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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Nick Kroll

Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie (2017)

Being comfy is key to fighting crime.

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

How we picture all of our elementary school principals.

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

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

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

Two hipsters in-the-making.

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

Even in my kids movies.

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

6 / 10

What’s so funny? Let the guy live!

Photos Courtesy of: 20th Century Fox

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Sing (2016)

Furries love them some Katy Perry.

Ever since he was just a little koala, Buster Moon (Matthew McConaughey) has always wanted to provide arts and entertainment to the world around him. However, because of his size, he was never quite given the opportunity to work on the stage, in front of the crowd – instead, he was always given the position to work behind the scenes for his dad’s theater company. Many years later and with his father long passed away, Buster’s theater isn’t just losing money, but it’s damn near broke. So, in order to not just raise money for the theater, but awareness too, Buster decides to hold a local talent signing competition, where the best and loudest will all come together and battle each other, song after song, for a grand prize of Buster’s choosing. Eventually, the competition gets down to five beings: Mike (Seth MacFarlane) a wise-cracking mouse, Meena (Tori Kelly), a timid elephant who has a way better voice than she’s letting on, Rosita (Reese Witherspoon), a pig who, for practically all of her life has had to stay-at-home and raise her 25 piglets and is just now getting the opportunity to do something she wants to do for a change, Johnny (Taron Egerton), a gorilla who’s family wants him to drop this whole singing thing and join them in the life of crime, and Ash (Scarlett Johansson), a punk-rock porcupine who’s current break-up with her boyfriend leads her to thinking about her independence a whole lot.

Uh oh. Miss Piggy gonna sue somebody!

Uh oh. Miss Piggy gonna sue somebody!

Sing is so ridiculously and utterly adorable that it takes a lot to bash it. And sure, while I won’t do that, I won’t also say that it’s a great movie – it’s the kind of animated flick that gets by solely on its pure cuteness, appeals strongly to the kiddies, and yes, uses a lot of pop-tunes that will get everyone going home and checking out Spotify instantly. In a way, it’s like every other animated flick ever made, but it’s also just really cute.

Sometimes, isn’t that all you need to be?

For Sing, it seems like that’s the case. Writer/director Garth Jennings seems to know just how to get to a kid’s heart, by infusing loud, catchy songs with lovely, cute-looking, walking, talking and singing animals. Sure, can this sort of stuff appeal to older folks out there? Most definitely, but for the kids, who Jennings really seems to be aiming for, it works even more so; they’ll get up during the movie, sing, dance and laugh at just about every bit of comedy, whether physical or not.

And is there anything wrong with that? Honestly, no. That’s why for what it’s worth, Sing does get the job done. It will most definitely make every kid happy, pleased, but at the same time, it also won’t keep the parents away from feeling as if they’ve been cheated out of their time, and/or money.

At the same time, though, should there have been more of an effort on Jennings part to try and make Sing more than just your standard, yet fun, kiddie-fare?

Sort of, yes, and sort of, no. Yes, because as Pixar has proven already many of times, the best ways to get everyone involved is to also give a little something for the older folks to grab a hold onto as well. There’s no denying that most adults will be happy and pleased with the youngsters being happy, or regardless of that, all of the music and colorful characters, but there’s still a certain idea that for the near two-hours the movie spends, the end result is just fine.

And no, because well, Jennings is probably doing exactly what he set-out to do in the first place with Sing and it’s not his problem that his flick doesn’t meet every person’s standards.

Like, mine.

Seth MacFarlane as a caricature? You don't say?

Seth MacFarlane as a caricature? You don’t say?

Anyway, Sing for awhile is fun and enjoyable, yet at the same time, not exactly groundbreaking or life-changing, like many other animated flicks I’ve seen in quite some time have been. That said, the final 30 minutes, you know, when the actual competition gets underway, are pretty exciting and show a certain amount of energy and zaniness that’s probably best shown in Jennings’ last two flicks, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and incredibly underrated Son of Ranbow. All of the pieces of the lovely, little puzzle eventually come together and you get the sense that Jennings is happy to see it all come out the way it is, even if he may have taken a little too long to get there.

It does help, however, that the voice-cast is also quite great and more than capable of keeping our attentions. But while everyone’s great, the real stand-out, of course, is Tori Kelly as Meena, the self-conscious elephant who can belt it out like nobody’s business. It definitely helps that, out of all the actors who do their own singing here, Kelly is perhaps the most professional-sounding, but that her character gets the message across in a strong manner.

What Sing says about kids, having a talent, and life in general, is that it doesn’t matter what you may or may not think is holding you back from doing what you want to do – as long as you’re doing it, then who cares? Life will continue to go on and get probably better for you, all because you’re doing what you want to do. A message like this is a nice reminder that even if animation doesn’t always knock it out of the park like Pixar, it can still bring heartfelt, warm and rather important messages to the youngsters watching in the lobby.

Alongside all of the singing and dancing they’ll be doing.

Consensus: Admittedly, while Sing is for the kids, there’s still some warm, colorful and good fun to be had, along with all of the crazy catchy pop-tunes that the movie never seems to run out of.

6.5 / 10

Don't be shocked. Sing.

Don’t be shocked. Sing.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Loving (2016)

Love the one you’re with. Screw the haters.

It’s 1958 in Central Point, Virginia and Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga) fall in love with one another, are having a child together and you know what? They decide that they want to get married. However, because she’s black and he’s white, they’re not allowed to get married in their own home state, so they decide to drive all the way to Washington and get hitched the right way. When they get back to their hometown, not only do they realize that almost everyone in the town knows about their marriage, but they’re not quite happy about it, either. Most importantly, though, it’s law enforcement who wants both of them out of their town and somehow, find a way to make that happen. So now, Mildred and Richard are forced to move to Washington, D.C., away from the rest of their family and feeling more ostracized than ever before, until they realize that what’s happened to them, above all else, isn’t right and sure as hell isn’t legal. So they band together, pick up a lawyer (Nick Kroll) and decide to take their case to the Supreme Court, against all odds and with some sort of sliver of hope that they’ll be able to stay married and get back to their families, once and for all, like they have the right to.

Love is someone you can literally lean on.

Love is someone you can literally lean on.

Although he’s one of the far more interesting and compelling voices in film today, writer/director Jeff Nichols still found a way to disappoint the hell out of me with Midnight Special. Sure, it was an ambitious change for him and to be fair, the first two-thirds of it are probably great, but man oh man, that final-act and twist? Yeah, just didn’t work for me and felt like maybe, just possibly maybe, Nichols got a bit too ahead of himself and stretched out further than he could go.

But now, over eight months later, and Nichols has got another movie, which in ways, is still a bit of a change for him – a true, fact-based tale about Mildred and Richard Loving. It’s a tale that deserves to be told with absolute tender, love, care and integrity, which is everything that Nichols brings to the material; he’s very much in his wheelhouse of giving us small details about these characters and their lives, without ever seeming like he’s overdoing it or trying to get at something. If anything, he’s just telling a story of two people, who fell in love, got married and for some reason or another, weren’t allowed to.

In a way, it’s a change for Nichols, but it’s also very much what we’ve seen from him before.

And because of that, Loving works in small, glorious ways. Nichols is a smart writer and director in that he knows how these “based on a true story” movies can go – over-the-top, melodramatic, corny – and opts out for the exact opposite. Instead of going overboard with the raw and powerful emotions, he downplays everything, as if we aren’t just watching a movie happen in front of our very own eyes, but life itself. It works, in that it makes us feel closer to the Loving’s than ever before and also helps make us feel more and more for their situation, as if that wasn’t hard to do in the first place.

It also helps that both Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are quite great in their roles, showing off a great deal of sincerity, even when they’re trying so hard to bottle-up all of their feelings and emotions. It’s interesting that the movie paints the them as two separate people who feel differently about the situation that they’ve unfortunately been thrown into; she’s all about the spotlight and believes that the more eyes on the case, the better, while he just wants to be left alone, stay quiet, and sit in the corner, unseen or unheard. It’s an interesting contrast that does wonders for their performances, especially Negga who’s smile and pure beauty lights up any room that she pops up in here.

Love is someone you can get locked-up with.

Love is someone you can get locked-up with.

Then again though, the movie does drop the ball on actually making us feel something for their love and their passion, which was, above all else, the most important aspect. Due to Nichols having to focus on so many other aspects of the story (the court case, the racial prejudices, the other family-members drama), it’s hard not to realize that the Loving’s themselves sort of get shoved away to the side, in that we never quite feel their love, their passion, or their fight for one another. They sort of just dance a little bit, kiss a lot, have babies, hold hands, and yeah, that’s about it.

If that’s true, inspired love, then hey, maybe I’m missing something. But either way, if you’re going to make a movie about a married-couple who love one another so damn much, that they’re willing to beat the odds and take on the man, to ensure that they have those God-given rights, then why not allow for us to feel that said romance?

Either way, Edgerton and Negga always stay good and compelling, regardless of the shortcomings of the script.

Same goes for the supporting cast who are all fine, with the exception of maybe one. It’s hard not to mention Nick Kroll when you’re speaking about Loving, because, as much as I hate to say it, he does stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a bit of inspired casting to have Kroll play the Civil Rights lawyer who does eventually pick up the Loving’s case, but it also doesn’t help that Kroll, for some reason or another, decided to play this character as a fun-loving, somewhat chirpy dude from the 50’s who talks as if he was a deleted scene from Fargo. It’s weird, too, because I’ve seen Kroll really do some great work with dramatic-material, but here, he just doesn’t fit in, especially when you have the likes of Bill Camp, Michael Shannon, and Martin Csokas, and others, showing up and putting in great work.

Consensus: While imperfect, Loving is still a sign that Jeff Nichols is back on the track to telling small, character-driven stories about love, romance and happiness, even without ever seeming preachy or melodramatic, given the true story-aspect.

7.5 / 10

Love is someone who, once again, you can actually lean on. Man, be independent!

Love is someone who, once again, you can actually lean on. Man, be independent!

Photos Courtesy of:Indiewire

Joshy (2016)

When depressed, hang with the bros.

Josh (Thomas Middleditch) and his fiancee (Alison Brie) were all set and ready to get married. However, she decided to take her life, leaving her family, friends, and most importantly, Josh, heartbroken. Why did she do it? Well, no one really knows why, however, Josh’s friends intend on cheering him up the way that they feel is necessary for someone dealing with a tragedy of this kind. That’s why, nearly four months later, the bros all come up to the house somewhere in the mountains, dedicated to them all partying it up and living life, as if it was Josh’s bachelor party, which was what it was supposed to be in the first place. But the guys don’t get bogged down by the sad details and decide that it’s time to get all of the beer, drugs, guns and women that they can find to get Josh’s mind off of everything. But it’s not just Josh who has some problems to wade through, as most of the guys seem to be going through their own issues on this one weekend, figuring out where to go next with their lives and how, just how the hell on Earth, are they going to grow-up and be responsible adults.

Cheer up, Joshy. They don't call you that name all of the time, right?

Cheer up, Joshy. They don’t call you that name all of the time, right? Cause if they did, that actually would kind of suck.

The mumblecore movement may not be quite as vibrant as it once was back in the beginning of the decade, however, it’s still alive and well, bringing in more and more outsiders to the indie-world, showing off their talent for improv and on-the-fly film making that can, often times, create things of beauty. Drinking Buddies seems like the highlight of the mumblecore flicks, in terms of its scope, who it involved, and what it actually did, but there’s been a few every now and then, offering up lovely bits of insightful entertainment.

And now, with his second-feature, Jeff Baena seems as if he’s ready to throw himself into the mumblecore world and doing a pretty good job at it, too.

Of course, what makes a mumblecore movie as good as it may set out to be, is that it needs a reason, or better yet, a purpose to exist. Most of the time, these movies can sometimes seem like low-budget versions of Adam Sandler flicks where, just like him, they use the excuse of a movie being made to get away with having a bunch of their friends around, do and say silly things. While this may work for most film makers because it doesn’t ask for all that much dedication and money, the problems that it can sometimes bring up is the fact that the story itself isn’t always the snappiest and, if anything, made-up as the film-making runs on by.

Here though, Baena does something smart in that he allows for the actual tragedy of Josh’s ex-fiancee to really carry the movie along, feeling less of like an excuse, and more of something resembling a reason. Of course, the darker aspects of the story come out in full-form by the end, and doesn’t quite connect, but at least it’s a movie that’s trying to be something more than the typical “cool, funny, and talented people hang out for a weekend”. While those movies can tend to be quite fun and exciting, they can also become a tad mundane, when you don’t have much of a narrative-drive moving it along.

In Joshy, aside from the tragic suicide early on, the real plot is figuring out these characters, their lives, their problems, and just how they’re going to get out of them. It’s almost too simple, but it kind of works, because Baena has been able to assess a great group of actors to make the material work, even when it seems like they’re just going with the flow. Nick Kroll, Thomas Middleditch, Alex Ross Perry, Brett Gelman, and Adam Pally play the core group here and they’ve all got their own problems to work through, some clearly more important than others, but all at least registering on some level.

Longed-hair Adam Pally? I don't know!

Longed-hair Adam Pally? I don’t know!

Of course, this doesn’t always allow for the characters to come off as likable, either, which is probably fine, in Joshy’s case.

Baena doesn’t allow for his movie to be too pleased or happy with itself; eventually, the characters do have to learn a thing or two about the lives that they live and why it’s not always best to act 13, when you’re 35, or at the very least, nearing it. Joe Swanberg himself shows up and brings these characters down to real life and it’s a honest, relatively tense scene, which is what Joshy seemed to be missing the most of. With the exception a confrontation by the end, Joshy doesn’t really have any confrontation or tension in the air, which I felt was necessary for a movie like this to really work, where jerks are hanging around each other too much, getting on each other’s nerves constantly.

Of course, Baena may not have cared much for this, but while watching Joshy, it’s hard not to imagine what could happen, had the movie tried a tad bit harder. It’s nice to get all your talented and lovely friends all together, in one room, let them do their things, and start shooting, but after awhile, it can start to feel like just a bunch of fun-sequences, and that’s about it. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how charming the cast is – sometimes, more story is better.

Consensus: With a likable and talented cast, Joshy‘s improvised, low-budget feel works, but also doesn’t allow for there to be much of a story, either.

6.5 / 10

I'll jump in. No skivvies is fine with me.

I’ll jump in. No skivvies is fine with me.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Bollywood Reads

Sausage Party (2016)

I prefer my groceries non-verbal and dead, thank you very much.

Frank (Seth Rogen) is a sausage in a grocery store and just like every other product in this grocery store, they all dream of a better life, where they’re picked up by customers, taken out of their plastic wrappers, and brought onto “the promised land”. While no product has any actual idea of what lies ahead, once they are picked up and bought, their imaginations run so wild that they create a song and dance number to make themselves more attractive to the customers, or as they call them, “Gods”. For Frank, however, it’s less about being taken to this so-called “promised land”, and more or less allowed to finally have some sweet, sweaty and dirty sex with his girlfriend, a bun named Brenda Bunson (Kristen Wiig). But for some reason, as of late, Frank has been contemplating the world outside of the grocery store and because of this, he doesn’t really know if he wants to be taken to “the promised land”, leading him on this wild adventure of getting back on the store-shelves, while also ensuring that what he’s doing is right.

You know, what normal store-bought sausage franks think about on a regular basis.

The truth about sausages and buns.

The truth about sausages and buns.

The whole idea of Sausage Party is that it’s an R-rated, raunchy-as-all-hell, mean, vulgar, and nasty animated flick that’s mean to some sort of play on Toy Story, where inanimate objects walk, talk, and act, just like you or I, yet, at the same time, don’t really know much about the world around them, other than what they see in their small, contained worlds and possibly what their told. Honestly, it’s a genius idea that’s a lot more ambitious than it sounds and given the cast and crew involved, it’s a surprise that this didn’t come around sooner. Studios already have issues shelling out loads and loads of money to R-rated movies as is, let alone animated ones that are clearly not at all for kids, even if they’ll probably see the numerous ads, billboards and posters, wondering just what it’s all about and whether or not their parents can take them to see it.

Which is why Sausage Party, despite not being a great movie, is still a step in the right direction for more of these kinds of flicks to come out. Sure, they may be a better, or they may be a lot worse than Sausage Party, but still, they’re R-rated animated flicks, made by and strictly for adults. All of this garbage said, Sausage Party works when it’s trying to be a little more than what it appears to be on the surface; there’s lots of swears and cursing going on, some of which just feel like overkill, but there are also some nice little plays on this grocery-store world and puns, that make it feel like this movie had to take place with the kind of story that it has.

But then again, there’s also a slew of jokes and plays-on-words that are meant to be funny, but unfortunately, just aren’t.

Tequila's always fun no matter what form.

Tequila’s always fun no matter what form.

And really, that’s what it all comes down to when you’re working with a comedy – the jokes have to be funny and if they aren’t, then it’s a problem. Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of times in which I laughed during Sausage Party, but there were also plenty of times that I didn’t, and it seemed disappointing, considering that everyone involved here are funny people and can make me laugh like a hyena, when they feel is necessary. The fact that they don’t always win me over with laughter, is fine, but when your movie is literally one joke after another, and a good portion of them don’t connect, it’s hard not to notice.

That said, Sausage Party still does work, because it’s got more on its mind than just talking-food – as was the case with This is the End, Sausage Party is a movie in which Apatow friends and company, all question their existence and wonder whether or not there is more to life than just what’s being presented to them. It’s a silly allegory, mostly due to the fact that it’s talking-food asking and looking for answers to these burning questions, but it’s an allegory that’s still smart and makes sense, given this story and these characters. There’s also all of this talk of race relations, religion and, believe it or not, politics, all of which don’t really feel necessary and don’t always work, but still make this more than what you’d expect it to be.

But still, Sausage Party isn’t trying to change the world we live in, and that’s okay. It’s a silly movie, that has fun with itself to the point of where it’s enjoyable and it doesn’t ask for much attention or thought necessary. The cast, as usual, is great, with Nick Kroll probably the stand-out as the Deuche, who sounds and acts like a Jersey Shore bro, as well as Edward Norton doing a very odd Woody Allen-impersonation. Not sure if the movie needed that later one, but hey, Edward Norton voicing a bagel is pretty cool, so I’ll take it.

I may not eat it, because that’s creepy, but I’ll take it.

Consensus: While not necessarily lighting the comedic world on fire, Sausage Party still works well with its creative idea, bringing out laughs and a surprising amount of food-for-thought while it’s at it.

7 / 10

Hungry now?

Hungry now?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Knight of Cups (2016)

The life of a Hollywood writer is so tragic.

Rick (Christian Bale) is an acclaimed writer currently spending his life in Hollywood, where he parties, has an awful lot of sex, and mostly, walks around, mumbling his own thoughts to himself. But even though his lifestyle may be a lavish one, he still feels the pain and agony from the many relationships he has. There’s Della (Imogen Poots), a rebellious firecracker who sports a leather jacket; there’s Nancy (Cate Blanchett), his sad ex-wife who doesn’t know what it is that she wants in life; there’s Helen (Freida Pinto), a fancy model he meets at a party who may be out of his league; there’s Karen (Teresa Palmer), a carefree, but fun-loving stripper; there’s Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a married woman who he carries on a sordid affair with; and then, there’s Isabel (Isabel Lucas), an excited young woman who brings some joy to his already sad life. Through this all, Rick also engages with his brother (Wes Bentley), who may or may not be a junkie, and his old, but dying father (Brian Dennehy), who may or may not have abused them both when they were kids.

Either way, there’s a lot of sulking going on here.

Why so sad? The beach is right behind you!

Why so sad? The beach is right behind you!

Terrence Malick has been all over the place as of late, sometimes, for better, as well as for worse. The Tree of Life was his first movie in nearly five years, but it proved to be something of a surprise, even by Malick’s standards. Sure, it was nearly two-and-a-half hours long and seemed to dive into the cosmos one too many times, but at the same time, it still registered as a heartfelt, intimate and insightful tale into what Malick saw as growing up and becoming a man, when you’re still definitely a child at heart. That movie opened-up a lot of new insights into the kind of director Malick was, how he viewed himself, and just why he still deserves to be a trusted force, even if he is as unpredictable as they can get.

And then To the Wonder came out and sadly, things went back to the old, weird and somewhat boring ways.

Not that there was anything wrong with that movie in terms of its production-design, as everything in it, looked and sounded beautiful. But as a story? The movie was pretty hallow and in desperate need of some sort of heart, or emotion, or insight to really keep it moving. Heck, Ben Affleck’s lead character had barely five lines of dialogue and we were supposed to follow him and be compelled by every choice he made in his love life? Didn’t quite work for me, even if there were aspects of the movie that I did admire.

That’s why something like Knight of Cups, while not totally Malick’s most accessible film, still offers up a little something more than what we’ve been seeing as of late with him. What’s perhaps most interesting about what Malick does here is that he focuses all of his time, attention and beauty on the soulless, cruel and dull world of Hollywood; one in which everybody parties, soaks up the sun, and has sex with one another, yet, nobody really seems to fully enjoy the excess. This isn’t new material being touched on, but considering that it’s Malick, it feels slightly refreshing and more poetic, rather than just seeming like a rich person, going on and on about how rich people, make too much money, have too much fun, and don’t really seem to have many responsibilities at all.

Okay, the cast may make it seem like that, but Malick’s focus is mostly on Christian Bale’s Rick – someone who, like Affleck’s character, doesn’t have much of anything to say. But considering that everything happens around him, it’s interesting to see just how much of Bale’s demeanor doesn’t change, as it seems like he was just directed and told to walk around, observe his surroundings, and just stare at people if they talk to you, or ask you questions. It’s a bit odd at times, but Bale is still a compelling presence here, that even when it’s clear he isn’t the star of the show, he still makes us want to know more about him.

Same goes for all the other characters who show up here, which is why Knight of Cups has a slight bit more character-detail than his latest offerings.

Rather than featuring everyone frolicking and smiling in/around nature, everyone seems to have at least some sort of personality that makes them intriguing to watch, even if Malick himself doesn’t really give them all the attention they need or deserve. Most of the women in Rick’s life show up, do their charming thing, and leave at the drop of a hat, but it’s still enough to leave a lasting impression. Cate Blanchett’s character is perhaps the saddest, most tragic character out of the bunch, with Natalie Portman’s coming up to a close second. Others like Teresa Palmer and Imogen Poots seem as if they showed up to have a blast and because of that, they’re hard not to smile about or love. Sure, we don’t get to know much about them, or why they matter (other than from the fact that they’re banging Rick), but we get just enough that it goes a long way.

Same goes for Wes Bentley’s brother character, as well as Brian Dennehy’s father character. Bentley seems as if he showed-up to the set, high off his rocker, which brings out a lot of intentional, but mostly unintentional, laughs, whereas Dennehy is a stern presence, making a lot of his scenes feel oddly tense. Malick could have definitely dug into this dynamic a whole lot more, rather than just trying to let all of the narration do the talking for him, but what he’s got here, as meager as it may be, is still well worth taking a bite at.

See?!?

See?!?

Still, there is that feeling that even at nearly two hours, there needs to be something more.

Don’t get me wrong, one of the best qualities about Knight of Cups is that Malick gives at least some more attention to the plot and to the characters than he has recently, but like with most of his other films, it’s hard not to wonder where’s the other reels. We know that certain actors like Joel Kinnaman, Thomas Lennon, Nick Kroll, Nick Offerman, Jason Clarke, and Joe Lo Truglio, among others, have all filmed scenes for this and can be seen ever so briefly, so why not include them? If judging just solely by their celebrity status and skill, why not put them in for good measure and allow for them to make their mark? Sure, it would be a crazier, perhaps longer movie if they were in it, but at least there’d be something to enjoy, rather than be utterly confused by.

Same goes for the characters and cast-members Malick already has at his disposal. There’s so many characters and actors here that, at times, I wish there would have been more context. And knowing Malick for Malick, there’s no reason this shouldn’t be at least a three hour opus of sorts. Sure, some would be pissed and not want to bother with it, but his fans, and those who admire him most probably would definitely like to see what Malick had in his goody-bags all this time. After all, nobody ever said “more development” was a bad thing to have, especially not in a Malick movie.

But hey, this all just me.

Consensus: Beautiful, engaging, and as meditative as you can get with a Malick film, Knight of Cups may not be his most accessible film, but it still offers up enough emotion and intrigue that makes it feel less like a slog, and more like a brain-teaser of what else could possibly be out there.

7 / 10

The dude who played Batman for three movies definitely has enough money for a private lap dance and then some.

The dude who played Batman for three movies definitely has enough money for a private lap dance and then some.04

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Adult Beginners (2015)

Big sisters both rule and suck at the same time.

After his tech startup ultimately fails and not only puts him, as well as the many investors he was involved with, in debt, Jake (Nick Kroll) decides that it’s time to take a break on everything for awhile and retreat to the one place he can depend on: His childhood home. However, when he walls into to surprise his sister, Justine (Rose Byrne), of his visit, he realizes that maybe he’s only complicating things a bit more. For instance, Justine is a few weeks pregnant, having issues with money, with her work, and even with her husband (Bobby Cannavale). Jake sees this, but he doesn’t really care and just needs a place to stay for a few months or so, which he does, but at a price: Watch Justine’s youngest son, Teddy, each and every day while she and her husband are off at work. Jake isn’t too happy about this, but decides to do it and finds out that having any sort of responsibility is hard and takes a whole lot of effort. Not just from his part, but everybody else’s, too.

A few days ago, I reviewed the little-seen indie Alex of Venice, and while I appreciated the cast apart of it, I felt the plot and direction to be the same old tale of “someone trying to reinvent themselves and get their lives back on-track”. While there’s nothing wrong with telling these stories in the first place, as anybody will tell you, there are many instances in real life where people need to change things up, it’s just that, sometimes, these stories can get so conventional and middling that it doesn’t feel like anything is being taught or learned in the process. Mostly, it’s just a bunch of sad people, being sad, and at the end of the day, making themselves happy in some way, or fashion.

Wonder who he's calling? Hm....

Wonder who he’s calling? Hm….

Once again, not saying that these stories don’t happen in real life, but I don’t really want to see an hour-and-a-half movie about it where I feel the wheels are turning, but that there’s no driver.

Adult Beginners is that type of movie. But instead of being a boring mess like Alex of Venice, Adult Beginners gets by because, for the most part, it’s funny, and it should be. It’s got some very funny people in it, doing and/or saying funny things, but also deals with real life, grown-up issues about maturity, gaining independence, and marriage. A lot of the same ground was covered in Venice, however here, because it’s given a slight comedic-switch to it all, the pill goes down a lot easier and isn’t as rough to swallow; in fact, there came a point where I wanted to see more of where these characters went and just how exactly they were going to get by whatever situation they were thrown into.

Director Ross Katz makes many nice decisions in not giving us, the audience, the easy answers, but it still works in giving the impression that we’re dealing with characters here. Even if a good majority of the time they spend talking, joking around, bitching, moaning and just walking around, there’s still something interesting to all of that here that worked and kept me engaged. Some of the subplots that come in and out don’t quite work, but rather than taking the movie down with their mediocrity, they just sort of feel like leftover strands that can be forgotten about.

Unlike in Venice where every subplot took away from the main story and made it feel longer than it should have been.

But another reason why this movie works as well as it does, given that it’s like so many other movies, is that it has a fine and charming cast to make the material come off a bit more weighty. Lately, we’ve seen the evolution of Rose Byrne, the charming and hilarious screen-presence that is more than willing to hang with the guys when it comes to delivering any sort of gag, and here, as Justine, there’s no exception to the rule. Byrne is funny, sweet, endearing, and challenging as Justine where she makes some bad decisions, as well as some definite good ones, but no matter what, she’s watchable beyond belief and reminded me a bit of my own big sister in the way that she carried herself from day-to-day activities and with her little bro.

Bobby C. just can't right now.

Bobby C. just can’t right now.

Speaking of her little bro, Nick Kroll gets a chance to finally show the world that he may, or may not be capable of weighty, dramatic material, and the results are, well, uhm, fine. I guess. See, the thing with Kroll is that while he’s definitely fine with all of that snarky, obnoxious humor of his, when it comes down to creating a character and becoming this Jake guy, he leaves much to be desired. It isn’t that Kroll isn’t bad, but by the end of the movie, it sort of feels like we don’t really get this character, nor do we ever understand where the transition from him being a “prick” to a “nice dude” ever occurred, or how it happened. Kroll mostly gets by though because the company he keeps.

Which is to say that, yes, Bobby Cannavale is great here, too, but in a way, I found his subplot to be the most frustrating. Early on in the movie, there’s a slight hint at the fact that Cannavale’s character may be screwing around and while Jake’s character approaches this subject as well as a brother-in-law can do, the way it’s resolved left me wondering, “What happened between point-A and point-C?” See, we get a few scenes where words are exchanged and dicks are measured, but then, that’s pretty much it. Cannavale’s character is wonderful and honest, but the situation he’s thrown into never gets explained well enough to where it makes all the sense for him, or his character.

However, you win some, and you lose some. Whatever.

Consensus: Like many others of its kind, Adult Beginners is funny, heartfelt and benefits from solid performances from a cast who are all willing to make material seem a bit deeper.

7 / 10

All convincing smileys.

All convincing smileys.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz