Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Blair Witch (2016)

Seriously, where the hell were you Heather? We needed you.

Nearly 15 years after Heather, Josh, and Mikey went out into the middle of the Burkitsville woods, Heather’s younger brother (James Allen McCune) decides that after all of this time, he needs to go out there and find her. Alll he really has to judge is by a bunch of grainy-footage that showed up on the internet somewhere and because of that, he decides to go out there with a few of his friends and check out what’s shaking. Equipped with all sorts of cool gadgets and recording-devices, the friends meet up with some local residents, not just to find Heather and anybody else who may be out there, but to also discover what all of this witch business is about. They eventually find the answer, although it all comes at a great and deadly cost.

No matter what all of the naysayers, the Blair Witch Project was, and still is, a great horror flick. At the time of its release, it was a cultural phenomena because of everybody assuming it was all real, with the actual actors either “missing” or “dead”, and nothing like it had ever been done before. Of course, it was all a joke and awesome gag that made everyone involved filthy, stinkin’ rich, but it also ushered in a whole slew of other found-footage, first-person-narrative horror flicks. Of course, a good portion of them have been bad, but every so often, you get a good one that makes you understand the power and impact that the format can hold.

Oh, relax! It was just a squirrel!

Oh, relax! It was just a squirrel!

The remake/rehash/reboot of that original flick, is not one of them.

In fact, it’s a perfect sign as to why the found-footage format, quite possibly, may have to go away.

And it’s a shock to say this, too, because director Adam Wingard and writer Simon Barrett are two great voices in the horror world today who seem like they know a thing or two about delivering shocking, but fun horror. You’re Next is probably their best, with the Guest coming to a close second and here, it seems like they’ve taken a huge step back. For some reason, all of the excitement, all of the creativity, and all of the originality that seemed to be flowing through their blood, was somehow lost here.

Which leads me to wonder: Did they just not care? Or, did they care too much, but eventually, the studio got involved so much that their original version got taken away from them and they were left with this?

I don’t know what the answer may be, but either solution seems plausible. While they’re stuck with a thankless task of working with, what is, essentially, the same story of the original movie, they don’t seem to bring much to it. The technology is updated and of course, a nice touch, but that’s about it – everything is so rote, predictable and conventional that after awhile, it just feels like a check-list is being written while the movie is being made.

Except for the fact that this time, because technology has obviously improved and there’s a lot more CGI in flicks than ever before, everything now is so much bigger, louder and crazier that it actually betrays everything that the original film stood for. Made off of literally nickels and dimes, the Blair Witch Project worked best because it never always showed us everything that we had come to know and expect with horror movies; what the movie proved was that, sometimes, what’s in our imagination and what we picture in it, can honestly be the scariest thing of all. Here, however, nothing is left to the imagination, with us seeing a lot of wacky, odd-looking stuff, yet, none of it ever seems scary.

Oh my gosh! Sticks!

Oh my gosh! Sticks!

It’s all in our face and, in a way, boring.

Because now, yeah, we’ve seen it all before and it’s not as exciting as it may have been 17 years ago. That said, Blair Witch tries to make itself work for fans of the original, as well as fans of modern-day horror, who probably haven’t even bothered to see the original, which, in a way, means that it gets its job done. For someone such as myself, who loves and holds the original up in high-regard, it’s a problem, because it not only feels like a waste of time, but a silly idea that’s made even worse by the fact that it doesn’t seem to play by the same rules of the original.

And oh, before I forget, the acting here is quite atrocious. Say what you want about Heather, Josh, and Mikey from the original, but at least they could handle whatever script they had handed to them, making it seem like they were real people, trapped in a terrible, downright scary situation. Here, the actors can’t handle the script and the characters themselves are just so bland, so boring and so unlikable, that it’s hard to even care about what any of them do. This is all made worse by the fact that since there are literally cameras everywhere, watching and documenting everything that these actors do, they’re performances suffer more, showing that, sometimes, it helps to have good actors in these horror movies, regardless of how little you actually care about them and how much you actually care about the scares and the monsters themselves.

Sure, it’s a horror movie, but sometimes, well-written characters can actually make the scares all the more effective.

Don’t believe me? Just watch the Babadook. Now, that’s a horror movie.

Consensus: Predictable, uninteresting, and hardly even scary, Blair Witch is an obvious cash-grab that, despite the inspiration that usually lies with the creators, just feels like a waste of everyone’s time.

2 / 10

She's like Heather, but far more annoying. Crazy, right? Better believe it.

She’s like Heather, but far more annoying. Crazy, right? Better believe it.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Gadget Help Line

Queen of Katwe (2016)

Personally, I believe that Chutes & Ladders is the key to world hunger. But that’s just me.

Phiona Mutesi (Madina Nalwanga) is a young girl living in Uganda, which is, essentially, a slum. She and her family constantly struggle to keep a roof over their head, food on their plates, and try to stay on the straight and narrow path so that they don’t have to stoop themselves down to getting money in dirty, sometimes disturbing ways. But for Phiona in particular, her one dream of making it out of the slums, and into a house, with windows, trees, a swing, and most importantly, a front-door, is by becoming one of the greatest chess players in the world. Through the constant tutelage of her teacher Robert Katende (David Oyelowo), she hones her craft and eventually, gets in tournaments. While she wins mostly all of them, the biggest issue for Phiona, according to her mother (Lupita Nyong’o), is that she sees this world outside of Uganda and can’t help but be dissatisfied and somewhat depressed by her poverty. Phiona has to turn all of that sadness, into energy so that she can make all of her wildest dreams come true and make Uganda a very hopeful and happy place, even if it’s only by the game of chess.

"Mother. checkers is for losers. Chess is where the money's at."

“Mother, checkers is for losers. Chess is where the money’s at.”

For some odd reason, despite chess not necessarily being classified as “a sport”, ESPN is here to help produce Queen of Katwe, which automatically will make you think, “cliché”. And if you did think that, you wouldn’t be far off. Queen of Katwe is the rags-to-riches, predictable story that we so often see with sports-related flicks, except that this time, the story is placed in Uganda and features a young, Ugandan girl, doing whatever it is that she can to make out of poverty and into something resembling “financially stable”.

Does it sound familiar? Definitely.

But does it still kind of work? Well, yeah. Surprisingly, it does.

Director Mira Nair has hit a bit of a slump as of late, but seems to get back on the right track with Queen of Katwe, giving us a story that’s as simple as they come, yet, still has a pleasant enough feel to it that makes you feel like it doesn’t matter how many obvious beats the story hits – as long as they’re hitting them in a right way, what’s the problem? Nair sets us in this place, at this time, shows us how awful this girl’s surroundings are, and then shows the happiness, joy and hope that the game of chess brings to her, automatically making us feel the same thing. We know where this story’s going to go once she begins to pick up some awesome skills at chess, but Nair keeps the story, at the very least, tender, that there’s at least some interest into how it’s all going to turn out.

It also helps that Nair doesn’t settle for making this about how terrible-off and poor people in Uganda are, even though, she definitely could have. A far more challenging and adult movie about Uganda would have gone to great lengths to discuss its class-issues, battle with poverty, and most of all, divide between religions (although, if you want that story, just check out God Loves Uganda), but Queen of Katwe is not that kind of movie. After all, it’s a Disney flick, so how on Earth would that be able to fly pass edits and cuts?

Regardless, Nair keeps her focus solely on the story, touches on those issues ever so slightly, and keeps everything moving, even when it seems to be slowing itself up.

So interesting.

So interesting.

Which is to say that Queen of Katwe isn’t perfect; Nair loses a bit of steam about half-way through when we’re supposed to be interested by Phiona’s brief battle with depression, when it all feels a little random and out of left-field. The movie tries to make it an important anecdote that’s meant to drive Phiona even more to achieving her dream of becoming a great chess player, but all it really does is offer David Oyelowo another opportunity to give a great, rousing speech of making one’s self better and overcoming all sorts of odds. Once again, sounds conventional, and it is, but it still works, even if getting those speeches is ham-handed.

That said, the cast are really the ones who keep Queen of Katwe, in some of its far more patchier moments, compelling. Oyelowo is a perfect fit as this minister/coach who cares so much about having these kids achieve their dreams, that he’s willing to risk his own career and marriage over it; Nyong’o’s mother character may seem like another typical, old-timey lady who doesn’t care about her kids hopes and dreams and just wants them to clean their rooms and realize the world is a terrible, unforgiving place, but eventually, she turns around and proves to have the most heart out of all the characters; and newcomer Madina Nalwanga is quite good as Phiona. While she may not always hit the right notes and definitely show that she’s an amateur, there’s still a feeling that Phiona, despite winning all of these games of chess, is still a kid, who just wants to run around and play in the dirt with her friends and family.

Really though, Queen of Katwe works so well with these actors because the people are real. At the end of the flick, we get to learn a little bit about these real people’s lives and actually see them, side-by-side with their acting counterparts. The movie never rips at your tear-ducts, but this moment got me and made me feel like I just saw a true story, with heart, emotion and a great amount of sweetness, play out all in front of my eyes.

And that’s truly something nice.

Consensus: While still conventional and predictable to a fault, Queen of Katwe mostly benefits from a solid cast and heartfelt direction from Mira Nair who has to jump between Disney and ESPN on quite a number of occasions, yet, seems to please both parties, as well as the audience.

6.5 / 10

"Check. Mate. Now leave my sight."

“Check. Mate. Now leave my sight.”

Photos Courtesy of: Citizen Charlie

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

It takes one to ruin a village. And about six more so blow it the hell up.

Looking to mine for gold, greedy industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) has been taking over small towns, wiping out any man, woman, or child who comes into his way. Why? Because he’s an absolute savage and does not give a single hell what anybody else thinks, says, or does – as long as he’s rich and powerful, then there’s no issues. Eventually, he seizes control of the Old West town of Rose Creek, wiping out quite a few of the townsfolk there, too, leading some residents, like Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) desperate and in need of some help. That’s when they discover bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who is more than up to the task, but may need a little bit of help from some talented, incredibly violent pals of his. That’s when he recruits the likes of a gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), a sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), an assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), all to take down this Bogue, even if they have to get over their differences and whatnot at first – something that’s actually quite easy when they all have a common enemy.

Possibly the beginning of a great friendship? Let's hope.

Possibly the beginning of a great friendship? Let’s hope.

The original Magnificent Seven isn’t a perfect movie, to be honest. Like a lot of other movies from its time, sure, it’s dated, but it’s also pretty slow and takes a little too long to get going, when all it seems to do is focus on such icons like Steve McQueen and Yul Brenner measuring dicks and beating their chests like true alpha males. Sure, that’s some bit of entertainment in and of itself, but after nearly an hour of that, there needs to be something to help speed it all along, which is why when the action does eventually come around in that movie, it’s glorious and a healthy reminder of what sort of magic can happen when you have a lot of bad-asses, picking up guns and shooting other bad-asses.

So yeah, in that sense, it’s a good movie, but not a perfect one.

And the same goes for the remake, which for some reason, takes even longer to get going. Yet, for some reason, I didn’t mind that as much here, as it’s very clear that director Antoine Fuqua, is just enjoying his time with this cast and these characters so much, that to jump right to the action where most of them may go down in a blaze full of bullets, would almost be a disservice to them all. Fuqua isn’t the best director out there, regardless of the fact that he drove Denzel Washington an Oscar with Training Day, but when he decides to settle all of his crazy tendencies down, believe it or not, he’s actually a pretty solid director. He may love the blood, gore, guns, and women a whole lot more than the actual characters themselves, but he does something smart here in that he keeps the character moments here for safe keeping.

Of course, too, it also helps that Fuqua himself has such a solid cast to help him out, with his pal Washington back in action as the sly, but cool and dangerous Sam Chisolm. Washington may seem like a weird fit, but he works it all out perfectly, showing that he’s the clear-headed individual of the whole group, while also proving that he’s not afraid to lose his cool and shoot some mofo’s down, too. Chris Pratt is also a bundle of joy to watch Faraday, showing off another sense of cool and charm that works in his character’s favor, as well as for him, too. It’s nice to see Pratt, even after something like Jurassic World, that didn’t allow for him to even crack a smile, well, get a chance for him to do that and prove that there’s also something a little more sinister to him, as well.

Yeah, where's Eli Wallach? Oh, never mind.

Yeah, where’s Eli Wallach? Oh, never mind.

The rest of the cast and characters don’t get nearly as much attention, but they’re all still fine, nonetheless.

Ethan Hawke has some interesting moments as Robicheaux, showing a serious side effect to all of the gun-slinging and killing that he talks so famously about; Vincent D’Onofrio is goofy and weird as Jack Horne, a big bear of a man, but it’s right up his alley; Byung-hun Lee is cold and dangerous Billy Rocks, even if he doesn’t have a whole lot to say; Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is probably the weakest of the crew as Vasquez, never quite getting the chance to really show off any charm or excitement; and Martin Sensmeier, while barely uttering a line as the Red Harvest, is still a pretty intimidating figure nonetheless and it works.

The only shame about the movie is the inclusion of both Haley Bennett and Peter Sarsgaard. Nothing against either performer, who both do fine jobs here, but it also feels like they may have been a little tacked-on. Bennett literally has a leading role here and honestly, a part of me wanted to believe that she’d be one of the so-called Seven, all sexist issues aside, but sadly, that doesn’t happen and she’s lead to just be the smart gal who, yes, can take care of herself and yes, can shoot a gun, but also doesn’t feel like she’s that part of the crew. And Sarsgaard, enjoying his time as a campy villain, doesn’t have many scenes to show off all of his evil tendencies and instead, seems like an afterthought in the movie’s mind; so much time is spent on the Seven, their dynamic and their training for this battle, that the movie forgets the actual threat himself, which is Sarsgaard’s Bogue.

Still, the final battle itself is solid and saves any sort of bad feelings going into this ending. It’s bloody, brutal and surprisingly, unpredictable, with a few people biting the dust that you wouldn’t expect to. It’s nice to see a mainstream movie not afraid to take off some famous people’s heads, while, at the same time, still have the chance to offer up a sequel in the near-future.

Would I see it? Probably. Just give me a better next time.

And no, I’m not talking about Marvel.

Consensus: With a talented and more than capable cast, the Magnificent Seven works as an entertaining, sometimes incredibly violent Western that’s a lot like the original, but also feels more concerned with characters this time, even if the villain himself doesn’t appear all that much of a threat.

7 / 10

Yeah, I'd turn around, too.

Yeah, I’d turn around, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Weiner (2016)

What’s in a name?

After spending some time in Congress and starting all sorts of controversy for his loud, sometimes arrogant demeanor and approach to certain situations, Democrat Anthony Weiner decides that it’s his time to take things one step further and head for Mayor of New York City. And to be honest, it seems as if Weiner has an actual shot at winning the job; he’s good friends with the Clintons, his wife, Huma Abedin, is loving and supportive, and his viewpoints on race, gender, and class make him all around beloved human being. However, it all comes crashing down when news surfaces that Weiner was on the internet, scouring the web and sending all sorts of naughty pics to gals that he would strike up conversations with. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Weiner got in trouble for his internet-usage, but it was the one time that everyone who loved and supported him, began to turn the other cheek and think long and hard about who they wanted to represent them. Either they wanted the strong-willed, determined family-man, or they wanted the strong-willed, determined dude who looked to look at dirty pics online?

"Vote for me and I swear that I'll delete my web history."

“Vote for me and I swear that I’ll delete my web history.”

Oh and yeah, it’s all filmed.

No, seriously. Like almost everything that you could imagine wouldn’t be filmed in a situation as tense and awkward as this, trust me, it’s filmed. It even gets to a point where the directors, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, even ask Weiner himself why he’s allowing for them to film everything and, well, he hardly even gives an answer. This is meant to show that Weiner himself, doesn’t give a hoot what constitutes good or bad publicity – as long as the cameras are turned towards him, the lights are beaming down on him, and people are talking to him, then Anthony Weiner is more than happy to oblige to anything.

Is that such a problem?

The interesting aspect about Weiner, the person, that the documentary gets across very early-on is that he’s the kind of politician that only Aaron Sorkin still believes in and thinks can still exist; he’s loud, arrogant, brash and selfish, but at the same time, he cares about what he believes in, is very opinionated, and isn’t afraid to get down on the ground level with fellow human beings, making it seem as if everything he does, says and promises, well, he’ll make happen one day. While watching the documentary, it’s not hard to think this, regardless of what political affiliation you may or may not have – watching someone like Weiner run around like a wild madman during his campaign parade is exciting and most of all, inspirational. It’s the sign of a true politician that believes in everything that he wants to do, even if some of it, sure, may be a little unrealistic.

But once again, is that such a problem?

And of course, that same question could be directed towards what he did in his spare-time – aka, what with the sexting and all that nonsense. The movie’s smart in that it never seems to be on Weiner’s side, nor does it ever seem like it’s totally against him; I would use the term “fly-on-the-wall”, in terms of their approach to the material, but Weiner himself makes a mention of it, so it’s kind of hard to compete. But yes, he’s got it right – this is on-the-fly, off-the-wall documentary film-making at its finest and it’s a testament to how passionate these film-makers were to getting everything that they could on film, regardless of if it was considered “rude”, or “unprofessional”.

"My husband is a good man. A little too horny, but hey, who the hell isn't?"

“My husband is a good man. A little too horny, but hey, who the hell isn’t?”

After all, their film-makers and film-makers have always been seen as “rude” and/or “unprofessional”.

Hell, it’s in the blood.

And due to the movie being a play-by-play of everything that’s happening, it’s not hard to get swept up in all the mayhem and drama, even when it seems all to excruciating to sit back, watch and relax. This is especially the case when you consider the fact that a good chunk of the film is literally watching as Weiner’s marriage falls apart right in front of our eyes, with him and Abedin hardly exchanging glances when in the same room, let alone actual words. It’s hard to watch, but you know what? It’s also incredibly watchable. Anthony Weiner wants us to see this for what it is and not really try to draw our own conclusions, even if there are certain things behind-the-scenes that do, or don’t happen and keep us guessing a little bit more.

That said, the movie still does fall short of being perfection because there’s never any introspective given on behalf of Weiner or even the film-makers. Sure, we can make up our own conclusions about what was going through the mind of Weiner during this one time in particular in his life, but sometimes, it’s always best to get a raw, one-on-one interview with the person; to just see him doing things that he would do in his normal, everyday life, no matter how interesting, sometimes, isn’t enough. To hear what’s going on in his head and understanding the beast for what it is, honestly, makes the journey all the more interesting.

Without it, it’s just watching a person do things that may be considered “self-destructive” or may not.

Consensus: Short of perfection, Weiner is a gripping, exciting, compelling, and sometimes hard-to-watch documentary that paints its subject in an unforgiving light, yet, at the same time, also makes him out to be the person some of us never knew actually existed beneath all of the overblown controversy.

8.5 / 10

There's no E-I-N in Weiner. No, literally.

There’s no E-I-N in “Weiner”. No, literally.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Meddler (2016)

Mom’s annoy you, because they love you. Appreciate it.

After the death of her long-loving husband, Marnie Minervini (Susan Sarandon) is kind of lost. She’s heartbroken, sad and lonely, which is why she continuously drops by to see her daughter Lori (Rose Byrne), so that she can have a little something to do. The only issue is that Lori doesn’t always enjoy her mom’s presence and because her own career as a screenwriter is stressful as is, she can’t help but bring some of those angry thoughts onto her mother. So instead of trying to help her daughter out every chance she gets, Marnie decides to extend her helping hands to those around who – some of whom, she hardly even knows. And because she was left a whole lot of comfort-money, Marnie is more than capable of doing whatever is necessary to ensure that some of her new friends are pleased with everything they ask of Marnie. While she’s doing all of this, of course, she’s also striking up something of a relationship with a local security-guard (J.K. Simmons), who takes a huge liking to her, even if she isn’t quite ready for a new love in her life.

Clap it up for you, Susie. You deserve it!

Clap it up for you, Susie. You deserve it!

It’s a pretty simple and overly cutesy plot that goes quite awry a few times. See, what’s odd about the Meddler is that it seems like writer/director Lorene Scafaria doesn’t quite know who’s side she’s on – the mom who’s meddling, or the hapless daughter who just wants to be left alone. Considering that this appears to be very autobiographical, it’s odd to see a writer/director side with someone who isn’t them, and it does play into how the movie’s perceived.

There’s a part of the Meddler that’s having fun with itself and its cast, but also seems like it wants to say more. In a way like I’ll See You in My Dreams had something to say about aging and growing old without your soulmate around, the Meddler mostly shows what a person in that situation would do to try and keep themselves busy. Of course, the situations and predicaments she gets herself into are ridiculous, but they’re also kind of funny and charming in only  a way that a movie such as this can get away with.

Because, let’s be honest, driving an Apple employee that you hardly know, to and from law school, never works out.

It’s just a fact.

But what works best about the Meddler is that Scafaria’s writing is just charming enough, to where we don’t care what we can believe in or sympathize with – the situations, after awhile, just write themselves and it’s interesting to watch how each and everyone of them play out. There’s not nearly as much tension as you would expect, but maybe that’s not this kind of movie; it’s just a showing a later-age woman, trying to still make something of the life she’s got left. It’s earnest to a fault, but hey, it kind of works.

Not Sam Elliot, but hey, close enough.

Not Sam Elliot, but hey, close enough.

And yeah, it definitely does help that Susan Sarandon is playing the title character, appearing in almost every scene, showing off her great knack for combining her heart and likability, even when it seems like this character may be something of a caricature. Scafaria shows a lot of love and affection for the characters here, but it’s Sarandon’s that gets the most, with just the right touch of humanism to make her seem real, even if she does sort of seem like she’s too nice, too sweet, and too colorful to be real. But thankfully, that’s why Sarandon is here to show us that, yeah, even if she doesn’t, she’s still a whole lot of fun to watch a movie about.

As for everyone else around Sarandon, they fare a bit better on the realism-side. Rose Byrne is seemingly playing Scafaria and does fine enough being miserable and getting into all sorts of fights with Sarandon; J.K. Simmons is playing the older fella that Sarandon falls for and shows why someone like him would be so attractive in her eyes, yet, at the same time, also maybe not be the right fit; and Cecily Strong, as the gal who gets her wedding picked-up by Sarandon’s character, shows a great deal of heart, even if her character is really meant to stand around and just cry a whole lot.

It’s a bunch of hapless roles, but hey, having a good cast can sometimes work in a movie’s favor.

Consensus: Even though its cutesy premise can sometimes get in the way of an actual plot, the Meddler does benefit from a solid lead performance from Sarandon that overcompensates for almost every other wrongdoing of the script and/or direction.

7 / 10

Nothing like a pain-in-the-ass mother to come in and save the day. When she isn't re-arranging your drawers.

Nothing like a pain-in-the-ass mother to come in and save the day. When she isn’t re-arranging your drawers.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

Every person who has ever picked up a musical instrument – look out!

Childhood friends Conner (Andy Samberg), Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) were all set to rule the music world when they jumped onto the scene as the hip-hop group, the Style Boyz. They had clever, catchy tunes, that also earned them lots of respect in the rap-game, and made them one of the highest sellers of their time. However, as with most big and successful bands, there was a lot going on beneath the surface and eventually, the band broke up. After the break-up, Conner and Owen went on to stay together, with the later as a DJ playing for the former, who was now known as “Conner4real”. Of course, Lawrence faded into obscurity, almost to never be heard of again, while Conner is literally living out the life of an absolute and bonafide star. But as usual with these kinds of tales, when you’re on top for so long, eventually, you’re going to come crashing down real, real hard.

I think we all know who Andy Samberg's #1 fan actually is...

I think we all know who Andy Samberg’s #1 fan actually is

A movie like Popstar doesn’t deserve to bomb as hard as it did at the box office. It’s understandable that parody/satire flicks aren’t everyone’s cup of Joe and it’s definitely understandable that only a few share of people actually know who, or what kind of creative genius’ the Lonely Island actually are, but still. People out there in this world should have known better and understood that these are the kinds of movie that deserve to be made, should be made, and ought to make a whole bunch of money, because, well, that means more movies such as these.

Then again, I didn’t see the movie in theaters, but still. It’s the principle, people!

Anyway, what works best about Popstar is that yes, it’s the Lonely Island doing what they best; yes, they already had their film-outing with Hot Rod, however, that wasn’t nearly as much as their film as this is. All of the weird and eccentric tendencies of that movie, come out in full-form here where it seems like no matter how hard they try, the Lonely Island guys can’t seem to stop getting lost in their own wild, sometimes screwed-up imaginations. Some scenes go on longer than they should and the comedy just continues to draw itself out, but that’s sort of the point; these guys find the smallest, most intricate bits of comedy that work and they run wild with it until it’s dead in the ground and can’t go on any longer.

But then, they find more and more ways to keep it running. It’s hard to explain here because the movie is so littered with odd-ball jokes and gags throughout, most of which, yes, actually do deliver their laugh-out-loud moments. Bits with an over-exaggerated TMZ parody are downright hilarious; a few songs that actually mock Macklemore are pure things of genius; and even a small gag involving Conner’s “get-up” to hide himself in the public, still has me laughing. It’s not ground-breaking bits and pieces of comedy, but they’re still bits and pieces of comedy that had me howling while I was watching them, while also making me chuckle thinking about them long after.

Palms are sweaty. What? Too obvious of a riff?

Palms are sweaty. What? Too obvious of a riff?

And that, my friends, is when you know you have an effective comedy on your hands.

Of course, the movie isn’t totally perfect. Because it’s a parody flick and not the most sincere piece of storytelling, the times where it does get somewhat serious, don’t necessarily work and it’s because of that reason alone, the middle-act doesn’t flow quite as well as the first and last. It’s hard to describe without having seen the movie, but it’s just a feeling I got while watching the movie; the jokes still hit and made their marks, but they were much more stretched out and in service of a plot that seemed to take a halt for some weird reason.

But then, thankfully, the movie gets back on-track and everything’s back to normal in the final-act, where the jokes continue to fly and the songs get even better. And honestly, it’s hard to do wrong with the Lonely Island when it comes to their jams; they’re well-written, perfectly performed, and actually, believe it or not, meaningful. Sure, a good portion of them are just joke songs about dicks in boxes and whatnot, but a good portion of them do make fun of the entertainment world and the whole idea of what makes a celebrity that it makes them more than just a smart, intellectual jokesters.

Even though that’s exactly what they are.

And with Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, they’re all perfect here. The movie only really relies on Samberg, which is fine, because he’s still good as Conner, playing up this sort of act, then having to break it all down/ But really, Popstar works best when it’s just allowing for random people to show in, sometimes up off the streets, add a little bit of their own flavor and charm, and remind us more and more that this is in fact a group effort of humor. Will Arnett, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Mike Birbiglia, Bill Hader, Chelsea Peretti, Imogen Poots, Justin Timberlake, and so many others all pop-up, do their things and yes, are actually funny. It’s surprising to get a movie with so many high-profile cameos and yet, have just about each and everyone of them be just as funny as the last one to come through.

It makes you wonder what Judd Apatow could work on.

Consensus: As a satire on the music-biz, Popstar is biting, but also pretty damn hilarious, featuring some of the best and most catchiest songs from the Lonely Island.

8 / 10

Unfortunately, the holograms will never end.

Unfortunately, the holograms will never end.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

 

King Arthur (2004)

He’s Arthur, King of the Britons. Or, at least I wished he was.

The tale of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table was one we all thought we knew, but somehow we didn’t. This is a new take on the story as we see Arthur (Clive Owen), Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd), Guinevere (Keira Knightley), and countless others battle Saxon invaders for control of what is now Britain. However, leading the Saxons is Cerdic (Stellan Skarsgård), a man that you do not want to come toe-to-toe with.

In the beginning of King Arthur, director Antoine Fuqua puts a couple of lines on the screen to let us know that this movie is based on the King Arthur stories that have apparently been unearthed by countless archaeologists and historians. Basically, what the movie’s trying to say is that screw all you thought about, heard, or believed in about the story of King Arthur and his tales of heroism, because they are apparently not true.

Or, maybe they are? We actually don’t really know, because it’s all speculation.

Threesome?

Threesome?

But what’s not at all up for debate is whether or not this movie’s a good one, because trust me, it’s not.

The biggest issue with King Arthur is that it’s a little over two hours, but honestly, it feels way, way longer than that. While Antoine Fuqua isn’t necessarily a great director by any means, he still knows how to move a story when it needs moving; something like a take on the real life of King Arthur, desperately needed a nice push, or better yet, kick to help make it feel less like an useless history-lesson, and more like an actually nice bit of swashbuckling fun.

And even with the action here, sometimes, yes, it is pretty exciting, because Fuqua knows how to film action and make it as dirty, as gritty and as grueling as possible. He’s shown it before and it’s interesting to see him do it in this Medieval-setting, where it seems like he wouldn’t be as well-equipped without guns, cars and explosions to help him out. But like I said, the action can only help so much, especially when you don’t have a story to work with, or even tell.

Fuqua clearly wants to make a mean and moody piece here on the tale of King Arthur, which is fine and all, but it’s not handled well. He seems to want King Arthur to be the type of epic that Gladiator was, but doesn’t seem to have the brass balls to go that for with itself and really hit the tunes and notes that would make it really hard-hitting. Of course we get bucket-loads of blood, gore, and decapitated heads, but does that really give us an epic movie, or just a violent one? I’m aiming more towards the latter, but I could also see how this movie would be seen as an epic, if whoever that person is, perceived epics as stories about people with problems, who love to kill and chop people’s heads off, in the name of God and freedom.

Doesn’t seem, nor does it feel like an epic to me, but hey, I could be wrong.

Sure, the action itself is cool and Fuqua tries, but when you literally have a movie filled with, I don’t know, say, 15-20 minutes of pure-action, and the other hour-and-45-minutes is spent watching people we don’t care to learn about, care for, or even understand in the least bit, talk and wade through their problems, then yeah, it’s a problem. That’s even for the original version, though; in the director’s cut that I, unfortunately, had to sit through, features the same action, but with more blood and gore than ever before. Of course, Fuqua can do that right, but a story of this magnitude and attention does not service him in the slightest bit and it’s why King Arthur is, really, just a slug of a film.

In their spare-time, they create igloos and snowmen. Cause they're fun people with lively personalities....

In their spare-time, they create igloos and snowmen. Cause they’re fun people with lively personalities….

What’s even worse, though, is that he really doesn’t give the cast anything to work with. Keira Knightley is meant to be this fiery, sexy presence, despite never seeming like she’s taken a shower, nor ever making it seem like she’s as much of a bad-ass as she should be; Clive Owen just delivers his lines in a growl that’s highly reminiscient of Tommy Lee Jones’ worst; Ioan Gruffudd would come to be a whole lot more charismatic in his career, but here, he’s got nothing to work with and suffers because of it; Stellan Skarsgård always has fun when he’s playing a baddie, and this one as Cerdic is no different; Mads Mikkelsen is bad-ass as Tristan, but nothing else; Ray Winstone is playing the usual hard-ass he’s used to be playing by now here as Bors, and it’s pretty boring and odd, considering he’s talking like a Cockney-gangster, and he’s stuck somewhere in the Dark Ages; Joel Edgerton is all bearded-up and timid as Gawain, but yet, nobody cares; and Ray Stevenson is, well, what do you think happens to his character?

Yep, unfortunately, a poor-man’s Sean Bean, that Ray Stevenson is.

Consensus: King Arthur tries to take an age old story that we all know and love by now, and twist it around, but rather than seeming risky, dangerous, or even fun, it’s just boring and features talented, interesting people, doing nothing worth their effort, or time.

3 / 10

What the hell was Keira talking about? Her boobs are totally that big!

Avatar?

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Mechanic: Resurrection (2016)

Some men just want to kill all the baddies for reasons unknown.

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham), after a few years or so, feels as if he had put his murderous past behind him where he can now sit back, relax, enjoy the beach, drink a cold one, and live the life he wants to live. And he sort of gets that with Gina (Jessica Alba), a local woman who is currently having issues with her husband – issues that a man like Arthur Bishop is more than capable of taking care of. However, his whole life changes when Gina is kidnapped by a former foe of Bishop’s (Sam Hazeldine). The only way to save Gina, unfortunately, is for Bishop himself to complete a few odd jobs that include taking out some of the most notorious, most rich and most powerful arms-dealers. Why? Well, Bishop begins to put the pieces together while he’s doing these missions and decides that it’s going to be time for him to take more than just a few people out if he wants to get what he wants and also ensure that Gina’s lovely life is saved.

Sun's out, guns out.

Sun’s out, guns out.

The first Mechanic movie was a fine piece of Statham-action – in fact, it was probably better than a lot of them. What worked was that it had some nice action, a breezy pace, and also not to mention, the wonderful, if always underrated Ben Foster to bring some pathos and magic to the otherwise heavy and action-packed setting. That said, it was also a movie that wasn’t nearly as successful as his others and, not to mention, also seemed like it was more or less going to be forgotten in about five years, let alone, five months.

But for some reason, here we are – over five years later and guess what? We have a sequel to Mechanic?

And you know what? I’m glad. Mechanic: Resurrection is a surprisingly fun movie that feels like it could have easily been some straight-to-DVD trash that nobody bothers to pick up, but instead, only scoff at on their way to the register, and it still sort of it is – but hey, it’s fun trash. It’s the kind of trash that makes me happy that someone like Jason Statham exists and his movies can get so ridiculous, so insane and so over-the-top, that honestly, sky’s the limit on what can and what will happen.

And with Mechanic: Resurrection, it’s great to see Statham do what he does best, because the movie itself is still fun. The missions that Bishop gets sent on, while a bit predictable at first, begin to take on new lives once we realize that they literally place in Bishop in these new, somewhat interesting worlds that could possibly be his own damn movie. The whole Malaysian prison set-piece an inspired one and honestly, I wouldn’t mind seeing its own movie made about, just like the pool-sequence, as well as whatever the hell Tommy Lee Jones’ character is.

"Hold on tight, baby. It's going to be a bumpy life from here on out."

“Hold on tight, baby. It’s going to be a bumpy life from here on out.”

Speaking of Jones, believe it or not, he’s actually more inspired here, than I’ve seen him in quite some time.

It’s weird, too, because the character that he’s playing – a rich and powerful arms-dealer, who has a whole bunch of piercings and a spiked-cut to boot – doesn’t seem totally up his alley. But surprisingly, Jones is having fun here and more than willing to enjoy the undeniably dirty and gritty proceedings than ever before. Why he’s in this is totally beyond me, but hey, I’ll take a fun and excited Tommy Lee Jones, over a bored and growling one.

And the rest of the small, but fine cast is good, too. Michelle Yeoh doesn’t have a whole lot to do, for some reason, even though she’s in an action movie for gosh sakes; Jessica Alba is hot and fiery, despite her not having much of a chemistry with Statham; and Statham himself, once again, is perfect for this kind of role. Sure, he’s stoic and quiet, but he’s also charming whenever the script calls on for him to be and it’s a lot of fun to watch, especially when the movie seems to be enjoying his presence. More movies need to take advantage of the fact that, well, Statham is a funny guy and can charm the pants off of a donkey, so why not let him do all of that charming-stuff, aside from the ass-kicking and shooting?

But like I said about Resurrection – it’s not a perfect movie.

It’s silly, it’s idiotic, it looks cheap, and honestly, sometimes feel like a plot that’s making itself up as it goes along, but for some reason, I enjoyed that all. Director Dennis Gansel doesn’t leave a whole lot of time for us to stop, wait and think, but instead, he just constantly throws every bit of action that he can find at us and it works. The movie’s a whole more fun for it and in a way, kind of smart, too.

Okay, maybe not, but still, it at least tries.

Consensus: As far as stupid and silly action-sequels go, Mechanic: Resurrection is a good one that features plenty of cool and exciting action, as well as a supporting cast that’s better than we normally get.

6.5 / 10

"Yeah, honey? Keep the turkey running, I'm going to be a little late for suppa."

“Yeah, honey? Keep the turkey running, I’m going to be a little late for suppa.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Indiewire, Jason Statham Source

Snowden (2016)

It doesn’t matter if you’re awkward and kind of nerdy – if you can type fast, the world is yours.

Edward Snowden (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was just another typical, young dude from North Carolina who had an obsession with Ayn Rand and most of all, wanted to be in the Army and serve his country. However, due to a disability that made it so that any pressure applied to his legs would almost certainly cripple him for life, he had to opt-out for something that he was far better advanced and skilled in: Typing. That’s when he heads up to Virginia, where he learns a thing or two about network systems, hacking, and most importantly, how to maintain confidential information. And for Snowden who, at first, felt like he was doing a justice for his country, this was the perfect life to live; he was a patriot, a hard-worker, while making lots of money, as well as some sweet money with his supportive, but also incredibly liberal girlfriend Lindsay Mills (Shaliene Woodley). This all begins to change for Snowden when he not only realizes that the government is using its resources to destroy the lives of, quite possibly, innocent people, but also spying on each and everyone of its citizens for reasons that he apparently doesn’t have the clearance to hear the answers to.

Edward Snowden. War hero?

Edward Snowden. War hero?

Did we really need a Snowden biopic after Citizenfour? Not really, but much like with Man on Wire and the Walk (yet again, another JGL flick), did we really need a movie about Philippe Petit? Probably not, but sometimes, it does help to get a little more info and attention on a subject who, for some reasons or another, may actually need, or deserve it. In Snowden’s case, this is especially true – while he will, in no way, ever be a forgotten person of our times, his cause and what he believes in still seems to be forgotten about, even when people seem to be putting more and more of an over reliance on WikiLeaks, despite all of the issues going on with that website and what it publishes to the rest of the world.

That said, Citizenfour is probably the go-to movie for finding out everything you need to know about Snowden, the person.

Or better yet, by checking out the web itself, even if the government is spying on you actually do it, that is.

But regardless, the tale of Edward Snowden, as done by Oliver Stone, isn’t all that bad. Sure, it’s by-the-numbers and rather conventional, but because the tale of Snowden, how he became someone we know about, why he got there, and where he had to go through, is actually very interesting. Even if you do a small Google search on Edward Snowden himself, you may find one or two things that you didn’t already know about, discovered here – but then again, you may not. Either way, it’s less that Snowden is a meaningless movie, it’s more of a movie that isn’t doing anything particularly ground-breaking, yet, doesn’t have to – it’s telling a story of a person whose life in the past decade or so, has become quite the compelling one.

And while Stone is typically known for the kinetic, sort of crazy outrage in movies such as these, believe it or not, he’s actually a lot more chill and relaxed here – rather than running off the seams, trying to tell us more and more about the paranoid state of mind one must be in while working for the government, Stone keeps everything on even-ground along with Edward, allowing for us to see, hear and think everything that he’s seeing, hearing and thinking at the same time. It actually works in the movie’s favor, especially since a lot of Snowden’s tale is, unfortunately, about a lot of inner-angst, depression and paranoia that only he seemed to feel and for us to feel as if we are one step closer to him, actually works with the movie.

That said, the movie does lack in actually giving us more to the characters surrounding Snowden, even including Snowden, too.

Love at first bit.

Love at first bit.

As Edward Snowden, Joseph Gordon-Levitt does the best that he can – because he’s playing someone with as much personality as a pebble, he has to dial down all of the charm and fun that we’re so used to seeing from him. However, even with the deep-voice and awkward twists and turns of his body, the performance still works; there’s not a whole lot of heavy-acting moments where he loses his cool and stops the whole movie dead in its tracks, but there’s still enough to watch and be compelled by, even when everyone and everything else around him seems not to be so up-to-snuff.

Case in point: Shaliene Woodley and her performance as Snowden’s girlfriend, Lindsay Mills. Of course, Woodley’s a great actress and lovely as all hell, but still, even her good looks and chemistry with JGL can’t help Mills from seeming like just a case for Stone to get all sorts of liberal opinions and views out there, and also challenge Snowden’s viewpoint and career. It’s too preachy to really work, but it does help that it’s all being done through Woodley, who is able to show some sort of heart and emotion with a character who, quite frankly, needed a whole lot more of it.

After all, she’s a real woman and is the love of Edward’s life. So why not a little more?

As for the rest of the heavily-stacked ensemble, they all fair fine, but once again, they aren’t nearly as developed as they should be. Zachary Quinto and Melissa Leo play the distraught but always interested Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras, respectively; Rhys Ifans is hamming it up completely as Snowden’s seemingly evil boss; Ben Schnetzer has a good couple of moments as a fellow hacker within the CIA that teaches Snowden a thing or two and wakes his eyes up; and yes, believe it or not, with barely even ten minutes of screen-time, Nicolas Cage does a pretty solid job evoking a sense of pride, playing one of Snowden’s peers who, like everyone else around him, teaches him something about life. It’s cheesy, but hey, it still kind of works.

Consensus: Perhaps the movie we didn’t quite need, yet still actually get, Snowden is very much a play-by-play of what we can expect from a traditional biopic, but still benefits from an interesting store and a solid lead performance from Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who, unfortunately, has to do a lot of acting, for a lot of people.

7 / 10

And he just keeps typing, and typing, and typing....

And he just keeps typing, and typing, and typing….

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Other People (2016)

Come back home, where everyone hates and judges you. It’s always a great time.

At the ripe age of 29, David (Jesse Plemons) finally knows feel himself. For one, he’s come out to everyone around him and is finally working as a writer and not having a single worry in the world. However, that all changes when he has to move back to Sacramento to go and see his family, mostly because his mother (Molly Shannon), has come down with a pretty severe case of cancer. But no matter what distractions may be in his job, or in his love life, David keeps his attention solely on his mom who, unlike his conservative father (Bradley Whitford), actually accepts him for who he is and not what he should have turned out to be. Of course, over the time that David spends with his family, they get into fights, arguments, discussions, and all sorts of other stuff that family tends to get into, while the mother of the family is sitting there, wondering just where her life is going to take her next and whether or not this is all going to be the last moments she spends with not just her family, but on Earth in general.

Wow. The bully from Like Mike sure has grown-up.

Wow. The bully from Like Mike sure has grown-up.

So yeah, basically imagine the Hollars, but with not nearly as many stars in the roles and a way better, smarter direction and script to work with and yeah, you’ve got Other People. Of course, it’s the same kind of Sundance movie in which a young, constipated man returns to his family home where he’s subject to all sorts of criticism and praise for all of the decisions he may have, or may have not made, in the years since his leave. It’s conventional in terms of format, but whereas the Hollars felt like it barely had anything to say or do with that convention, Other People actually does do something and has something to say, which is basically that, “yeah, people die, but other people live, too.”

It sounds so simple, but trust me, played out in the film, and through writer/director Chris Kelly’s lenses and words, it works out so well.

That said, Other People isn’t a perfect movie; often times, its small, subtle tone and approach to its plot can get in the way of what could have been some really raw, emotional moments, but that’s neither here nor there. I have to give credit to Kelly for at least taking a smaller approach to this material and not just demanding our tears at every waking moment; instead, he gradually takes his time, waiting for the moments to come up and just constantly building these characters, their relationships, and each one of their personalities, so that we get a better idea of who we’re dealing with and whether or not they’re actually worth giving a damn about in the first place. And considering that Kelly comes from a SNL background, it’s surprising to see him, as a writer, wait for the right moments to actually strike the audience with a serious bit of laughter, or tears, rather than just going for it when he feels bored.

Is that a dig at SNL? Quite possibly, but hey, that’s neither here, nor there.

What matters most is that Other People, while dealing with a conventional and yes, formulaic plot, also does small, little wonders with it that helps it become so much more than just another chance for a bunch of famous, good-looking people, to slum it in low-budget, grainy-looking indies. Instead, it’s a movie that has a beating heart, that has something to say about cancer, family, relationships, and love, but at the same time, doesn’t; Kelly isn’t looking to force messages of drama and loveliness down our throats but instead, just give us a tender story that sort of shows us everything that he wants to get across or say.

Yup. This kid.

Yup. This kid.

Basically, he does a lot of “showing”, and not “telling”, which for any writer or director, that’s a smart thing to do. Kelly may not have a huge background in movies just yet, but he makes a lot of smart decisions that so many other well-experienced and legendary directors have made and continue to seem to be making. So if anything, yes, let’s hope that Kelly continues to work and show the world that hey, sometimes it’s always better to play it a little low-key, eh?

Anyway, the cast is also very good and another reason why Other People works as well as it does. It’s nice to see Jesse Plemons take on a much more realistic and naturalistic role that shows him in a more interesting light that, honestly, we haven’t seen from him since the days of Landry. That said, Plemons is still great here, showing a lot of smart, but also naivete to a character who may have it all figured out, but may also not. There’s a fine line he plays with this character and it works, allowing him to be both insightful, as well as just normal enough that he doesn’t get in the way of the rest of the characters and performances.

And that’s why Molly Shannon shines so much as his mother, Joanne. As Joanne, Shannon has a lot of heavy-lifting to do, which means she gets a chance to cry a whole lot and just be a total mess, but it’s never done for shows, nor does it ever feel overdone – it’s actually bare and raw, something that you’d most likely see in real life, being done by a real person in her situation. It’s interesting to say this, too, because Shannon’s obviously not fully known for her dramatic-roles, and here, she shows that she’s more than up to the task of delivering. Sure, she can still be a barrel of laughs when she wants to, too, but when she wants to make us cry, she can still work with that, too.

Why she isn’t a whole lot bigger and more recognized is totally beyond me.

Consensus: As simple and straightforward as you can get with a Sundance indie, Other People may not change the world, but offers up charming, heartfelt writing, along with some great performances to make it feel like a nice little family outing worth spending time with.

7.5 / 10

Mothers and sons. Can't beat 'em.

Mothers and sons. Can’t beat ’em.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Logo

Alexander (2004)

Some people let fame and fortune go to their heads. Others, just want to party and have a lot of sex.

Ever since he was a little boy, Alexander (Colin Farrell) was always a person destined for great and wonderful things like becoming the greatest empire in the world, at a staggeringly young age of 32. Of course, however, his path to greatness was a rough and troubling one, mired by all sorts of controversy and adversity that seemed to take him down a peg, even when it seemed like he was ready to take down everyone who stood in his way. There’s his mother (Angelina Jolie) and his father (Val Kilmer)’s legacy and how all of their accomplishments have overshadowed his impact; there’s his sexuality and how some people don’t ever know what it is that he likes to have sex with; and then, there’s also that need and utter desire he has that makes him want to kill nations and nations of people because they don’t praise him as the lord he so desperately wants to be praised as. Of course, all of this would be prove to be his ultimate demise.

"I know you love the blonde hair. All the girls do."

“I know you love the blonde hair. All the girls do.”

Alexander is not nearly as awful as people make it out to be. It’s probably Oliver Stone’s worst movie, but in that, therein lies an interesting movie that has a lot of good ingredients, a few rotten ones, and ultimately, doesn’t fully come together as perfectly as his other movies have. But does that make it absolutely, positively awful?

Not really.

And it’s because of Stone, that a movie like Alexander – one that would have been so slow and boring – actually comes off far more compelling than one would expect. Just as he’s shown before, Stone seems a whole lot interested in just what makes a legend like Alexander tick and become the man that he wants to eventually become; sure, the narrative of him from childhood, to his adult-years, don’t always mesh well and would have probably worked out better had they been shown in a more conventional format, but still, there is something of interest to this person here. Stone doesn’t always know what he wants to say about Alexander, or better yet, what point he’s trying to get across by telling his story in the first place, but there is something here, as small and as slight as it may be, that’s definitely worth watching and thinking about.

It’s just that it’s still hard to figure out just what that may be. Stone seems interested in judging this person solely on the fact that he condoned a whole lot of violence, yet, at the same time, didn’t know why or for what reasons, expect that it was all he was taught when he was just a little tike. But then, Stone also seems interested in how his sexual preferences may have also done a little something to make him seem like a weakling that couldn’t be trusted in the long-run. And then, of course, there’s also the fact that Stone seems interested in wondering just what it is about a person like Alexander that makes him feel like a God that can do no wrong, never die and still keep the love, respect and adoration of all those around him.

There’s a lot to think about and work with, but unfortunately, yes, the movie is also quite messy and doesn’t always make the best sense of what it’s trying to do or say.

And yeah, that’s a huge problem for Alexander, considering that it clocks in at nearly three hours, showing us that, once again, Stone is the King of excess, especially when it seems like there’s no real reason for the actual excessiveness in the first place. And hell, if there is a reason, it’s because Stone himself knows that he doesn’t quite know what he’s getting across with the material, so rather than trying his hardest to make a small, concise movie, he overloads it all, adding more bits and pieces of style that come and go as they please. It’s what we’ve come to know and, unfortunately, expect with Stone, even if it does sometimes feel like he’s got something of interest to work with here.

Their family is better than yours.

Their family is better than yours.

He just doesn’t know what it is, sadly.

But that’s why he’s got such a good cast to work with and, in ways, pick up the pieces whenever the narrative seems to flowing from one place to another. Colin Farrell is fine and hunky as Alexander, even if the character himself is written in so many different ways, that he almost feels like an entirely different person altogether, at random parts of the movie. Farrell gets past most of it, but he also feels like he’s struggling to make sense of just what Stone is aiming for here. As his parents, Val Kilmer and Angelina Jolie are terrific, vamping and hamming it up, showing us that Alexander definitely had two role models in his life, for better and for worse, and they made him who he is today, and honestly, the movie would have been a whole lot better just about them and their little dynamic.

Because once Kilmer and Jolie are thrown in the background, others like Jared Leto, Rosario Dawson, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and the one and only, Anthony Hopkins show up and quite frank;y, the material just isn’t there for them. They all feel like added-on characters who show up because Stone wanted to work with them and, honestly, needed an excuse. Dawson’s got the most to do out of all these actors, but even she feels short-shifted, only made to give sad looks and take her clothes off. I’m not complaining, but trust me, there’s a whole lot that she can do.

In fact, so can everyone else here. Including Stone himself.

Consensus: Not quite the travesty as some have made it out to be, Alexander suffers from being messy and never always making the best sense of itself, yet, gets by on a few good performances and moments from the near three-hour run-time.

6 / 10

"Join me in this fight now and afterwards, we'll all get mangled!"

“Join me in this fight now and afterwards, we’ll all get mangled!”

Photos Courtesy of: The Ace Black Blog, Metro, Cine Cola

U-Turn (1997)

uturnposterNext time, wait for the rest stop.

While on the road to who knows where, Bobby (Sean Penn) has a bit of car trouble and has to pull over into the nearest gas-station/mechanic he can find. Of course, this leads him right into the lovely, yet wacky little town of Superior, Arizona, where he’s told that his car will have to stay around for a few more days so that it can get inspected and get all of the right parts it needs to continue to run. Bobby’s not happy about this, but he can’t do much about it, so he decides to set up shop in town for a short while, and in doing so, attracts a whole lot of unwanted and crazy attention from the local folks who clearly seem to be pretty interested in what a city boy like Bobby’s doing around their parts. One person in particular is the sexual and dangerous Grace (Jennifer Lopez), who decides that she wants to run away with Bobby and start out a new life for her. The only issue is that her husband (Nick Nolte), controls almost everything that she does and will not let her out of his sights, regardless of who stands in his way.

Even Sean knows neither of these kids have a career in showbiz.

Even Sean knows neither of these kids have a career in showbiz.

U-Turn is the perfect movie for someone like Oliver Stone to direct right after making something as loud, bombastic and overstuffed like Nixon. Because with U-Turn, you can tell that Stone’s getting back down to his roots, catching his breath, and enjoying this sick, dark and twisted world that he seemed to love and be so fascinated with in Natural Born Killers. And sure, while U-Turn is no way in the same league as that near-masterpiece, it’s still a fun little piece of noir-trash that reminds us what can be done when you have some good material, with a director who knows how to handle it all so well.

Of course, Stone has been better and worse before, but still U-Turn shows us that, once again, Stone knows a thing or two about these dark, gritty and messed-up tales about small people, in small towns, doing some pretty cruel and evil things to one another. Stone of course makes this little town of Superior all the more zany and crazy than we’d ever expect right away, but it works in the movie’s favor; every character we run into and get a glimpse of, despite seeming like over-the-top cartoons, still have this smallest sense of danger in their bones that makes it feel like they could step into the story at any second and cause all sorts of damage. It’s what most thrillers in the same vein strive for, but because Stone has a certain eye for these kinds of movies, it works a whole lot more.

Then again, it is a very disgusting movie that, at times, sure, can test our patience for what we’re capable of seeing and accepting for an upwards of two hours or so.

That said, Stone is having fun here and honestly, that can be sort of rare. There’s this small glimmer of a message about Native American tribes and the fact that they were kicked off of their land, but the movie doesn’t make it a top-priority to get on any sort of soapbox and preach to the audience – it’s rare for an Oliver Stone movie to do that, but it’s a welcome change-of-pace because it helps not take away from the cast and twisty, turny plot, and also allow for us to enjoy the movie a whole lot more, all its shortcomings with plot aside.

Wow. Is this the last time Billy Bob was actually engaged and/or enjoying himself?

Wow. Is this the last time Billy Bob was actually engaged and/or enjoying himself?

Sean Penn is a nice addition to the world of Oliver Stone and even though it’s not a more spirited and crazy performance like we’re so used to seeing from him, as Bobby, it almost feel like he didn’t have to be. In a way, he’s sort of the cool, calm and collected one in the middle of a group full of nuts, wacko’s and fools, which suits Penn a whole lot, even if it is also a whole bunch of fun to see him freak-out every so often. Same goes for Lopez, who is playing the typical femme fatale we see in these sorts of flicks and does a solid job playing up that sexy, vivaciousness of her, making us wonder if we can, or can’t, trust her.

But then, there’s the rest of the ensemble who seem to be a little more ramped-up than Lopez and Penn, which is perfectly fine because it suits them all so well.

Powers Boothe and his eyes steal every scene he’s in, because of how scary he is; Jon Voight has a few heartfelt moments in the middle of a wacky and wild movie; Joaquin Phoenix and Claire Danes seem as if they walked off of the set of a sitcom as two young lovers who constantly keep on running into Bobby; Billy Bob Thornton seems spirited and awake as the town mechanic who seems to be enjoying his chances of ripping Bobby off every chance he gets; and yes, Nick Nolte is as dastardly as can be, playing Grace’s husband, snarling and howling every line that comes out of his mouth. But you know what? It works. We’re supposed to be repulsed by this guy and Nolte is perfect at delivering it all.

If only he and Stone worked together more.

Consensus: As wild and as crazy as Stone has been, U-Turn also shows off his most vile and inhumane piece that is definitely not his smartest movie, but still a bunch of fun, if in the right mood for it.

7.5 / 10

Yeah, Sean can't be bothered because he's just too cool, yo.

Yeah, Sean can’t be bothered because he’s just too cool, yo.

Photos Courtesy of: DVD Dizzy, Horror Cult Films

Nixon (1995)

nixonposterHe was a crook, but then again, aren’t we all?

U.S. President Richard Nixon (Anthony Hopkins) definitely had all sorts of controversies in his life and career. And those constants issues with the general public and those around him actually lead-out into the rest of his life, even going so far as to drive him a little nutty. But no matter what, his wife, Pat (Joan Allen), whenever he needed some love and comfort the most, even if he wasn’t quite so sure that he could always trust her. Of course though, despite some of Nixon’s best moments as President, his career and legacy would, ultimately, be destroyed because of the infamous incident that everyone, for future generations, will come to know as “the Watergate Scandal”.

So basically, yeah, Nixon is Oliver Stone’s attempt at trying to make some sort of biopic on the life, times and ultimate career of Richard Nixon. And honestly, it makes sense – if there is any director out there who could understand the mind and brain-space of someone who has been hated and despised over the years, it’s definitely Stone. But don’t be fooled by the term “biopic”, as Nixon is anything but conventional, even if that term is exactly what it promises to be.

"Hey, Anthony? Yeah, tone it down just a bit."

“Hey, Anthony? Yeah, tone it down just a bit.”

And that is, honestly, it’s biggest problem.

Stone has a lot to work with here and even at a staggering three-hours, it feels like we got more than enough. For what it’s worth, Stone doesn’t back down from showing us the image of Nixon, both professional and personal, that we’ve all come to know and expect by now. He has to make a lot of dirty, incredibly questionable choices and decisions on behalf of the entire country and because of that, he starts to get a little crazy and act out in ways people don’t expect him to. Stone doesn’t seem to be fully judging him for who he is, or better yet, what he represents, and that’s what works best in the movie’s favor; it’s setting out to tell us a little more about the one President that most of the country has learned to grow and dislike more with each and every passing year, and not shy away from some of the more grittier, meaner aspects of his life.

And because Nixon doesn’t back away from the not-so pretty things about Nixon’s life, it also can sort of seem like it has nothing to really say about its central-figure. Even though Stone tries his absolute hardest to fool us into thinking that this isn’t another one of those typical biopics we tend to get around Oscar-season, what with the quick-editing, non-chronological format, etc., it’s still not hard to look at this as, yet again, another biopic of someone that we think we know, but don’t know every little detail about, to the day that he took his first breath, to his last one. But the movie also begs the question: Do we really need all of this? Is there a point to this never ending focus on this one man in particular?

Well, the answer is yes and that’s because Anthony Hopkins is the one playing the lead role.

"Okay, maybe I'm a little bit of a crook. Just a little bit, though."

“Okay, maybe I’m a little bit of a crook. Just a little bit, though.”

Which is, yes, definitely fine, because no surprise here, but Hopkins does a terrific job as Tricky Dick. Of course, Hopkins himself has a lot to do and work with, playing up the usual mannerisms of Nixon, without seeming like a cartoon and still sinking into the role, despite not looking a single thing like him, but still, there’s something missing here. It’s a performance that does a lot of shaking, yelling, standing, and heavy-lifting, but it’s also one that seems to just be about the actual actor, and not about the actual character/person being portrayed or brought to us. Watching Hopkins do what he does best is a treat, but still, when he’s clearly not working with solid material that gives him more than just another chance to chew the fat, it’s a bit of a slog to watch. It’s almost as if we walked into an empty-theater, just to watch Hopkins himself rehearse and go over his lines, but rather than letting us go out the doors and into the real world, the doors are locked and we’re somehow trapped, forced to watch and be inspired by the thespian that is Anthony Hopkins.

Sure, that may not sound as bad to some, but watching it all play out in Nixon can get to a bit tiring.

Especially when the movie is, like I said before, is a little over three hours long. And while it’s not the Hopkins show the whole way through, what with the likes of Joan Allen, Powers Boothe, Paul Sorvino, James Woods, and Ed Harris all showing up and doing their things, it still feels very much like a vanity-project that was created solely for Hopkins and no one else. Stone may have had something interesting to say about Nixon’s actions, his public-appeal and how he’s become a “crook”, but it gets lost in between every scene that features Hopkins screaming and hooting at the top of his lungs. Sure, that’s enjoyable to a whole bunch of people, but when there’s no real rhyme or reason for all of the hooting, hollering and screaming at the top of the lungs, then it just gets tedious.

Which is something that I’d never thought I’d have to say about a Hopkins performance.

Consensus: Despite a warts-and-all depiction of Nixon’s story, Nixon still feels very much like a movie created solely so that Anthony Hopkins could work shop the whole entire three hours and make himself happy.

6.5 / 10

See? He's a happy Dick!

See? He’s a happy Dick!

Photos Courtesy of: Cydney Cornell, The Ace Black Blog

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Who cares if a person’s British or not? If they can say “puff” correctly, then I’m always satisfied.

Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) is a sweet, pudgy, chain-smoking British gal who just can’t seem to meet the right man in her life that’s worth settling down with. She’s 32 and she’s running out of time which is why she somehow gets involved with both her boss (Hugh Grant) and that man’s mortal enemy (Colin Firth). Hilarity, love, and British wit ensues.

Usually British comedies have me laughing my fanny off quite much, but then they start to die down and lose the steam that they once had and thrived so much on. Not Bridget Jones’s Diary; it just continued to go on and on until all of the characters were built-up and the hilarious situations that could and just might happen. It was funny to see a British comedy not take any sidebars in getting a little dirty or risque and that’s what I liked the most. When I want to see my rom-coms, I want them to be a bit bad and naughty, but still a tad sweet on the side. In fact, that’s how most comedies should be, but honestly, so rarely are.

And that’s why Bridget Jones’s Diary is a little treat in and of itself.

So lonely. And that snow is making it so much harder to feel less depressed.

So lonely. And that snow is making it so much harder to feel less depressed.

But honestly, what works best about the movie is Bridget Jones herself. She’s a different type of character that we don’t usually see getting the sort of attention or limelight in rom-coms such as these; normally, she’s the single, but somewhat ugly best-friend to the leading female. But this is her story and it’s worthy of it, too, because she’s a little bit of everything all rolled-up into one woman: She’s mean, dirty, funny, rough, good-looking and most of all, chock full of personality. She’s basically the perfect gal and while the movie does make some jokes at the expense of her weight and rather heavy-set demeanor, they’re only used as a way to highlight the fact that she’s just like us and not your typical romantic-lead, hence why she’s all the more lovable and sympathetic.

And because of that, we actually do care for her journey into finding that one and special someone. Granted, it’s a typical rom-com in which she tries to search for that man of her dreams, comes up a bit short, and then has to figure out just who it is that she wants in her life once she’s given a choice, so yeah, in a way, it’s predictable, but it still works. Because we care for and adore Bridget Jones and whether or not she actually does find the love of her life by the end of the two hours, her ride is enjoyable, if not all that surprising. Most rom-coms seem to think that just pitting a few really good-looking people together and seeing whatever sparks can fly is enough, but it honestly isn’t – sometimes, what we need is characters that we can care about and see if they end up finding the one true loves, or if they just continue on into that harsh, but sometimes relaxing world of singledom.

Which, let’s be honest, is not all that bad. You get more time to spend with Netflix, am I right?

"Uhmmm.....me love? Would...uhm...you like to....uhmm...have sex? Uhm please?

“Uhmmm…..me love? Would…uhm…you like to….uhmm…have sex? Uhm please?

As our titular character, Renée Zellweger is, as usual, quite amazing. At the time, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the fact that Zellweger herself wasn’t British and perhaps too pretty for the role, but the gal took it all one step further by doing her best to make herself “ugly” and gained a whole lot of weight and guess what happened? Well, she knocked the role right out of the park, by mixing a great deal of humor, heart and relatability that’s not too often seen in mainstream rom-coms of this nature. Sure, it helps that Bridget Jones herself is a good character to work with, but it also helps that Zellweger herself has perfect comedic-timing and can act like the Dickens whenever a hard, heavy and dramatic scene calls for her.

Then, as the two men who are seemingly fighting for her heart, are Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, are both pretty solid, adding a lot of fun and spirit to their roles, even when it seems like the script is sort of just letting them down. Still though, both are pretty solid at doing what they do, especially Grant who seems to really be relishing in the moment that he’s playing such a despicable cad, that it makes us wonder what’s the difference between fiction and reality with this guy. Is he like this in real life or not? I’ll leave you to decide, my friends. Firth is pretty solid too, even if I wish there was more to him than just a stone-faced, miserable dude that’s still trying to get over his ex. I know it’s hard and all but man, at least shed a smile here and there for once. It ain’t that hard.

After all, you got Renée Zellweger in front of ya.

Am I right?

Consensus: While it’s definitely a conventional rom-com, Bridget Jones’s Diary is still funny, heartfelt, and featuring an amazing performance from Zellweger that shows just the true talents she has.

8 / 10

Cheer up, Colin! You sour-puss! It's the holidays!

Cheer up, Colin! You sour-puss! It’s the holidays!

Photos Courtesy of: Miramax, Thecia.Com.Au

Complete Unknown (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Michael Shannon? Smiling?

Michael Shannon? Smiling?

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

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

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

6.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Youtube, the Verge

The Hollars (2016)

Family’s suck. No matter how colorful.

John Hollar (John Krasinski) is having a bit of a rough time in his life. He’s struggling to make something of his career as a graphic designer, so he now works in retail, hoping to make something from nothing, and now, impregnated his girlfriend (Anna Kendrick), and doesn’t seem to know if he’s ready for that or not. Either way, John’s going to have to grow up real soon as he finds out that his mom (Margo Martindale) has brain cancer. Feeling as if it’s finally time for him to go home and see the family he left behind so many years ago, John has to put up with a lot – despite his mom actually being all fine and dandy, all things considering, everyone else in his family seems to be crumbling. John’s brother (Sharlto Copley) is still reeling over his divorce and estrangement from his kids, while his father (Richard Jenkins), is about to lose his company and file for bankruptcy. Not to mention that one of his mom’s nurses, also happens to be an old foe from high school (Charlie Day), who’s now married to his high school girlfriend (Mary Elizabeth Winstead). So yeah, it’s an odd time for John, but he’s going to do whatever he can to make out as humanly sane as possible.

To read the full review, head on over to Riot-Nerd and check it out. It’s a new gig that I’ll be showing up on every so often, so yeah, check it out and let them know what you think!

Sully (2016)

He’s the Captain now.

On Jan. 15, 2009, U.S. Airways Flight 1549 goes up in the sky and heads for its destination. However, not long after take-off, they run into a bunch of geese, not only destroying the plane, but even going so far as to take out its engines. This leaves the two pilots, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger (Tom Hanks) and Jeff Skiles (Aaron Eckhart), to have to make an emergency landing in, of all places, New York’s Hudson River. Though it’s very risky and sort of a do-or-die decision made at the last second, it miraculously works out, with all of the 155 passengers and crew surviving. As expected, this makes Skiles, but most importantly, Sully, out to be true American heroes who, after experiencing something as tragic as 9/11, need someone to look towards for inspiration. However, as is the case with most problems such as this, U.S. Airways lawyers and insurance companies want answers to what exactly happened up there in the sky, leading to an investigation of Sully’s judgement, history, and most of all, his character.

"This is your captain speaking. Yeah, we're kind of screwed."

“This is your captain speaking. Yeah, we’re kind of screwed.”

Even at age 86, Clint Eastwood is still knocking them out like nobody’s business. And sure, while Sully may not be the greatest movie he’s ever made or, god forbid anything happen, the perfect note to go out on, it’s still a solid reminder of what kind of film-maker he can be when he’s got good material to work with and seems to have some sort of inspiration to work off of. That’s not to say that everyone of Eastwood’s are “bad”, but sometimes, you can when the creative-juices are flowing, and sometimes, when they’re not. With Sully, you can tell that they are flowing and it’s nice to watch, especially since, at almost an-hour-and-a-half, it does everything that a good movie needs to do: It tells a good story, gives us solid performances, and most of all, has us going home feeling a little bit better about our lives.

Now, what’s so wrong with that? After all, aren’t most movies supposed to do that?

Actually, no, but that doesn’t matter here; Eastwood is setting out to tell this story of a hero that, honestly, time seems to have forgotten about. With Sully’s story, however, Eastwood isn’t just using his movie as a platform to pay a tribute to the man and leave it at that – he wants to tell a story of a little moment in our nation’s most recent-history that we may remember perfectly, or may not, but definitely mattered. After all, it’s people like Sully who might possibly make this world a better place and even though Eastwood, as a film-maker, could have definitely gone down the road of lionizing this man from beginning to end, instead, he shows a real human being dealing with this whole idea of fame.

However, what’s interesting about Sully’s story is that his so-called “fame”, if anything, really comes from a possible tragedy, where a man like him was just doing his job, at the perfect time that he needed to. He had to make a very smart judgement call and while some, even to this day, still feel as if he could have avoided his final solution, there’s no doubting it was a hard one to make and it’s one that, certain people like Sully, find hard to cope with and understand. Eastwood shows how, even though Sully may be looked at by the rest of the world as a flat-out “hero”, he has a hard time accepting it, or even making sense of it.

The 'staches that fly together, sit out in the freezing cold together.

The ‘staches that fly together, sit out in the freezing cold together.

As stated before, he was just a pilot flying a plane and insuring that everyone on-board made it off alive.

And as the titular character, Hanks is quite great because, as usual, he shows us a real beating heart underneath all of the gray facial and head hair. While it’s easy to just see Tom Hanks, one of the world’s most recognizable actors ever, under a bunch of make-up and hair jobs and never look past it, look harder and you’ll see Hanks really disappearing into a role that shows off everything that he can do so well. He makes us feel for a person who, in all honesty, didn’t really need all that much sympathy drawn out of us to begin with, but still, it’s nice to see him give it his 110% as we all know and expect of him to do.

Of course, it was nice to Aaron Eckhart in, finally, a good movie again, doing his best to create some comedy out the dark and dramatic moments here, and while she doesn’t have a whole lot to do, Laura Linney is still good enough to offer up plenty as Sully’s wife. And really, it’s neat to see actors like Mike O’Malley, Anna Gunn, and Jamey Sheridan play a bunch of despicable, almost evil investigators who are acting solely on the behalves of U.S. Airways. While I wouldn’t go so far as to call the portrayals of them as a complete and total hatchet job, Eastwood does show them all off as being people who are, yes, doing their jobs, but also not realizing just what this man Sully did for these passengers, as well as for the nation.

And in a time like post-9/11, where New York City was still clearly reeling from tragedy, trying to make sense of everything and not looking forward to stepping onto planes again, it mattered.

Consensus: With a solid leading-role from the always dependable Hanks, as well as a melodic, but smart direction from Eastwood who, even at age 86, is still capable of reminding us that movies like Sully deserve to be made, if solely to pay a tribute to those smaller heroes we don’t always think about on a day-to-day basis.

7.5 / 10

Follow him. He's Tom Hanks.

Follow him. He’s Tom Hanks.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, the Wrap

The Bridges of Madison County (1995)

Some of the greatest loves are the from those who just take pictures of bridges.

While she is, in no way, considered bored with the life she lives with her family, Italian immigrant, Francesca Johnson (Meryl Streep), still feels as if there’s a little something more to her life that she’s possibly missing out on. Not sure what that is, she takes to just doing her own thing for a few days, while her family is out and about at the Illinois State Fair. But one fateful day, she meets the illustrious and incredibly confident Robert Kincaid (Clint Eastwood), a photographer for National Geographic who was sent around the world to take pictures of the world’s oldest and most well-known covered bridges. It sounds boring to some, but to Francesca, she’s so interested that she can’t help but take a liking to the world of photographer, but also to Robert himself. And you know what? Despite her being married and whatnot, Robert takes a liking to her and brings up the possibility of an affair – a small decision that would continue to haunt them for the rest of their lives. For better, and especially, for worse.

Meryl photogenic? No! You don't say?

Meryl? Photogenic? No! You don’t say?

Sound a little Nicholas Sparks-y, eh? Well, that’s because it’s supposed to – after all, Sparks novels of forbidden and tragic love come from a special place in each and everyone’s worlds and hearts, and it’s what we call love. Actual love. You know, where two people meet, get to know one another, figure out what they do and don’t like about the other person, spend more time with them, and yes, eventually, over time, fall in love.

It’s a crazy thing, but hey, it does exist in this place that we like to call Earth, right?

Well, that’s why a movie like the Bridges of Madison County, as corny and as sappy as it may sound, is anything but. If anything, it’s a heartfelt and endearing snapshot in the lives of two people who, clearly, had a lot of life to live before and after the time that they met and got to know one another, but for some reason, clearly seem to have been so taken by this point in their lives, that it makes them who they are. It’s the kind of movie you wouldn’t expect for Eastwood to not just star in, but direct, but somehow, he makes it work, showing that with enough attention and detail to the smaller things in a story like this, everything can work out so perfectly.

After all, when you’re telling a romance tale, all you really need is a romance that’s easy to believe in and to root for. And that’s what we get with Robert and Francesca, two people who seem to be almost polar opposites upon first glance, but after a short time, begin to get to know and love one another, gradually and realistically, even if it may seem like they’re just serving a plot. But that’s why two class-acts like Eastwood and Streep are meant for these kinds of movies; the romance at the center may seem shoddy and rushed, to a fault, so it’s up to them to figure out small, but important ways on how to get it to work where we fully do trust that they are in love and against the rest of the world.

Which is to say that, yes, Eastwood and Streep are pretty great here, whether they’re together, or not.

It's okay, Meryl. Just win another Oscar.

It’s okay, Meryl. Just win another Oscar.

For Eastwood, it’s interesting to see him in a different, much more romantic and sweet light. Sure, he’s quiet and subdued as usual here, but he’s also got something of a heart that’s easy to spot at the very beginning, and not something that we have to search for. Despite what sneaky things Robert may be up to, the movie always makes it out to appear that he has the best intentions at heart and it shows – you almost always get the sense that he doesn’t just want some quick and easy nookie, but a woman to love and care for, what with him getting older and not really having any seeds planted out there in the world.

With Streep, the two create a nice bit of chemistry that continues to build and build over time, with him always egging her on to say something more about her life, and with her, constantly seeming like she’s got something on the tip of her tongue, but is too shy to actually get it out. As Francesca, Streep is, as usual, amazing, handling a really heavy Italian-accent very well, while also giving us a female lead that feels honest and raw, but never brutal. The movie never judges her for what she choices to do and because of that, it feels like we get to know more and more about her, through the life she tells us about, as opposed to who she decides to and decides not to, sleep with.

That said, as good as Streep and Eastwood are together, there’s an issue that Eastwood, the director, runs into and it’s that he has two plot-lines going on here, with one far more interesting than the other.

While the romance between Streep and Eastwood is lovely, nice, sweet and powerful, there’s also this story revolving around Francesca’s two kids, older and grown-up, having to figure out their own lives and what they want to do next. Though Annie Corley and Victor Slezak are two good actors in their own right, here, the material just doesn’t work for them; Corley seems too whiny and conceited to be sympathetic and Slezak’s line-readings are so wild and crazy, that it makes me wonder why there wasn’t at least 50 takes of every one of this guys’ scenes. Of course, this is what usually comes to happen with Eastwood’s movies – they’re never perfect and always taken down by a weak element, but still good enough to watch.

It’s just a shame that that had to happen here.

Consensus: The real heart and emotion of the Bridges of Madison County lies within Eastwood and Streep’s great chemistry and performances, while the subplot occasionally gets in the way, creating more of a fine piece of romance, as opposed to a great one.

7.5 / 10

Sordid affairs have never looked so sweet.

Sordid affairs have never looked so sweet.

Photos Courtesy of: Cut the Crap Movie Reviews

 

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

It’s better to be an outlaw, than a conformist.

Back in the day, when he was a kind, fun-loving and good-natured man of society, Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) had to witness helplessly as his wife and child were murdered by Union men all led by Capt. Terrill (Bill McKinney). It destroyed Josey so much that he automatically set-out for revenge, joining the Confederate Army and lending all of the crazy and violent services that he had to offer. But when the war ends and all of his fellow Confederates decide that it’s the best time to lay down their arms and surrender, Josey outright refuses. Reason being? He doesn’t trust a man like Terrill and with good reason, because as soon as the Confederates their arms, their gunned-down and killed by Terrill. Now, Terrill sets out to take down Josey Wales, once and for all and make sure that he doesn’t spread his hate or anger any longer, or to anyone else in particular. But this is exactly what happens when Josey, along his trip, meets all sorts of colorful and lovely characters who ends up not just calling allies, but family, even.

Chief? And Clint? Wow. Words can't explain.

Chief? And Clint? Wow. Words can’t explain.

Westerns are sure to scare a lot of people away, mostly because of the time and attention they take to actually fully enjoy them for what they are. This is the case with a good number of Westerns, whereas other ones just plain and simply stink, are way too slow for their own good, and feel like the same movie we’ve seen before, just with more horses and gun-battles. But that’s why Clint Eastwood’s Westerns are things to be admired and loved, even – they’re the kinds of plays on the genre that you automatically assume is so calculated and precise, that anything against the genre would fall flat on its face.

But even in 1976, long before his Oscar win for Unforgiven, Eastwood proved that the Western genre was not at all dead and in a way, could still make all sorts of wonders. But what’s probably most interesting about what Eastwood does here, is that it doesn’t seem like he’s doing much, especially when it comes to his directing; all he really does is tell a story, keep the camera as still as possible, and yeah, just let everything happen as it should, in front of the camera. It sounds as simple as can be and definitely is on the screen, but it works so well because the story itself is a compelling one, going into places you least expect it to and doing certain things that you don’t expect it to.

Why is that? Well, it’s because Westerns seem so ordinary and plain, that yeah, it’s hard to get a really good one, right?

Well, incorrect. Kind of. What works best about Outlaw Josey Wales is that it has something to say about the nature of violence, murder and death, but doesn’t try to hit you over the head with it. The Native American shown here are all sympathetic human beings, not the usual savages we see in flicks such as these, but instead, mostly just people who want peace and love with their fellow man and women. Josey Wales, the movie as well as the character, shows that it’s possible, especially when the two sides have a common enemy and are more than capable of laying down their arms against one another and joining hands, whether it’s to frolic in nature, or to take down the white man, once and for all.

Either way, it’s a heartwarming message that’s actually thrown into a movie that’s chock full of violence, blood, gun-shots and rape. But does it still work? It surprisingly does, as the type of Western Eastwood here paints, isn’t a terribly endearing or lovely one, but mostly, one that would exist in the real world. As is the case with every society you live in, there are some bad apples and there are some good ones, too. Unfortunately, the bad ones do outweigh the good ones, but those good ones are around to take them down and make sure that no more wrongful deaths or murder occurs.

But all this said, when you get right down to it, Josey Wales isn’t a movie that’s all about the message or trying to prove a point  – it does do what every good Western does and that’s offer plenty of gun-slinging violence and action for each and every person to enjoy.

I bet he feels lucky.

I bet he feels lucky.

And as a director, Eastwood truly does know how to make these scenes pop and sizzle with the right amount of fun, but also heinousness that makes some of these callous acts of violence seem disturbing. While he is no doubt giving the gun-loving audience a taste of what they all want and oh so desire, he is also making it done in a way where you can tell that he’s not all for the violence and is, in a way, trying to also pass some blame and judgement on it all.

Either way, as a director Eastwood is terrific here, and yes, even better as an actor. Once again, he’s not doing anything we haven’t seen him do before, but he still owns it all so well, sometimes, without even saying anything. All he has to do is spit out his tobacco, glare at people, and give a little growl, and guess what? His presence is felt throughout the whole thing. It’s honestly why Eastwood is still considered such a bad-ass and why an iconic figure like him was always welcome in anything resembling a Western.

But while this could have definitely been Clint’s show from start-to-finish (after all, he did direct the movie), what’s perhaps most admirable about him as a director is how he’s able to lend the screen to the rest of the cast and have them show off all that they can do and bring a little bit more fun and fiery energy to the proceedings. Sondra Locke plays Laura Lee, a supposed love-interest that doesn’t quite work, but is still compelling enough to watch; Paula Trueman plays the cooky and always batty Grandma Sarah, who starts off as something of a caricature, only to turn out to be an honest, living and breathing person; and as Lone Watie, Chief Dan George is perfect, nailing every bit of humor and heart that this character has to offer, while also maintaining a pitch perfect odd-couple chemistry with Eastwood. In a way, they’re like the perfect, little, crazy family.

They all love one another, but man, they sure can shoot.

Consensus: As far as Westerns go, the Outlaw Josey Wales isn’t just action-packed and fun, but heartfelt, emotional and smart, offering a perfect showcase for what Eastwood can do as both actor, as well as director.

9 / 10

And that, my friends, is how a perfect friendship gets started.

And that, my friends, is how a perfect friendship gets started.

Photos Courtesy of: IMDFB, Quotes Gram

I Am Number Four (2011)

I feel like Number 666 is pretty damn cool. Where’s that person’s movie?

John Smith (Alex Pettyfer) seems like an ordinary teenager, who wants to live long, prosper, have a great time, find some hot chicks, drink, party, and just do what every other teenager in the whole entire world wishes for. However, he’s very far from ordinary – in fact, he’s an alien on the run from merciless enemies hunting him and the eight others like him. So in order to make sure that he doesn’t get found out by this group of baddies, he and his guardian, Henri (Timothy Olyphant), have to constantly go from town-to-town, changing their identities and staying as hidden and as unseen as they possibly can. That’s easy for Henri to do, but for John, he just wants to be out there in the world, living life like a typical teenager, which leads him to start going to the local high school, where he meets an falls for the cutest girl at the school (Dianna Agron), but at the same time, also captures the attention of the school-bully (Jake Abel), who isn’t afraid to start some stuff with John whenever he oh so feels the need or desire.

Basically, it’s high school, but you know, with aliens.

"Trust me, I'm hot."

“Trust in me, I’m hot.”

Just like Disturbia was D.J. Caruso’s junior-Hitchcock, I Am Number Four is definitely his junior-Spielberg. Everything in it just breathes, hell, screams Spielberg; the high school-setting, the angsty, misunderstood teenagers, the aliens, the government conspiracies, the monsters, etc. It’s as if Caruso felt the need to start trying out whatever famous director’s style he could go for next, regardless of whether or not he actually had the talent to do so, so in a way, it’s an admirable effort on his part.

Issue is, I Am Number Four also feels a whole heck of a lot like every other YA adaptation that tried so desperately hard to recapture the same magic and success as Twilight did and because of that, it definitely feels like a step-down for someone who is a pretty competent director. After all, Caruso gets a lot right here that other Spielberg-wannabes have tried to aim for; the high school and its characters are compelling, if also somewhat realistic, and for awhile, the mystery of these aliens, their powers, and all that stuff, is interesting enough to stick around for. But then, the movie also dives really, really deep into the mythology which, honestly, doesn’t matter, or work.

I Am Number Four is the kind of movie that probably works best, when nobody takes it serious – the director, writers, cast, everyone. It’s so goofy and weird that often times, it would have probably been best if the movie made itself out to be something of a parody of these YA adaptations, and then decided to turn the other cheek and become its own genre-flick, like say Shaun of the Dead, or even Airplane. But of course, that isn’t the case here – instead, we get a relatively self-serious movie that doesn’t always know how to tone down the sci-fi mythology that nobody can understand or care for, nor does it know when the best time for some fun character-stuff needs to happen.

Then again, maybe that’s just a problem with me – expecting human stuff out of a YA adaptation.

Metaphor for technology? Eh, probably not.

Metaphor for technology? Eh, probably not.

But still, Caruso does offer up enough to make the movie, at the very least, an entertaining piece of mainstream trash that doesn’t need to be thought about long, especially considering that all it really wants to do is set-up more and more sequels to come. And considering that this is the film-business, is that such a problem? It isn’t if you have something to really work with; Twilight got five movies, whereas I Am Number Four only got one and honestly, there’s something wrong with that. A part of me feels like if I Am Number Four got the opportunity to expand on its universe, hire some better writers and whatnot, that it would have grown on to be something better than just another YA-knockoff that people forget about after a week or two.

It probably wouldn’t have been the next Hunger Games in any way, shape or form, but it would have at least been somewhat of an enjoyable diversion, right? Cause with the cast, the movie could have definitely done more to add some sizzle and spice to the whole YA-genre. Alex Pettyfer, despite always having to work with an odd American-accent, is perfectly fine and hunky as Four, or the apt-named, John Smith; Dianna Agron’s pretty-girl-who-takes-pictures-so-yeah-she’s-interesting character is boring, but she does enough of something with it; and yeah, Timothy Olyphant is a blast to watch, making the best of what he can, even going so far as to infuse any bit of humor that he can find in the creases. Everyone here is fine, but sadly, they never got the next opportunity to see what they could do next with this story, this franchise, or even this world.

Oh well. At least we got another Divergent movie coming out sometime soon.

So that’s good, right?

Consensus: Too serious to be campy, and too weird to be hilarious, I Am Number Four is an okay diversion from the rest of the YA-fare, but unfortunately, also doesn’t have much of its own identity to help itself out and break away from the rest of the pack.

5 / 10

Wow. Alex must not really want Isabel in his life. Deuche.

Wow. Alex must not really want Isabel in his life. Deuche.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz