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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

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Menashe (2017)

Be nice to your local Hasidic Jew!

Deep in the heart of New York’s notoriously secretive Hasidic Jewish community, Menashe (Menashe Lustig) lives and does what he can to just get by. His wife just recently passed and because of that, a lot has been happening; he’s been slipping as a father, as an employee at the local grocery-store, and mostly, as a member of the community. This is also the same community that feels if Menashe does not fulfill his duties as a spirited and hard-working father, they will take him away, raise him in a better environment, and ensure that said son grows up better than Menashe. It’s something Menashe clearly doesn’t want, but considering that he’s been having so many problems, it may turn into more of a blessing, than an actual curse.

“Don’t be such a dick, kid. Take it from ya poppa.”

With the Hasidic Jewish community slowly becoming the main focus and attention of everyone’s anger fairly soon, Menashe feels like a fresh breath of air that reminds us that, like a lot of troubled groups and cultures, there’s always those good ones trying their best to survive, get by, and most of all, break from tradition. With Menashe, too, it’s not as if the movie is showing us that the Hasidic Jewish community is awful and unpleasant; it shows us that this one man, after having already been through a lot as it is, may want a change of scenery. Some of that has to do with the constant annoyance from those within the community, but it mostly has to do with him just wanting to do something new for a change, and while he still can.

Does that mean that the community depicted here as saints? Not really. In fact, it’s a troubling-image that shows conflicts, age-old issues on women, sex, marriage, and family, and if anything, proves why the Hasidic Jewish community is already under fire. But still, like Menashe himself, they aren’t depicted as awful, inhumane human beings.

Just problematic, is all.

But still, Menashe, at its heart and soul, is a small, contained, sweet, sometimes funny, but also a little depressing character-study of this one man who, in all honesty, we don’t see depicted in film all that much. The last time I can think of a Hasidic Jew getting even the slightest bit of a light-treatment in a film was Fading Gigolo, and even then, it was still sort of too jokey and came off as offensive. Regardless, writer/director Joshua Z. Weinstein (hopefully no relation) does a solid job of keeping things moderate, simple and easy enough to where our focus is always on Menashe and nobody else.

Get this man a towel!

And as Menashe, Menashe Lustig gives a pretty great performance that seems like there was a hell of a lot improvising involved, but it still works. As this big, bearded, somewhat out-of-shape guy, Lustig gives a great performance where he literally seems to be close to passing out in every scene and it works for the character; this man is already so out-of-it with the life he’s had, what’s happened to him, and what obstacles are left on his plate, that we honestly wouldn’t blame him for just dozing off. A lot of what happens to Menashe, or better yet, what he does, can often be comical, but it also still plays off as sad because of this man’s history, his tragedy, and why he’s so disheveled, the way that he is.

And this isn’t just the movie telling us this, either – it mostly comes through Lustig’s subtle, but honest performance.

We feel for this man, we wish the best for him and we want him to get better, but man oh man, it can sometimes be so hard to get behind him. He does and says dumb things, but because we have a context and a sort-of reason, then there is, at the very least, some sympathy. And that’s why Menashe is a true character-study, as it allows for us to sit by and watch this man, as he lives his life, making mistakes and decisions that will ultimately affect him in the long-run. We want him to do better, but we also can’t help but love to watch him fail and it’s what makes him human.

That said, at just 82 minutes, the movie can’t help but feel slight and a little too short. It’s almost as if Weinstein had enough money in the budget for a short, but stretched it as far as he could, without realizing that there needed to be something of an end, that didn’t just, well, end. It sort of just happens, you don’t realize it and it’s a bit of a shame. The movie could have gone on longer and would have probably benefited from it, too.

But hey, maybe that’s why we’re ready for whatever Weinstein’s got next.

Consensus: Though it feels too short, Menashe still works as a small, contained and interesting character-study of a community we don’t too often see portrayed, or at least, not in this humane of a fashion.

6.5 / 10

Probably not the sight you want to wake up to.

Photos Courtesy of: A24 Films

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Thelma (2017)

College blows. Especially when you’re a witch. Or something.

Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a college student who comes from a faith-heavy background and doesn’t know what to expect with her new surroundings. Her parents are very happy for her, but are also a little afraid that she will begin to question her faith, lose Jesus in her life, and become a much different person than they raised. But that turns out to be the least of any of their worries when Thelma begins experiencing extreme seizures. She has no idea where they come from, or when they’ll eventually hit her, but whatever it is, it isn’t anything good. That’s why she decides to live in the moment and allow herself to be open to anything that comes her way. Even if that means a relationship with a tall, dark and mysterious girl named Anja (Kaya Wilkins), even if it goes against everything that she was told and taught while growing up.

For awhile, Thelma is a smart, interesting, and complex coming-of-age that deals with heavier, meatier themes, but mostly, comes down to one girl realizing who she is, what she is, and whether or not she can still stick with having God in her life so much. It’s a movie that reminded me a lot of Raw, except in this case, it’s a lot smaller, subtle, and less bloody. But in another way, it’s also weaker.

It’s what love does to us all.

Cause one of the key elements surrounding Thelma is the fact that co-writer/director Joachim Trier (who started his career off making some great movies, only to now lose it a bit), doesn’t handle the horror-elements all that well as you would want, or expect. Where Raw worked as an allegory for this one girl’s coming-of-age, while watching her tastes, functions, and overall personality change, Thelma doesn’t work as an allegory, because the horror-stuff doesn’t really make much sense. It can be about a girl wrestling with her faith and her needs, but it’s really just a chance for Trier to try and do some spooky-stuff, whenever he’s lost focus on the smaller, more intimate stuff with his characters.

Which is a shame because, once again, at the heart, Thelma is solid.

It’s smart and knows that it’s playing around with genre-beats and conventions, but also, knows that it wants to express certain ideas about a girl coming-of-age and finally realizing what she is. It deals with heart and truth, which is why the first hour, when all the supernatural beings are pushed to the side and only slightly hinted at, works and is worth watching. After that, however, it just gets way too insane and crazy, almost to the point of where it seems like Trier himself may have been bored.

Don’t trust the one that sleeps next to you. Especially if they take all the covers.

And it’s a shame, too, because Thelma herself, as well as Eili Harboe, are interesting. Thelma’s a female protagonist that feels like a young girl, seeing and understanding the world for the first time, realizing that her faith-heavy upbringing is a little silly, and also seeing that she wants something in her life that she’s told not to have. Once again, it’s a lot like Raw in that it’s filled with a lot more darker-stuff and is subtle, but it still deals with a young girl, coming to grips with who it is, that she is and for that reason alone, it’s worth watching. We don’t get characters like this much anymore and it’s refreshing when we do.

Then again, it all comes back to the spooky-stuff and for me, it just didn’t work. I know lots and lots of people appreciated that aspect and didn’t mind the movie taking risks, but when your risks take away from what’s already strong and powerful as it is, what’s the risk for? To try something new? To show-off? Or to just not be bored by playing it small and simple?

For me, small and simple is all you need. Therefore, Thelma was more than I needed. Or even what I wanted.

Sorry, not sorry.

Consensus: Though it begins as a thought-provoking and interesting coming-of-ager, Thelma soon delves into horror, supernatural-beings, and all sorts of other crazy junk that takes away from the heart and soul of what’s already there.

5.5 / 10

Love does this, too? I don’t know.

Photos Courtesy of: The Orchard

Princess Cyd (2017)

Growing up blows. That’s why we always have aunts to help us out.

Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) is a 16-year-old girl who comes from a troubled past. Her mother killed herself when she was very young and her father, doing the best that he can, just can’t deal with her at this moment in time. So, he decides to send her away to live with her aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence) in Chicago for the summer. The two don’t really know each other all that well, other than that they both are related and are women, but both are also different. Miranda is single, a writer, and very much attuned into who she is, or what she wants, whereas Cyd, being so young, doesn’t know what she wants to do with the rest of her life, whom she wants, or even, if she really likes Chicago. Over the course of the summer, both change and learn things about one another that have them grow closer, but also realize a little bit more about their family-history.

Everybody does this kind of stuff with their aunt!

After having seen three of his films so far (the Wise Kids, Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, this), I can safely that writer/director Stephen Cone is one of the rare film-makers out there who’s movies are literally made for nobody, but everybody. Each one looks like and sort of plays out like an after-school special, dealing with issues of faith, coming-of-age, sex, homosexuality, and family, but are also so sweet and light, they never get quite as dark as they probably should. But then again, they also don’t shy away from dealing with these issues, they discuss them, have cursing, sex, nudity, and oh yeah, even a little bit of drug-use.

This may sound like a bad thing, but I assure you, it isn’t. If anything, it only proves that Cone is that much more of a treasure, who has somehow had a steady-career behind the camera, yet, doesn’t work with any big names, nor do his movies really gain all that much attention. They’re all good, smart, well-written, acted, director and small character-studies that probably everybody should see.

But is “everybody” the audience these movies are intended for?

Once again, not sure. What I am sure of, however, is that Princess Cyd, while not perfect, may be Cone’s best film yet, because he truly digs in deep into his thoughts, ideas, and themes, yet, also doesn’t forget to keep his focus on these characters and what makes them tick. The idea of religion that’s been so persistent in his other flicks, is sort of her, but sort of isn’t; the movie’s really a focus on one girl’s coming-of-age, as well as her aunt’s realization that life is slowly passing her by and she doesn’t have much time to really make a difference anymore. It’s the kind of movie that moves to its own beat and doesn’t really give you an idea of where it’s going, how it’s going to end, or what conflict is even going to arise (if any), and it’s somehow a bit of a beauty because of that.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking and no, this is not a porno. Maybe.

It also helps that Cone was able to get together a pretty good cast of, once again, relatively unknowns who have either been supporters, or somewhere in the background of your favorite films. As Aunt Miranda, Rebecca Spence is surprisingly very good and it mostly comes down to the small bits and pieces of history we get about. She’s single, independent, a writer, and loves the arts, but she also wants something more out of her life. It’s rare to get a movie about a 40-year-old, single, unmarried, and childless woman that doesn’t feel patronizing, or at least, uses that as a crux for a plot, but Princess Cyd and Cone are both a lot smarter than that. Miranda is smart and relatively care-free, but also seems like maybe, just maybe, she wants to settle down.

See, any key element of Cone’s movies is that they are so slight and subtle, you truly do have to pay attention because the smallest nod, or look, or movement, can mean and matter so much. It’s why Miranda, as well as everyone else here, are so interesting – there’s always something deeper within them and beneath the surface, that even the smallest hint of what they’re thinking or feeling, at any given moment, is worth watching and paying attention to. It sounds like nothing, but for those who love, appreciate, and have a constant need for smarter writing and directing in movies, it’s all we need.

In fact, it’s everything. So yeah, more of Princess Cyd please.

Consensus: With a small, attentive eye to detail and characters, Princess Cyd proves that Stephen Cone is one of our more interesting film-makers in the world of indie cinema.

8 / 10

Prince or Princess? You tell me.

Photos Courtesy of: Wolfe Releasing

Stronger (2017)

Boston Strang.

Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is just any other ordinary guy at the Boston Marathon, waiting at the finish line to surprise his on-off-again girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany). Then suddenly, a bomb explodes and Jeff is left stunned and shook, but without two of his legs. It’s a lifestyle that he’s going to have get used to, but with his friends, family, and most of all, Erin, by his side, what could go wrong?

On the surface, yes, Stronger is a pretty conventional tale of strength and power overcoming adversity, but it’s also much deeper than that. Actually, not really, but because it’s a true story, because the story itself isn’t even all that hokey, and above all else, the performances are so damn good, it’s hard to really be upset by its TV-movie-of-the-week look and feel. After all, it’s a TV-movie-of-the-week with nudity, cursing, and hacked-off limbs, so it’s not all that safe and sound, right?

Never trust a guy in a cap and dark-ass sunglasses out in the middle of a public-event.

As per usual with director David Gordon Green, he takes on a bit of material that we don’t really expect from him, but somehow, it still works. Green doesn’t have to do a whole lot of flash and bang behind the camera to really make this material pop-off, but by the same token, he can’t help it; there are plenty of scenes that put us inside the dazed and frazzled mind of Bauman that not only have us feel for the guy more than we already do, but also realize that this notion of lionizing someone who literally just lost two of their legs, is almost insane. He represents a sense of hope and heart in this sick, sad, and tragic world, but he’s also just a normal, everyday guy who, if anything, wants to be left alone.

If anything, Stronger tickles with that notion, then unfortunately, falls back.

Why? I’m not sure and it’s a tad disappointing. Green, while he’s known for his slip-ups as of late, can truly get beneath the surface with these heartfelt, simple and rather small character-dramas, but here, he doesn’t go nearly as far down as he should. There’s a sense that he’s digging at something harder and more effective, but ultimately, he just stays put, allowing the actors to do the material and make it work themselves.

Look at those real, down-to-Earth people who also happen to be insanely hot and sexy!

Normally, that would be a problem, but it’s not because Gyllenhaal and Maslany are so good here and really make everything work. Gyllenhaal, as usual, takes a role that could have been simplistic and almost dull, but allows us to understand and truly see this guy for what he is: A normal, everyday guy, trying to get by. There’s a true heart and feeling to this person who, in real life, may be more interesting than he comes off in the film, but Gyllenhaal also allows us to see this guy as something of a sad-sack, just barely getting by in life, and then, miraculously, gets it all together, when he loses both of his legs. It’s an inspirational story in the sense that it’s about overcoming obstacles, but it’s also an ironic tale, too, so once again, there’s something deeper, but not really.

Anyway, Maslany is amazing, too, and even though it’s a little disappointing to see her not play five or six different characters, she’s still amazing as Erin Hurley here. She’s the strong-willed and smart woman who definitely loves Jeff, but also realizes just how much of a pain he can be, and especially in this situation. It’s a role that could have easily been annoying and almost unlikable, but Maslany plays her like a real person, who actually cares and loves her man, while also realizing that he can be a bit of an ass.

Like all men, really.

Consensus: Stronger is a simple and formulaic inspirational tale, but with solid performances and a firm focus on the real-life people themselves, it plays better than it should.

7.5 / 10

Fight for Bahhstaaaan.

Photos Courtesy of: Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

Darkest Hour (2017)

More Churchill? More Dunkirk? Come on!

Right at the beginning of WWII, Great Britain was already going through turmoil. They needed a new Prime Minister, they were losing the war, and their soldiers were stuck, with seemingly nowhere to go, hide, and were basically going to all be killed. Then in walks Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), a brass and arrogant man who a lot more people disliked than they actually liked, however, lots respected him for getting the job done when push came to shove. But even for someone as fearless as Winston, even he admits that the situation he got tossed into wasn’t all that ideal in the first place. In fact, it was far from ideal – it was downright brutal. But now it’s up to Winston to fight the Nazis and decide whether he wants to continue on with the war and try to do what they can to win, or come to a peace-treaty, cut their losses, and hope for the best from Nazi Germany and one Adolf Hitler. Sounds easy, right?

Darkest Hour seems like typical Oscar-bait, in that it stars a lot of famous people, is long, based on a real-story, has a lot of history behind it, features lots and lots of period-details, make-up, hair, fat-suits, and oh yeah, smoking. Lots and lots of smoking, in fact. But director Joe Wright, for all of his missteps, is better than this material and knows how to bring a great deal of entertainment to what could have easily been an hour-long special on the History Channel.

“Lean on me, bub.”

In fact, it’s just really good-looking, really entertaining Oscar-bait. But hey, at least Gary Oldman’s great, right?

And yes, really, that’s what Darkest Hour is going for the most: Oldman himself, donning a lot of make-up, a bald-head, a fat-suit, and taking on the rough-task of becoming Winston Churchill. What’s the end-game here? Obviously it’s so that Oldman can gain his first Oscar and prove to the world and to the Academy themselves that he’s worth it, even though, if the last 30 or so years weren’t already an indication, he clearly already is.

Sure, Oldman’s great here as Churchill, as he totally sinks into the role, catches all the ticks, mannerisms, and daily-beats of this man, totally allowing us to forget that we’re watching Oldman up on the screen, but it’s also still a performance made solely for the sake of award-nominations and wins. Oldman’s performance itself, no matter how far and wide it can seemingly go, is still limited to a lot of grumpiness, coughing, yelling, stammering, and limping that feels like he’s doing a lot, but at the same time, not doing much at all. Oldman’s a much more interesting actor than what he shows here and although it’s a good performance that will no doubt get him an Oscar, it’s still a sign that he’s capable of way, way more.

Then again, that’s always the case with Oldman, so why am I at all surprised?

“Dear John Lithgow,
I’m better.”

In fact, the true stand-out performance comes from Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI. Mendelsohn is always great in every role he takes, no matter how loud or quiet said role may be, but as King George VI, he shows a great deal of silent humanity that makes this character much more interesting than someone watching from the side-lines. As history would have it, King George VI was much more involved and the movie shows that he’s as much to blame for the eventual victory of Great Britain and the scenes where it’s just him and Oldman, trying not to lose their cool, help ground things in a smart, relatively subtle way. Would I have liked to seen them yell at one another, like each are known to do in movies?

Oh, most definitely. But hey, can’t have it all, right?

But like I said before, Wright works well with the material because he doesn’t forget to keep everything moving. The whole movie is basically one long scene of British people yelling at and arguing with one another in smoke-filled rooms, but they kind of work. There’s a sort of intensity to them that, although we know the overall end-game of what they’re arguing about, there’s still a lot to pay attention to and learn from. It’s a typical history-biopic, but it’s done right and you can’t totally argue against that.

Even if it is your grandfather’s night at the movies, hey, grand-pop can’t always be wrong.

Consensus: Despite it being pure Oscar-bait, Darkest Hour features solid performances, a lightly entertaining direction from Wright, and a solid look at one important part in Great Britain’s history.

7 / 10

“Deuces.” – Winston Churchill

Photos Courtesy of: Focus Features

Gook(2017)

Always do the right thing. Or don’t.

Eli (Justin Chon) and Daniel (David So), two Korean American brothers who own a struggling women’s shoe store, have an unlikely friendship with 11-year-old Kamilla (Simone Baker). On the first day of the 1992 L.A. riots, the trio must defend the store while contemplating the meaning of family and thinking about personal dreams and the future.

It’s really hard to watch Gook without thinking of two things: 1) Do the Right Thing, which it’s style is so clearly reminiscent of, and 2) 21 & Over, the raunchy bro comedy from a few years ago starring Justin Chon, the writer, director and star of Gook. Why the latter? Well, because that movie, while entirely forgettable, stupid, unfunny, and oh yeah, really bad, also had me wondering about the two other dudes in that cast, Miles Teller and Skylar Astin.

Did these hair-cuts ever catch on?

Once again, “why?,” you may ask? Well, because both of them have gone on to do far different things from one another; while they’ve both stayed hunky and handsome, Astin’s career has mostly stayed stuck in-neutral, with him showing up as the possible funny guy in stuff, whereas with Teller, he’s been doing all that he can to be taken more seriously and make one of his many dramatic-projects a hit (sadly, it hasn’t worked out). But then, there’s Chon who, after that movie, seemed to not really be anywhere but instead, saving up, doing all that he could to make this little flick of his that is way different and far more interesting than anything he’s done in the past.

Does that mean it’s a reckoning of sorts? Not really. But it’s a sign that his career is in the right direction and hopefully, far, far away from stupid frat-bro comedies.

But like I said before, Gook is definitely a movie that loans a lot of its style-points to Spike Lee; there’s a dream-like, sort of impressionistic tone that feels like it came from Fellini, but dipped in a much more realer, grittier world. It’s an interesting direction from Chon, who could have easily kept things simple with just telling this story, in a conventional manner, but it shows that he’s got way more on his mind and up his sleeve, than just letting the budget keep him down. After all, for a movie that literally takes place at three different locations, with only a few blocks between them, it never feels claustrophobic, or as if Chon ran out of money and was just cutting corners.

In fact, the smallness of it all felt refreshing. It not only helps us grow closer to these characters, but get to know and understand the world in which they live in, the political-climate at the time, and why their stories, are being told exactly. Chon’s ambitions may reach farther than he’s able to grab, but the guy’s got gutso and it’s a solid offering on his end, not forgetting to build characters in every which way that he can, but also still feel the outside world of L.A. in the summer of ’92, just when everything was about to go to s**t.

Always the sign a good time was had.

As if we needed another movie about the Rodney King riots, right?

Well, that’s why Gook‘s a little bit different. It stays small and subtle, even when it seems to want to reach out a bit further. It can’t quite reach its objectives like it wants, but it comes pretty close and Chon, when he’s not showing the world that he knows how to work a camera, gives us a raw and sad performance of another guy living in America, trying to get by, and trying not to be killed due to the way that he looks, where he comes from, or how he speaks. The central message of Gook is a simple one: Love one another, regardless of race, gender, or beliefs. We’re all minorities, in a way, and we’re much stronger together, than we are a part.

It’s a bit hokey, but the movie has such a lovely feel to it, it’s hard to really hate on it. Also, Simone Baker as Kamilla is the absolute light and delight of the movie that every chance she gets to be up on the screen, the movie somehow gets better. Chon seems to know this and uses her not just as the heart and soul of Gook, but as the central message to which we can all learn something from: Be nice to one another, as they’re are still young ones out there who look up to us and learn from us, each and every day.

Pretty timely, if I don’t say so myself.

Consensus: Despite what seems to be a very small and limited-budget, Gook presents a smart, funny, and sometimes sad snapshot into the lives of some interesting folks who still feel relevant today.

8 / 10

The heart and soul of America, folks. Take notice.

Photos Courtesy of: Samuel Goldwyn Films

The Girl With All the Gifts (2017)

2017 proves that we may just need an apocalypse.

In the future, a strange fungus has changed nearly everyone into a thoughtless, flesh-eating monster. When a scientist (Glenn Close) and a teacher (Gemma Arterton) find a girl named Melanie (Sennia Nanua) who seems to be immune to the fungus, they all begin a journey to save humanity. Problem is, the outside world is quite dangerous and always ready to chow down on human-flesh.

With all of the zombies shows and movies out there, you’d think that we wouldn’t really need something like the Girl With All the Gifts. After all, it’s a lot like the Last of Us and already doesn’t feel like it’s going to go beyond just being about a bunch of unlikable people trying to survive in a post-apacolyptic world, where everyone and everything are flesh-eating zombies. It sounds conventional, formulaic, and downright cliche, but the way it all plays out, surprisingly, proves otherwise.

Who says teachers can’t change the world?

In fact, it almost comes close to greatness. Very close, indeed.

But still, it’s a movie that deserves to be seen above all of the other zombie offerings because it doesn’t ever seem to forget to be, first and foremost, scary. What the Walking Dead, Z Nation, and all those other zombie bits of pop-culture seem to miss out on is that they aren’t really scary; they focus more on characters and hope that their lives hanging in the balance will be enough. They don’t really work on mood, or actually having you fearful of what’s going to come out at us, as well as the characters, next.

Director Colm McCarthy’s style works on that and puts us right into a dark, twisted, scary, and absolutely depressing world, highly reminiscent of the same post-apocalypse pictured in 28 Days Later. There’s zombies roaming everywhere, they’re fast, they’re angry, they’re hungry, and oh yeah, they’re scary. McCarthy always puts us in the dark of where the plot may go next, so that even if we don’t entirely care for these characters, we’re still interested in seeing where we are taken, what other mysteries of this disease are going to be unlocked, and whether anybody’s going to make it out of this thing alive.

Aw. Such a sweet little girl.

That said, the characters themselves, as limited as they may be, are interesting enough to where they do warrant enough attention to them. Gemma Arterton’s Helen is sweet and sympathetic, but you never know whether to fully trust her to do the right thing or not; same goes for Paddy Considine’s Eddie, who we actually start to hate, but soon understand and sympathize with because, well, he’s been through a whole lot; Glenn Close plays the Dr. Caldwell who cares a lot about her research, but also doesn’t fall into the convention of being the scientist who loses her head when the going gets dangerous; and Sennia Nanua, as Melanie, is perfect here. She’s both cute and sweet, but also incredibly dangerous, too and it’s hard to ever fully get close to this character, which is on-purpose. She is, after all, still a girl, but she does have a undying passion and love for the taste of human-flesh and it’s always easy to forget, especially when she’s going on and on about fairy-tales and bed-time stories.

It’s perfect casting and hopefully, a sure sign that Nanua will be going on to bigger and better things.

That said, as solid as the movie is for the first hour or so, it does kind of blow off the rails by the last-act, which is easy to see coming, but still feels a tad disappointing. It seems like with most zombie-flicks of this nature, it’s hard to stay so subtle and repressed that you can’t help yourselves but to let a little loose with all of the blood, the gore, the violence, the twists, and the turns by the end, but so be it. Maybe times will change. Maybe not.

Oh well.

Consensus: With plenty of shocks, scares, blood, guts, gore, and great performances, the Girl With All the Gifts helps freshen-up the zombie sub-genre a bit, but also falls short of being a brand new classic. Darn.

7.5 / 10

Oh, uh, damn. Never mind. Monster, I tell ya!

Photos Courtesy of: Saban Films

I Do…Until I Don’t (2017)

Marriage blows, get it?

Vivian (Dolly Wells) is a jaded filmmaker who believes that marriage is an outmoded concept that needs a reboot. Hoping to prove her theory, she begins to interview three couples at various stages in their relationships.

Even though it wasn’t a perfect movie, Lake Bell’s directorial debut, In a World…, proved that she had something more on her mind than just humor. It was a small, somewhat subtle look at women trying their best to get by, sisters trying to connect, and something of a showbiz-satire about how the men always get by, and the women are forced to stand back. It was a messy movie, but its ambitions and its cast was so likable and charming, it was hard to fully hate.

It’s why I Do…Until I Don’t feels like it’s made from somebody else entirely. Rather than being a funny, relatively heartwarming look at a bunch of different people, like her first movie was, Bell’s latest is so over-the-top, silly, and random, it almost feels like she made it on a whim. It’s as if she had been waiting so long to get a movie off of the ground, didn’t have a perfectly fresh idea in her head, but stumbled upon a bunch of money and thought that something would work anyway, regardless of how crummy the material was.

Oh man. How they’ve been in so much better.

And that’s where it all comes down to: The movie just isn’t funny.

It attempts to poke fun at marriage, its norms, and the sanctity of it all, but mostly comes down to making fun of a bunch of characters we never really get to know or care about, because they never come close to being human. They’re all goofy caricatures who are made so that Bell can set them up for whatever unfunny bits and pieces of comedy she chooses. It’s a shame to be picking on her, too, because in mostly everything I’ve ever seen her in, she’s constantly lovable and fun – but none of that shows here.

Not with her writing, her directing, or hell, especially not her acting. In fact, Bell’s performance is probably the worst as she totally over-does this character’s constant neurotic ticks, with all of the stuttering, flinching, and turning away. It’s like she’s doing a Woody Allen impersonation, but only saw one movie and decided to just roll with it. Same goes to Ed Helms as her husband here who, does what he can, but just feels like a typically dull husband who wants something more out of life and can’t quite perform in the sack. It’s actually a perfect role for Helms, but because he’s played it so many times before and there’s not much depth to this actual character, it doesn’t wholly work.

Bring back Doll & Em!

Instead, it feels like he’s slumming. And the same could be said for just about everybody else.

Dolly Wells plays the documentary film-maker who gets maybe one or two laughs, because her character seems like the voice-of-reason/bystander to all of this, but then she just ends up being a villain that the movie feels the need to bash; Amber Heard and Wyatt Cenac play a hippie-couple who are so formulaic in their ways, it already feels dated by the first instance we see of them; and Paul Reiser and Mary Steenburgen, try as they might, seem like they deserve a much better movie. They play an older couple who are running through their own little issues and trying to figure out what the other wants with their rest of their lives and it’s only here, in this one subplot, where it feels like Bell is touching at something interesting and compelling. But then, she drops the ball when she decides to focus on all of the other characters and their wild hi-jinx that, honestly, aren’t all that wild, nor all that funny.

They’re just annoying and ridiculous and it makes you wish that Bell stick with whatever sort of inspiration she had from her first flick.

Consensus: Even with a solid ensemble of likable people, I Do…Until I Don’t squanders all potential with a sitcom-y premise and even more ridiculous jokes and gags that go nowhere.

3 / 10

They’re like hippies, but in 2017. Ha! Ha!

Photos Courtesy of: The Film Arcade

CHIPS (2017)

Cause idiot cops can still be funny in 2017, right?

Jon Baker (Dax Shepard) and Frank “Ponch” Poncherello (Michael Peña) have just joined the California Highway Patrol in Los Angeles, but for very different reasons. Baker is a former motorbike rider who’s trying to put his life and marriage back together, whereas Poncherello is a cocky, undercover FBI agent who’s investigating a multi-million dollar heist that may or may not actually be an inside job. The two are somewhat of opposites, with Baker being the far more touchy-feely of the two and even though they don’t seem to necessarily understand one another just yet, they know one thing is certain: They absolutely have to nab the bad guys. But in order to do that, they’re going to have to do some straight-up detective-work, that may or may not also include a whole lot of faith and trust between the two being exchanged. Baker’s ready for that, but Ponch, when he isn’t having all sorts of hot sex with the ladies, isn’t.

Hey, at least there’s always Ryan Hansen Solves Crimes on Television.

Hollywood’s got the bright idea that what the world needs right now are more and more of R-rated reboots of old-school TV shows. Whether the actual shows themselves were good, bad, or even memorable in the slightest, it doesn’t matter – if they’ve got some form of nostalgia attached to them, Hollywood’s going to take it over and bring it back to the mainstream, but with naughtier, louder, and much more current jokes. And Hollywood can’t be blamed for this either, because with the success of 21 Jump Street, both commercially and critically, it’s no shock that Baywatch and eventually, CHIPS were next on the list.

Did either of them need to be? Probably not. Especially CHIPS, though, and it’s fairly obvious in the first ten minutes that this is going to be a misguided affair. Writer/director/star Dax Shepard, for some odd reason, may seem to have a love and passion for the original show growing up, because taking on triple-duty just doesn’t work for him. What should have been a joyous moment in his life and career, honestly may have been a little too much to deal with, as the direction itself, while loud, bright and big, equals up to nothing. His script is even worse with jokes just not connecting at all, or bordering on mean and offensive, and his performance, while somewhat charming, also feels like it’s him just doing the usual act we’ve seen from him, time and time again. And it’s a shame, too, because Shepard’s an actually likable guy who seems genuinely talented.

Why he wanted to make this movie so bad, is beyond me and it shows.

Sheeeeeeeit, indeed.

Sure, there’s a few jokes every so often that connect, but not really as they’re just the bottom of the barrel. There’s too much gay-panic jokes that are trying to poke fun at the idea of gay-panic itself, but still seem to make fun of the idea of two men being close and intimate; women are clearly hated here with barely any female character being a nice person; the central-conflict and supposed villains never make any sense, nor do they ever seem existent; and oh yeah, everyone else feels wasted and somewhat bored. It’s nice to see a great and underappreciated talent like Michael Peña get a lead role in a major motion-picture for once, but even he’s saddled with a boring character who’s main purpose to serve to the plot is that he forges no connections with anyone around him, sleeps around, is a bit of a jerk, and oh yeah, doesn’t like touching dudes.

It’s hack comedy for someone who isn’t a hack and it makes it all the more disappointing to watch this go down. Cause even at 100 minutes, the movie feels at least three-hours longer than that, with a plot that never comes together, character’s that feel false, and most importantly, comedy that’s just not funny. The only person here to blame is Dax Shepard, since this seems to be his baby, and it’s sad.

Let’s hope that he wakes up and does learn a little bit from this.

Consensus: Frequently unfunny and mean-spirited, CHIPS features an A-list cast and crew and saddles them with hack-jokes, a weak-story, and no reason for existing, except to hopefully make some nostalgia-money. And hell, it couldn’t even do that correctly.

2 / 10

Oh, what an odd couple!

Photos Courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures

I Love You, Daddy (2017)

Probably intended to be a porno. Title included.

TV producer Glen Topher (Louis C.K.) has a pretty care-free and lax life. He likes his work, he loves his daughter, China (Chloe Grace Moretz), and yeah, doesn’t seem to have many problems. The only problem that seems to be on his plate, at this current moment-in-time, is whether or not he’s going to be able to bag his leading-actress (Rose Byrne), who also happens to be pregnant, for some reason. Also though, he’s got issues with legendary writer/director Leslie Goodwin (John Malkovich), who strikes up something of a friendship with his 17-year-old daughter, making Glen feel all sorts of weird. Does he condone the friendship, that could suddenly turn into a relationship? Or, does he stick his head out of it because, like Leslie, Glen may be a bit of a dirt-bag, too?

So yes, obviously, I Love You, Daddy is a hard movie to review. All controversies aside, the movie doesn’t seem like it will be released in the foreseeable future and if it does, hardly anyone will want to see it. Nor should they: It’s a movie by a known sexual-abuser, that’s literally about sexual politics, what’s right, what’s wrong, men being dirty, and women having to be on the tail-end of it all. It’s like a Woody Allen (which it clearly aims for, uncomfortably so), but with a lot more F-bombs and n-words.

“I’m allowed to lock women up in closets! Come on!”

It’s also kind of funny and well-acted, all things considered.

That’s why, for me at least, I Love You, Daddy gets two ratings; one is for the movie I saw, two or three days before the New York Times article dropped, and the other, is for the kind of thought-process that went throughout my brain, days after having seen the movie, thinking about its intentions, and what it ultimately had to say. Cause for something like this, you truly can’t treat it just like any other movie – sure, it wasn’t made to be watched, thinking about what its co-writer/director/star does to do women inside locked closets and offices, but hey, we know this now and we can’t help but think about this stuff. After all, like Louis himself, we’re only human and can’t help this stuff.

Even though, he certainly could have and should have.

Anyway, I Love You, Daddy is, at times, a funny movie and that’s just because C.K. himself, is a funny writer. He knows how to write conversations between odd-ball characters that, while they may seem a tad unrealistic, still work because they’re enjoyable and funny. It also helps that the ensemble here, is so impressive and stacked, that they make it all work, even when they shouldn’t. C.K. is, as expected, a bit of a blank-slate, but that’s sort of on-purpose – the movie wasn’t entirely made to be just about him. The rest of the cast, like Malkovich, like Moretz, like Charlie Day, like Edie Falco, like Pamela Adlon, and most of all, like Rose Byrne, all get chances to bring some light and fun to this movie and they do.

Get it? It’s supposed to be Woody Allen! How creepy…..

They all shine with the material and sometimes allow us to forget how sleazy and mean it can get. Byrne especially who feels like a real, understated and smart character, and trapped inside something that should have done a whole lot more with her, rather than just having to sleep with its co-writer/director/star. After all, it’s a little strange that she’s pregnant and hardly anyone brings it up.

But once you get past that, don’t forget, the movie is dirty, mean, sleazy, and most of all, troubling.

There are certain conversations that happen in this movie, where it’s C.K’s character, talking and going on about what is right, what isn’t, and what certain people shouldn’t do during sex. There’s a few scenes or so like this, which are entertaining to listen to, but also eerily insightful into the way that C.K. himself thinks and feels about these topics. It’s weird and in a way, disgusting; to think that a man who literally trapped women to watch him masturbate, would write a movie where consent is something joked about, isn’t just stupid, it’s downright wrong. It’s the kind of movie where you know Louis wanted to be smarter than he looks here, but he just can’t.

We already know way too much about him, his perverted ways, and what he thinks is, and isn’t allowed when it comes to sex. I Love You, Daddy only helps to prove his misunderstanding of everything and it doesn’t make matters any better that the movie may never reach the general-public, or ever be seen.

And maybe it’s better off that way.

Consensus: Even with a very good cast and some funny writing, I Love You, Daddy is also a rather queasy, somewhat dirty look into the mind of C.K., which we already know, is pretty troubling.

Before Controversy: 6 / 10

After: 3 / 10

The look on the face of a man who just caught and has seen all of the hard work, crashing and burning before his eyes. Perhaps it’s better that way.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)

Don’t let the system get you down. Even though it eventually will.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Denzel Washington) is a defense attorney living in Los Angeles who, despite his pure and inner-genius, doesn’t really know how to deal with other people. It’s why his mentor, for the most part, handles the clients and all that jazz, whereas Roman handles all of the paperwork, the stats, and so on and so forth. It’s what’s made them both successful over the years, while also allowing them to stay true to themselves as strong-willed, independent, and powerful black men trying to prove injustice within the system. However, that all changes when Roman’s mentor dies, the firm is sold, and Roman is left without a job. That is, until corporate lawyer, George Pierce (Colin Farrell) shows up, likes what he sees in Roman, and decides that he wants him there for his firm, but obviously doing what he did before: Handling paper-work, stats, and all that jazz. It’s what Roman does best and because he’s at a much better firm, he’s making a lot more money, which also means that there’s a lot more temptation to do the wrong thing and get swept up in all of the fame, fortune, success, and most of all, corruption.

“So uh, nice weather we’re having. I think? I guess? I don’t know.”

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a few different movies rolled into one and jammed in altogether, they don’t really work. One is a character-study about a guy, who is essentially “on the spectrum”, trying to get by in a world that doesn’t know what to make of him. Another is a formulaic, crime-thriller about a lawyer and his shady-dealings. And lastly, the other is about an older black man, trying to stay true to himself and the cause, even while it seems like the world around him could care less about him or what he’s fighting for.

Through all of the mess, however, Washington remains a shining glimmer of hope. Not only does Washington take this role on, head first, but he makes Israel’s constant quirks and trademarks, interesting. We get the feeling that this man’s had an issue with people all of his life, but when it started, why he’s still like that, and what he does on any normal day, is very interesting to watch. We get a sense that Israel’s a very sad man who wants to do what is right, but at the same time, can’t really make sense of how dark and evil the world can truly get. He’s almost like a child; loud, a little bratty, rude, and despite dealing with some awful crimes, from even more awful people, a little naive about how awful the world is.

White man employing a sad, somewhat mentally-disturbed black man, all for the sake of profit. Anyone see a problem with this? Gilroy?

It’s a terrific performance that is, unfortunately, trapped in a movie that, like Israel himself, doesn’t always know what to make of itself.

That said, writer/director Dan Gilroy knows how to make this material, for the most part, work. You can tell that Gilroy wants to go deep into the mean and dirty corruption of the justice-system, but also wants to discuss race-relations, how a certain SJW can also lose themselves to a system that sucks them all up and spits them back out, while also not forgetting about Israel himself. The movie, for lack of a better word, isn’t dull; Gilroy keeps things moving and compelling, even when he himself seems to be spiraling a tad out of control. Had the movie featured one or two dull subplots, then yeah, it would have been a problem, but they all do remain worth watching and paying attention to it.

It’s just that, once again, in the context of the rest of the movie, it just doesn’t fully come together. Washington, Farrell, and Carmen Ejogo, all remain great and help the material jump off of the screen, but Gilroy also gets a bit carried away, going down different avenues for his story, then back-peddling to his original story, when it’s almost too late. It reminds me of that episode of Community when Abed was looking for a B-story to fulfill the whole episode, but rather than finding one, the A-story just continued and was interesting enough, therefore, making the B-story, inessential. That’s how Israel feels: It’s in search of more stories, more plots, and more conflicts, when really, one is enough.

One is all it needed.

Consensus: With all the different strands of plot going on, Roman J. Israel, Esq. can’t help but feel jumbled and stuffed, but also gets by on being a compelling look at the justice-system, as well as an interesting character-study on its titled-character, played to perfection by a charming Washington.

6.5 / 10

Denzel, preparing for all those damn awards-speeches.

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)

Being comfy is key to fighting crime.

George Beard and Harold Hutchins (Kevin Hart and Thomas Middleditch) have been friends for as long as they can remember. Mostly, they’re love for comic-books and pranks have what kept them together and such good friends for so long, but it looks like that may all start to end, with Mr. Krupp (Ed Helms), the evil and pissed-off principle of their school, none too pleased with all of their hijinx. He plans on separating them and putting them into two different classes, which is a nightmare that Harold and George have had wanted to stay away from all of their lives, but now, may become all too real. However, the two decide to hypnotize Mr. Krupp into believing that he’s one of their creations, Captain Underpants, a superhero who, get this, fights crime, in his underpants. It’s something that George and Harold love to use to their advantage, but when an evil-doer like Professor Poopypants (Nick Kroll) comes around, promising to rid the world of laughter, the two decide that it may be time for their little joke to be used for the greater-good.

How we picture all of our elementary school principals.

Needless to say, Captain Underpants, the books, were a great part of my childhood. Every edition was better than the last and while they were no doubt filled with insane deals of potty-humor, that was kind of the point. They were much smarter books than they were given credit for, sometimes not just making me laugh, but my dad as well. Which is why when I heard they were making a movie of it, immediately, I got so defensive.

That, or I just didn’t want to be reminded that I used to laugh at something so childish and silly as this.

But hey, that’s why Captain Underpants is pretty charming: It knows what it is, makes no mistakes, and definitely doesn’t ask for forgiveness. Instead, it’s a silly little movie aimed for the whole family, because while there are a chock full of jokes aimed at the kids, there are also plenty others that the parents will appreciate, too. It’s what every animated-movie should strive for, but in fear that the box-office returns won’t be so excellent, so many stay away from.

Two hipsters in-the-making.

Thankfully, director David Soren and writer Nicholas Stoller know what they’re working with and try not to go above and beyond what’s already here. If anything, the movie runs into the problem of never seeming to settle down, with constant jokes, visual-puns, and bright, big colors, shapes, sizes, and general craziness, coming out of nowhere. It helps when a movie is always moving, never slowing, but it can also help when a movie realizes that the best way to work is to not constantly throw everything including kitchen-sink, at us all at once, but instead, a few things, and maybe not the kitchen-sink, at us, one at a time. Call me a slow-poke and too grown-up, but I don’t know, I like my movies to take a chill-pill every so often.

Even in my kids movies.

Consensus: Keeping the same heart and soul of the goofy source-material, Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie doesn’t forget about the kids, nor does it forget about the adults, either.

6 / 10

What’s so funny? Let the guy live!

Photos Courtesy of: 20th Century Fox

Power Rangers (2017)

We’re already on 90’s nostalgia?

In Angel Grove, there’s a threat lying somewhere in the sea and her name is Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks). What does she intend on doing? Well, it seems like she wants to destroy the world and there’s only one team that can stop her: The Power Rangers. But who are exactly are the Power Rangers? Well, they’re a rag-tag group of teenagers who, through sheer chance and a Saturday detention, are all gifted with special powers that make them ass-kickers. There’s Jason (Dacre Montgomery), the star-quarterback who, after totaling his car, is stuck with an ankle-bracelet and has to throw away all hopes of a college scholarship; there’s Kimberly (Naomi Scott), a former cheerleader who wants to become something much more than just another one of the “bad girls”; there’s Billy (RJ Cyler) an autistic loner who doesn’t have many friends, but is incredibly smart and great with technology; there’s Trini (Becky G), who may be something of a rebel herself, for certain reasons; and then, there’s Zack (Ludi Lin), a teen who has to deal with his mother slowly dying and wants to do all that he can to make her last few years, happy ones. As one, they must band together to take down Rita and save the world.

Hologram or not, always listen to whatever Bryan Cranston says.

Even though it didn’t work wonders at the box-office and isn’t perfect, I sure do hope that the Power Rangers is granted a sequel. It’s the rare blockbuster reboot of a nostalgic series that’s smart, funny, diverse, and kind of fun, but never seems like it’s trying too hard to be something it isn’t. There’s references, Easter-eggs, call-backs, and hell, a few cameos from the old series that could have easily been lame fan-service, but instead, just feel like a nice way to remind the older fans of what once was the Power Rangers, and what’s soon to be next Power Rangers.

Or maybe not. Who knows?

Either way, I certainly hope so.

Cause what’s interesting about Power Rangers is that it’s a superhero flick, mixed with a bit of a high-school drama where the drama actually brings some heart, heft, and emotion to whatever the hell else is going on with the sci-fi. In fact, it’s very rare, but the characters here are much more interesting than any of the action, or exposition that gets thrown at us. Director Dean Israelite and writer John Gatins seem to actually care about these characters and rather than just having them written off as “types” that we’re so used to with these kinds of high school flicks, they become so much more; the fact that they are more, than what they represent, is even more of a welcome change-of-pace for a genre that seems to skip by this sort of stuff, even if it matters.

And though they’re all ridiculously hot and sexy, the cast is actually quite good in their roles. Everybody brings a great deal of charm and fun into roles that could have been boring and lifeless, with Cyler being the particular stand-out, balancing funny and sadness, sometimes, altogether and at once. They all seem to get along, too, with the chemistry working much more as they get used to one another and understand just who the other person is, where they come from, and why they deserve to be looked at as more than just another “jock”, “slut”, or “nerd”.

Eat your heart out, Michael.

That said, it’s not all great.

When it comes to the exposition and all of the crazy action, Power Rangers can lose itself a bit. While I know that this is the one thing that most fans will want to see with a Power Rangers movie, it’s a bit disappointing that some of it can be so silly and over-the-top, yet, not really fit with the rest of the movie. Like, for instance, Elizabeth Banks’ Rita Repulsa – while she’s clearly having cackling her way through every line, she’s not in the right movie. She’s perfect for a Michael Bay flick, for sure, but one where it actually seems like some heart and soul went into everything else, it doesn’t mesh.

Even the action itself by the end seems like a rehash of the Transformers movies, except this time, with a lot more cohesion and less chaos. It’s still fun and well-done, but once again, it still feels like filler for a movie that was trying to do something slightly more than we’re used to seeing. Does that in and of itself warrant it a sequel? Most definitely. But unfortunately, Hollywood may disagree with me on that.

Oh well. Another treasure of my childhood gone to waste, before my very eyes.

Consensus: With more time and care put into the actual heroes themselves, Power Rangers is much better than it has any right to be, even if the action and sci-fi stuff can get a tad tiresome.

6.5 / 10

So hip. So trendy. So not the 90’s. Boo!

Photos Courtesy of: Lionsgate Films

The Circle (2017)

Sharing is caring, guys. Now what’s your social-security?!?

Mae Holland (Emma Watson) is just another young adult wasting her life away at her soulless job, taking calls and punching in data. She wants so much more, but she doesn’t know just what that is. That’s why when she gets the opportunity of a lifetime, she grabs it and doesn’t let go. The high-tech company is called the Circle and although Mae will be working an entry-level job there, it’s enough to get her foot in the door and hopefully, give her a chance to take care of her parents (Glenne Headly and Bill Paxton, tragically enough). But while there, Mae realizes that something’s up with just about everyone who works there; they all want to know what she’s up to, they have so much information on her and her life, they want her to participate more, and oh yeah, they want see what Mae is up to, day in and day out. While Mae is initially for it, attaching a camera to her shirt so that the whole world-wide web can see her every move, it starts to take a negative toll on her, as well as those around her. But the CEO (Tom Hanks) is taking notice, so what can be so wrong about that?

Nerds, please don’t rejoice.

Despite a great cast, a great director (James Ponsoldt), and oh yeah, a great writer (Dave Eggers), the Circle is far from great. In fact, it’s the kind of misguided and ridiculously messy piece of techno-junk that should have been better because of the themes about privacy and the internet it touches on, but also seems like it was written maybe a decade ago and never really updated to really reflect current-day issues. I’d expect less from people who probably didn’t know what they were doing, or talking about, but everyone here not only knows better, but they should definitely know what they’re talking about.

So what gave?

Well, whatever the real reasons are, the Circle seems like a rushed-job that, at about halfway through filming, everybody sort of gave up on and you can sort of tell. The editing is so choppy and amateurish, even certain character’s words don’t match up with their mouths. Even worse is that when there are opportunities to create real, genuine tension, the movie mixes-and-matches with its cuts, as if it’s too afraid you’ll get bored by just one static shot on Tom Hanks, or Emma Watson, or John Boyega, or Bill Paxton, or Karen Gillan, or hell, anyone else here! Why so many talented and smart people seem to fell for this thing, is totally beyond me, because you can even tell that the script, no matter how many times it was rewritten, just didn’t fully come together.

For instance, it’s supposed to be a thriller about the internet-age taking advantage of people and their lack of privacy, but also doesn’t seem to understand that the real world is far too smart to take a huge company like this seriously. Like why would someone as young as Mae be so cool with signing her life away, when she knows that the only way for it to end, is for it to end horribly wrong? Her character is confusing too, in that she seems like she’s a smart fire-cracker who may be a tad bit naive, but the way she acts when she’s at the company is far too idiotic to take serious.

The most lovably evil corporate-heads ever.

It also doesn’t help that Emma Watson isn’t very good in this role, either.

Sure, a lot of it’s the awful script and the haphazard direction, but a great deal of it is that Mae has to go through a great deal of emotions throughout and it doesn’t seem like Watson has that range. She’s either too quiet, or pouty, but without ever expressing rage or sheer anger. It’s odd, really.

And sadly, nobody else fares any better. Like, you’d think that the prospect of Tom Hanks playing something of a bad guy would bring about some interest, as mild as it may be, but even his character seems weirdly-written. He’s not nefarious in the sense that he’s trying to take over the world and kill everybody, but he’s just a little shady in the sense that he wants everybody to broadcast every second of their lives, every day, no matter what. So, does that make him a bad guy, or the people who fall for his crap just really, really dumb?

Who knows? Actually, who cares. This movie sucks.

Consensus: Even with a solid cast and crew on-board, the Circle never comes together, seeming like it doesn’t know what it’s talking about, or doesn’t know what it wants to say about literally anything.

3 / 10

See this face and that expression? Get used to it for two hours.

Photos Courtesy of: EuropaCorp / STXfilms

xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017)

Who needs one Fast & Furious franchise, when you could have so, so many more?

It’s been many years since we last saw him and as it turns out, daredevil operative Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) wasn’t doing too much. He was just living big, rich and with plenty of hot, sexy women around him, having all of the fanciest and coolest parties around. But now, he’s being asked to come out of retirement for another job, with this one, hopefully, being the last. Together with a band of trusted nut-jobs just as crazy as he is, Xander must race against time to recover a sinister weapon known as Pandora’s Box, a device that controls every military satellite in the world. But of course, the job isn’t as easy as it seems, what with his arch-rival Xiang (Donnie Yen) looking to take Xander down and, possibly, even a government-conspiracy behind it all.

The only scene with Donnie Yen where there isn’t 20 cuts-a-minute. Maybe.

Return of Xander Cage is clearly trying to make the original xXx look a subtle indie flick, and in a way, that’s fine. The first, while not at all perfect, is often too tame and to held-back by its own edginess to be anything more than just a lackluster attempt at creating a James Bond for the MTV-generation. Now, it seems like the MTV-generation has gone the way of the Dodo and it’s up to its sequel to be the James Bond for the Snapchat crowd.

For better, as well as for worse.

Look, there’s no denying that Xander Cage knows what it is and isn’t making any sort of apologies for itself and that’s fine. It’s big, it’s loud, it’s stupid, it makes literally no sense, it destroys all laws of physics, and yes, it features some of the corniest one-liners in the history of corny action movies. But it’s also a bit too much, which may make it seem like I’m just another self-serious movie-goer who expects high-art with everything he sees.

Is some of that true? Yeah, why not? But trust me, I know and expect Xander Cage not to be an Oscar-worthy film; I just expect it to be a solid action-flick that takes itself somewhat seriously, gives me fun, exciting action set-pieces, and oh yeah, maybe even a believable, charismatic character here and there. It doesn’t have to fly me to the moon or knock it out of the park with every aspect of its creation, but it also doesn’t have to be a total joke of a movie that, without the fancy special-effects, ensemble cast of characters, and huge budget, me and my buddies could have made, drunk off of our asses, tongue-firmly-in-cheek.

All the ladies need a little Vinnie D.

But nope, Xander Cage is, instead, a $85 million movie that plays like a B-movie you’d find in the Wal-Mar bargain bin.

Does that make it a bad movie? Not really, because it sets out to do exactly what it wants to do – be loud, big, and stupid-as-hell – but there’s a fine line between “having fun”, and just “being idiotic”. Xander Cage crosses that line right from the get-go and never seems to even bother to go back; the large stunts, for instance, while awfully imaginative, are clearly so fake, you can almost see the green still left on the screen. No character has a single bit of serious dialogue, with talented actors like Samuel L. Jackson, Toni Collette, Donnie Yen, Rory McCann, Tony Jaa, and hell, even Diesel himself, really chumming their ways through the whole thing, making it seem especially obvious that they’re in it for the money and not much else. It’s a shame too, because large blockbusters like this can actually have something resembling a heart, a soul, and hell, even cohesion (like the Fast & Furious franchise), but nobody here seems to be bothered with that.

They’re just throwing whatever at the wall, seeing what sticks, and rolling the camera.

And trust me, that’s not as fun as it sounds.

Consensus: Big, loud, expensive, crazy, stupid, and ridiculous, Return of Xander Cage is exactly what it wants to be, but also doesn’t become much else beyond that.

5 / 10

Fur coat off. Sexy.

Photos Courtesy of: Paramount Pictures

Sweet Virginia (2017)

Wow. Virginia’s an angry place. Who’da thunk it?

Sam (Jon Bernthal) is an ex-rodeo rider who has seen his better years go by. After a career-ending injury, he’s been managing the Sweet Virginia hotel, where instead of riding on top of bulls, he’s riding on top of guests for being too loud or not paying. It’s a sad life he lives, but if there is one glimmer of hope, it’s Bernadette (Rosemarie Dewitt), who he wants to be more serious with, despite the fact that she’s married. But their lives begin to change when her brother (Jonathan Tucker) is randomly killed, leaving her and his wife (Imogen Poots) left with the bulk of the estate to deal with. And to add a little bit of sizzle to their lives, in walks Elwood (Christopher Abbott), a guest at the hotel who takes a liking to Sam, in a rather creepy way. But who is this guy really? Is he behind any of this? Or, is he just a lonely traveler, navigating throughout the world on his own, without a care in the world?

“Daredevil? Yeah, my series is way better. Buzz off.”

It’s interesting that Sweet Virginia came out the same weekend the Punisher was released on Netflix, as they both feature Jon Bernthal in a lead role, but both also display two different sides of him. In the Punisher, he’s a mad, sad, and scary man with a rough past, and an even rougher set of skills that he uses to kill people in some of the most disturbing, heinous ways imaginable. In Sweet Virginia, Bernthal plays a sad man with a rough past, but he’s also a lot sweeter and more gentle than Frank Castle; whereas Castle wold much prefer to break the bones of those who do him wrong, Sam would like to just hash it out and see if the issue can be solved.

It’s a neat contrast that highlights why Bernthal is such a good actor, because he’s able to be both likable and charming, but also a tad bit dangerous. Which is to say that Bernthal is quite good here, but he’s not the main-draw – it’s really Christopher Abbott’s insanely crazy role as the unhinged and wildly unpredictable Elwood, a character who keeps Sweet Virginia shaking at its core. It such an effective performance that when everything seems all sweet, happy and simple, you can’t help but forget that somewhere out there, lurking in the shadows, is this genuine nut-ball who isn’t afraid to do, or say, whatever comes next to him.

Once again, it’s another sure sign that Abbott is slowly becoming one of our better actors.

How could a face like that be so evil?

Which is why Sweet Virginia, as good as the cast may be, can sometimes seem like it’s depending on them just a tad too much. The story is there and while it’s definitely about these small, sad lives in this equally as sad, small town, it just never becomes as tense as it should. There comes a point where we sort of see it going where it has to go and while it may want to shock and surprise, it doesn’t really do that. It’s more of an interesting character-study that also happens to feature a bunch of blood, violence, guns, and crime.

That said, the performances are still more than enough reason to sit around and watch everything that happens. We get to learn more about them, who they are, what makes them tick, and just why they have a movie about them. Dewitt’s Bernadette, while she could have easily come-off like a cheap floozy, cheating on her husband, taking advantage of the depressed Sam, actually turns out to be a genuine person who wants a love in her life that’s meaningful for once. Even Imogen Poots widow character, although unlikable, is still fascinating in her reasons why. We grow to learn more about these characters as time goes on and although the plot may come second, that’s quite alright with these performers.

Consensus: With a solid cast, including a terrific stand-out from Abbott, Sweet Virginia works best as a slow, contained and rather tense character-study.

6.5 / 10

Who’s hair is more gelled?

Photos Courtesy of: IFC Films

Crown Heights (2017)

Once again. Not. Much. Has. Changed.

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

A conjugal, or dream? Who cares, right?

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

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

Oh, and yeah, it’s a true story.

Eagles best corner-back. Just saying.

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

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

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

5 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Amazon Studios and IFC Films

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – With a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton (2017)

Oh yeah. That movie named after that R.E.M. song.

In one of the biggest roles of his already amazing career, Jim Carrey was set to portray one of the oddest comedians of our day: Andy Kaufman. But because Carrey wanted to do the role justice and honor the legacy of his late hero, he went full-on method throughout the role, literally speaking and acting like Kaufman, regardless of whether or not the cameras were actually rolling. The footage itself has been locked away in a vault for nearly 20 years, but now it’s out and we get to see the true mayhem and craziness that took place, both on and off the set of Man on the Moon.

Jim & Andy will probably give people much more admiration for Jim Carrey, the actor, as opposed to the persona that he constantly plays out there in public. As of late, Carrey seems to have had a screw-loose and with the personal tragedies that he’s hit, it’s no surprise. It’s sad and awful, but it also calls into question why he’s acting the way he is: Was he always this crazy and we just didn’t care? Or, is he genuinely having a nervous-breakdown, but nobody knows whether or not to take it as serious because it’s one of the world’s most known funny-men, Jim Carrey?

Can’t tell who’s playing who here.

Either way, Jim & Andy will remind you that, first and foremost, Jim Carrey is a great actor. He may not always show it and may not always care, but when given the opportunity to, he can work wonders and have us forget about Fire Marshall Bill for a few hours. You could chalk Jim & Andy up to being a puff-piece for Carrey and to show the great workman that he is, or you could chalk it up to being an honest, behind-the-scenes look at Carrey, in character, for a movie that, honestly, hasn’t really stayed around as much as people would like.

But still, that aside, Jim & Andy is a solid piece of work that gives us complete access to the sheer craziness that was the production of Man on the Moon and it works mostly because director Chris Smith was able to track down this footage, get the “okay” from the studio, from Carrey, and just let us soak it all in. It makes sense why the studio wanted to hold on to this footage for as long as they did; Carrey does look like an asshole, but it also makes the rest of the production highly unprofessional and a little amateurish.

Yeah, I don’t know what he’s been smoking, either. Hopefully he stops?

But that’s also what makes Jim & Andy so much fun to watch.

We get to see a Jim Carrey like never before and because he’s the only interview here, hear him like never before, either. Sure, he, as well as the movie itself, get a bit too carried away with all of the philosophizing about life, comedy, entertainment, and the meaning of the universe, but when it’s just focusing on Carrey in-characetr, practically egging on everyone around him, it’s truly astonishing. We sit there wondering how long or far this could go on for, and whether or not Carrey himself ever regrets it.

In all honesty, the answers aren’t all that easy to come by, which makes Jim & Andy something of a mystery. It’s not as particularly as deep of a documentary as it hopes it is, or wants itself to be, but it is a solid documentary that pulls back the curtain, shows us the man beyond the laughter, the funny-faces, and the general goofiness, and reveals a hard-worker who did anything and everything to make the role work to perfection. Even if that meant literally making a joke out of one of the greatest directors ever (Miloš Forman), or making a mortal enemy out of Jerry Lawler, it was all for the tribute.

Even if, yeah, the end-result was something magical, within something that was a tad mediocre.

Consensus: Raw, funny, entertaining, and surprisingly chaotic, Jim & Andy is the kind of interesting documentary that doubles as a look at the life of Jim Carrey, but also doesn’t reach the ambitions it sets for itself.

7 / 10

“That means that Mighty Mouse, is on his way!”

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Always truth in advertising.

After months of her daughter’s rape-murder investigation stalling, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decides that it’s time to let the world know of her annoyance and pain. She gets the grand idea of renting out three billboards, right outside of Ebbing, Missouri, which read: “RAPED WHILE DYING. AND STILL NO ARRESTS. HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”. It’s enough to get her point across, but also to piss-off everyone in town, including Willoughby himself (Woody Harrelson), who has cancer and is just trying to live out the last few years of his life in peace and solitude. However, the whole town turns on Mildred and her sense of anarchy, which makes her public enemy #1 in the eyes of Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a police-officer who uses his mouth and knight-stick, more than he actually uses his head and code-of-conduct. In fact, that seems to be a general problem with this little town of Ebbing, wherein minorities are still mistreated, corruption is still swept under the rug, and oh yeah, rape-murder cases, where all sorts of DNA is to be found, don’t ever get solved.

Just bone already. He’s got a few months left. Might as well.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh has proved with his movies (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and this) that he doesn’t really care about what people like, don’t like, what’s considered “politically correct”, or not. He likes to write despicable, sometimes inhumane characters who say what they want, do what they want, and whenever they want, regardless of what kind of audience is out there to accept it and see it for what it is. In a way, that makes McDonagh a true risk-taker and a brash talent to keep an eye on.

It’s also why Three Billboards will really rub people the wrong way, as well as it should.

McDonagh writes a lot of questionable dialogue, for sure; the use of the word “retard”, the n-word, and “c**t”, to name a few, are spewed quite a few times by just about every character. Obviously, this is meant to shock and surprise us, but it’s also meant to get us closer and closer to this town, these characters, the lives they live, and give us an even better idea of what small-town America look, sounds, and acts like, post-Trump. There’s a lot of anger, a lot of cursing, a lot of misogyny, a lot of racism, a lot of corruption, and oh yeah, nobody gives a shit, because we’re supposed to be making America great again.

Whether or not McDonagh intended for this metaphor to be drawn or not, doesn’t entirely matter; it’s what how we view the movie, in this context that matters most and it’s why I’m able to give this movie, like his others, a pass. McDonagh doesn’t seem to love or entirely adore the way these characters are and the way they talk, but he’s more so fascinated by them and if anything, it’s why Three Billboards works much more than it should. It’s the kind of movie that likes to beat-up and make fun of its characters, while also realizing that they’re human, accepting them, and asking for us to do the same.

And at the same time, still being a very smart, well-written, hilarious, and sometimes tense dramedy that doesn’t know when to stop making jokes, or being mean.

And yet again, there’s something fun about that. McDonagh’s dialogue, while highly stylized and unrealistic, is also snappy and filled with something to laugh, while simultaneously, think about. A whole diatribe about how the clergy and the Crips and Bloods aren’t too different from one another, while seemingly out of left-field, is also a bit of dialogue that only McDonagh could make work, regardless of if it matters to the plot or not. McDonagh has a couple of speeches that are just like this – they don’t really matter to the plot, but they’re fun to listen to – but they also seem to exist in this world where everyone’s always thinking and having something smart to say, even if they themselves may not be all that smart to begin with.

Love him, or hate him. Actually, just love him.

But like I said, it’s the three-dimensional characters here that really allow for Three Bilboards to go above and beyond just being a bunch of funny pieces of dialogue, strung-together with a rubber-band. Frances McDormand, as per usual, is amazing as Mildred Hayes, a role that seems to have been written for her, only because it’s the same role she’s been playing for the past 30 or so years. Yet, it never gets old. She’s still sassy, rough, tough, and seeming like the smartest person in the room, but she’s also a human being, with a real heart, soul, and sense of humanity that shows up in surprising, but earned ways. A lot of McDonagh’s dialogue, coming out of the wrong mouths, just wouldn’t work, but thankfully, McDormand’s isn’t one of them.

Why am I talking about Frances McDormand’s mouth?

Anyway, she’s aided by a solid supporting cast who, like McDormand, know what material they’re dealing with and make it work. Harrelson’s Willoughby is a tragic and sad soul, and builds a nice chemistry with Mildred; Lucas Hedges plays Mildred’s son who’s all sorts of angsty, but still fits; John Hakwes shows up as the abusive and mean ex-husband, and is surprisingly effective; and Peter Dinklage, when not seeming like the butt of every dwarf-joke thrown his way, still gives us a sweet character who genuinely seems to love and appreciate Mildred. Then, there’s Sam Rockwell who, once again, proves why he’s one of the best actors working today. As Dixon, he’s still got that charm we all know and love him for, but there’s something deeper, darker, and meaner to him than we’ve seen before. It’s a slight change-of-pace for Rockwell, but it’s a welcome one that gives us a character we learn to love to hate and it will hopefully give Rockwell some sort of Academy love.

Then again, probably not.

Consensus: As per usual with McDonagh, Three Billboards is rash, brash, mean, and a little distasteful, but by the same token, funny, well-acted, unpredictable, and even heartfelt, once you get past all of the cursing.

8.5 / 10

I guess billboards are still a thing, post-Y2K.

Photos Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Coco (2017)

It’s basically Day of the Dead. Without Romero. Or political allegories.

Despite his family’s generations-old ban on music, young Miguel (Anthony Gonzales) dreams of one day becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Somehow, because he want so desperately to prove the talent that he has, Miguel ends up in the Land of the Dead, where he’s stuck there with all of his dead-relatives, as well as the dead-relatives of practically everybody else on the face of the planet. There, Miguel meets Hector (Gael García Bernal), who concocts a plan with him: He’ll help Miguel get to Ernesto, if Miguel helps Hector be remembered by his family left on Earth. See, the one rule of the Land of the Dead is that if nobody on Earth remembers you, then you automatically go away forever and it’s a fear that’s about to become very real for Hector. And as for Miguel, he has to find a way to become human, once again, before he is stuck in the Land of the Dead for the rest of his life – something that sounds a lot cooler than it actually is.

Get ready for every human-dog duo’s costume next Halloween.

Pixar is at the point in their existence where they’ll continue to crank-out hits, no matter what. They could be originals or five sequels to Cars; they could be good, or bad; or hell, they could be literally about anyone, or anything. As long as the ideas themselves are well thought-out, fun, and most of all, family-friendly, then who the hell cares what they are?

And it’s why Coco, Pixar’s first original flick since the meh Good Dinosaur, feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s idea is weird for sure, but it’s actually fun and well thought-out, almost to the point of where you never want to leave this world that they are in, nor do you ever want to stop learning more and new interesting things about it. Co-directors and co-writers Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina seem to really appreciate this wacky, wild and colorful world and while they definitely do leave the rules of this universe up to scrutiny, they also realize that it’s not necessarily the point.

Just enjoying the picture show in front of you is all that matters and it’s why Pixar, while not always perfect, at least makes a solid dent in the ball.

*record scratch
“Hi, I’m Miguel. You’re probably wondering how I got here.”

It’s also great to see Pixar, for what seems like the first time in general, or in forever, give us a lead character of color and drop us into a world chock full of diversity and hell, without a single white person. You can even call some of the jokes and witticisms that the movie makes at the Mexican heritage a little too “on-the-nose” and “stereotypical”, but it also seems like Unkrich and Molina playing around with these same said stereotypes and turning them on their heads. There’s actual heart and levity behind them and it helps make the movie seem less like an offensive-sketch, and more like an ode to a heritage that still believes in an afterlife that isn’t so dependent on God, or constantly praying to the Lord above.

If anything, it’s more of a movie about family, the stories we tell, and how our legacy is constantly changing with the future generations to come. It’s nothing new or ground-breaking, especially in the world of Pixar, but it’s so sweet, so well-handled, and so honest, that it works. It jerks for the tears, but when they do come (and oh trust me, they will come), they feel earned and worth it, rather than just forced out of us like we’ve come to know and expect with most other animated-flicks like Coco.

Or at least, not with Pixar. They’re on a roll again and it’s getting crazy scary.

Everybody else, look out.

Consensus: The story and themes are a tad familiar, but the bright, colorful and lovely world created within Coco isn’t and it makes for another winner courtesy of Pixar.

7.5 / 10

Free Bird!

Photos Courtesy of: Disney