolute care in the world and while Scherfig may want us to like them, it’s very hard to.

That’s why when, all spoilers ahead, these d-bags get their comeuppance, it doesn’t feel organic. It feels thrown in there because Scherfig, realizing what sort of movie she was setting out to make, didn’t want to make it seem like she liked all of these characters to begin with. So, she shows them acting like a crazed lunatics that, when they have a little too much to drink, break down walls, throw tables, and beat the shit out of anybody that steps into their way. The way this is all shown at the end is a bit too cartoonish to take seriously, and not to mention that it’s all highly unbelievable.

Literally, these characters go from yelling, hooting and hollering about being rich and cool, but then, literally moments later, they’re acting like crazed lunatics in the midst of a prison riot. This would make sense of Scherfig ever made a hint of this throughout the whole piece, but she doesn’t; instead, we just see how these guys are dicks and that’s it. There’s no sign at all that they may be dangerously violent and possibly even lash-out on random, innocent people like they begin to do in the later-parts of this movie, for no reason whatsoever.

Professing your love on a roof? How original, mate.

Professing your love on a roof? How original, mate.

Maybe this is how these groups are in real life, I don’t know. All I know is that it takes an awful lot for people to start acting the way these characters do later on.

But honestly, all of the problems with the Riot Club would have been if Scherfig gave us someone worth reaching out towards and rooting for, but sadly, we don’t really get that. Sure, she gives us a sympathetic protagonist in Milo, but once you get down to the brass-tacks of this character, you realize that the only reason he’s written at all to be sympathetic, is because he doesn’t do nearly as much drinking, smoking or bad-assery as these fellows. He still does it when push comes to shove, but all he’s really got to live for is a girl and I guess that’s why he doesn’t partake as much in these hellacious activities.

That doesn’t really give us a character worth sympathizing with, let alone actually caring about, which is a huge problem where not only everybody seems to be unlikable, but are hard to really differentiate from one another. One character, played by Sam Reid, is the gay one who constantly hits on Milo, no matter how much he turns him down, but that’s pretty much it. Everybody else, from the likes of Sam Claflin to Douglas Booth, all are the same characters and hardly have any character-traits that make them seem more complex than the others. Not that there’s much to them to begin with, but hey, a little dimensions would’ve helped.

Consensus: Nobody in the Riot Club is likable, which is sort of the point of the movie, and sort of not, which makes it a non-interesting, repetitive mess.

2.5 / 10 

The bright, young faces of the new world. And for that, we're all screwed.

The bright, young faces of the new world. And for that, we’re all screwed.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

’71 (2015)

Behind Enemy Lines, but with more pints of Guinness.

Young British solider Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) gets called away from his basic training to set up shop in Belfast where he, as well as his fellow soldiers, will help “maintain peace”. During this time, however, the exact opposite was happening with there being fights and riots breaking out all over the place between Protestants and Catholics, and once Hook arrives on the scene, he realizes this. While trying to settle down an angry mob that’s pissed off with the Army coming in and trying to take away their weapons, Hook gets separated from his fellow soldiers and is practically a walking, breathing and scared shitless target for anyone who doesn’t agree with the Army, or their tactics – which, in Belfast during this time, was practically everyone. More importantly though, Hook has to be on the lookout for loyalists and the IRA, as they feel getting a British soldier in their captivity would be absolutely what they need to help their cause a bit more over the other side. Either way, it’s just not a good position for Hook to be in and he’ll have to depend on his instincts to survive the night, and possibly get out of this terrible situation alive.

You can tell right away that it’s a very simple story. Sure, the political context to be set for this film is that it’s during the Troubles period, in which practically everybody was out to get the other side. There’s a lot more to it than that, but if you want it to be put in as simple terms as one can possibly get – all hell was practically breaking loose during this time and if a person was stuck somewhere that they shouldn’t have been, then needless to say, they were in some deep trouble.

Lots of running.

Lots of running.

And that’s exactly what ’71 tries to talk about for at least an hour-and-a-half. For most movies, this is a daunting task – finding a way to make even the most simple, non-complex situation, just the opposite. However, it’s a task that ’71 is more than willing to try and take on, even if it doesn’t always come out on top as the victor and is instead, more or less, the one that seems like it’s trying to go deeper than it probably should have.

For instance, there’s this whole idea that no matter what danger may be lurking at every street corner for Gary Hook, there might be somebody who appears to be on his side, looking to do the same sort of damage that his enemies want to do to him. We see this in a few characters, within a few subplots that seem to spell out the problems of corruption within the IRA, the British government, and just about anybody who had any sort of power during this time and place, and I’m not sure they all needed to be placed here, given the context of this movie. It showed us that the odds were constantly stacking up against our protagonist, but we didn’t really need to be told this with all of these different characters and their objectives.

In fact, just having Hook getting chased on the street and shot at (which does happen fairly early in the film and is downright breathtaking) was enough to make me feel like this dude could literally die at any second and the movie would be all over. His story wouldn’t be eventful, except that he was just a poor cog in the machine who had to, sadly, face the consequence of being caught in the wrong place, at especially the wrong time. That, as is, is already compelling and complex to me, but the movie felt otherwise.

Instead, it wanted to constantly get deeper, and more complex for its own good, but instead, just seemed to get more convoluted and twisty. Because it’s never made clear to us who the ones on Hook’s side are, and who aren’t, the movie runs into the problem of even confusing the audience who might want to sit by and see just what happens to this character next, what he runs into, and how he tries to get alive out of it, if at all. Maybe that’s sort of the point of this movie, which makes sense, but didn’t make the movie that much easier to sit through and understand.

That said, a good portion of this movie is thrilling, and sometimes, it doesn’t even seem to be trying.

But, at least he gets a breather.

But, at least he gets a breather.

Whether or not director Yann Demange had some help on the side from certain others involved, remains to be known, but to me, it seems like he had certain elements to this film down perfectly. Whenever Demange plays it quiet and allows for certain scenes to play out, as they would in real life, they are riveting; they don’t demand our attention, but, more or less, just calmly ask us to watch them as they go on. These scenes make the bulk of ’71 thrilling, even when it doesn’t seem to be going for that sort of Bourne-like look or feel. It just does it, which makes me wonder what the hell happened to the rest of Demange’s direction that made him pack on the pounds to this story and have it go off-the-rails, so randomly, too.

But Demange is smart in allowing for us to get behind a character like Gary Hook, even if it’s never fully clear what sort of guy this is, or better yet, why we’re being told his story. The movie gives us a few scenes with him and his son, and gives us the impression that he’s a typically okay guy, but that’s about it. I’m not complaining. I’m just pointing out something that’s interesting as it works in the film’s favor and just proves my main problem with this movie even further – simplicity rules. By not diving in deep and digging around in Gary Hook’s life, we are given somebody who seems as plain and ordinary as they may come, but somehow, still works for us. Once we see that his life is in absolute peril and he is, more or less, innocent of any wrong-doings that may eventually come to him, than we’re already placed on his side for the majority of the flick that is spent watching him running, hiding, and trying to get out of this shitty situation alive and in one piece.

That said, Jack O’Connell, now a big name because of Unbroken, doesn’t really have much to do here, except pretty much the same that he did in that movie. He gets beat up a lot, stays quiet, keeps to himself, and occasionally, acts out in fright. That’s about it. It’s not that I’m not sold on the fact that O’Connell can actually act – it’s more that I feel like he hasn’t been given the right role for him yet to where he can show the whole world that he is a star, just waiting to break out at any point. Starred Up had a solid performance of his, but that’s about it, and I’ve seen maybe three other films that he’s involved in and I have yet to be fully impressed.

Oh well. Guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Consensus: As an unpredictable, survival-story, ’71 is exciting and dangerous. But as a political-thriller, it drops the ball and feels as if it’s trying too hard to not just eat its cake, but possibly even get some seconds afterwards.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

Then, he's back to more running.

Then, he’s back to more running.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Rosewater (2014)

Can’t trust that Jon Stewart. Now, that Stephen Colbert is a whole lot more reliable.

In 2009, London-based Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari (Gael García Bernal) took to the streets of Iraq to cover the 2009–10 Iranian election and, as a result, the riots that soon occurred afterwards as well. It was a simple task that was going to gain him and his pregnant wife some more money, and also opened his eyes to what the hell was really out there happening on the streets that he didn’t usually get a chance to see in most Western media-outlets. But after Bahari does a tongue-in-cheek interview with the Daily Show, the Iraq government gets a little suspicious and detains Bahari to question him about his stay on their home turf. Basically, they believe Bahari to be an American spy, and although Bahari obviously isn’t, his captors still have a job to do and need to get any confession out of him that they possibly can. This means that Bahari goes through plenty of psychological trauma, both mental and physical torture, solitary confinement, time spent with blind-folds on, and also, time spent alone, literally talking to no one except for his own-self, or even the imaginary-friends he makes up in his own head. But still, Bahari feels the need and desire to stay alive and sure as hell won’t let somebody stop him from doing so, even if he does run a little too close to risking his own life in the process.

That footage better not turn out shaky!

That footage better not turn out shaky!

It’s pretty interesting that such a well-known comedian/celebrity such as Jon Stewart would not only abandon his post on the Daily Show for nearly a whole summer, just to make a movie, but to make a movie that isn’t what we tend to expect from most actors who decide to get behind the screen for the first times in their careers. See, with most directorial debuts from actors who are already well-established, they don’t always get the big budget they want, or think they deserve, so therefore, their scope is a bit limited. Meaning, they usually like to keep things as small, simple, and as pain-free as possible, with the hopes of, if everything goes by smoothly on the first try, then their sophomore go-ahead will be what it is that they want to do, with nearly as much money as they need to make their wildest, most ambitious dreams possible.

But the strange thing with Rosewater, isn’t that Stewart seems very ambitious with the material he chooses direct, but that he’s sort of the main reason for why this story was even made possible to begin with. Many people always ask when they certain movies, “Why was this story even told to us? And better yet, why was it adapted to the big screen?” And to be honest, there usually isn’t any other answer except for, “Well, just because. duh,” but for Stewart, it’s obvious what his motivations were behind bringing this story to the big screen and why he felt it was necessary to tell it to begin with: He feels a slightly bit guilty about it all.

Sure, you could also say that he wants to focus on what’s really going on everyday on the wild streets of Iran, but that aspect of the film’s story isn’t nearly as established as Bahari’s time inside solitary confinement is, which actually brings a huge problem to this movie: It’s quite boring.

And yes, I know that this may sound like a stupid complaint for a movie that clearly doesn’t hid behind the fact that it’s about a dude who nearly spent 118 days in solitary confinement and getting constantly hammered with useless questions about whether or not he’s a special informant for the U.S., but Stewart makes the bad choice of showing us that he can spice this story up in any way possible. We get flashbacks, imaginary-friends, a small view of what’s happening outside of Bahari’s captivity, and even tiny bits of development for Bahari’s main interrogator; but hardly any of it’s actually interesting, or better yet, brings any excitement to this tale to begin with. I can definitely give Stewart credit for trying, but when your main objective is to tell a story, and to do so in the most exciting, most entertaining way possible, and you can’t appear to do that, unless it being incredibly manipulative, then I’m a bit sorry, you’ve disappointed me.

But still, Stewart makes some interesting choices here and there and allows for the movie to, at certain points at least, be funny. There’s a moment in this flick in which we get to see Bahari actually stand up for himself and turn the tables on his captors in, not only a funny manner, but an effective way, too. Bahari begins to dress up his lies as truth, and therefore, the captors can’t help but feel uncomfortable, while also slightly interested in everything Bahari tells them. This sequence, as small as it may be, is one of the key instances in which it’s clear that Stewart utilizes some of his comedic-talent to allow this material to pop-off the screen and really grab a hold of our minds, but it’s also another instance in which this movie held so much promise, yet, fell by the waist side of not really having a clear focus at all.

If anything, I also have to give a lot of credit to Gael García Bernal who, despite being Mexican, actually does a nice job as the Iranian, Maziar Bahari. Though, when you put him against fellow Iranian characters who are in fact played by Iranian actors, he does look a little bit out of place, Bernal is still a capable enough actor to have us see past this obvious problem and just remember that this is a guy we’re supposed to keep on rooting for, even if we don’t know exactly why. He’s just another guy who gets thrown into a shitty situation that so many others get thrown into as well, but the difference here is that he’s got a wife, and a baby on the way. It’s corny, but it works, if only because Bernal digs deep into who this guy is, and why at all he matters to us.

"I said, 'no blinking'!"

“I said, ‘no blinking’!”

We know why he matters to Stewart, but to us, the audience, it’s key that we at least feel some sympathy for the guy.

And although Bernal’s Bahari is the one we’re supposed to obviously be interested by the most, it’s still hard to not want to know more about his captor, either. Kim Bodnia, another non-Iranian actor playing an Iranian, does a fine a job as Bahari’s main captor (his nickname was the movie’s title, all because Bahari couldn’t identify him by anything else, other than the smell of his fresh-to-death cologne), and gives us a glimpse into the soul of a guy who may be more than what he appears to be. Sure, he has a pretty brutal job that he goes through with, day in and day out, without hardly any objections, but there’s a slight idea we get to see in which we realize that maybe he doesn’t like his savage job as much as he appears to be, and is only being a brutal d-bag, because that’s what his boss from up top tells him to be. It’s all very interesting and, had there been a better movie to work with here, I feel like Bodnia would have absolutely ran wild with this character and gave us plenty to talk about, but thus, we don’t.

Just another instance of disappointment. Interesting disappointment, but disappointment nonetheless.

Consensus: Though Jon Stewart shows plenty of promise behind the camera with Rosewater, it’s still a messy movie that doesn’t always hit the marks that it should, but gets by on a few interesting notes, if only mildly so.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

I hate being late for class, too.

I hate being late for class, too.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Theory of Everything (2014)

You can still be a nerd and get hot chicks. I’m still not buying it.

Before he was known as the world’s smartest human being and talking through a computer, Stephen Hawking (Eddie Redmayne) was just another college student looking for inspiration in his life. He knew he wanted to pursue physics, but didn’t really seem to care much about it enough to really put his mind to the test. That is all until a woman by the name of Jane (Felicity Jones) walks into his life, has him practically head-over-heels, and changes him for the better. But she comes at such a drastic part of his life when Stephen begins to finally realize that he has ALS; an untreatable disease that practically turns him into vegetable. Jane knows this though, and yet, still decides to marry Stephen because she feels as if she’ll be able to make it through no matter what. Because, really, as long as the two love each other, then that’s all that really matters, right? Well, yes and no. And this is what the two are about to find out.

Oh, Stephen Hawking. That cheeky bastard, him.

Oh, Stephen Hawking. That cheeky bastard him.

Stephen Hawking is one of the most brilliant minds our planet has ever had the pleasure of gracing with his good presence, which makes it all the more a shame that he’s been struck with this incurable disease such as ALS (yes, that disease everybody was doing those annoying-ass Ice Bucket challenge videos for). So, in Hollywood terms that is, it only makes sense that there’d be a biopic made about him, his condition, and most of all, the women he ended up marrying, even though she knew full well what she was getting herself into right from the very start. Which yes, may make it easy for some of us to find it difficult to sympathize with her and her plight, but the fact is, she married Stephen for who he was, not what he was about to become.

That last sentence stated and everything, the movie hardly ever makes this a point to dig deeper into. Instead, it’s more concerned with how much Jane wants to bang random dudes from church, which may have been true, but when that’s all you’ve got to bring some development to Jane’s plight, then there’s not much else you can make us draw from. If what you give us on the table is thin, don’t expect us to make something huge – every once and awhile, you need to help us out a little, give us some depth here and there, and allow us to the thinking on our own. You can trust us, the audience that much. But it’s a game of give and take.

What I’m blabbering on about here is the fact that the Theory of Everything doesn’t seem all that interested in digging any deeper into this real-life story it has to work with. The fact remains, while Stephen Hawking is a genius, he was incredibly hard to live with and not just because of his condition; he was always causing people problems because of his ego and his ever-changing stances on religion, God, or existence as a whole. But once again, this was something I had to draw myself from just watching this movie and reading a whole heck of a lot about him.

Everything else about him, I’m afraid, is only slightly touched in this movie and it’s a shame because we expect more from director James Marsh. Though it would have been easy to make this as simple, run-of-the-mill Oscar-bait, Marsh tries to go one step further and focus in on Hawking’s relationship with his wife and the rest of his family, only to then, fall right back into the firm clutches of the dreaded Oscar-bait movie that we know and see way too often. And given Hawking’s brilliant mind and life as a whole, you’d think that there’d be more than just another biography meant to grab a dozen or so awards, but sadly, that’s the kind of movie we get.

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t at least some joys and pleasures to be found in this whole movie – it’s just that they are so very few, far, and in between from one another that you forget about them when they hit the emotional-mark they’re supposed to.

For instance, the first half-hour of this movie is very well-done. Not only does it set up Hawking well, but also the relationship between him and Jane. It’s small, sweet, heartfelt, and tender in the way that so many other films tackling the idea of young love try to go for, but fail to nail on more than a few occasions. Here though, it works so well and had me feeling as if there was going to be more development to this relationship, but then of course everything fell apart when Stephen couldn’t walk anymore and I lost all hope. But for the longest moment in time, I stayed and remained hopeful that this romance would spill out into something a whole heck of a lot more meaningful, only to then just be, “Oh yeah, marriage kind of sucks. Especially when you’re with a paraplegic.”

Heart's already broken over here, guys. Need help.

Heart’s already broken over here, guys. Need help.

All jokes aside though, Eddie Redmayne does a pretty fine job as Hawking, which is all the more impressive considering what he has to do is express whatever he’s thinking/feeling, through his eyes or any sort of head-tilt/movement he can muster up. You get a sense, through Redmayne’s portrayal, that while Hawking is struck with this awful disease, he still holds out some sort of hope in the pit of his stomach and still just wants to live on with his life. Even if, you know, that means pissing everybody off around him. It’s a job well-done and shows that Redmayne’s more than just another pretty face in the crowd of many, the guy has actual talent and I look forward to seeing him take on more roles that challenge his good looks, and make him appear a lot different and unflattering.

Same goes for Felicity Jones who, for the past few years or so, has been doing quite well in so many roles as of late, that I think it’s about time the rest of the world finally got a glance of who she is. However, a part of me wishes the role was a lot better-written for her, because Jane is a meaty-role for Jones to sink her teeth into and show how much she can break people’s souls with those pouty eyes of hers, how Jane’s made out to be in this movie isn’t wholly flattering. Maybe this was done so on purpose, but seriously, as time went on, I realized that I liked Jane less and less and just wanted the movie to give her a better shot than what it was initially giving her. It’s a shame, too, because while Jones does well with she has here, I could only imagine what would have happened had there been a lot more on her plate to chew on.

Okay, I’m done with the dinner references for now.

Consensus: Redmayne and Jones may do well, but the Theory of Everything runs into the problem that it’s too thin to really be a quintessential biopic about Hawking’s life, and much rather, feels like obvious Oscar-bait.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

The perfect British couple. Until they weren't. Oh well.

The perfect British couple. Until they weren’t. Oh well.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images