Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Nerve (2016)

Truth, or Dare, or Die?!?!

Set in the world we currently live in, a social-media platform exists and is quite popular in which players can choose between two options: Either be a “watcher”, or a “player”. If you choose the former, you get to sign into your account, pay a small fee, and watch as people do all sorts of crazy and death-defying stunts and dares. However, choose the later, and you’ll be given all sorts of cash from users, daring you to do one thing, after another. There’s more rules to the game itself, how it’s played, and why outside interference (i.e. the cops), is extremely frowned upon, but all that needs to be known is that it’s a sick and twisted game, that finds high school senior, Venus (Emma Roberts), not sure if she wants to go as far as the users want her to. Eventually, the night takes her to meet another user (Dave Franco), who can’t help but love the money thrown his way, even if the dares themselves start getting more and more dangerous. Which is what happens, especially when it turns out that they’re both the most-watched and popular users in Nerve, making them not only richer, but even bigger targets.

"Hey, girl. Wanna ride?"

“Hey, girl. Wanna ride?”

Nerve is a neat idea that, for awhile at least, is as fun as it promises. The dares themselves continue to get more and more wild, there’s a certain air of tension no matter what, and yes, the fact that it’s meant to take place on this one single night in a colorfully-lit NYC, makes it all the more fun to watch. The world in which Nerve takes place in, isn’t all that far-fetched, what with Pokemon Go taking over the whole world, and yes, even the dares themselves still seem somewhat in the realm of possibility.

So why is that the movie falls apart by the end?

Well, the fact remains that sometimes, just having a good idea, isn’t enough to sustain a whole movie. Because when you take into consideration that movie’s themselves need to have a story, with characters, archs, some twists, some turns, and most of all, a satisfying, if also, believable ending, then you’ve got yourself what some people consider “a movie”. Nerve is “a movie”, obviously, and while it definitely has a good portion of what I just listed, eventually, it starts to show cracks within itself.

For one, it tries to be about something that doesn’t quite work. It wants to have discussions about social media, privacy, and the government, but doesn’t really connect with either message/viewpoint; if anything, Jason Bourne was more effective discussing and allowing for the same ideas to find its way into the plot. It’s not that what they’re saying is dated or wrong, it’s just that they come into a movie that feels more like giving us high-flying and crazy stunts, rather than actually sitting down, looking up to the sky, and ponder what it all means.

Which, isn’t all that surprising, when you realize that the same directors behind Catfish, henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, are helming this feature and are showing why they don’t trust the internet. That movie, honestly, came at a time where there was a lot meant to be said for Facebook and Twitter and all sorts of other social-media, but here, they don’t seem to be able to connect their themes to the plot. What they do know how to do is keep the excitement going, whenever they rely on the actual dares themselves.

But like I said before, everything else just doesn’t quite work.

Listening to whatever the cool kids listen to nowadays.

Listening to whatever the cool kids listen to nowadays. Or whatever the cool kids in the early-90’s listen to back then, because that’s what’s “in” now, right?

Well, with the exception of the acting, that is. While it may be a tad difficult to believe Dave Franco and Emma Roberts as high school-aged kids, together, their chemistry works like gangbusters. Roberts works well as this very repressed teenager who clearly seems like she has a lot of personality-issues to work through, whereas Franco’s character is hard to pin-down. We know that he’s supposed to be the love-interest here, and therefore, we’re supposed to like him, but there’s something a little troubling about him and his character that, quite frankly, makes their night more interesting.

There’s others on the side of whatever Franco and Roberts are doing together, like Emily Meade stealing the show, Juliette Lewis having the duty to play dim-witted mommy, and Machine Gun Kelly being less annoying than he is on Roadies, but honestly, characters don’t really matter in a thing like this. What Nerve proves is that sometimes, all you need is an interesting idea to roll and have fun with. Then again, it’s also the same kind of movie that proves that maybe, just maybe, more thought has to go into all of the other pieces of the puzzle, so that audiences don’t lose interest in something that had already been grabbing their attention in the first place. And this matters, too, because when you have big theater chains trying to incorporate cell-phone usage into the movies, well, then you know you’ve really got to work extra hard to keep those teenie-boppers off of their damn phones.

Then again, you could just play this PSA before every movie and it’ll probably do the trick.

Or, maybe not.

Just turn your cellphones off in the theater, people!

Consensus: Interesting and compelling for a good portion, Nerve is surprisingly entertaining, but then it all starts to fall apart by the time the implausible and silly final-act comes around to spoil all of the fun being had in the first place.

6 / 10

Oh man. What a shame it would be to have to walk around, half-naked, with the bodies of Dave Franco and Emma Roberts. Jeez. Could. Not. Imagine.

Oh, man. What a shame it would be to have to walk around New York City, half-naked, having the bodies of Dave Franco and Emma Roberts. Jeez. Could. Not. Imagine.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Indiewire

Jason Bourne (2016)

All right, everyone! Let’s just leave this poor, ass-kicking, former-CIA agent alone already!

After the events of Ultimatum, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has, essentially, gone off the grid. No one knows where he is, what he’s up to, and quite frankly, they don’t care, either. As long as he isn’t causing any static and opening his mouth up about confidential stuff, then the government is perfectly fine with him doing whatever it is that he’s up to. However, Bourne gets tracked down by a former confidante of his, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), and all of a sudden, he’s now back in the spotlight. Now, government-agencies want after him and super secret assassins, want him dead. Clearly Bourne doesn’t want to die, so he fights these agencies and assassins with all that he’s got, while also carrying around a hard drive that will hopefully bring out some of the shadier secrets of these agencies to the mainstream, for everyone to see. But Bourne is going up against some pretty heavy-hitters this time and he may have to take it to the next level, in order to make sure that he not only lives, but that the truth is exposed once and for all, so that no one falls prey to these agencies like he has.

Uh oh. Who was talking bad about this latest season of Project Greenlight?

Uh oh. Who was talking bad about this latest season of Project Greenlight?

So yeah, you can tell that Jason Bourne is following a pretty familiar thread: Bourne gets tracked down from government agency, Bourne kicks ass, he runs, he forgets stuff, he remembers stuff, and oh yeah, he has some bad things to say about these agencies after his butt. It’s definitely not original or groundbreaking by any means and it’s definitely at-fault for that, considering that we’ve got not just Matt Damon back, but Paul Greengrass, too. In fact, the only reason either of them are doing this movie in the first place is because they’re both back together and not working side-by-side with Jeremy Renner, or Tony Gilroy.

Would there have been such a problem with that? Not really.

Would I have liked to see how that movie actually turned out? Most definitely.

In fact, the way I see it, the only way for this Bourne franchise to continue on and not show its wrinkles, is by teaming-up with Renner-Gilroy Bourne franchise. Legally speaking, I know this may be downright impossible, however, there’s a part of me that wants it to happen, because both characters are strong enough to keep a movie interesting, regardless of what they’re doing. That isn’t to say that this lone edition of the original Bourne franchise isn’t so bad, it’s just that you can tell that some people are losing interest in making these stories more compelling, interesting, and smart, and more or less, just deciding to fall for the same old tricks and trades that made the original franchise such a hit.

Cause as is, Jason Bourne works both as a follow-up to the old franchise, that’s meant to continue the story of Jason Bourne alive and well, for more installments to come, but then, at the same time, the movie also feels like its own standalone feature. It’s almost as if the creators had the intentions of keeping this story going, but also knew that they may have to tied-up loose-ends, just in case. It feels very odd, actually, but also, doesn’t take away from the fact that when this movie wants to, it can be as thrilling as humanly imaginable.

Which is saying something, because the first three Bourne movies are pretty damn exciting.

CIA Agent Who Grows to be Sympathetic Towards Jason Bourne #70

Pictured: CIA Agent Who Grows to be Sympathetic Towards Jason Bourne #70

Most of this is because Greengrass, despite everyone’s qualms with his shaky-cam, knows how to make an action scene snap, crackle and pop, just like an action scene should. He gets a lot of mileage out of showing how these sequences, as small and contained as they may initially appear to be, can get so wild and crazy, that it’s hard not to get caught up in the chase and excitement of it all. There’s a nifty sequence by the end when the story finds itself in Vegas and there’s a crazy chase throughout a five-star hotel, with people running all over the place, causing all sorts of havoc. It’s the kind of fun, yet, thrilling action-sequence, that only gets more and more exciting to watch, once you start to piece together all of the pieces of the possible puzzle, not knowing what’s going to happen next, or to whom.

And that’s the real beauty of these Bourne movies – the fact that we don’t always know how they’re going to end, even if, yes, we totally do.

Which isn’t any hit on Damon, or anyone else here. As is, the movie treats them as well as it should – they’ve all got plenty of meaty material that can sometimes be silly, but can also sometimes be cool to watch. For instance, all of the scenes with Tommy Lee Jones are fun to watch because, well, we know he can handle material like this as good as the next guy – he’s basically playing the same role he played in the Fugitive and you know what? It still works. He’s still cranky and stealing every scene imaginable. Then, there’s also Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp (strangest the Night Of reunion) Alicia Vikander, and Vincent Cassell showing up, and adding a little bit of flair to the proceedings, reminding us that every little cast-member, regardless of how much time they got dedicated to them, are definitely worth watching because they add a little something.

But no matter what, it’s Damon who ends the movie on a bright note, showing what he can do, with so little and still reminding us that this protagonist is someone worth caring about and seeing more movies of. Sure, the backstory with his daddy and all was a bit overwrought, but hey, it gave us more time to see what happened in this character’s past, as well as gave us more time to spend with Gregg Henry.

Now, when’s that such a bad thing to have in your movie?

Answer is: Never.

Consensus: Though the story may be lacking in originality, Jason Bourne gets by mostly on its tense, exciting and always fun action, to go along with some pretty solid acting in a summer blockbuster that would have otherwise not taken the time to even care about such petty things in the first place, had different people been working on it.

7 / 10

Still not coming to you, man? Oh well. Maybe the next movie you'll remember the expiration date on the milk.

Still not coming to you, man? Oh well. Maybe the next movie you’ll remember the expiration date on the milk.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013)

Sorry, Edgar Winter, but some albino dudes are just downright creepy.

Julian Assange was like any other tech-lover in the world – the internet was his play-place where he could, say, and act anyway he wanted to. This is why he decides to do certain things like hack into certain security systems that show negligence on the company’s behalf. First, it was banks, then, it became government agencies who did not take kindly to someone as random and mysterious as Assange. Eventually though, word got out about Assange and sooner than later, they had a site where they could put any and all classified information that they stumbled upon – a little old website called “WikiLeaks”. On the site, users were able to anonymously and because of this, the government continued to target them more and more. However, Assange knew that these whistle blowers expected their identities to be hidden, which is why he stood up for almost every single person who was being looked into. And then, somehow, some way, it all changed; Assange, WikiLeaks, the whole internet world. Changed. And nobody really knows why, or who’s to blame.

"See? It's like Wikipedia, but not!"

“See? It’s like Wikipedia, but not!”

It’s mighty difficult to approach a subject like WikiLeaks, or even Assange, without getting bogged down in all of the crazy, never ending bits of info, twists, turns, and new happenings that never seem to end. However, Alex Gibney is the kind of director who can be trusted in these sorts of situations; he knows that the best way to present any piece of information, is to do so in the most comprehensible, slow-manner imaginable, so that everyone feels as if they know what’s going on and what’s just been brought to the table. This may not sound like much for a person who has literally been making documentaries every year since 2005, but it matters a whole lot, especially when you’re dealing with murky waters like WikiLeaks and especially Assange.

In fact, definitely Assange.

However, what’s probably the most admirable choice that Gibney takes here (among many), is that he never really digs into Assange as much as he should, or definitely could have. Clearly, the movie isn’t very pro-Assange, but at the same time, they also don’t hate him, either; if anything, the movie shows that he may have started out with good intentions and a smart head on his shoulders, but after awhile, once fame and praise got in his ears, he couldn’t help but run wild. Gibney shows that the tech-world may have, at one point, been totally behind Assange’s back, no matter what, but then drastically turned on him once it turned out that he may not be exactly who he appears to be.

But really, Gibney doesn’t want to make the whole movie about Assange, even though he could have definitely done that and it would have been no problem. Instead, Gibney decides to bring up ideas and points about the current world in which we live in, where no secret is hidden and unable to be found. Nowadays, there’s hardly any privacy, everyone has a computer/technology-device, and you know what, anybody can hack into something in order to uncover those private secrets you may have hidden from the rest of the world.

But what Gibney asks about this reality is whether or not that’s a good thing in the first place?

Yeah, let's hate this guy, apparently.

Yeah, let’s hate this guy, apparently.

Or, as he asks, are we giving random strangers too much power and control?

The movie itself falls somewhere in the middle, knowing that certain secrets ought to be brought to the news, because everyone has a right to know, but at the same time, knowing that certain things that aren’t really a matter of public concern deserve to be out and about for everyone else to see, either. Take, for instance, the iCloud Leak scandal – sure, a lot of pervs got their kicks off of nude pics from celebrities, but did this leak really need to happen? Could all of that energy and attention been devoted elsewhere to, well, I don’t know, the FBI? The CIA? Or, hell, anyone else except for Jennifer Lawrence?

Gibney brings these questions up, yet, never answers them and that’s fine – the movie isn’t necessarily as much about the answers, as much as it’s more about the world in which we live in. Also, Gibney doesn’t forget that a story like this, as compelling as it already is, can still be as exciting and fun to listen and watch, even if you already know everything that’s coming a mile away. If you don’t know the Assange and WikiLeaks story, then get out from underneath that rock.

But if you do, have no fear, because Alex Gibney still finds a way to make it all work.

Consensus: Informative, smart, exciting, and most of all, thoughtful, We Steal Secrets finds Gibney in top-form, even if the story itself is constantly expanding and getting more and more convoluted as we speak.

8 / 10

He's basically an albino Wes Anderson.

He’s basically an albino Wes Anderson.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010)

Lies, cheats, and steals? Yup, total package.

Jack Abramoff lived life unlike most people. For one, he always had a dream and desire to be in a movie of his own, so in a way, he used his real life as an actual movie, in and of itself. When he was young, he was head of his College Republicans group, and then decided that he wanted to be something of a film-maker, acting as a producer on one such flick. At this time, however, Abramoff was very paranoid about Communism and the country’s certain enemies, so he decided to make right with the political power and throw all of his power, support, and most importantly, money, the way of certain politicians. In other words, Jack was a lobbyist and didn’t at all try to hide it, however, it’s his ways, codes and ethics that he chose to live by, that get him, as well as plenty others working with him, in the slammer.

Even if he was in jail for a measly five years.

"I do, solemnly swear, that I am a total deuche."

“I do, solemnly swear, that I am a total deuche.”

Once again, when Alex Gibney sees an injustice, his doesn’t just sit around, folding his arms, throwing chairs, and trying to get over it all with a tub of ice cream. Instead, he’ll get up, grab his camera, call-up his crew, and see just who he can get a chance to talk to and help himself, as well as us, the audience, understand whatever story there is to be documented and focused on. Because of this, Gibney has become a trustworthy and inspirational voice in the documentary world; sure, he’s like Michael Moore in the sense that he makes it clear of his agenda right off the bat, but he’s also more journalistic, allowing for these stories to just tell themselves as they are.

And Abramoff’s story is one worth telling, if not just for the interest-factor, but because it makes you more and more angry as it runs along, and more of the heinous details come to life. Gibney makes it obvious from the beginning that he doesn’t necessarily care for Abramoff, as much as he cares about what the guy actually represents – this idea that greed, respect and power, can all come to you in some sort of way, as long as money is involved. He doesn’t like how Abramoff single handedly used his cunning and conniving ways to get closer and closer to the Oval Office, and he especially doesn’t like how it seems like every person that Abramoff talked to, instantly fell for the guy.

But being mad can only get you so many places, especially when someone like Abramoff exists and still does, to this very day.

The movie doesn’t try to paint him in a sympathetic light, and nor should it; after all, he’s the one guy who ripped-off and screwed over Native American tribes for nearly a $1 billion, just so that he could get him and his buddies more cash in their pockets. Why? Well, it’s because they hard more smooth-talking to do with certain people in the political system and in order to make sure that they’re happy as you are, they need to have all sorts of money.

But things brings up a certain idea that I don’t even know if Gibney himself had intended to talk about:The idea that there is such as “too much money”.

In this sense, what I mean to say is that there’s almost too much money in the political system, and especially, in elections. Throughout the flick, we are told of who Abramoff gave money to run for campaign reasons, as well as how much the totals were, which are important facts, because they can be pretty startling. The movie never actually gets on the case of the Presidential election cycle system itself, as much as he brings up the fact that someone like Abramoff, who was ripping-off innocent people, left and right, was still able to give all sorts of money that his little, evil and angry heart desired to do.

Well, if Bush liked him, than he can't be that bad, right?

Well, if Bush liked him, than he can’t be that bad, right?

Once again, though: Is there such a thing as “too much”?

Gibney shows that all of the extra cars, women, houses, parties, and yes, money, can eventually lead a person to do all sorts of mean and detestable things that, even when they were young and inspired, didn’t ever think they’d become. In fact, if there’s a problem to be had with Casino Jack, is that we actually don’t ever get to chance to talk to, or hear from Jack himself. Sure, it makes sense – he was in jail and probably didn’t want to be bothered – but it also feels as if there’s something missing from here, when all is said and done.

Of course, there’s something to be said for the movie, in how Gibney allows for key-witness and character witness give their own ideas and opinions on Abramoff and his wrong-doings, allowing for us to make up our own conclusions of what type of person he is. This is fine, but really, it would have helped especially more, had Jack himself showed up to give his own two cents. Sure, those two cents could have been total lies and meant absolutely nothing, but the fact that he would have gotten in front of the camera, told us what he thought, and threw himself out there to be even more dissected than he’s already been, would have helped.

Maybe not him and his case, but the rest of the movie.

Either way, he didn’t need our help anyway.

Consensus: Gibney hits another winner, showing Jack Abramoff off in all of his actions and misgivings, all of which are as blood-boiling, as the last, questionable action to have come before. That said, why no Jack?

7 / 10

Oh, with a hat like that, never mind.

Oh, with a hat like that, never mind.

Photos Courtesy of: Cut the Crap Movie Reviews

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Don’t be greedy, people. Or, make stuff up.

At one point in their existence, the Enron Corporation, was one of the most powerful around. They had so much money and so much control, that not only did they start to itch out into the oil business, but they even went so far as to attempt to partner-up with Blockbuster. Even if the later deal didn’t necessarily go through, still, Enron was more than capable of biting the bullet on at least one occasion because, well, they were so rich, that they could afford to make a little misstep, here and there. Or, that’s at least what the numbers represented. Somehow though, as Enron started growing more and more over the years, more and more people started raising speculation about how legitimate they were, as well as how honest and by-the-books their numbers were. Needless to say, the rest of the world soon figured out the shocking results of Enron and it wasn’t at all pretty.

EVIL!

EVIL!

Alex Gibney is such a tremendous director who, it seems anyway, has a new movie out every year, covering a new subject/topic. And it deserves to be noted that almost each and everyone is almost as good as the one that comes before it, so much so to the point that you almost want him to make a documentary about whatever is going on in the world. Donald Trump? Definitely! War? Yeah! The air? Why not!

And heck, while we’re at it, why not just talk about Enron?

This is all surprising to say too, but Enron was Gibney’s first flick and he made quite a mark with it. While the story itself is such a clear-cut and dry tail of a major, big-body corporation getting way too ahead of themselves and folding underneath their own negligence, Gibney somehow finds a way to make it all compelling and, well, entertaining. After all, a story that follows the rise and fall of a once very powerful corporation, is only as good as its pace and man, does this thing move or what?

Gibney throws a lot of information at us, not all of it is fully comprehensible to layman’s ear, however, he figures out how to make it matter and at least somewhat understandable in a way, that it almost doesn’t matter what certain definitions are, for certain words. All that matters is that you’re able to pinpoint exactly when Enron became a powerful force, and when exactly the seams started to show, and people we’re realizing that maybe, just maybe, they weren’t all that they’ve made themselves out to be.

Sadly, not many more came after this.

Sadly, not many more came after this.

And really, the best parts of Enron, the movie, aren’t when we’re watching the rest of the world be singlehandedly fooled by Enron, the company – although, yes, it’s hard not get swept up in all of the excitement and energy – it’s when we start to see Enron start to become a bit of a joke and people are losing all sorts of hope in them. You can call it “sad” for sure, but what Gibney does best is show that even when Enron was falling apart and everyone had practically turned their back on them, there’s still something interesting in watching a company try its hardest to stay alive, well and positive, even in the midst of all sorts of hatred and adversity directed towards them.

Doesn’t make them sympathetic in the least bit, but it certainly does make you think: When did everyone become so awful and mean in this company?

Throughout the flick, we get a good bunch of interviews with people who were once apart of Enron and we get to see their side of the story; while it’s perfectly easy to just automatically throw blame on everyone who was in the company, it’s also another thing to understand that maybe not everyone in the company, was in on the scheme that was occurring beneath their noses. That’s why, to see Gibney try his hardest to humanize these people – most of whom had no idea about what was going on – it’s admirable. He’s not trying to make us feel sorry for them, but he’s actually just showing us that there were people who were in this company and as loyal as they could be and guess what? They still got screwed over.

It’s your typical story of a corporation: You’re loved and adored one second, next, your hated. In Enron’s case, it’s obvious why everyone turned against them, but in that sense, it’s still kind of sad. While they are not forgiven of every wrongdoing they had ever committed, most of the people in the company lost their jobs, their fortune and their beach houses, but most of all, the idea that a corporation could literally pick itself up, make a name for itself, and do whatever it wanted, and be successful at it, was destroyed. Now, thanks to company’s like Enron, the American Dream was no more and the business world of America would no longer be the same.

Thanks, fellas.

Consensus: A typical rise-and-fall story, Enron is a perfect example of just how good Alex Gibney can be when he’s got the juice to make a compelling story, all the more exciting and engaging with certain angles to spin and show.

8.5 / 10

Enjoy the pose while it lasts, buddy.

Enjoy the pose while it lasts, buddy.

Photos Courtesy of: SBS, Jigsaw Prods, Reeling Reviews

The Human Stain (2003)

Cleaning-ladies love them some Hannibal.

For one second, Coleman Silk (Anthony Hopkins) seems to have it all: A fancy job as Dean of Faculty of a liberal arts college, the respect of his peers, and a loving-wife by his side. However, another second later, he loses it all: The job, the respect, hell, even the wife. Once Silk’s life practically falls apart in front of his own, very eyes, he decides to run away and retreat to a cabin in the Connecticut woods where writer, Nathan Zuckerman (Gary Sinise), is searching for inspiration for his next book. Silk then finds himself happy, reborn, and back-to-speed with his life, and decides to start up a relationship with the local college janitor, Faunia (Nicole Kidman), who’s a lot younger and illiterate than he is. Zuckerman sees this as the perfect moment to let his inspiration run wild, but what he doesn’t know is that underneath Silk’s whole look and facade, there lies something very painful and mysterious.

Philip Roth is perhaps one of the best writers the world has ever been graced with. That’s why, I constantly wonder: Why aren’t there all that many adaptations of his work? Better yet, why are the ones that do get made, not all that great?

And unfortunately, the Human Stain is just another perfect example of the great Roth just not getting the right treatment.

Showing that tat off? She's just asking for the "d" now.

No man can resist that tat.

Where the movie really finds its biggest issue with itself is with the character of Coleman Silk, and the fact that, even by the end of it, we still never get to actually know him even if we totally should. The only real snippets we get to see into his soul and character is through the flashbacks of him as a young adult, which I must say, were far more interesting than anything going on in his present life. Without spoiling what the real mystery behind Silk’s personality and what makes him tick the way he does, all I will say is that the flashbacks are handled with enough emotion, delicacy, and heart, to where you actually feel as if the movie cares for this character and his side of the story.

It should also be noted that Wentworth Miller does a nice job at portraying the younger version of Silk, as well as Jacinda Barrett as his young sweetheart who gets a first taste of who Silk really is and what he’s all about. Together, they form a realistic and heartfelt chemistry that may just get you all weak in the knees and warm inside because they may remind you of what young love was all about. No further discussion about that aspect of the story, because once I get going, I might not be able to stop and I’ll be in a risk of losing my Critic’s License (doesn’t exist, but I like to feel as if it does).

But still, it almost doesn’t matter because the rest of the movie just never flows perfectly together.

In fact, what’s supposed to be important and emotional in this movie, actually isn’t. I guess that Silk’s later-life’s transformation to a crotchety, old man to a happy, free-willing dude was supposed to really connect, but it just doesn’t. Hopkins is great, as he usually is, because he’s able to get us to believe that this old man would find out more about himself as he got older and a tad wiser about “the real world”. However, actually feeling for this dude was a bit harder than I expected, because he doesn’t really seem to have anything about him that’s worth caring about.

It sounds harsh and all, but there was just something about Coleman Silk that doesn’t really jump out off of the screen. Sure, he’s sad and sure, he’s banging a younger gal that definitely has a shady-past coming along with her for the ride (figuratively and literally), but is there really anything else to the guy? Oh, yeah, he does have that mysterious fact about him that’s insightful into who his character really is, but it can only go so far to interest a person, especially one who has seen it all with film (points to self).

So happy, yet, so random.

Why so happy? Uh, I don’t know. Life?

Even Kidman’s character gets the short end of the stick, as it also seems like she has nothing really going for her in terms of character development. Kidman is surprisingly good at playing the town skank that has a checkered-past with ex’s and family, but it doesn’t seem to go any deeper than that. She’s pretty much the whore with a heart of gold-type of character, without the license or occupation of actually being a whore. She just bangs to get over any type of pain or problems she has had in her life. It doesn’t really work when you put her character and Silk together, try to make us feel for them both, and understand where they are both coming from. Instead, it just seems shallow, as if they both took each other to bed, because, well, who else was there really?

Well, I can definitely say that Ed Harris’ character was definitely not there. Harris plays Faunia’s ex-husband who is a disabled war vet, obviously suffering from an extreme case of PTSD, which makes him come off as the bad guy in the story who’s there to just fuck everything up for the happy, loving-people in the story. However, there’s more to him than just that and Harris makes this character work in a chilling way, rather than having him be some one-dimensional prick. Well, he definitely is a prick, but at least he’s a sympathetic one at that.

At least.

Consensus: For a drama full of context and emotion like the Human Stain to work, you need complexity, heart, and understanding, which is something that neither this flick, nor the cast seems to have, no matter how hard anybody tries. And trust me, they try very, very hard.

5 / 10

Gotta love that exciting sport of fly-fishing!

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Star Trek Beyond (2016)

Many galaxies from here will only know us by the Beastie Boys and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

After their near-death experiences with Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch), everyone on-board of the Enterprise are finally ready to relax for a little bit and take care of whatever they need to care of. Spock (Zachary Quinto) is thinking about a career change, as well as is Captain Kirk (Chris Pine), and everyone else is currently thinking of what they want to do with the rest of their lives. Either spend the rest of their days on the Enterprise, or finally get that one chance to settle down and allow for the universe to go on without them in it. However, they run into issues when Krall (Idris Elba), a lizard-like dictator, takes them down and separates each and every one of them on a planet that they little to nothing of. But with the help of a local native, Jaylah (Sofia Boutella). For everyone, they have to band together and take down Krall before his power takes over and ruins the rest of the galaxy.

The people's elbow, courtesy of Spock?

The people’s elbow, courtesy of Spock?

The first Star Trek reboot, was amazing and probably one of the very best movies of that very great year. Then, the second film came around, and even though it definitely divided a whole lot more viewers than the original, it still delivered the action, the heart, the emotion, and most of all, the sci-fi excitement that’s to be had with this beloved franchise. And now, after a few years or so of some starts and stops, Beyond is here and without J.J. Abrams, well, let’s just say that it’s not quite nearly as great as it once was before.

It’s not anywhere near being bad, either, but still, when you have to live up to those two movies, it’s pretty hard to defy expectations.

Then again, maybe Beyond isn’t trying to be as dramatic or as emotional as the first two. If anything, it’s surprising how the third installment of this franchise seems to be taking a lighter, more playful route than the first two; normally, you’d expect more heart-shattering, almost breaking twists, turns and breakthroughs, but instead, Beyond is more about bringing us back to these characters and showing us everything that they do best. And sure, while Justin Lin is no J.J. Abrams, he’s no slouch, either; he’s the kind of director that knows a thing or two about being able to balance out action, humor, and heart, all while staying true to the die-hard fans who will most likely look for every little thing to tear and pick apart because, well, they can and they want to.

And with this latest Star Trek reboot, the strongest and best aspect of these movies is the fact that these characters are so easy to love and be compelled by, even if they can seem a tad bit cartoon-y. However, Lin, as well as co-writers Simon Pegg and Doug Jung know exactly what works best for them all: Give them their character trademarks to play-up, find a way to include them into the story, and yeah, let it all play out as smoothly as can be. It’s not the most challenging, or difficult formula to follow, but there’s something to be said for a movie where each and every character is as lovely as the last, and the cast, once again, is on-point each and every time.

The only thing that isn’t quite as on-point is the story, as well as our villain.

To say that Beyond is, for better or worse, episodic, isn’t all that difficult – in Kirk’s narration, he even mentions the word at the beginning. If anything, Beyond feels like an overextended episode of a Star Trek TV series (something that’s actually happening), where the good guys do their thing, carry their archs, run into problems, have to solve it, take down a baddie, and at the end of the day, come together where everything is all peaches and cream. Of course, that’s not exactly how Beyond plays out, from beginning to end, but it’s pretty close.

And yeah, there’s no problem with this because it does work out, but it also does feel a tad bit small, given the huge universe that’s surrounding this story and these characters. While the new addition of Sofia Boutella’s Jaylah is a welcome addition that will surely work out perfectly for the next few installments, it still feels like nothing really happens of any sort of importance. It’s fine and all, but really, did much happen when all was said and done?

Edgar Winter?

Edgar Winter?

Maybe, I don’t know.

What I do know is that, even after Khan in the second, Star Trek is back to where it started with the first movie, in having another weak villain, with a very good actor in said villainous role. First, it was Eric Bana, now, it’s Idris Elba, who is as charismatic and compelling as you can get, yet, is stuck behind a whole bunch of make-up here and meant to just yell and do bad things to people who probably don’t deserve it. Elba, like always, gives it all that he’s got, but the motivations aren’t really there and it’s an underwritten role, for someone who could have really made magic happen, had he been given the right material to work with.

But, once again, Beyond only suffers slightly because of this. The rest of the cast is great, with Quinto, Urban, Pine being the standouts, and of course, the late, great Anton Yelchin showing us why he was still fun to watch in a goofy role like Chekov, but so is everybody else. You really can’t say one person is better than the other, because they’re all here, showing us why they matter and why the Star Trek franchise deserves to keep on having more and more movies.

Hopefully with better villains is all. That’s all I’m saying.

Consensus: While a small step down from the first two movies, Beyond still offers up its fans plenty to have fun and cherish with the colorful, lovable characters, as well as a few exciting action-sequences, that are sure to make up for some of the busts we’ve had this summer.

7.5 / 10

God? Dad? Thor?

God? Dad? Thor?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Equals (2016)

So much feels.

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

Who's she looking for?

Who’s she looking for?

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

Then again, I probably won’t do that.

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

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

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

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

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

Who's he looking for?

Who’s he looking for?

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

Well, uh, no thanks.

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

And really blue, too. Literally.

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

6.5 / 10

Oh, never mind. Good for those kids.

Oh, never mind. Good for those kids.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Don’t Think Twice (2016)

Don’t always try to be a comic. Not everyone likes a non-stop jokester.

The Commune has been an improv troupe for as long as the downtown New York comedy scene has been around. Some have obviously gone onto bigger, way better things, whereas there have been quite a few, that have either given up on comedy altogether, or still stayed with the comedy troupe, in hopes that, one day, they’ll soon catch that big break. Miles (Mike Birbiglia) has been with the troupe the longest, and not only wonders what he’s to do next with his career, but also what to do about his life, when it comes to starting a family and getting a stable job. Same goes for everyone else, like the spoiled Lindsay (Tami Sagher), who still gets allowance from her wealthy parents, like Allison and Bill (Kate Micucci and Chris Gethard), two comedians who have hopes and ambitions of getting their comic-book careers off the ground, and especially like Samantha and Jack (Gillian Jacobs and Keegan-Michael Key), the couple of the group who, despite not always seeing eye-to-eye, have stuck together through it all. However, one of the members is now getting a shot at stardom and it puts every other member’s lives and careers into perspective.

We get it, you improv.

We get it, you improv.

Comedies about comedians are kind of hard to do. For one, you have to be funny, but at the same time, you also have to do so in a way that’s smart and relateable enough for the audience to get and understand just where it is your coming from. For writer/director/star Mike Birbiglia, it’s clear that the comedy world, can be a very sad one, where missed opportunities and chances occur on a daily basis and no matter what, it’s going to be a constant push-and-pull; some days, you’ll think that you’ve finally been noticed and all of your wildest hopes and dreams can happen, whereas other days, you’ll feel as if you screwed the pooch and lost all hope and promise for the world. At the same time, Birbiglia also knows that the comedy world, if you’re lucky enough, can be a place to meet all sorts of lovely and kind people who not only make you laugh, but also are there to give you a hug when you need it the most.

Don’t Think Twice is the kind of movie you expect to be all sorts of corny, preachy, and not all that funny; like improv itself, you can only go so far to the point where you’re hitting every obvious convention on the head. But Birbiglia, who made an impressive directorial debut in Sleepwalk With Me, seems to understand that there’s a certain level of heart to make the humor work, as well as vice versa. Sure, we can laugh at some of the things that these characters do and say, whether on the stage or not, but sometimes, what makes the humor more compelling and fun is that we know these characters, understand their personalities, and see exactly where they’re coming from.

May not sound like much, but trust me, in the comedy world, it means everything.

That’s why Birbiglia improves on his debut here, as he not only shows a skill in taking all of these different subplots and giving them their own spotlight, but also knows how to make them all somewhat important enough to where we do care about this troupe, what happens to them when one of them leaves, and just what each and everyone of them bring to the world of comedy. It would have been incredibly easy for each one of these characters to be as nauseatingly annoying as the next, but somehow, Birbiglia makes us care and most of all, laugh with them. Like with his debut, it’s clear that the story comes from a soft place in Birbiglia’s heart and he wears his heart on his sleeve, almost each and every scene he gets the chance to, whether the scenes be funny or not.

But it’s not just Birbiglia’s movie and it’s not just his performance – there’s a whole slew of others that make this movie well worth it and make us understand better why these stories matter. Because every character gets their own personality/subplot/hobby, they all come off as three-dimensional characters, even if there are a few that could have been dispensable in the long run. Sure, Micucci’s, Gethard’s, Sagher’s characters don’t really shake the movie quite as much as Key, Jacobs and Birbiglia do, but there’s time and dedication to them, that makes them more than just the side-performers who are around just because Birbiglia wanted to work with them.

Cheer up, Mike. Your life isn't really all that sad and miserable in reality.

Cheer up, Mike. Your life isn’t really all that sad and miserable in reality.

Then again, Key, Jacobs and Birbiglia truly are astounding in this movie and it’s hard not to think about them long after.

Birbiglia, despite giving his ensemble plenty to do, still comes off as heartfelt and humane as the pathetic Miles, who has long reached his expiration date in the comedy scene and is hanging on to it by a thread. You feel bad for him, even if, at the same time, you want him to grow up already. Then, there’s Jacobs as Samantha, who really understands how to make a sometimes unlikable character, seem sympathetic. She does some silly, downright idiotic things throughout the flick, but Jacobs makes you feel for her, more and more as the flick goes on and it’s hard not to fall in love with her, as if the world hasn’t already been doing so for the past few years or so.

But really, it’s Keegan-Michael Key who steals the movie, showing us that, yes, beyond all of the wacky impersonations, the screaming, and the joking around, he truly can act. As Jack, Key has the hardest role to pull-off, because he has to be both a nice guy, as well as a bit of a dick at the same time, and honestly, we never hate him as much as we should. During the comedy scenes, Key is on fire as always, but when it’s just him, laying his heart out, it’s surprising, because it all works so well. We like this guy and we feel for him, even when he’s thrown into a corner and has to do something that may hurt those around him. It’s a great performance that I hope to see more of from him in the future.

Hopefully, that’ll also give Birbiglia an incentive to make more movies.

Consensus: Funny, smart, and heartfelt, without ever overdoing it, Don’t Think Twice finds Mike Birbiglia expressing his love for the comedy world, while also realizing the pain and heartbreak that can come along with it.

8 / 10

Funny friends stick together and annoy each other mercilessly.

Funny friends stick together and annoy each other mercilessly.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Elvis & Nixon (2016)

Had this taken place today, imagine the selfies.

In December 1970, Elvis Presley (Michael Shannon) was still considered “the King”, however, he didn’t want to be just that anymore. If anything, his one true dream was to become a CIA agent, where he would look over America and make sure all of the old past-times stayed put and that none of these hippy, flower-power children took over society. But in order to make all of his wildest dreams come true, he would have to be accepted into the CIA in the first place and, most importantly, have a chat with the one, the only, President Richard Nixon (Kevin Spacey). But even though he was the King and quite possibly, the most well-known and famous celebrity of all time, even Elvis himself couldn’t get into the White House with an appointment. So, in order to make sure that it all happened, he would need the help of a former friend/confidante of his, Jerry Schilling (Alex Pettyfer), to make sure that all that everything went down all according to plan. Of course, though, because it’s the President, it’s a known fact that everything has to work out perfectly, with no surprises whatsoever. However, when you’re working with the King, anything can possibly happen.

He's lonely.

He’s lonely.

And yeah, the rest is obviously history.

It’s hard to imagine that a movie could be made about the infamous meeting between Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon, two of the most iconic figures of the 60’s and 70’s, let alone, of all time. Of course, it was said to be a zany happening that nobody quite made sense of, yet, thanks to a photo and some speculation, we have a whole lot of odd history and yes, now even a movie made of the meeting and everything that went into it to make sure it all happened.

Did we really need one? Better yet, did we need an-hour-and-a-half one?

Probably not, but the best part about Elvis & Nixon is that it doesn’t strive to be anything more than what it is: The planning and eventual meeting of Elvis and Nixon. Director Liza Johnson does something smart in that she frames the story as this small, intricate little moment in history that didn’t really shake the world, change it, or make us all think of differently, but just make us think, “Well, how the hell did this actually happen?”, as well as, “Heck, what the hell even happened?”

Of course, a lot of what Elvis & Nixon does and says about the leading up to and the actual meeting itself, may be all bull-crap, but it makes for entertaining bull-crap that’s fun to watch. We don’t really need to know anything more about these two than what’s presented to us as is, and therefore, we sit, wait and wonder just when the two are going to meet, just what’s going to happen, and exactly what the heck Elvis himself was doing bringing guns into the White House after all.

Sure, you may not have these questions on your mind in the first place, or even care in the slightest, but Elvis & Nixon is the kind of movie that brings you into its story, whether you like it or not.

Then again, there is something to be said for the fact that the movie doesn’t seem to trust its two figure-heads quite enough to make this whole movie, their own, as there’s whole lot of attention paid to Alex Pettyfer and his character, Jerry Schilling. Yes, it’s to be said that Schilling played quite a big part in actually getting the two icons together on that one fateful day, but really, do we needed a whole subplot dedicated solely to him, his issues, and whether or not he’s going to make it home to Sky Ferreira? Not really, and while Pettyfer is fine in the role, it’s sort of thankless and doesn’t really seem like it matters in the long run.

He needs a badge.

He needs a badge.

Same goes for the likes of Johnny Knoxville, who gets one or two funny lines, but essentially, is just there to say somewhat perverted things and be the “comedic-relief”. And it’s a bit of a waste because, thanks to the likes of Colin Hanks, Evan Peters, Tate Donovan, Kevin Spacey, and Michael Shannon, the movie’s plenty funny. Why this character needed to be around, doesn’t really make much of sense to me and just seems like it takes up more unnecessary time in already very short movie.

But as is, thanks to Spacey and most importantly, Shannon, Elvis & Nixon works quite well.

Had the movie just been the two just them, sitting in the Oval Office, chatting it up, it probably would have been just as exciting. However, that doesn’t happen, but it doesn’t really matter; they’re both great, whether apart or together. Spacey may not seem like the right fit for Nixon, but fits into the role quite well, nailing all of the mannerisms that made Nixon himself such a character to watch. And then, yes, there’s Michael Shannon as Elvis, who is pretty great, showing us a humane King, that not only knows the limit of his ability as a superstar, but also realizes that the time has come for him to live a normal, everyday life as any other citizen. Elvis rarely gets the movie treatment, but here, it’s obvious that if they ever do give us another shot at watching Elvis’ story be filmed, Michael Shannon would be a perfect, if oddly unique choice to do it all over again.

Consensus: Surprisingly overstuffed for such a short movie, Elvis & Nixon isn’t perfect, but is funny, entertaining, and well-acted enough to work and make us think a little more about this odd slice of American pop-culture.

7 / 10

Together, they could be the bestest of pals.

Together, they could be the bestest of pals.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

I Saw the Light (2016)

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

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

Sing it loud and sing it proud, Loki.

Sing it loud and sing it proud, Loki.

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

But is that necessarily a bad thing?

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

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

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

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

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

Keep the mic on you man.

Not every couple needs to have duets, Hank.

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion (1997)

Yeah, I’m totally telling my high-school classmates I know Brad Pitt.

Romy and Michele (Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow) are two 28-year-old women who have been best-friends for life and have always been there for the other no matter what the situation called for. However, their ten year high-school reunion is coming up and they both come to the realization that they haven’t done crap with their lives other sit around, piss, moan, and talk about random stuff. In order to have people think differently of the wastes of life they’ve become, they decide to make lies about themselves and what they’ve been up to in the past years since high-school. Basically, it comes down to them being co-inventors of the “Post-it Note”, among many other glamorous lies.

What’s genius about Romy and Michele is that, sure, yeah, it doesn’t set-out to light the movie world on fire, however, it comes away more meaningful than most movies with that certain level of importance attached to itself from the very beginning. What it does is, essentially, show how these two have essentially done nothing new or cool with their lives since high school ended, but also doesn’t show that as such a terrible thing. They’ve always stayed themselves, have never really hid away from what they thought was cool, and actually have sweet souls, even if they do seem like the types of chicks who’d be out first in the spelling bee. And it’s not like I, or the movie is ragging on them either – they are pretty much those types of Valley Girls that talk, sound, and dress like they’re hot stuff, yet, have no clue what the result of two plus two is – however, the movie never judges them for this.

Those girls sure can dance!

Those girls sure can dance! They probably don’t know calculus, but hey, who cares?

If anything, the movie itself is almost too “nostalgic” to really frown on these two, nor should it have to.

Because honestly, Romy and Michele really do deserve their own movie, whether we know it right away or not. They may be dumb, but they have good hearts and are there for each other and whenever they aren’t thinking of what cool things they could do or say next to impress the hell out of the popular ones from school, they are just talking to each other and being the best friends that they can honestly be. If that doesn’t warm your heart a tad bit, I don’t know what will. It looks at high school as a joke and isn’t very serious when it comes to its depiction of what high school is and used to be, and shows that, honestly, that crap doesn’t matter; who you surround yourself around and care for is all that you need in life.

It’s all incredibly corny, but you know what? It works. If not for the script, but for the amazing chemistry between Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino. You get a sense that these two have been side-by-side for as long as they can remember and you also get the sense that they understand each other, in more ways then one. Though the movie has them doing a whole bunch of embarrassingly silly stuff, the movie also doesn’t forget that they’re also very happy to be with one another, even if they still don’t know what they want to do with the rest of their lives.

But what really makes these characters work is that they aren’t necessarily the same person, in and out, and both Kudrow and Sorvino show that off perfectly.

Oh, you 80's-looking-but-stuck-in-the-90's-gals.

Oh, you 80’s-looking-but-stuck-in-the-90’s-gals.

Kudrow is always hilarious in anything she does and even though I am always impressed with what she can do when it comes to showing her more dramatic side, her comedic side never seems to falter and it’s always a blast to watch. She has a lot of choice lines that make this movie any funnier than it has any right to be, but if you get to thinking about it, she’s just another-rendition of Phoebe, with a smaller-brain. That’s not even that much of a complaint either, because that character still works, no matter what!

Then, there’s Sorvino who really knew and understand just what it took to make someone as beautiful as her, look and sound so incredibly idiotic, yet, pull it off so wonderfully, that it was actually genuine. She’s more of the stand-out here because she really sets herself apart from the rest of the crowd for being so damn beautiful, but is also able to make us believe that a lot of people would just push her to the side for being a bit of a weirdo, as well as a bit of a dummy. Like Michele, she’s a not terrible person for being dumb and thinking she’s all that, and if anything, it makes us like her a little more.

Others like Alan Cumming and Janeane Garofalo, show up and do what they can, but really, it’s all Sorvino and Kudrow from the very beginning, to the end. In fact, the movie is so reliant that, after awhile, it can tend to be a bit obvious. No problem with playing to your strengths, but honestly, there was probably more within this movie that could have worked, had there been more polishing and focus. However, it doesn’t really matter, because the movie’s entertaining, funny and yeah, that’s all you need.

So I’ll shut up now.

Consensus: Thanks to a heartfelt, endearing and funny chemistry between Kudrow and Sorvino, Romy and Michele is a lot better than it has any right to be, showing that high school, ten years down the line or whenever, doesn’t really matter, so long as you’re happy and love the people you’re with.

6.5 / 10 

So, uh, sequel anyone?

So, uh, sequel anyone?

Photos Courtesy of: Cineplex, IFC, AV Club

Café Society (2016)

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

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

Blake knows beauty.

Blake knows beauty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That comb-over, though.

That comb-over, though.

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

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

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

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

6.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Infiltrator (2016)

Pretty sure that Bryan Cranston doesn’t need drugs anymore to make himself seem cool.

By 1986, federal agent Robert Mazur (Bryan Cranston) had gone under cover so much, that it was all starting to catch up with him. Now, facing retirement with a pretty attractive benefit deal from the FBI, Mazur decides to do one last job that will not only put him in more good graces with those around him, but may also help solve the victor in the war on drugs. Working alongside fellow agents Kathy Ertz (Diane Kruger) and Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), Mazur poses as a slick, money-laundering businessman named Bob Musella, who works with some shady characters who’d much rather not have their finances be sitting around in some bank. But in order to seem more legit and get his target (who is basically Pablo Escobar), Mazur has to gain the trust and confidence of Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt), Escobar’s top lieutenant. However, Mazur’s personal life starts to slip and slide into his professional one, and eventually, there comes a point where he doesn’t know whether he can complete the job to the best of his ability.

Diane just can't get enough of the 'stache.

Diane just can’t get enough of the ‘stache.

Everything about the Infiltrator is riled with cliches and conventions that we have seen so many times before in more interesting, much better flicks of the same nature. Heck, even TV shows like Narcos and Animal Kingdom seem to get this kind of corrupt and crime-fueled world so right, to the point of where you’d much rather watch them, rather than spend nearly two hours watching a story that you may or may not already know about, happen in the most conventional way imaginable. If you’re on a plane, or channel surfing at 2 a.m. and having nothing else better to do, then yeah, sure, it’s probably an exciting watch.

But if you have better stuff to watch, like say, the two aforementioned shows, then yeah, hit them up instead.

And honestly, the Infiltrator is not all that bad – if anything, it’s incredibly mediocre. As Brad Furman showed with the Lincoln Lawyer some years ago, he has a knack for getting a quality cast together, and giving them some relatively gritty, but fun material to work with. The likes of John Leguizamo, Diane Kruger, Amy Ryan, Benjamin Bratt, and other all show up, and while some of them definitely have more to do than others, Furman gives them each enough time and attention to where it seems like he may possibly be interesting in exploring who they are and why they matter to a story like this.

But then again, at the same time, none of them are ever as developed as they should be, or at least, as much as Cranston’s Mazur is; Leguizamo comes the closest, but eventually, his character is just pushed to the back in favor of more crime, violence, blood and drugs. Cranston though, gets the bulk of the attention and he’s very deserving of it; once again, he’s playing a character that’s starting to develop more and more of a darker-side to himself than he ever expected and, as usual, the transformation is compelling. No matter how deep or dark Mazur the character may get, you always get the sense that, because of Cranston’s presence, that he’ll do the right thing and not break bad too much, to the point of almost no return.

But Bryan can.

But Bryan can.

But then, like I said, there’s the rest of the movie.

It’s all just fine, but a movie like the Infiltrator, where drugs, violence, crime, corruption, Latinos, and 80’s appear in almost every scene, shouldn’t be so middling. In fact, there’s a small stretch here where it’s just, plain and simply put, boring; there doesn’t seem to be anything really at-stake, nor does there ever seem to be anything worth holding onto. The war on drugs is currently going on in this flick, but rather than trying to make a comment or an idea about that, it just presents it as a thing that’s happening and yes, this story wouldn’t be told without it. And yeah, there’s nothing more to it than that.

Sure, maybe I’m expecting too much, or that I’ve seen one too many crime-dramas in the same vein as the Infiltrator, but still, that doesn’t excuse that the movie is rather boring, when it should be as fun and as exciting as can be. Even despite the conventional plot, the movie should still have the right amount of energy, excitement, and unpredictability to it. Unfortunately, there’s not much of that here; there are small bits and pieces where it seems like Furman is really trying to crank up the tension, but mostly, he backs away before anything gets too good.

Is that my fault, or his? I don’t know, but really, I don’t care. See the movie if you want, if not, no big deal.

In two weeks, you’ll probably forget that I even talked about it, regardless.

Consensus: Despite a solid cast, and wonderful central performance from the always reliable Cranston, the Infiltrator also feels very conventional and rather tepid.

5.5 / 10

And yes, he's pissed about it.

And yes, he’s pissed about it.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Rotten Tomatoes

Ghostbusters (2016)

Chill out, geeks. It’s all good.

Paranormal researcher Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy) and physicist Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) have had a pretty rough relationship in the past few or so years. While Yates has been about tinkering around and playing with her toys, and finding out more about the paranormal in a slightly more silly way, Erin has been approaching the subject in a far more serious, relatively esteemed way. She’s trying to make tenure at the college she’s been teaching at, but she can’t seem to take herself away from that past-self of hers that loved spooky ghosts and communicating with whatever ghost-like things were out there. Now, the two are back together and figuring things out when strange apparitions appear in Manhattan. Along with them to find out more about these ghostly creatures, is engineer Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon), a slightly odd gal who loves the hell out of her cool gadgets and toys, and Patty Tolan, a lifelong New Yorker who knows the city inside and out. Armed with proton packs and plenty of inspiration, the four women prepare for an epic battle as more than 1,000 mischievous ghouls descend on Times Square, as they not only hope to save the world, but also still seem legit in the long-run.

Go-go gadgets!

Go-go gadgets! Oh, wrong reboot/rehash/remake!

Okay, everyone. It’s time to shut it. Yes, the new Ghostbusters movie is totally forgetting that the first one ever existed; yes the new Ghostbusters features women in those iconic roles everyone remembers from the original; and yes, it’s actually an okay movie. A lot of people couldn’t handle the fact that their beloved childhood treasure was going to be changed for the sake of putting a new spin on an old story, and well, of course, more money. It’s not wrong to think that, and after all of the terrible trailers, it’s fine to get a little worried, but have no fear, as the new Ghostbusters is the kind of movie you’d expect from director Paul Feig.

Except, well, not as good.

That isn’t to say that the new Ghostbusters is a fine and fun movie; there’s plenty to like about it, without ever thinking too hard about anything really. The comedy works when it’s just a bunch of these characters goofing around and ad-libbing whatever Feig doesn’t feel like trying to write to paper; the call-backs, of which there are a whole bunch, are fine and do have that perfect balance between sentimentality and nostalgia that’s not always seen in reboots/rehashes/remakes of this kind; and yes, the performers are quite good.

However, while watching the new Ghostbusters, I couldn’t help but feel like this was a pretty big step back for Feig and co. Ever since Bridesmaids, he’s been building himself as one of the few incredibly reliable directors in comedy who, yes, definitely knows what’s funny and what isn’t, but also seems to be growing. Spy may forever be his giant leap from just being, yet again, another “comedy director”, to someone with hopes and ambitions to be something bigger; while it was essentially “a comedy”, it also had a lot of fun, twisty and exciting action to go along with it, all of which Feig seemed to film perfectly.

Here, with the new Ghostbusters, Feig seems as if he wants to bring all of that fun and excitement he had with that project, over to here, but there’s almost too much for him to do and work around, that makes it all seem like a bit much. The callbacks and popping-up of old characters can tend to be a bit draining (especially when a few of them aren’t even funny); the exposition and plot begin to take over to where it takes away from any actual fun that could still be found in this plot nowadays; and yes, it’s PG-13.

Sure, it may not seem like much, but it totally is.

After all, Feig is perhaps best when he allows for his characters and his cast to just run wild with material, whether scripted or not, and just see where everything falls. Of course, he has to keep the improvisation limited to a few scenes and he also has to remember that there’s a plot that needs to be pushed, die-hard fans who need to be serviced, and a rather more family-friendly crowd to have in-mind, especially when picking and choosing what comedy bits to use.

Lesbian, or nah?

She may be a lesbian, but please, let’s not add anymore fuel to the fire.

For Feig here, it seems as if he’s not as loose and wild as he once was – now, he’s got people really looking at him, making sure he doesn’t miss a beat or screw something up. I’m pretty sure that’s how it was on his past few films, but here, it appears like it got to him a bit, where some of the interest from his other movies seem to be lost. He’s not “selling out”, obviously, but he’s also not gaining anymore cred, either.

Either way, it’s an okay job on his part, as he gets everything right, but at the same time, it also feels like he wasn’t allowed to be his full-fledged self here.

That said, his cast is talented and they more than help him out. McCarthy, Wiig, McKinnon, Strong, and yes, even Chris Hemsworth, are all funny, even if their characters feel a tad bit thin. McCarthy, Wiig and Strong seem to get the most development, but unfortunately, McKinnon doesn’t. Her character, if anything, is just there to do and say, weird and crazy things for no other reason, except to be weird and crazy. The movie never makes an attempt to really go any further into her background and while it’s a shame we don’t get it here, I do have the feeling we’ll get it some time soon, in the sequels, if there are any.

And yeah, Hemsworth is perfect here. He’s funny, stupid, chiseled and as masculine as you can get without dying of devouring five T-bones in one sitting.

Basically, he’s perfect. More of him, please kind sir.

Consensus: Better than everyone expected, Ghostbusters is funny and charming, but also feels like Feig and his crew are being held back a little by the well-known franchise, and all of the extra baggage that comes along with it.

6 / 10

They're here. They're gals. And guess what, they're going to stay. Deal with it, nerdos.

They’re here. They’re gals. And guess what? They’re going to stay. Deal with it, dorks.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

New York Stories (1989)

Now that I think about it, New York’s kind of lame.

New York is chock full of interesting little lives and stories that are just waiting to be heard and seen. One concerns a passionate, but confused painter (Nick Nolte), who is struggling to come up with new and interesting ideas, none of which are made any easier when his girlfriend (Rosanna Arquette), walks back into his life without promising to be everything that he needs. Another concerns Zoë (Heather McComb), a little schoolgirl who lives in a luxury hotel and constantly dreams about her father (Giancarlo Giannini) and mother (Talia Shire) getting back together, once and for all. And lastly, one concerns a New York lawyer named Sheldon Mills (Woody Allen), who thinks he’s finally met the love of his life (Mia Farrow), even if his overbearing mother (Mae Questel), doesn’t think so. This brings Sheldon to wishing that she’d just go away once and for all; his dream eventually does come true, except not in the way that he wanted, nor did he ever expect.

Paint it black, please.

Paint it black, please.

The biggest issue with anthology films is that you always run the risk of one portion being way better than all of the rest. In the case of New York Stories, given the talent on-board, it’s honestly a shock that none of the segments are really all that good; there’s one that’s more tolerable than the rest, but honestly, it’s sort of like grasping at straws. And yes, just in case any of you were wondering, New York Stories is an anthology flick featuring three, 35-40 minute segments from Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Woody Allen, respectively.

Let me repeat them all one more time.

Martin Scorsese.

Francis Ford Coppola.

And Woody Allen.

So, why the heck on Earth is this movie incredibly lame? Honestly, from what it looks like on the outside, all three directors had been wanting to do something together for quite some time, however, just never had the right time, or package to do so. Then, a hot-shot, studio exec thought of a grand idea, in having them all contribute to a three-part anthology flick, where people would all get drawn in by the fact that these three directing legends are somehow, slightly coming together on a project for the whole world to see.

Except that this was all happening in the late-80’s, and not the mid-to-late-70’s, when they were all at the top of their game. And also, rather than waiting for them to all have something worthy of filming and throwing into the movie, it appears that each director picked up whatever script they had lying on the ground, had an obligation, was forced to direct something, and just decided to roll with that. Sure, I’m speculating here, but after seeing the final product, I couldn’t imagine New York Stories coming together or being put-together in any other way.

Pictured: The future heir to the Ford Coppola legacy

Pictured: The future heir to the Ford Coppola legacy

For one, Scorsese’s bit is “meh”, at the very best. He gets a lot of mileage out of a neat soundtrack that seems to intentionally ram “A Winter Shade of Pale” down our throats, but honestly, there’s no meat to whatever story was supposed to take place here. Apparently, Nick Nolte and Rosanna Arquette’s characters are supposed to have some sort of sexy, fiery and ruthless relationship, but they don’t have any sex, and then Steve Buscemi shows up, and uh, yeah, I don’t know. Nick Nolte paints a lot and that’s about it. It’s boring, nonsensical, and most of all, uninteresting.

Words I never thought I’d describe something of Scorsese’s, but hey, such is the case.

Then again, Scorsese’s segment isn’t nearly as terrible as Coppola’s.

Yes, Coppola’s segment is notorious for possibly being the worst thing he’s ever directed in his life and, well, I can’t argue with that. It’s really bad, in the sense that it seems like Coppola had no clue of what to film, or actually do with the time and money given to him, so he just decided to make a movie for his kids. Sure, the character of Zoe is cute, but it’s placed in the middle of two, very adult segments that really, it serves no purpose or place in this movie altogether. Why anyone thought this was a good idea in the first place, is totally beyond me.

Heck, I don’t even think Coppola knows what to make of it still to this very day.

But thankfully, the smartest decision of New York Stories is to allow for Woody Allen’s segment to be the very last because, well, it’s the best. Once again, that’s not saying much, but it works because it’s quintessential Woody – light, breezy, simple, funny, and most of all, entertaining. The other two segments, despite appearing as if they were fun to film, don’t really come off as such; Woody, working with a really silly, almost cheeseball-ish plot-line, gets a lot of mileage out of looking like he’s enjoying his time filming this goofy story.

Does it save the movie?

Sort of. But if there was ever a reason to not feel optimistic of any anthology feature, regardless of talent involved, it’s New York Stories.

Consensus: Despite Woody Allen, Francis Ford Coppola, and Martin Scorsese each having something to do with the final product, New York Stories sort of begins on a whim, continues with a snore, and ends on a somewhat likable whimper.

5 / 10

Every Jewish man's dream and/or nightmare, come true. It depends on who you talk to, really.

Every Jewish man’s dream and/or nightmare, come true. It depends on who you talk to, really.

Photos Courtesy of: Jonathan Rosenbaum

Whatever Works (2009)

Living with Larry David can’t be all that bad.

Boris Yellnikoff (Larry David) is pretty tired with the world around him. When he’s not picking a fight with the kids he teaches chess to, he’s crying on and on about everything he can find himself to complain about like politics, sex, books, entertainment, and yes, women. He even goes so far as to talk to “them” – mysterious people out there in the world that he thinks are always watching him, no matter what he does or says. That’s why, one night, he decides to end it all and throw himself out of a window. Problem is, he doesn’t succeed and is forced to live with his sad and miserable life. It all changes one day though, when a random drifter named Melody (Evan Rachel Wood), comes to his door-step all of the way from the Deep South. While Boris is initially against Melody, the two end up hanging together, more and more, teaching each other things about life that neither originally knew about. Which is fine and all, until they start to fall for one another – something that everyone around them seem to have problems with.

Even Ed is begging for that next season of Curb.

Even Ed is begging for that next season of Curb.

Why haven’t Larry David and Woody Allen worked together before? Honestly? I mean, with the exception of his small bit in Allen’s segment in New York Stories, it’s crazy to think that two people on this Earth as similar as David And Allen haven’t gotten together to cook-up something lovely and magical before. Sure, you could blame that on the fact that David liked to stay behind-the-scenes for a large portion of his career, but either way, it’s worth bringing up because, even though Whatever Works isn’t Woody’s worst, it also isn’t his best, either.

Which is a shame because, once again, David and Allen could make magic happen.

However, time has passed and over the years, Woody Allen has definitely lost his touch. That’s why another story featuring a much-older man and much-younger woman falling for one another, for no reason because they stand one another and talk about the more infuriating things in life, already sounds boring. After all, it’s the story that Allen’s been working with since the beginning of his career and honestly, just taking him out and putting David in can only help matters so much.

And yes, David is playing himself, but he’s also the stand-in for Allen himself, which is a tad bit confusing, because the two aren’t all that different. In fact, it’s honestly a wonder to me how much of this was scripted, or how much of it was David deciding to take an eraser to some stuff he didn’t like and just roll with what he had? I really don’t know, but regardless, David is fine in this role; he can sometimes lash out and say the same things, over and over again, but that’s sort of the point of this character. He’s supposed to be a grump and always have an issue with the world around him.

In other words, he’s Larry David. Signed. Sealed. And delivered.

Others around David are quite fine, too. Evan Rachel Wood’s character may start out as a caricature, but eventually starts to show more shadings that make her likable; Patricia Clarkson shows up about halfway through and makes the movie a whole lot better; Henry Cavill in a young role of his, is as charming as they come and as you’d expect for Superman to be; and Ed Begley, Jr. showing up for not too long, is actually the funniest of the whole cast.

Where's his glasses?

Where’s his glasses?

But still, a fine cast doesn’t always make a great movie, and that’s where Whatever Works sometimes falls. It isn’t that the movie itself is bad – Allen’s annoying writing is toned-down enough to where it doesn’t get in the way of the story, or the characters – but it also doesn’t change much up about what we’ve seen from Allen in the past. His characters talk about existentialism, they fight, they screw, they drink, they host dinner parties, they listen to jazz, they go on walks to the park, and yeah, that’s pretty much it. Occasionally, Allen himself will throw a small twist in there for good measure to make us think that he realizes a lot of his movies are the same, but really, does any of it matter?

Woody is getting up there in age and a lot of his movies are starting to seem a little like the same thing, over and over again? Does that make them “bad”? Not necessarily; they’re enjoyable and pleasant because he has a knack for catching the right tone with his movies and always getting the best and brightest talents for his flicks, but that doesn’t always make a “great” movie.

Even if your movie does have Larry David complaining to the camera.

Now, how could that be “bad”?

Consensus: While not his worst, nor his best, Whatever Works gets by because of its charming cast, but really, is a solid example of Woody possibly running out of ideas.

6 / 10

She's going to learn to hate life and everyone in it after that conversation.

She’s going to learn to hate life and everyone in it after that conversation.

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

Celebrity (1998)

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

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

Pictured: Not Woody Allen

Pictured: Not Woody Allen

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really, Woody?!?

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

Bebe knows best.

Bebe knows best.

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

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

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

Couldn’t hurt, right?

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

3.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Screw too many women, trust me, you get screwed, too.

Harry Block (Woody Allen) has had a pretty crazy and unfortunate life. He’s been with many women, has made many mistakes, and has a lot of opinions that don’t always make him the most popular guy in the room. And now, he’s gaining fame and fortune off of all of that by putting into a new book of his, one that people love, with the exception of the few he’s actually writing about. Most of the women from his past have disowned him, which depresses Harry to a great degree. However, the only thing keeping him alive and well is the fact that he has a son, who he knows will have a bright future. Also, Harry finds out that the university that once kicked him out, now wants him back for a ceremony to honor him and all of his accomplishments. This gives Harry an idea: Take his son with him on this trip and allow for all sorts of fun and adventure to occur. Little does Harry know that he’s kidnapping his son to go along for the ride with him, along with the likes of a friend (Bob Balaban) and hooker (Hazzelle Goodman).

Way more loyal than Annie Hall.

Way more loyal than Annie Hall.

Due to the fact that Woody Allen likes to make a movie almost every year, a lot of people tend to get on his case. Obviously, some movies are better than others and, especially as of late, it appears like some of them aren’t even worth watching, but because they’re movies by Woody Allen and feature great talent in front of the screen, people can’t help but see what he’s got cooking up next. After all, a bad Woody Allen movie is at least better than most of what we seem to get out there, right?

Well, either way, where it seems like some of the issues with Woody releasing a new movie every year is that the movies tend to all follow the same formulas, ideas and themes of all of his movies. They’re mostly all lighthearted affairs that have to do with dysfunctional families, Judaism, forbidden love, sex, writing, poetry, classical music, jazz, or anything else of these natures. They’re all very similar and it honestly makes me wonder why Woody himself doesn’t bother to go deeper and darker with himself, or his material.

Cause, honestly, Deconstructing Harry is that perfect example of what Woody Allen can do when he decides to throw all caution to the wind and just not appease to anyone. While some of themes and ideas may be the same from before, here, they’re much more darker and sinister; rather than appearing to play for the big and broad laughs, Woody’s going for something much more meaner and angry, where it appears that he does in fact have an ax to grind.

Who is he grinding it at/for?

Well, no one in particular, but it allows for Deconstructing Harry to be better than most of his other flicks, because it proves that the guy actually has a point. He’s not just making a movie because he’s got the budget, the stars, and an inchworm of an idea that he’ll decide to play around with after the first-half – nope, this time Woody is going for the kisser and not apologizing for it. This is all to say that Deconstructing Harry is quite funny, but in a far different way that makes me feel better about Woody Allen, the writer – his jokes aren’t necessarily played-up for the smarter people of the crowd, but more for anyone who appreciates a good joke when they’re given one.

It sounds so stupid in hindsight, but honestly, good, consistent humor in a Woody Allen movie can sometimes be hard to find. Sure, every once and awhile, you’ll get a sly or witty line passed by some character here and there, but here, Woody’s throwing out jokes left and right. Do they all work? Not really – the whole bit involving Billy Crystal as the Devil could have probably bit the dust in the editing-room – however, the moments where the comedy works, it really works and is worthy of a big, howling laugh.

Focus on the finer things in life.

Focus on the finer things in life.

Yes, I know, it sounds stupid, but trust me, it totally matters.

But it’s not like Deconstructing Harry is better than most other Woody Allen movies because it’s darker and funnier (although, those are two attributes that help it), but because what Woody himself seems to be talking about is interesting. Harry Block’s life is such a whirlwind filled with heartbreak, anger, resentment, and controversy, that writing about it, gets him into hot water with those around him and eventually, he alienates himself from the rest of the world. Clearly, Woody seems to be channeling his own, inner-most demons and it’s neat to see play-out, as Woody himself definitely feels guilty for hurting the people that he’s hurt in the past, but also knows that the same hurt that he’s caused, is the same kind that’s brought him so much fame, fortune and respect in the biz.

So yeah, Woody’s talking about himself a lot here, but it works. Woody himself is quite good in the movie, but really, he’s meant to let others do all the work for him and show that they’re worthy of being here. People like Tobey Maguire, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Robin Williams, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Kirstie Alley, and others, don’t have a whole lot of screen-time, but are still funny and well worth their short time here. Why none of these people have bothered to show up in a Woody Allen movie is beyond me, but then again, maybe they, too, don’t want to waste time on something that’s going to just be “mediocre”.

Then again, neither do I, and I still can’t stop watching his movies.

Consensus: With a darker, more energetic edge, Deconstructing Harry shows a meaner side of Woody Allen that we hardly ever see, that’s both funny and interesting.

8 / 10

Everyone loves Woody. Except obvious people.

Everyone loves Woody. Except obvious people.

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

The Boss (2016)

Where’s Bruce?

Michelle Darnell (Melissa McCarthy) had it pretty rough as a kid. While she was cared for in an orphanage, she never stayed with any family and one day, decided to up and leave, and see what she could do next with her life. Eventually, it all lead her to becoming a multi-millionaire CEO, who is praised and adored for always getting her way, no matter what. However, that all changes when she gets busted for insider trading, not only taking her to prison, but also ensuring that her public and professional name will never have the same respect it once had. That’s why, as soon as she gets out of the clink, Michelle hooks back up with whoever will have her; no one, unfortunately, really sticks close to her, what without her millions and whatnot. Well, all except one woman: Darnell’s former assistant, Claire (Kristen Bell), who she was quite terrible to on a frequent basis. Claire opens her doors for Darnell and together, the two embark on Darnell’s latter-part of her career: Selling and manufacturing Claire’s home-made brownies. They become a hit, but they also bring out the worst again in Darnell.

"All you need to do is star in Paul Feig movies."

“All you need to do is star in Paul Feig movies.”

Melissa McCarthy is possibly one of the most gifted comedians we have in the business today. She’s hilarious, sweet, endearing and most importantly, has shown that, when she has to put all of the jokes aside and stop ad-libbing, well, she can actually act pretty damn well. So, in all honesty, why is that her movies don’t really measure up to her talent? Is it because nobody, with the exception of Paul Feig, knows how to direct her just yet? Or, is it because McCarthy is clearly too good for others to get going with?

I don’t know the answer to either question, but it definitely deserves to be brought up because the Boss, like almost all of McCarthy’s other movies, doesn’t really do much.

Sure, it allows for McCarthy to be all sorts of mean, cruel, crass and nasty whenever she wants, along with being funny, but really, that’s all there is to her. The movie does try to give Darnell some sort of emotional shading that makes us feel bad for this character as well as sympathize with her when she learns the error of her ways, but none of it feels ever earned. If anything, it just feels like another movie in which McCarthy will play someone who is awful to almost everyone around her, yet, somewhere near the end, will have a revelation about herself, begin to cry, and will want everyone to feel bad for her. Sure, you could say that this is how most movie formulas tend to be and play-out, but then again, that doesn’t make it an exciting one that I want to see, time and time again, with the same people no less.

That’s why, for all of the funny moments it has, the Boss can sometimes feel straining. Even at barely 100 minutes, the movie already feels overlong; too many jokes or gags where it seems like McCarthy herself is just running wild with her improvisation skills either fall flat, or get old as soon as they reach the two-minute mark. And while you could definitely chalk this up to being another problem that people tend to have with McCarthy and her movies, it should be noted that the person who co-wrote this movie with her and directed her, is none other than her husband, Ben Falcone.

AKA, the same guy who directed her in Tammy.

Does K-Bell really need help on a date?

Does K-Bell really need help for a date?

Now, the Boss is better than Tammy, but the bar is set pretty low. Whereas that movie seemed to have no idea what its plot was, or what it wanted to do with itself, the Boss at least feels like there’s some sort of plot/point to be working with. Sure, girl scouts vs. brownie girls is a bit silly, but the movie does have a plot here that it can fall back on, even when it seems like it’s losing any sight of where it wants to go. And yes, in a comedy, that matters a whole, because if you don’t have anything driving it along, the movie itself can start to feel like a slodge and, as a result, the comedy can sometimes suffer.

For instance, there’s a brawl between the two opposing forces and while it garnered a few laughs or so out of me, it bothered me to realize that it wasn’t the only plot to work with. Apparently, the movie also wanted to involve Peter Dinklage’s rival-CEO character in it, give the movie a villain, and have it appear as if we really needed it, which isn’t the case at all. If anything, it gives a talented actor like Dinklage, nothing to work with, and just adds way more time to this movie than is needed.

While I’m definitely not all about the age old idea that every comedy should be under 90 minutes, a movie like the Boss is a perfect example of why they should be less than that, and nothing more. The Boss seems to go on and on, throwing some funny bits and pieces here and there, but overall, feels like another wasted opportunity on McCarthy. Yes, she’s funny, and so is Bell, and the two work quite well together, but the movie doesn’t always seem to excite them, or us for that matter, either.

Oh well. At least the new Ghostbusters reunites Feig and McCarthy, which isn’t all that bad, right?

Consensus: McCarthy herself brings out some funny moments, but the Boss is just an overlong, sometimes tedious comedy that, once again, wastes the talents of its star.

5 / 10

Better order those Thin Mints, everyone.

Better order those Thin Mints, everyone.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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