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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Kristen Stewart

Undertow (2004)

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After his wife tragically dies, John Munn (Dermot Mulroney) moves with his sons Chris (Jamie Bell) and Tim (Devon Alan) to rural Georgia in hopes of getting away from their pain and agony, and instead, focus a life on raising pigs. Both Chris and Tim themselves are dealing with this awful amount of grief in the only ways they know how; Chris constantly rebels and fights with his dad, whereas Tim, who looks up to Chris, wants him to stop being such a jerk and just get along. Then, life for the family changes a bit when Uncle Deel (Josh Lucas) returns from a long-stint in jail. While Deel seems like a charmer to have around, he’s still got a great deal of resentment towards John, for not just stealing the woman that he loved, but possibly being the favorite of the two sons. It’s because of this that Deel sees an easy way out tries to steal a stash of gold coins, but then, another tragedy happens, breaking the family apart even more and forcing both Chris and Tim to fend for themselves.

It’s hard to hate someone this handsome.

Undertow isn’t David Gordon Green’s worst, nor is it his best. It’s somewhere slap-dab in the middle of being just mediocre enough to be seen, but also, a little too dour and disappointing, considering all of his other work. It’s still small and gritty, like we know best from him, but it’s also got this darker, more sour-feeling that’s not always seen and because of that, it can be a little off-putting. Granted, nobody really expected to have a good time from a David Gordon Green film before the arrival of Pineapple Express, but still, it goes without saying that Undertow is a pretty morbid movie.

And usually, yes, that’s a good thing.

But not here.

One of the main issues with Undertow that no matter how hard he tries, Green can’t seem to get past, is that it never quite picks-up the momentum it wants. Going for this dirty, dark and gritty Southern-Gothic look and feel, Green really sinks himself deep into a tale about murder, family-issues, and the loss of life. But what does he do with any of that?

Rather than having anything smart to say about grief, or death, or anything of this nature, the story mostly relies on the two kids, on-the-run, trying their best to keep away from their cartoonishly evil Uncle. It’s supposed to be an exciting, almost adventurous piece of thriller, but really, it never goes anywhere we either don’t see coming, or really care about. It’s as if Green set-out to make something smarter and deeper, but really just get all wrapped-up into the beautiful scenery that he could kind of care less about really exploring certain stuff.

It also doesn’t help that, unfortunately, the performances aren’t all that good, either.

As I just mentioned before, Josh Lucas’ Deel is a pretty over-the-top and wild character that, from the very beginning, is so evil and dastardly, it’s almost no shock what he begins to do next. The movie does attempt to give him some development for being the way that he is, and why he’s so bitter, but it doesn’t quite register – it almost feels like Green trying to make up something for him being an evil bastard, rather than just having him be an evil bastard. Even Lucas himself tries, however, he can’t quite get past how thinly-written this script and this character is.

Yup. There’s that sour-puss look we all know and adore.

Same goes for Jamie Bell and especially Devon Alvan as the two youngsters here. Bell fares better-off because he’s actually a very good actor and is capable of being both intimidating, as well as vulnerable, at the same time. But Alvan just doesn’t quite have it. Like was the case with Lucas, the script doesn’t quite help them out, but Alvan’s delivery and performance is in a much goofier and sillier movie than is offered here and just feels absolutely out-of-place. You can almost feel Bell trying his damn best to carry each and every scene he has with him, which makes it just a bit harder to watch.

But not for the intended reasons, though.

All that said, there’s still something about Undertow that’s worth watching and it’s that Green has a knack for finding beauty in even the darkest of stories and yes, he finds it here. Even when it seems like the story, the characters, or hell, the conflict is ever going anywhere, Green keeps things moving as best as he can, making it, at the very least watchable. Is it more of a disappointment because he followed All the Real Girls with this? Most likely, but he has done worse, so maybe time has been sort of kind to this.

Sort of.

Consensus: Without much of a narrative-drive, Undertow can sometimes feel like a predictable slog, but is at least helped out by Green’s need and want for trying something new and invigorating, even if it never fully pays off like he wants it to.

5 / 10

Nothing like an annoying little brother to ruin the older brother’s adventure.

Photos Courtesy of: MGM

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Personal Shopper (2017)

Who ya gonna call? K-Stew? Really?

Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is a young twenty-something who’s still trying to find her place in the world, as well as stay healthy and above all else, wealthy. In Paris, she works as a personal shopper for a big-time celebrity, where she goes out and buys extravagant clothes, and often times, even getting the chance to try them on. Maureen loves it as it gives her a reason to escape from her real life, where she’s not only bored and a little frustrated, but still grieving. After all, her twin brother just recently died from the same genetic heart condition that she has, meaning that she may be joining him at any time, any place, for whatever reason. It’s definitely not the best thought to have in the back of her head while trying to navigate throughout the world, but it gets even worse when she starts to think that she’s seeing, hearing, and communicating with her dead brother. After all, she’s a medium and can apparently communicate with those in the afterlife, making her a reliable source, even if, at times, she herself doesn’t even know what’s real, what’s in her head, and what’s just a ghost playing tricks on her.

Aside from just shopping, K-Stew’s stylin’…..

Writer/director Olivier Assayas pulls off something very tricky here in that he gives us a genuinely scary and rather tense ghost story, that also doubles as a smart, sometimes meaningful look at the afterlife and life as a whole. Do the two combined gel perfectly? Not really, but it’s very interesting to watch because we know that he’s trying something neat here and is going to work with it for as long as he humanly can, until he just about gives up and has to call it a day, much like all of us.

Also, it’s way better than Clouds of Sils Maria a movie that, to this day, I’ll still never fully get and/or understand all of the praise for.

But what’s odd about that movie and Personal Shopper is that, along with Kristen Stewart, they both feature the same look, feel and style; it’s a very hushed movie that sort of moves to the beat of its drum, which means that it’s not following conventional, or formula, nor is it really setting out to tell its story in the most original manner, either. You almost get the sense that Assayas, while not making it up as he rolls along, is still thinking of certain plot-points that could work, and possibly couldn’t. It’s why certain subplots involving a possible murder and a creepy suspect, sort of, in a way, fall flat – there’s a bit too much going on, without all that much rhyme or reason behind it all.

That said, the strength of Personal Shopper is that it allows us, the audience, to think way beyond what is your typical ghost story in which a soul caught in the afterlife, screws around with the only loved one alive who still remembers and loves them. Early on, it appears that the bulk of Personal Shopper is going to be all about said ghost – what with an absolutely cheesy and awful-looking CGI ghost running around the screen – but after awhile, Assayas seems to only hint at it later on. The only real jumps, thrills, and chills, seem to come from us not knowing what’s really going on, or leaving certain stuff to our imagination.

Ridin’……

Take, for instance, a whole intense sequence involving, get this, texting.

And that’s it. For about ten minutes straight, it’s just Kristen Stewart having a conversation through text, with someone she doesn’t know, have an idea about, yet, can’t seem to stop talking to. It’s a pretty exciting sequence that’s shot, paced, and edited in such a way that it makes you feel like it’s going on forever, when in reality, it’s not anywhere near to taking up the balk of the movie. It’s a true sign that Assayas, even when he seems to be losing some sense of control, still knows ways to hone it all back in.

And also, the sequence itself, as well as the rest of the film, is much better off with the presence of Kristen Stewart who, with each and every role, seems to be getting better and better. Granted, she’s always been a solid actress, but I guess it takes Stewart to take small roles in indies like this, to not just remind people she can work well when the material’s there, but also make it seem like she’s not acting, either. Maureen, her character, is a very complex one that gets by on a lot without saying too much, which is why a good portion of her scenes, where she’s literally not talking, but instead, reacting, make it very compelling to watch.

Kristen Stewart, people. She’s the real deal. Even in movies that aren’t, but hey, still come sort of close.

Consensus: While not an altogether successful meld of horror and drama, Personal Shopper is still interesting and well-acted enough to get by on its slight originality.

7 / 10

And okay, yeah, still shoppin’.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Into the Wild (2007)

Run away. Far, far away. And piss off everyone you ever knew.

After graduating as a top student at Emory, Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) decides to, essentially, throw any idea of a career away. His very wealthy parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) cannot believe this, but they don’t have enough time to digest it all, what with Christopher literally being out on the road the next day, on his way to the Alaskan wilderness. Christopher doesn’t bring much with him, as he leaves mostly everything back in his house, with the exception of money, his backpack, and oh yeah, most importantly, his notebook. While on the road, Chris meets all sorts of wacky and wonderful characters, all of whom make some sort of a difference on Chris’s life, showing that he may truly have something to live for and above all else, may want to get back into society once he has completed his self-fulfilling mission. But, that may not happen for Chris, as he’s already risking life and death in the first place, while everyone back at home clamors wondering just when he’s going to come home, if ever again.

Be one with birds.

Into the Wild is probably the best film Sean Penn has, or ever will, make in his career. It’s the kind of movie that you don’t expect to work, especially not from an actor-turned-writer/director who has something of a shoddy, relatively fine filmography in the first place. There’s a certain bro-y attitude to Penn, the person, that makes him perfect for this material, but also not; to approach McCandless’ the right way, you sort of have to keep an objective view, never letting your own thoughts or opinions, as a storyteller, shine through.

And of course, it helps that the man himself wrote everything down while he was on this never ending trip of his, therefore, it appears as if we are literally watching him go from one adventure, to another. There’s no clear sign that Penn is trying to say how great it is that he got the chance to just let it all go and soak up the scenery, nor is there a clear sign in him saying that it was a terrible decision for the man to make in the first place, for all of those involved who weren’t him; in a way, Penn leaves it all up to us to decide, while he shows us both sides of the argument. Sure, it was great that he got to see the world and really couldn’t have given a crap about material things in life that waited for him back at home, but at the same time, he really did just get up and leave one day, without ever really telling anyone of where he was headed, when he’d be back, or what his reasons were.

In other words, he’s a bit of an a-hole.

But Into the Wild does work because it doesn’t always portray him as such, or if at all, during certain times. Mostly, McCandless remains something of a blank slate that has enough personality to matter to this story, but it’s really all about those that he meets on this wild and crazy adventure, mostly all of whom are exciting and charming to watch, bringing a little something extra to this journey. Vince Vaughn gets a chance to shed some dramatic-muscles as Wayne, a dude who gives Chris a job for a short time and may have something tricky up his sleeve; Catherine Keener is sweet as an older-gal who’s finding it hard to connect with her husband; Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt, despite playing types, also show some more heart and emotion to said types; Jena Malone plays the sister back at-home who knows and trusts her brother enough to take on this situation with a smile on her face; Kristen Stewart shows up late in the game as a possible love-interest for Chris and shows him that there truly is something beautiful to life; and Hal Hollbrook, in what has to be the most heartbreaking performance I’ve ever seen, plays an older fella who picks up Chris, instantly takes a liking to him, and surprisingly enough, sheds all for him, as well as us. It’s a rich, raw and surprisingly gritty performance from someone who, honestly, we didn’t think needed to prove anything more to us, but here he is, essentially, stealing the show.

Be one with the sky.

Which isn’t to say that all of these people steal the show from Hirsch, either. He’s quite good here, showing that there’s more to this character than just a wannabe-hippy who can’t deal, man. In a way, he’s a lot like most kids who are fresh out of school and desperately need something to do, somewhere to go, and some sort of option/goal in life to have them continue on to live and be happy. Could his decision have gone down better and more thought-out? Sure thing, but it still shows that there’s a reason for what he did, and not just because he wanted to.

Man.

Anyway, Penn deserves the most credit here, taking a very ambitious, long and sprawling tale of one dude discovering himself, as well as the world around him, and never making it seem like it’s wheels are spinning. It’s constantly moving, always touching on interesting characters and points, never harping on any of them too much, and overall, just making us feel closer to this guy and more invested in his journey. We know where he goes, we know how it ends up, and we know how his story ends, but for two-and-a-half hours, Penn allows for us to forget about this all and just revel in the scenery, the people, the vibes, and yeah, of course, the sweet, soulful tunes of Eddie Vedder, in what has to be one of the better soundtracks from a movie in the past decade.

Consensus: While it may not have been easy to take this tale and give it the deserving film treatment, Sean Penn is somehow able to do so with Into the Wild, showing a certain skill for storytelling and character detail that makes this journey all the more compelling and interesting, even if we know just how it all ends up.

9 / 10

And definitely be one with your impeding and foolish death.

Photos Courtesy of: The Mind Reels, Linkedin

Welcome to the Rileys (2010)

Need a better outlook on your life? Call up a hooker.

James Gandolfini and Melissa Leo play the titular Doug and Lois Riley, a married couple whose relationship has become lifeless and frozen due to both of their reactions to the death of their daughter Emily. An encounter with Mallory (Kristen Stewart), an underage stripper in a dingy local club, where Doug only wants to pay her to talk to him, eventually leads to a cautious friendship between the two and a realization of life for everybody.

There’s not much of a story to Welcome to the Rileys and it never really offers any surprises, but it’s not boring, or better yet, all that conventional. Because where the movie excels in, is the smaller, more low-key moments in this story that make it more than just your typical tale of a sad person, helping out another sad person, who also just so happens to be a hooker. It’s a simple, tried and true story we’ve seen done a hundred times before, but writer/director Jake Scott, the son of Ridley, does all that he can to make it so much more.

"Wanna come on down to the Bada Bing?"

“Wanna come on down to the Bada Bing?”

Still, it is a pretty simple tale and because of that, it’s hard to fall in love with it.

If there is anything to be found here to fall in love with, it’s each of the performances from the key three leads.

James Gandolfini is great here as Doug Riley, because while there’s something deep and a little dark about him, there’s also something very sweet, earnest, endearing and relatively compassionate about him that makes you believe that he could do something as oddball as this. Every time the guy smiles, you feel a certain drip of happiness pour out from the screen and because of that, you cannot help but just love him and enjoy his presence on-screen. There’s no doubt that Gandolfini was the king of playing mean, nasty and downright grotesque thugs, but he did also excel at giving us characters with hearts and it’s nice to get that reminder – one which, unfortunately, we never quite got the chance to see more of.

Gandolfini almost gets his own show taken away from him though, from Melissa Leo who gives off a very natural and realistic performance as the still-grief-ridden mother, Lois. Leo’s character starts off as a bit of a nutcase as she never comes out of the house because of what happened, but as time rolls on you start to see a more round human-being come out of her and the things that she does and as soon as her pretty face pops into the story big-time about half-way through, the story itself hits a big boost that made it more of a delight to watch. It’s also nice to get a movie where the couple at the center, despite all of the hardships that brought them to this point, still do love and trust one another with all their hearts. Leo and Gandolfini, as a married-couple, would have probably been a great movie on its own, but here, they get a chance to create something lovely and nice. It’s something you don’t usually see in movies and it’s great to realize that trust is still one of the biggest elements in a relationship in order to make it work.

Oh, K-Stew. Shut up and be happy!

Oh, K-Stew. Shut up and be happy!

And yes, Kristen Stewart is also good as Mallory. Granted, she does have the more clichéd role, as whom is, essentially, “hooker with a heart of gold”, but this also helps make her performance much better and impressive. There’s something sad about her character that makes you want to reach out to her, too, but there’s also some sort of mystery, too. The scenes between her and Gandolfini’s character could have easily been creepy and cringe-inducing, but the two have a solid chemistry that truly does seem like a loving, lasting relationship that isn’t played so one can get their kicks off, but so that they both can feel some meaning in their lives.

It’s all so sweet, simple and obvious, but that’s how life works and it’s why Welcome to the Rileys works.

Consensus: The story and message may be a bit of your usual, hokey pokey, after-school special stuff that we are used to seeing in these types of dramas, however, the strong performances from the trio of leads make Welcome to the Rileys one-step above the ordinary stuff we are used to seeing with human-dramas such as this one.

6.5 / 10

Who wants a K-Stew, when you could have a M-Leo?

Who wants a K-Stew, when you could have a M-Leo?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Runaways (2010)

Oh, that band who did “Cherry Bomb“?

Once upon a time, way back when in the early-to-mid 70’s, there was an all-girl punk rock band called The Runaways. Formed by Joan Jett (Kristen Stewart) and Cherrie Currie (Dakota Fanning), they were brash, young, and angry, and because of this, were influential to almost every punk band, as well as to all women within the music world. However, problems with management and the members themselves would, eventually, lead to their too-early demise, just as soon as others were starting to know and hear them.

The Runaways may be influential, but in all honesty, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who actually knows anything about them, beyond that one song that they are known for. It’s a shame, too, but it also begs the question: Do they deserve their own biopic? In all honesty, possibly not, but writer/director Floria Sigismondi does a nice enough job of making the case.

All films about the good old days of rock ‘n roll have the same type of thing going for it – drugs, sex, and hard, rockin’ music. There’s no problem with that because nine times out of ten, it’s usually a bunch of fun to watch and be a part of. And thankfully, that’s what happens here; there’s a certain rampant and crazy energy to the Runaways, the band, and to the movie as well, that carries on throughout its run-time, making it feel less and less like a conventional, by-the-numbers biopic, and more of a snapshot at the lives of some very young and rambunctious women.

She definitely doesn't give a damn about her bad reputation with hair like that.

She definitely doesn’t give a damn about her bad reputation with hair like that.

But the problem is that none of them are all that interesting.

Sure, it’s enjoyable to watch a whole bunch of happy people rock out and go crazy to some awesome tunes, but at the end of it all, you need a compelling story to really keep you going and that is something that this story just does not hold. We get all of the usual cliches where rockers get addicted to drugs, experiment a little bit with sex, and eventually become a bit too cocky for their own good. That usually comes with the product when you have something like this, but it comes off as just boring and plain.

It’s also hard to really care about anyone here, because well, we don’t get to know any of them. We all know who Joan Jett and Lita Ford are, but we want to know more about everybody else involved and it’s something we’re not totally given. Ford is barely even talked about here and most of the screen-time is dedicated to following Currie’s life and seeing what she’s going through when she’s on and off of the road. This would have all been fine and dandy if her story was at all interesting, but it just isn’t. All of the problem’s she was going through at home with her loving-sister and drunken daddy just felt tired, even if they may have been true. More time could have been dedicated to all of the other band-members and created a much more cohesive product, as a whole.

The one bit about Currie here that is interesting is Dakota Fanning and how she grows up in front of our very own eyes. Fanning is doing a lot of naughty kid stuff here like poppin’ pills, snorting coke, having sex, and jumpin’ around in tightly-skinned leather-clothing and she makes it seem believable because the girl has a bit of an edge to her. She’s got a lot of nastiness to her that could really make us see what it is about her personality that makes people believe she can be a leading-woman in all girl rock-band and it’s all because of Fanning that makes this character work.

Michael Shannon as fabulous as ever.

Michael Shannon as fabulous as ever.

Then, there’s Kristen Stewart who also does a pretty kick-ass job as her far more interesting real life character, Joan Jett. Obviously everybody knows Joan Jett and thinks she’s bad-ass as it is and that’s the same type of edge that Stewart gives her. She’s lean, mean, and doesn’t seem like she takes much crap from anyone, especially guys that think she’s just another piece of meat. I would have honestly liked to see a whole film on her, with Stewart in the lead-role, and it’s kind of a bummer that this may be the only type of documentation we get to see of her in a movie type of way.

Oh well, maybe in the far-future when rock music is extinct.

As good as both of these gals may be though, Michael Shannon is the one who really steals the show and makes his real life character, Kim Fowley, the most interesting and most entertaining aspect of the whole flick. Shannon is as flamboyant and energetic as he has ever been and it’s great to see him have such a fun time with a role where he just let’s loose on everyone around him, but there is also something that seems very grounded in reality about him that makes you see why he is one of the most successful and respected producers of all-time. The guy’s got his own agenda, sticks to it, and doesn’t let anybody get in his way. He’s the perfect inspiration for anyone, especially if you’re a music producer and it’s a reason why the guy is still working today. Actually, a whole film of him being played by Shannon would have been a hell of a lot more interesting than this whole film, but hey, can’t get ’em all.

Consensus: The Runaways does work with a lively atmosphere and winning performances from the cast, but stocky and sometimes unoriginal writing get in the way of what could have been a far better biopic.

5.5 / 10

Bad girls revolt.

Bad girls revolt.

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.com.au

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk (2016)

Destiny’s Child was a thing?

After serving in the Bravo Squad out there in Iraq, nineteen-year-old private Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn) returns home for what is, presumably, a victory tour. A video of him on the battlefield and aiding a fellow soldier (Vin Diesel) went viral and has now made him the poster boy for the war effort and because of that, the media wants to get every ounce of him that they can handle. And you know what? The Army isn’t so against whoring him, or his fellow soldiers, out for the greater good of society and have it appear that the actual war effort everyone speaks so highly of is actually, well, worth it after all. Even though Billy still keeps on getting flashbacks and headaches from his tour in Iraq, the Army still needs him, as well as the rest of the Bravo Squad to get on the field at halftime during the Thanksgiving football game and wave to the crowd. Meanwhile, Billy himself is literally about to break open, thinking about what he’s going to do next with his life, and whether or not he wants to stay put at home, with his dedicated and loyal sister (Kristen Stewart), or go back to the war and continue doing what he did before.

Quite hogging up Beyonce's spotlight, Billy!

Quite hogging up Beyonce’s spotlight, Billy!

Ang Lee is probably one of the best directors we have working today. He’s constantly challenging himself to take on different stories, as well as to work with new technology and advance the way we, the audience, watch his movies. He’s bounced from genre-to-genre so often that it’s no surprise some of his movies don’t quite work, but no matter what, they’re always interesting to watch, just because it’s Ang Lee and the guy can’t help but try his hardest with whatever he’s working with.

And then there’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.

Although a lot of people have been going on and on about the 120 fps frame-rate and 3D. Unfortunately, I did not get a chance to see the movie in that way, but what I can assure you is that I saw the movie as clear as humanly imaginable. Is it a gimmick? Possibly. But is it neat to watch? Yes, but it also doesn’t really add much to the movie, either. What it does add is a certain level of authenticity and have us see every crease, every pimple, every shave-mark in these characters’ faces. Why? In all honesty, not really sure. Ang Lee seems to have used it to challenge himself, once again, but sadly, it doesn’t add-up to much.

It just makes a dull movie, really pretty to look at and that’s about it.

And with Billy Lynn, Lee seems to be doing a whole lot, with very little. On one aspect, he’s playing around with comedy, drama, satire and thriller elements all in one movie, while also doing his best to make sense of the constantly changing-in-time narrative. What could have been a very simple and easy-to-track movie about a bunch of soldiers returning home after a hellish tour in Iraq, soon turns into a very complicated, unnecessary overstuffed movie about said soldiers, but also about politicians, football, the American Dream, PTSD, money, sex, family, and most importantly, violence.

In fact, if there is one aspect of the story that Lee seems to get right, it’s the actual violence itself. While we don’t get a whole lot of scenes of Billy on the battlefield and in Iraq, the very few times that we do, they’re are startling, intense, and most of all, disturbing. One sequence in particular starts off violent in a chaotic sense, then turns into a smaller, much more contained bit of violence that, surprisingly, is a lot scarier to watch than all of the other shooting and explosions. But of course, that’s literally one piece of this very large pie and when you put it all back together, they don’t quite fit together.

Who hasn't thought of Vin Diesel as their daddy?

Who hasn’t thought of Vin Diesel as their daddy?

One piece is a satire on how common, everyday citizens use the war and the soldiers themselves as propaganda to help continue and make sense of the war effort; another piece is how the soldiers themselves are so screwed-up that they don’t really know that they need the help to survive in everyday, normal life; there’s another piece about settling back into normal, everyday life, which is a lot harder for a person who has actually gone to a place where they were told to kill the enemy, by any means necessary; and then, there’s another piece about actually relating to others about the experience in the war and realizing that it was an absolutely terrible time in your life.

As you can tell, yeah, there’s a lot going on here.

Tack on the fact that the movie has a lot of characters here, all saying and doing something, but not really serving a purpose. Lee’s got a lot on his plate and because of that, a lot of stuff misses, and barely any of it hits; the constant jokes about Hollywood trying to make a movie about these guys’ real-life experience is an old joke that gets constantly played over, again and again. And with Lee, you get the sense that he truly does have something interesting to say here, but what is that? War is hell, but also so is back at-home? Or, is he trying to say that no one really understands the war until they’ve actually gone out on the battlefield and killed someone?

Once again, not really sure sure. What I do know is that Lee, as usual, keeps the material as entertaining and interesting as he possibly can, but after awhile, the story just doesn’t connect. We’ve seen far too many of these anti-war flicks by now, that without a very effective stance, none of it really matters. Shaping Billy Lynn’s actual PTSD during a Destiny’s Child halftime is one of the more impressive moments of the film, let alone, Ang Lee’s career, but it comes literally in the middle of a movie that needed far more energy and excitement to really keep itself compelling.

If there’s anything to take away from Billy Lynn, however, it’s that Lee knows how to assemble a pretty crazy and eclectic cast, all of whom do fine, but like I said, aren’t working with the best of material.

Kristen Stewart is good as the kind-hearted and supportive sister-figure who, honestly, isn’t the film as much as she should be; Chris Tucker tries to have some fun as the Hollywood agent, but doesn’t really have anything actually funny to do; Garrett Hedlund plays the leader of the Bravo and seems like he had more fun in Pan; Vin Diesel is an odd fit as Billy’s Lieutenant, who may or may not be a father-figure; Steve Martin shows up randomly as Norm Ogelsby, a very rich Texan who owns the professional football team and does what he can with an in-and-out Southern accent; and newcomer Joe Alywn does a very good job as our title character, showing a great deal of heart, warmth and insecurity as a young kid, unfortunately, forced to grow up, real quick.

Consensus: With so much going on, Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk feels like a jumble that Ang Lee, try as he might, has a bit of a hard time navigating through and making sense of, even if certain aspects of the whole do deliver.

6 / 10

It's okay, kid. We'll take care of ya.

It’s okay, kid. We’ll take care of ya.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Creative Planet Network

Certain Women (2016)

Lady problems.

Three strong-willed women (Kristen Stewart, Laura Dern, Michelle Williams) strive to forge their own paths amidst the wide-open plains of the American Northwest. In one story, a lawyer (Laura Dern) finds herself dealing with office sexism, while also trying to ensure that a client of hers (Jared Harris), doesn’t get the bum-end of a deal from the trucking-company he used to be apart of. In another, a mother (Michelle Williams) wants to have her dream house so that she, her husband (James LeGros) and her daughter (Sarah Rodier) can live together in perfect peace and harmony, however, actually finding that house puts her at-odds with said husband and daughter. And lastly, there’s a young law student (Kristen Stewart) who is forced to teach a class out somewhere so far from where she lives, that she eventually forms something of a friendship with a lonely ranch-hand (Lily Gladstone), who may think that they are something more than what they appear to be.

Staring.

Staring.

In the past few years, writer/director Kelly Reichardt truly has grown into the kind of writer and director of indies that most indie film-makers want to be, yet, strive very far away from. She’s the kind of talent who seems to get better with each and everyone of her movies, doesn’t seem to tell the same story twice, get bigger and bigger stars into her movies, and most of all, keep her indie-cred safe and sound. It’s something that she’s been keeping up with for quite some time and it’s why she’s one of the more interesting voices in the film world today, not just indies in particular.

And that’s why a part of me is so disappointed with Certain Women.

See, when you have a movie that is, essentially, a few short, separate segments, rolled up into one movie, it’s hard to make sure that each one stays as compelling as the one to come before it. Reichardt has a knack for telling smart stories about small-town, rural people and expressing their emotions through long, drown-out pauses and moments of silence; the fact that hardly any of her movies have a “score”, just goes to show you just how much she depends on the real, ordinary life to be compelling enough. And with Certain Women, she gets a chance to tell not one, not two, but three stories about normal, everyday gals, living their lives and trying to get by in the world, even if, you know, they’re not all that interesting in the first place.

And that’s all it comes down to.

Reichardt does try to make these stories interesting, but they don’t fully come together, or move in a manner that really keeps it worth watching. We get the sense that Reichardt is never judging her characters for their ways, their morals, or their decisions, which is admirable, but sometimes, it feels like she’s not even around to do much of anything. It’s good to have a director that just lets her cast and crew do what they want, with very little direction, but there were a good couple of occasions here where I didn’t know what was going on, where everything was going to go next, and better yet, why any of it matters. To just chalk it all up to being normal, everyday people’s lives, is the reason to care, doesn’t cut it, unfortunately – sometimes, you need a compelling narrative to keep things, at the very least watchable.

More staring.

More staring.

It’s a shame, too, because the cast does certainly try and, for the most part, come-off strong. Laura Dern’s performance as a lawyer is strong; Jared Harris is a little too silly to work in such a movie as understated and serious as this; James LeGros, as usual, is perfectly fine; Michelle Williams doesn’t really have anything to do; Kristen Stewart is quite great in her role as a frustrated and confused lawyer, offering up a snapshot into the life of someone who’s young, ambitious and professional, yet, still doesn’t have a clue of what she’s going to do with the rest of her years; and Lily Gladstone, without hardly uttering more than five minutes of dialogue, is still pretty great, giving us a look into someone’s repressed existence, even if there is a part of me that wonders if it’s a good performance because she wasn’t suited with much dialogue in the first place, or if she’s actually a good actress who can make this all work.

Either way, the cast does try and it shows that they just don’t have enough material to work with.

And sure, you could make the argument that I’m just being harsh on a movie that “doesn’t really have a plot”, and sure, I guess you’re right, but it’s much more than that. The movie has three plots, none of which are ever that compelling to sit by; Reichardt always seems like she’s ready for something to happen, but for some reason, it never comes around. She’s honestly a great film maker and I can’t wait to see what she’s got cooking up next, but unfortunately, the bag just wasn’t there this time.

Consensus: Even with a good cast, Certain Women can’t help but feel like an uninteresting, slow and aimless exercise from the usually dependable Kelly Reichardt.

6 / 10

And yup, still staring.

And yup, still staring.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Equals (2016)

So much feels.

In a futuristic dystopian/utopian society, all sickness and diseases (including cancer) have been eradicated. At the same time, however, so has human emotions, where everyone acts, sounds and interacts with one another just about the same. Because of that, nobody really knows one another and whenever they do start to feel anything resembling “emotions”, they’re made to get it fixed and forgotten about. Silas (Nicholas Hoult) is a member of this society who is now a victim of “feeling” something for a co-worker/confidante of his, Nia (Kristen Stewart). Silas doesn’t know how to channel these feelings without getting in any sort of trouble, which leads him to talk about it with fellow people who are going through the same issues as him. But little does Silas know, is that Nia is going through the same thing that he’s going through and it’s only a matter of time until the souls collide and they make something of their shared-feelings for one another. Although, when you’re stuck in a society that doesn’t take too kindly to people who think, feel, or love for themselves, it’s kind of hard to express one’s love in absolute fullness.

Who's she looking for?

Who’s she looking for?

While watching Equals, I couldn’t stop but think that it was a better adaptation of the Giver, than the actual adaptation of the Giver actually was. Of course, yes, I know that the two stories are different, but there’s a lot that they have in-common; the dystopian, futuristic society, the forbidden romance, the rules and regulations to keep people from acting out in a certain way that most humans should, a depressed tone, and yes, a powerful government that seems to strike fear in all of its citizens who dare not get out of line. One is clearly more adult than the other, but still, watching Equals, there was that constant feeling I had that I needed to either re-read the Giver, or watch the movie again, and see if my mind can be swayed.

Then again, I probably won’t do that.

All in all, Equals is fine enough because it presents us with a society that, yes, may not be all that believable, or make even much sense in the long-run, but is still compelling because of what it offers us to think about. For instance, how come in this society, one where all disease has been eradicated, is everyone made to be walking, talking robots, who don’t feel anything? Why are some of them committing suicide? Better yet, why are some of them cool with others committing suicide? How does anyone get pregnant in this society if no one is really supposed to feel anything, especially not love?

None of these questions are ever answered and I guess that’s why it’s easy to get a little frustrated, but for director Drake Doremus, what this society offers is just another chance to give us a forbidden romance that’s easy to feel something for, even if they exist in a world that doesn’t want, or accept them. In fact, Doremus’ past two flicks, Like Crazy and In Secret, have both been about Doremus’ obsession with forbidden love, or in ways, lust; while he doesn’t necessarily care about giving any sort of conclusion on these ideas of these stories, he also doesn’t stray away from portraying them in some of the drabbest ways imaginable.

But honestly, that’s why a part of Doremus works for me.

He takes his material as serious as can be, without hardly an ounce of humor to be found, but it surprisingly works in the long-run. In Equals, you get this claustrophobic feeling where, no matter how hard you try, your love will never be allowed and will always be frowned upon. Or, well, maybe. Honestly, it’s hard for me to fully make up my mind about what Doremus is trying to say here, but because his camera/attention never strays away from this one single idea of unwanted and secret love, it’s hard to turn away from.

Then again, there is the first half-hour or so that does a lot of world-setting, and yeah, it’s a bit of a bore. Mostly, this has to do with the fact that we never quite understand just how we got here and how things work out in this society. Also, there’s something mysterious about the jobs that these two characters have and while Doremus gives us some hints about what it is that they’re doing, it never really gets the full attention it should have probably gotten. Sure, call me nit-picky, call me what you will, but certain things like this bother me.

Who's he looking for?

Who’s he looking for?

Give me a futuristic society and don’t try to explain all that much about it to me?

Well, uh, no thanks.

Regardless, what works best about Equals is that its central love, between Nicholas Hoult and Kristen Stewart, surprisingly works. Because the two characters are so repressed, the brief moments of actual personality that the two share one another, make a huge impression on the rest of the movie and their relationship as a whole. Hoult’s Silas may seem like a bore, but there’s a little something more to him, just as there is to Stewart’s Nia. Together, the two have something sweet and heartfelt, even if the world they’re trapped in, doesn’t really accept them together. It’s your traditional love story, but a little sadder.

And really blue, too. Literally.

Consensus: A bit dark and repressed, Equals may test some viewer’s patience, but also works because of the attention paid to its central romance.

6.5 / 10

Oh, never mind. Good for those kids.

Oh, never mind. Good for those kids.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Café Society (2016)

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

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

Blake knows beauty.

Blake knows beauty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That comb-over, though.

That comb-over, though.

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Anesthesia (2016)

AnesthesiaposterLife sucks on so many fronts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And yeah, that’s about it.

You too, Glen!

You too, Glen!

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

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

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

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

5 / 10

Just be with Charlie Skinner and everything will be fine.

Just be with Charlie Skinner and everything will be fine.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

American Ultra (2015)

Weed kills. Not you, but others.

Mike Howell (Jesse Eisenberg) lives with his girlfriend, Phoebe (Kristen Stewart), where have a comfortable, lazy, and pot-filled life the rural burbs of West Virginia. However, what Mike doesn’t know is that he was once apart of a covert CIA initiative entitled “the Ultra Program” – something he has no memory of but is going to get a quick reminder of very soon. This all begins when a hot-shot CIA agent (Topher Grace) decides that he needs to get rid of Mike in a way of typing-up loose-ends, but the sympathetic CIA agent (Connie Britton) won’t let that happen as she sees the operation as her own child and it’s up to her to keep it safe and alive. Now, Mike and Phoebe are on the run from the CIA, as they run into all sorts of blood, guts, and violence; most of which Mike is surprisingly able to handle due to certain skills he had in the field, coming back to him. But no matter how many people Mike kills, he still worries for the love of his life, Phoebe, and now that she’s been captured, he’s worried that it may be time for him to call a day and let whatever’s going to happen to him, happen.

American Ultra tries to be so many things at once and is so willing to change between them on a dime, with reckless abandon. At one point, it’s a stoner-comedy about a middle-class dude just trying to get by; at another, it’s about this young, happily-in-love couple also trying to get by; and then, seemingly out of nowhere, it’s this gory action-thriller with CIA agents, conspiracies, and all sorts of illegal activities. While all of these elements sound as fun and as interesting can be, the movie still somehow turns out to be a bit of a slug – something that director Nima Nourizadeh tries so hard to avoid, but in all honesty, just can’t.

Never thought I'd say, but I'm so happy to see the dude who played Eric Foreman!

Never thought I’d say this, but I’m so happy to see the dude who played Eric Forman!

But, I’ll be damned if I wasn’t at least occasionally entertained by the effort put on by just about everyone involved.

Some of this can be chalked up to Nourizadeh for not standing down and allowing for his material to stick on the ground without hardly ever having anything to show for it, but a good portion of this can be given to the fact that Max Landis is the one who’s behind the pen and paper on this one. For anybody who knows Landis’ work, they’ll know that a few years ago, he wrote the smart and entertaining Chronicle; a movie that had every bit of animosity standing in its way, but somehow got by on being more than just a superhero movie with a neat gimmick. And watching American Ultra, I got a lot of the same feel from that movie, here; while they’re two different stories altogether, the idea of two young people being thrown into this insane, sometimes horrific situation is still relevant and works, all to a certain extent.

See, even though the movie wants to act as if it has this big, huge, beating heart at the center of all the mayhem and havoc, the movie is, in all honesty, more concerned with the carnage that ensues. There’s no problem with this because, for what it’s worth, all of the violence is as barbaric and as crazy as it needs to be and is, at least, fun to watch. It takes away from the rest of the movie being a bit of a bore and shows that Landis, while a bit sketchy on certain aspects of telling a compelling story, still has bright ideas to use when it comes to writing a tense, but fun action-sequence; something that means a lot more when you see it play out, than it actually sounds coming from a dork such as myself.

But to have a movie that is, altogether, both passionately romantic and horrifically violent, there needs to be a nice divider to between the two. There has to be some sort of break apart between the two story-elements, like in say something like True Romance that’s got a very heartfelt love story in between all of the craziness and gore that spews out from the sometimes convoluted story (although, to be fair, that story is at least a little easier to get the hang of than this). Here, the romance never feels earned and whenever it’s given attention, it more or less feels like it’s taking away from what could have been a lot more of a fun flick.

Wish more drug-dealers were as funny as John Leguizamo, but sadly, they're just boring.

Wish more drug-dealers were as funny as John Leguizamo, but sadly, they’re mostly just boring.

Still though, there’s something here to watch, which makes it at least a tiny bit better than most of what we’re used to get in the last weekends of August.

And even though the script turns out to be something of a mess, clearly something was working well enough that it attracted such a high-caliber cast as this. Having worked together before on Adventureland, Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart clearly share a nice bit of chemistry between one another and it translates well into the earlier portions of the movie, where it’s mostly all about them and all of the other CIA nonsense is pushed to the side. Then, all that nonsense comes into the main-frame and makes their relationship seem a bit more irrelevant to the central story, and instead, we’re more or less focused on how many people Eisenberg’s character can kill with a frying-pan.

The rest of the cast has got some fine names, too, but even they feel like they’re wasted on some material that still can’t make up its mind. Britton’s character is, as expected, sympathetic and nurturing, as if she just walked off of the set of Friday Night Lights and forgot to change her character; Walton Goggins plays a mentally-challenged killer by the name of Laughter, and it’s as ridiculous as it sounds; Bill Pullman shows up to do his thing; John Leguizamo plays, once again, a drug-dealer, even though in real life, it’s all he ever complains about playing; and even though a lot of people give him a bad rap in general, Topher Grace is pretty great here as the dick-headed CIA agent.

I’ve been reading a lot of the complaints about Grace here saying that he’s, “annoying” and “a dick”, but having seen the film, I can’t understand why this would be a problem to begin with. The whole character’s reason to exist is to be annoying, as well as a dick, because without him, there wouldn’t be much of a story to begin with. Without Grace gracing us with his character’s presence (like that?), we’d still be stuck where we were in the first-act; watching as these two love birds got stoned, talk about trees, start crying and generally, not make any sense.

So, yeah. Thanks, Topher Grace. I’m glad you were around.

Consensus: Dealing with so many plot-elements at once, American Ultra is a jumble, but it’s an interesting one that’s occasionally fun and entertaining to sit by, watch, and remind yourself that it is in fact, late-August and the movies don’t get much better than this.

5.5 / 10

Had this taken place in the early-90's, it would have been the perfect sequel to Adventureland, but sadly, it's just its own thing and nobody cares.

Had this taken place in the early-90’s, it would have been the perfect sequel to Adventureland, but sadly, it’s just its own thing and nobody cares.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Clouds of Sils Maria (2015)

Being rich, famous and having to remember just a few lines your whole life sucks, you know?

Aging actress Maria Enders (Juliette Binoche) is most known for her role in an adaptation of Wilhelm Melchior’s Maloja Snake. Many years have past, however, and Maria is already starting to feel insecure and irrelevant in today’s day and age where people are made up to celebrities for simply just doing “stuff”; they don’t have to actually have any sort of talent. Maria doesn’t like this side to movie-making that’s been plaguing society for the past couple decades or so, but she doesn’t hide away from it, either. That’s why when she hears news that Maria’s career-making role is now going to be played by young, brash and fairly controversial American actress Jo-Ann Ellis (Chloe Grace Moretz), she’s none too happy about it, but yet, still accepts the offer, if mostly for the money. While Maria may not have her old role, she still has a new one and starts to prep for it with her loyal assistant Valentine (Kristen Stewart); who seems to admire a lot about Maria, but also realize what’s come of today’s movies and accepted them for what they are.

I’ve sat on this review for awhile. It’s not because I didn’t think my opinions on it were so popular that they had to be thrown out there for everybody else to read while it was being praised beyond all belief; it’s mostly due to the fact that I needed some time for myself to rack my brain about how I actually felt about it. By the way everybody’s been going on and on about it, surely there was supposed to be something here that I wasn’t supposed to just like, but love, praise and shout about to the high heavens.

Past.

Past.

However, after watching Clouds of Sils Maria, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just can’t do that no matter how much I’d like to think otherwise.

A part of me, however, does like to praise this movie for giving a no-bullshit, low-key take on current day Hollywood and film-making. Olivier Assayas is a smart writer, as well as director, who clearly seems to be getting to a point about how far movies have fallen from being about the art or even the craft, and much more about making money, getting notoriety, and making sure that a public persona is made out to be all good, clean and kind, so that no skepticism comes around. In a way, Assayas takes a very cynical look at this idea and while he could have just attacked Hollywood and left it at that, he takes it a slight step forward in criticizing the whole grand spectrum of film. From the directors, to the writers, to the actors, to the assistants, and sure as hell to the PR departments, too, everybody gets a scathing mention fro Assayas and it’s interesting to see what he has to say about them.

But then again, when you take into consideration the actual deliverance of these thoughts and ideas, the movie does’t fully work. The reason being is because all of what Assayas does here, doesn’t really hit hard at all. What he’s saying is interesting and definitely deserves to be heard, but the way in how he actually frames them all isn’t – not to mention, none-too-subtle whatsoever.

For instance, there’s a brief sequence in which we see Maria check out what this Jo-Ann Ellis girl is all about and decides to type her name into Google and see what wonderful things pop-up. Needless to say, because Ellis is made out to be a mixture of Lindsay Lohan and, well, Kristen Stewart actually, we are treated to various footage of Ellis acting like an ass, hitting paparazzi with her high-heels, sleeping around, not making any sense in public interviews, and generally seeming like a terrible person to work with, let alone be around. Once again, it’s an interesting and almost genius way for Assayas to make us seem like we know everything we need to know about this character, but it goes on for so long without ever trying to show us anything new, that it feels like Assayas can’t let go; he’s so angry at whom this character represents, that he doesn’t know when to take a chill pill, let it all simmer down, and have her tell herself to us.

This isn’t to say that Moretz isn’t fine in this role, because she totally is. She nails down what it’s like to be young and curious about the world you’re thrown into, yet, at the same time, still have no idea how to handle it all, either. The only problem is that she’s treated to a character who feels so surface-material that the only semblance of sympathy we get from her is that she feels slightly bad for her boyfriend’s wife finding out about them two shacking up.

Wow. Such a lovely little lady she is.

And what happens to Moretz here, sadly, happens to both Binoche and Stewart as well. Although both are a lot better off because they not only take up the main-frame of this movie, but seem to generally be willing to go as far and as deep into these characters as humanly possible. Especially in the case with Binoche, who may be playing a little too close to who she really is in real life, but given that she’s able to make Maria seem like someone who generally cares about her career and the movie world itself, she gets a pass.

Regardless though, Binoche is great in this role; like with Michael Keaton’s portrayal of (basically) himself in Birdman, we get to see an actor who seems in on the joke of what this movie is trying to pass-off, yet, still give a heartfelt, complex into the mind of somebody who is trying so hard to stay relevant in current day media, but also doesn’t want to stoop too low, either. Maria wants people to respect and adore her like they once did some years ago, but also realizes that in order for people to recognize her again, she may have to take some high-paying gigs that’ll make her look like a fool, but will still also allow for her name to be passed-around. While Binoche herself may not have hit the deep-bottom like the character she is portraying, it’s still compelling to watch as she, sort of, imitates life through art.

Present.

Present.

Same goes for Stewart who, after all these years, finally seems happy to be settled-in a world of film where she doesn’t have to please dozens and dozens of screaming teenagers. And because she’s the first American actress to ever win the César Award, there’s already a lot of talk surrounding the work she does here, so there’s that. While the performance may not be as ground-breaking as I expected it to be, it still finds Stewart in an interesting role that shows her to be both cool, charming and a likable presence.

The only problem with this however, is that the performance is wasted on a barrage of scenes that not only push the limitations of one’s patience, but seem to be the same thing, told over and over again.

There are literally, a handful of scenes where both Maria and Valentine are looking over the script and working on it, but at the same time, also seeming like they’re constantly making subtle hints surrounding what they’re relationship together may or may not be. Are they just work-partners? Or friends? Or hell, lovers? The questions are up in the air throughout all of the times these two practice the script that Maria has to perform, but Assayas constantly seems to go back to these scenes, as if he had no other way of portraying this challenging relationship.

At one point, the movie jumps into to talk about how that some of the mainstream pieces of junk we see nowadays are ruining most of our minds and nothing but wastes of time. However, on the flipside of the coin, the movie boldly brings up the fact of how some of these mind-numingly silly and stupid action flicks can sometimes take chances with their stories and themes that smaller, more independent flicks do. This is an interesting complex that the movie creates, but it seems wasted on the fact that Assayas doesn’t know where to go with this idea, except just present it, and allow for his very talented actresses to take the cake home to the baker with it. For the most part, it’s an experiment that sometimes can work, and other times, can’t.

However, that’s just me. Take it or leave it.

Consensus: With the acting pedigree of Binoche, Stewart and Moretz, Clouds of Sils Maria gets away with its less-than-subtle messages about Hollywood, the current day movie-making process, and how some actors have to lose a bit of self-respect to be remembered at all.

6 / 10

Future.

Future.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Still Alice (2014)

Everybody’s a little forgetful. Especially my ex-girlfriend. I mean, it was my birthday for gosh sakes!

50-year-old Dr. Alice Howland (Julianne Moore) lives a pretty good life. She has a loving husband (Alec Baldwin), lives in a comfy home, teaches at Columbia, has three, grown-up kids that constantly stay in touch with her, and she seems to have it all figured out. However, that all changes one day when she begins to realize that she’s forgetting certain things. Not just any certain things, but things that she used to know or at least, should know. Though it’s only tiny pieces of forgotten knowledge, Alice still doesn’t take any chances and decides to go to the doctor to take a test. She gets the results a week later and finds out that she’s been diagnosed with a rare case early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She, as well as the rest of her family, is absolutely devastated. But they all soon realize that they have to take advantage of the time they have with their mother now, before it’s all too late and Alice has forgotten just about everything in her life.

It’s a shame that certain movies such as Still Alice, are generally regarded as “made-for-TV specials”, only because of their plot, or what it is that they decide to talk about. Usually, movies about people with certain dramatic, life-altering diseases, are thrown onto Lifetime to be seen by housewives from all over the globe, where they’ll go “ooh” and “ahh”, and think it is maybe the greatest piece of film they have ever seen. This assumption of mine may not be right, but for the most part, movies about diseases, usually get tossed to the TV-screens, so that the heavy-hitters can play where the big boys play, and that’s the cinema’s.

Look out, paparazzo, Alec Baldwin 'a comin'.

Look out, paparazzo, Alec Baldwin ‘a comin’.

But with Still Alice, there’s finally an exception to the rule that proves it doesn’t matter what disease-of-the-week your movie seems to be discussing or highlighting, if it is good, then people will see it, regardless of what form they decide to do so. In this case though, it’s on the big screen, with noticeable, big-hitter names like “Julianne Moore”, “Alec Baldwin”, “Kristen Stewart”, and yes, even “Kate Bosworth”, and still seems like it could be played on TV.

The main reason of that has less to do with the material and more of just the way it’s cheaply-shot by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, but regardless, it’s still a movie that discusses a real life, actual disease and does so in an efficient, thought-provoking way. It hardly ever gets over-dramatic and it doesn’t really even seem to paint its main character, Alice, as any kind of miracle woman, that so tragically gets hit with this disease. Sure, it’s very sad and I wouldn’t wish this disease upon anyone (or any disease, for the record), but Alice, as portrayed in this movie, isn’t a wonderful lady. She’s a nice one, but she’s like you or I – she makes mistakes, she acts selfish and, especially when finding out about this disease of hers, starts to take advantage of the situation to get whatever it is that she wants, from whomever she wants.

This may give the impression that Alice is a terrible woman who nobody would ever want to see a whole movie dedicated to, let alone one including her struggle with getting past a life-changing disease such as Alzheimer’s, but the movie doesn’t try to push that off on us. She’s a normal, everyday woman that you’d meet on the street, but the sad reality of her life is that she has this disease and it’s making her life, as well as those around her, a living hell.

So yeah, it’s pretty sad material that we’re working with here, but Westmoreland and Glatzer don’t ever seem to let this go too far to where it’s downright depressing and preachy. They both show the problems one faces with Alzheimer’s, how they can try to overcome it, and/or what others can do to help that person who is currently struggling. They take their sweet time with this character and her disease, and it never seems “Hollywood-ized”, nor does it ever seem like it’s pandering to anyone, at any time.

Especially not when Westmoreland and Glatzer begin to discuss the darker layers of this story and what the disease can do to those afflicted with it. For instance, there’s a surprising amount of detail that goes into Alice’s plans for her suicide, when she’s going to do it, how she’s going to do it, and just whether or not she’ll even remember. Had this been shown strictly on television first, I can assure you, we probably wouldn’t have seen this aspect developed, or better yet, even brought up in the first place. But considering that this is a feature film, Westmoreland and Glatzer are given a hell of a lot more free reign to dig deep into the problems one person may definitely have if they’re ever diagnosed with this same problem.

It’s not only eye-opening to a dense idiot such as myself, but also helps us appreciate Alice, the character here, a whole lot more.

Because, see, like I said before about Alice and the way she’s written in this movie, she’s not perfect, but she’s real and that’s what matters the most. Some of this has to do with the way Alice is developed, but most of it is because of Julianne Moore and the way she searches long and hard to get to the center of this woman, and how it’s hard to ever take your eyes off of her. However, don’t be fooled by the marketing of this movie, this isn’t a very showy performance from Moore; it’s just a near-perfect showing of what she does best, when given the right material to do so with: Act her rump off.

A couple of weeks ago, in my Maps to the Stars review, I discussed how Moore, to me at least, felt like the type of actress who is usually solid in anything she does, but she’s hardly surprising. She’s always good, but when was the last time you walked away from a movie going, “Wow. That Julianne Moore performance really took me out of my seat”? I can’t think of the last time either, so don’t feel ashamed, my little friend, but I will say that her performance in Still Alice may just be so, which is hugely surprising considering there’s hardly ever a moment here that makes it seem like she wants to grab a hold of the audience’s throats and remind everybody that she’s an actress dammit, and a great one at that. Instead, Moore down-plays just about everything that happens to Alice here and because her condition is one that works its way, slowly but surely, it’s extremely effective and reminds you of good acting, when it isn’t trying to tell you so.

Now, of course there’s been a lot of buzz going on surrounding Moore’s work here and how it might finally, after all of these years, gain her an Oscar, but all that aside, it’s still a very good performance. Moore’s ability to be subtle and show us the pain deep down inside of Alice, each and every time she gets confused about something she doesn’t know, is heart-breaking. She makes us understand that this condition is downright terrifying for the person who has it, and that they can literally forget where the bathroom is in their own home that they’ve had for over two decades. It’s incredibly sad to watch, but Moore gives a raw feel that’s not entirely begging for our attention, but more or less, daring you to take your eyes away from her, no matter what scene she’s in.

"Okay, mom. I swear I'll stop doing YA adaptations."

“Okay, mom. I swear I’ll stop doing YA adaptations.”

And though this is obviously Moore’s show from beginning to end, the rest of the cast is pretty good, too, even if some don’t get as much to do as others. Alec Baldwin, believe it or not, actually gets the chance to play a loving, adoring, and dedicated husband who, sadly, has been thrown into a situation he himself does not know if he can handle. In fact, I’d say one of the more interesting insights this movie delves into is how the person with the disease isn’t just the only one who’s hurt, but much rather, those who love and support that person as well. Sometimes, even worse because the others are at least conscious of what’s going on and realizing that they’re losing someone that they love; whereas, in some cases, the person with the disease understands what is happening to them, at least accepts it, moves on, and appreciates all that they have left on this planet.

With Alice’s family, it’s interesting to see who is actually able to handle this transformation in her life, and who exactly isn’t. A perfect example of this are the two sisters, played by Kate Bosworth and Kristen Stewart (who is pretty great in this movie and makes me want to see more of her, of course, but on a smaller-scale); the former’s character is a neat, classy and professional lawyer who is, for the most part, the up-tight one of the two, whereas the later’s character is more of the family wild child who does what she wants, when she wants to, regardless of how much influence her parents try to throw into her future. Oh, and even worse, she’s living in L.A. as a part-time actor. If that doesn’t get parents’ blood boiling, I don’t know what does.

Anyway, you’d think that because Bosworth’s character has already has such success with her life as is, that she’d be the one to step right up, know what to do with her mother, and exactly how to handle it in an efficient way. However, that’s the exact opposite of what happens here, as it’s more of Stewart’s somewhat-reckless character that takes the reigns as her mother’s most dedicated and understanding caretaker, all the more proving that it doesn’t matter who you think a person may, or may not be from the way they generally are, see how they are when they react in a moment of crisis and then you’ll know exactly who they are.

Then again though, that’s how it usually is with family. You never know what you’re going to get, but you can always depend on love being there.

Consensus: Without overdoing the melodrama, Still Alice (which is a terrible title, I must say) is an effective, thought-provoking piece about early onset Alzheimer’s disease that not only gives us one of Julianne Moore’s best performances, but also proves to be an insightful look into how family-dynamics change, especially once one member seems to have lost it all. Literally speaking, in this case.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Have been in your situation many times, honey. Don't feel bad.

Have been in your situation many times, honey. Don’t feel too bad.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Camp X-Ray (2014)

Come on, guys! Let’s just all get along!

Shy and silent Army private first class Amy Cole (Kristen Stewart) is sent to duty at Guantanamo Bay detention camp, where she has to do the everyday chores a soldier stationed there has to do – cleaning, washing, and making sure that most of the prisoners are doing what they are told to do. At first, this is pretty easy job for Cole, seeing as how she doesn’t really have to act brutal or mean to any of these prisoners, so long as they don’t give her a reason to do so, but once she runs into a prisoner by the name of Ali Amir (Peyman Moaadi), things do change for her. Because Amir has been cooped-up for so long, and for reasons never made known to him, he decides to take must of his anger and frustration out on Cole, constantly hassling her about books, his treatment, and just life in general. At first, it puts Cole into a position she doesn’t want to be in and finds her continuously declining any chance for a conversation between the two, but after awhile, she warms up to him and realizes that the two have a bit in common. Which, as a result, makes her wonder exactly what the hell she’s doing at a place like Camp X-Ray.

I think I’ve made it clear enough on this blog that I like a lot of movies that are simple and relatively-easy-to-follow, but that also pack a hard, emotional punch that goes deeper than just what’s presented on the surface. Some movies, I wish would take this route, rather than having to make everything so convoluted and jam-packed, whereas other movies, are so easy in nature, that I can’t help but feel like I’m watching a real life story play out in front of my own very eyes. Not only does it give me something to relate to a bit easier, but it also allows me to think of whatever’s happening on the screen, as something that could actually happen out there in the real world.

Basically me every time I was forced to go see another Twilight movie with my lady at the time.

Basically me every time I was forced to go see another Twilight movie with my lady at the time.

That said, sometimes there’s those movies that I wish weren’t so simple and at least kicked things up a notch or two. That’s my one problem with the terribly-titled Camp X-Ray – it doesn’t really try to be about anything else except for “prison guard and prisoner bond”, and it definitely should have. Not because there needs to be something more thought-provoking done with this premise, but because the premise has been so over-done and used before, that it seems like convention.

For example, when the Amir starts hassling Cole, it’s understandable that she’d be pissed-off right away and just want to do her job, without any problems getting in the way of that. And she does act like this, but then after awhile, we start to see her turn the other cheek, all because of, uhm, I don’t know. We’re supposed to believe that she’s not like the other soldiers at the detention center because she’s homesick, knows a lot about Harry Potter books, and doesn’t like it when dudes forcefully hook-up with her, so therefore, it would make total sense as to why she’d all of a sudden decide this prisoner isn’t such a bad guy and just start chatting it back up with him? Maybe there’s more to this character that makes her just a nice person in general, but we never really get to see that side to her, so therefore, it’s hard to fully believe in her and the prisoner’s friendship of sorts.

However, what does make this friendship work and seem somewhat believable, are the performances from both Kristen Stewart and Peyman Moaadi. What’s so interesting about these two, is that even though they are the two main characters in this film and are supposed to be something of friends, they are hardly ever in the same shot. Most of the scenes are shot in their own perspectives, meaning that we get a lot of glimpses of Moaadi’s face, with Stewart’s back towards us, and/or vice versa. Not only does this allow us to view these performances a little bit more than just you average, splice-and-edit convo-scene, but it even makes the movie seem all the more claustrophobic; which is especially effective, considering this movie is taking place at/around Guantanamo Bay.

But, like I was saying before, Stewart and Moaadi are very good in their roles, and help a lot of their long-winding conversations move on by, without ever seeming uninteresting or poorly-written (even if that’s what they are).

For Stewart, it’s nice to see her back into taking roles that not only challenge her as an actress, but show that she can be as likable as you or me. Sure, she still seems a bit awkward in certain scenes where she has to look and/or sound tough, but that’s sort of the point; she’s not the type of soldier who wants to be a hard-ass, but simply has to, in order to keep her job and make sure her fellow soldiers don’t get killed. So, when taking that idea into consideration, Stewart’s performance is all the more impressive, although there’s a part of me that wish the writing was better, because she could have done real wonders with the role, like she used to do way back when, before the dark days of Bella took over her.

Every rapper has at least had this same shot once as an album cover.

Every rapper has at least had this same shot once as an album cover.

But thankfully, it seems like she’s back on the right track and I can only hope it stays that way.

Anyway, starring across from her is Peyman Moaadi, who is also quite good in a role that, on paper, is actually quite annoying and over-bearing, but soon begins to be quite sympathetic and upsetting. Not because you can tell Mooadi truly is messed-up by being cooped-up in this prison for so long, but because he has no idea as to what the reasons even were in the beginning; then again, nor do we. We get an glimpse at the beginning of the movie that he had a slew of burner cell-phones, then kidnapped and taken into this prison, but that’s it. Nothing more. And honestly, it works in the character’s favor – we never know if he’s a prisoner trying to con his way out of the prison, or if he’s simply too weak to even try anymore, so is just trying to have the time go by. Whatever the reasons behind his actions may be, it’s definitely true that Mooadi is good in this role and makes perfect use of his time, giving us a look at an all too true reality.

But that’s another story, for another post, folks.

Consensus: Maybe too simple for the message it’s trying to convey, Camp X-Ray still benefits largely from two great performances by Peyman Moaadi and Kristen Stewart, who seems to be back in her old-form of taking challenging roles, no matter how much she gets paid.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Bella! I want an autograph! Now!!"

“Bella! I want an autograph! Now!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

On the Road (2012)

Boys will be boys. Especially, the ones that have tons of sex and never shower. Yeah, those ones, too.

In 1947, Sal Paradise (Sam Riley) is a young writer whose life is shaken and ultimately redefined by the arrival of Dean Moriarty (Garrett Hedlund), a free-spirited, fearless, fast-talking Westerner and his girl, Marylou (Kristen Stewart). They travel the world and meet-and-greet with numerous people, while also, exchanging in bodily-fluids along the way.

Having already gone through 4 years of high school and even dating a girl for over a year who actually read and loved it, I’m still surprised that I haven’t read Jack Kerouac’s landmark novel that defined a generation. From what I hear and see of other people who have actually read the book, it’s a life-changer and will definitely have you looking at everything around, in a slightly-different, if not more, rambunctiousness way. I don’t know if that makes me unqualified to watch a movie such as this, but after seeing it, I’ve come to realize that maybe it would have just been better to leave the book where it was in the first-place: on the top-shelf of some low-rent, book-store, for some young bohemian to pick-up and obsess over next.

Director Walter Salles definitely knows the type of material he’s adapting here, and by doing-so, has made this one, gorgeous treat from start-to-finish. Since the flick takes place over a couple of years, in many, many different parts of world, you definitely get a full feel of what the outside world looks, especially through the eyes of such youngsters as these. Salles knows how to make any scene beautiful and seem as if he read the book, had an idea for how he wanted it to look, and just went for it all, and in that aspect, he succeeds. If anything, this movie is a treat for the eyes, and sometimes, the ears because of the classic, jazz-tracks scattered throughout.

"Hey, we're just two, good-looking guys, looking for a good time. What's so wrong with that? I mean, other than the fact that we're really, REALLY close?"

“Hey, we’re just two, good-looking guys, looking for a good time. What’s so wrong with that? I mean, other than the fact that we’re really, REALLY close?”

However, that’s where the problem of this flick lies. It definitely has the same sounds, the rhythms, and the look of a movie that would be adapting it’s source material from Kerouac, but in the end, just doesn’t have the feeling. Maybe I’m a bit biased to be talking about the feeling of the novel vs. the feeling of the movie, since I have not read the novel, but knowing what it does to people, their minds, and how much of a game-changer it was, I think I have the right idea in my head to fully understand that this is not the flick that will be changing anybody’s minds, lives, or central-thoughts for the longest time. Hell, even after 2 weeks or so, you might just forget about it.

Actually, that’s a bit too harsh for this flick because although it does definitely have it’s bad, it definitely does still have it’s good, even if the bad does out-weigh the good. For instance, Salles’ direction takes a great-aim at the beautiful landscapes that surrounded these characters and the journey they went on, but when it comes to making a point about the world we used to live-in, and the way these characters get through: well, it drops the ball. You see, the movie starts-off very quick and fast-paced, then dials-down, then goes back-up, then dials-down, and so on, and so forth, until you feel like Salles is just toying around with your interest-meter and whenever he feels like he’s losing you, he’ll just throw a sex scene in there or two. Yes, back in those days, young and free people had loads and loads of sex, but this flick almost makes it seem like a safe haven for when people were just bored, and by “people”, I mean the characters in the movie, and the audience that sits-back and actually watches this.

In a way, you almost feel like Salles is just sort of going through the motions as a director, because even though he knows how to make a film pretty damn purrty, he doesn’t know where to start and end his story, on as high of a note as Kerouac apparently did. It’s not really boring, per se, as if it’s almost just a dull piece of filmmaking that never really lifts off the ground, unless it’s characters actually are, and even at that point, it still seems like a bit of a cop-out. Regardless of if you’re a fan of the material or not, you’re going to be a tad disappointed with the small-amount of emotions this movie makes you feel, if any at all. Once again, did not read the novel, but that’s what I heard it did to those who read it.

Without R-Pats, Bella or Rupert in her life anymore, K-Stew can finally do what she's always want to do: dance!

Without R-Pats, Bella or Rupert in her life anymore, K-Stew can finally do what she’s always want to do: dance!

The only, real interesting-aspect of this flick was the actual cast-members themselves. Sam Riley impressed the hell out of me as Ian Curtis in Control, but seems oddly-dry, almost to the point of where he’s just a bummer of a dude to watch. He’s boring, talks in a very New York-like accent with a couple uses of lingo here and there, and just doesn’t really have much to bring to the story, other than the fact that he’s there to take notes and eventually make the book of the story we are all seeing right in-front-of-our-own-eyes. I was really disappointed by this dude, but I was very, very surprised by Garret Hedlund as Dean Moriarty.

Hedlund, in everything that I’ve seen him in, has not really been the actor you can rely on to save your movie from total damnation as he’s sort of come-off as very bland throughout the years, but here, he totally makes you re-think that with a performance that’s fearless, fun, wild, sexy, but also, very humane in it’s portrayal of a dude that just can’t slow down the brakes and sort of has that back-fire on him. Moriarty isn’t a type of character you can really feel sympathy for because all he does is cheat on his wife (that’s bearing his two children), have random bits of sex with people’s he’s just met, get high all of the time, and not really do much else nice for the others around him. He’s not necessarily a dick, as much as he’s just a dude that seems like he’s living a bit too much in the crazy world, rather than the real world. Yeah, I know, the real world sounds boring but after awhile, this guy begins to realize that maybe he should have just chilled-out every once and awhile and if not that, then at least made sure you don’t have any responsibilities waiting for you, around the corner. Hedlund really brings the energy and fun to this movie and I just continued to keep on waiting for this guy’s presence to show, back-up on-screen for me to see.

We only get a naked K-Stew this time around, rather than a naked K-Dunst. Boo!

We only get a naked K-Stew this time around, rather than a naked K-Dunst. Boo!

Kristen Stewart plays his gal-pal, Marylou, and what seems to be another piece of stunt-casting, actually turns-out well for the movie, her character, and Stewart as well. Stewart is good here as Marylou because she gets to do more than just mope around and touch her hair, she actually has a wild and free soul to her that makes you feel as if she’s just like Moriarty, except a bit more innocent. Amd yes, for all of you guys that have been wanting to first their eyes on her whole-self since the days of Panic Room, she does indulge in some sweet, and spice sex-scenes where she does get naked and do a bunch of other, wild things, but it’s all right with the context of her character and her performance, as well. Hopefully, K-Stew can keep this going but who the hell knows where her career might go, post-Twilight.

Consensus: The trio of leads save On the Road from just being another shallow and dull attempt at trying to adapt one of the greatest novels of all-time that made people think and see the world differently, whereas here, with this movie, you’re only going to see K-Stew differently when she has her clothes on in movies now. Hey, that’s all I could really garner up from this one.

6/10=Rental!!

Still trying to master the art of smoking cigarettes while writing.

Still trying to master the art of smoking cigarettes while writing.

Cosmopolis (2012)

Join Team Edward. You’ll get all coke, sex, and parties you want.

Set during a 24-hour period, Cosmopolis stars Robert Pattinson as Eric Packer, a 28-year-old newlywed billionaire who manages to lose both his fortune and bride in the span of one short day. He starts by doing one bad thing and keeps going on to the next;  and you know what happens in the end? Nobody cares because he’s a little rich piece of shit.

This was a film I really wanted to like. It really was. Writer/director David Cronenberg hasn’t always been one of my favorites per se, but he’s got this unique vision when it comes to making his movies: his own ways, and I could at least respect that about him. That is, until now.

When I think about this film and what really pissed me off throughout it, I think about Cronenberg and how he easily could have made this one, crazy, effed-up wild-ride from start-to-finish. Problem is, it’s just as much the trailers’ fault as it is his. All of the teasers and trailers have been promoting this Cronenberg’s big return-t0-horror film, where R-Pat is going around, shooting guns, doing drugs, being a total a-hole, and effin’ ladies in the limo. But it’s not that at all! Instead, it’s just him going around and talking to people about absolutely nothing! Actually, I shouldn’t say that because they do actually have some conversations about the state of the world and where it’s going, but never did I feel compelled, never was I on-the-edge guessing what was going to happen next, and never was I thinking to myself, “Oh shit! All hell is about to break loose up in this bitch!”. Nope — instead I just kept dozing off and wondering when the hell it was finally going to fade to black.

That’s what really bothered me about this film: the non-stop talking. All these characters do is talk, talk, talk and that would have been fine had the script been a bit more Quentin Tarantino-, Aaron Sorkin-, or even Martin Scorsese-esque. But Cronenberg doesn’t add anything new or engaging to this script to fully keep me involved when everybody is just blubbering on about God knows what. It’s just way too dull and pretentious to keep me even somewhat intrigued. It makes me wonder if Don DeLillo’s novel was one of those situations where it looked good on paper, but when it came to be being brought-up on film, just didn’t fit. And since that’s what it seems here, it’s a real bummer because a lot of the material seems thought-provoking and very relevant if you think about how a lot of it is about the rich getting richer, and the poor getting poorer while encasing riots everywhere they go. Could have been so much more interesting if there was just something here to keep it going and alive.

One of the most intriguing aspects about this film that caught my eye way before I even saw a trailer for it, was the fact that Robert Pattinson was in the leading role as numb billionaire, Eric Parker. I’ll give Pattinson some slack, the kid definitely seems like he can act and actually has some skill to him, but he keeps on getting bogged down by shitty movie, after shitty movie and I thought that this was going to be his one light at the end of the tunnel. How wrong I was.

See, what Pattinson does here is exactly what he’s been accused of before: being way too dull. Eric Parker seems like one of those great characters that just wreaks of sleaze, where he doesn’t give a shit what happens to him, when it happens to him, and how, he just wants to live up his life with sex, booze, and money. That’s your typical rich dick-head that can sometimes make or break a movie depending on who’s playing them; I think it goes without saying that he breaks the hell out of this movie, in a bad way of course. I get that Parker was supposed to be a numb character that didn’t feel any sort of excitement until society has finally started crackling down into ashes, but Pattinson’s performance doesn’t bring anything else but that and by the end, it starts to feel one-note. So one-note, that even when his character starts to seem like he’s actually gaining some sort of edge towards the end, you can’t really feel it because he’s got the same type of delivery with each and every line. It was almost like Cronenberg told him to go out there and act like you’re in a zombie movie, but to be the zombie that can talk. Seriously, he’s that lifeless, which, in a way, could be the point, but it still didn’t work for me. I think this will stand as the moment where I realized that Pattinson may not have any talent at all, and is just that piece of brooding little shit that all of the dudes hate, and the girls love. Maybe that’s why K-Stew is getting so bored of him now. Heyyoh!

What’s even worse about his performance, is that when anybody else from this ensemble shows up on-screen, you barely even pay attention to him as everybody here gives it there all. The problem here is the same one that I had with Pattinson: so damn dull and lifeless. Each and every performance seems like they are just another annoying character that barely has any emotions whatsoever, and almost every supporting performance doesn’t last for more than 8 minutes on-screen. So really what you have here is a dull Robert Pattinson, running around the streets of New York (obviously filmed in Toronto), meeting up with even duller people, and at the end of it all, you’re supposed to look at the world we live in and realize something that CNN has been telling us for the past year: the economy is going way, way down-hill. Thanks Cronenberg! I really needed to wake-up and smell the cauliflower on that one!

Consensus: Cosmopolis may be a very thought-provoking and smart thing to read on-paper, but being adapted into a feature film just doesn’t cut it because of the dull performances from everybody involved, the uninteresting direction that Cronenberg goes for and succeeds in, sadly, and the ideas and insight into the world we live in that seem very current, but just don’t bring anything new to what we have already heard before.

2/10=Crapola!!

Snow White and the Huntsman (2012)

Snow White’s about to kill a bitch.

In this adaptation of the classic fairy tale, Kristen Stewart stars as Snow White, the young woman destined to become the fairest maiden in the land. Threatened by that fact, the Evil Queen Ravenna (Charlize Theron) sets out to destroy her but she is unaware that Snow White is training in the art of war with a huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) who was originally dispatched to kill her.

After seeing Mirror Mirror, the other Snow White adaptation that was pretty bad, I didn’t fully understand as to why we needed two movies of the same story. Actually, I still don’t but I can at least tell you which adaptation is a lot better than the other.

Any parent who’s thinking about bringing their kid to a Snow White movie can scratch that thought, because this movie definitely isn’t your normal fairy-tale you bring the whole family to. Most of that can be credited to director Rupert Sanders, who’s directing his first feature and gives this flick a very a dark and grim fantasy adventure, that makes it seem like the story of Snow White was mixed around with Lord of the Rings and a Game of Thrones episode. Sanders does a good job here with everything he’s given and takes his time setting up the story nicely, to keep a certain type of tense feeling going on throughout the whole movie. We all know how this story begins, gets going, and eventually ends, but Sanders kept me guessing somehow because he just seemed like a dude that would pull out something new or cool to add to this story and keep us entertained.

Sanders is also a great visual director and although I wouldn’t say he is as good as Mirror Mirror‘s Tarsem Singh, I would still have to say that he does a fine job with all of the beautiful visuals he throws at us here. The film’s tone is not only dark, but so is the rest of film so whenever color does come into play here, it looks gorgeous and is definitely something for us to marvel. There’s one scene in particular where Snow White goes into this very magical, dream-like forest called “Fairy Land”, where all of these purrty colors keep on flying around and almost makes you feel like you are there too. What’s even better is that it’s all in 2D and it still made me feel like I could just reach up and touch those little fairies. But hey, any macho dude reading this review thinking that those are the only things in this film that look good, can be sadly mistaken because there are some cool shots of a battle where the soldiers end up being broken into glass, another forest that has a lot of cool booby-traps that make you instantly high (or something like that), and even a nice shot of Ms. Theron getting nakey, and dipping herself in milk (or something like that). Trust me dudes, no T&A, but it will still hold you over if you can’t handle all of the fairy tale junk. Then again, why would any “real dude” be going out to see this one?

If there was a problem with this flick, it was that I felt it started to lose focus by the end and was losing my interest. Once the Huntsman is in the story, and the dwarves have been introduced, the film gets ready for the big, epic brawl between Snow White, The Huntsman, and their gang vs. Queen Ravenna, her crows that she ends up turning into, and her gang. You would think that since this movie is over 2 hours long, that there would be a butt-load of tension to make this battle go off the chain, but sadly, it didn’t really do much for me since I think they started to focus on too many other subplots. Actually, they didn’t even focus on Ravenna as much as I think they should have because every time she was actually on, you could feel like this movie was going to just lead-up to her final fight with White, which it did, but it just didn’t have me at hello like I was expecting. Maybe it’s just me though, and maybe I didn’t want a 2 hour long Snow White movie. Maybe, maybe, maybe.

What I can say about Ravenna, is that Charlize Theron was a perfect choice for her and seems like she’s having the absolute time of her life just chewing up the scenery here as our mean and evil queen. A lot of people said that they thought Theron was over-acting with this role, but what I think she is doing here is quite perfect considering this chick hasn’t ever really played a villain before (or at least one that we didn’t root for). She’s beautiful, we all know that, but I think Sanders saw that beauty in her the most and gives her some very beautiful scenes where it’s just her looking like an evil, but beautiful queen bitch that you definitely don’t want to piss off.

Meanwhile, Kristen Stewart does an OK job as Snow White because she doesn’t really step outside of her comfort zones that we have all seen her play time and time again. She does have a lot more to work with here than she does in those Twilight pieces of shit, but she doesn’t really say or do much that makes us cheer her on the most out of everybody. In fact, the one I was cheering on the most was probably Chris Hemsworth as The Huntsman, who in the past two years after such flicks like Thor, The Cabin in the Woods, and The Avengers, has proven to be a real talent. Hemsworth not only looks the part, with the scruffy beard and grungy-type hair and everything, but also sounds like a guy that would absolutely beat your ass if it came down to you or him to survive. Can’t wait to see what this guy pulls out next.

Let me also not forget to the mention the dwarves that are pretty fun to watch here, but aren’t given as much as they are in Mirror Mirror. It was pretty impressive to see actors like Ian McShane, Nick Frost, Ray Winstone, and Toby Jones being shrunk down to dwarf-size, but they come into the story a little too late for my liking and bring a bunch of humor that doesn’t seem to fit in so well with the rest of the flick. Still, they all do great jobs and I kept on wondering just how Sanders pulled off making all of these regular-sized peeps, seem so small. Maybe I did that a little too much, but at least it kept me watching.

Consensus: Snow White and the Huntsman may run on a little too long, but still features plenty of fun with its darkly epic direction from newbie Rupert Sanders, and a slew of fun performances, especially one from Theron who just seems like she’s having a ball. As she should.

7/10=Rental!!

Panic Room (2002)

Home Alone 4: The Revenge

This thriller centers on a divorcée (Jodie Foster) and her daughter (Kristen Stewart) who are caught in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with three burglars (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam) in their New York City brownstone, retreating to the vault-like safety of their aptly named panic room. As the intruders try to breach the room’s security, the embattled duo must stay one step ahead.

Out of all of David Fincher‘s films, this one is considered his weakest (that’s if you’re not including Aliens 3). However, this one isn’t so bad, considering it’s his most Hollywood-friendly film to date.

What Fincher does best here is make this pretty simple plot, and make it something that leaves you on the edge of your seat, the whole time. The dark style that Fincher uses works well for this film because it takes down the idea that your house is a beautiful little place, that no intruders can ever get into, and thinking about somebody breaking into our place is just unsettling to think about.

Fincher takes his dear old and sweet time with this pace which makes all of the suspense a lot more taut, and keeps you guessing even though you have a feeling you know what’s going to happen next. There’s a couple of cool camera-tricks that Fincher uses to fully get us knowing that we are in this one little house, with these people, and basically trapped with no way out. It’s crazy because Fincher really tools with our mind in all the right ways, and makes this film more than just your simple, average hostage-thriller.

The main problem with this film is not in Fincher’s directing as much as it is in the story itself. I liked the whole plot and thought it was simple enough to be thrilling but I did find myself guessing just what was going to happen next, and woolah, it did. The problem here is that three bad guys here just so happen to be a bunch of misfits that are pretty much psychopathic, or inexperienced with the exclusion of one person, who is pretty easy to figure out right away. In a way, I knew who was going to die, and who wasn’t (or in this case, who can’t) and what was going to happen in the end. However, I was still in suspense the whole time really.

From what I heard, Fincher was going to cast Nicole Kidman in the lead role but then she messed up her knee or something so she was put as a cameo here, and I have to say that I’m glad that they chose who they chose. Jodie Foster is really good in this role because she starts off all nerdy, and actually sad, but then turns into this vengeful, stop-at-nothing, crazy ladies who wants nothing but to get out of this situation alive. Foster is very good at driving all these emotions from her character just from her facial expressions, and although she almost rarely smiles in this film, she still is a delight to watch. Kristen Stewart does a good job in a very early role, and will probably stop any Twi-hard fans from having any boners over her after watching this. Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam are all good as the bad dudes, and each contribute great performances for three guys that you wouldn’t expect to actually be written well at all. Pretty small cast, for a relatively small film, but overall good job from the whole cast involved.

Consensus: Panic Room may suffer from it’s script, but David Fincher creates suspenseful tension and makes this simple plot, better than just your average-thriller.

8/10=Matinee!!

Adventureland (2009)

Is working at a fair that terrible?

Unable to afford the European vacation he’d dreamed of, recent college grad James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) reluctantly takes a gig at a local amusement park, only to learn that the dead-end job is, in fact, excellent preparation for the real world.

This is the semi-biographical story from the director of Superbad, Greg Mottola, and I must say that this guy had some pretty bangin’ ass times back in his young days. Better than mine at least.

Some people may think of Superbad, and automatically anticipate raunchy jokes, crazy situations, and illegal things happening left and right, however, don’t be fooled because this is a lot more of a more subtle and sweet film than that. The comedy here is all about the timing of our youth and how so many times we find ourselves in the craziest of situations, and for the most part I laughed and had a good time.

The problem with this film is that there is way too much of that softness here. I liked the whole romantic comedy element to this film, but there were times where this film could have really hit the nail like Superbad, or plenty other teen comedies, but instead just wants to be sweet and do nothing really fun. I wish it captured more of the crazy parts of the summer as a teenager, rather than the more confusing and angsty times, although those are there too.

Many of the jokes were centered at the 80’s which I thought was kind of annoying, but I must say it did support a pretty awesome soundtrack. There’s a lot of those 80’s staples bands here like The Cure, The Replacements, Falco, but no other has more impact than Lou Reed who songs that are placed here, made me realize just how amazing he truly is. Every time I hear Pale Blue Eyes, I will always remember this film, and with good reason, because it’s an awesome song.

This is also a great ensemble that is used very well. Jesse Eisenberg caught his big break here as James Brennan. He is such a weiner here, but his awkward and geeky shtick really worked out for his character because it’s so easy to like him. Kristen Stewart was the big draw here, mainly for all those “Twiheads” out there. But she actually does a very good job at playing the very confused, but smart Em, who I don’t know why, starts to take a liking to James. Martin Starr is a guy everybody may know from Geeks and Freaks but he totally steals the show and livens the film up when it starts to drag. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig were downright hilarious as Bobby and Paulette, and just about every scene they have in the trailer, is the only time’s their in the actual film. But they are still hilarious so it’s all cool. Also, I liked Ryan Reynolds here as Mike, the dude who fixes the rides at the amusement park, and I don’t think amusement park fixers look like that. However, he’s still good.

Consensus: Adventureland has a nicer and sweeter tone than most teen comedies, and some fun in the script, but it doesn’t have as much as fun as I think it could have, and ultimately just feels forgettable, except for the memory of the awesome Lou Reed song.

7/10=Rental!!

Adventureland (2009)

Working at a amusement park isn’t so bad after all.

Unable to afford the European vacation he’d dreamed of, recent college grad James Brennan (Jesse Eisenberg) reluctantly takes a gig at a local amusement park, only to learn that the dead-end job is, in fact, excellent preparation for the real world. He soon falls in love with a a wild child named Em (Kristen Stewart).

Adventureland is from writer and director Greg Mottola, who also directed the super hit Superbad, and as you can see there are many similarities. Jesse Eisenberg played a very awkward kid looking for reason, and a lot of topics on drugs and drinking. Though this one seems to score a lot more with me.

The film is a lot more mature than Superbad and that it provides better insight of a coming-of-age teen. The very first half of this film is actually really funny and interesting. I was interested in these characters in where they went and what happened to them, provided with a arsenal of laughs. Though as it started to go on it started to really whine down the humor and its character insight and focus more on the relationship between Eisenberg and Stewart.

The problem I had with this film is not so much of the movie as it is the trailers. The trailers had it out to look as if it was a summer crazy teen movie, but however it’s not. It was advertised as a hilarious slapstick and that’s kind of expecting from this movie, but I didn’t. I was expecting to have my gut full of laughter like Superbad, but didn’t which is what kind of ruined this film for me in the end.

Lastly, I didn’t understand how Stewart’s character fell for Eisenberg’s. He is really awkward and really geeky while she is pretty wild and full of fun, and I just don’t see how they can fall for one another. But I guess that’s why they call it cinema.

The humor in this is not like Superbad. It doesn’t have much gross-out humor and less profanity. This features a lighter tone that is aimed towards the teens but also can work with the parents. Its wise and very realistic appeals to all and can make anybody watching this film laugh.

The ensemble cast is probably the best picked I have seen in awhile. To say Eisenberg is doing a Cera is underestimating him and his talent, and in all Eisenberg gives a wonderful and strong lead performance. I liked how all the smaller characters were very developed in this as well. Lots of the smaller characters steal the show and just add the comedic factor to this movie.

The soundtrack is one of the main reasons I enjoyed this film. There are many touching and great moments caught on camera that have great songs overplaying everything else and make me feel the emotion coming off the screen.

Consensus: A realistic screenplay, well-acted ensemble, and rocking 80’s soundtrack makes this film a very funny but touching coming-of-age movie.

8.5/10=Matinee!!