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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Josh Pais

Crown Heights (2017)

Once again. Not. Much. Has. Changed.

Colin Warner (LaKeith Stanfield) is just another teenager living in Brooklyn. He’s an immigrant from Jamaica who is getting used to his surroundings, has a girlfriend, a job of stealing things, and oh yeah, plans on going to college. If not now, then at least sometime soon. That all changes, however, when the police arrest and charge him with murder. Colin has no clue who the victim was or who actually did it, but the police say they have witness-testimony of someone who looks like Colin, so it has to be him, right? Well, no, but still, Colin gets locked away for a little over two decades, without any sign of hope whatsoever. The only breath of fresh air he has is that his best friend, Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha), is fighting for his innocence on the outside and doing all that he can to get a retrial and to prove that once and for all, Colin did not murder someone.

A conjugal, or dream? Who cares, right?

If it weren’t for the true story behind it, Crown Heights would have been another conventional, run-of-the-mill biopic about injustice and racism in America. Even if it wasn’t based-off of a true story, it would still hold an amount of truth and harsh honesty that with the current prison-system we have in America, makes it all the more of a bitter pill to swallow. But as it is, on its own, true story-aspect or not, it’s still a conventional, run-of-the-mill biopic about injustice and racism in America.

In a way, you want to give it a passing-grade because it’s a story that can be told one too many times, but you also don’t want to get past the fact that it really doesn’t bring much of anything new to the table that the Hurricane didn’t already do, almost 20 years ago. If anything, Crown Heights proves that the human spirit is the most powerful force of all and the fight for justice, should never wane, no matter how many years go by, no matter how much money is lost, and how much hope is lost in the wind. It’s a little schmaltzy and most definitely cheesy, but hey, it’s true.

Oh, and yeah, it’s a true story.

Eagles best corner-back. Just saying.

Writer/director Matt Ruskin does try, time and time again to really let this material jump off the screen, but it doesn’t ever happen. There are times when it flirts with true tension (like whenever it’s in the courtroom), but it never becomes more than just a sad story of an investigation gone wrong and a life possibly lost to an already corrupt justice system. As it is, it probably would have worked much better as a documentary, where we would have been able to get all of the information thrown at us, with such quickness and velocity, that it didn’t matter if we already knew how it ended. Documentaries allow for a human-face to be shown and it’s why true-crime documentaries are currently the bee’s knees today – they can be quick, fun, sad, exciting, and most of all, suspenseful.

Crown Heights never comes close to that and it’s a shame. Even LaKeith Stanfield, who is slowly becoming a leading-presence to keep an eye on, seems wasted on a role that keeps him playing one-note, the whole way through. He’s either sad, wistful, or crying and it can get to be a bit draining. Due to him being in jail, too, Stanfield doesn’t really get to do all that much with those around him, except for the scenes he has with Asomugha or Natalie Paul’s Antoinette. Everyone here tries, but like I said, if the material just isn’t there, there’s only so much they can do.

Consensus: Crown Heights is an unfortunate story, trapped in an unfortunately dull and lifeless movie that, without a great deal of truth behind it, would have been another cable-TV movie-of-the-week.

5 / 10

Too many faces like him, going through the same crap as him.

Photos Courtesy of: Amazon Studios and IFC Films

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Year of the Dog (2007)

Save the animals. Don’t save yourself.

Peggy (Molly Shannon) seems to have a pretty normal and relatively safe life going for her. She’s surrounded by friends and family, as well as her beloved beagle that she cares for each and every chance she gets. She’s not married and doesn’t have any kids of her own, so basically, it’s her one and only responsibility. But after the beagle dies, Peggy soon begins to look for all sorts of ways to fill the void in her life. This leads her to getting involved with people she doesn’t quite care for, watching over her friends’ kids, and also doing other monotonous tasks that only a person in the sort of funk she’s in, would ever be bothered with. But then, Peggy gets the grand idea: “Save” all of the dogs in the world. Meaning, it’s time that she doesn’t just adopt one dog, or hell, even two, but maybe like, I don’t know, 15 at a time. Why, though? Is it grief? Or is just because Peggy literally wants to save every dog in the world and believes that she can, slowly by surely, dog-by-dog?

That’s how it all starts: With just one dog.

One of the great things about Mike White and his writing is that no matter how zany, or silly, or downright wacky his characters and their stories can get, he always has a certain love and respect that never seems to go away. In the case of the Year of the Dog, with Peggy, we see a generally goofy, sad, lonely little woman who seems like she could easily just be the punchline to every joke. And, for awhile at least, that’s what she is; Year of the Dog is the kind of movie that likes to poke fun at its main protagonist, while also realizing that there are people out there in the real world just like her and rather than making fun, maybe we should just accept them.

While, of course, also making jokes at their expense.

But still, that’s why White’s writing is so good here – he knows how to develop this character in small, interesting and actual funny ways, without ever seeming like he’s trying too hard. The comedy can verge on being “cringe”, but in a way, White actually dials it back enough to where we get a sense for the languid pacing and it actually works. We begin to realize that the movie isn’t really as slow, as much as it’s just taking its time, allowing us to see certain aspects of Peggy’s life and those around her.

Hey, guys! Here’s Peter Sarsgaard playing a normal human being! Wow!

It also helps give us more time to pay close-attention to Molly Shannon’s great work as Peggy, once again showing us why she’s one of the more underrated SNL talents to ever come around. It’s odd because when she was on that show, Shannon was mostly known for being over-the-top and crazy, but in almost everything that she’s touched since, including this, the roles have mostly stayed down-played and silent. You can almost sense that she’s maybe trying to prove a point, but you can also tell that she’s just genuinely trying to give herself a challenge as an actress and show the whole world what she can do.

And as Peggy, she does a lot, without it ever seeming like it. It’s a very small, subtle performance, but there’s a lot to watch here, what with the character’s constant quirks and oddities, making her actually a very compelling presence on the screen. We don’t know what she’s going to do next, or to whom, and for that, she’s always watchable and constantly keeping this movie interesting, even when it seems like nothing is happening.

But that’s sort of the beauty about a Mike White film: Nothing seems as if it’s happening, but in a way, everything is.

Consensus: With a solid lead performance from Shannon, Year of the Dog gets by despite some odd quirks, but also remembers to keep its heart and humor.

7 / 10

I think everyone aspires to have this car, with all these same types of furry friends in it.

Photos Courtesy of: Plan B Entertainment

Going in Style (2017)

Get some life into ya.

Lifelong buddies Willie (Morgan Freeman), Joe (Michael Caine) and Albert (Alan Arkin) all decide that it’s finally time to take some time back and retire, once and for all. However, once they do that, they don’t know what sorts of annoyances await them. For one, the factory that they slaved away for all of those years, aren’t going to be giving them pensions. And if that wasn’t so bad, they’re so broke that they may not be able to keep their own roofs over their heads. It’s so bad that even a piece of pie at a diner is a constant cause for argument. But then, Joe gets the idea: Why not rob a bank? Better yet, why not rob the bank that is, get this, robbing him blind in the first place? It’s a crazy idea and one met with disdain from the two other guys, but as time goes on, they start to come around to the idea. Eventually, the three hatch out a plan for what to do, but considering that they’re three old dudes, it may be a lot harder than it seems.

Do they qualify for the license to carry? Let alone, see?

Going in Style is probably an unnecessary remake, but it’s also different from the 1979 version. While that movie was a mostly dramatic, melancholy look at aging, life, and death, with some comedy splashed in there for good measure, the remake is a lot more fun, humorous, and less about being too dramatic. In a way, it’s as director Zach Braff and the studios thought that having a movie in which a bunch of old dudes try to re-ignite sparks in their lives, only to realize that they haven’t got much time left on Earth, was all too serious and real, so therefore, they added a bunch of jokes about prostates, pie, Alzheimer’s, and oh yes, the Bachelor.

Did I mention that this is Zach Braff we’re talking about here? Sure, I Wish I Was Here was a problem, but surely the same guy who made the near-classic over a decade ago (in Garden State), doesn’t feel the need for these sorts of paycheck gigs, does he? Well, in a way, it sort of seems like it, but it’s not like the movie’s the most manipulative piece of money-making machine ever made.

If anything, it’s just enjoyable and pleasing enough to literally not offend a single person.

Is that we should expect from these actors, as well as Braff? Hopefully not.

But for now, it’s fine, because Going in Style proves that the age old formula of “old dudes getting to have some fun one more time”, still kind of works. The only difference here is that the tone is a lot lighter and playful than you’d expect, which makes all of the crazy plot contrivances, twists, and turns, seem fine. Are they unbelievable and absolutely ridiculous? Absolutely, but for the longest time, the movie doesn’t do much but go about its day, with a smile on its face, and a pleasant mood on its mind.

Ride or die, boys.

And for that, it’s fine. It doesn’t ask for the heavy questions, with the heavier answers, about life, death, love, or immortality, or any of that fun stuff, nor does it really ask you to fully get too invested in its heist at the center of the film; it’s all being used to just get by and allow us to have some fun with these characters, in this place in time.

And once again, that’s fine.

It helps that Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, no matter how old they get, still seem like total pros and can do practically no wrong. Sure, a lot of the stuff that they’re saying and yammering on about isn’t all that funny, but the three are so charming and lovely, does it really matter? Yes, it sort of does, but in this case, not really; it’s annoying to constantly see older actors get the short-shift in which they have to play these old dudes and that’s about it, but if that’s the way the world works, then so be it. It seems like Caine, Freeman, and Arkin themselves are so fine with it that it doesn’t really matter.

So long as they keep on doing what they’re doing, until the expected end of their careers, well then, no argument from me.

Keep doing what you’re doing, fellas.

Consensus: Pleasing and enjoyable enough, mostly by the talented trio of leads, Going in Style doesn’t set out to offend anyone, or change anyone’s life, and in this case, that’s all that is needed.

6 / 10

[Insert boner joke here]

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

I Saw the Light (2016)

If only Sr. had a chance to be ready for some football.

Hank Williams (Tom Hiddleston) was just another up-and-coming country singer from a troubled home in Alabama. However, through all of the pain and the hardship, the only way he got through it all was through song, which is why he decided to take his soul, his lyrics and most importantly, his voice out there on the road, for all sorts of people to love, praise and adore, even all of these years later. Backed by his supportive, but sometimes aggressive wife, Audrey (Elizabeth Olsen), Hank seemingly had it all; the fame, fortune, wife, and a nice house to-boot. Problem was, Hank had a pretty big problem with drinking and this often lead to erratic, wild behavior. For instance, he stopped showing up to shows that he was initially booked for, much to his fan’s dismay. And then, he started flingin’ around and looking at other dames that didn’t so happen to be his wife. Yes, it was all so self-destructive, but somehow, even at the end of a long day filled with booze, cigarettes, and women, he always finds a way to come back to his guitar and sing his heart out.

Sing it loud and sing it proud, Loki.

Sing it loud and sing it proud, Loki.

There’s only so much one can do with the musical biopic genre. That’s why, every so often, when we do get some rare exceptions and changes to the rule, they’re not only a breath of fresh air, but make it feel as if any musician’s life can be possibly covered in a film version. Many were skeptical of N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton movie, however, that turned out to be one of the more exciting flicks of the past year. Now, it’s time for Hank Williams to get his time in the spotlight and unfortunately, it’s more of the same.

But is that necessarily a bad thing?

In I Saw the Light director Marc Abraham goes for a darker route than we’re used to seeing with these kinds of movies. While we’re so used to getting a rise-and-fall story, where the highs are incredibly how, and the lows hit the bottom of the barrel, Abraham seems to really aim for the deep-end with this tale. And honestly, I think Williams’ story is more than deserving of it; you read his story, whether in a book, or on the internet, you can tell that Williams’ life wasn’t a very happy, nor pleasant one.

Sure, he did get a paid a whole slew of cash for creating some wonderfully catchy and soulful country tracks, and yes, everyone around him (who, let’s be fair, didn’t actually know him), wanted his talent and his life, but little did they know, that deep down inside, the man was hurting. That isn’t to say that he was perfect, which Abraham definitely embraces, but that also isn’t to say that his life was pretty unfortunate and watching the flick, it’s hard not to feel some ounce of sympathy for the guy.

Yeah, he cheats, he lies, he steals, he drinks too much, and he doesn’t always treat those around him in the besy ways imaginable, but how different is he from so many other people out there?

Regardless, yeah, I Saw the Light has taken a lot of flack for being a slow, sometimes boring movie – this is a point I won’t necessarily disagree with. However, I will also note that the slower, more meditative pace actually worked for me, as it brought me down to the same level and pace that Williams was living his life. Sure, the concerts and performances may have been chock full of fun, excitement and high times, but when the show was over, the lights were dimmed, and everyone went the hell home, what else was there for Williams to go back on home to? You can call him “selfish”, you can call him “a dick”, you can call him whatever you want, but there’s something compelling about Williams, his life off the road, and his home life that drove me to want to see more about him.

Then again, the movie also doesn’t really give us all that much to really work on and draw more conclusions about how terrible his upbringing was. There’s one key scene in which he shows up late to a concert, performs, and decides to spend a solid portion of it, going on and on about his family, his parents, and his childhood. It’s a sad scene, but it’s one that really brought home the idea of just how troubled this man was, hence why he was acting-out so much now that he was a fully grown-man. Issue with that scene is that we don’t really get much more insight into his life, or his childhood after that.

Keep the mic on you man.

Not every couple needs to have duets, Hank.

Basically, it’s just one scene, after another, of Hank Williams drinking, smoking, sexing, and acting like a brat, way too much.

Are these scenes all that interesting, or better yet, entertaining to sit by and watch? Not really, however, I will say that the movie gets a lot of mileage out of these scenes because Tom Hiddleston does a really great job portraying a broken-down, beaten-up soul in the form of Williams; someone who could charm the pants off of a sailor, yet, also make you hate him for doing so. Hiddleston gets a lot of the singing right, which helps add a certain level of legitimacy to the performance, but it’s also the things that he doesn’t sing or say, that really made me feel more for him and his character.

Why he couldn’t have been served with a far more attentive movie, really is a shame, because Hiddleston has got it in his bones to make a run for an Oscar.

There’s others in the cast who are pretty solid, too, like Cherry Jones, Bradley Whitford, and most of all, Elisabeth Olsen, as Hank’s former wife who not only wanted to manage his life, but be apart of his career as well. It’s actually interesting what the movie brings up about how Audrey couldn’t really sing, yet, she always insisted on lending her vocals on records and in performances – so much so that a lot of people heckled Hank about it. The movie seems like it wants to go down a more detailed path than just showing them arguing and fighting all of the time, but nope, it just leaves them at that.

Maybe there was more. But maybe, there’s more in another movie.

Consensus: With more attention placed on the sadder aspects of Williams’ life, I Saw the Light works as a more melodic musical biopic, yet, also doesn’t give its talented cast and crew enough material to really make wonders with.

5.5 / 10

If only he stuck around long enough for Monday Night Football.

If only he stuck around long enough for Monday Night Football.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Family Fang (2016)

Life’s a joke anyway. So yeah, make some stuff up while you’re at it.

Ever since they were just little kids, Buster and Annie Fang (Jason Bateman and Nicole Kidman) have always felt like they were a part of some big joke in life and never really their own person. Most of this was due to the fact that their parents were well-known con artists that would sometimes stage crazy, nearly dangerous scenes in real life, and more often than not, it was Buster and Annie who were usually huge parts of making sure that the elaborate scams went into play. Now, many years later, Buster and Annie are having a bit of trouble adjusting to their adult-lives, with their own careers; Buster is a writer who had one good book, one bad one, and can’t seem to make up his mind about what he wants to do with this next one, whereas with Annie, she’s a mediocre actress who, for the first time ever, just did a nude scene. And even though Annie and Buster have changed an awful lot, believe it or not, their parents are still the same as they used to be, thinking of new and exciting ways to screw with the people around them. However, when they both go missing, Buster and Annie don’t quite know what to make of it. Do they take it as serious and actually face the fact that they may be lost out there in the world? Or, do they take it as another one of their long-running gags that they’re using as a way to be “artistic”?

Yes, mom and dad, kids really do grow up fast.

Yes, mom and dad, kids really do grow up fast.

What’s interesting about the Family Fang is that even though you’d automatically assume that this is, yet again, another drab, depressing and pretentious piece of Sundance-filmmaking, surprisingly enough, it doesn’t turn out that way. This is probably due to the fact that behind the camera, is none other than Jason Bateman himself. Rather than drowning in the sorrow and misery that can sometimes seems all that’s inside of these characters, Bateman does decide to go for a lighter, sometimes funnier-route, where we’re laughing more at the fact of how weird this family-dynamic is, rather than laughing along with it.

Trust me, there’s a big distinction.

There’s a solid blend between the comedy and drama here that, while I thought worked in Bateman’s directorial debut, Bad Words, still works here, but on a much smaller and subdued scale. Bateman isn’t demanding our emotions, nor is he trying to ask for us to love him, the movie, or these characters – he’s just giving us a story that may be a bit odd, but still resonates because, at the end of the day, it’s really about family, love and finding your true self. Sure, it’s most definitely corny, but Bateman finds a way to get to these themes and messages without overplaying his hand too much to where it feels like cues a movie like this takes.

And then yeah, his performance as Buster is pretty solid, too. For once, it seems like Bateman himself has found that perfect balance between the both sides of his persona. While we’ve seen him try to be dark, dramatic and serious before, more often than not, it feels as if he may just be making a statement about it, or the movies themselves haven’t been that good to really keep up with what he was doing (the Gift is the very, very rare exception). Here, as Buster, Bateman finds just the right sweet spot to where we see this character as a very serious person, but by the same token, still someone who can make a wisecrack every so often, just as Jason Bateman characters tend to do.

Uh oh. Is Jason Bateman trying to "out-act" Nicole Kidman? Look out!

Uh oh. Is Jason Bateman trying to “out-act” Nicole Kidman? Look out!

But as good as Bateman is in the role, it was really nice to see Nicole Kidman get a good role to work with as Annie. While Kidman has been one of the best actresses working today, lately, it seems as if she hasn’t been given a role worthy of her immense talents; there’s been some brief, bright and shining moments of that old light that used to shine all of the time, no matter what project she took up, but unfortunately, not as many around to where I’ve gotten excited about seeing her name pop-up for something. However, as Annie, Kidman gets a chance to show off her more funnier-skills as an actress, as well as remind people that she can, yes, act dramatically.

She and Bateman do that both very well, which is why their dynamic as a brother and sister, works quite well.

If anything, too, it’s actually damn relatable. Given that the story itself may be a bit on the weird side, the fact that Bateman is able to make it appear like the Fangs are just like any other family out there in the world, is a true testament to the kind of director he could be, with more and more time behind the camera. We get a sense of who these characters are, what they’re all about, and while it may come-off as a bit unbelievable, the movie still makes an effort to allow us to see them for all that they are.

It sounds really tedious, I know, but certain attention to characters and their relationships to one another is, unfortunately, often times, too rare to find around these days. Bateman does that right and then some, allowing for his talented cast to work with the material as much as they are able and willing to. Even though he has maybe only 15 minutes in the whole film, Christopher Walken leaves a lasting impression as the Fang father, who may or may not be a total dick for what he made his kids do when they were younger. But because it’s Christopher Walken, you start to think of him less as a “good guy”, or “bad guy”, but more of just “a guy”, and that’s the true greatness of the Family Fang.

Wow. Did I really like it that much? Guess so.

Consensus: The Family Fang benefits from the fact that Jason Bateman is a capable enough director to balance out heart, humor and character detail, to where everything and everyone gets their time to shine in subtle, but effective ways.

8 / 10

Yeah. Hated it when my parents made me do this, too.

Yeah. Hated it when my parents made me do this, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

5 Flights Up (2015)

House hunting’s a pain. But hey, at least you’ve still got a ten-year-old dog by your side!

After being together for nearly 40 years and living in the same old, New York City apartment, Ruth (Diane Keaton) and Alex (Morgan Freeman) feel that it’s maybe time to start fresh and anew. And with the help of Ruth’s niece (Cynthia Nixon), they’ll definitely try to get the best deal possible, however, things don’t seem to be working quite in their favor right now. For one, their ten-year-old dog, Dorothy, has to be sent to the vet for a very expensive surgery that may, or may not, save the dog’s life. Then, if that wasn’t bad enough, there’s now a supposed bomb scare going all around New York City that’s causing all sorts of traffic and keeping more and more people away from Alex and Ruth’s apartment. And now that they are both getting older, Alex and Ruth also have to come to terms with the kinds of people they are, whether it be when they’re together, or their own separate entity; something that may not be too easy for mild-tempered Alex to do.

Glad you're all happy and whatnot, Ruth and Alex, because I know someone who isn't having the time of her life......

Glad you’re all happy and whatnot, Ruth and Alex, because I know someone who isn’t having the time of her life……

There’s something to be said for a movie that stars two of the most engaging, lovely presences ever to grace the big screen, give them characters that we’re supposed to see as wholly sympathetic, and have them be anything but. Surely director Richard Loncraine had different intentions in mind when he was creating 5 Flights Up (originally titled Alex & Ruth, for obvious reasons); a movie where, basically, we spend nearly an-hour-and-a-half watching Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton walk around NYC, going house-hunting. While this doesn’t sound like such a bad time considering that it’s Freeman and Keaton, two seasoned pros who it’s great to see sharing the screen for what I think is the first time, it’s actually a pretty miserable experience, if only because the characters are so grating.

Don’t get me wrong, both Freeman and Keaton are good as Alex and Ruth, respectively. Together, they share a nice chemistry that makes it seem like they’ve been working together for so many years, and that this was only a little practice round for shits and gigs. But separate, they’re both still good, even despite the writing for their characters. As usual, Keaton is warm and bubbly, whereas Freeman spouts wisdom in a class-A fashion that makes you believe he’s been through it all. Which is to say, yes, Keaton and Freeman are both playing their “types” up and not worrying about it, but once again, that’s all fine, because they’re good at what they do and they don’t need to really change it up.

But it all comes down to these characters, man.

See, with Ruth and Alex, though they seem like harmless elderly folk, the movie eventually starts to unravel them as sort of mean-spirited, cranky codgers that don’t like the direction that their neighborhood has been going, and rather than just accepting the fact for what it is, they can’t help but let everybody know that they’re pissed-off about it. This is more so in the case of Alex, as he’s honestly just a mean, sometimes detestable character who gets irritated at practically anything or anybody he stumbles upon in life; people who are simply trying to have a conversation with him, he can’t help but be rude to and shoo them off as if they were actually asking Morgan Freeman for an autograph. While Ruth may not be as irritatingly angry as Alex, the fact that she still sticks up for him, even when he’s being a total and complete ass, still makes me think that she’s not only apart of the problem, she may actually be the problem.

Maybe I’m thinking a bit too hard about these characters and focusing less and less on the mechanics of the plot, but when something is as subdued and small as this, it’s kind of hard not to just talk about them. Although, if there is a reason as to why I didn’t mind this movie as much, was because it offered a sometimes insightful glimpse into the world of real estate – most importantly, the state in which it’s in in New York City. The way in how a house-for-sale is represented to possible customers, to the many deals happening behind closed doors between agents and buyers, writer Charlie Peters definitely seems like he knows a thing or two about buying an apartment, all that comes with it, and how it can be so challenging to find that one special place.

Yup, poor girl.

Yup, poor girl.

And honestly, with that said, I think the pro of this movie is really Cynthia Nixon, as the niece whose helping Ruth and Alex out. Nixon’s always charmed me whenever she shows up in something, and as this untitled character, she helps make what would otherwise be an annoying character, sort of fun, sort of enjoyable, and actually, pretty sweet. Not only is she laying it all on the line to make sure that Ruth and Alex have their own special forever home that they can cherish for their final years together, she’s also making sure that she does so without losing her hair or punching a hole through the wall. There’s something heartfelt about this character that she’s not really trying to find these two a house so she can make more money on the commission, or get in the good graces of fellow real estate agents, but so that she can actually help out two family members she loves.

Then again though, it all comes back to Ruth and Alex.

For some odd reason, while Ruth is sort of okay with the way the niece acts, Alex is so adamant towards her that every sentence he utters in her general direction, has the feeling actual hatred. It honestly seems to come from nowhere and makes Alex seem more like a miserable a-hole that, while probably doesn’t deserve to live on the streets per se, definitely doesn’t deserve all of the time and effort the niece is putting into finding him as well as his long-lasting girlfriend a home. And while the movie may not be all about them house-hunting and also has something to do with Ruth and Alex’s relationship from the early days, to over the years, it still didn’t register with me well enough, nor understand why somebody would be so mean to somebody who, simply, is just trying to help them.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the whole terrorist subplot. Seriously, it’s not worth it.

Consensus: Despite a great performance from Nixon and a neat, rather tense look into the housing market, 5 Flights Up is held down by the fact that it’s two central characters are quite unlikable, even despite the fact that they’re played by Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton.

5 / 10

Well, at least they love the dog. I think.

Well, at least they love the dog. I think.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Eventually, we all get old and die. Tell me, what else is new?

After New York theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) hits it big with his “version” of Death of a Salesman, the question on everybody’s mind is: What’s next? However, he’s the only one who doesn’t have that question anywhere near his mind at the moment, mainly because he’s got a lot of crap going on that he can’t escape from. His artist wife (Catherine Keener) just left to Berlin with his 4-year-old daughter; his box-office worker Hazel (Samantha Morton) is flirting up a storm with him; he just got hit in the head by a pipe and found out that it may be a deadly sign of things to come (meaning death); and he just received a grant to make his next big play inside of an area the size of a football stadium. Caden’s brain is so wracked and sad, however, that he does eventually come up with an idea that may take some by surprise, but makes total sense when you take his whole life into perspective: Caden plans on making the play about his whole life, including the most eventful moments, and all of the people he meets and greets. Self-indulgent? You bet your ass it is!

Going into this movie and knowing that Charlie Kaufman is not only just writing this movie, but directing it as well, should already get you in the right frame-of-mind, and make you expect the unexpected, even if the unexpected is totally, and utterly random and pretentious. But such is the case with Kaufman, who’s the type of writer whose style should not work at all, but somehow does, mainly because he’s had such talented directors like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry being able to pick up the pieces and frame them in a somewhat comprehensible way, where not only do the heavy-set ideas hit our brains at maximum-speed, but the story itself just works, regardless of if we get it or not. Those two are just obvious examples, as I’m sure they are many more directors out there who “get” enough of what Kaufman does with his writing, and what he’s trying to say. However, when it’s just him running the show, and no outside interference or inspiration, then things get very, very shaky as a result.

Aside from PSH, let's see which one ends up turning out to look like this once they got older.

Aside from PSH, let’s see which one ends up turning out to look like this once they got older.

Then again though, like I said before: It’s Charlie Kaufman, and you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. So that means that there’s no need to fear, this won’t be one of those reviews where I get on the movie’s case for being non-stop pretentious, self-indulgent and preachy, because I expect that from him. Instead, it’s going to be more of a review on how easy Kaufman’s writing seems to be. See, the movie is less about a guy making a play of his life, as much as it’s more about how life itself is a play, and we are all just characters within it, going about our emotions, our action, and our decisions in a way that were pretty much spoon-fed to us from birth; they’re just starting to show now. And with that idea in mind, I have to give Kaufman plenty of credit. Not only can the dude look at the human-existence, but the reason we have to live, with a sour-puss attitude and grin on his face, but he can also show us that life is pretty damn sad, no matter how times we try to avoid that sadness with the simple things in life.

Very depressing, I know, but there’s just something about Kaufman’s writing that makes it so wonderful and honest that you can’t help but be entranced, nor not be interested in hearing what he has to say. You just listen, watch and learn gracefully, as if you’re watching a fellow human-life happen right in front of your own, very eyes. Which, in a way, you pretty much, and that’s where I hit my problems with this movie and where it was trying to get at.

The problem with this movie isn’t that it’s depressing or it makes you look at your own life, as well as the other’s around you, with a dour-look, but how it just seems to only reach for that idea as a point to be made. We always know where Kaufman’s getting at with this material; he feels that life is a sad, miserable experience that we live through, but we live through it nonetheless, so why harp over the meaningless things like break-ups, divorces, and lost-loves, just live life! And yes, it is very sad and cynical in it’s own way, but Kaufman never seems to be bringing anything much else to it other than that. There are shiny and bright rays of hope and happiness to be found somewhere in the finer-lines of this story, but anytime they get a chance to pop-up and show themselves, Kaufman comes right back down with his swiping-hand of negativity, showing us that we shouldn’t be happy with what we see, we should cry, pout and kick cans all day because of it. Maybe he’s not that much of a dick about it, but he comes pretty close at times, and it just shows you why this is the type of writer that can do some major business when he has a helping-hand with the direction; but when it comes to his own shot at glory, and giving it his all, he sort of stutters into his way of balancing out the happy, as well as the sad times in life.

Surely there’s plenty of both elements in everybody’s life, but it sure as hell isn’t always sad, Charlie. Get a grip, man!

"Why yes, I am reading "Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Musings about Everything That Has to Do With It." Have you heard of it before?"

“Why yes, I am reading “Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Musings about Everything That Has to Do With It.” Have you heard of it before?”

And while it’s disappointing that things didn’t turn out better for Kaufman’s direction, it’s even more disappointing to see the awesome cast he was working with here, and how little most of them, minus the few exceptions, are given. One of those said few exceptions, Philip Seymour Hoffman as our main, mid-life crisis man for the next 2 hours: Caden Cotad. Hoffman is great at playing these sad-sack, miserable characters that don’t care much about the life they live, nor the little things that make it worth living, but he feels like he’s channeling the same emotions every once and a little while. He seems never crack a smile, no matter what the occasion may bring. However, he seems to be able to lure every women he meets into bed with him, make her the happiest gal alive, show her her own faults, make her sad, push her away, lose her, and then never see her again. That’s a non-stop cycle that continues to revolve around every so often, and it got as annoying to watch, as much as it did to see Hoffman put on the same saddened, depressed-look on his mug. It works when the humor within Kaufman’s script comes to show, but not when we’re supposed to care for this guy, as well as the fellow women he falls in love with.

Many of which, may I add, are played by extremely talented, and great actresses, who are given material that could have easily benefited them more, had Kaufman himself seemed to actually give a crap about them, or life. Catherine Keener does her usual, “I’m old and artsy, but I’m also bored and impulsive, therefore, I’m a bitch”-act, and does it well; Samantha Morton is a bit of a sweetie-pie as one of Cadence’s first loves, one who lives in a burning house, that constantly burns throughout the whole movie (whatever sort of metaphor that’s supposed to be, I still can’t wrack my brain around); Michelle Williams acts like a bit of a bitch as well, but shows some compassion for the way she feels towards Cadence and their relationship that isn’t so present with the other gals in this flick; and Emily Watson has moments of fun and spirit, but doesn’t get much more time to really allow for her character to breathe or shed any meaning as to why she’s even shown. The only one who really seems to be livening up this material is Hope Davis, as Caden’s therapist who shows up from time-to-time, does something weird or goofy, tells him to read her expendable, self-help books and leaves him on his way, hitting all of the right tones you need from an odd, Charlie Kaufman movie. Problem is, she isn’t in it enough and doesn’t get the chance to really let loose on material that could have easily used it from her, Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and even Dianne Wiest. Seriously, how do you misuse Dianne Wiest!!?!? She’s so precious!

Consensus: The sad points of our weak, pathetic lives that Kaufman obviously makes in Synecdoche, New York don’t make the movie too depressing to get-through, they just don’t add much flavor or energy to a flick that could have really benefited from some, had it had the director to really make it pop-off the screen, and into our minds and laps to chew on for a long, long time.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Public transportation would make anybody depressed.

Public transportation would make anybody depressed.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

That Awkward Moment (2014)

Moments are only awkward, if you make them be. There. I said it.

Three, twenty-something friends since college, decide that they’re going to keep on doing what they’ve been doing for awhile: Stay single, get ladies and party hard, with no commitments at all. Both Jason (Zac Efron) and Daniel (Miles Teller) have been keeping up with this life-style for quite some time, but due to his recent split from his wife, Mikey (Michael B. Jordan) joins in on the fun and learns a thing or two about being back in the game. And while everything starts off fine with these guys getting laid every which way from Saturday, eventually, feelings do come into the mix of things and surprise these guys more than they ever wanted to be surprised. For Jason, he starts up a relationship after a one-night-stand with Ellie (Imogen Poots); Daniel begins an intimate-relationship with one of his long-time girlfriends and “wing woman”, Chelsea (Mackenzie Davis); and as for poor Mikey, the guy gets back together with his wife, although it’s not fully clear whether or not they’re actually, full-on “back together”, or just “having fun”. For all three of these guys, though they definitely want to stay in the single game for a long time, they end up realizing that maybe it’s time to start settling-down, especially if you’ve already found that special someone to do it with.

We get it, Zac! You're sexy as hell!

We get it, Zac! You’re sexy as hell!

Though I am probably wrong, you don’t usually see a movie being totally and centrally targeted towards “the bros” out there. Sure, you see Apatow flicks where guys are always talking amongst themselves about dicks, farts, weed, boobs, pop-culture and all sorts of other things we associate with Apatow movies, but so rarely do we get movies where young, single and free-wheeling guys, are just being themselves. Reminds me of the good old days with movies like Swingers and…..well yeah, Swingers.

Like I said though, maybe it has been, or maybe it hasn’t been a long time since the last time we just had a movie that solely focused on a group of dudes, the booze they consume, the parties they venture out to and the ladies then end-up snagging by the end of the night, all while still maintaining their “bro code”. It reminds me of the times me and my buddies hang-out, where all we do is talk about whatever comes to our minds first, mainly girls; the same type of girls none of us will ever get. But hey, that’s why you have your guy friends around, right?

Anyway, my point is, since movies like this don’t come around so often (or maybe they do and I just don’t know), they have to work and seem somewhat believable, so it isn’t just a bunch of d-bags spouting-out their ways of picking up insanely-hot woman, and how they are practically rubbing it in your face for not being like them, and getting these insanely-hot women. But sadly, it can be just that. While I do think that these performances were charming enough to win these characters over with me, I could only handle it so many times when I saw a guy like Zac Efron pick up a lady, or two ladies, a night, and say how he craves and wants more. But then, all of a sudden, wants a relationship, and still can’t help but call-up the last-second “booty-call”. It’s fine and all because Zac Efron is a good-looking guy, with a jacked-up body who can easily get any woman in the world that he wanted, but I just don’t want to see a movie about that.

And NO, it has nothing to do with jealousy. There’s just a fine line to where it becomes watching an actor play a role of a guy who is a bit like him, to playing a role of a guy that is him. Got a bit annoying after awhile, and although I did like Efron here and felt like he handled himself well with the script’s calling for humor, too much of his male, macho-posturing could only go on for so long with me until I had to spend the next 12 hours at the gym, trying to rip my body-up just as good as his.

Needless to say, it didn’t work. Damn you, Zac.

As for Michael B. Jordan and Miles Teller, they fair a lot better by just being charming, without really trying to show-off. Both of their characters are thrown into odd positions where they get put into these relationships, but don’t actually want to brag about it or even tell anybody; so, they keep to themselves and seem like modest, young gentleman for doing so. Made them seem a lot cooler, nicer and maybe with a bit more set of morals than Efron’s character had, although he’s the one we’re supposed to cheering for to get the girl in the end. Personally, I was cheering on Jordan’s character, and it wasn’t because I like him in general, but because he was tapping somebody’s ass he’s very comfortable with and enjoying it: His own wife’s! Good for him, man!

How is "banging in the shower" considered "an awkward moment"? It's the way of life! Just ask the guys at the Golf Club!

How is “banging in the shower” considered “an awkward moment”? It’s the way of life! Just ask my high school football team-mates.

But it’s not like this whole movie is a total dude’s fest from beginning to end, because the lucky ladies that do get thrown into the mix, actually hold their own. Imogen Poots is good here as the sassy, but adorable love-interest of Efron’s character and while her accent can be god-awful at times, she still does a nice job at giving us a reason why we should believe that she’d fall for this guy’s charms, let alone actually stay with him, once she began to find out how much of a dick he could be. Same goes for Mackenzie Davis as Teller’s girlfriend who doesn’t have a really strong back-story going on between her and Teller’s character, but still has a cool-enough presence to where you don’t mind her being around and trying to be funny. Also, you have to commend an R-rated, rom-com that doesn’t show any nudity from the ladies, and in fact, only comes close to showing man-ass, or man-dong. That’s it, and I actually thought that was a smart decision. Showed that we didn’t need to rip these ladies’ clothes off to make them attractive; they just were.

Aside from all that nonsense, the movie itself is funny, but only due to the fact that the cast is so charming. When everybody’s clearly having fun being around one another, it’s a good time. Though the movie itself clearly likes to think it’s “more than just your traditional, average rom-com”, I can’t help but say that, “it isn’t”. There are some bits and pieces of insight, but none really go so far as “Man, relationships with girls are serious, man”, or, “Settling down is hard, man”; and even most of the plot-conflicts end up being resolved quite easily and obviously. Nothing ever really feels at-stake here and while you like these characters and their relationships with one another, if one was to cut all ties with the other, nothing would really make me sad, wishing for the day they re-connected. I would just hope that they found better people to be around, or possibly a new love in their life. Either way, I’d just hope they were happy. That’s strange, right? I don’t know. Don’t listen to me when I ramble.

Consensus: At times, That Awkward Moment can be entertaining, funny and charming, all due to the wonderful, young cast on-display, but that’s pretty much all there is to this plain material. Oh, but it does feature the best cameo of 2014, so far! Trust me, stay for the end credits. You’ll thank me when you see it.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

It's as if Hollywood graduated all of its hot, young, attractive and promising males-under-30 and let them act as if they were over-30. Cappuccinos, scarves and all!

It’s as if Hollywood graduated all of its hot, young, attractive and promising males-under-30 and let them act as if they were over-30. Cappuccinos, scarves and all!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Please Give (2010)

Leave the homeless be! They’re already fine living their simple, care-free lives.

Kate (Catherine Keener) and Alex (Oliver Platt) seem like a happy couple because not only do they own a mid-century antique furniture shop where they sell stuf for a much larger price than they originally get it at, but because they see nothing really wrong with their lives. Sure, they take stuff from families who just had somebody die, but they aren’t exploiting them and even give them some cash for their problems as well, so they can rest easy on their conscience, right? Well, for some reason, Kate still feels guilty about all of this and begins to start helping anybody that she can, especially her neighbors (Amanda Peet and Rebecca Hall) who aren’t really fond of her because of the fact that their 91-year-old grandmother (Ann Guilbert) lives in the house that she owns. Meaning basically, when she croaks, then they get the house back and are able to sell it for whatever they want and do whatever they want with it, which obviously rubs the granddaughters the wrong way, as you could expect.

I must admit, even though I’ve only seen two of her flicks so far (this one included), I don’t really see the whole appeal behind Nicole Holofcener. She’s a good writer and is more than capable of stacking together a very talented ensemble, but she seems like she has a little too many ideas crammed into one, less-than-2-hour movie, and doesn’t seem to go anywhere with them. Like I said, this is coming from a guy who has only seen 2 movies of hers so far so take with that what you will, but I feel as if I’ve seen two, realized that they both sort of share the same ideas and plot-points in ways, than I’ve practically seen all of them. While Enough Said looks like a bit of a change-of-pace for her, once again, I’ll expect to see somebody complaining about how much or how little money they have, and/or start talking about how they’re getting older and how they have no control over it.

"Hey, hey, hey! We're just a happy, old-time family from Manhattan. Love us, please.

“Hey, hey, hey! We’re just a happy, simple-minded family from Manhattan. Love us, please.”

But those aren’t bad things to talk about in movies, regardless of if it’s over-and-over again, because they’re problems actual, real-life people have. Which, in a strange way, made this movie a bit more interesting to watch because even though it gives us characters that aren’t all that pleasant to be around as they bitch and moan about their financial issues, it still gives us a reason to care or at least be interested by them, just by the way they’re written. There’s more than meets the eye with these characters, and even though most of them aren’t happy people, you can tell that they are capable of being happy, and making those around them happy as well. At times, it may seem like it’s hard for them to do, but you know they’ll be able to in the near-future, and I think that’s what really kept me going with this movie.

Holofcener could have really thrown it in my face and given me characters that I didn’t give a shit about, and made me watch them as they throw their misery and unpleasantness on others around them, but she doesn’t allow for that to happen. She allows them time to grow, experience life, and realize that there are bigger problems out there in the world which, believe it or not, are more important than a $200 pair of jeans. But Holofcener also does something else with these characters where she does have a sort of playfulness with them; one in which she isn’t making fun of the way they overreact to little happenings, but at the same time, she’s not really supporting it either. It’s strange, but somehow, some way, it works well in the movie’s favor. It allows plenty of room for character-development, some emotional moments, as well as others that are rich with dark-comedy. Take, for instance, the awkward birthday party that goes oddly astray once the liquor is brought out. It’s a funny scene, but also a very dark one for reasons I won’t give away, but will open your eyes to what the rest of this movie can and will do.

However, this is a very slight movie that I don’t think you need to see right away, but definitely should if you’re just hanging out and slumming around the house. Everything that happens to these characters by the end, can sort of be seen a mile away, but it never rings false. It just sort of happens, with enough humanity to seem believable, despite it being as obvious as humanly possible. But, that’s life, and sometimes, things just happen the way you expect them to happen. Maybe not in the way you had originally imagined, but still with the same result.

Like with most of Holofcener’s films, Catherine Keener obviously plays a big role in it, which isn’t such a terrible thing to have because Keener has been a solid actress for as long as she’s been working, and she’s able to turn any character into a likable, sympathetic person. Even though the main conflict that Keener’s character has is that she can’t stop “giving” to people who seem as if they are in need of something. For example, one of her main quirks is that she gives money away to homeless people that she sees on the street, except that sometimes, they aren’t even homeless. Wouldn’t be so bad either if all she did was give her money away to the homeless people that need it, but she won’t even give her daughter money that she oh so desires and has been desiring for quite some time. The fact that this character can’t stop helping and reaching-out to others is a problem that nobody should care about, nor ever want to see a whole movie surround itself around, but Keener makes it ring true and Holofcener never judges her character for the over-dramatic gal that she is. Sometimes the movie will throw a joke making fun of her ways, but never anything that could be deemed as “disrespectful” or even “mean”. They both keep Kate likable and sympathetic enough to where you sort of want her to wake up and change her ways, even if that means giving the homeless $5, instead of $20 . Hey, any change is a good change, especially for her!

Caught in the act of actually appearing in a good movie.

Caught in the act of actually appearing in a good movie.

Everybody else gets the same fair-treatment as Kate and Keener, even though it’s obvious that Holofcener’s heart truly lies with her. Oliver Platt is, as usual, fun and fluffy playing Kate’s husband who’s a bit more realistic with the way he lives and spends his money, however, also has a bit of problems too that are shown throughout the movie and make you wonder if he’s a nice guy, or not. Amanda Peet gets a meaty-enough role that’s worthy of her talents as Mary, the more stubborn granddaughter of the two and seems to really be enjoying herself with this material, while also being able to get past all of the high times, and give us some substance that a character like hers so desperately needed in order to be considered “tolerable”, and she pulls it off very well. It’s been awhile since I’ve really seen Peet do something that’s as dramatic as her work here, and it makes me wish she would take these types of roles more often.

Rebecca Hall plays her younger sister, Rebecca (original), who’s a lot more meek, quiet and sweeter, even though there’s an underlying sadness to her that you can’t help but make you feel as if you want to hug her, hold her, and just tell her that life will go on and she’ll be happy. Hall’s good in this role, even though it feels like she could have easily been the main character in this movie, and it probably would have been better had she been. However, that’s not what happened, so what the hell do I need to complain about?!?! Nada, that’s what!!

Consensus: Though the problems the characters in Please Give face may be a little over-dramatized, the emotion and heart is still there enough to make you feel for them, rather than belittle them for being so self-loathsome all of the time.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Believe it or not, G-Mom's the happiest one out of them all.

Believe it or not, G-Mom’s the happiest one out of them all.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Touchy Feely (2013)

If Rosemarie DeWitt wants to touch me, she can be my guest. Hell, she can be my wife!

Abby (Rosemarie DeWitt) is a woman that “feels” for a living. She gives massages to people, and they consider her one of the best and most worthwhile, mainly because she has that touch and feel for what it takes to give a good back-rub, or something like that. However, once Abby loses her touch, she finds herself in a bit of a funk that not only jeopardizes her job, but her relationship with her boyfriend (Scott McNairy). While on the other side of things, her brother, the up-tight, socially awkward dentist Paul (Josh Pais), seems to have gotten her “touch” and “feel”, therefore, giving him an ability to cure almost anybody’s problems they may have with their mouths. This boosts his self-confidence a bit, and may actually give him the chance to talk to his daughter (Ellen Page), and find out what she really wants to do with the rest of her life, rather than helping him out fixing cavities.

Writer/director Lynn Shelton has been something of an indie-darling, and practically, the go-to-gal for an indie-dramedy that’s not just funny, but heartfelt and insightful into human-relationships, and the way we all function. Humpday and Your Sister’s Sister are perfect examples of this, not just because those are her last two flicks before this, but because they show exactly the same type of balance of heart, humor, and humanity that I talk about. She knows how to make us laugh, while also having us cry by the end of the story, all because she gave us characters worth paying attention to and caring for. However, all of that goes right out the window here, as it seems like not only has Shelton gotten a bigger budget in her palms now, but that she’s also found a way to try and mesh her indie-style, with something that’s more mainstream and accessible to the wider audience.

She can use those hands on me anytime she wants. She just can't "talk" to me about it, while she's doing it.

She can use those hands on me anytime she wants. She just can’t “talk” to me about it, while she’s doing it.

Sadly, it doesn’t work.

And what doesn’t allow it to work is that this flick doesn’t have a single-beat that feels real, honest, or even believable in any way. It’s all quirky, all of the time, and done for a cheap-set of laughs that not only don’t amount to anything, but build characters that you can’t really reach and grab; mostly because they feel like one-dimensional characters. But I’m not saying they’re unlikable per se, it’s just that they don’t feature any type of realism to the way they act, speak, or go about their daily-life that makes you feel as if they are just like one of us, except more good-looking and talented. That’s how I felt with Shelton’s past two movies, and it’s what I expected to feel here, except, it didn’t happen. The story just went on, and on, and on, and on, and then, ended.

Which is a shame because you can tell that the cast seems to be trying. Rosemarie DeWitt is as charming and as cute as she’s ever been, and gives Abby a sense of down-to-earth honesty that makes her feel like a person, but the script takes over and makes her sort of a weirdo that feels all sorts of emotions a little too much. More than your average person should FEEL. And it was enjoyable to watch at times because DeWitt made it that way, but when you have a character that does such actions like tells her boyfriend to take off his shirt, only to walk away seconds later, bang him in her brother’s bathroom (and visibly too), and take ecstasy, only to get pissed-off when the boyfriend considers it “a random choice of actions”, you have to wonder just how unpredictable a character can be until they’re annoying. For me, I got annoyed of her pretty quick; and not just because I hate people that are like her character, but because she shows no rhyme or reason for the way she is. She knows that she can be unbearably odd at times, but never takes a second to think about why, or apologize to the people she loves the most, who are also sometimes the ones she hurts the most.

Near-tears at an indie music show? You bet your righteous ass they're hipsters!

Near-tears at an indie music show? You bet your righteous ass they’re hipsters!

Same kind of goes for the rest of the cast as well, even though they are all just as thinly-written as she is, just with less charisma. Scoot McNairy feels like the type of cool, hipster boyfriend that should be winning all of the ladies’ hearts with his good-looks, his sweet voice, and scruffy beard, but somehow comes off as a bit of a wimp, the type of dude you wouldn’t expect to see with Abby or last as long with her as he has. Granted, they do make a mention to how he was “the rebound” for her, but that doesn’t make up for the fact that his character doesn’t seem to really stand-up for himself when he needs to and tell his girlfriend how he feels, at any given time. Ellen Page plays Abby’s niece, who is also the same girl who has eyes for McNairy’s character and seems like she should have that whole “angst-ridden teen” thing down by now, but feels like she’s too much of a negative Nancy to really qualify as a teen, or a character worth watching either. She’s just here and you can tell that Shelton cared about her character and her story the least. Poor Juno, we all know she’s better than this.

Surprisingly though, the only one who walks away with this movie and makes it somewhat watchable, is the least-known name on the cast-list, even though he may be the most noticeable considering of how many pieces of work he’s shown up in all of these years. The name of the face is Josh Pais, who plays the weird, quiet, and oddly-placed brother of Abby, and does what he can with this role, neurotic twitches and all. You can tell that the heart of the movie lies with this dude, and you know that Pais is capable of making us laugh at this dude, then have us want to give him a hug when all is said and done too, however, you also know that this material doesn’t seem like the type of “breaking out” piece that he may have needed so late in his career. He’s a bit of a goofy and plays all of the weirdness of this guy very well, but it doesn’t amount to much, as his character never seems to learn anything that may have needed to be learned, in order to change the way he viewed life, his sister and what his daughter wants to do for her future. There’s a sign it may happen, but it never seems discovered and that’s a real shame. His character, the most beloved one out of them all here, also ends up having no real revelation and just goes about his daily-life as usual. Boring, and slightly depressing.

Consensus: While it certainly isn’t terrible and can be watched for some good performances from this talented-cast, Touchy Feely is probably Lynn Shelton’s weakest movie to-date, and shows her in a bit of a muddle, wondering what to say about each character, how to say it, and when it should all end for them, but ends up not really saying anything at all. Maybe that’s how life is? Actually, I don’t know!

5 / 10 = Rental!!

"So...uhm....awkward, right?"

“So…uhm….awkward, right?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Margot at the Wedding (2007)

Don’t ever invite the one person that may stop the marriage, to your actual wedding.

A mother named Margot (Nicole Kidman) and her son named Claude (Zane Pais) live together and are constantly angry at the things around them. They go to visit a relative (Jennifer Jason Leigh) over the weekend, for that person’s wedding but the problem is that the soon-to-be husband (Jack Black) of that husband, isn’t exactly Mr. Charming. But in Margot’s eyes: almost no one is.

Writer/director Noah Baumbach doesn’t seem like the right kind of guy for me. His films are filled with characters that are so damn unlikable, that you would much rather shoot them than be in the same family as them, and the dialogue has that natural feel to it, but also gets very weird and quirky for no reason at all. He always seems to base his movies in reality, but a type of reality that is pessimistic, miserable, and downright uneven. Maybe that’s how life is, but for me; it doesn’t seem so. That’s why Baumbach never seems to deliver the goods and this flick is no different.

The biggest problem I hit with this flick was that barely anybody here drew me in, nor did they even have me compelled by what they were going to do next with their lives. Quite frankly, I couldn’t give a shit about them. Sounds harsh but the film is just dedicated to each one of these characters either constantly fighting with one another, acting strange just for the sake of it, saying how they really feel at random and sometimes, unnecessary moments, and getting into arguments where it gets so heated, they’re about to kill each other the next second. I mean I know family can be a bitch at times, but never as bad as they are displayed here. Almost every single scene that goes by, nobody ever seems to enjoy each other’s company and it never changes. Whether or not Baumbach meant for us to share the same misery these characters were feeling, is totally beyond me.

Only sign of happiness throughout this whole hour and a half.

Only sign of happiness throughout this whole hour and a half.

I mean, I get it. Not everybody in the world we live in is going to be as sweet as pumpkin pie but this film takes that a little too far to where it’s just an annoyance. Watching people practically beat the ever, loving shit out of the other in a verbal, and sometimes physical war. What makes it even worse is that this film is one hell of a sloppy piece-of-work because Baumbach never seems to be able to make a cohesive story here, and resorts to just snipping together random, short shots of these characters either reacting with each other, or just standing there looking mad/angry/sad. It’s cool what Baumbach can handle his characters without ever having any real plot to work with, but he doesn’t succeed at that here and I think it’s mainly because he trusted too much in his writing to win everybody over. Qurkiness can only go so far, and it went a bit far for our man, Noah, here.

This was even more of a shame to see in this flick is because of the movie that came before this, The Squid and the Whale. It’s probably my favorite Baumbach flick and shows that the guy can handle quirkiness, but also throw in some real, honest emotions to-spare where we feel for the characters involved, no matter how self-centered or despicable they may be. It seems as if Baumbach tried to do some of that here, but it doesn’t have as much steam as that indie-gem had. The characters from that movie were pretty damn unlikeable, but at least they had some sort of sympathetic side to them, deep-down inside. You had to look far for it, but when you found it all out, it worked wonders for the flick and it seemed like Baumbach tried to do the same thing here, just without any likeable-traits whatsoever. I can’t lie, there were some parts of this film that had me interested and made me laugh, but they were also very few and far my dear. Very few and far.

Yeah, not buying it.

Yeah, not buying it.

Even though the characters and story-line sort of blow, the cast still owns and show exactly why they deserve roles like these, no matter how detestable they can be. Nicole Kidman is great as the confused, bitchy, and often terrible mother that can’t seem to get her head around whatever it is that she wants in life. Kidman has always been a powerhouse in every performance she’s given, but she’s allowed to play a more mean character than we usually see from her and I think she handles it well. Since every scene consists of her bitching everybody-out that’s around her at that time, it’s not very hard to see exactly why a gal like this would own at playing such a evil mother. Yes, she even bitches out her own son. Damn woman!

Jennifer Jason Leigh always has had a knack for coming off as very sunny, bright-eyed, and likable and her role as Pauline really worked for her in that aspect. The fact that she’s so happy with life and her sister is such a huge bitch, really seemed strange to me, but then again, I guess that’s what happens in life. Life can take you down different paths of life, and I guess that’s what this flick was trying to show us with these two sissies that just so happen to be blood-related, but yet have completely, different out-looks on life. Still don’t know how a hot momma like Leigh ended-up with Jack Black, but hey, that’s what movies are made for, right? Speaking of the one and the only, Jack Black, he’s actually very good as Malcolm, Pauline’s soon-to-be-husband and brings a lot of that comedic-timing to this movie (that is so rightfully needed) and also has some nice dramatic touches as well. Malcolm is probably the most realistic and chill character of the whole film, and it’s never fully explained why the hell Margot hated him so much to begin with. He was the only guy in this film that made me want to continue watching and actually give it more of a shot than it deserved. Never thought I’d say this about any movie, but Jack Black was the best part of it. God, now that I think about it: this movie really must have sucked.

Consensus: Noah Baumbach at least deserves some sort of credit for making a story for Margot at the Wedding, solely out of random snippets of character emotions and happenings, but that’s not much when you consider how loathsome and mean these characters can be, without any sense of love or kindness in their hearts.

3 / 10 = Indie Crapola!!

Staring into space, and judging the atmosphere. What a bitch.

Staring into space, and judging the atmosphere. What a bitch.

Arbitrage (2012)

Billionaires are never fully satisfied.

Robert Miller (Richard Gere), is a troubled hedge fund magnate who is forced to turn to an unlikely person (Nate Parker) for help after a crucial mistake involving a sale in his trading empire.

I’ve been hearing a whole lot of buzz about this movie for one thing: Richard Gere. Now for all of you DTMMR lovers out there (and there better plenty of them dammit!), you have to already know that even though Gere is a fellow Philadelphian, he is still one of my least favorite actors. That’s sort of why I wasn’t really looking forward to this one but you know what, it’s not so bad sometimes giving an actor that you hate a chance. Still not yet sold on you yet though, Harrison Ford.

This is the directorial debut of writer/director Nicholas Jarecki and the guy does a pretty solid job with his material. This isn’t your typical thriller where it’s constant car-chases and quick-cuts to allow there to be tension and excitement, it’s more about the pacing and how Jarecki takes his time with everything and doesn’t let it get too crazy for his own good. There’s just something about this whole story of lust, greed, and money that just seems so current in today’s world and how it plays out in this flick and it makes for a fun, but very grim watch. It doesn’t get as dark as you may think, but it at least flirts with that idea quite a few times and that’s the strength of Jarecki’s direction.

The problem that I think Jarecki runs into with this flick is that it is essentially two movies in one, with only one of them actually being good. The first movie is about how this billionaire gets himself all caught-up in a financial crisis that he seem to get out of, and the other movie is about the death of his mistress and how that effects everything and everyone around him. The latter story is the one I was most interested by as I found it really made the suspense and mystery flow within the film. Seeing all of these other reviews, I know I’m sort of alone in that boat but there was just something there that intrigued me and kept me watching.

Problem with that is, is that when Jarecki would go right into the whole financial crisis this guy was going through, I didn’t really seem to care. Not just because this guy is a dick but it’s something about people spouting out numbers and stocks that just doesn’t do it for me quite as much as an interrogation does. This makes the film a bit uneven in the way it transitions from one plot, to another and it just gets a bit annoying after awhile and sort of kills all of the tension and excitement that the one story had going for itself in the first-place. Maybe Jarecki got some directorial jitters where he felt the need to pack all of this stuff in just to make it exciting and entertaining, but ended up making something that was a bit too ambitious for his own good. Not saying it was a terrible decision on his part, but it definitely wasn’t the right one, either.

Now believe it or not, and I can’t even believe I’m saying this, but I think it’s Richard Gere himself who makes this film a bit more watchable than I expected. I don’t want to go out there and say that Gere gives the performance of his career here as Miller, because I don’t really think he does anything different other than be pretty mean to everyone around him, but he does give a very good performance that makes this reprehensible guy seem a bit more human than I expected at first. He’s not a total Gordan Gekko as he just gets money, gets the babes, and gets more greedy, he’s just another rich dude that has a lot of respect to his name, and doesn’t want to lose that because of a couple of dumb-ass decisions he’s made and tried to get away with. Gere is good in this role because he sort of humanizes Miller and gives him an older-edge that makes him feel more realistic. As for all of the Oscar talk, I don’t think so. Honestly, I’am willing to throw down my hatred for somebody if they give an all-out, perfect performance, but Gere didn’t really blow me away here and I think if he ends up getting nominated for anything, it will most likely be because he’s never been nominated before and the Academy feels a bit guilty. No offense to the poor guy, but it’s sort of the truth.

Gere is also backed-up by a great supporting cast that all give their two cents into the whole, final product. Susan Sarandon comes out of nowhere as his wife that seems like she has no clue what’s going on behind closed doors, but a couple of scenes by the end proves otherwise and shows you that this chick doesn’t take any shit because she know’s what’s up. It’s a shame that Sarandon doesn’t get more screen-time here, but she takes advantage of what she’s given and that’s all that mattered to me. Brit Marling was okay as his daughter, but could have been a bit stronger in the way she carried herself, especially when things started to go South for her and her daddy. I was also very surprised to see Tim Roth here as Det. Michael Bryer, because it’s been quite some time but he still shows that he’s got it. There’s a little sense that the guy is a bit of a dirty cop, but after awhile, you do realize that he’s just another detective trying to do his job and trying to get the bad-guys, for doing the bad things. The one performance that really stood-out above the rest for me was Nate Parker as I think he made his random character, somebody we can actually sympathize with and stand behind as he seems like the only one who actually has a conscience. The guy definitely holds his own against heavy-weights like Roth and Gere, but when it’s just him doing his own thing, he’s very, very good and shows that he can try and make us all forget about Red Tails. “Try” being the key-word.

Consensus: Arbitrage is essentially two movies all slapped into one which may prove to be a bit uneven for the whole flick, but still features some great performances from the cast and a nice sense of tension that lies underneath the whole time.

6.5/10=Rental!!