Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: J.K. Simmons

Justice League (2017)

Just not the same without Superman. He’s not in this, right?

After the rather tragic death of Superman (Henry Cavill), the world is in desperate need of a superhero. And with the current uprising of evil super-villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), the world is in desperate need and they need it quick. Enter Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who decides that it’s time to get together all of the best and most powerful of superheros to take down this foe. There’s Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who we know has supreme strength and can kick all sorts of ass, when she isn’t playing with the heart and emotions of Bruce. There’s Aquaman (Jason Momoa), who can not only talk to fish, but kick all sorts of ass, too. There’s Barry Gordon, aka Flash (Ezra Miller), who can run just as fast as he runs his mouth. Then, there’s Victor Stone, aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher), who uses his robot body to do, well, whatever he damn well pleases with it. Though it takes some time, the gang gets together and decides that it’s best to save the world from ultimate destruction, but for some reason, they’re just not as powerful as they think. All they need is one more hero and they’ll be set.

But who?

When you need a Quicksilver, but your movie just not funny enough. Or at all.

No matter what, I am always rooting for DC. While Marvel is clearly kicking all sorts of ass in the superhero-movie world, I still hold out hope that one day, DC will give them the opponent they probably need and deserve. And with this past summer’s Wonder Woman, hell, I thought that maybe DC was getting their act together and was ready to put up a fight. Then, after Zack Snyder had to tragically bow-out, and they were able to gather up the talents of Joss Whedon, things were looking even brighter and better. It seemed like, oh man, DC showed up to the duel and was ready to go all the way, last corporation standing, do or die.

Unfortunately, quite the opposite happens.

In fact, Justice League seems like another five steps back, when it should have definitely been the same amount, but at least forward. But for some reason, the same issues that have been plaguing their past few films (except for the aforementioned Wonder Woman), seem to still be coming up: Their just too uneven and disjointed to fully work as one, cohesive whole. Whereas Marvel seems to have a formula that they will never stray away from, it’s one that works; their movies are the right combination of humor, action, quirkiness, character-work, drama, world-building, exposition, and excitement that when they decide to mix it up every so often, it never feels like it’s going to fail. It’s a near-perfect formula that works for them each and every time and it’s the same kind of formula that DC is trying to imitate, but just can’t seem to completely comprehend.

One of the main reasons for that, at least here, may be that Whedon’s script and Snyder’s direction just don’t mix-and-match well. Like, at all. For instance, Snyder’s direction is so gloomy, so serious, and so moody, and Whedon’s bits and pieces of script are so light, silly, and in ways, meta, that they feel like two different movies. One is trying to be Dawn of Justice (not as bad as people say, especially compared to this), and the other is trying to be both Avengers movies (both are pretty solid).

And like I said, the two just don’t fit.

Just kiss already! Get this testosterone done with already!

There are some moments of pure fun and excitement to be found, however, they are incredibly fleeting. After the initial half-hour and we’re done with all of the annoying exposition, world-building, and sort-of origin-tales, the movie sort of comes together in that the gang’s all in one place, fighting, picking each other’s look apart, and oh yeah, actually building character. It takes so long to get to this point, that when we’re actually there, it’s hard to notice – but when it is there, it’s quite fun and worth watching.

Same goes for the action which, regardless of who directed it the most or not, still works. Each superhero gets to show-off their own superpower and it feels worth it. It’s almost enough to get past the fact that the movie seems sorely underwritten and so rote, but hey, at least it’s not a total slog, right?

If anything, Justice League has me at least somewhat curious to see what they do next and where they go with these solo films. After all, the main reason why some of these characters just don’t work is because we hardly even know them in the first place; Cyborg’s backstory is constantly being brought-up to us and it just gets to be annoying, because we don’t care. We’re supposed to be getting those movies in the upcoming future, but we sort of need them desperately and now.

Cause without them, DC’s just not going to be able to put up the fight that they oh so want to put up.

Consensus: Even though they get an “A” for effort, Justice League is another sign that DC has a lot of work to do, especially on its characters, its script, and its oversall management of their promising franchise.

5.5 / 10

The male-gaze is back, fellas. Yay for misogyny!

Photos Courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures

Advertisements

Patriots Day (2016)

We could be heroes, just for a few solid hours.

It’s Monday, April 15, 2013 in Boston and man oh man, what a lovely day. The Boston Marathon is set to happen, with tons and tons of people all involved and excited to run for a good cause. But of course, things don’t go down this way. In the final stretch of the run, bombs start going off, injuring and killing some. This leads the Boston Police Department, as well as the FBI to get involved as best as they can. Eventually, they find out who is responsible and limit their search to two people: Brothers Tamerlan And Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff). Of course, it’s now up to everyone to get together, stand strong and find these guys before they cause even more damage to the city of Boston and put an even greater shadow over what was supposed to be a very lovely, carefree day.

The term “too soon” is normally used with a negative connotation and well, there’s good reason behind it. People, the fragile beings that we are, find it hard to connect or accept tragedy or heartbreak, that talking about it immediately or even a little time after, seems to be too much to handle; nobody can really talk about something sad, because well, that just brings on more sadness. I point this out, not to just ramble on and on for no reason, but to point out why a movie like Patriots Day, while immediate, exciting, tense, and well-done, also feels like it may have been done way too soon.

Marky Mahk thinks he hears something fizzlin'.

Marky Mahk thinks he hears something fizzlin’.

But not in the way you’d expect.

When United 93 came out over a decade ago, it was four years and a few months after the events of 9/11, and considering how emotionally jarring that movie was, it makes sense that people would get up in arms, wondering whether or not this tale needed to be told, so suddenly, so soon, and so in-our-faces. After all, we as a nation still have yet to get over 9/11, 15 years after the fact, so you could only imagine how those in the mid-aughts must have felt when they saw a documentary-like film based on one of the hijacked planes. That said, director Peter Berg approaches the Boston Marathon Bombings with the same sort of tenacity; it’s the kind of movie that takes awhile to get going, but is setting up so many pieces of the story, that just watching and seeing how they connect in the long run is really interesting.

And then the movie does get going and eventually, it becomes something along the lines of a typical action-thriller, except with very real-life circumstances. Just like he showed with Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, Berg has a knack for telling these fact-based stories where we probably know the ending and certain details, but there’s still a thrill and a certain energy behind it that’s hard not to get compelled by. Even when it seems like he’s manipulating certain elements of the story a bit, there’s still a feeling that Berg is giving it all that he’s got to make us feel as if we are there, while the action is all happening, trying our own hardest to put together this sometimes convoluted and crazy pie.

But then again, there’s that issue of being “too soon” and I think that’s where Patriots Day really runs into problems.

For one, it’s been a little over three years since the attack, meaning, that a lot of old wounds still have yet to heal. Due to that, it seems like there’s not enough appropriate room, space, or time to really think about the hard, thought-provoking questions that need to be asked in order for us, a society, to gather a better understanding of what happened. Sure, Berg does a nice job of sticking straight to the facts and giving us what is, essentially, a play-by-play analysis of what’s happenin’ and shakin’, but for a movie such as this to really resonate and hit hard, it also needs to be more than just that.

At its heart, Patriots Day is definitely a tribute to those who lost their lives and those who worked day and night on that one, fateful afternoon, and there’s nothing wrong with that – these are all stories that deserve to be told and given the type of treatment that Berg is more than happy to give them. At the same time though, there’s not enough introspection that makes us think longer and harder about this event – it’s just sort of the standard, bad guys did something bad, now good guys must go and find them. It is, for lack of a better term, a procedural.

An entertaining one at that, but still, a procedural.

"I told ya, it was paked down by da riva."

“I told ya, it was paked down by da riva.”

The bits and pieces of the movie where it seems like Berg really wants to dive in further to this event, is through the portrayals of both Tamerlan And Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Surprisingly, the movie does go the extra mile to try and develop them, show them for what they were, and most importantly, give us a better look into what the hell was going through their heads, which is admirable, on the part of Berg’s. He’s telling the whole story for what it is and considering that a good portion of what happens can only happen from their point-of-view, it makes sense that we get some time spent with them and try whatever we can to understand them for their actions. The movie doesn’t hold back on showing us their terrible actions, but it also doesn’t shy away from showing that, well, they were human beings. As troubled and as ill-conceived as they may be, they are still human beings and sometimes, it’s interesting to see their side of the story, regardless of whether or not you sympathize with them or what they did.

Which is interesting here, because while the movie boasts a big, starry and shiny cast with the likes of Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, Rachel Brosnahan, and plenty others, really, the movie’s more concerned with Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff’s portrayals of the brothers. It shows that Berg was at least trying to go somewhere more interesting with this material, but of course, also realized who he was doing this movie for and didn’t want to offend anyone. There’s nothing wrong with that, either, however, it does leave that feeling of wondering maybe it was too soon and maybe something else will come down the pipeline.

Like, I don’t know, say a movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Malsany?

Oh, well there we go.

Consensus: Compelling, thrilling and well-paced, Patriots Day works as an exciting take on the events, as well as a nice tribute to those who lost their lives and responded quickly, even if there’s still some material left to be covered.

7.5 / 10

Marky Mak is da best cop awound dese paks.

Marky Mak is da best cop awound dese paks.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

La La Land (2016)

Tap dance the pain away.

Mia (Emma Stone) is an actress living in Hollywood waiting for that one big break. She constantly goes to auditions, but never seems to get the part. The closest she ever gets to achieving actual stardom is by serving celebrities coffee at the place she works at on a studio film-lot. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who dreams of one day owning and running his own club where everyone can listen to and play whatever jazz that they want to. However, the times have changed and unfortunately for Sebastian, who spends most of his time playing conventional tunes at a local restaurant for tips, nobody really cares for that old school version of jazz. Late one night, though, Sebastian catches the eyes and ears of Mia and the two suddenly fall for one another, dancing, singing and acting more creatively than they ever had before. But both Mia and Sebastian long and live for something bigger and brighter than what they have now, and the longer they stay together, the more and more their careers begin to go in separate directions.

Though I never got around to reviewing it (tragic, right?), writer/director Damien Chazzelle’s debut, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, feels like every person’s first movie. It’s scrappy, it looks cheap, it’s brimming with ideas, and yet, the execution doesn’t entirely work. It’s the kind of movie where you can tell that Chazzelle was just so damn happy that he got together just enough money to make a movie and do his musical-thing, that he didn’t care too much about certain important elements that matter to a movie, like plot, or character-development, or other things like that. It’s a movie that features a handful of lovely, dizzy song-and-dance numbers, that are more than able to get you smiling, but whenever they are over and we’re forced to actually listen to these characters talk to one another and well, just be, it starts to lose all sorts of fun and excitement.

"Is this love that I'm feeling?"

“Is this love that I’m feeling?”

That’s why La La Land is such a huge, dramatic leap forward and feels like the movie Chazzelle may have been trying to make after all.

It just feels like seven years late.

That’s all fine, though, because La La Land is one of the best movies of the year. It’s the kind of musical that has great, swirly, fun, exciting, and memorable song-and-dance numbers, but when the music stops and the people start talking, guess what? It’s still just as exciting and interesting! So often do we get musicals where it feels like all of the music was written first, and everything else came second – imagine a landscape painting where all of the shapes and sizes were finished, but not the actual colors and objects themselves.

However, La La Land gets all of that right, and then some. Chazzelle’s script is smart, though, because while he does get wrapped-up in his love and admiration for jazz, what it represents, and what it does for those sorts of people who will never let it go, he also doesn’t forget that jazz is definitely a dying form. And in its death, lies a new form of jazz that’s poppy, mass-produced and more mechanical-sounding than a Marvel fight scene, as illustrated by John Legend and his character’s band (who are believably bad). Chazzelle does see this changing form and is sad, admittedly, but he also realizes that the movie’s not just about jazz, as much as it’s about art and artists, and what the later can do when they are inspired, happy and ready to show the world what they can do.

But it’s not nearly as nauseating as I may make it sound.

Despite all of its doe-eyed wisdom and love about the arts, about L.A. and about the Hollywood business, it’s also smart and understanding that sometimes, the world doesn’t quite work out the way you want it, especially for artists. Through Mia and Sebastain, Chazzelle shows that providing art and entertainment for the world around you, sometimes, isn’t enough – what really matters most is being able to actually wake up each and every day, happy with what you do, and feeling as if you’re ready to take on the world around you. This isn’t just for artists, or people involved with the entertainment-industry – this is for anyone, with any sort of trade. What La La Land shows is that when you have the ambition and you feel inspired, you can make wonders happen – not just for those around, but for your own self.

Look out, Hollywood! Here come your starlets!

Look out, Hollywood! Here come your starlets!

Once again, I know this sounds so melodramatic and cheesy, but La La Land stays so far away from any of that, that it’s absolutely magical, even when people aren’t singing, and dancing, and emoting. In fact, the song-and-dance numbers, oddly enough, feel as if they were written second to the actual story and character-development, as opposed to it being the other way around; it doesn’t mean that the songs themselves are weak in the slightest, but it does show that more care and effort was put into giving the audience a good, emotional and relevant story, rather than just a dog-and-pony show that seems to only fulfill the needs and desires of the creators themselves.

That said, La La Land will make you feel all sorts of happy, pleasant and joy-filled thoughts and emotions, but it’s still kind of raw, sad and emotional.

How?

Well, Chazzelle does a perfect job in casting both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in his lead roles, because not only do they share a perfect chemistry, but they are also so beautiful to watch on the screen, that it’s actually kind of hard to take your eyes off of them. Stone’s Mia, when the camera isn’t molesting her face, is actually a very depressed character who wants to make a name for herself, but keeps on flubbing it at auditions and not getting the roles that she wants, whereas Gosling’s Sebastian wants to preserve jazz by opening-up his own club, but by doing so, he still has to be successful and possibly “sell-out”. Sure, attacking this idea of being true to yourself, while still bringing in tons of bucks, isn’t exactly anything new or ground-breaking, but La Land Land does it in such a smart, believable way, that it still feels fresh.

The movie shows us that these two don’t just come together and fall in love because they’re the two most attractive people they know (even though it’s definitely one of the reasons), it’s because they both have a love and appreciation for the arts and what it is that they do. It’s interesting, too, because Mia doesn’t even like jazz, making her and Sebastian’s connection stronger – something that so few couples in real life like to admit to keeping them together for so long. But together, they feel like the kind of tragic couple at the center of a fable like Beauty and the Beast, or Romeo & Juliet – they may be perfect for one another, but there’s still something holding them back from fully giving it their all and staying as dedicated as they can be.

Regardless of all this mumbo jumbo, yeah, La La Land is a terrific movie.

It will probably get nominated for heaps of Oscars and it might win them all. Will it be deserved wins? Does it really matter? Not really, but please, whatever you do, see it. You’ll be walking out with a smile on your face and in desperate need of wanting to sing and dance with every person you see.

And if you don’t, I’m sorry, but cheer up.

Consensus: Sweet, delicate, magical and downright beautiful, La La Land is the rare musical in which every song-and-dance number is exciting and lovely, but everything else surrounding it, works even better.

9.5 / 10

Man, why can't we just watch them have sex?

Watching them sing, dance and love one another is fine and all, but man, why can’t we just watch them bang? Talk about a true gift for the holidays.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Accountant (2016)

Math truly can drive people to murder.

Ever since he was a kid, Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) has had issues dealing with the world around him. Now that he’s older and on his own, well, he’s a whole lot wiser, even if his people skills aren’t all that great still. Still, he’s a mathematics savant that helps him get by and make a living, solely freelancing as an accountant for dangerous criminal organizations and other shady businessmen who sometimes like to keep their private information, well, private. However, a certain someone is trying to find out just who this Christian Wolff guy is and what his plan is – and that certain someone is treasury agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons), who recruits a young employee (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to assist him in any way that she can. While they’re are looking into him, Christian takes on a state-of-the-art robotics company as a legitimate client. But once Wolff realizes that there’s more going on underneath the hood of this company, then more and more people start getting killed, which leads Wolff to making some very deadly decisions.

Is this how accountants fall in love?

Is this how accountants fall in love?

A part of me is actually surprised about the Accountant‘s rather lackluster reception among critics. Here is, for the most part, a piece of adult-entertainment, that’s dark, weird, violent, and mysterious. I dare call it “original”, because lord only knows how many movies about murderous-accountants there are actually out there (Google says “none”, but you never know), but still, it has all the qualities of the sort of movie that critics and adult-audiences seem to love and adore.

So why don’t more and more people like it?

Well, for the most part, it is a very odd movie. Despite director Gavin O’Connor having made some normal, relatively simple character-studies with Warrior, Miracle and Tumbleweeds, here, he seems to have gotten brought into the cold, cruel world of Bill Dubuque’s script – one that literally features an accountant with Autism, kicking ass, taking names, and shooting all sorts of people down, whenever he isn’t doing math and charming the pants off of fellow accountants. It sounds so strange and in ways, it actually is, but somehow, Dubuque and O’Connor seem to come together in a way that makes this weird world actually work and take place in some sort of reality to where we care for the characters, their situations and most importantly, what actually happens.

The Accountant is interesting in that it wants to be about Christian Wolff, his issues growing up, and his issues as an older-man trying to wade through the world, but at the same time, still wants to be this violent thriller in which rich people are getting knocked-off one by one. We know there’s a connection along the way, somewhere, however, the movie still plays both sides of the field, making it appear to be two movies, yet, still feeling wholly as one. It’s odd to describe, I know, but the Accountant is the kind of disjointed, uneven movie I would normally despise and be confused by, but that didn’t happen this time – instead, I was actually brought in by the story and most of all, its characters.

And playing against-type, Ben Affleck is, as usual, pretty great. He has a lot of weird tics that he has to go through with Christian Wolff, but mostly, Affleck does it all in an effective way to where this guy’s still a total mystery and we don’t know what he’s going to do next, or to whom, yet, we still like and trust that he’s a good person. Part of that is Affleck’s general likability, but another part of it is that the movie does an effective job of placing flashbacks when they need to be placed, which allows us to know more and more about Wolff’s adolescence and get a better, if more sad, picture of what this dude’s life has been.

Oh, and it also helps us be absolutely shocked when he starts killing people with the simple pull of a trigger.

"Yeah, I know. But the solo Batman movie will be better."

“Yeah, I know. But the solo Batman movie will be better.”

Others in the cast are quite good, too. Anna Kendrick has a silly role as the fellow auditor, but still gets by on being charming; J.K. Simmons has a dumb scene in which his character explains everything that we need to know about Wolff and their history together, but besides that, he still does a solid job playing; Jon Bernthal is cool, but menacing as the one hitman who’s going around and shooting down all of these rich folks; Jon Lithgow has a couple of crazy moments that makes me wish he would take more of these darker flicks; and Jeffrey Tambor, unfortunately, isn’t around a whole lot, but a part of me feels like a lot of his stuff may be somewhere on the cutting-room floor.

Still, what all of these performers do, and do well, is that they all add a little something to a movie that, quite frankly, could have come off way too serious and melodramatic. In a way, they help it all come-off more legitimate, with Bernthal actually getting one or two emotional moments that hit the right notes, even in a movie that wouldn’t seem to know anything about them. This allows for all of the blood and violence that does eventually come around, to hit a whole lot harder and feel like more than just your typical action-thriller – it’s one with more on its mind and more in its heart.

As strange as that heart may be.

Consensus: While not perfect and definitely an odd hybrid, the Accountant gets by on a solid cast, a smart direction that takes itself seriously just enough, and a couple of nice twists and turns that keep this mystery alive.

8 / 10

So. Many. Numbers.

So. Many. Numbers.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Meddler (2016)

Mom’s annoy you, because they love you. Appreciate it.

After the death of her long-loving husband, Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon) is kind of lost. She’s heartbroken, sad and lonely, which is why she continuously drops by to see her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), so that she can have a little something to do. The only issue is that Lori doesn’t always enjoy her mom’s presence and because her own career as a screenwriter is stressful as is, she can’t help but bring some of those angry thoughts onto her mother. So instead of trying to help her daughter out every chance she gets, Marnie decides to extend her helping hands to those around who – some of whom, she hardly even knows. And because she was left a whole lot of comfort-money, Marnie is more than capable of doing whatever is necessary to ensure that some of her new friends are pleased with everything they ask of Marnie. While she’s doing all of this, of course, she’s also striking up something of a relationship with a local security-guard (J.K. Simmons), who takes a huge liking to her, even if she isn’t quite ready for a new love in her life.

Clap it up for you, Susie. You deserve it!

Clap it up for you, Susie. You deserve it!

It’s a pretty simple and overly cutesy plot that goes quite awry a few times. See, what’s odd about the Meddler is that it seems like writer/director Lorene Scafaria doesn’t quite know who’s side she’s on – the mom who’s meddling, or the hapless daughter who just wants to be left alone. Considering that this appears to be very autobiographical, it’s odd to see a writer/director side with someone who isn’t them, and it does play into how the movie’s perceived.

There’s a part of the Meddler that’s having fun with itself and its cast, but also seems like it wants to say more. In a way like I’ll See You in My Dreams had something to say about aging and growing old without your soulmate around, the Meddler mostly shows what a person in that situation would do to try and keep themselves busy. Of course, the situations and predicaments she gets herself into are ridiculous, but they’re also kind of funny and charming in only  a way that a movie such as this can get away with.

Because, let’s be honest, driving an Apple employee that you hardly know, to and from law school, never works out.

It’s just a fact.

But what works best about the Meddler is that Scafaria’s writing is just charming enough, to where we don’t care what we can believe in or sympathize with – the situations, after awhile, just write themselves and it’s interesting to watch how each and everyone of them play out. There’s not nearly as much tension as you would expect, but maybe that’s not this kind of movie; it’s just a showing a later-age woman, trying to still make something of the life she’s got left. It’s earnest to a fault, but hey, it kind of works.

Not Sam Elliot, but hey, close enough.

Not Sam Elliot, but hey, close enough.

And yeah, it definitely does help that Susan Sarandon is playing the title character, appearing in almost every scene, showing off her great knack for combining her heart and likability, even when it seems like this character may be something of a caricature. Scafaria shows a lot of love and affection for the characters here, but it’s Sarandon’s that gets the most, with just the right touch of humanism to make her seem real, even if she does sort of seem like she’s too nice, too sweet, and too colorful to be real. But thankfully, that’s why Sarandon is here to show us that, yeah, even if she doesn’t, she’s still a whole lot of fun to watch a movie about.

As for everyone else around Sarandon, they fare a bit better on the realism-side. Rose Byrne is seemingly playing Scafaria and does fine enough being miserable and getting into all sorts of fights with Sarandon; J.K. Simmons is playing the older fella that Sarandon falls for and shows why someone like him would be so attractive in her eyes, yet, at the same time, also maybe not be the right fit; and Cecily Strong, as the gal who gets her wedding picked-up by Sarandon’s character, shows a great deal of heart, even if her character is really meant to stand around and just cry a whole lot.

It’s a bunch of hapless roles, but hey, having a good cast can sometimes work in a movie’s favor.

Consensus: Even though its cutesy premise can sometimes get in the way of an actual plot, the Meddler does benefit from a solid lead performance from Sarandon that overcompensates for almost every other wrongdoing of the script and/or direction.

7 / 10

Nothing like a pain-in-the-ass mother to come in and save the day. When she isn't re-arranging your drawers.

Nothing like a pain-in-the-ass mother to come in and save the day. When she isn’t re-arranging your drawers.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Celebrity (1998)

Never mind. I’m fine with being a peasant.

After divorcing his wife, Lee (Kenneth Branagh) now has a new mission in life and that’s to be dive deeper and further into the entertainment industry, where he’ll be able to wine and dine with all sorts of celebrities, be a part of their lives, and see the world through their eyes. However, Lee gets too close to some and often times, he finds himself struggling to keep himself calm, cool, and collected, while all sorts of decadence and debauchery is occurring around him. Meanwhile, Lee’s ex-wife, Robin (Judy Davis) is trying her hardest to live life without fully losing it. While she’s working at a talent agency, she doesn’t really know where to go next with her love life. That is, until she meets the charming and successful TV producer Tony (Joe Mantegna), who not only strikes up a romance with her, but also brings her into the celebrity-world – the same one that Lee himself seems to be way too comfortable in.

Pictured: Not Woody Allen

Pictured: Not Woody Allen

In the same sort of spirit he had with Deconstructing Harry a year earlier, Celebrity finds Woody Allen with a fiery passion to get something off of his chest. However, instead of throwing all of his anger around towards those around him who he holds most near and dear to his life, Woody positions everything towards the whole celebrity culture in and of itself. Which isn’t to say that he makes fun of celebrities and mainstream talent (which he does do), but more or less that he criticizes the whole idea of being an actual “celebrity”; in Woody’s eyes, it isn’t if you have any talent, per se, is what makes you the biggest and brightest celebrity, sometimes it just matters who you’ve slept with and whether or not you’re at the right place, at the right time.

Sounds pretty smart and interesting, right? And heck, you’d even assume that someone who has to deal with celebrities, pop-culture, and tabloid sensations as much as Woody Allen has had to, that there would be some shred of humanely brutal truth, eh?

Well, unfortunately, Celebrity is not that kind of movie.

Instead, it’s one where Woody Allen tries to recycle old themes and ideas that he’s worked with before, but this time, with a much larger ensemble, more unlikable characters, way more of a disjointed plot, and well, the biggest issue of all, no originality or fun. Even in some of Woody’s worst features (of which there are quite a few), you do sort of get the sense that he’s still having fun, even if he doesn’t totally feel any sort of passion or creativity within the project itself. Here, with Celebrity, a part of me wonders where the inspiration actually began – I already know where it ends (at the very beginning of the flick), but why did Woody want to make this movie, about these characters, and using this story?

The question remains in the air, as there’s so many characters to choose from, it’s hard to really pin-point which one’s are actually more annoying and underdeveloped than certain others. But to make that decision a little easier for yourself, just watch whatever Judy Davis and Kenneth Branagh are doing here because, oh my, they’re quite terrible. And honestly, I don’t take any pride in saying any of that; both are extremely likable and interesting talents who have honestly knocked it out of the park, more times than they’ve actually struck out, but for some reason here, they’re incredibly miscast.

Seeing as how he never worked with Woody before, it’s understandable why Branagh was miscast, but Judy Davis?

Really, Woody?!?

Anyway. the biggest issue with Davis is that her character is so over-the-top, neurotic and crazy, that you almost get the sense that she’s doing a parody of what a crazy person should look, act and feel like. It’s never believable for a second and just seems like an act, above everything else. Then again, when compared to Branagh’s impersonation of Allen, Davis almost looks Oscar-worthy, because man oh man, he’s even worse. Though it’s never been too clear who’s idea it was to have Branagh act-out in every Woody-mannerism known to man (I say it was Woody’s, but hey, that’s just me), either way, it doesn’t work and just hurts Branagh; his constant flailing around, stuttering, pausing, and general awkwardness is painful to watch because, like with Davis, we know he’s acting. We never get a sense that he’s actually “a person”, but more or less, “a character” that Woody has written and made into another version of him.

Bebe knows best.

Bebe knows best.

And while nobody else is bad as Davis and Branagh, they’re not really all that much better, either. In fact, despite the huge list of impressive names, no one here really stands-out, or is ever given as much time as they should; Joe Mantegna and Famke Janssen are probably the only two who get actual real time in the spotlight, whereas all of the names get pushed to the side for what can sometimes be constituted as “glorified cameos”. Even Leonardo DiCaprio, in his very young-form, shows up, curses a lot, assaults Gretchen Mol at least a dozen times, snorts coke, has sex, and never hits a single comedic-note.

Of course though, that’s not Leo’s, or anybody else’s fault, except for Woody Allen himself.

While it may appear like Celebrity is Woody’s worst, it really isn’t; it’s got a funny moment or two spliced between all of the silly love-triangles and pretentious speeches, but there’s not enough. And honestly, Woody really missed the opportunity on reeling in to Hollywood and the celebrity-culture itself. Clearly, he knows a thing or two about it, so why not let your feelings heard loud and clear for the whole wide world?

Couldn’t hurt, right?

Consensus: Despite an immensely stacked and talented list of actors, Celebrity fails by not being funny, interesting, or original enough of a Woody Allen comedy, that sometimes wants to be satire, but then, other times, doesn’t want to be.

3.5 / 10

They've stopped following Gretchen around, but they haven't stopped following Leo. Thankfully.

They’ve stopped following Gretchen around, but they haven’t stopped following Leo. Thankfully.

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

Zootopia (2016)

It’s like the actual United States of America. But with animals!

From when she was just a little bunny, Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin) was always told that she wasn’t going to amount to much. Because of that adversity in her life, Judy trained for years and years to become a cop in the wonderfully huge and grand melting-pot that is Zootopia, a place where all kinds of creatures can live together in perfect peace and harmony. Eventually, Judy’s dream comes true and she finds herself living in Zootopia, with a solid job as a cop. However, she soon finds out that her job won’t amount to much other than just putting tickets on people’s cars. Though she’s disappointed by this, Judy still remains restless and ready to take on any obstacle she meets out there in the real world, which leads her to Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman), a sly and cunning fox, who she has a fear of, just based solely on the fact that fox and rabbits aren’t supposed to get along. Using Nick, Judy discovers a missing otter’s case, which leads her to uncovering a greater conspiracy that involves the police chief, the mayor, and plenty other people in power.

Don't call her "cute". Even if, yes, she totally is.

Don’t call her “cute”. Even if, yes, she totally is.

Last summer, when Inside Out came out, a lot of people were going on and on about how it was, essentially, a “kids movie for adults”. And they weren’t wrong. Sure, the animation, the colorful and wild-looking characters were clearly to attract the kids and get them interested in the first place, but really, the plot, the message and the mechanics of it all weren’t really for kids. After all, no kid would have been able to understand “the id”, “the psychosis”, or anything of that psychological nature, nor would they ever be able to understand just what the characters were searching for, or trying to accomplish. In some ways, that’s why I loved the movie, however, I also realize that perhaps the movie was maybe just a tad too smart for its own good, or even for its own audience.

That said, Zootopia is the kind of animated movie made to grab kids’ attention, but really meant to connect with the older-ones who get stuck bringing their kids in the first place.

And that’s a good thing. For one, Zootopia is a solid animated movie that, yes, looks as great and as detailed as ever. Every character, from the sloths, to the lions, to the cheetahs, the foxes, to polar bears, to the bunnies, to whichever you want to call them, all look lovely and pleasantly cartoonish. However, my main adoration for this movie comes in the way it approaches its universe. It’s the kind of movie that has a smart and relatively interesting idea, but rather than using it to rely on a lame plot or kiddie-jokes, instead, it goes balls to the walls with what it can do.

The story is a cross between a police procedural and coming-of-age-tale, but instead, with a rabbit and a fox in the interracial buddy-cop roles. And while for any lesser-movie, they’d just have that idea and leave it there, Zootopia decides to run wild with it and allow for the movie to build both of these characters up, give them personalities, and allow for them to go on throughout this whole world. After all, certain parts of this world that the movie has created for itself is so inventive and creative, that after awhile, it becomes clear that the movie’s dealing with a lot, but not really losing control of itself.

It has a message. It has a message. And most importantly, it has a story.

Granted, the story can sometimes go on and on and for the sake of telling the movie’s central message (racism and treating others for what they look like, and not who they are, is bad), but it still kept me interested. The movie brings up other points about gentrification, xenophobia, and social-classes that do hit, but it isn’t always actually about them; if anything, it’s just using them as a way to make their story feel and sound more important than it may already be perceived as. Of course, one could go on for days with think-pieces out the wahzoo about what Zootopia is trying to say, but none of it really matters, because guess what? The movie’s just a fun piece of animation.

I imagine this is the same smirk Jason Bateman holds on his face each and every day.

I imagine this is the same smirk Jason Bateman holds on his face each and every day.

Sure, it’s definitely made with the adults in mind, but it’s also a good movie for kids in that there’s a lot of the typical humor you’d expect for them to laugh at and love. However, there’s also smarter, more witty jokes aimed at the adults that have to deal with the social and racial constructs of this world, references to movies like the Godfather and Chinatown (among others), and the fact that each and everyone of these animals are supposed to be portraying an aspect of the real world. It’s all so goofy, but so much fun that you don’t care how far they go with these ideas.

You’ll just be happy that someone’s thinking this creatively for once.

And this is all the more surprising considering that there’s at least three directors (Byron Howard, Jared Bush, Rich Moore) and two writers (Jared Bush and Phil Johnston) working together. Normally, this spells out an uneasy, messy and uneven bit of trouble, but surprisingly, everybody came together here to create some neat and funny ideas, without ever seeming like they’re just throwing stuff in for the sake of it. And yes, the voice cast is also pretty solid, too. Ginnifer Goodwin is bright and sunny; Jason Bateman is as cool as a cucumber; Idris Elba is brass and brawny; and yeah, there’s others. Just know that Zootopia is a fine piece of animation that, if you haven’t already, just check it out.

It has something to say, but more importantly, has something to do with itself, rather than just waste your time because it’s already gotten your money.

Consensus: With smart ideas and messages about the real world we live in, yet, using animated animals to take humans places, Zootopia is not only cute, but awfully inventive and interesting, even when it seems to be preaching an awful lot.

8 / 10 

Oh, sloths. So silly.

Oh, sloths. So silly. Yet, a little creepy-looking.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Rendition (2007)

How sad is it when the only thing you remember from a movie is the water-boarding?

Douglas Freeman (Jake Gyllenhaal), a CIA analyst based in North Africa is forced to question his assignment after he witnesses the brutal and unorthodox interrogation of an Egyptian-American by secret North African police. Anwar El-Ibrahimi (Omar Metwally) is an Egyptian-American chemical engineer whose family emigrated to the States when he was a boy, and who is now suspected of a terrorist act. And his very pregnant wife Isabella El-Ibrahimi (Reese Witherspoon), does everything in her power to find her missing husband. All three stories are connected in strange, if tragic ways.

"You can trust me. I've never played anyone sinister before."

“You can trust me. I’ve never played anyone sinister before.”

Whether or not you agree or disagree with the act the U.S. Government calls, “Extraordinary Rendition”, is not relevant, hell, it’s not even needed to understand or appreciate this movie anymore. It’s basically just a way for Hollywood to preach and say how they are so against the war in Iran and how George Bush is a big, old dummy. There’s no issue with these statements, but when it seems like that’s all your movie’s got to say or do, then you don’t really have a movie.

You just have a soap-box you can’t get off of.

It’s safe to say that Rendition‘s plot is, for the most part, intriguing and deals with all sorts of political questioning and intrigue that makes political-thrillers like this so appealing. Taking all of these different stories, from different continents and having them all make a lick of a difference of how they all connect, is what keeps the interest-factor of this alive and well for about the first 30 minutes or so. Director Gavin Hood is a skilled-enough guy to make it seem like he has a clear head and idea of what he wants to do and where he wants to go, but also what he wants to talk about.

Hood shows that, while our anti-terrorist tactics in America may be considered “necessary” they are, in no ways, the most pitch perfect way to infiltrate any terrorist or their activities. In ways, just picking up a person off the street because of what they look like, torturing them, prodding, teasing them, and having them think that they are terrorists, well, believe it or not, can sometimes create terrorists in the first place. While there’s plenty of torture-sequences that go a bit far and beyond what you’d expect from a glitzy, glamorous Hollywood production, it still serves enough of a purpose to matter in what Rendition, the movie, is trying to get across.

Which is why the next two hours seem like a total slog.

Pondering the day of when he'll win an Oscar.

Pondering the day of when he’ll win an Oscar.

But what’s worse about Rendition is how it seems like it had a lot more going for it, but for some reason, none of that’s to be found in the two-hours-and-two-minute run-time. For instance, certain plots go unresolved and there actually seems to be more questions, than actual answers in the long-run. Some of this may have to do with the fact that the studio wanted to trim down some of the run-time to not scare people away, but really, the damage can kind of already be done. Those who veer-off in the leftie territory, may still find themselves a bit troubled with how far this movie goes with it’s preaching, to where it seems like its main concern is letting people know how it feels, and less about actually telling a real, compelling story.

This is all the more of a shame, due to the fact that the cast here is actually pretty solid and definitely deserves better.

Jake Gyllenhaal really nails the part of the young, brash CIA agent that can’t get past the fact of all the crazy stuff he’s seeing right in front of him and it’s another great role for an actor that was really climbing the totem pole at the time. Now, on the other hand, everybody knows what to expect from the guy and that’s pretty cool considering this is Donnie Darko we are all talking about here. Reese Witherspoon has top-billing here as the wife of Anwar El-Ibrahimi, but doesn’t do much mainly because she is probably in the film for 20 minutes. That didn’t bother me much, mainly because every time she’s onscreen, she really seems like she’s struggling to be taken seriously and it even gets to the point of where she’s just screaming at the top of her lungs, “WHERE IS MY HUSBAND!?!?!?”.

Yeah, sorry gal. No Oscar for you this time around.

Peter Sarsgaard is probably the most memorable out of the whole cast, since he really does seem like a genuinely nice guy (change of pace for the dude), and one that feels really convicted of doing the right thing, regardless of how much trouble it will get him in with the higher-ups. Sarsgaard is always great with every role he’s given and he’s probably the most believable character out of the whole bunch, mainly because his problem can’t be as solved easily. Meryl Streep seems like she’s tailor-made for the queen bitch role as Corrine Whitman, a powerful women that makes men soil themselves with the sound of her voice, and as good as she may be with this role, it still feels like a bit of an undercooked character, that could have been used so much more and so much better than what she really was. Alan Arkin also shows up and does his thing, and that’s not so bad, but it’s kind of a waste of a dude that literally won an Oscar a year before this even came out.

Consensus: Rendition deals with plenty of interesting ideas about the then-current political world, but really, despite a solid cast, doesn’t fully come together.

6 / 10

Two vets who clearly just had some vacation time on their hands.

Two vets who clearly just had some vacation time on their hands.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Burn After Reading (2008)

Never trust those who are “too fit”.

When CIA Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) gets demoted from his job, he decides that it’s time to start the proceedings on his memoir. Somehow, though, the disk containing all of this information falls into the hands of two gym employees, Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), both of whom clearly have no idea what they’re going to do with this disk. But they both have the right idea to blackmail Cox for some money, even if they don’t know how to go about it, nor what the actual proceedings are. Meanwhile, Linda herself is in search of a better life that isn’t just working in the gym. Currently, she’s trying to fund her cosmetic surgeries, as well as someone to love in her life. Through various dating websites, she meets the charming and likable Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), and the two hit it off immediately. Strange thing is that Harry, despite being married, also happens to be shackin’ up with Osborne’s wife (Tilda Swinton), which leads the whole situation to end up in some real weird, sticky situations, sometimes with them leading to violence and all sorts of bloodshed.

"Malkovich? Malkovich?"

“Malkovich? Malkovich?”

At this stage in their career, the Coen brothers can practically do anything that they want and nobody is going to tell them otherwise. They have enough Oscars under their belt, have made their studios enough money, and have earned enough respect in the biz to say that they want to make about anything, and everybody will fall for it, hook, line and sinker. As is the case with most writers and directors, they’ve had some mediocre films, as well as some amazing films, but mostly, they’ve made films worth checking out and taking time out of one’s day to watch, because a Coen brother’s movie is, quite frankly, better than a lot of other stuff out there.

And Burn After Reading is the exact reason why they are so beloved.

Though, at the same time, the movie doesn’t show the Coen brothers really working with anything new, or ground-breaking; instead, they’re taking on the whole spy genre, making a farce out of it, and rather than having real, actual spies involved, the movie’s just about a bunch of regular, everyday people who are, yes, goofy and sometimes idiotic. However, they are all searching for the same thing: Money and power. To the Coens, this is perhaps the most interesting aspect about the human-condition, in which seemingly normal people, can be driven so ridiculously mad by the prospect of wealth, that they’d do almost anything to achieve it and rule their own little world.

At the same time, though, rather than being all sad and serious about it, the Coens add a lighter touch onto that whole idea, giving us characters that aren’t just colorful and likable, but also interesting. Sure, some of these characters may come off as very schticky and thin, but the Coens also show how that they’re personalities make who they are and determine every decision that they make throughout the movie. Some characters are, obviously, smarter than others, but nobody here is actually a good person, and there’s something inherently fun and entertaining in watching all of these characters get caught in a crazy web of lies, murder and deception, just for the hell of it.

It also helps that the cast is pretty great, too.

As usual, the Coens work with some of their own regulars who, by now, have mastered the art of the “Coen speak”. George Clooney is exciting, but also very weird as Harry, who always seems to have an issue with the food he eats, as well as an odd obsession with wood-panels; Frances McDormand’s Linda is a total polar opposite of what we’re used to seeing her play, giving us a naive, sometimes sad character who always tries to stay upbeat, no matter what the situation may call for; and Richard Jenkins, as Linda’s boss who can’t seem to stop falling over her, makes you want to give him a hug just about every scene he’s involved with.

We get it, Brad: You're really in-shape!

We get it, Brad: You’re really in-shape!

But the newcomers to the Coen’s also handle their material well and show why they deserve to be in their movies a whole lot more. John Malkovich does a lot of cursing and yelling as Osborne, and it’s so much fun to watch and listen that I didn’t care if his character didn’t get as developed as I would have liked; Tilda Swinton’s character is a bit bitchy and mean, but also seems like she’s got more going onto her that would have been interesting to see developed more, but for what it is, this is all we get and it’s fine; and Brad Pitt, well, let’s just say he sort of steals the show. Not only does Brad Pitt seems like he’s so eager and excited to be apart of a Coen brother’s movie, but he also seems like he really wants to see what’s more to this character that he’s playing – something that isn’t quite seen in the rest of the movie.

Pitt’s Chad, for the most part, doesn’t really care about gaining any sort of money or respect, he’s just around for the fun of it all. That’s clear from the very beginning, once we realize that there’s a certain zaniness and energy to him that’s hard to ignore. This is mostly all thanks to Pitt who, using his grace and charm, shows that while a meat-head like Chad can be lovable, he can also be one you sort of feel bad for, once the situation he’s involved with gets to be a bit too crazy and over-the-top for his own good. There’s something about Chad that I wanted to see more of, but really, what I got was fine enough.

And that’s basically all that there is to say about Burn After Reading: It’s fine, and although you wish you saw more, that’s all you really need.

But hey, don’t just listen to me, let J.K. Simmons tell you all about it.

Consensus: Though it’s not exactly breaking down any barriers, Burn After Reading still finds the Coen brothers in a fun, hilariously wicked spirit that maintains their sense of odd energy the whole way through.

8 / 10

How can these two not have a ball together?

How can these two not have a ball together?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, IFC

The Astronaut Farmer (2007)

AstronautposterThe moon landing never happened anyway. So keep on dreaming, bro.

For as long as he’s been alive, Charles Farmer (Billy Bob Thornton) has always wanted to travel to the moon. Although he was a NASA pilot for a little while, he had to step out due to personal issues at the time. Now, Charles is trying to create his own spaceship that he can launch into space. It seems like a pipe-dream, but Charles is inspired so much, that he won’t take “no” for an answer; even though friends, confidantes, and hell, even his wife (Virginia Madsen), tell him it’s impossible, he doesn’t listen. When Charles’ plans get leaked to the world wide web, eventually, as they tend to do, the FBI finds themselves getting involved. Though Charles is not, from what people know, a terrorist planning on nuking the entire Earth, the government still doesn’t want to take any chances and keeps track of Charles’ everyday comings and goings. And hell, even though Charles has got the rest of the world behind him and his journey, the government still does not want to budge. This is a challenge that Charles accepts and stands against, even if it risks his own life, as well as those that he loves and cares for so much.

Bring out the rotten tomatoes!

Bring out the rotten tomatoes!

The whole time while watching the Astronaut Farmer, I kept on waiting for the subscript to start/end the movie saying something along the lines of, “based on a true story”. Does a story about some small-town farmer creating his own rocket and trying to launch it into space sound plausible? Not entirely, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen nor that I’ve never heard about it before. Crazier things have happened in this land we call Earth, right?

But the subscript never shows up.

The Astronaut Farmer is literally an idea written by Michael and Mark Polish, which is interesting to say the least. Silly? Sure, but it’s obvious that they’re both trying to aim for that you-can-do-anything-that-you-put-your-mind-to sensibility that so many Disney films seem to rely on. Through Farmers’ own journey of trying to get into space and do what he’s always wanted us to do, the Polish bros. are trying to get us to think of our dreams and have the idea that we too can make them come true, so long as we have enough heart and inspiration deep down inside of our souls.

And this is all fine and good, but the movie never seems like it earns that feeling of absolute and divine inspiration. Instead, it’s just a really old-timey, almost-retro story that may have a heart to work with, but never seems to go any deeper than the surface. Which is kind of a shame considering that the Polish bros. debut (Twin Falls Idaho) also dealt with the same sort of strange premise in a mindful way, but also gave us more to the story than just what was presented.

Here, it just sort of feels like everything and everyone is one-note, without there being any gray area left for the audience to decipher themselves.

The only interesting aspect of this story where it seems like the Polish bros. themselves are conflicted of a certain character-trait is with Farmer himself. While the Polish bros. clearly love and adore the character of Charles Farmer, his ambition, his heart, and his never-say-never attitude, the idea that, if he isn’t successful with his trip to space and does end up dying in the process, what will he leave his family back on Earth with? Because he’s put so much gosh darn money into this spaceship, he’s already bled them dry, so what could they possibly do without him around to keep the money flowing in? Will they be left high, dry, and without a fork to use? Or will they get by just fine because, well, Charles Farmer always has a tricky plan up his sleeves?

Take a guess of which conclusion the Polish bros. come to.

"It's okay, honey. If you die, don't worry, cause we're all screwed."

“It’s okay, honey. If you die, don’t worry, cause we’re all screwed.”

Like I’ve said though, I don’t mind the simplicity of most tales, but this one in particular doesn’t seem to really concern itself with much else other than, “dude wants to travel to space and he’ll stop at nothing to achieve that”. While it would have been interesting to see a complex, almost flawed-figure presented, Charles himself is painted in such a lovely portrait, that it’s almost like they’ve could had him run for president at the end, win, create his own world where everybody and their grand-mothers are allowed to travel into space, and it would seem uplifting, smart and, above all else, believable. It’s painfully clear that the Polish bros. don’t have much of a narrative-drive to go any further and it hurts the characters so much, that even the ones who may have some sort of interesting plight to show, it just makes it seem like a waste.

For instance, Billy Bob Thornton, surprisingly playing a good-guy, does what he can as Charles, but because the dude is so blue-eyed and optimistic, it just becomes irritating. Virginia Madsen, despite her character seeming as if she initially has something interesting to say, doesn’t really go anywhere you don’t expect her to, except by her husband as he possibly kills himself in the process of living his life-long dream. And then, as her daddy, Bruce Dern shows up as the voice of reason who, you might expect to be against the idea of Charles going out into space and risking his own life, but is instead happy that he’s doing it because, as he says, “he shares the dreams with his family”.

Yawn.

The only people in this movie that I could identify with were the FBI themselves – which, for a movie such as this, is not what’s supposed to happen. The FBI, as written by the Polish bros., are painted to be these sort of big brother, negative Nancies that are always trying to get on Charles’ case and tarnish his dreams forever, but in all honesty, they have a point for thinking the way that they do. Though Charles may not be a huge threat to the government per se, there’s still something incredibly dangerous and crazy about his idea of going out into space with his own, homemade spaceship that makes it understandable why they wouldn’t want him up in the sky to begin with. This may seem like I’m thinking too hard, but honestly, the Polish bros. want us think of this as some sort of “could-happen” tale that, if someone puts their heart, mind, body and soul into an idea long enough, that it and the rest of their wildest dreams can all come true.

Yawn again.

Consensus: Though its heart may be in the right place, the Astronaut Farmer is too implausible and one-dimensional to really inspire the people that it wants to, but instead, make them feel happy that there aren’t more Charles Farmer’s trying to release DIY spaceships into the sky.

4 / 10

"Kids, don't be so scared, because Gravity was fiction. That can't possibly happen to anyone."

“Kids, don’t be so scared, because Gravity was fiction. That can’t possibly happen to anyone.”

Photos Courtesy of: Superior Pics

Terminator: Genisys (2015)

In Khaleesi, we trust. And the Governator, too. I guess.

After finally defeating Skynet once and for all, John Connor (Jason Clarke) sends fellow soldier Kyle Reese (Jai Courtney) back in time to save his mother, Sarah Connor (Emilia Clarke), from imminent death, courtesy of terminators sent from the future. However, when Reese arrives in 1984, he realizes that things have gone a bit awry; not only is Sarah totally understanding of why it is that Reese is here to find her, but she’s even brought around another terminator that’s supposedly on her side, a T-800 she refers to as “Pops” (Arnold Schwarzenegger). Now, the three must band together to ensure that they are able to stop Judgment Day of 2017 from happening, however, in order to do so, they’ll have to go through all sorts of crazy shifts and time-changes. While this may be an efficient way to stop the apocalypse from ever occurring, there’s also the fear that in the process, they’ll be running into all sorts of problems with local law enforcement, fellow T-800’s who want each and everyone dead, and another deadly terminator (Matt Smith) who sets his sights clear on screwing up each and everyone of Reese and Connor’s plans; something that Pops won’t let happen if he can help it.

Basically, there’s a whole lot of time-travelling going on in Genisys (misspelled, I know), but it’s surprisingly done so for a smart reason, even if the reason is a bit obvious. To get past the fact that T3 and Salvation were both pieces of garbage, the creators behind Genisys have made sure that their movie goes back in time to where the first began, change a few things around with that, and then jump all the way to the somewhat present day and woolah, it’s almost as if the third or fourth movie ever happened. We hardly ever get to go back to 1991 (when the second movie took place), but we don’t really need to because we already know that movie rules. Case closed.

Not naked? Boo.

Not naked? Boo.

Sadly, Genisys does not, in fact, “rule”, but it’s a heck of a lot better than the third and fourth combined.

Granted, that’s not saying much, but in a day and age where every sequel/remake/reboot seems like it’s so obviously just aiming for audience’s pockets with absolutely no shame whatsoever, it’s quite refreshing to get a blockbuster where there seems to be some sort of effort put into play. Sure, the movie definitely tries a bit too hard to make sense of itself, while at the same time, continuously shooting off more and more exposition, but it at least seems to be trying. Not to mention the fact that the movie sort of knows how goofy it’s premise can definitely get; many scenes here end with a character or two scoffing, “Oh, that totally makes sense”, in a sarcastic manner to give you the impression that the movie doesn’t want to take itself all that seriously.

A little seriously, definitely, but not too much so to where it’s turning people off by how unwilling it’s able to crack a smile and grin at itself. The jokes that these characters don’t always fly, and more often than not, feel like recycled gags that are thrown in to make a serious moment feel less of so, for no reason or another, but like I said before, at least there is some humor to be found. It’s all corny, mind you, but sometimes, there’s no problem with a little starch added to your meal. And speaking of the full meal, Genisys offers plenty of fun moments with its action-sequences.

After all, it is a summer blockbuster, so how could it not deliver on that front?

But like the two other movies before it, a lot of what bogs down a lot of the fun and excitement that can usually come from the action, is the endless need this movie feels to constantly hammer on and on about Skynet, what they’re capable of, what they’re up to, and just whom it is that’s working for them and calling all of the shots. Some of this is of course needed to create a villainous figure to identify with and root against, but the movie seems so hell-bent on just discussing the history of them and what they’ve got in-store, rather than doing a whole lot about it. Though they do eventually step up to the plate and fight the big baddies at Skynet, it’s after so much meaningless babble that it feels a little too late at times.

As with the first two movies of this franchise, everything worked best when James Cameron just kept his focus solely on the action between robots and humans. Anytime those movies focused on anything else, it was to help build characters and/or discuss what needed to be done next to keep the plot moving forward. It was hardly ever more difficult than that, however, Genisys makes it clear that they want to explain all that there is to explain about the mythology of this franchise and all of the players involved with it. Is this used as a way to inform new viewers? Or, is it a way to set-up more movies to come?

Talk about a face....lift.....

Talk about a face….lift…..

Because, oh yes, their definitely are more movies to come and honestly, I won’t be too upset when they come around. Don’t get me wrong, this movie isn’t terrific, but it still feels much like a Terminator movie, rather than just a dark, gritty and lifeless cash-grab, something that the last two movies before this did. Because from here on out, there’s so many paths this franchise can take and it’s something to look forward.

The only aspect that has me a little worried with this franchise continuing on to be a possible juggernaut, is the cast. Surprisingly, Jai Courtney, somebody who hasn’t wholly impressed me just yet, is the one who comes off as the most engaged as Kyle Reese. While he’s definitely the most human character of the bunch, there are still small moments where Courtney gets a chance to show off some of his charm. He’s still a little stiff, here and there, but for the most part, feels like he’s actually interested in giving this character something of a personality that isn’t laced with 80’s cheese, courtesy of Michael Biehn.

Everybody else, as much as I hate to admit it, is sort of going through the motions. A part of me wants to believe that this is because the script seems less interested in building any compelling personalities for these characters, and is more concerned with who is doing what where and at what time, but another part of me believes that maybe these actors didn’t all come fully ready to play. Okay, by now, it’s clear that Arnold Schwarzenegger is definitely just going through his same old moves again, and though he’s fine at it, it does seem to get a bit tiring now that he’s getting older. The CG is starting to show and the stunt-doubles are getting all the more recognizable; maybe it’s time to hang-up the leather jacket Arnold.

Just maybe.

Then, of course, there’s Emilia Clarke as the latest portrayal of Sarah Connor and she doesn’t fully fit in to the role quite well. Clarke has definitely proven that she can be a bit of a small-tempered bad-ass elsewhere, but here, she feels oddly-placed, as if she’s too young to play this sort of role, or too innocent. Which is especially weird to say, having seen her in all of Game of Thrones. And with Jason Clarke, as I’m sure you may know by now due to the incredibly idiotic trailers, his role as John Connor starts off simple, but then turns into something else completely and it’s a bit of a shame that Clarke isn’t given a chance to highlight any sort of emotion underneath it all.

But hey, at least J.K. Simmons is here and is funny. That’s all that counts, right?

Consensus: Neither terrific, nor a disaster, Terminator: Genisys works well with its action, and less with its nonsensical exposition.

6 / 10

"Something something, destroy Skynet, something something."

“Something something, destroy Skynet, something something.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Whiplash (2014)

Isn’t playing music supposed to be fun?

19-year-old Shaffer Conservatory student Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) has a dream, and it’s a pretty ambitious one: Become the best jazz drummer since Buddy Rich. Though this isn’t what you’d expect every normal young adult to dream of aspiring to one day, Andrew is different and decides that if he’s going to take his drumming-career seriously, he needs to get rid of any and all distractions in his life. That means he has to spend less time with his failed-author dad (Paul Reiser), break things off with his lonely girlfriend (Melissa Benoist), and most of all, practice, practice, practice! Because standing in Andrew’s way of becoming the world’s greatest is none other than conductor Terence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons), a hard-ass who takes much pride in breaking down his student’s spirits by telling them that “they suck”, and finding any colorful, derogatory term he can call them next. This fazes Andrew at first, but he soon thinks he’s got the hang of what Fletcher wants. That’s until Andrew goes a bit too far into his training, and this is where he and Fletcher come to terms on what it means to be the greatest, and how the both of them can possibly work together. If at all.

I hope that isn't his "actual face". If you know what I mean......?

I hope that isn’t his “actual face”. If you know what I mean……?

Being a drummer myself, I’m more inclined to look at this movie’s premise, its beliefs, and scoff at it. The reason being is because ever since I was a young fellow, I’ve always prided myself in teaching myself how to play drums and haven’t really cared too much for the whole idea of jazz-drumming, or any type of orchestra-playing for that matter, either. It’s just not my bag, baby, and while I know it’s plenty of other people’s bags, I still can’t bring myself to get too hype for a movie where a fellow drummer wants to be the biggest, the most talented, and overall, the best drummer of all-time.

Does it make me a bit jealous? Sure. But that’s another story, for another day.

This story here is about one Andrew Neiman and it’s one that’s like any other underdog tale – underdog has a dream; underdog has a talent; underdog has a set-back; underdog has an obstacle; etc. It’s a pretty simple formula, and it’s one that Whiplash doesn’t really try to shy away from, except for that it’s not really an underdog story, as much as it’s just a story about one’s addiction. Sure, our main protagonist Andrew definitely meets all the key elements to what would make him an underdog in the first place, but it’s not that we are necessarily worried about his talent (because he totally has it), it’s more that we’re worried how his talent is going to shine in the eyes of his professor/drill-instructor. If anything, it’s more of a battle within himself, than with any other person, although the character of Fletcher is definitely a suitable stand-in for whom would ultimately be considered “the villain”.

However, Fletcher isn’t a villain, and Andrew isn’t a hero; they’re both people who absolutely love and adore music. Music is their addiction and because they are dug so deep into it, they can’t help but lose whole parts of themselves and forget exactly what makes them tick and tock like a human in the first place. Especially in the case of Andrew, who actually seems like he loves drumming, but gets so enthralled with becoming the best and impressing the shorts off of his superior, that it starts to seem like the drums end up becoming his enemy, less than it being the other way around. What’s smart about Damien Chazelle’s writing, and I guess, his direction as well, is that he never makes it clear whether or not we should side with all of the pain, agony, and torment that Andrew is putting himself through.

Sure, a good portion of all that pain, agony, and torment is being put onto him through Fletcher’s non-stop abusive tactics, but for the most part, it’s all Andrew himself who could just walk away from all this, move on, get a degree, continue playing the drums, and see if he can get with a bunch of guys to become the next Everclear, or somebody else as awesome as them (seriously though, once you become “the next Everclear”, it’s a little hard to go any higher, you know). But Andrew doesn’t seem to want to do this and because of these sometimes poor, almost unsympathetic decisions he decides to take, we never know whether or not we should root for Andrew to achieve his dream, by any means necessary, or just do whatever he can, without harming himself in the meantime. Chazelle makes the smart decision of not really nailing-down his views to one side over the other, and it makes us, the viewers, make up our own minds for once and not have our hands held on every aspect.

Chazelle also does the same thing for the character of Fletcher, although it’s not nearly as successful as it is for Andrew. Most of this has to do with the way the character’s written though, and not at all with J.K. Simmons’ performance, because the guy is very solid, as usual. Actually, what’s so interesting about all of the praise surrounding Simmons here is that he isn’t really doing anything different from what we have seen him do before, like in Oz, or Spider-Man, or Juno, among many others. He yells, curses, and is abusive a lot, but he also shows that there’s a slight sign of humanity in this guy, which helps make him to come off as some sort of a human being, which is where Simmons does the most magic with this performance. Once again, it’s not like we haven’t seen him act like this before, it’s just that he’s become the main focal-point because of his constant yelling, cursing and abusing that leads me to believe that he’ll not only get nominated for an Oscar, but actually win it.

Once again though, another story, for another day.

"PARKER!!"

“PARKER!!”

However, where I feel the character of Fletcher is problematic, is in that he seems more like a cartoon, and one that his creator fully loves and adores. It makes sense that Fletcher would be this different kind of music professor that wouldn’t allow for any weaklings to stay in his orchestra unless they got through his heinous acts of hazing, but it doesn’t really make sense that he would go on for so long, with so many people still wanting to work with/be around him. Later on in the movie, we get a detail about Fletcher’s teaching-process and the sort of negative affect it’s had on his students, both present and past, but the way it’s thrown in there, makes me feel as if Chazelle doesn’t really care for it as much, and more or less, just loves the character of Fletcher himself.

Makes sense since this character is Chazelle’s brain-child, but it puts into perspective who Chazelle seems to side with a bit more and for what reasons. Why he wants to show us that Fletcher may go a tad too far, he still can’t help but seem to giggle at himself, or Simmons for that matter, whenever Fletcher calls somebody “a fag” and then hurls certain items at whoever he is talking to. I’m not saying it’s wrong to want to shed some positive light onto the character that you’ve created for the world to see, but whenever you’re throwing the idea of your character’s questionable ethics into the air, it makes for a bit of a sketchy discussion.

Which, yes, brings us all back to the age old question of Whiplash: How far should one go to achieve his/her dire need for greatness? Should they drive themselves into a manic state of constant anger and turmoil? Or, simply put, should one try their best, with as much effort as humanly possible, and try not to get themselves killed while doing so?

You be the judge on that, folks. I’m here to just review the damn flick.

Consensus: Whiplash may run into some muddy waters with its own judgment, but is still an effective piece of two people’s addictions, both very well-done by Miles Teller and J.K. Simmons.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Don't screw up! Don't screw up! Don't screw up!"

“Don’t screw up! Don’t screw up! Don’t screw up!”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Men, Women & Children (2014)

“Technology’s the devil”, in case you haven’t heard that from your grand-parents enough already.

The world in which we live in is changing everyday and technology’s a big reason for that. However, the big question remains: Is it good that we have technology around us, affecting our lives so much? Or, simply put, is it bad and making us disconnect from those around us? Well, the answers don’t come easily, especially for a handful of people living in a Texas suburb. Take for instance, there’s the married-couple (Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt) who hasn’t felt that love or passion for one another in quite some time; the photographer mother (Judy Greer) who so clearly loves her daughter and the passion she has for acting, but can’t help but lead her the wrong way; another mother (Jennifer Garner) who may be a bit too over-protective of her daughter and how she uses her forms of technology; a high school sophomore (Ansel Elgort) that quits the football team to focus more on his personal life, which leads him to falling for an outcast (Kaitlyn Dever); and lastly, a young teenage girl (Elena Kampouris) who is curious about sex for the first time in her life and will do anything to experience it, even if that means risking her own life. Oh yeah, and it’s all narrated by Emma Thompson, for some odd reason.

There hardly ever comes a time when I find myself following the rest of the status quo and agreeing with just about everything others have said. That’s not how I roll with movies, music, TV, video-games, and just life in general. I have opinions that I’ll make up for myself and stick to them until I wake up one day and think differently.

Now, with that being said, when I found out that everybody has been practically trashing on this movie here, I was surprised. Not because it seemed like it was a return-to-form for a favorite of mine, Jason Reitman, but because it featured an ensemble cast so good, that it was almost too hard for me to believe that any of them would agree to do something that’d be considered “utter shite” (well, except for Adam Sandler, but hey, he’s trying to get better!). But such is the case here with Men, Women & Children and rather than going into it and expecting it to hate with all my might because of what plenty others have been saying, I decided to stick to my guns, go in with a clear mind, and see how me, myself, and I felt walking out.

Libraries!?!?! Even more dangerous thoughts thrown into our young minds' heads!

Libraries!?!?! Even more dangerous thoughts thrown into our young minds’ heads!

And well, wouldn’t ya know it? I quite liked it. In fact, I came close to loving it on a few occasions. And then I didn’t. But the moral behind this story here, folks, is always make sure to not get bogged down by what others may, or may not, be saying. It only gets you further and further away from what matters most: Your own feelings regarding anything.

But like I was saying, there’s definitely something fishy about this movie. For instance, I find it rather strange that Reitman would go for a story that, yes, could be considered timely because of how much it uses technology as a moral stand-point for its story, but in all honesty, actually feels somewhat dated. These types of movies that try to warn us about the dangers of technology seem like they were running wild all over Lifetime or Oxygen way back when. That’s not to say that these types of stories don’t matter nowadays, because no matter what, technology will always be relevant in each and everyone of our lives, but I could have definitely done without a another “technology is evil” movie that just disregards its own message when it’s telling us, the audience, to actually engage in conversations on social-media networks to continue the conversation about the movie we just saw.

A tad ironic, but hey, whatever. The world’s not perfect, and the same thing goes for this movie. Because see, since this is an ensemble-piece, that means one thing: Not every story will be interesting. Though I’d like to hope for that in every movie I see in which different stories take place over the course of one film, the fact of the matter is that it usually doesn’t happen. And such is the case here, because out of the, well, I don’t know, say nine or so subplots, at least four-and-a-half of them are actually somewhat compelling. The others are sort of just there to take up space and allow us to see actors do, well, just that. Which isn’t such a bad thing, especially when you have a cast this good, but every so often, the movie makes you wonder what could have happened, had there been a lot more attention given to the development of these characters and their stories, much rather than the whole obvious message surrounding them and hitting us in the face.

For instance, try the story of Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt’s subplot; in movie terms, their characters are the quintessential aging married-couple: Bored, unfulfilled and always horny, yet somehow, not for one another. There are brief instances in which this story could take a couple of really dark, shocking turns, but since it has to rely on the story’s gimmick of making it all about technology, the movie then jumps into the whole “dating services” aspect of the internet that so many movies have touched on, and also more effectively. Now, that’s not to say that neither Sandler or DeWitt put in bad performances (Sandler does pretty well at playing subtle here, although I was a bit upset by there being hardly any shopping-aisle dances), but you can tell that, had they been given much more to work with, they could have come close to stealing this movie away from the rest of the group and have us actually twisting our heads and thinking.

Well, more to work with, and probably if there hadn’t been any technology used in the first place.

Cause honestly, the aspect of technology placing itself into these stories doesn’t always work and, quite frankly, doesn’t feel wholly necessary. Now, I get that this is an adaptation of a novel that deals with the same problems and what have you, so I understand why Reitman didn’t want to totally take out the aspect of the idea that made it so “unique” in the first place, but really, at the end of the day, it’s just a cautionary tale of how most of us don’t talk to one another and, occasionally, do bad things. Does that mean that technology is always involved with these problems in life? Hell to the no! So, to make every person’s problem in this movie in some way or another, have something to do with technology and its usage, just felt pointless and really took away from the emotional impact that so many of these stories had initially promised.

That’s not to say that these stories don’t deserve to be told, but they don’t deserve to be done so in such an off-putting, slightly over-bearing way either, in which technology always has to rear its ugly head in, somehow, or someway.

Hey, at least they're sleeping in the same bed, right?!?!?!

Young lovers of the world, look close, this will be you one day. Don’t argue, just accept.

And it should be noted that Sandler and DeWitt’s story aren’t just the only ones that get, pardon my French, get the shit end of the stick; a few others show plenty of promise early on, only to have all of that go the way of the Dodo about half-way through. Elena Kampouris’ subplot about a teenage girl with image and sexual issues is alarming, but gets a bit insane by the end that it starts to feel like Reitman’s driving right back into the melodrama he loved so much with Labor Day. The same could sort of be said for a subplot involving a young teenage kid who literally can’t get an erection or perform the act of sex, if it isn’t at all like how he views it as in the various pornos out there on the web. Once again, it’s another honest, true-to-life story, but just feels corny by the end, especially when we see how crazy it pans out to be. And the Jennifer Garner subplot concerning the over-protective mother was just stupid from the very beginning, and only made worse by the fact that Garner’s nerdy-mom shtick gets real old, real quick.

Though the stories that do hit, actually hit pretty hard, if not for the reasons that Reitman had probably intended. Probably the best, most interesting, most compelling, and most lovely subplot of this jumbled-up movie is the one between Ansel Elgort’s ex-football player and Kaitlyn Dever’s social outcast who both, through pure chance, just end up falling for one another. Not only is this the one true story that’s the closest to my heart (high school romance hardly ever disappoints this sentimental soul), but it’s the one story that feels like it’s the closest to Reitman’s heart, too. Both Elgort and Dever’s characters, with as few scenes we get with them together, feel like they would be attracted to each other and not just for the sole reason of having sex, getting it out of the way, and moving on. They’re both lonely, sad, and tormented young souls that need somebody, or someone to talk to, regardless of how it’s done. It also helps that Elgort and Dever have great chemistry and feel like fully fleshed-out teenagers in a film that, honestly, didn’t seem too concerned about in the first place (Elgort is especially amazing and wins me back from his over-the-top nature in the Fault of Our Stars).

But even then, this story seems to get a bit wacky by the end when it relies too much on the idea its presented itself with and takes a bit of steam away from the real heart of the best story it had to offer.

But since I’m going on so much about what Reitman does wrong here, I do have to say that I’m happy to see him at least slightly back in his usual-form. Granted, this isn’t a typical comedy like we’re so used to seeing him do like before, but it’s at least a minor step in the right direction to where he’ll hopefully be able to blend comedy and drama so well, that you have a hard time being able to discern one from the other. That’s the old Jason Reitman we all loved and awaited to see what he had up his sleeve next and it’s the Jason Reitman we all want back, in full-fledged form.

Right, guys?

Consensus: At times, Men, Women & Children can feel like a typical, over-exaggerated after school special about the horrors of technology, but thanks to a solid cast and a few interesting subplots, it is able to get through its various plot-hoops and holes.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Generation Y, in a nutshell. Or at least, in a digital image.

Generation Y, in a nutshell. Or at least, in a digital image.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Cider House Rules (1999)

Abortion, incest and ether – oh my!

Homer Wells (Tobey Maguire) is a young man who, for as long as he can remember, grew up in an orphanage. He was given to it when he was just a baby and taken in twice, but rejected and sent back both times, leaving the head of the orphanage, Dr. Wilbur Larch (Michael Caine), to take him in and teach him everything he needs to know about being a doctor. And by “everything”, I do mean, everything. See, the orphanage is more than just a place where a bunch of kids without any family run around, live in and wait to be adopted by curious families, because Dr. Larch himself actually allows there’s certain people to come in who want an abortion, which, way back when in the 40’s, was downright illegal. One couple in particular is Candy Kendall (Charlize Theron) and her soldier boyfriend (Paul Rudd), who interest Homer so much that he decides to leave with them and see what plan life has set for him next. Somehow though, that plan ends up being on an apple-picking farm, where he encounters all sorts of characters and even falls in love, although the happiness he feels, may not be the same for those that he left behind in the orphanage. Especially not Dr. Larch.

Director Lasse Hallström really did concoct a neat little trick here with the Cider House Rules – while the movie, on the surface, may appear to be an old-timey tale about exploring the world around you and all of the other possibilities, deep down inside, it’s a dark, somewhat rather disturbing tale about being lonely in a world, not knowing where to go with it next and how decisions we make, don’t just affect us for a short time being, but for the rest of our lives. Oh, and there’s a lot of abortions, too; which, to me, was shocking for the longest time in how Hallström presents this as something “illegal”, yet, thankfully doesn’t go any further into that fact and just lets it sit there. Almost as if it’s a fact of life that some people make, and others don’t.

Like everybody's favorite Robin said: Chicks really do dig the car.

Like everybody’s favorite Robin said: Chicks really do dig the car.

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that this movie surprised me once I really what it was actually all about, and also, what I was to expect from the rest of where it was going to go.

But there’s a slight problem with Hallström’s direction, and it’s not in the way that he pictures this story. In fact, quite the opposite – I loved the look of this movie. Not only does it have that old-timey look and feel that we’d get from a movie that was filmed in the 40’s, but the fact that it’s set in the rural lands of Maine makes it feel like something of its own nature (pun intended). In this part of Maine, people sort of go about, do and say as they please. There isn’t much of a hustle and bustle like there is in the city, nor is there a real sense of community like there can be in the suburbs. It’s just a bunch of people, separated from one another, who continue to live on in their own, sometimes secluded lives. Not only does that make it seem like Maine is an essential setting for this kind of story, but that it also gives us an even larger feeling of the loneliness sometimes felt from these characters; a point that this movie doesn’t drive home as much as it totally should have.

That said though, Hallström doesn’t get everything right, and that has more to do with the fact that the movie can’t decide whether it wants to be a real dark and heavy drama you’d see on AMC, or maybe even HBO, or a schmaltzy, sentimental piece of melodrama that you’d probably catch on the Lifetime, or Hallmark channel, had you been flipping through the tube. And because of that, the movie feels disjointed; there are plenty of moments in which a character will reveal something nasty or cruel that they did, but the next second later, we’ll get a montage of Tobey Maguire and Charlize Theron frolicking and cuddling in the woods. It makes you wonder who Hallström was trying to please here?

Was he going for the sappy, feel-good vibe that most families want to see, especially around the holidays (when this was released)? Or, does he want to have us think about our own lives and shed some light on the fact that what we think is out there, doesn’t really need to be seen at all? In a way, Hallström tries to have it both ways and it doesn’t always work. Sure, it’s an interesting piece that makes you wonder what would have happened to the final product, had Hallström and writer John Irving (original writer of the book, too) been on the same page the whole entire time (pun intended).

Because not only does it affect the tone of the movie, but it also has the cast feel slightly awkward in certain places where they shouldn’t. Michael Caine won an Oscar for his work here as the realistic-thinking, ether-inhaling Dr. Wilbur Larch, and though he is good, there’s a good portion of this movie in which he doesn’t even show up, leaving you to wonder just what the hell is he up to and why couldn’t we have had just a tad bit more time with him before we had to set off into the rest of the world. Even Tobey Maguire, despite being quite subtle in the only way he knows how to be (sometimes too much so), feels like the sort of character that lingers from place to place, doesn’t really have much of an emotional center, and is there for us to just see what he sees and experience whatever the heck it is that he experiences. Maguire has done this sort of role before and he’s fine with it here, but it still seems like there could have been more done to this character that would have made him somebody else other than just a “protected young guy who wants to see the world”.

Uh oh. Tobey's sad. I think we all know what's coming next.

Uh oh. Tobey’s sad. I think we all know what’s coming next.

The supporting players are better-off, considering that they aren’t paid attention to nearly as much, but even then, some just feel like window-dressing. Charlize Theron does a fine job as the Candy, the girl that eventually becomes the object of Homer’s affection, and while it’s easy to see why she is in fact the one he goes after, we don’t really get to know much more about her, other than that she likes a good time and a nice hump or two; Paul Rudd does some rare dramatic-work here as the boyfriend and isn’t around much to really show his chops off, but is charming enough that we feel bad for him when Homer starts banging his girl; and honestly, it was a shame to see two wonderful actresses like Jane Alexander and Kathy Baker be reduced to playing the “old, yet, sweet orphanage nurses”, whereas we all know they could have definitely done some real damage with a script that serviced them better.

But the one who really walks away with this movie and actually left something of an impression on me is a favorite of mine, Delroy Lindo. Lindo plays the head honcho of the workers from the apple-picking farm known as Mr. Rose and while, on the surface, everything seems all kosher and pleasant with this guy, deep down inside, we begin to find out that there’s something very wrong with him indeed. Which is why, when that area of his character explored, the movie really shocked me and, unsurprisingly enough, is exactly when Lindo’s powerhouse acting came in play. Because through Lindo, we see a truly damaged human being that believes what it is that he does, is regardless of if it’s right or wrong in the real, is his way, in his world and he doesn’t want anybody poking around in his business. It’s interesting to see where this character goes from when we initially meet his bright and smiling mug, to a sad and frowning one, but one could only imagine how much better it would have been for the character, as well as Lindo, had the material here been better.

Consensus: Inherently messy, the Cider House Rules had plenty of interesting ideas, as well as a finely-assembled cast to go along with it, but the script and the direction never seem to come together well enough to create a whole, cohesive story.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"And don't you dare thinking about stealing my cocaine."

“And don’t you dare thinking about stealing my cocaine.” (Now say that statement really fast)

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Like they say, “Once you go black, you never go back.”

When we last left Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), things seemed to be going relatively fine. Not only did he save the day, once again, but he got the girl of his dreams, M.J. (Kirsten Dunst), patched things up with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), and finally told his best-friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) about the fact that he’s not only Spider-Man, but that his father tried to kill him. Sure, the relationship between those two may be strained and even have Harry himself go a bit coo-coo with vengeance, but for the most part, Pete’s life is happy, joyful and one that makes him happy to wake up in the day. However, that all changes one day when he finds out that his Uncle Ben’s killer, believe it or not, is still out there, and he’s going by the name of the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church). To make matters even worse, Peter’s finding it hard to keep things going steady at work, and is finding some stiff competition in the newsroom with aspiring, fellow photo-journalist Eddie Brock (Topher Grace). Also, remember the girl of his dreams that he thought he won, hook, line and sinker last time? Well, she’s starting to get second-thoughts about dating a superhero. Oh, and as if that wasn’t all bad enough for Spidey, for some reason, there’s this black, venomous acid following him around and latching onto his suit, changing up his hair-do, and making him act in a totally different way, that may make him feel great and all, but pushes those whom are close to him, further and further away.

Okay, so yeah, that’s a long premise. But it needed to be because let’s face it: This movie is a total, complete, over-stuffed mess. I knew that the second I walked out of the theater back in the early days of summer ’07, and I knew that less than three or four days ago when I found enough guts to go through with it and actually give this movie another try. Shame on me, but you know what? I gotta do it for all of you.

"Kame me, kame me...huh?"

“Kame me, kame me…huh?”

All you mofo’s better be happy with this.

But, to be honest, even though I’m getting off of on the wrong foot and making it seem like I absolutely loathe the heck out of this movie, I can’t say that I really do. Because somehow, I was able to find little, itty, bitty, pleasures here and there throughout the movie. Now, whether or not these pleasures were indeed intended to be “pleasureful” is totally up to Sam Raimi and the creative-powers that be whom got behind this, but the fact remains: Spider-Man 3 isn’t all that terrible. It’s not good, that’s for certain, but it’s not shitty either.

Confused by what I’m trying to say? Don’t worry, I am too. Here, let me try to explain:

What I like to think of this movie as being is one, big, nearly-two-and-a-half-hour long “fuck you” from Sam Raimi. No, not a “fuck you” to us, the dedicated, lovely audience that spent all of our minimum-wages on seeing his past couple of Spider-Man movies, but more as a “fuck you” to those who tried to get in the way of his creative-vision way too many times before. Maybe I’m just making this all up in my head to make myself feel better, but there’s no way in hell that Sam Raimi, the creator of some of the greatest, most iconic cult films of all time, thought that this was a good idea. Or hell, even this! And oh god no, dare I even talk about this travesty!

No, no, no! I refuse to believe that the some mastermind behind Ash would ever stoop this low and give us something as painstaking as most of this movie can be! I don’t care what anybody says, I will stand by my grave if I have to! They always say that “money can’t buy happiness”, well, nor do I think that it can buy creative consciences either. It’s clear to me that Sam Raimi doesn’t know what to do with each and everyone of these subplots, so instead, he just crams them altogether in a way that’s incoherent, but wholly uneven. One second, you’ll be getting something out of a comedy-sketch in which Peter Parker is walking down the street, dancing, walking all fly, acting cool and hitting on the ladies, while some funky bass-action plays in the background; and then, all of a sudden, the next second, you’ll get a scene or two in which the Sandman talks about his dying-kid and how he does all of this crime and whatnot for her.

One second, it’s a laugh-out-lough, camp-fest; the next second, it’s a total downer that will make you want to say “party’s over”. I’m not saying that certain movies can’t be both frothy and dramatic at the same time, there’s just a specific-balance that these movies are capable of handling and maintaining, and it’s clear early on that Raimi is not able to do that. Whether or not this was him just having an off-day and deciding to hell with it all, is sort of beyond me, but there’s just so much going wrong here, that it’s almost too hard to think of it as anything else other than a ruse played on all of us, as well as the numerous Hollywood producers backing this thing.

Which is a total shame, because with all of the material and promise Raimi had at his disposal here, he could have done some wonders – given that he had a three-hour run-time and at least took away a villain or two. But what happens here is that we get just about three villains, four-to-five conflicts for Spidey (not including his own conflict with himself), three-to-four extraneous subplots that literally add nothing to the story, and a two-hour-and-twenty-minute run-time that goes by quick, but only because the movie is never comfortable enough focusing on one thing. Raimi always has to be moving from one end of the story, to another, which makes a lot of sense since he clearly has a lot on his plate to chew on, but made it seem like it didn’t really know what to do or say with its plot, or any of its characters. So instead, it just fell back on the same old, high-flying, CGI-galore action that was always there to make things better for these movies in the past.

Yup, they're totally boned from here-on-out.

Yup, they’re totally boned from here-on-out.

However, this time around, everything else is so poorly-developed, that it just feels like a cheat to get our minds out of everything else that’s going on so wrong with this movie – especially with the characters. And hell, if there’s anything about this movie that fuels me even more is how they wasted the whole potential that Eddie Brock/Venom had as a villain. Don’t get me wrong, I think Topher Grace is a fine actor that’s been trying his hardest since day one to get out of that Eric Forman-shell that’s been carved for him since, well, yeah, day one, but he’s not right for this role. I get what Raimi was trying to do with the casting of him – make him something of an over-the-top, immoral, sneaky and sly son-of-a-bitch – which yes, does work when he’s being Eddie Brock, the photojournalist for the Daily Bugle, but when he has to transform to Venom with about 15 minutes left of the movie, it feels like an after-thought. Almost as if the producers wanted Raimi to throw him in there for good measure, only to realize that the rest of the movie was stacked with so much to begin with.

And since I’m on the subject of new faces to this franchise, I have to say that I feel very bad for Thomas Haden Church here, because the dude is a great talent who just about makes everything better the minute he shows up in it. The problem with him here, as the Sandman, is that he’s given just about nothing to do. We get enough back-story to his character so that we can sort of see where he’s coming from, but it gets so convoluted once they start talking about how he apparently killed Uncle Ben in the past, that I just wanted them to stop with it all and move on. Give me the action, give me more scenes of Thomas Haden Church actually talking and showing some personality, and give me more of the core that really makes these movies tick in the first place: Pete and M.J.

It doesn’t matter what you’re own, personal opinions may be on Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst as working-professionals, but it should be noted that without them and their chemistry (or in some cases, lack thereof), this franchise would have fallen flat on its face as soon as it hit theaters. There would have been no “superhero movie boom”; no Spider-Man 2; no Amazing Spider-Man; no Amazing Spider-Man 2; nobody remembering who the hell James Franco was; and sure as hell no Spider-Man 3. Maybe we could have lived peacefully with that last aspect being gone and lost forever, but you get the picture – M.J. and P.P. gave these movies an extra oomph of heart and emotion that so many superhero movies try to recreate nowadays, but just can’t seem to get down perfectly.

However, here, the whole idea is that M.J. and Pete stop loving one another and grow apart, which kind of sucks to see since we’ve invested so much of our time in them, but by the same token, needs to happen in order for us to make them just a tad bit believable in terms of character-development and rounding the two out as individual beings, rather than just a couple. If this was done right, it would have been phenomenal to see, in a big-budget, superhero movie no less, but the movie really stumbles when it’s paying dear attention to this subplot. Pete eventually becomes a bit of a dick because of this venomous, gooey thing that keeps on attaching to his suit and making him act differently; and M.J. is coming at a bit of an existential crisis where she wants the focus to be constantly on her, her failing-career as a Broadway actress, and the fact that she’s been so loyal and dedicated to Pete, despite going around and starting to sleep with Harry, once again.

Ain’t nothing like old times, right peeps?

Yes, get as far, far away as you can from this movie, James. Don't just do us the favor, do yourself one.

Yes, get as far, far away as you can from this movie, James. Don’t just do us the favor, do yourself one.

Tobey Maguire, god bless him, tries his heart out but once Peter Parker gets that new, emo hairdo, it’s all downhill for him from there; Dunst looks bad because Mary Jane is so unlikable and unsympathetic in her whiniest performance yet; and James Franco, believe it if you will, probably has the best performance out of everyone here, just by getting a chance to live a little and show some of that Daniel Desario charm that was so absent from the two other movies. Which is strange considering that right as soon as this movie came out, hit theaters, broke a bunch of box-office records and basically ended the franchise that came to be known as “Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man“, Franco started popping-up in some interesting movies like Milk, Pineapple Express and In the Valley of Elah that not only stretched him a bit as an actor, but also showed the world that he wasn’t going to be doomed by his infamous past as “Harry Osborne, snobby, prick-ish son of a crazy billionaire”.

So yes, if there is anything, heck, anything at all good that you can take away from Spider-Man 3, it’s that it allowed James Franco to break-out from his cage and start trying his hand at some weird, quite frankly, goofy shit. But hey, we’re better as a society for it. Because seriously, when was the last time you actually got amped-up for something either Kirsten Dunst or Tobey Maguire were doing?

I rest my case.

Consensus: Long, overstuffed, uneventful, confusing, incoherent, and definitely disappointing, Spider-Man 3 may go down in the history books as one of the weakest superhero movies made in the past decade or so, but it isn’t without its small pleasures found along the way, if only for its most dedicated, easy, and calm viewers.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Shit. Gotta remember to take my suit off next time I tan."

“Shit. Gotta remember to take my suit off next time I’m trying to get that summer glow.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Just when you thought saving the world from evil, maniacal villains was enough.

Last time we left Peter Parker, he was trying to save the world from the havoc of a super-duper evil villain; win the heart of his lovely neighbor, M.J. (Kirsten Dunst); ace his college courses; still have a roof over his head; and be able to sleep soundly at night, knowing that he’s saved the day. And well, not much of that has changed a bit. Well, maybe instead of having the Green Goblin as a villain, he now has the incredibly smart Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), and the four metal arms that control his every action and thought, leading him to want to destroy the world that’s been so crummy to him as is. Or, you know, something like that. Also going on, Peter has a problem with telling his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) the truth about what happened to their dear old Uncle Ben, on that one, fateful night. And then of course, there’s Harry Osborne (James Franco) who is rich and powerful now, after inheriting the family business from his deceased-father and still having a bit of a problem with Pete and the fact that he takes the man who killed his father’s pictures all of the time.

I’ve seen this movie many quite a couple of times and it hardly ever ceases to amaze me. Of course when I was a lot younger, this was considered “the best movie ever made, by far”, but now that I’m older, and hopefully wiser, it’s stooped-down to being “just as good, if not better than the first”. That’s just what happens with age, though, people. You get older, you learn a lot more and you know what you like, and dislike.

Here though, I like pretty much everything, even if I have seen this movie about ten or more times. That’s not an understatement either; I was brought-up on the Tobey Maguire – Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, which is why I have such a hard time loving these new ones, as well as being able to hate on the magic these two made in the first place. Sure, they’re definitely a lot goofier and lighter on their feet than what most of us are used to with superhero movies (thanks for that, Chris Nolan), but there’s something about their fun spirit and excitement that’s too hard to hate or ignore. Even when it comes close to running into “campy territory”, there’s still an essence that everybody involved is having a great time making this and for that, my soul just cannot hate any of them.

"Dammit M.J.! I mean, I love you and all, but you got to stop getting captured!"

“Dammit M.J.! I mean, I love you and all, but you got to stop getting captured without wearing a damn bra!”

Even the third one. But that’s a different review, for a different time (aka, tomorrow).

But anyway, like I was saying before, what Sam Raimi does so well here is that he does keep the same frothy, sometimes goofy and joy-free mood and tone of the first one, but ups the intensity of this by adding both bigger, bigger stipulations, but also giving us characters we can care and love a lot more than we did with the first one. It’s not like we didn’t get any character-development in the first Spider-Man movie, but it definitely didn’t go any further than “good guy”, or “bad guy”. Here though, we get characters, in a comic-book movie no less, that also happen to have dimensions and qualities that most human beings contain.

Sounds crazy, right? Well, that’s because it totally is! However, Raimi has just about each and every moment here that’s dedicated to building and making these characters who they are, feel somewhat genuine. He also does something strange for a mainstream, superhero blockbuster in that he lets a lot of scenes where two characters may be having a heart-to-heart or talking about something rather emotional, play-out in total silence, as if he isn’t telling us when the sad moments are coming. We’re just supposed to know what to feel, and cry, shake, tremble, or smile on our demand.

We so rarely see that with superhero movies, but Raimi took a big time risk here, and it paid-off especially well.

Another risk he took was in actually showing us the shitty side of being a superhero. Most of the time, we always see the person in the suit, messing shit up, being a boss, saving the world and getting the girl, the glitz, and the glamour by the end of the day, but what most of us really don’t see is what goes on when that said person gets out of that said costume and becomes what most of us are: Actual humans. Here, with Peter Parker, we get an idea that not only does it suck being depended on just about every second of every day, at every location in the heart of New York City, but that it’s even more of a drag having to deal with all of your other problems when you’re not out saving the world, one criminal at a time.

For Peter Parker, life kind of blows – the girl of his dreams is with some total meat-head, his best-friend doesn’t trust him, he’s not paying his rent, he hasn’t told his Aunt the dreaded secret that may ruin their relationship forever, and he can’t seem to hold down a steady job, or wage. But when he puts that suit on, life is suddenly better, if only by a bit. Still though, it’s apparent that being a superhero, no matter how many people look up to you as a result, it’s still a hard life to live. That’s why when Pete decides that it’s time to take a sabbatical of sorts, we want him to get all of the rest and chillaxing he can get; but also, not to wait too long either. Because, let’s face it, he’s Spider-Man and he’s a pretty awesome superhero when he’s kicking all sorts of butt.

And kicking all sorts of butt is what Sam Raimi allows for Spidey to do, more times than he did in the original. Though there is plenty of dramatic moments here where it’s just a couple of characters or two just sitting around and talking, Raimi still never forgets about the action, which features some of the most memorable brawls of recent-memory. That bank-robbery that turns into a fight on top of a skyscraper? Damn! The train-battle? Gosh! The moment Octavius becomes “Doc Ock”? Well, yeah, it’s pretty disturbing, even for a PG-13 superhero movie, but man, it was awesome!

In other words, Raimi gives us all the goods an average, everyday moviegoer could want, especially if they were coming to see a Spider-Man movie.

And of course, the cast is great too, with a few even putting in their best work of the whole franchise. Tobey Maguire may get a lot of crap for being the good-looking nerd everyone aspires to be (myself included), but it’s totally undeserved because the kid can act and handles his own as Spider-Man, and most importantly as Peter Parker. In fact, if Maguire wasn’t putting in great work here, this movie probably would have failed considering mostly all of it is focused in on Peter Parker, the person, rather than Spider-Man, the superhero the person becomes. Maguire may get a bit too earnest for his own good at times, but it’s easily forgivable since he’s just so likable and easy-to-root-for, because you know that while he wants to be at his girl’s play more than anything else in the world, he’s got a world to save and maintain peace within. If that doesn’t sound like a total dream-boat, I have no clue what does.

Ladies, we know the sex with him would be awesome. Let's just keep our heads out of the gutter for the meantime.

Ladies, we know the sex with him would be awesome. Let’s just keep our heads out of the gutter for the meantime.

Speaking of “his girl”, Kirsten Dunst is another who seems to get a lot of crap from those who think she can’t act, and I think that’s terribly wrong. For starters, she totally can and as she’s gotten older, she’s only been able to prove that moreso, time and time again. However, back in those good old days of the early-21st Century, I could see why some people got on her case as M.J. definitely isn’t the best-developed or most believable character out of the whole bunch, but at least Dunst seems like she knows what she’s doing when she’s delivering some of the cheesy-lines to be heard here. Same goes for James Franco as Harry Osborne, another one not many knew what to make of back in the day, but clearly has made a huge name for himself by just being him.

God, how time has changed.

With the absence of Willem Dafoe as the main baddie, we get Alfred Molina as Dr. Otto Octavius and the guy’s very good, as many could probably predict seeing as how Molina’s been a stand-out actor, putting in great work, time and time again. With Octavius though, Molina not only gets to show a human-side to a person who could be seen as a total monster, but even makes us see those small spots of humanity, even while his mind is practically being taken over by the evil chip in his brain. Though he’s clearly not as hammy as Dafoe was (therefore, eliminating some of the fun), Molina still feels like a real person who has been utterly driven to do bad things, for bad reasons and under extreme circumstances. Sort of like how Sam Raimi must have felt doing the third movie.

But like I said: Different review, for a different day, folks. Just you all wait.

Consensus: With a perfect mixture of heart, humor, action, excitement, and fun, Spider-Man 2 will go down in the books as one of the best superhero sequels of all-time because it never forgets what makes its story kick as well as it does, while also not forgetting to give the audience the high-flying, ass-kicking action they come to expect with a product like this.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

How could you hate that heart-throb? I mean, heck, it's a freakin' subway he's holding back!

How could you hate that heart-throb? I mean, heck, it’s a freakin’ subway he’s holding back!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Juno (2007)

Just as long as you’re a quirky hipster-teenager, not a single person will be mad at you for being preggo!

Juno MacGuff (Ellen Page) isn’t your traditional, normal high school teen in the way that she holds herself. She knows a lot about people, life and society to the point of where people cast her a bit as an “outside”, however though, that doesn’t bother her because she’s just happy being herself, in her own, wide world of quirkiness and faux-clever pop culture references. But now her world is about to be shaken-up a bit now that she’s been impregnated by her best-buddy, Paulie Bleeker (Michael Cera). He clearly has no idea what the hell to do when he hears this news, and neither does she, but she decides not to take “the easy way out”. Thus bringing her to the idea of having the baby, but then giving it right to hopeful parents Vanessa and Mark (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman), who have been wanting a baby for quite some time, and have even gone as far as to place ads in the papers. It seems like the right thing for Juno to do, however, she still can’t help herself from causing a bit of ruckus in the meanwhile.

Many people have spoken-out against this movie for being what is clearly a “mainstream attempt” at trying to do a quirky, hipster movie, that you’d most likely see in a small, run-down movie theater with at least five or six other people, and then hear about years later, with it gaining a cult-following and loyal fan-base and such. Reason being, the script by Diablo Cody is filled to the core with numerous amounts of slang, phrases that seem like they’d only come from “hip” people’s mouths and more inside-joke pop culture references than you or I could ever shake a stick at. Hell, it even opens up with a rotoscoped credit-sequence, done to the tunage of Barry Louis Polisar.

Look at that thing! So rad, man!

Look at that thing! So rad, man!

If that doesn’t scream, “Hey, look at me! I’m hip! I’m cool! I’m “with it”!”, then I don’t know what does.

Usually whenever a movie has me thinking this in the first couple minutes, it’s usually all downhill from there. But that wasn’t the case here. Surprisingly, Cody’s writing began to work more and more, even when more of an onslaught of absolutely random references came into play. However, that also made it so much more entertaining to watch as I could not only find myself laughing, but feel like I’m in the presence of real teenagers who sure, talk a bit funnier and more colorful than you or I, but act and behave as if they were us. Early pregnancy aside, I could still see myself talking, hanging out and getting to know some chick just like Juno, and being picked to pieces for either saying something really dumb, or being intimidated by her presence. But I could say the same thing about meeting Juno, about everybody else here.

The fact is, although its a rather showy script, it’s always believable and never loses that sense that we are placed into a world that exists in the 21st century, with characters who have grown-up on Nickelodeon, Slurpee’s and the almighty “Hamburger Phones”. Yes, they do exist and yes, they are awesome.

But once all of the playful wit of this movie leaves, then comes in the huge heart it has and it really takes you by surprise. One second you could be laughing at how Juno tries to match wits with some older dude about how Iggy Pop is such a bad-ass, to then be soaking your eyes out crying because of some beautiful speech her dad gave to her about finding that one and only special someone and why that does inf act matter. The movie definitely plays with that balance more than a few times than it ought to, but Cody and Reitman seem like they have a perfect idea of when the right time to play a moment up for laughs is, and when it’s the time to start letting the tears flow. More often than not, the former got the best of me, but the latter came in with a surprising thunder and really touched. Especially during the last ten or so minutes when the whole story, all of the characters and subplots, come together and get tied-up in a nice, neat little bow-tie.

How perfect that is to see actually happen in a movie for once.

Of course though, the one’s who really make this movie work so well, just as much as both Reitman and Cody do, is the ensemble cast, mainly Ellen Page in the lead as “anti-hero” of sorts, Juno MacGuff. Page got a lot of praise for this role, and some could say it made her a bon-a-fide “star”, and while I’m not up for a discussion on whether or not that’s fully, entirely true (it isn’t), I will say that Page deserved all of the chatter being made about her because she fits this role like a glove. She’s quick, funny, and always up to say something you don’t expect her to, but she’s never a big meanie. Sure, she can be a bit of a sassy-pup to those who deserve it, but to everybody else around her, you know, the one’s that actually matter and care for her, she’s always kinder to and definitely doesn’t take of them for granted. She’s unpredictable for sure, but she’s never a “bad person” per se, which is what I think makes her so damn likable and watchable in the first place. That, and the fact that she’s edgy, without being overly so. Good for Page though, as I think that she’s a solid actress who is sadly still trying hard to live this iconic-role down. One day, I think, she will. But until then, we have this to adore and appreciate.

Please be my parents! Please!!

Please be my parents! Please!!

Michael Cera also does a nice job as Paulie Bleeker, despite still being in that “George Michael“-frame. However though, he was good at showing what a guy like him would do if he was suddenly thrown into the same situation that he is obviously incapable of handling. Also, the relationship that he and Juno have is a very well-done one which would have made for its own interesting rom-com. Even the friendship Juno has with her bestie, played by Olivia Thirlby, is well-done because she’s just as sassy, if not more than Juno’s snarky-ass, which also makes their time together all the more enjoyable to watch.

But this isn’t just a movie for, and starring all teenagers throughout the world! Believe it or not, there are some performances from adults here, and for the most part, they’re pretty outstanding. As I’ve mentioned before about his one scene, J.K. Simmons is great as Juno’s daddy that isn’t the typical toughened war-vet, hard-ass daddy you usually see in these types of movies. He definitely loves his daughter and accepts her for everything that she is, despite her making one dumb decision and getting pregnant as a result. Still though, he stands by her and wants what’s best, without getting in the way too much. Same for Allison Janney’s step-mom character who isn’t the evil, cackling step-mom that holds everything against her step-daughter for not being biologically related to her. In fact, one could say that she’s more concerned and protecting of Juno, and doesn’t want people bad-mouthing her all because she’s a teenager, who just so happens to be pregnant. Even the two performances from Jason Bateman and Jennifer Garner are great too, and, believe it or not, would have definitely worked in their own, little movie. However here, they’re both believable as a married-couple that may not be perfect together, but definitely seem to want the same things in life and within each other, even if their vision does get a bit blurred at times.

Mainly though, everybody works perfectly together and makes this something more special than just an-hour-and-a-half rom-com with pregnancy involved somehow. I would have definitely liked to seen more of this cast do what they do best, but hey, I’ll take what I can get when I have a cast that is this good, and given this much meaty-material to work with. If only more ensemble-pieces handled its cast as well as Reitman does. If only.

Consensus: Most will definitely know if Juno is right for them or not, judged solely by the first ten minutes. But if you just so happen to be one of those people that take the bait and enjoy the show, you’ll find yourself not just happy you stuck-through, but ending it all with a smile on your face and a warm feeling in your stomach, like coming-of-age, rom-comers should do.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

That's to all ya haters out there. You know who you are, too!

That’s to all ya haters out there. You know who you are, too!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Thank You For Smoking (2005)

Is smoking good for you? Go ahead and give it a taste yourself!

Nick Naylor (Aaron Eckhart) is the guy that most people consider the second-coming of Satan or a murderous flea-bag, among many other negative personifications. “Why”, may you ask? Well, he’s a lobbyist who speaks for world-wide smoking companies as they constantly get heckled by anti-cancer foundations, protesters, and above all, Senators trying to remove cigarette-usage from movie, television, books and all sorts of other media-outlets. Also, they’re trying add a warning-label on each and every pack as a way to scare every cigarette-purchaser that they will in fact die if they continue to buy and smoke tobacco. But Nick Naylor doesn’t let any of this get to him, because not only is he good at his job, but he’s one slick mofo when it comes to getting what it is that he wants, in the smoothest way possible. The only problem is that he’s finding it hard set a good and responsible for his son Joey (Cameron Bright), whom he rarely sees as is, but wants to show the bright, as well as the dark sides of corporate-America.

If any of you out there think that my opening-line was in anyway serious, then don’t be worried about my I.Q. level, because I was joking. I know; you know; parents know; dogs know; cats know; hell, practically all of us know that smoking is bad for you. If it’s not doing any damage to you now, give it 20 years or so, then you’ll start to feel the ramifications tobacco-usage. That’s not me being preachy, or even trying to sound like a dick, I’m just being honest and painfully clear. Because, let’s face it, everybody knows that cigarettes are not good for you, but does that matter? Hell no! But the that doesn’t stop half of the Earth’s population from going down to the local mini-mart and ordering a pack of Marlboro Reds, now does it?

Hell no!

It's a reunion of Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes. Well, sort of.

It’s the reunion of Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes finally together at last! Well, sort of.

But that’s the genius of this movie; it dives into the age-old statement that “smoking is not good for you”, and still finds a way to inject a whole bunch of humor and satire about how people can be easily conned into thinking one thing, that in ways, sometimes goes against the common-norm. Writer/director Jason Reitman gives us all of the mean, dirty, despicable and money-grubbing a-holes that we’d never want to meet in real life, but somehow, he makes them all interesting, fun-to-watch and downright believable. You could definitely see these types of people in the corporate-world; laundering money, making some dirty deals on the side, trying to spin whatever story they possibly can into a positive light and, through it all, doing everything to make a quick and easy buck. It’s America baby, and nobody plays clean when money’s involved.

What really pushes this movie over-the-edge and makes it more of an important life-lesson, than just a whole satire on the corporate-world we live in, is that it actually discusses a common-truth that all humans should hold near and dear to themselves. That common-truth being to stand-up for one’s view-point, and not always give into what everybody else is saying. Basically stick up for yourself and don’t just go along with the crowd.

Like for instance, this movie isn’t about whether or not smoking cigarettes is in fact “good” for you or not, nor is it trying to get you to consider if you should go out, buy a pack and start lighting away until the cows come home. Nope, it’s more about how people should be able to make decisions, solely based on what they want to do and whether or not they think it’s right to do. Sure, smoking isn’t good for you and you definitely shouldn’t start developing that as a habit if you know what’s best for you, but don’t be such a sheep and follow the herd. Get out there, do what you think is right for you, as well as others around, but don’t just follow the current. Go at your own flow, man.

Though “blaming the million-dollar corporations for our poor decisions” has been a societal-standard since the beginning of the first Mickey D’s, the movie tackles it head-on and gives us a wonderful protagonist, or antagonist (depending on which way you look at it), in the form of Nick Naylor as the type of guy that speaks for those who always seem to get a bad name. Do some of these big, money-grubbing corporations deserve all of the name-calling and slander in the press? Sure they do, but Nick Naylor is here to show us why we all make decisions in our lives, regardless of if we’re thinking right away. Some of the points that Naylor does make are valid (the whole “ice cream” bit will forever be a favorite of mine), and for anybody who sees him as “the villain”, is sadly mistaken. He’s the guy who knows the truth and skewers it in any way he possibly can without getting caught-up and looking like a dumb-ass. But he’s just so cool and charming, you don’t even care if he’s trying to get these smoking-companies more cash-flow, you just hope that he’s nice to those around him that matter most.

Somebody's in need of a sarsaparilla.

Looks like somebody’s in desperate need of a sarsaparilla.

Kind of strange actually, but Eckhart makes him this way, showing us that he’s not only still capable of being a bon-a-fide dick like we’re so used to seeing him be, but also able to spin it around in a way and see that he can be a nice guy, when the opportunity arises and calls on him to be so. He doesn’t always say or do the right things that may be for the betterment of everyone around him, but he does get caught in some sticky situations where he has to think what’s more important to maintain: His humanity, or his bank-account? More often than not, the latter is what he ends up falling back on the most, but when he does show sides of being a genuinely graceful dude, it goes a long way. Shame that Aaron Eckhart has really been blowing chunks at the screen as of late, but here’s to hoping that he may come back to doing commendable pieces of work for the big screen.

However though, I guess in the case of Aaron Eckhart: There’s nothing like “too many” paying gigs.

Then of course though, Eckhart isn’t the only one of this cast that shines – he just so happens to shine the most. Cameron Bright is the core of what gives this movie its “human-element”, and to watch as he and Naylor talk, get to know one another better and eventually build a bond over time, makes this more than just a “satire”; it’s actually something rather sweet and heartfelt. But still with a bunch of corporate-satire and smoking.

He’s the one who gets the most to work with though, as each and every one of these recognizable faces that show up here all do great jobs, no matter how meager or important their roles may in fact be. David Koechner and Maria Bello get some of the bigger-laughs as the two other, public spokespersons that Naylor frequently goes to dinner with; Robert Duvall constantly chews on his honking, wide-ass cigar as if it was a candy-cane and is absolutely loving every second of it; William H. Macy is playing the main State Senator who is speaking out the most against Naylor and the tobacco-companies he so proudly stands by and can’t help but be likable, underneath all of the contradictions he holds; and Sam Elliott, given what he has to do as a former spokesman for one of these tobacco-companies, injects a lot of heart, humor and surprising sadness into a story that desperately needed some to get to the heart of what this story means in the long run, and why people should at least try and stay away from cigarettes. At least try, that’s all we ask of you as a human-being.

Consensus: Thank You For Smoking is a movie in which most viewers will most likely be divided on, based solely on their political-standings are, but they can all at least come together on the fact that it’s a funny, smart, sly and sometimes heartfelt satire that takes a look at a bunch of people we don’t want to like or see in a humane-way, but actually do, in surprising ways.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

If weed every becomes legal, you know this idea will be popping up everywhere.

If weed becomes legal everywhere in the world, you know this we’l be jammed down our throats.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBComingSoon.net

The Ladykillers (2004)

Not the type of lady-killing I do at the clubs, but same idea. I guess.

A charlatan professor by the name of Goldthwait Higginson Dorr III, PhD (Tom Hanks) moves into the house of an older, African American woman widow (Irma P. Hall) for what seems to be a nice place for him to relax and jam with his gospel band. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth as Dorr is up to no good with a cast of criminals that plan to rob the bank of a gambling casino, just through an underground tunnel. It may work, or it may not, but with the widow around, things prove to be pretty tense for the boys. Well, that and the fact that they are also a gang of misfits that don’t quite come together so perfectly on what they need to do next in their two dollar-plan.

The Coen Brothers love to have fun. I know that, you know that, Frances McDormand knows that, your parents know that, hell, in fact, I’d wager that even a person whose only seen one Coen Brothers flick could tell you that. That’s why the opportunity for them to remake a somewhat-classic film, may bring groans and moans from their dearly-beloved fans, but it’s what the Coens want to do, and they do have a knack for choosing their fine pieces of material, so yeah, if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us, right?!?!?

Well, kinda, sort of, not really, but yeah. Here, I’ll explain:

What these two guys specialize in is taking a genre that can be tired and conventional and spin it totally on its head. That’s sort of what they do here with this movie, but even when they don’t, it still seems like the guys know exactly what they’re doing, any given moment; it’s just whether or not we like seeing them go through the motions with it. For the most part, there was some enjoyment in seeing them go through the motions as they made their steps in the mud, here and there, but other times, it felt like they could have been doing so much more with this material. Almost like they took this job because they had nothing else better to do during ’04, so they thought, “Why the hell not?!?!?”

Could totally just see them sitting around for a cup 'o tea, if they weren't robbing some casino.

Could totally just see them sitting around for a cup ‘o tea, if they weren’t robbing some casino.

Still, I have to give it to the guys for at least knowing how to enjoy themselves, where they allow others to join in the fun as well. Even if the movie does feel repetitive, predictable and slightly unoriginal, you never get the sense that this wasn’t made by the Coens. Their trademarks are still in full-force (quirky characters, heist-gone-wrong, gospel music, long, drawn-out scenes of dialogue), but they don’t win you over quite as well as they used to, especially once the heist begins to get going.

Once the movie begins, we are introduced to the older, black widow, then we meet Goldthwait Higginson Dorr III, then we get a montage of the other cats that will be joining in this heist, and that’s about it for the hype-up. Then, once we see them all, it’s on with the heist. It felt quick and ready-to-go, but for me, I need my heist to take it’s time of where it goes, just so I can get a feel for the characters, the plot and the actual heist at-hand. Here, it just seemed like the Coens weren’t ready to settle down and wanted to get right into the action, which makes sense since this isn’t a very serious piece of work, at first. However, once it does become that way and we start to see that these are characters we’re supposed to care for and understand, it never fully comes together as we’re never given anytime whatsoever to be with these guys or see who they are before the heist, during it, and after. Maybe I was asking a bit too much, but with the way things turned out at the end, I kind of felt like my feelings were understandable. At least to me, that is.

But these characters are memorable in their own ways, all because they have their own set of quirks that make them stand-out from the rest. However, they aren’t the finest creations the Coens have ever brought to screen. Take for instance, the character played by Ryan Hurst, Lump: The dude’s the quintessential dummy that plays football, doesn’t have much going for him in the brain-department and just stands around with his mouth open, barely saying anything at all. Why? Well, it’s simple: It’s because he’s too dumb to even know what’s going on. Once or twice, it’s funny, but knowing the Coens and knowing how they role with their goofy characters, by giving them a set of quirks and trademarks that fit perfectly well together with the rest of the movie, it feels as if these guys ran a out of ideas, and decided to go down that obvious-route. Nothing ill to say against Hurst because the dude is fine with this role, it’s just that the character gets annoying after awhile, and seems like the Coens were scratching their heads for ideas and just crapped the most conventional one out onto paper.

But, not everybody suffers from the same problem that Hurst does as Lump, because they all have good characters to work with and do what they can to make them work. Tom Hanks was a freakin’ laugh-out-loud riot as the silver-tongued gentleman, G.H. Dorr, and shows that the guy can practically play anything and make it work ten times better than you’d least expect it to. I know, it sounds crazy that I’d ever be doubting Hanks’ role in a movie, but there have been the occasional times where things haven’t always worked out for him. Here though, he’s fun, entertaining, charming and interesting to just listen to as you know there’s mroe than just a caricature behind that whole facade. You just know it. He uses a lot of big words, most of which will probably go over the smartest person’s head, but Hanks handles it all with perfection and seems like he actually does know these words, rather than just reiterating them in a way that’s attractive enough for the camera. Hanks is the anchor to this flick, and always seems to be having the time of his life. As he should, cause the dude’s one of the best working right now.

A random bit of casting here is Marlon Wayans as the brass, black dude that works at the casino these guys are planning to rob and is funny, but also a bit sympathetic as well, despite him always cursing and going on about one dude bringing his bitch to the Waffle Hut (trust me, it’ll make sense once you see it). I’m really surprised that Wayans gets choice roles in movies like this and Requiem for a Dream, yet, always goes back to making shit like this and that. I’ve never understand why so many acclaimed directors choose this guy to be in their movies, never understood why he’s been so good in them, but most of all, I’ve never understood why the hell he doesn’t just stay away from the crap he makes with his family. I get that you are supposed to be there through thick-and-thin with the familia, but when they begin to take your career down; you gotta move on and tell them you’ll see them at the next Christmas party.

Does knitting really excuse hearing?

Does knitting really excuse hearing?

Then again though, that’s just me. I guess I didn’t learn a single thing from the Godfather.

Rounding out the cast of characters is J.K. Simmons and Tzi Ma as the other fellas apart of this heist, and are both good. Simmons has impeccable comedic-timing that usually works in everything he does, and Ma rarely ever speaks but is funny, a bit goofy, and slightly intimidating as well. Both are good, but don’t leave much of an impression on you, as much as Irma P. Hall does as the widow these guys are staking out in. Hall is funny because she’s always yelling and complaining about something new, but also has a bit of a sweet side to her as well, where you can see that she’s a nice lady, but she’s just getting all old and alone. Sort of like all elders out there in the world. Difference between them and her, is that most of those folks aren’t getting robbed blindly by a bunch of random misfits.

Consensus: The Coens have done way, way better and far more original movies than the Ladykillers, but they still seem to be having fun, and allow the cast to do their thing. Not the most memorable one out of their flicks, but still a bunch of joy to be had.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

I'd prefer it to be raining this, but that's just me.

I’d prefer it to be raining this, but that’s just me.

Jobs (2013)

You’re trying to tell me Steve Jobs was NOT God?!?!?

This is the story of Steve Jobs (Ashton Kutcher). Some of you may know him as that guy who died two years ago, others may know him as the man who founded Apple and the world has never been the same since. That latter-choice is mainly what he’s remembered for, although you wouldn’t be wrong to go with the first one either because he did die two years ago, due to stomach cancer. Anyway, that’s the end of his story, the beginning of it all begins with his early days of getting kicked out of college, being a hippie, doing a lot of acid, and starting his own computer company in his garage with fellow iconic nerd Steve Wozniak (Josh Gad). Then, once powerful businessman Mike Markkula (Dermot Mulroney) came strolling through, poking his nose into Jobs’ business, then he, along with the rest of Apple, got big. Almost TOO big some would say, especially for Steve himself who was considered very difficult to work with and always wanted perfection, at the expense of the others around and supported him. That would all come back to catch up with him though, in a way that not only blind-sided him, but the rest of the technology world as well.

The story of Steve Jobs seemed almost destine for the big-screen. Think about it: How many people do you see out-and-about with iPods, iMacs, or iPhones? The answer is somewhere in the millions and it shows you the type of effect/influence this man had on our world. He changed the way we see, hear, and feel everything, not just computers, music, or video-games, EVERYTHING. The man was a visionary, and it still saddens me to this day to see him go. What saddens me even more, is that his legacy will most likely live on in made-for-TV movies like this; the problem being, this isn’t a made-for-TV movie. It’s released to the general, wide public, in order to inform the world on the person Steve Jobs was and why his story matters, but at the same time, not doing either of them. It just tells a story, and that’s it.

"Can we get a munchies break, man?"

“Can we get a munchies break, man?”

All we really get here from Joshua Michael Stern’s direction with this material is that Steve Jobs was a very smart dude, but at the same time, a dick. Which I will admit, I liked. It takes a lot for a biopic like this to not sugarcoat its main subject, and I liked that it showed Jobs as a dude that didn’t work well with others, for reasons that weren’t anybody else’s fault but his own. He was a perfectionist, arrogant, always felt like he knew what to do and how to do it better, and didn’t want to be anything or anybody that disagreed with him. From the stories that I’ve read and heard of Jobs, a lot this rings true, which is why I’m glad that Stern went for that aspect of the man’s story, but that’s about it.

Everything else we see here, like his failures and his victories, all play out without little to no emotion, insight, or compelling arguments as to why it matters at all in the least bit. Seriously, as soon as Jobs and the rest of his ragtag group are given their first task to create a keyboard and sell it to the wide audience out there, we are told it does something cool in a way that only full-on computer geeks will get and understand. As for the rest of the human-population that can’t tell the difference between a Dell or a PC, are going to be at a loss for words, which is wrong to do for a biopic of this. A lot of people have been bringing comparisons between this and another technology-centered biopic, The Social Network, and although I wanted to side-step away from that obvious route, I just can’t help it because at least that movie did everything right, that this movie could not do.

It gave us a reason to care, with fully fleshed-out characters; it made us understand why all of these inventions mattered, and still do in today’s world; and made us feel the hurt and the pain once the back-stabbing and betrayal began to happen between co-workers, and old friends. That movie, was a near-masterpiece and watching a misguided biopic like this only made me realize just how well-done that movie honestly was. This, on the other hand, while not being terrible like I had originally imagined it being, still can’t seem to get to the core of the events it’s depicting, or the person it’s about himself.

For instance, rather than this being a movie about Steve Jobs the person, it’s more about Steve Jobs, what he did, and how he did it. Not how he felt or who he was, but what he got done in time for everybody to check it out. In a way, it just traces all of the accomplishments he had over the years, while also shedding a dim-light on some of the biggest happenings of his life. Probably the most important event of his life was when Bill Gates “supposedly” ripped-off one of Jobs’ models, putting him into a total fit of rage and anger. You’d think that the tension and building-up to this one scene would be somewhere along the lines of Peter Parker on the verge of beating the shit out of JT, but it was the farthest thing from. Instead, we just got a simple phone-call from Jobs to Gates, where the man left an angry voice-message, saying he’s pissed and all of that other enraged crap, and that was it. Never alluded to once again, and just left to pan-out in mid-air. That’s not the only instance where we get something important in Jobs’ life alluded to, and never brought up again: There’s the fact that he was adopted, and didn’t want anything to do with his first-born; what he did in his meantime when he was first fired from Apple (and subsequently founded Pixar); and the fact that he abandoned and ripped-off of most of his co-founding friends within Apple.

Plenty more where that came from, and even though they do touch on those subjects in this movie, they never go anywhere deeper than just a nod, a wink, or nothing at all. Maybe just a mention, and that’s it.

Oh my gosh! It's Kelso! But he's old! And bald!!

Oh my gosh! It’s Kelso! But he’s old! And bald!!

However, I’d say that the only memorable part about this whole movie is Ashton Kutcher’s portrayal of Steve Jobs, which in and of itself isn’t even the best part of the movie; it’s just interesting per se. Because let’s all face it: I highly doubt I was alone in the world being skeptical and nervous hearing that Michael Kelso would be playing none other than Steve Jobs, a widely-regarded genius of the modern-day, right? And that’s not a hit against Kutcher at all; in fact, I’d even go so far as to say that I “like” the dude. He’s funny, he’s got charm, and seems like he can pull off some nice bits of acting when he needs to, but I think it may be just a little too drastic for him to go for the gut with a performance that’s centered all around him, what he can do as an actor, and how spot-on he can portray this famous figure. Some of it, surprisingly, Kutcher does well with, especially the gaunt-walk Jobs supposedly had and the way he was able to sound-out certain vowels. That “impersonation”, if you will, is good for him and he does a nice job with, but when it comes to getting to the meat of the performance and of this guy, then he loses all credibility.

Most of that blame is partially on the script, as well as the direction, but it’s also on Kutcher because I always saw him “acting”. Not once did I really see him BECOME Steve Jobs. I just saw him playing Steve Jobs, and try really, really hard at it as well. The make-up and facial-hair looked good on him and was able to make us see him as Jobs, but that’s all because it’s a neat little trick of the director, and not because Kutcher is that talented of an actor. However, I can’t hate on the guy too much because he surprisingly bearable to watch here, and it’s the type of performance that makes me wish I see him in more daring, challenging roles in the future, but as for right now: Just stick with saying choice words like “dude” and “sweet”, and you’ll be all good.

As for the rest of the stacked-cast, they all do fine as well and in certain spots, bring out the best within Kutcher’s acting skill. Josh Gad especially, playing Steve Wozniak in a way that makes him a rather rotund, but lovable nerd that knows what’s right for the technology world, but also has morals to where it’s no surprise to see him and Jobs have a bit of a battle on what constitutes “business, without being personal”. Also, it was very nice to see Dermot Mulroney get his best performance in what has seemed like ages. Seriously, why is this guy not getting bigger and better roles nowadays?!?! The man obviously deserves it, and shows so here. Whatever, it’s probably just me.

Consensus: While Jobs doesn’t stray far away from the ugly side of it’s main figure-head, it surely doesn’t do him many favors either in terms of getting to who the person was, why he was that way, why he mattered, why what he did mattered, and why we should fully believe Ashton Kutcher as a dramatic force to be reckoned with.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

Steve Jobs: Also former GQ's "Sexiest Man of the Year" recipient.

Steve Jobs: Also former GQ’s “Sexiest Man of the Year” recipient.

Photos Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net