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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Michael Chernus

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Alright. No more reboots!

After being recruited by the one and only Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and kicking all sorts of ass in the so-called “Civil War”, 15-year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland), when he isn’t in school, cutting class, or crushing hard on his fellow classmate (Laura Harrier), he’s throwing on his red and blue jumpsuit, shootin’ webs, and yes, stoppin’ crime. The only issue is that he was given specific instructions not to act out in this manner, or else, he wouldn’t be allowed in the Avengers, something Peter has wanted since day one. But Peter thinks that he can keep a low-profile, until real bad stuff starts happening, like when a low-level arms-dealer (Michael Keaton), begins selling highly illegal and dangerous weapons to all sorts of criminals on the streets. Sure, he was supposed to stay cool and calm, but after awhile, Peter just can’t stand by and let this happen, which means that it’s time for him to get involved and kick some butt. The only issue is that he’s got so much pressure, both at home and at school, that he doesn’t quite know how to juggle everything with his personal life and still, at the end of the day, save the world.

Just your friendly dorky neighborhood Peter Parker, everyone!

Such is a daily dilemma for all superheros, I presume.

So yeah, first things first: Spider-Man: Homecoming is, get this, not necessarily an origin story. Believe it or not, what we got to see of Spidey in Civil War was basically all we needed to know about him; he’s fun, goofy, quick-witted, and oh yeah, brash. That’s basically. Co-writer/director Jon Watts, as well as the five other writers here (Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers) are all smart enough to know that by now, we’ve seen and understood all that there is to know and understood about Peter Parker, his upbringing, where he came from, and all of the backstory that usually plagues another origin-story such as this.

Instead of showing us his first steps, or better yet, the first time he learned how to swing a web, we actually get character-development for Peter, as well as all of those that surround him. Sure, there’s plot about growing up, this baddie lurking somewhere in the distance, and of course, all of the tie-ins to previous Marvel stuff, but really, the movie is all about the characters, how they work with one another, and how exactly they work in this universe. It’s the small things that make these mega-budget, loud, and bombastic summer blockbusters so worth while and it’s why Marvel’s got a solid formula to keep on working with.

Which means that, yes, Homecoming is a swing and a hit. It’s not a home-run, but it’s definitely a solid piece of Marvel entertainment that feels like it’s not just giving us a nice peak inside this already large universe, but also allowing us to get used to these characters for future installments to come. For someone such as myself, who grew up on and adored the Sam Raimi Spider-Man flicks, it’s a little difficult to fully take in this new band of trustees, but after this first showing, they could grow on me. They’re easy-to-like, charming and yes, different enough from the original to where it doesn’t feel like we have to sit down, compare and contrast the two products the whole time.

Wait. Batman? Birdman? Some dude called “Vulture”? What’s going on?!?

Instead, it’s just nice to sit down and appreciate a popcorn superhero flick for being, well, exactly what it sets out to be: Fun.

End of story.

And if we are going to compare, then yes, it’s safe to say that Tom Holland more than fits into the role of Peter Parker because he’s not playing a total and complete dweeb. Sure, Maguire’s take is still heartfelt enough, but really, Holland’s Parker is portrayed more as of a bit of a smart-ass, who also happens to be incredibly smart. Holland’s fun to watch as Parker, but it also helps that he feels and looks like an actual kid; Maguire and Andrew Garfield were both nearly 30-years-old, playing a high-school-aged Parker, seeming like they were just doing dress up for October the 31st. With Holland in the role, he seems like an actual high-school kid, stuck in this sort of situation and because of that, it helps to relate to the kid a bit more.

And really, with our superhero flicks, isn’t that all we want? Someone we can root for, sympathize with, and even identify with? Probably not, but hey, it works for me.

Consensus: Fun, quick, and pretty smart for a superhero flick, Homecoming proves that Spider-Man doesn’t need another damn origin-story, but does need/get/deserve a solid bit of players to look forward to seeing in the near-future.

7.5 / 10

Brought to you by Jansport.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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The Dinner (2017)

Have a nice, friendly din-din with your bro, they said.

Paul (Steve Coogan) and his wife, Claire (Laura Linney) get ready to spend an evening with his brother and sister-in-law at a fancy restaurant where they can catch up, discuss some things, and yeah, just do what adults do by a certain age when not much else is left to do: Try to one-up each other. It’s this sole reason that Paul doesn’t want to go, but there’s something going on with his son (Charlie Plummer) that this dinner needs to address and rather than sitting around, moping, and not seeing anything getting better, Paul decides to suck it up and have dinner with his brother and his wife. And said brother, who also happens to be Congressman Stan Lohman (Richard Gere), knows that he and Paul have some things to address, but it takes too long to get there because, well, they don’t quite get along. There’s a history there and it’s something that keeping this dinner away from being, at the very least, a civilized one. Tack on the fact that Stan’s wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), isn’t in the best of moods, either, and yeah, it’s going to be a long night.

Steve Coogan is sure-as-hell wishing that he was dinner at with Rob Brydon right about now.

Without going so far as to review the Dinner on what could have been, instead of its merits like one should always do, there’s a part of me that wishes it had been a lot easier, simpler, and laid-out than what actually happens. See, on the surface, there’s a movie that’s ripe with promise of tension, questions, answers, family-history, and well, ideas about the world we live in, the world we make for future generations to come around, and most above all, politics. In that sense, had the movie just been a four-hander between these four very talented actors, just waxing on and on about life and all of its issues, then yes, the Dinner probably would have been as compelling as it promised.

But unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.

The Dinner is, for lack of a better term, overstuffed beyond belief and way too busy to really work with itself out. Director Oren Moverman has proven in the past that he has a knack for telling small, subtle, but dark tales about everyday humans, but for some reason, he gets wrapped-up in way too much going on here; granted, it was Cate Blanchett who was originally supposed to direct here, but dropped out, leaving Moverman to pick up the pieces. He tries to make sense of the many strands of plot this movie has, but after awhile, once the eighth or tenth unnecessary flashback hits the screen, it becomes really repetitive and really annoying, really quick.

After all, it’s only breaking up any of the tension that the actors create here in the first place, making it seem like the material was too troubling to work with in the first place, or that Moverman didn’t trust these actors enough to really give the movie all the intensity it needed to work. And when it’s just them four, sitting around a table, it’s quite a treat to watch; Coogan, Linney, Gere, and as usual, Hall, are all pros at what they do and can handle whatever this sometimes wacky script throws at them. However, it gets to become a problem when the movie steps away from them so much, almost to the point of where you wonder whether the title is ironic, or if there is actually supposed to be a so-called “Dinner” taking place?

I don’t know who’s their daddy, but Richard Gere and Steve Coogan did not came from the same mother.

And if so, with whom? Or better yet, will we actually be able to watch it?

Still though, it’s hard to hate a movie with this cast because when the Dinner is on them, it’s fun and rather, exciting. It’s a true testament to what can happen, even if you have a weak script, when you have a solid cast, doing what they do best: Act. Coogan’s probably the most impressive here, as his character not only gets the most development out of the four, but also gets to show off his much darker, meaner and weirder side that we don’t too often see. Sure, his American-accent is a little too odd for me to fully buy, but in this character’s case, it sort of works. Yeah, I’m still not sure.

However, the movie not only needed more of him, but yeah, everyone else, too. It’s called “the Dinner” for a reason – let’s see said “Dinner” actually occur.

Consensus: Despite solid performances from the four leads, the Dinner suffers from a way too busy and hackneyed plot that does so much, it breaks up any of the tension that’s meant to be felt with dark and disturbing material such as this.

5 / 10

“Cheers to pure hatred and contempt for one another and everything around us!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Complete Unknown (2016)

Sometimes, it’s best to just run away, change your identity, rinse, recycle, and repeat.

For his birthday, Tom (Michael Shannon) decides to get all of his best and closest pals together. Why? Well, because why not! Anyway, everyone comes around, enjoying some fine drinks, dinner and even cake and what should be a fun, celebratory time, for some reason or another, gets a little weird. For some reason, Tom’s friend and co-worker, Clyde (Michael Chernus), decided to bring a date with him – some pretty girl he met at a lunch-spot named Alice (Rachel Weisz) – and because of that, Tom can’t stop acting weird. He feels as if he knows Alice from somewhere in his life, but can’t seem to put his finger on it. Why? Well, he doesn’t really know, nor does anyone else at the party, which is why they’re constantly freaked out by Tom’s act. The only one who does know why Tom is acting the way he is, is Alice who seems to have some weird mysteries of her own.

Yeah, not easily recognizable at all. She didn't like win an Oscar over a decade ago or anything!

Yeah, not easily recognizable at all. She didn’t like win an Oscar over a decade ago or anything!

Complete Unknown is a fine movie because it asks for you to pay attention to its story and stick around so you get the full, clear picture of what it’s trying to do and say. Director and co-writer Joshua Marston clearly seems to be battling with a few different ideas and tones in his head and because of that, it’s interesting to see just what he comes up with, even when it does seem like he’s not quite sure of where even he’s going. Then again, isn’t that why we all go out to see indies? To get something that’s new, creative and slightly more original than our typical, mainstream fare?

Well, actually, yeah, and that’s why a movie like Complete Unknown, as messy and sometimes odd as it may be, is still, at the very least, interesting.

And really, that’s all it needs to be to work.

Although, what’s probably the oddest element about Complete Unknown is how you expect to be one thing, by the way it starts off, and then it becomes something different entirely. From the beginning, you expect it to be this small, almost plot-less character-study about a woman who seems to jump from one life to another, almost for no reason whatsoever. It’s interesting that we’re never told this, but instead, shown this through all of her different lives and careers.

Michael Shannon? Smiling?

Michael Shannon? Smiling?

But then, Marston changes the game on us and instead, gives us a bigger picture, with more characters, more relationships, and more of an idea of where it’s going to go. And yes, unfortunately, it’s sort of where the movie falls over itself; Complete Unknown is a movie that clearly works best when you can’t pin-point what it’s trying to do, or where exactly it wants to go next. When it becomes clear that the movie wants to try and make this a weird sort-of thriller where people are constantly curious about this Alice girl, as well as Tom’s reaction to her, it loses a bit of steam.

Then again, the cast is so good that it almost hardly doesn’t matter. Shannon is great in these sorts of roles where he plays an every man who, one day, starts to seem a bit shifty and may have something far more darker to him. But then, there’s also Rachel Weisz who plays Alice so well, that she sort of steals the movie. There’s a small, but beating heart to Complete Unknown and it all lies with her and her character; what about her past with Tom, we don’t quite figure out right away, but the mystery is enough to stay interested and see where it all goes. Even if the movie does sort of just end, finding out more about these two and their possible past was more than compelling to have made me glad to be on this weird ride.

Consensus: Despite not fully working with all the different tones and genres, Complete Unknown works best when it’s giving its solid cast mysterious, but interesting material to work with.

6.5 / 10

Need to start anew? There's always the beach.

Need to start anew? There’s always the beach.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Youtube, the Verge

The Family Fang (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

Trust me, there’s a big distinction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Mistress America (2015)

Freshmen are so immature anyway! Just hang out with the older-crowd!

Tracy (Lola Kirke) has just started her freshman year of college and already, she’s not a huge fan of it. For one, she doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life; she wants to be a writer, but in order to so, she needs to join up with the school’s writer’s group, who aren’t as welcoming as she’d like. Also, Tracy doesn’t have many friends that she can continuously hang out with. Even though she considers Tony (Matthew Shear), a fellow aspiring novelist, a solid friend of hers, he soon starts taking up with a girl that she’s a bit jealous of and doesn’t really care for. So one night, out of pure boredom and desperation, Tracy decides to call up her soon-to-be-step-sister, Brooke (Greta Gerwig), who is a lot different from what she’d expected. Because Brooke’s a lot more eccentric and fun than a lot of the other people Tracy knows, they start to hang out more and more, where Tracy starts to mooch off of Brooke more and more, even though Brooke doesn’t even care to notice because she’s currently too occupied with plans of having her own restaurant. But eventually, the truth about Brooke’s past comes into play and it isn’t before long that Tracy realizes Brooke isn’t all that she’s made-out to be.

One hipster...

One hipster…

For better, as well as for worse.

I’ve got to give a lot of credit to Noah Baumbach. Somehow, he was able to film a whole, 85-minute narrative-flick, starring both Greta Gerwig and Lola Kirke, in secret, without anyone knowing, and have it still feel like a well thought-out movie. Though it definitely seems like a lot of it was made-up on the fly, for the most part, Baumbach knows the story he wants to tell and even though it’s not going to tear down the walls like he did with Frances Ha, he’s still going to give the world a little piece of indie-cinema.

Doesn’t make it a great movie or anything, but the intentions are good and sometimes, that’s what matters.

Problem is, though, Mistress America feels like it’s trying too hard. But not in the way you’d expect Baumbach’s movies to be. In most of his other flicks, Baumbach seems so intent and keen on making his characters so unlikable and grating, that he sometimes forgot how to tell a story and make it some bit of compelling. Here, however, he loves his character’s so much and wants the audience to feel the same way, that he, once again, forgets how to tell a story and make it compelling.

Which isn’t to say that the first-half or so of this movie isn’t. Baumbach’s biggest strength here is that he portrays what it’s like to be a college freshman and have not a single clue what the hell to do with your life. Not too long ago, you were a clear-headed person with enough inspiration for what you wanted to do, but then, literally out of nowhere, you’re thrown into this great, big, and new world where you’re the tiniest fish in the sea and left without anyone to latch onto or follow. Everybody else seems to be going somewhere, but you, on the other hand, don’t, and it’s, at times, both frustrating and miserable.

This is how Tracy feels and Lola Kirke does a great job with the role, as a whole. For one, Tracy’s naive enough that when she eventually meets a person who wants to be her friend and hang around with her, she can’t help but follow that person’s each and every move. At the same time though, she’s also smart enough to use this for her personal-gain where she is, in ways, using Brooke. Sometimes, it’s to help create her story, other times, it’s to get a free meal and night out on the town. But overall, Kirke feels like a fully-realized and understandable young adult.

Something that Brooke never quite feels like.

...meets another.

…meets another.

However, because she’s played by Greta Gerwig, there’s a certain amount of likability to her that makes it easy to get past the fact that this character is nothing more than just a type. She’s the kind of character you’d find in an episode of Girls that Lena Dunham would use as a soap-box moment to make a point about the type of self-involved young women that she loathes (even if she herself may be one). Which is fine for a half-hour long show, but for a near-hour-and-a-half movie that depends on this character for a sense of morality, it doesn’t quite work.

Because the main protagonist is so in love with Gerwig’s character, it only makes all the more sense that the movie would act the same way and while it’s sometimes funny to hear what ridiculous things this character has to say, after awhile, it becomes clear that it’s a crutch the movie falls back on. Soon, the last-half comes in and while it’s quick, random, and constantly moving, it also feels randomly thrown in there. It’s clear that Baumbach wants this to be his “screwball comedy”-try, but it makes a lot of these characters sound cloying and irritating.

It’s a nice effort, though. It’s just a little too late.

To be fair though, it should be noted that these characters do eventually get their comeuppances. While they may not be as serious or as life-changing as they probably would be in the real life, they still feel like a nice treat from Baumbach showing that the real world does exist. Even though half of the movie seems like it took place in some ultra-witty land where everyone has a snappy comeback to anything ever said to them, there’s still a glimmer of harsh truths to be found; the truths where people have to learn to grow up, stop depending on others, and see what they can make of themselves while they’re at it.

Basically, what Baumbach’s always been talking about since he got started.

Consensus: Despite some charm, Mistress America loves itself a bit too much to really be all that hilarious and ends up taking away from the more insightful aspects.

6 / 10

And they're now hipsters together!

And they’re now hipsters together!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Glass Chin (2015)

Don’t be afraid to bag groceries for the rest of your life. There’s some pride in that.

Down-on-his-luck ex-boxer Bud Gordon, was commonly referred to as “the Saint”, but he’s been anything but. He’s got a girlfriend (Marin Ireland) that he’s trying to settle down, but can’t stop cheating on her; has a job as a boxing-trainer, but still can’t keep himself away from working as a guy who looks for loansharking victims; and wants to open back up a restaurant of his that was recently closed down, but in order to do so, he has to rely on whatever the odd, eccentric gangster J.J. (Billy Crudup) tells him what to do and when. Bud may not have a perfect life, but he’s just getting by and wants to continue to do so, even while his night job with his “co-worker”, Roberto (Yul Vasquez), gets more and more dangerous by the minutes. Eventually though, it all comes to a head and Bud’s left to wonder what his next move should be – either, risk everything in his life, or take another easy pay-out for himself and his possible new restaurant? Bud doesn’t know what to do, but he’s going to rely on his ability to do the right thing, even if he doesn’t know what that is just yet.

"Hey, we get Freud, too."

“Hey, we get Freud, too.”

Everything about Glass Chin sounds so very familiar and generic, but somehow, writer/director Noah Buschel finds interesting little ways of how to spin it just so that it doesn’t come off like that one bit. Instead of making this movie about how an ex-boxer found redemption both in-and-out of the ring, it’s more about how this ex-boxer copes with making enough money to support him and his girl, with whatever work comes his way. Though, once again, that may all sound conventional, it doesn’t come off that way; more or less, it seems like the kind of movie made about people we don’t too often see get the spotlight quite as much.

These types of characters here in Glass Chin are mostly all down-on-their-luck, not just Bud, but they have so much more to them that makes them worth watching. Sometimes. they enjoy a little movie, other times, a nice night on the town, getting plastered and reminiscing on the old times. These characters here may all have their quirks that set them apart differently from one another, but they’re all placed into a certain group that’s similar and it makes me appreciate these kinds of movie all the more.

Though Buschel had every opportunity to make this movie so much more than it appears to be, he fights the urge to do so and mostly, just keeps his attention set firmly on Bud and all that happens with him and his life. And by “firmly”, I do mean as-firm-as-a-glove; Buschel has a neat style here where he performs a lot of long takes, sometimes likes to go with a close-up on a character’s face who seems like they’re talking directly to you, and other times, make the colors so jumpy and distinctive, that the characters themselves fall into them.

However, no matter what tricks Buschel uses, there’s always somebody talking here. And it’s always intriguing to hear and watch as it moves the plot along.

Because even though a lot of these characters could be generally considered “the numbskulls of society”, they occasionally drop a smart line about life every now and then, just to remind you that they do an awful lot of thinking, too. They aren’t just placed into one area of society, forgotten about, and allow for their brains to fry – they’ve think, too, and you know what? They want to let others know.

Sometimes, what these characters say or talk about, can border on unique, or plain and simply odd, but it’s always interesting to listen to. Buschel has a knack here for writing dialogue just how these sorts of people would talk, even if they do sometimes go on rather long tangents that either, seem to go nowhere, or have a point, but take forever to get there. The one character that this is proven so perfectly with is Billy Crudup’s slimy and weird J.J.; though you know he’s definitely up to no good and is more than likely to screw Bud up in any way he sees fit, there’s something oddly charming about him to where you just want to believe that he may be as nice of a guy as he presents. You know he isn’t, but still, you hold-out some form of hope.

A little too intrigued by that light.

A little too intrigued by that light.

Same goes for each and every other character here.

Corey Stoll’s Bud seems like a dope that doesn’t always use his head when it comes to making any sort of decision, but you just hope that his mind is in the right place for this moment in his life and that he’s not going to screw it all up due to greed; Yul Vasquez’s Roberto may or may not be on Bud’s side, but you have a feeling he is looking out for the guy, even if it’s to save his own ass; Marin Ireland’s Ellen wants to stay by her man, but he continues to test her patience with all of the screwing around and disappointing that, even if it’s sad to think of her doing so, she might have to get going, pack up her stuff, an leave Bud once and for all; and Kelly Lynch’s Mae is, just, well, sexy. Can’t expect much else from her.

Each member of the cast is good here and give their characters certain level of dimensions that you definitely won’t see coming. Sure, some are more interesting than the other, but they all matter to the story and prove that if you have a good enough cast and characters to work with, then the plot will sort of fall as it pleases to do so. All of the other stuff is just unnecessary used for those who can’t handle themselves if something isn’t blowing up, or if a person’s getting shot.

Those are the kinds of people not made for Glass Chin and that’s why there’s something so special about it.

Consensus: With a talented cast at work, Glass Chin goes farther and beyond its basic-cable premise, and becomes an insightful, dramatic glimpse into the live’s of character’s we don’t always get glimpses of.

8 / 10

Imagine Creed, but without pushing-70 Sly.

Imagine Creed, but without pushing-70 Sly.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Aloha (2015)

This time, it means goodbye.

After being away for many years, defense contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) returns to Hawaii where he sees people from the past that haven’t been in contact with him for nearly 13 years. People such as a former flame of his (Rachel McAdams), former co-worker (Danny McBride), and person who used to employ him and now, may need him more than ever, business tycoon Carson Welch (Bill Murray). However, Brian is now setting his sights on the future when he’s partnered-up with Air Force pilot Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who is supposed to take him all around Hawaii, guide him through certain places, and overall, get to make his stay a whole lot more comfortable. The reason being is because Brian’s in Hawaii to oversee the launch of a weapons satellite that comes strictly from Carson Welch’s own pocket. While Brian realizes that this is illegal, he still has to go through with it considering that he has nowhere else to go, or nothing else to do; Allison, on the other hand, knows this is wrong and despite her feelings for Brian, can’t find it in her to stand by such a decision.

Or, you know, something like that.

Fly. Fly far away from here.

Fly. Fly far away from here.

Honestly, the plot synopsis I just wrote is a bit of a stretch, because I’m still not sure what exactly this movie was all about. None of that has to do with the fact that I didn’t have my cup of coffee beforehand, or was constantly on my phone – it’s all due to the fact that whichever studio heads decided to chop Aloha up, chopped it up real good. Meaning, that any sign of what may have been Cameron Crowe’s original idea for a movie, gets totally lost in something so messy, so incoherent, and something so odd, that it made me feel bad for just about everybody involved.

However, regardless of what you may hear or see, it’s not terrible. The reason for that being is because the cast actually seems to be trying and although a lot of what they do here doesn’t add up to a cohesive whole, it’s hard to be angry at everybody here and blame them. Especially since, in most instances, they’re the main reasons the movie’s worth being watched.

Like, for instance, take Emma Stone as Allison Ng, a character who is actually supposed to be Asian, but we’ll leave that alone for now. Stone, as usual, is fun, light, perky, and charming as hell. It’s seemingly impossible to despise her presence in anything she shows up in, and although Allison is a lot like Kirsten Dunst’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl in Crowe’s Elizabethtown, I found her a lot more believable, if only because Stone made her so. Even when she starts to have feelings for Bradley Cooper’s character, it comes from a place of adoration and respect, and isn’t just because she wants to bang the hottest the guy who just so happens to step into Hawaii.

Because if that were the case, clearly she’d be gunning for Bill Murray. Like, come on. No competition whatsoever.

And of course, Bradley Cooper’s fine, too. Brian Gilcrest seems like the same kind of challenging, incomplete, and imperfect protagonist that Crowe loves to write about and while he may not get the movie that say, someone like Tom Cruise deserved with Jerry Maguire, Cooper still tries, time and time again. Same goes for the likes of Danny McBride, John Krasinski, Bill Camp, Alec Baldwin, Rachel McAdams, and most of all, Bill Murray, who, oddly enough, is saddled with a villainous role that never seems to actually step over the line from being “bad”, but instead, just stays like the Bill Murray we all know and love.

But most of the problem with an ensemble this so finely stacked, is that they don’t get much to do in Aloha. Perhaps in the original cut that featured a lot more character moments, as well as explanation of just what the hell Brian Gilcrest is doing in Hawaii in the first place, but not here. Instead, what we’re stuck with here is an odd movie that wants to be so many things at the same time, and while it slightly succeeds at one of them, the rest feel useless and just thrown in there for the sake of taking up time.

Which is especially odd, considering that the movie’s hardly even two hours.

Please hook up. Make this some bit of interesting.

Please hook up. Make this some bit of interesting.

In a way, you could say that Aloha would have probably benefited from another half-hour or so, just so that we could have gotten more of whatever Crowe had initially written-out. The elements with Stone and Cooper were fine as is, so no tampering needed to be done with them, but what about the whole love-angle between Cooper and McAdams? That was probably the juiciest part of this whole movie, where our protagonist has to deal with the missed-opportunities he has to face in his life now, and instead, it’s treated as a minor subplot in the grander scheme of things. Instead of learning more about this character’s past through the way he interacts with those around him, we get to see him constantly battle with whatever demons are taking over his mind during this “mission”.

Once again, the movie never makes clear of what said mission actually is, up until it’s actually happening and even then, it’s still never clear. This is just another example of a studio not liking a final product, getting scared, and instead of working with the creator on it and seeing what could work best, they decided to mish and mash it up anyway that they saw fit. That isn’t to say that Crowe doesn’t at least deserve a partial amount of the blame, because he does, but it’s also to point out the fact that sometimes, movie studios really can rip apart anything that they want.

However, Crowe can be blamed, too. With Crowe’s movies, his dialogue usually feels heightened in the sense that we know that the dialogue his characters use, aren’t actually how real people talk. But for some reason, you sort of wish real people did and for that reason, it’s interesting to hear what they have to say next and how they say it. Some of Crowe’s earlier films are great examples of this, but lately, he’s gotten a bit ahead of himself and now, it’s starting to seem like he’s trying to recreate that piece of magic he had with “You Complete Me“.

Either way, it’s a dragon that Crowe should stop chasing, because it’s not helping himself out, or the actors that are forced to utter his stupid lines.

Consensus: Aloha isn’t a total and complete, unwatchable misfire, but it does feel as if it’s been tampered with too much to the point of where it takes away from the story, the message, and the talented cast that deserve better.

5 / 10

The love triangle that deserved a better movie.

The love triangle that deserved a better movie.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Alex of Venice (2015)

#SelfDiscoveryProbelms.

After feeling like a prisoner in his own marriage, George (Chris Messina) decides to leave his wife, Alex (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and kid, Dakota (Skylar Gaertner), alone to fend for themselves. Alex is taken aback by this at first, but eventually, realizes that some alone time is exactly what she needed. Though she’s a lawyer who is working on this big time case against a spa-opener (Derek Luke), she realizes that sometimes, you need to put work on the back-burner and just live life to its fullest. That means, yes, partying a lot more, and definitely, having sex. But problems begin to arise when her dad (Don Johnson) starts to struggle with a play he has currently been cast in and, even worse, is acting out in strange ways that she, as well as her sister (Katie Nehra) take notice of. Also, Alex runs into a bit of a problem with her son in that he’s spending too much time with his aunt and is learning certain things about life, love and all of that fun stuff, when Alex doesn’t want him to. Sooner than later, Alex realizes that maybe doing this whole life thing all by her lonesome self wasn’t all that fun to begin with.

Chris Messina’s the kind of character actor I love to see in anything. It doesn’t matter what it is that he’s showing up in, or for how long – as long as he’s in it and has something to do, then consider me pleased. That’s why it’s a huge shock to see him actually put himself on the back-burner and let the rest of the story, the actors and everything tell itself. Surely he has that control, seeing as how he’s the writer and director of Alex of Venice after all, but it does make me wonder: Would this movie have been a lot better with more Messina?

Yeah, Alex! You get 'em, girl!

Yeah, Alex! You get ’em, girl!

Should “more Messina” be an actual complaint sent-out to movies that are seriously lacking in the casting of Chris Messina-department?

Maybe. Maybe not. Basically, I’m trying to avoid having to discuss Alex of Venice and how disappointing of a film it is. This isn’t because Messina isn’t in it as much (although, there’s no harm in that, really), but because the premise calls on for what I’ve come to realize can be labeled as “later-in-life re-awakenings” sub-genre of indie dramedies. In these kinds of movies, we see an adult literally come to a crossroad in their life where they don’t know what to do, where to go, or what to make sense of; all they know is that they want to be happy and do what they want for a change, rather than appeasing those around them and giving in.

These movies are around more than one may think, and for the most part, they’re getting tired by now. Alex of Venice proves this because it shows that it doesn’t matter if you have a strong actor, a strong character, or even a strong message in the middle of it all – if you don’t find certain ways to change or dilute from the formula a bit, there’s not much to really watch or care for. Any movie that goes through the motions in a bland, rather boring manner, always bores me. However, when you’re an indie and are able to break away from the norm of what’s been set-out before one’s sight, it makes me even more upset.

The only saving grace to anything Alex of Venice has to offer is that Mary Elizabeth Winstead, as usual, is solid. She’s the kind of actress we can all depend on now to give heavy, emotionally-draining performances in small indies that may not be remembered in a few months, but are at least worth watching, if only because of the work she’s putting into it all. And as the titled-character, Alex, Winstead gets plenty to do – some good, some bad. But no matter what, we feel bad for this character and want her to reach her everlasting goal: Internal happiness.

Now, while this may be easy to feel for Alex, it’s not so easy for the rest of the characters. Which, yet again, is a bit of a shame considering the top-tier talent Messina was able to assemble here to help him fill-out these roles.

Don Johnson has a meaty role as Alex’s dad who is bordering on Alzheimer’s by the forgetful way he’s been acting, and while watching him go through the process of auditioning for a theater role, is surely unique in the way that it’s from the perspective of an older person, it still doesn’t do much for the overall message of the movie. Then, there’s Katie Nehra’s sister character, Lily, who has this look of the popular/party girl from high school who never grew up and doesn’t plan on doing so, either. Though the movie makes a hint of there being something more to this character than just that, it sort of goes nowhere once Messina realizes that he has to fill-out Alex’s story in full detail. And poor Dakota’s story-line – it’s dead before it even hits the water.

Oh wait, never mind. Sadness ensues.

Oh wait, never mind. Sadness ensues.

This is all disappointing, but it makes sense when you take into the equation that this is indeed Chris Messina’s directorial debut.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not making up for the fact that Alex of Venice is messy, due to my love for Messina as an actor, but there is something to be said for someone literally making their first movie for the whole world to see. Sometimes, it works and shows that the person behind the camera was born for commanding the camera, rather than standing in front of it and acting. But other times, it shows that maybe while they shouldn’t give up on trying to commandeer the camera on another outing, to still take some time, mull things over, and realize what you want to do next, how you want to present it, and whether or not it’s going to be worthy of people’s view.

Until then, keep on doing what you do Chris Messina. Just make sure it’s in front of the camera. For now, at least.

Consensus: Mary Elizabeth Winstead is as solid as ever in the lead role, but Alex of Venice still hardly goes anywhere unexpected or even emotional, all because it’s clearly calculated from the beginning and held-down from too many subplots in such a short movie.

5.5 / 10

Who could leave a face like that? Like, come on!

Who could leave a face like that? Like, come on!

Photos Courtesy of: Joblo.com, Youtube

Captain Phillips (2013)

Move on over, Captain Jack. There’s a new king of the seas!

Rich Phillips (Tom Hanks) is your everyday boat captain. He’s a family man, he knows what’s right with the world, what isn’t, he’s strict, he’s determined, he doesn’t quite play-well with others, but he’s cautious to a certain point. However, the cautious-nature that makes him who he is may help him out this time when four Somalian armed-pirates jump aboard his ship and take hostages, demanding money. Phillips is more than able to oblige, but he realizes that these four are some insanely dangerous people you do not want to mess with, especially when they have AK-47s pointed directly at his face. But Phillips doesn’t allow for that to get in his way too much and finds the solution to their problems by giving them all of the money he has in his vault; all $3,000 of it. Obviously, as you could expect, the pirates know that they can’t go back with that chump-change and needed a bigger bang for their buck. So, like any normal-thinking human-being anchoring a hostage-situation, they decide to kidnap Phillips and put his life on the line so that they can get more money through ransom. They don’t realize though, it ain’t that easy when you’re working the U.S. army, baby! And Richard Phillips too, but this isn’t even his story, right?

"Jenny?"

“Jenny?”

While many out there (myself included) have been a bit skeptical of Greengrass’ career and how long his “frantic, shaky-cam” gimmick would run dry, the man always finds a way to keep us coming back for more. More for him, more for the material he chooses to adapt, and best of all, more for the disastrous, real-life situations he chooses to display and re-create, if you will. The man did it with United 93, one of the most dreadful, yet, powerful pieces of cinema about 9/11 you’ll ever see, and hell, despite the story not being as known to me as that deadly tragedy was, he does the same thing again with Captain Phillips, the true tale of a man who threw himself into a deadly situation and somehow, someway, came out by the skin of his teeth.

That’s not a spoiler, by the way. So please, please do not get all up in my grill, because in all honesty, it doesn’t matter. Knowing the outcome beforehand or not knowing won’t make a single lick of a difference because Greengrass, using any skill he has in his tool-belt without over-doing it, makes this movie so freakin’ tense, so sweaty, so gripping, and so suspenseful, that you may even, at one point, wonder just what the hell is going to happen. So many movies that are based on real-life events try so hard to make you feel that tense in the most manipulative ways possible, but not this one. Greengrass knows better and believe it or not, seems like he’s learned from his mistakes and dials-down a lot of his gimmicks.

No loud, swelling music trying to make you feel a certain way; none of the infamous “crack-cam”; no fake emotions trying to make you see Phillips story from all sorts of perspectives; and thankfully, not a single piece of forced-patriotism thrown onto us, as if Greengrass wants us to be chanting, “U.S.A.!!! U.S.A.!!!”, by the end of it. And even if that was the case, it probably still would have worked because he finds a way to make you gain hope in anybody who’s just trying to survive this situation and save Phillips life if they can. Even Phillips himself who, despite being played by everybody’s favorite actor, doesn’t really come off as the nicest guy in the world, yet you still care for him.

And you can totally credit that to Hanks’ utter-charm that has him win over anybody he meets, in real-life or in the movies, but you can also credit that to Greengrass for giving us a guy who feels real, doesn’t feel like the happiest/most pleasant person on the face planet, and may even be a bit of a dick. Yet, you still care for him and realize that every step he makes, good or bad, may be a step he takes to his grave or to his warm, cozy bed at home. Either way, he’s going to get out of this situation one way or another, and he will stop at nothing to make sure he comes out of this alive. And if not, well then, he’ll make sure he’s the only one because it’s his ship, his decisions, and his life that he’s throwing out on the line. Nobody else’s and if that doesn’t make him a natural-born hero, then I don’t know what the hell does!

But, like I was saying about Tom Hanks, you know you love the guy in almost anything he shows up in (Larry Crowne included) because lord knows I do. Problem is, the man hasn’t really been showing much of his talent lately. Sure, he’s taken some interesting projects here and there, but nothing to the point of where I was reminded why this man is usually regarded as one of the best working today, best of all time, and why the hell he won two Oscars, back-to-back! Needless to say, I was a bit worried seeing him here as Richard Phillips as it seemed like the type of role that would have had him talking all of the time, being loud, trying to be charming, and not allowing me, not for a single second, to get past the fact that it was Tom Hanks playing a role.

Which one's blackbeard?

Which one’s blackbeard?

Instead, Hanks totally showed me up, and I’m glad he did so. Not only did he have me believe that he was this frightened, desperate man in this very tense hostage-situation, but he also had me believe that he could get out of it alive if he just used his smarts and brains a bit. Granted, he’s not the nicest guy in the world, like I said before, and we don’t get to know too much about his background other than that he loves his wife, his kids, and is scared that the times are changin’. But that small crap doesn’t matter because Hanks gives one of his best performances in the past decade or so and it gives me more and more faith in him as his career continues to chive on.

As for those “Oscar whispers” he’s getting, he totally deserves all of them and should get a nomination, no matter what. Hanks was great throughout the whole movie by the way he was able to still have us care for him without using his insane-amounts of charm, but nothing measures up to the last 5 minutes of the film, and what he does in front of the camera. You’ll be hearing a lot of people talk about these final moments for quite some time, and with good reason: They’re so emotional, so effective, and so inspiring, that you’ll be absolutely astonished how Greengrass and Hanks were able to come together and make it work so damn well, and in such a realistic, honest matter as well. Just watch these final minutes and you’ll see what I mean. One of the best, most memorable scenes of the year that I’ll most likely be remembering for years to come.

As for the rest of the cast, with the exception of a 5-minute role from Catherine Keener as Phillips loving, but barely seen wife, it’s character-actor central, with the occasional unknown thrown in for good measure. Everybody in this cast is good, but the one that really caught me off-guard was newcomer Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the leader of these Somalian pirates, and the one that takes charge early on. The one aspect behind this movie that could have really tore it down was how completely one-sided its view-point could have come off as being, and while Greengrass sure as hell doesn’t support these pirates actions, he still shows them as human-beings doing something so inhumane and so evil like threatening somebody’s life, but also giving them reasons for why it is that they are doing so. Greengrass never tries to make us feel bad for them to the point of where it’s near-Liberalism, but he does hold his hand out to them a bit more than usual, more for Abdi who you feel the worst for, because you know he’s not a bad guy, he just does bad things due to outside influence. Still, they were Somalian pirates that tried to kill a man for money. That immoral behavior should never be forgiven, no matter who commits it.

Consensus: The story is one we may all know, yet, Captain Phillips is still one of the most compelling, most tense thrillers of the whole year with plenty of food-for-thought and a Tom Hanks performance that anchors the material the whole through; keeping it humane, grounded, and placed in a sense of reality, as if we are really seeing this happen in front of our faces, the way it’s meant to be seen and understood.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

"No no no! I forbid you from eating mah box of chocolates!"

“No no no! I forbid you from eating mah box of chocolates!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, Collider, Joblo, ComingSoon.net

Higher Ground (2011)

Sadly, it’s more like the Stevie Wonder-version.

Corinne (Vera Farmiga) is a devout Christian that has a nice family, a nice husband (Joshua Leonard), and feels as if her life needs nothing more than just hope, happiness, and faith. However, time goes on, and Corinne starts to question her faith as examples of life’s darkest-moments come to be seen.

Seeing as this is a movie about people that believe in God and follow His word, you could expect a movie like this to be too goofy, too wild, and too annoying to take seriously. Think about the scene in Borat, where he goes to the Mass with all of the devout-Christians acting like a bunch of nuts, because that’s pretty much what I was expecting from this movie and the material within it. However, Vera Farmiga does something different that I haven’t ever seen in one of these movies before: she passes little to no judgement on these people that surround her.

This is Farmiga’s directorial-debut and even though she does hit the rocky-patches like most rookies do, she still has enough in the tank to make this movie work and keep us interested as this woman continues to question her faith and all that she believes in. In fact, the whole trip that she takes in her life, is more interesting than anything else that has to do with her and her faith and I think that’s a bold step on Farmiga’s part to focus more on a life of a person, rather than the religion they follow, and how heavily they do so. You are involved with this woman’s life, you see her for all that she is, all she wants to be, and all that she could be, but yet, she still struggles for it.

I like how Farmiga doesn’t just pop us into the story and expect us to get to know these people right away, but instead, she goes for the relatively, understandable punch and shows us Corinne’s life from the very beginning until now, so we have a clearer picture of her and her story. You’ll see why she follows her faith and why she believes in God so much and to be honest, it’s pretty believable. I don’t want to give away what it is that changes her whole stance on life, but what does happen to her and in her life, is pretty realistic and I can’t say that I wouldn’t blame her for turning over to another side, either.

No, it's not Woodstock, but close.

No, it’s not Woodstock, but close.

But it’s not all about her faith and what she does, it’s just a story of her life and it’s told in a simple way that doesn’t go for the heavy-handed, dramatics of life, but the understated, relate-able situations we can sometimes go through. Farmiga may not be doing anything flashy or game-changing behind the camera, but it’s that utter sense of simplicity and telling a story like a normal person is what really took me by surprise. I wasn’t as surprised by how normal it was, but I was surprised just by how good it actually was, so there’s definitely a lot of credit for that. Just the fact that we get to see a story, about a female, and a female that’s strong and can hold her own opinions and beliefs to herself, makes me feel like there’s more out there for female actresses’ and directors. Good job, Vera! You’re one hell of a gal!

As for the religious material, it’s pretty 50/50 on whether or not you may be offended. Farmiga makes the smart decision on never, ever passing judgement on any of these people or what they follow, which definitely doesn’t seem like it will offend anybody, but then again, that’s coming from an Atheist. I don’t believe in God, so therefore, I didn’t feel like there was much more for me to be offended by as if believing in God is and was something you needed in your daily-life, like breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Maybe for some people, but not for me. That’s just like this movie, though, in how it may offend some, but didn’t offend me. I guess you have to take the whole “different strokes for different folks”-idea into debate and just let it slide. At least that’s how my simple ass looks at things.

Everything in this movie was kicking me in the right part of my ass to where I could really be interested and invested, but after awhile, it starts to lose steam after a final-act breakdown of epic proportions. After Corinne begins to change her ways and realize some more things about the life she can live, she meets an Irish dude that seems like such an obvious character, that he’s more or less just a convention of the plot to move it along. That, and well, the message of the movie is kind of skewered and I don’t know if that was her intent or not.

See, this whole movie’s point, to me at least, seemed as if it was going for the idea that faith can help those who want it, who need it, and who want to accept it into their lives, but for some, like life, it’s not always clear-cut and can change at any second. That’s the whole idea of this movie that I feel like I was beginning to endure and understand but then, out of nowhere, Farmiga changes it up on me and has me totally think otherwise, and not in the good way, either. I really can’t give too much away without spoiling all of this but it seems like the final point this movie seems to be making is that people do change, but not too much. There, I’ve said it and I’m done. Sorry if I said too much but it had to be understood.

Awwwww! How loving.

Awwwww! How loving.

Farmiga is fine behind the camera, but she’s even better in front of it and gives Corinne a very real, down-to-Earth appeal that’s easy to stand by and easy to understand. Farmiga feels like she was meant for this role of Corinne because as much as this gal may seem like she’s really in love with God and knows the Bible from start-to-finish, she takes you by surprise in showing you that it’s only a cliche, and not everybody is like that. Corinne seems a tad too complex for this story, since it does seem to go in one obvious direction the whole time, but Farmiga is always watchable, always beautiful, and always keeping this movie alive and on-fire, even when the story itself may hit a couple of puddles.

Farmiga’s also pretty good at choosing her cast and gives each and every person a time to shine. Joshua Leonard plays her hubby that make seem like a bit of a dip because he gets her knocked-up at such an early-age and only really gets married to her because of it, but after awhile, you realize that he loves her and just wants more from her, than she can even give. Dagmara Dominczyk plays Corinne’s fun and high-spirited best gal-pal and definitely brings a lot of energy to Corinne, as well as this movie, but is forced to take the sidelines for a tad bit after a plot-twist somewhere in the middle. Oh, and there’s also John Hawkes as Corinne’s daddy, who we don’t get to see much of but what we do get to see, is still very good and powerful, especially one birthday party scene that is willing to really catch you off-guard by it’s emotional-impact. These are just a few of the highlights, as everybody else is pretty fantastic.

Consensus: The last 30 minutes may change the movie’s whole outlook, but regardless, Higher Ground is still a very simple and subtle story, that’s done very well thanks to Farmiga’s acting, as well as her directing.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Who's paddling that thing?

Who’s paddling that thing?