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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Lasco Atkins

Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)

Have a baby by one of them, and you’ll be a millionaire.

At 43, Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) is still up to her old bag of tricks. She’s now got a very nice job at a news station, but spends most of her time still counting her drinks, sleeping with random guys, and living it up like the good old days, not giving a care in the world about what anyone has to say about her, or what it is that she does. However, that all begins to change one day when she realizes that, surprisingly, she’s pregnant. Although, maybe it’s not all that surprising, considering that she not only slept with a random American she met a music festival named Jack (Patrick Dempsey), but also hooked back up with old flame, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Now, with the baby soon to be on its way, Bridget has to think and figure out just who the father is, or better yet, who actually wants to stick around with her and father the child, regardless of who’s it actually is.

To be honest, I saw the second Bridget Jones movie, Edge of Reason, and never got around to reviewing it for the sole sake that it was just an awful movie. The first had all sorts of fun, heart and charm to it that made it well worth the watch, regardless of if it was date night or not, but the second movie, if anything, just turned all of that on its head and showed us how an already grating character, can continue to be more and more annoyingly unsympathetic. It’s honestly not a surprise why it took so long for another movie to come out, but you know what?

Happy birthday. But really, who cares?

Happy birthday. But really, who cares?

It is is a surprise that this third, and quite possibly last, movie, is actually pretty good.

For the most part, what made the first such an enjoyable and relatively hilarious movie, is back this time around, as well as plenty of other things. There’s heart, there’s gross-out gags, there’s a lot of hard-thinking British humor, and most of all, there’s characters to actually care about again, or more importantly, Bridget herself. The second movie featured her up to all of her old tricks and whatnot and just didn’t work, but this time around, she’s back at it again, but with a different stance. This time, it seems like the movie is trying to say that at her age, it’s time for Bridget to finally grow up and accept her life for what it is.

Which yeah, of course means having a baby, but that’s why the movie actually works; it’s kind of silly and a little sit-com-y, but we know this character and already kind of love her to begin with, so why not throw a baby in the mix? While she’s been fairly M.I.A. these past couple of years, Bridget Jones’s Baby is the perfect reminder of why Renée Zellweger’s such a charming and radiant actress on the screen, when given the right material to play and joke around with. Sure, she’s not British and her accent is a little faulty at times, but you know what?

She got the role over a decade ago and more than made it her own, so whatever!

Oh yeah, next time, just give her the movie.

Oh yeah, next time, just give her the movie.

Playing the two hunks she has to choose from, Patrick Dempsey and the returning Colin Firth are both actually quite great and not necessarily the kinds of stiffs you’d imagine them as being. Dempsey’s Jack character takes a surprising turn about halfway through where you realize that this guy actually does have a heart and soul and may just stick around, whereas with Firth’s Darcy, he’s still the same old kind of straight-man that we expect to get from him, but with a short burst of energy of spunk to be found somewhere throughout. Both get enough development to show us why they may be the right fit for Bridget, which works because it makes the stakes seem much more important; in a way, it almost doesn’t matter who the actual blood-father is, as much as it matters just who wants to stay with Bridget and possibly raise the kid as their own, with her.

May not seem like it matters much, but in the world of rom-coms, where every plot is taken at such a superficial level, it does and helps make Bridget Jones’s Baby, while exactly what you’d expect having seen the first two, seem a tad more emotional. No, it may not make you sob or break down, but it may just have you happy to see this character and her adventures, once again, choosing between what kind of man she wants in her life, once again, counting the drinks that she has, once again, and yes, still sort of embarrassing herself in front of large crowds, once again.

It’s all familiar, but hey, who says familiarity has to be all that bad?

Consensus: While formulaic, Bridget Jones’s Baby is also a solid return-to-form for the franchise, featuring plenty of laughs and emotion to go along with the charming performances.

7.5 / 10

Oh, wacky pregnant hi-jinx!

Oh, wacky pregnant hi-jinx!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Assholes Watching Movies

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The Brothers Grimsby (2016)

“MI6” usually is the reason for most family-members gone missing.

Nobby (Sacha Baron Cohen) is a typical Englishman living in the lower-class and just getting by. His girlfriend (Rebel Wilson) is always down to screw him whenever he wants, his kids are always willing and able to listen to what he has to say, and heck, even his grand-kids are happy to have him around. So yeah, while things may be all fine and dandy for Nobby, the fact remains that he’s still a little sad because he hasn’t seen his brother for nearly 30 years. Why is that? Well, nobody really knows because, quite frankly, nobody really knows who Nobby’s brother is. However, that’s on purpose because, as it turns out, Nobby’s brother, Sebastian (Mark Strong), is a top MI6 agent in the middle of a very important mission. While Nobby wants to get back in good graces with his bro and figure out just what the heck happened, the mission eventually finds its way in between Nobby and Sebastian, making it so that Nobby now has to get involved with the mission. Considering that he’s such a dimwit, this is bad news for everyone involved – most importantly, MI6.

Watch the throne.

Watch the throne.

You know exactly what you’re getting yourself into when you pay to see a Sacha Baron Cohen movie. While he may not be doing the avant-garde, mockumentary flicks anymore, he’s still doing R-rated raunch-fests every now and then, showing the world just how far and willing he is able to go with the vile, disgusting and downright appalling scatological humor, all without making a single excuse or apology for it. In today’s day and age where it seems like saying anything remotely controversial will have you thrown down a dungeon with the key locked away, it’s refreshing to see someone as well-known and famous as Baron Cohen continue to make the kinds of mean and nasty flicks that he does, while also not seem to care who it offends, or what people have to say about it.

After all, the guy can continue to do these movies for the rest of his life and there’d be nothing wrong with that, right?

Well, yes, as well as no. For one, the Brothers Grimsby isn’t a very long movie and it’s definitely better because of that. At nearly 83 minutes, the movie doesn’t try to pack a whole lot in, except for a spy story, a few comedic bits, character-development, and an action set-piece or two to keep most people over. Director Louis Leterrier is a confident enough director in that he knows something like this doesn’t need to have too much of anything; sure, there’s much more comedy than anything else, but Leterrier takes a whole lot on his plate and seems smart enough to know exactly where and when to put each piece.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that each of the respective pieces make up a great whole, but they still don’t get in the way of the best parts. Which is to say that, yes, the Brothers Grimsby is in fact a funny movie. While not every joke, or gag it makes is hilarious, or at the very least, chuckle-worthy, they still all highlight Cohen’s brand of over-the-top, ugly humor that misses quite often, but when it hits, is as funny as you can get. There’s a bit concerning elephants that gets even crazier and crazier as it goes along and it’s an absolute blast to watch, just as is a misunderstanding about a “seduction”. Both scenes can definitely be removed from the movie and there would be no cause or effect on the final product, but still, they work and are funny enough that it doesn’t matter.

And really, that’s all you can want with the Brothers Grimsby – a funny movie.

It doesn’t set out to light the world on fire, nor does it seem to try and change the landscape of the comedy world. It’s a shame that it didn’t do too well at the box-office, because it only shows that some people still may not be able to accept the fact that Sacha Baron Cohen can still make movies, he just won’t be able to do them to unknowing victims. While that’s definitely a shame, it’s also the reality of the matter; you can only strike gold so many times until, eventually, people start to catch on and the well starts running dry.

Little bro's are always nosin' around.

Little bro’s are always nosin’ around.

As Nobby, Cohen gets another opportunity to be as crass and as vile as he can be, however, the character is actually well-liked here enough that we feel as if we’re rooting for him, as opposed to rooting against him because he’s such a blockhead. Of course, Cohen is really just using Nobby as an outlet to act all crazy to those around him, but hey, it’s entertaining to watch and made slightly better by the fact that he isn’t the butt of the joke.

If anyone is, it’s Mark Strong’s Sebastian, who is basically the straight-man of the whole flick and with good reason – he’s so good at it. Strong doesn’t get a whole lot of credit for actually being charming, when he isn’t scaring the pants off of every protagonist in every movie he’s ever shown up in, but here, working alongside Cohen, he gets the chance to show-off in many ways. There’s a lot of ridiculous and unbelievable actions that his character does throughout the whole movie and yes, Strong is absolutely game for each and every one.

And everyone else in the cast is able to, too, however, most of them are kind of wasted. There’s the likes of Isla Fisher, Penelope Cruz, Gabourey Sidibe, Rebel Wilson, and Ian McShane, among others, who all show up and do their things, and all are fine. But at the end of the day, really, the movie is meant to be a showcase for Cohen and all of his dirty and disgusting ways of getting us to laugh at some of the most wrong, most inappropriate things ever put to screen.

But hey, it works.

Consensus: The Brothers Grimsby is exactly what you could expect from Cohen’s brand of humor, even if there’s a little more that takes away from the sometimes hilarious, but always raunchy jokes and gags.

6.5 / 10

Cool guys don't look at explosions and they also jump away from them, too.

Cool guys don’t look at explosions and they also jump away from them, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Program (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His journalistic sense is tingling.

His journalistic sense is tingling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Eddie the Eagle (2016)

Fly like an eagle. Or Eddie, too, I guess.

Throughout his whole life, Michael “Eddie” Edwards (Taron Egerton) had everything going against him. His dad always wanted him to work more, rather than spend his time focusing on silly dreams of being a superstar athlete, and even when he does finally get a chance to make something of his athletic career, it turns out that he gets cut from England’s Olympic ski team. Rather than being frazzled and with nothing to do with his life, Eddie decides to travel to Germany and test his skills at the very dangerous, but ultimately rewarding sport known as “ski jumping”. While there, Eddie meets the one and only Bronson Peary (Hugh Jackman), a former ski jumper who now works as a snowplow driver. Though Bronson has been done with the sport for quite some time and is now all about drinking, partying and starting fights, he sees something about Eddie that he just can’t resist. That’s why, together, they train, night and day, as hard as they can, so that they can ensure that Eddie gets a chance to show his face at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta.

Always practice with props.

Always practice with props.

Eddie the Eagle is a lot like other sports movies of the same nature. In a way, you know Eddie is going to be the typical sports biopic protagonist who has an undying spirit for overcoming the odds, is earnest, sweet to everyone around him, and generally, puts up with a lot of crap from people who are mean to him for no exact reason. But in all honestly, that’s actually fine.

See, even though Eddie himself was all about breaking the conventions of what made a typically-seen athlete, the movie itself, more or less, just wants to give Eddie’s story the movie spotlight it actually deserves. While you may not at all care about ski-jumping, this Eddie fella, or even Brits for that matter, Eddie the Eagle, slowly but surely, will have you eating out of the palm of its hand, while simultaneously making you forget that you ever saw any other sports movie before it.

Okay, maybe that’s a tad too far, but you get the picture.

There’s a fun-loving, kind spirit to Eddie the Eagle, the person, as well as the movie itself, that’s downright infectious. It’s 80’s theme and style, while overbearing at first, soon starts to work its way into actually getting to understand the feel and appeal of that era; while there’s maybe one too many synths in the score, it turns out that it actually works for the sport the movie’s portraying, as it’s a little hard to have a ski-jumping movie with a Metallica-like score backing it all up. No offense to ski-jumping, but it’s not necessarily considered the roughest, toughest, and rigorous sport of them all.

But that doesn’t keep Eddie the Eagle away from being a solid movie, at the very least, an inspirational sports movie, as well. You see the twists and turns coming from a mile away and even if you didn’t already do your own homework on just who this Eddie character was in the first place, chances are, it won’t matter. You’ll know exactly where this story is going to end up and while that would normally tick me off to high heavens, here, it didn’t seem to matter.

I was just happy to be in the presence of Eddie, Bronson, and well, basically everybody else who showed up.

Keep on lookin' ahead, Taron. Sooner or later, people will be forgetting all about Joel.

Keep on lookin’ ahead, Taron. Sooner or later, people will be forgetting all about Joel. (And yes, I know that Joel’s last name is “Edgerton”, but still, it’s hard not to get confused)

Speaking of Eddie himself, Taron Egerton has slowly, but most definitely surely, shown himself to be one of the brighter, more promising young voices in film nowadays and it’s great to see where he’s going with his career. While the movie definitely overdoes it in trying to making Egerton look like the actual Eddie himself, with titled-glasses, terrible hair and whatnot, Egerton gets past all of that and makes us sort of fall in love with this guy. He’s nice to basically everyone around him and hardly utters a naughty word throughout the whole movie, which may seem like total bull-crap, but once we actually get to see the real Eddie himself, it becomes all too clear that this is exactly who the guy might be. He may be overly earnest and kind to those around him, but it’s hard to hate a person who, quite frankly, is exactly as he appears to be in actual, real life. And yeah, Egerton’s great at him, showing both the inspired, as well as the lovable side to our hero.

And even though there’s no such person as Bronson Peary (well, at least not in relation to Eddie’s story – there’s most likely a porn star with that name out there on some corner store shelf), Hugh Jackman does a solid job at giving us a likable mentor, who also has a few demons of his own. Obviously, by the way story goes, we’re going to have to expect at least some sort of issue between these two that they need to overcome and though the movie does predictably bring one up, it actually seems believable to the situation. While the world may look at Eddie like a fool and he may not care about it, there’s also the argument to be made for him not even trying to be apart of the Olympics, for that exact reason. Because Peary’s character is a point-by-point caricature of conventions that we typically see with these mentor types, it makes sense why he would have a problem with Eddie taking himself one step further, even if we want him to achieve his dream at the end of the day.

But if anything, what Eddie the Eagle does best that, some other sports biopics like, for instance, Race, didn’t seem to do, is get down to the meat of the story and make us realize why we care so much to begin with. Jesse Owens was way more inspirational than Eddie, however, this movie at least shows that Eddie is like you or I. We may be a little troubled and clearly not in perfect shape to do everything that we want to do, but as long as we have the right mind and spirit, we can achieve whatever we want.

Sure, it’s hokey as hell, but it’s the kind of hokey I don’t mind to smile at and go along with.

Consensus: Conventional and corny, Eddie the Eagle may not surprise viewers familiar with the sports biopic, but is still so likable, well-acted, and enjoyable, that it’s easy to push away these issues and just fly along.

7 / 10

Teachers aren't always that hunky,

Teachers aren’t always that hunky, but it certainly helps your movie’s appeal.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Holiday (2006)

It’s always those attractive celebrities who need the most love during the holidays.

Iris (Kate Winslet) and Amanda (Cameron Diaz) are both women who seem to be going through the same sorts of problems, even though both live in different countries. The former is from London, and had an affair with a man (Rufus Sewell) who has just recently gotten engaged; whereas the later is L.A.-bound and has a boyfriend (Edward Burns) who cheated on her. They both feel hopeless and upset, and with it being the holidays, they have no clue what to do next with their lives other than sit around, mope, and cry. However, Amanda has an idea that will also affect Iris: She wants to take a trip to London and Iris wants to take a trip to L.A. So the two concoct a plan where they’ll switch residencies for the time being and live in the other’s shoes. This all happens, but what surprises them both is how they end up meeting new people and, believe it or not, start striking up some romances of their own. Iris starts to see a film composer, Miles (Jack Black), whereas Amanda starts to hook-up with Iris’ brother, Graham (Jude Law). Both are happy and enjoying their time together, but the reality is that they’ll eventually have to get back to their real lives, and it’s something that may keep the relationship’s away from being anything more than just “some fun”.

She's attractive.

She’s attractive.

And honestly, that’s all there really is to this movie in terms of complications or tension. There’s no big twist thrown at the end to throw the whole plot and/or its characters into a whirl-wind of chaos, nor is there any sort of hurdle that these characters have to get over in order to make themselves feel fulfilled. It’s honestly just a bunch of hot-looking, attractive people, flirting, dating, smooching, sexxing, and then, oh wait, having to then come to terms with the fact that they’ll be living in separate parts of the world in a few days.

That’s it.

A part of me should be pleased that writer/director Nancy Meyers didn’t try too hard to make this movie anymore complicated than it needed to be. So rarely do we get movies that are literally about, what it’s about, and don’t try to stray too far away from that original-plot. So in that general aspect, Meyers does a fine job of giving the audience, exactly what they’re seeking for.

But at the same time, there still needs to be a bit more of a plot to make up for the fact that this movie is over two-hours long. However, it’s not the kind of two hours that flies on by because of the company the movie keeps; it’s every bit, every hour, every minute, and every second of two hours and 16 minutes, which is to say that it definitely needed to be trimmed-down in certain areas. The main which being the scenes that Iris has with her older neighbor (played by the late, great Eli Wallach). Don’t get me wrong, these scenes are nice, charming, and sweet, but as a whole, they don’t really add much to the final product; we just sort of see that Iris is a kind, loving and caring gal that’s nice to old men.

Once again, that’s it.

The scenes that she has with Jack Black’s Miles, tell more about her, her personality, and the kind of lover she is – the scenes she has with Wallach, thankfully, do not. However, Winslet, as usual, is as lovable as she’s ever been; it certainly helps that Iris is a strong-written character to begin with, but it also has to do a great deal with the fact that Winslet can handle both the comedy, as well as the more dramatic-aspects of the script, whenever she’s called on to do so.

He's attractive.

He’s attractive.

Diaz herself is quite fine as Amanda and also does the same as Winslet does: She balances out both the heavier, as well as the lighter material well enough to where her character stays consistent with the movie’s emotions. It’s not a huge shocker to know that I’m not a big fan of Diaz, but she’s actually quite enjoyable to watch here, because she doesn’t always over-do her act. Her character may be a bit stuck-up, but that’s the point; to see the cracks and light in her personality shine through, makes her all the more likable and sympathetic, regardless of where she comes from.

But this isn’t just a lady’s affair, because the men who do show up, also give their own, little two cents to make the Holiday work a bit more than it should. Black isn’t as grating as he usually is, and Law, the handsome devil that he awfully is, also shows certain layers deep inside of a character that could have probably been as dull as a box of hammers. Thankfully, he isn’t and it helps the relationship that his character and Diaz’s strike-up.

Problem is, though, it’s that run-time.

Also, not to mention that the movie doesn’t really make any reason for its existence. There are a few occasions where it’s funny, but for the most part, it’s just particularly nice. Nice does not mean “funny” – it just means that the movie can be seen by practically all audiences, regardless of age. Nancy Meyers always makes these sorts of movies and while they may not necessarily be lighting the world on fire, they’re just pleasant enough to help any person watching, get by. It doesn’t matter if you’re a man, a woman, a kid, an adult, a senior citizen, gay, straight, bisexual, married, single, widowed, engaged, in a “it’s complicated“, or whatever. All persons from all walks of life can enjoy a Nancy Meyers movie.

That alone does not make them amazing pieces of film – it just makes them accessible.

Consensus: With a likable cast and fluffy-direction from Nancy Meyers, the Holiday is fine to watch and relax to, even despite it being way too long, and feeling as such.

5.5 / 10

Aw, bloody hell! They're all attractive!

Aw, bloody hell! They’re all attractive!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015)

Secret spy agents have never been so cheeky!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doesn't get anymore British than him.

Doesn’t get anymore British than him.

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)

Scientology be damned when Ethan Hunt is on the case!

Now that the IMF has been disbanded for the fact that they are considered unreliable and dangerous, superstar agent Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) is forced to go rogue. However, Ethan believes that he has got another mission left in him that will take him to ultra shady group that is “the Syndicate”. Ethan has an idea that the Syndicate is apparently up to no good and is planning on wiping out the entire globe, but in order to stop this from happening, he needs to get to the head of the group (Sean Harris) – which, considering how top-notch and professional this group is, is a lot easier said then done. But Ethan is inspired enough to take matters into his own hands, even if that means bringing some of his old friends and colleagues around one more time, even if that means that their jobs will be at-stake in doing so. However, another problem standing in Ethan’s way is a fellow agent by the name of Ilsa Faust (Rebecca Ferguson), who he isn’t quite sure of which side she’s actually on. Which not only spells problems for Ethan’s mission, but also his heart that seems to be taken a bit with this mysterious lady.

Unlike most movie franchises out there, each installment of Mission: Impossible feels as if they are their own kind of movie, rather than just a carbon-copy of the one that came before it. With the first, we got Brian De Palma’s version of Hitchockian Bond movie, filled with all sorts of gadgets, twists and turns; in the second, we got John Woo’s wild and crazy action-thriller, chock full of explosions, fire, and yes, even doves; with the third movie, we got another one of J.J. Abrams’ frenetic kind of thrillers that seemed so intense, that they were about to blow-up from all the intensity; and then, with the fourth movie, we got Brad Bird’s version that hearkened back to the glory days of old school blockbusters, where times were a lot simpler then. Now, with the fourth movie, as being directed by Christopher McQuarrie, we get a slightly gritty-take on the Mission: Impossible story, which is what most people know McQuarrie to do well with.

Look out, Bourne!

Look out, Bourne!

However, at the same time, it’s still a solid action-thriller in its own right, regardless of if it follows some sort of style-pattern. Sometimes, all you need is a whole heck of a lot of action and fun thrown into your sometimes confusing story, just to make sure that everything works out as fine as can be. The Mission: Impossible movies, from what it seems, will continue to last on for another couple of years (so long as Cruise continues to sign-up for them), and honestly, I’m fine with that; it’s constantly finding new and interesting ways to re-invent itself, pick up some neat tricks along the way, and continue to set the bar for action-thrillers in its same vein.

Sort of like the Fast and Furious franchise, except for the kind of crowd who prefers wine, as opposed to Colt 45.

And in no way is that an insult to either groups of these movies; not only are those franchise’s movies fun, but they can be enjoyed by practically anyone who decides to check them out and see what they’re working with. You don’t need to see all of the Fast and Furious movies to enjoy just one, just like you don’t need to do the same for these Mission: Impossible movies – they sort of just work on their own. That’s how most action movies should be, and while it sounds incredibly easy, it’s a whole different story when watching a bad thriller and realizing that the action stinks, the story stinks, and basically, just everything else about it stinks.

If you can’t do an action movie right, then what can you do?!?

Because even though these movies have something of a plot to work with, it’s really just about the set-pieces and how far they can keep the audiences invested, regardless of how far-fetched they can get. This happens many of times in Rogue Nation, where we see scenes of Hunt holding his breath underwater for nearly three minutes straight, dangle above a French opera without a single person taking notice, or, as famously-known, hang on quite loosely to an airplane as its taking air. There’s plenty more where these examples come from, and while they may all sound ridiculous, they’re still a whole bunch of fun to sit through, watch, and think of what’s going to happen next; even if, you know, it’s already fully well-known what’s going to happen to some of these characters by the end of the tale.

There's definitely more than a little Captain in her.

There’s definitely more than a little Captain in her.

And even though Rogue Nation may be a bit of a step-back for the franchise (especially after the fantastic and very surprising Ghost Protocol), it still is, once again, a very solid action-thriller. It gets just about all of the beats right in terms of the action-department, is just long enough to not overstay its welcome, and seems like it’s still staying true to its heart by giving us the character moments in between all of the running around and explosions to make things seem a whole lot more human for the meantime. Do we really need them? Not really, but they’re fine to fall back on if you need to take a chill pill and just watch as a bunch of people talk to one another, spouting all sorts of exposition that don’t mean much else other than just, “We need to catch the bad guy and this is how we do it”.

That’s literally what every line of dialogue in Rogue Nation ends up leading towards, but there are a few surprises to be found along the way.

But the surprises don’t necessarily come from the likes of Tom Cruise, or Jeremy Renner, or Simon Pegg, or Ving Rhames, or even Alec Baldwin – they’re all fine, it’s just that who they’re playing (with the exception of newcomer Baldwin), has been done before and doesn’t feel like any sort of variation. They’re are all perfectly serviceable in a movie that’s more or less concerned with how deep of a situation it can throw its hero into, only to allow for him to break out of it in some miraculous way, nearly ten minutes later.

Nope, the real surprise of this cast comes from the likes of Rebecca Ferguson, someone I haven’t seen before, but here’s to hoping that now, that’ll change. Ferguson not only acts the part of a bad-ass, femme fatale that may or may not be playing both sides at the same time, but also looks like it, too. Much has already been said about how the Ferguson’s image is getting sexualized by the advertising for this here movie, but honestly, I think it works in her favor. Not only is Ferguson gorgeous, she’s also in incredible shape to where when you see her riding a motorcycle in tight leather, you don’t just automatically think of how hot she looks, it’s more about how much she could probably kick your ass. Also, the fact that Ferguson is something of an unknown actress to most of the mainstream media, works in her character’s favor as she could literally go anyway; there’s no pre-made clause that states she has to be the hero at the end, or gets the man. She’s not a huge actor just yet, so therefore, the mystery stays in her favor.

Although, let’s hope that she doesn’t continue to stay a mystery for too long.

Consensus: Rogue Nation is another exciting crowd-pleaser to add to the Mission: Impossible name, even if it’s not nearly the best the franchise has had to offer.

8 / 10

Never forget.

Never forget.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Mr. Turner (2014)

Leonardo da who?

Meet British painter J.M.W. Turner (Timothy Spall) a very quiet, peaceful man who goes about his day casually painting landscapes, grunting, and trying to get his paintings sold to the highest bidder, whoever they may be. Though Turner definitely has some issues with his personal life that need to be attended to, the man still has very little to worry about. That is, until a close one of his dies and leaves J.M.W. all alone, with hardly anyone to care for, or even love. He’s just by himself, with his studio, his landscapes, and his paint-brushes. However, Mr. Turner wants a little something more out of life that isn’t just all about pleasing people with his beautiful, artistic creations; he wants a sort of connection and love that he can only get with another fellow human-being. He gets this in the form of the equally lonely Sophia Booth (Marion Bailey) who, despite what he may or may not think, is his best opportunity in life to live happy, once and for all. Around this time, too, Mr. Turner develops a knack for a different style of painting; one that some can consider to be the early days of “expressionism”. But with every new change in life, there’s usually a problem lurking behind.

Frowning......

Frowning……

Writer/director Mike Leigh doesn’t make the kind of movies you’d find yourself getting excited for. The reason being? Well, for the most part, Leigh’s films are typically casual, normal pieces that don’t really try to break the barriers of modern-day cinema, so much so as they just present a little snapshot into everyday life. Though he likes to change things up every once and awhile, usually, Leigh prefers to stick to his guns and keep his movies simple, easy-to-understand, and as true-to-life as he can possibly make it. And this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as much as it’s just a thing, and proves Leigh to be one of the better writers and directors we have out there today in the movie world.

Which is why Mr. Turner works as well as it does, even if it is a bit of a change-of-pace for the likes of Leigh. However, it isn’t a huge change that finds him shaking up his style and ruining the rest of his flick; more or less, it finds him diving deep into the life of J.M.W. Turner – a painter you may, or may not have, heard of before. Regardless of whether you have or not, Leigh still finds ways to make Turner’s life interesting and compelling, even if you don’t totally know it while the movie’s playing.

Like I said before, Leigh’s films are simple and mostly casual pieces that give us snapshots into people’s lives, regardless of if we wanted to see these shots or not. Here, with Turner’s life, we see something of a very simple man who may have more to him than we originally expect. We know that he’s a painter, has a thing for unexpectedly acting sexual with women, and isn’t totally likable. However, that doesn’t faze Leigh, as he continues to develop this person more and more, giving us a clear, yet compelling look into the life of a man who, quite frankly, I didn’t know too much about before or even care to, either.

However, what Leigh does that’s so spectacular is that he makes us care and it works for the movie as a whole.

Although, like with most of Leigh’s other films, there is a slight feeling that this movie may be a bit longer than it should be. Mr. Turner, in full, clocks in at nearly two-and-a-half-hours and I’m not too sure that I needed to see/have every single minute of that time-limit. That’s not to say that Leigh doesn’t use this time to his advantage, but it is to say that he could have maybe cut-down on a few subplots that seemed like they were going somewhere, but ultimately, didn’t.

The one that comes to my mind so clearly concerns Turner’s maid Hannah Danby (Dorothy Atkinson) who he, sometimes, randomly jumps on her for both sexual and stress-releasing purposes. Every time a scene like this is shown to us, it makes sense why Leigh’s showing us this aspect of his life, but it never makes full, total sense as to why we’re being shown this from her point-of-view every so often. She’s made out to be more of an important character, than she actually is, and it’s very evident in the final half-hour of this when we realize that Turner’s life may be coming to a close, and we’re supposed to feel upset for everybody involved with his life. The problem was, I did, but just not for her character.

Once again though, none of this really has to do with the person playing the character (Atkinson is quite good in a thinly-written role that seems like it could have gone deeper, had the movie been about a different person), but more so with Leigh’s style and pace, which lingers more towards feeling “languid”, than meandering. But this isn’t a huge problem for the movie as a whole, considering that Leigh brings enough depth to Turner himself, as well as his life, where we feel like we know this person and understand maybe why this story is being brought to our attention. Even if Turner’s life wasn’t all that spectacular and was sort of just a normal, rich one, albeit with more art involved, there’s still a feeling that whatever Leigh sees in Turner’s life and legacy, is something extraordinary. Though not all of that comes off of the screen and into our own minds while watching, it’s still noticeable enough that it works in making Turner a sympathetic, if sometimes very flawed, person.

....more frowning....

….more frowning….

This definitely comes out a bit in Leigh’s writing, but a good part of it definitely comes out in Timothy Spall’s wonderfully determined performance as the biopic’s subject, even if it doesn’t seem like he’s doing much at first. Spall may not be a recognizable face to most of those out there, but the guy’s been a solid character actor for as long as I can remember watching him work and it’s about time that he got a role that was rightfully deserving of his sometimes down-played talents. What Spall does well here as Turner, is that he doesn’t make it seem like this is the kind of guy we should like, but by showing us that there is something of a sweet and tender soul inside that gruff outlook of his, we get a better understanding of who he is and why he paints.

Though, this is a very subtle performance from Spall and one that, I assume, won’t garner a huge amount of Oscar-attention, for the sole sake that he never quite has that huge, dramatic, “Oscar acting moment”. Sure, there’s a couple of instances in which he breaks down, cries, and seems incredibly vulnerable, but those moments don’t happen too much, nor did they need to in order to have us feel more Turner and his life we’re seeing portrayed on the screen. Simply put, Turner is just a man who enjoys painting – whatever other thought, rhyme, or reason he may put into it, is totally left up to us to decide. It’s a smart choice on Leigh’s part for not over-playing this hand, but it’s also one on Spall’s for bringing out plenty of shades within this character that we may not have seen right before.

Here’s to hoping that not only does the movie get more attention, but Spall does as well and makes him more of a household name.

Consensus: Though it’s long and often slow, Mr. Turner is never boring, nor does it ever shy away from getting down to the nitty and gritty aspects of its subject’s life, even if it may or may not be totally pertinent to whatever message Mike Leigh is trying to get across.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

..and yup, you guessed it, more frowning.

…and yup, you guessed it, more frowning.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Pride (2014)

Just be yourself, drag and all.

It’s 1984 and in the UK, a lot of people are angry. Most importantly though, the miners. They feel as if they are not being paid enough, or represented like they should be, so therefore, they decide to start up a strike and get their voices heard. Another group who demand the same are a bunch of prideful and accepting homosexuals who, much rather than being spit on, mocked and ignored, decide that if they’re going to get what they want, they have to go out and join another group who wants the same thing as they do. This is when the young leader of the group, Mark Ashton (Ben Schnetzer), coins the name for the campaign, “Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners” (LGSM). Though, of course, once the miners themselves find out who the group is, they deny them and want nothing to do with them. But thinking on their feet, the LGSM decide to travel out to another group of on-strike miners in a small village in Wales where, at first, they get all sorts of strange looks and stares. Eventually though, most of the town begins to warm up to the group and they all become a family of sorts. But like with most families, there’s always going to be problems and it just so happens that the LGSM may not be ready for all the ones standing in the way of getting what they want: To be heard and understood.

The general idea surrounding most movies that concern a certain group of people/persons, usually is, if you aren’t in the same demographic as the people being depicted on the screen, then you have nothing to relate to. “Because you aren’t black, means that you can’t relate or at least sympathize with a slave,” is something I casually hear in angry, shout-filled arguments about movies that I try to stay away from, and it ticks me off. Not only is it wrong, but I even have a solution to that idea, in a way to shut all the naysayers up for the rest of their days: I’m a human being, isn’t that enough?

McNulty's back! And now he's pretending to be Omar!

McNulty’s back! And now he’s pretending to be Omar!

And that’s exactly the kind of idea I had in my head while watching Pride – sure, I myself am not a gay man, but I know what it feels like to want to be heard and understood, even if it was just through a simple disagreement I’ve had with a family-member or co-worker. Maybe that’s wrong of me to compare the exchange of words I may have with someone in a day in my life, to the plight of all gay and lesbian people out there across the globe, but to me, it feels necessary. Not only did it have me sympathize with just about everyone here, but it also made me realize that this is how I’m supposed to feel.

Another general idea to go along with the one I presented up about two paragraphs ago, is that it’s hard for one to enjoy a movie that’s so limited in its audience-appeal; being a film-goer/lover, I know this to be especially false. As long as the material is presented to me in a way that I can enjoy, or at least find somewhat interesting, I don’t care if you have a story about stomping possums for an-hour-and-a-half; just give me something good, and I’ll roll with it. And that’s why a movie like Pride worked for me – I didn’t need to enjoy it only by being gay, but by appreciating a good, well put-together movie when I see one.

And in case you couldn’t tell by now, Pride is a good, well put-together movie. Which surprised me because, after seeing the trailer, I expected this to be nothing more than a manipulative, feel-goody tale about a group of outspoken people that stood up and got their voices heard that we usually see hit the cinema screens, but thankfully, that’s not how it was. Well, at least not totally, anyway. The problem with Pride is that it can get a bit sappy at times and rather than trying to be subtle with what it’s trying to get across about every man, woman, and being on this planet just sticking together and loving one another, regardless of gender, race, or sexual-preference, it hits you right over-the-head. Especially on more than a few occasions.

But, then again, there is something to be said for a movie that presents a lot of these moments in an over-the-top, preachy-way, yet, still somehow works and is able to put a smile on your face.

Take, for instance, a scene in which Dominic West’s character, Jonathan Blake, decides to break the ice at a benefit for the group by dancing all over the dance floor, flaunting it like nobody’s bizz, and letting pretty much everybody in the venue know, yep, he’s gay. This burst of dance obviously gets everybody else involved and all hyped-up, but it’s not just the gays and lesbians who join in on the fun – there’s actually two very straight, very masculine miner-boys who, throughout the whole movie prior to this, kept their distance from the homosexuals, but now, realizes that looking flamboyant and, overall, being a good dancer, attracts a whole bunch of horny, hot woman, who are just looking to grope the next best dancer they can find who isn’t named Usher (mind you, this was before Yeah!, but you catch my drift). So obviously, they decide to be actual friends with the group that’s supporting them, in hopes that they’ll get all the dancing-lessons they oh so desire.

Is this corny? You betcha! But is it also slightly lovely to see two different sides of society, come together, all in the name of dance? Oh, definitely and that’s how mostly all of Pride is. It’s corny, but sometimes, so corny that you can’t help but fall in love with its inherent corniness and even mistaken it for “having charm”. Which was fine to me, because the movie presents us with enough rich and tender dramatic moments that tell us how hard it truly was for each of these people to get disrespected because of who they were, to go along with the happy-go-lucky ones where everybody’s smiling, drinking, sexxing, and just overall, having a grand time.

Oh, those daft old ladies laughing makes my stomach warm up. And also want tea.

Oh, those daft old ladies laughing makes my stomach warm up. And also want tea.

Oh, and they’re dancing, too, but I think I’ve made that clear enough by now.

And though the movie can get deep a couple of times, especially when it talks about the oncoming scare of HIV and how nobody’s really doing anything to stop it from wiping out just about everybody it infects, it still doesn’t want to take us away from the fact that this is a sweet, simple story, that hardly ever rings a false note. Sure, there’s a couple of villainous-homophobes that were literally a mustache-twirl away from going full Bond, but even they seemed like they had reasons for being so against same-sex relationships, as misguided as they may have been. Same even goes for the townspeople who eventually grow to like the gays and lesbians; they have clear, understandable intentions for wanting to help their cause, yet, still not totally be thrown for a loop in terms of what they want in life. All they really want to do is lend a helping hand to people who seem like they need it the most, which, to me, isn’t just the real beauty and crowd-cheering praise I can give this movie, but to humanity as a whole.

Okay, now I’m getting sappy.

Consensus: By not trying to be anything it’s not, Pride feels like the sort of feel-good, pick-me-upper that deserves to be seen by anybody who wants to laugh, tear-up a bit, and at the end of the day, feel good about living in the world that we do, where humans inherently feel the need to do the right thing.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Not 80's enough.

Not 80’s enough. Needs more colored mo-hawks.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Maleficent (2014)

How could one not be petrified to death of those cheek-bones?

When Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) was just a blissful young fairy, she was full of all sorts of life and cared for all of those around her. She loved and protected the forest she lived in; had fairy-friends that she would often fly around with; and even made herself a human-friend in the form of Stefan (Sharlto Copley). They had a great friendship that lasted until he became King – an honor he received by cutting-off Maleficent’s wings, and therefore, robbing her of her innocence. So obviously Maleficent wasn’t too happy about this and decided that she would do whatever she could to extract revenge on him in any way possible, even if that meant cursing his newborn daughter Aurora (Elle Fanning). With the fear that his whole family is in danger, Stefan decides to send his daughter away with three fairies (Lesley Manville, Imelda Staunton, Juno Temple), where they will watch over her and take care of her. However, the problem is that these fairies do a pretty lackluster job at doing so, and instead, leaves Maleficent herself to care for Aurora and watch over her through her formative years; making the bond between the two of them stronger than either could ever imagine. Especially for Maleficent who, if she’s not careful, may actually start caring for this little kid she calls “a beast”.

Though most of you may think that these constant, live-action re-workings of classic fairy-tales may not work for someone such as myself – it’s surprisingly the other way around. In fact, more or less, I actually commend more of them to be made. Not only do I feel like it gives our future generations a better understanding of what these stories actually are and look like, but it also shows us what these types of stories could be with actual, real-life human beings in the role, regardless of how much CGI may be floating around them.

And in the case of Maleficent, there’s a whole lot of CGI floating around here, and then some.

I think in this case, he may be the one with the horns, if you catch my drift.

I think in this case, he may be the one with the horns, if you catch my drift.

While what I just said may have given off a negative connotation, I’ll have you know, that is totally not the case with this movie. See, first-time director Robert Stromberg has truly created something beautiful here; colors, locations and fantasy-like worlds all blend together to give us an idea that were in some place totally original, despite looking like every other fantasy world ever created. It’s a hard task that Stromberg is able to pass, and pass well, which may not seem like much of a surprise to anyone who knows that he’s worked on movies like Avatar and Alice in Wonderland in the past.

However, is there such a thing as a movie looking “too beautiful”? Personally, I don’t believe so, but there does come a point where you have to wonder just when do the visuals end, and the story begin. And here, there isn’t ever a really story that begins, or even ends for that case; it sort of just accompanies the beautiful, awe-inspiring visuals that keep our eyes busy and preoccupied, so that we don’t realize what little story there actually is here.

But considering that this movie is a little over an-hour-and-a-half (a huge surprise to get in the first month of the summer movie season), the lack of a story/drive, is really noticeable and actually makes a lot of the problems with this movie shine even brighter and harsher than before, when all it was that we had to pay attention to was how purrty everything looked.

Like, for instance, with the exception of our titled-character, there is not a single interesting character to be found throughout this whole movie; instead, everybody is just a bunch of walking, talking, and behaving cliches. Sharlto Copley plays King Stefan who is basically just a selfish, deuchy man that continues to get more and more insane, just as his facial-hair begins to get more and more ridiculous and over-bearing; the three fairies are ditsy klutzes used to be something of “comedic-reliefs”, yet they are neither; Sam Riley seems like he wants to break out and show off some charm as Maleficent’s side-kick that she can turn into any creature she can think of, but anytime it seems like he’s just about to, our evil queen (aka, the movie) turns him into a crow, or a wolf, or a dragon, therefore killing any possibility that he may have some fun in this thinly-written role; and Elle Fanning, for once in her short, but storied-career, gave me a performance of hers that’s not the least bit intriguing, because, for the most part, all she has to do is look up to Maleficent and gaze into those mesmerizing eyes of hers.

That’s pretty much it. Could have called up Dakota for that job, if you ask me.

But that’s not even the bulk of the problems with this movie; like I alluded to before, there’s really no story here. In case you didn’t know, this is an origin-tale that throws us right into this story, this world, and this character that we’re clearly supposed to care for, but once Maleficent turns the other cheek and becomes an evil beotch, then the movie sort of just moves along at its own pace, while at the same time, not really doing anything. Sure, we get to see some shading to the character of Maleficent and how she’s not all that much of a despicable witch after all, but it’s not enough to warrant a whole movie made about her, her adventures, and the problems she must overcome as an evil witch scorned with hatred and revenge for another man.

Come to think of it, it’s always about a man, isn’t it? These Disney movies always love to brag and show off how much they’re about “girl power” and how much having a man in their life doesn’t matter, but when it really comes right down to it, it’s always a man that they’re fighting for, or because. It’s never that a woman lives her life because she wants to by her own free-will; it’s always because a man had some inspiration in the matter, somehow, someway. Always seems a bit weird to me, but maybe I just think too much.

And this is what sort of brings me to my next point about the most important aspect of this whole movie: Angelina Jolie as Maleficent. It’s cool to see Jolie in a role like this that nobody could ever see her actually accepting to do, but I guess motherhood has had a bit of an affect on her life as of late and it’s about time that she finally decided to take some roles for herself and bring some of that extra-dough. Whether or not that’s actually the case, it doesn’t matter because at least we still get to see how good she is when she’s given enough material for her to chew on and work with to the bone. She’s always been known to do that, as well as show everybody how damn beautiful and dazzling she looks; so with an iconic villain like Maleficent, you think that she’d be working wonders with this role. Right?

Ripped right out of Shrek.

When did everything become Shrek all of a sudden?

Well, that’s the problem, once again, with the movie: It doesn’t give her enough to really run wild or have a good time with. There’s a certain charisma that Jolie brings to this role that allows us to see her more human than ever before, but there’s just not enough camp to this performance where we really get the sense that she’s having fun. She’s never going through the motions, however, she’s never really showing all that much of an effort that would really put this movie over the edge into being something you need to see, if only for her.

Most of that’s the movie’s fault, and less of her own, but it’s still a fault that this movie should be held accountable for. And not just because it doesn’t give one of our best-working actresses today enough material to really go nuts with, but because it makes Maleficent, the character, seem like sort of a jumble of ideas. I’m all for getting behind a villainous character and showing them in a slightly sympathetic-light, but with somebody as memorably and recognizably scary as Maleficent, it doesn’t really do her any justice for us to see her as a character we not only stand behind, but actually come to like. Not saying that it can’t be done, but when it comes to this character, one who is quite frightening even in animated-form, then you really have to know just what you’re going to do with her and why. If you don’t, then don’t bother.

And you sure as hell don’t waste any of Angelina’s good old time. Especially when she’s got to go back to that hunk of man-meat every night.

Consensus: Easy on the eyes with its beautiful production-designs, Maleficent proves to be a movie that’s a lot about what it seems to be on its lush-surface, but when one really gets down to it and digs a bit deeper under that said surface, there’s not much to be found. Just a waste of a great cast, most importantly, a more-than-willing Angelina Jolie.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Ugh. I can't believe she wore that to this party. Like what a betch."

“Ugh. I can’t believe she wore that to this. Like, what a betch.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBAceShowbiz

Belle (2014)

Good thing she didn’t have to wear one of those horrendous powdered-wigs.

When Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)’s mother dies, her white, Royal Navy officer father (Matthew Goode) takes her in and leaves her at his uncle and aunt’s (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson) place, in hopes that she’ll not only be treated fairly, but also have the same wealth, tender, love and care that he had. It’s hard considering that Dido is of mixed-race, which means that more than a few people will whispering about her, but the Mansfield’s get by and allow Dido to dine with them when nobody else is around, and be, essentially, a playmate of sorts for Dido’s own cousin, Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon), whose father left her with absolutely nothing but shambles. As Dido and Elizabeth grow older, they both realize that it’s time for a man in their lives, which also means getting hitched-off to somebody whom has more, or at least as much, money as you do. Since Dido’s father left her with a lot of cash-money to get cozy with, all sorts of men come knocking at her door-step. However, to Dido, it doesn’t matter how rich, how powerful, or how cool any of these men are, all she wants is somebody who is smart, nice, and respectful to her; which, from what it seems like, she has found. Except it’s not with somebody of a very high status, it’s a young, but ambitious lawyer by the name of John Davinier (Sam Reid), who seems to be working on a case with Dido’s uncle that may strike as some importance, especially to her.

Anytime a person thinks about racism, better yet, slavery, where is the place they most often connect that disgusting term to? The dirty, deep and dark South. However, what’s strange to find out is that not only was slavery happening all around us, but in different parts of the world as well. This may not seem like as much of a shocker to anybody with half-a-brain, but after all of the constant talking and loving of 12 Years a Slave, it’s kind of a nice change-of-pace to get a movie that not only deals with the same themes as that movie, but done so in a way that isn’t nearly as brutal, nor isn’t anywhere to be found in the South with Michael Fassbender yelling, preaching, dancing and raping all over the place.

Of course every woman's dream guy looks like 17th Century Rob Van Dam .

Of course every woman’s dream guy looks like 17th Century Rob Van Dam .

Thank heavens for that, too. Because honestly, I think I can only handle watching something like that every so often.

Anyway, what makes Belle so unique, isn’t just the idea that it takes place in Britain and deals with an dark-skinned lady having to get used to the old school, preppy British ways these people were so accustomed to; it’s that the movie doesn’t try to preach its heart out about what it is trying to get across. Sure, there are plenty of moments where it seems like the script is just yelling at us, “Pay attention to how important and powerful I am!!!”, but other times, it felt like the movie was going for more of a character-study about who this Belle woman was, and why the position she was thrown into, sort of sucked. But by the same token, why she was lucky that she wasn’t worse off.

In fact, if there was any problem I had with this movie, it was that the tone and overall mood of this thing was a bit off. I get that costume dramas are supposed to be quiet and filled with emotional moments of people professing their love one another in the pouring rain, but there were too many times here where I felt like director Amma Asante wanted to go in one direction with this movie, but then, for some odd reason, decided to say, “Aw, fuck it!”, and changed everything up. It’s hard to explain for somebody who hasn’t seen this movie and doesn’t want it to be spoiled for them, but it goes a little something like this: For every quiet, subtle moment of either racism or class-warfare, there’s a loud, over-the-top scene in which somebody is saying something emotional, and totally meaning it.

In a way, it’s part-Jane Eyre (the 2011 version), and part-Pride and Prejudice (the Colin Firth-starring version). Easy comparisons I know, but they’re both costume-dramas that feel like they have one set mood/tone, and they absolutely stick with it. No changing up from scene-to-scene; just one, cohesive thread. However here, with Belle, it always felt like that thread was being pulled this way, then put back into place, and then pulled again. It never seemed to do its story as much justice as it should have.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some juicy bits to be found, especially whenever a character would get into a shouting argument with another character, in what I can only describe as “19th century rich people fighting”; however, they didn’t always last. The story itself may all be true, however, that still doesn’t keep it away from being a tad corny and made for somebody who can appreciate these types of Jane Austen period-pieces.

Notice how I said “somebody”, and not just “women”. Trying to keep it safe over here, people.

Anyway, the only aspect in which this flick really seemed to hit its stride, was with the ensemble cast of characters. For some odd reason, Matthew Goode gets his name high up there on the poster, despite practically being in the movie for less than five minutes. Guess he was just too charming and handsome to let go of for good. As for the two peeps playing his aunt and uncle, as predicted, Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson are terrific and show us two sides to the way in which Belle needed to be brought-up. Watson’s character is more of a prickly, stern woman, whereas Wilkinson’s is a bit more about expressing one’s self, being who you are and not letting up for anyone, no matter what they say. In fact, Wilkinson saves this movie’s script a couple of times from sounding so hokey, that it could have been “laugh-out-loud hilurrious”. However, that’s just what you get when you sign Tom Wilkinson to a movie: He’s always going to assure you that you get the best that he can deliver on.

Oh ladies! You must stop looking so revealing!

Oh ladies! You must stop looking so revealing!

However, the stand-out of this cast is the one who plays our titled-character Belle herself, Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Yes, the name is a bit hard to pronounce (Goo-goo M-Bath-a-Ra), but once you can get past that fact, you’ll realize that there is a lot to this gal that’s just waiting to be revealed. If nobody remembers just who exactly Mbatha-Raw is, she’s that cool, hip chick from Larry Crowne. The movie itself wasn’t anything at all close to being special, but she made something about it seem so everytime she showed up, getting us away from the fact that she also happened to be playing the girlfriend of Wilmer Valderrama’s character for some odd reason.

But the past is the past, people! We, as a society, must get past that and take her for what she is, and what Gugu Mbatha-Raw is, is a great actress. She’s a name not too many people know about, but I feel like she may be able to get out there now and show the world what she’s got, because her performance as Dido is pretty stunning. She, just like Wilkinson and Watson, seems to come from the same school of “subtle acting” that really helps her character develop and morph as time goes on. At first, she’s a small, naive girl that doesn’t really know how she feels about anything in the world, including herself, but as time goes on, she starts to see the world for the wide, wonderful canvas that it has, with sometimes beautiful, and sometimes ugly things happening in it. Once she starts to see everything there is to see about this world around her, it’s not only done well, but makes us see Dido for what she is: A young woman who has been sheltered her whole life and is ready to take it on with all she’s got. She”s a bit of a cliche, but Mbatha-Raw helps her get past that and have us believe in her.

Hopefully this means bigger, better, and brighter things for our gal, Gugu. Maybe now is the time she should get the rare advice to, in fact, “stay away from Tom Hanks.” Just saying.

Consensus: Sometimes, Belle is thought-provoking, smart and subtle, whereas other times, it’s obvious, cloying and all too much like other costume-dramas of the same vein, however, the cast is always consistently great and make this totally worth watching, especially if you want to be the person who says that they “knew that Gugu chick before everybody else did”.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Why's her hat fresher than mine? Is it because I'm black?!!?!"

“Why’s her hat sexier than mine? Is it because I’m black?!!?!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net