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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Samuel L. Jackson

My Date with Drew (2004)

A date with anyone? Where does one begin?

Aspiring filmmaker Brian Herzlinger has been in love with Drew Barrymore since he was a young boy. So in love that he even joined her fan club at a very young age, receiving all sorts of letters and pictures that drew him even closer and closer to his Hollywood crush. After buying a video camera from Circuit City, Herzingler and his crew have 30 days to find Barrymore, date her and return the camera for a full refund. Unfortunately, Barrymore is Hollywood royalty, and Herzlinger is just a guy from New Jersey. It will take every ounce of charm Herzlinger can muster to make his way through the minefield of agents, publicists and bouncers to reach his prize. But to make it even worse, Herzingler is constantly finding himself running into roadblocks, whether they be people who aren’t willing to help him out, or the simple fact and reality that he doesn’t have a job, needs money, and can’t do anything else involving this project without it. Needless to say, it’s an impossible mission, but it’s one that Herzlinger won’t stop trying to complete.

Uhm, why?

My Date with Drew isn’t necessarily the kind of hard-hitting, thought-provoking that it sometimes intends to be. You’d think that a movie about a guy trying his absolute hardest to get a date with his Hollywood crush, while not just creepy, would have a little something to say about the Hollywood culture, the stalker culture, and the relationships celebrities hold with their fans, and how far they can go, but nope, not really. It’s literally just a documentary of watching, waiting and wondering when, or even if, this dude is ever going to get a chance to date Drew Barrymore.

And is that okay? Yeah, sure.

Would it have helped to been about something deeper, or better yet, try to make this situation more interesting? Yeah, possibly, but even without any of that here, My Date with Drew still works because it’s entertaining and never seems to slow down. In fact, the idea that it doesn’t try too hard to harp on the hard-hitting, possibly serious issues a situation like this could bring up, actually helps it out in not taking away from the action, or what actually matters: Finding and dating Drew Barrymore.

Considering that the movie was made for a little over $1,000, it’s interesting to see how all of that money is spent, what it goes towards, and just how easy it can be to shoot a documentary on the cheap, even with such a subject as this. It’s an ambitious mission for sure, but it helps that the camera is there literally every step of the way, giving us a better idea of how one outsider could possibly get a date with Drew Barrymore (in the early-aughts, that is, times have definitely changed), and also never forgetting that the sole focal point of this project isn’t just Barrymore herself, or the movies she’s made, but Herzlinger himself.

But even with him, I’m still a little bit put-off.

Not because what he sets out to do is creepy, or even downright weird, because in a way, I kind of respect the guy – he knows that he’s being weird for having this crush and knows that going about this idea is even weirder, but still, he chugs along, trying his absolute hardest, leaving nothing off-screen. The camera is always there and Herzlinger wants it that way, so of course, we get to see a whole lot of him, hear him talk, and try to keep his cool persona, even when it seems like he’s creeping every person out around him. He’s a likable presence, too, which makes it all the easier to watch him in interviews, even when, once again, he’s literally asking random people within Hollywood about Drew Barrymore, and even they know it’s a little weird, but aren’t sure if they want to, or know how to say it.

Once again, why? You’re fine! She was married to Tom Green, after all!

But then there’s this other part of Herzlinger’s that’s odd and nothing to due with the whole Barrymore-aspect – it’s the persona he actually puts-off to the camera. There’s plenty of real, raw and rather genuine moments that Herzlinger shares for the camera, but then there are these other, like when he’s showing his body off to people, working out, having random conversations with needy exes, that it feels like he may be putting on a bit of an act. Or, if he isn’t, then it’s a wonder why he includes any of this stuff in this first place; the work-out/grooming scenes are tedious, and the whole ex-sequence within the film could have been taken out and not have at all changed the film, considering how random it is.

I’m not saying that the Herzlinger we get in the movie isn’t the real guy, but a part of me feels like, possibly, he’s acting a little bit.

Just a little bit.

Then again, maybe that was intended; maybe he wanted it to appear like he was this way-more charming guy than he actually was in real life and maybe, he was just doing it all for the sake of the movie and in hopes that he wouldn’t scare Barrymore away, had he actually gotten a date with her. Makes sense and okay, whatever, I’ll accept it. But still, there’s some weird stuff about him that goes beyond the Barrymore stuff that yeah, threw me for a loop, if only a bit. And then I realized that, “Oh wait, it’s about him, but also this date. So who cares?”

And it all got better from there.

Consensus: My Date with Drew isn’t particularly deep, but then again, doesn’t need to be with its entertaining idea, and likable, if flawed subject in Herzlinger.

7 / 10

My Date with Eric? Make it happen, Hollywood.

Photos Courtesy of: Rotten Tomatoes

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Kong: Skull Island (2017)

If it’s not on Google Maps, chances are, you should stay away from it.

It’s 1973, the Vietnam War is close to an end, and Bill Randa (John Goodman) a senior official in a super secret government organization known as Monarch, finally sees his opportunity to capitalize on achieving one of his biggest missions yet: Going to the mysterious Skull Island and figuring out what sort of threat is out there. After much arm-twisting, the government finally gives Randa the tools and resources he needs to get there, which means that he gets the army, the weapons, as well as the experts to help guide him along on this possibly dangerous island. One person Randa seeks out and pays to help him is world-renowned traveler James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), who doesn’t know what’s there on Skull Island, either, but doesn’t like the sounds of it, which is why he demands for his pay to be doubled. Meanwhile, on the mission, is anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who can’t wait to see what’s out there, and Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a member of the Army who isn’t too happy about what happened with the war and isn’t ready to let that go. Not even a gigantic, monstrous and incredibly violent ape known as Kong.

Kong best look out.

Kong: Skull Island is so entertaining, so quick, so visually impressive, and so fun that, even with all of its flaws, I’m willing and absolutely able to just let bygones be bygones and praise the film as it is. Because even though the script is silly, underwritten, and not at all up to the task of aiding and abetting this talented ensemble, the direction from Jordan Vogt-Roberts is so thrilling, it’s hard to care so much. After all, do you really go to a King Kong movie for the well-written, three-dimensional, and emotionally complex characters? Or, do you go to a King Kong movie for the vividly gigantic monsters beating the absolute hell out of one another and terrorizing any human that tries to stand in their ways?

Honestly, it’s not bad to have a little bit of both, but fine, Kong: Skull Island wants to stick with the later, so whatever.

Either way, Kong: Skull Island is still a very fun movie and a lot of that is credited to Vogt-Roberts because he takes what could have been a very soulless, almost boring job of rebooting the tale of Kong and instead, adds some life, flair (literally), and energy into it. One of the most notable and interesting aspects Vogt-Roberts adds here is that Kong: Skull Island is, on one hand, a monster movie, in which people run away and try to kill a monster, but on the other hand, it’s also a Vietnam War movie, in which some cold cut rock classics from the early-70’s blasts out from the speakers, everyone’s a little scared and paranoid, and yeah, the temperature is hot, sweaty and downright miserable. In a way, Vogt-Roberts wants to make the Apocalypse Now of monster movies and while he doesn’t quite reach those heights, he still shows us all something new and original can be done with the monster movie.

And because of this, there’s an energy to Skull Island that’s hard to resist and shove-off. Even though it’s absolutely clear from the get-go that the script is going to be shoddy, silly and downright stupid, there’s just something about the look and feel of this all that’s easy to ride along with and enjoy. Even those who want to see Kong in all of his finest form, will be pleased to know that he’s seen a whole bunch throughout and doing all the sorts of things that you’d expect him to do in a movie involving him; there’s smashing, crunching, chewing, roaring, pounding, beating, breaking, punching, kicking, throwing, eating, and oh yeah, crying. Kind of.

But not from these fools.

Regardless, those who complained about 2014 Godzilla not having enough of said title character, then sit down, shut up and feast your eyes on the creature that you’ve all been so desperately wanting to see.

That said though, like I’ve said before, the script is just, uhm, how should I say this? Lame. But it’s not terrible in that it’s hard to listen to, ruins the movie, and sucks all of the fun out of it; it’s more that it feels like a leftover script from the 90’s, right around the time Jurassic Park came out and all of a sudden, everyone wanted to make a big-budget, effects-heavy monster movie. Meaning, there’s a lot of cheesy one-liners; a lot of characters who have basically one personality-trait to them and it basically defines them; a lot of contrivances; a lot of scenes that need more explaining; and oh yeah, a lot of random bits of silliness that seem to literally come from out of nowhere.

And it’s weird, too, because the cast here is so well-done and impressive, that it’s a bit of a shame. No one’s bad here, honestly, but because the net has been cast so far and wide, no one true performance really gets to shine above the rest. The only ones I can truly think of doing this are probably John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson, but that’s just because they get maybe two or three more sentences than the rest of the cast to explain themselves and allow us to get to know them a tad bit better. Others like Hiddleston, Larson, Goodman, Whigham, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, and an oddly miscast Thomas Mann, all fall by the waist side and it’s a sign that the movie may have cast a smaller net, or have been longer.

Still though, for a movie that clocks in just under two hours, it makes for a good time. Just don’t try and think too hard, like me.

Basically, don’t be me.

Consensus: Even with an awfully wacky script, Kong: Skull Island gets by solely on the pure energy and fun from its direction, as well as an interesting take on the monster movie genre itself.

7 / 10

Oh wait. Never mind. He can’t be stopped.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)

Who needs powers when you can just be weird?

Ever since he was a little kid, Jake (Asa Butterfield) always got some of the best, most imaginative and crazy stories from his grandfather (Terrence Stamp). It’s helped Jake, as he’s gotten older, become more imaginative and creative, feeling as if there’s always something more out there in the world and not just what’s in the bright and sunny Florida suburb he and his family inhabit. However, when his grandfather mysteriously dies, Jake receives all sorts of weird clues, leading to a mystery that spans different worlds and times. Eventually, he and his dad (Chris O’Dowd) end up traveling to Scotland, to find this place called Miss Peregrine’s School for Peculiar Children, even though everyone knows, Jake included, that the place doesn’t exist any longer and hasn’t been around since it was destroyed during WWII. But for some reason, when Jake shows up, he’s welcomed into the school, where everyone is alive and well, even if they exist in one, single time-loop, all taking place the day before they were blown-up in the war. Through Jake, the school has a newfound hope that they will be saved and not forced to spend the rest of their days in death.

Well, I guess this is the closest we'll get to a season four of Penny Dreadful.

Well, I guess this is the closest we’ll get to a season four of Penny Dreadful.

After Frankenweenie and Bright Eyes, it seemed like it was possible that Tim Burton would be back on-track. After literally a decade of ups, downs and in-betweens, it was weird, but I was actually getting somewhat excited for a Tim Burton movie, but why? Well, for starters, it seemed like Miss Peregrine’s was exactly the right fit for Burton’s style – people had been referring to it as “Burton’s X-Men” which, from afar, yes, looks exactly such.

But man oh man, how wrong we all were.

In a way, okay yeah, sure, Miss Peregrine’s is, essentially, Burton’s take on the X-Men tale, in that he takes a bunch of weirdly deformed characters and shows that they each have some special, or odd power. However, that’s about it. Everything else, from the story, to the pacing, to yeah, just about everything, is different, in that the movie is nowhere near as entertaining as it was made out to be, nor is it even close to being something worth watching.

For one, whatever interest Burton had in this story in the first place, is hardly anywhere to be found. If anything, it seems like there was some fascination with the characters, but when he got to the plot itself, which concerns time-loops, evil creatures, and WWII, then he lost all control. Needless to say, there’s a lot of exposition, but without any of it making sense or even meaning anything; there’s a lot of story to cover here, but what’s worse is that Burton never decides to actually make us understand it a bit clearer, or even bother to pick up some sort of pace to distract us from the fact that no, none of it matters.

Frederick Douglass, he is not.

Frederick Douglass, he is not.

Instead, we literally get a two-hour movie (that feels like four), that doesn’t make any sense no matter how long you think about it, a bunch of characters we never get to know over the course of the time we spend with them, and barely any signs of pure creativity or inspiration normally found in Burton’s other movies, even including the bad ones. The movie has a very dull and drab look to it, that even when Burton is trying to do something neat, or cool (like at the very end), it still doesn’t quite jump-off of the screen. It’s as if Burton himself had an idea of what he wanted to do and then lost total interest once filming actually got started. However, rather than backing out, facing a bunch of lawsuits and whatnot, he decided to take the movie on, practically sleepwalk through the whole thing, put it all together as best as he could, and yet, somehow, still make it his highest-grossing movie to date?

How the hell did this happen, people?

Regardless, none of this matters or gets away from the fact that Miss Peregrine’s is just a casually boring movie. Burton shows barely any signs of life that he cares and as much as its sad to say, it transcends over to the rest of the film. The cast, as talented as they may all be, don’t really seem to be giving it their all, either. Asa Butterfield is an incredibly dull leading-man, with an even worse accent; Chris O’Dowd is playing a born-Scotsmen who now lives in America, yet, has that terrible accent of his; Eva Green is vampy, as per usual, but it goes nowhere with how weak her character is written; Samuel L. Jackson shows up as the big baddie of the tale and seems like he’s having fun doing something slightly different, but also ends up going nowhere; and then others, like Terence Stamp, Kim Dickens, Rupert Everett, Allison Janney, and Judi Dench, all of whom are exceptionally great when given the chance to be, literally have nothing to do here.

Why are they here? Better yet, why did they even sign up? Maybe they’re missing out on something I don’t know about, but what I do know is that the finished-product of Miss Peregrine’s, is crummy and another sure sign that maybe, just maybe, Tim Burton may have to take another break.

Until Johnny calls him back up, of course.

Consensus: Slow, meandering and just plain boring, Miss Peregrine’s lacks any sort of creative imagination or fascination that’s usually seen with Burton’s other flicks, leaving us all to wonder why he even bothered in the first place.

4 / 10

Nope. Killer clowns are better and way cooler. Sorry, guys.

Nope. Killer clowns are better and way cooler. Sorry, guys.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Mother and Child (2010)

Mothers and daughters are cool and all, but what about the fathers and sons? Where’s their movie!

When she was just 14-years-old, Karen (Annette Bening) had a fling with an older boy and got pregnant. Rather than keeping the kid around at such an early age when, let’s face it, she was still a kid, she gave it up for adoption for the nuns themselves to take care of. Many years later, Karen is regretting that decision every day she lives, and it’s starting to affect the relationships she has with those around her, most importantly, a fellow co-worker (Jimmy Smits), who definitely seems like he’s interested in her. Karen’s biological daughter, Elizabeth (Naomi Watts), surprisingly enough, is doing quite well for herself. She’s a hot-shot lawyer on the brink of becoming more and more successful, even if she doesn’t have a husband, or any kids – but that doesn’t faze Elizabeth because, quite frankly, she doesn’t want any. Even though, yes, she does start up something of an unprofessional relationship with her boss (Samuel L. Jackson). Meanwhile, Lucy (Kerry Washington) and her husband (David Ramsey) are preparing to adopt a child, but are finding themselves at odds with the whole process, as well as one another.

If Kerry Washington was laying next to me in bed, I'd be a little surprised too.

If Kerry Washington was laying next to me in bed, I’d be a little surprised, too.

There’s a whole lot of respect I have set out there somewhere in the world for Rodrigo Garcia because, as it seems to me, he’s the only one actually going out of his way to make challenging, yet, engaging portraits of women such as the one’s he covers in his movies. Sure, there’s other directors out there doing it, but for as long as he’s been making movies, Garcia has been giving us solid, small, and tender looks at the lives of various women in the world; some are obviously more likable than others, but there’s a sense of grit and realism to them that makes their more nasty traits, somewhat bearable.

And that is exactly the case with Mother and Child, where some characters will drive you up a wall so much, you’ll want to tear a whole house down.

Take, for instance, the character of Elizabeth – while you want to respect her and give her credit for taking her own body and life in control, and not needing the satisfaction of a man or family to make her feel sane, or better yet, happy, there’s also this feeling that she’s a heartless witch that you want to yell at because she deserves it. However, people like Elizabeth do exist out there in the real world; they don’t always make the best decisions and they may do stuff in their own self-interest, regardless of who else they hurt, but the fact is, they exist in a society with us.

That’s why, no matter how long or how many times a character here ticked me off, I had to remind myself that, “Oh wait, these are like some people I know in real life.” Garcia does a nice job of giving us a sense of who these characters are, while also not telling us everything we need to possibly know about them from the very beginning; there’s certain mysteries and surprises about each and everyone of these characters that get revealed over the two-hour run-time that are most definitely, and will make you see these characters in a different light than before. Whether it’s a more negative, or positive one, depends solely on your viewpoint, but it’s this kind of attention to characters that always makes me pleased watching Garcia’s movies.

Even when, you know, the writing for the story isn’t always there.

Mother and Child is a little over two-hours and with that, we get a lot of scenes that probably could have been taken out altogether. Though there’s maybe three-to-four subplots going on here, maybe two of them are actually the least bit interesting and relevant, whereas the other two seem to come and go as they please, giving us better looks at the talented cast, but ultimately, not doing much to hold our interest. This is a problem I’ve had with most of Garcia’s movies and while I definitely applaud him for expanding his focus, sometimes, it can seem like he’s wasting everyone’s time with something that’s not really all that exciting to watch in the first place.

"Wiggle wiggle".

“Wiggle wiggle”.

Then again, the cast is so good here that it’s almost too hard to not watch and be the least bit compelled. Annette Bening gets a chance to play someone who is a bit mean and nasty to those around her, and well, she does well at it. You’ll start to wonder what it is about her that could be deemed “sympathetic”, but sooner or later, she lets her guard down and you start to see something resembling a soul and heart deep down inside that makes it work. It also helps that her and Jimmy Smits have a pretty solid chemistry together, too.

There’s also Kerry Washington as a soon-to-be-mother who has constant issues with adopting. This is the one subplot I had the most problem with, not just because it didn’t fit so well into the other two, but because it was the least believable and, honestly, the most poorly-written. The way Garcia has Washington’s character written out to be is that she’s so desperate for a child, that she doesn’t care where it comes from, who’s giving it to her, or what it is that she has to do. That means some of the scenes that she has with Shareeka Epps’ character (someone who was great in Half Nelson, but is terrible here), really come off as kind of comical.

We get it that she wants a baby, but is she really going to put up with that much crap from a 17-year-old?

No matter what though, this movie is Naomi Watts to steal and she’s the one I couldn’t stop thinking about the most. Like I mentioned before, Elizabeth is by far the most infuriating character out of the bunch (which is saying something), but Watts allows for us, every so often, to see shades of humanity that work and make us understand this character a tad more. She treats people around her terribly and is manipulative in every which way, but there’s a reason for it all, and it’s all effective. So effective that the last scene with her, honestly, is a real shocker and will catch you by surprise.

But hey, that’s just the power of Naomi Watts when the material is there for her and she’s come ready to play.

Consensus: Though uneven, Mother and Child benefits from a strong cast and attention characters that we rarely see nowadays, let alone for women.

7 / 10

It's alright, An. Jimmy will save you from all harm.

It’s alright, An. Jimmy will save you from all harm.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert, Cinema Viewfinder, Reel Talk Online

Soul Men (2008)

How many times can you say “mother****er” and still have it be funny each and every time?

Louis (Samuel L Jackson) and Floyd (Bernie Mac) were part of a popular singing duo back in the day, but both went their separate ways and never spoke again. When the death of their former group leader (John Legend) reunites them and sends them driving cross country for a tribute concert at the legendary Apollo Theatre, they will have only five days to bury the hatchet on a 20-year-old grudge.

If there’s any reason as to why you’d bother with Soul Men, it has to be because you want to see one of Bernie Mac’s final movies. Apparently, Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac were friends for a couple of decades before this movie came out and just wanted to be in a film together for the longest time, and you can totally tell why because they have amazing chemistry here. Every chance they get together on-screen, it’s like magic working between two buddies that never seems to end and they always have something to say to each other, no matter how crude or rude it may be.

Move over, John. Let Sammy and Bernie take over!

Move over, John. Let Sammy and Bernie take over!

Which is to say that a lot of it is definitely ad-libbed as they go on non-stop rants using “mother****er” about 50 or so times (that is not an exaggeration either, people), and that’s what adds a lot of comedy to this film. There were many times where I found myself laughing really hard, other times I found myself chuckling, and other times I just felt myself smiling because I was seeing two buddies work together like they always wanted to, and having an absolute blast with it. Seriously, if it wasn’t for these two guys, this movie would have totally, and I do repeat, totally would have sucked, but because they’re together and making an absolute blast out of it, it’s worth watching.

But it’s not always these two guys together and that’s perhaps the biggest issue with Soul Men.

Since Soul Men is a tale about two older dudes on the road to a concert, we get a lot of blabbering, yelling, screaming, hootin’, and hollerin’ between the two which is relatively amusing at first because it’s these two guys doing it and they always make it entertaining to watch, but then it just goes on and on and on until the film really seems like it’s running out of ideas. A good boner joke is nice to have about two or three times when you have a movie about old dudes that are trying to stay hip and with it, but seriously, when you get to the point of when you have it up to a total of twelve jokes in a 90-minute movie, then you’re just shooting more for the teen-comedy crowd and not the type that would actually venture out to see a Mac/Jackson comedy about two old guys.

As with most movies that revolve around a band, and or, music in general, the soundtrack here is pretty solid with a couple of memorable tunes that pop in and out from time-to-time, as well as some original ones that sound like covers and are all pretty nice and fun to listen to, but don’t really do anything for the movie. Most of them sound unoriginal and although Mac and Jackson sing all of the songs with their terrible voices, they’re never actually played-up for laughs. Instead of the songs actually being a bit goofy and humorous at how bad these guys blow, they play it too seriously and every song-sequence goes on for way too long without any jokes involved whatsoever.

Jackets don't get any prettier than that!

Green suit-jackets don’t get any prettier than that!

It gets even worse once the film begins to get sympathetic by the end and the really lose itself as it just feels uneven. If a comedy wants to play it nice and sweet by the end, there’s no problem with that. However, with Soul Men, it felt forced. Revelations come out as if they were working their way into the story the whole time and a certain character that’s supposed to mean something to both of these guys, doesn’t really do anything and is sort of forgotten about once that character leaves the screen.

I’m not trying to spoil anything, but does it really matter?

Probably the strangest fact about this movie is not only how Bernie Mac died after filming just wrapped-up, but also how Issac Hayes, who also shows up here, died exactly a day after him. That’s right Chef was a goner right after Mac, and at the end of the movie they sort of touch on this fact in a very well-done, and emotionally-charged tribute to the two and it actually got me a bit misty-eyed. This tribute was probably the highlight of this flick and definitely seemed like it got more attention to it, than the actual film itself and it’s shame that Mac and Hayes had to go out on something like this because even though the movie’s not horrible to watch, you still can’t help but feel like these two deserved something better to use as a swan song and have people remember why they were so loved in the first place.

Either way, R.I.P you two soul men.

Consensus: Despite there being a great chemistry between Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac, Soul Men still flounders underneath its own weight of sentimentality and a lack of actual fun, interesting ideas to roll with its story.

5 / 10

RIP you two on the left. You on the right, however, keep doing what you're doing. Like cursing. A lot.

RIP you two on the left. You on the right, however, keep doing what you’re doing. Like cursing. A lot.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Chi-Raq (2015)

Stop the sex, then you stop the guns, and then you stop the violence. Or something like that.

Lysistrata (Teyonah Parris) is getting absolutely sick and tired of her gang-banger boyfriend (Nick Cannon) taking advantage of her sexy body and using her just strictly for sex. After all, she wants him to stop all of the shooting, killing, and drug-dealing, but he just won’t. So therefore, Lysistrata steps up, bands her fellow friends together and start a revolt against allowing their men to use their bodies for sex. Because if these men don’t get their sex, then possibly, they may stop killing one another and things may be a whole lot safer in Chicago. Clearly, certain people aren’t happy about this, whereas others are, but mostly, it calls into question the rest of the community and how they’re willing to handle this whole change. Some people, like Father Mike Corridan (John Cusack), love it and wants to see all of the crime gone at last, whereas others, Cyclops (Wesley Snipes), doesn’t even care about the crime stopping and just wants his sex already! He may get it, after all, but he, along with the rest of his gang-pals, need to cut-out all of the shooting and killing if they want to get what they want.

Sadly, seen this one too many times in real life.

Sadly, seen this one too many times in real life.

Spike Lee has never been the most subtle writer/director out there in the world and for the longest time, that was alright – until it wasn’t. What seems to have been going on with Lee’s career as of late is that it doesn’t appear like he’s really fired-up or passionate about anything he’s making anymore. Sure, there’s clearly movies like Miracle at St. Anna, or more obviously She Hate Me, where it’s obvious that he has points to make and wants to say something, but he can’t keep himself away from getting all caught up in a bunch of other stuff, that eventually, it all just becomes a mess.

And although Chi-Raq finds Lee back to his old ways of being passionate about something, it’s still very much, in the end, a mess.

But an interesting mess is, in some ways, better than just a dull, uninteresting mess – which doesn’t seem like something Lee himself ever creates. This is why the idea of incorporating the Greek comedy “Lysistrata” into the modern day world and land of the violent and ruthless streets of Chicago, may seem rather weird at first, but eventually, it’s easy to get used to, even when it seems like certain dialogue comes off stranger and more stilted than others. That said, perhaps the most moving moment of Chi-Raq is when there’s no old-timey, stagey dialect anywhere to be found, in which John Cusack, playing a local priest, unleashes into a tirade about all of the murders, crimes, and guns in the world that he sees around him and it’s too hard to not get wrapped up in.

For one, it features Cusack’s best performance in the longest time (excluding Love and Mercy), but it also reminds us of the sort of power and beauty Lee’s “angry” writing can sometimes have. While he is most definitely preaching and yelling at his audience, he is also spelling-out truths about society that most movies tend to shy away from, or are too afraid of even bringing up. Rather than doing so and joining his weaker counterparts, Lee reminds the audience just what he’s talking out against and shows us why he is the first and last person to have a say on the matter.

And this is all to say that Lee has a lot to say in Chi-Raq, mostly all of which is great and uplifting to hear.

But at the same time, there’s also way too much going on around this central message. To say that Chi-Raq is “jam-packed”, would be an absolute understatement. Now, to say that it’s “filled with one too many subplots, all taking place in different movies, and seemingly having no way of connecting with one another”, then you’d be absolutely right, because that’s exactly what it is about Chi-Raq that makes it a hard movie to watch or get totally invested in. One second, you’ll see a character get plenty of attention and automatically assume that they’re the protagonists or characters you should be looking at the most, so you sit there, study them, get to know them, and take them all in – that is, until it turns out that Lee’s bored of them and their story, and is off to the next character/story to focus on.

John Cusack knows "the struggle", everyone.

John Cusack knows “the struggle”, everyone.

This happens at least five or six times and after awhile, it begins to be a bit tiresome. Casting a wide net for your film when you’re tackling such a big issue as violence in America isn’t a problem, but to do so and not really offer up much development to any of these points you want to focus on, is. Maybe Lee could have benefited from getting rid of one or two subplots, and devoting more of his time and attention on other, way more important ones, but really, it still doesn’t seem like that would solve any of these issues.

In other words, Chi-Raq is the usual kind of mess we’re used to seeing with Spike Lee, but feels like more of a missed opportunity, and less like a piece to solve the puzzle he’s trying to put together.

The only one of the cast who gets the most eyes from the Lee is Teyonah Parris. Parris has been putting in some solid work as of late in pieces like Mad Men, or in last year’s Dear White People, but here, she really gets her opportunity to light the screen up. Not only does she have presence, in terms of her beauty, but she’s the one who handles all of the stagey material to the best of her ability and shows that there may be something of a pulse underneath this, what appears to be, something of “a type”. And while there’s a huge cast featuring the likes of Jennifer Hudson, Wesley Snipes, Nick Cannon, D.B. Sweeney, La La Anthony, Dave Chappelle and Samuel L. Jackson, basically replaying his role as Mister Señor Love Daddy, nobody ever gets nearly as much to do as she does.

This is fine, but really, it would have been nice to see Lee give each and everyone a chance to do more, as well as remind the audience why it is that Lee himself is such a master at getting these crazy ensembles together and yet, make them work so well together.

Consensus: Lee is firing on all cylinders in Chi-Raq, and while he definitely makes his voice heard and his points understood, they’re sometimes tucked underneath a mess that’s hard to wade through and not feel frustrated by.

5.5 / 10

"Do the right thing, ya'll."

“Do the right thing, ya’ll.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Hateful Eight (2015)

Next time a blizzard comes, stay away from the cabin with the most assassins.

In post-Civil War Wyoming, John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) escorts fugitive Daisy “The Prisoner” Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) to Red Rock, where she’ll be hung for committing all sorts of evil murders and crimes over the years. However, along the way, they encounter a bounty hunter by the name of Major Marquis “The Bounty Hunter” Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), who is also heading out to Red Rock to get money for a few criminals he killed himself. Ruth allows for Warren to hop aboard, but they soon realize that a deadly blizzard is coming their way. With this information known, they decide to hold out in a little comfortable and cozy cabin where everybody knows and loves called “Minnie’s Haberdashery”. There, the three meet a few shady, but altogether, colorful characters who may, or may not, be up to any good or actually be who they appear to be. There’s Bob “The Mexican” (Demián Bichir), who claims to be one of Minnie’s helpers, even though they’re nowhere to be found; Chris “The Sheriff” Mannix (Walton Goggins), claims to be the soon-to-be sheriff of Red Rock; Oswaldo “The Little Man” Mobray (Tim Roth), is another one who claims to be the soon-to-be hangman of Red Rock; Joe “The Cow Puncher” Gage (Michael Madsen), claims to be just a lonely ol’ cowboy looking to spend the holidays with his mommy; and ex-General Sanford “The Confederate” Smithers (Bruce Dern), well, doesn’t claim to be much of anyone. He’s just holding out and waiting for this storm to pass, which is what everyone else seems to be doing, until it becomes clear that someone is up to no good and needs to be taught a lesson.

Sort of bad-ass.

Sort of bad-ass.

Quentin Tarantino makes the sort of movie he wants. Nobody’s going to tell him “no”, nor will anyone tell him “how” – they’ll just hand him a bunch of money, plenty of freedom, and see what happens. Due to this, his movies can tend to sometimes feel overlong and excessive, which is why, when it turned out that the Hateful Eight was going to be over three hours, with a short, 10-to-12 minute intermission, automatically, most people will be turned off, as well as they should.

However, here’s the funny thing about the Hateful Eight – it’s actually pretty deserving of its three hour run-time.

Much of this is due to the fact that Tarantino doesn’t try to, in any sort of way, shape, or fashion, rush the plot here – instead, he takes his time to give us those delicate, but juicy character-moments we oh so appreciate and adore from someone as immensely talented as he is. Nobody really breaks into a conversation that feels useless, unnecessary, or unneeded – everybody here has a reason to talk about what they want to talk about and, honestly, it’s hard to not be intrigued by them right away. After all, this is Tarantino’s dialogue and as is the case with Tarantino’s dialogue, it’s punchy, fun, energetic and most importantly, exciting. The issues that have chased Tarantino since the beginning of his career in that his characters speak in that heightened sense that no other normal human would speak in, may still be here, but honestly, who gives a hoot?

It’s Quentin Tarantino! You know exactly what you’re going to get, as soon as you walk into one of his movies.

And even though most of the promotion and hype surrounding this movie has been about the fact that it’s filmed and presented in 70 mm, the real kicker here is that, aside from at least 20-25 minutes of wide landscape shots at the beginning, middle, end and sporadically throughout, the majority of the movie takes place solely in this one room. The movie looks great to begin with, as we’d expect from Tarantino, but the reason why the 70 mm matters so much in a story like this is because it gives you a greater sense of just how confined and stuck these characters are; while it may appear that there’s a great big world for these characters to go outside and venture out into just in case they have to, because there’s a deadly blizzard going on right outside, they are all stuck with one another.

Which, as you could probably guessed, leads to plenty of scenes where characters talk to one another, get on each other’s nerves, and come pretty damn close to killing the other. This is, of course, all terrific and great to listen to, adding more of a sense of intensity and suspense to the chilly air of that Tarantino, as well as his terrific ensemble create. Any lesser director/writer would have been bored with this one room setting and decided to take their movie elsewhere and jump around a bit, but Tarantino knows and understands the sheer power there is in watching a bunch of heavy-hitting actors stand around a room, watch one another, and get ready for the other shoe to eventually drop.

And when that shoe drops, well, it’s pretty crazy, violent, and gory, but still all so pleasing.

However, at the same time, there’s also that annoying feeling that perhaps Tarantino loses himself a slight bit here. For one, the intermission that takes place is perfect because it sets up a whole other movie, with a whole other tone and feeling altogether. It’s a smart decision on Tarantino’s behalf, but what he does with this second-half is, sadly, a bit disappointing; though the movie doesn’t necessarily feel long, there’s a 20-minute sequence that, in hindsight, didn’t really need to be included at all. Without saying too much, it’s a sequence that takes us a tad away from the current on-goings of the plot and instead, give us another view to look at the story; while it’s a tricky device that Tarantino uses well, it still doesn’t seem like it needed to be included at all.

As an audience-member, it was already easy enough to connect the dots as is, so why is there the need to explain certain plot-elements even further than what’s already needed?

And this matters because, right after this point is where the Hateful Eight started to feel like a bit of a retread of what Tarantino has done many times before and, mostly, better. There are still certain ways that Tarantino keeps this plot moving in an efficient manner, but by the same token, he also seems to be utilizing the same sort of twists and turns we’ve seen him roll with before and, honestly, it’s a bit of a shame. This isn’t to say that Tarantino misses the mark here, but considering that the bar has been raised so high in the past few years with Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, really, anytime it feels like Tarantino isn’t fully giving his all, can definitely be a problem.

Kind of bad-ass.

Kind of bad-ass.

This is all to say that the Hateful Eight definitely isn’t Tarantino’s best, but also isn’t to say that it’s his worst, either.

It’s just that it’s very good, yet, also feels like it’s destined for something far, far better than what it ends up being.

Through it all though, the ensemble, as expected, works perfectly. Though it did disappoint me a tad bit to see a lot of familiar faces show up to work with Tarantino again here, it still doesn’t matter because they’re all so great as is. Samuel L. Jackson continues to get his meatiest roles from Tarantino and as Major Marquis Warren, he gets to show us a man who has been through it all in life and isn’t afraid to get violent when he needs to; Kurt Russell is having a blast as John Ruth, someone who seems to have a decent-enough heart, but is also just as savage as the rest; Tim Roth is joyously fun as Oswaldo, someone who seems way too cheery to be a hangman; Michael Madsen is, once again, cool and stoic as Joe Gage; and Bruce Dern, playing the ex-General of this story, is wise and grizzled, but also adds enough depth to this character that he feels like more than just “the old man of the story”.

As for the newcomers, they’re all amazing, too and show why they were perfectly picked by Tarantino to deliver his sometimes challenging, but altogether lovely dialogue. Demián Bichir, despite playing what appears to be just “the Mexican”, also seems like there’s more to him that he’s not letting on and it’s cool to see someone like Bichir, play both mysterious, as well as funny; Channing Tatum shows up in a small-ish role, too here, and does a fine enough job that it makes me definitely want to see him appear in more Tarantino flicks; and even though he already appeared in Tarantino’s Django, Walton Goggins is electric as Chris Mannix, the supposed-sheriff who we may not be able to trust, but because he’s sometime so stupid and naive, it’s almost like he’s telling the truth.

However, the true star of this cast, believe it or not, is actually the sole woman of the main cast: Jennifer Jason Leigh.

As Daisy Domergue, Leigh does a lot of standing around, staring and looking as if she’s up to no good and nine times out of ten, that’s pretty much the case. While we’re told that she’s as bad-ass and as dangerous as any of the other men surrounding her, Leigh still shows that through her odd, occasionally hilarious performance. Though she may appear to be nothing more than just a basket case, there’s something about Domergue that, underneath it all, still seems present and this is perhaps the main factor that keeps this character interesting, as well as compelling. Domergue, just like every other character here, is a total mystery to us and while we may never know what to expect next from them, we sure as hell know it’s not going to be an act of kindness. And that’s why Leigh, who we haven’t seen much of in the past few years, is absolutely brilliant in this role, giving it all that she’s got, but at the same time, still seeming like she’s not really trying at all, either.

Consensus: Though the Hateful Eight isn’t Tarantino’s best, it is still fun, well-acted and compelling enough to keep everything moving at a fine pace, even despite the three-hour long run-time.

8.5 / 10

Totally bad-ass. Back off, boys.

Totally bad-ass. Back off, boys.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005)

SithposterBlack, is always better.

It’s now been nearly three years after start of the Clone Wars and, well, a lot has changed. Anakin (Hayden Christensen) not only has long hair now, but is also married and expecting twins with Padme. Meanwhile, Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor) is more scruffier than ever and is starting to notice something strange with Anakin. While he’s happy that his student has now become more powerful and skilled than he ever was before, he’s also realizing that there’s a bit of a rebellious streak in Anakin that doesn’t put him in the good graces with the fellow Jedis around him like Windu, or most importantly, Yoda. Still, despite all of this, the two now spend most of their time here hunting down the leaders of the Separatist Army across the galaxy. Because while they do have plenty of power with the Clone Army and band of Jedis, they still have to worry about the opposing forces as Chancellor Palpatine is now plotting to take over senate and reclaim galactic rule for the Sith. What makes him all the more sinister is that he’s looking to do so with the help of a new padawan of his own choosing – one of whom, if he has his way, may be Anakin.

Nobody's fresher than Obi-Wan. Get that through your thick skulls.

Nobody’s fresher than Obi-Wan. Get that through your thick skulls.

So, finally. After wading through the other two disappointing prequels, we now get to the one that matters the most: Anakin turning to the dark side. And yes, for the most part, Revenge of the Sith is most definitely the best of the other prequels. Is that saying much to begin with? No, not really. But hey, it’s saying something that makes this movie not just an enjoyable watch, but also a pretty heartfelt one, too, for old and new fans alike.

For one, this is the installment where we see Anakin finally turn the other cheek and realize there’s a lot of evil inside of him. While the reasoning for him turning into a baddie and to start killing younglings, isn’t fully realized and more of just a, “Hey, people aren’t being nice to me, so it’s time to fight back”, but it still works in a way; we know to expect it, so when he does start going off onto the dark side, it’s neat and interesting to watch. While Christensen’s acting is, once again, a bit over-the-top and crummy, the good side of it all is that we’re not supposed to like or care for him this time – we’re supposed to dislike and hate him, so it actually works in Christensen’s favor.

For better or worse, I guess.

But what works best here is that George Lucas really seems invested in what this story will become and because of that, the action-sequences have another added element of drama and suspense that was hardly found in the other two prequels. We don’t know if Mace Windu is anywhere out there in the galaxy for the original trilogy, so when he starts to have a duel with Senator Palpatine, it’s not only exciting, but quite scary; we care for Windu and we actually want him to survive.

Same goes for that amazing, ultimately epic battle between Anakin and Obi-Wan. Not only is it one of the best of the entire franchise (which is including the original franchise), but it also does a lot in that it tells us more about these characters through the way they battle one another. Anakin will occasionally get ahead of himself and miss a move or two, whereas Obi-Wan’s every move is as calculated as ever and ready for what’s next to come. Then again, he’s getting a lot older, so he can’t always handle Anakin’s energy, which is why, when watching the battle unfold, we wonder if Obi-Wan’s going to make a wrong step or two, and bite the dust. As I said, we know what to expect with Anakin and Obi-Wan in the later trilogy, but still, Lucas does something special here in that he keeps us expecting the unexpected.

Still though, the same issues with Revenge of the Sith, have been around for the past two installments. The script’s still pretty lame and filled with all sorts of silly lines that seem as if they came out of an episode of Young and the Restless; Padme’s and Anakin’s love story, once again, doesn’t breathe a single fresh air of truth and just continues to get more and more hackneyed as it goes along; and yeah, Palpatine himself, as played by Ian McDiarmid, gets way campy, way too quick. Thing is, though, it’s easy to push a lot of these issues to the side and just focus on the fact that, you know what, the movie’s actually pretty fun and emotional.

Yoda's still bad-ass, but we get it! You talk backwards, bro!

Yoda’s still bad-ass, but we get it! You talk backwards, bro!

And “emotional” is, honestly, not something we’d come to expect with these new installments, but like I said, Lucas does something here that works and helps this movie hit a lot harder than it should.

For example, that whole sequence in which the Clones initiate “Order 66”? Yeah, some pretty rough stuff to sit back, watch and not at all relax, too. What about the aforementioned scene of the murder of those younglings? Ten years later and you know what? That scene is still incredibly screwed-up. Even the scene when Anakin goes around the switchboard room of that Lava world and kills just about every bad person from the previous installments? Yeah, that’s a little hard to watch, too. Here, it seems like Lucas finally gave into his darker, more adult side and let everyone in this story, have it. He doesn’t hold back on hardly a single person and really, it’s actually quite brutal to watch.

To me, that’s perhaps the most impressive aspect surrounding this movie and while it does make me wish that the rest of the other flicks were just like it, I still can’t help but feel pleased that Lucas didn’t end on a terribly weak-note. Of course, people will get on the movie for trying to tarnish the legacy of the originals and not be anything more than just a bunch of obvious and manipulative cash-grabs, but personally, it’s nice to see these stories told. Could they have been done so with a better director and writer on-hand? Of course they could have! But Lucas gave it his all and while, at first, it didn’t hold, he eventually got the hang of things and it’s nice to see.

Now, it’s time for the original trilogy and oh boy, can’t wait.

Consensus: Revenge of the Sith is the best installment of the prequels, which may not be saying much at all, but does show that Lucas eventually got the hang of everything that he was doing and decided to remind his audience that this story was going to get a whole lot darker and more serious as it went along. Which, thankfully, it did.

8 / 10

See? Look! They're all pals in the end, collecting hefty paychecks, one gig at a time.

See? Look! They’re all pals in the end, collecting hefty paychecks, one gig at a time.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002)

First is the worst and you know what? Second is not the best.

Taking place about ten years after the events of the Phantom Menace, we now see that Anakin (Hayden Christensen) has grown up quite a bit. Though he is still learning a lot under the guidance of Obi-Wan (Ewan McGregor), he’s also beginning to understand his strength and power, while also using it for the greater good of the world. But now that Anakin’s a whole lot older too, that means that he’ll be experiencing life in different ways than ever before. That’s when Queen Amidala/Padme (Natalie Portman) reenters his life and reminds him of all those feelings he had for her when he was just a kid. And since Anakin is tasked with protecting Padme after an assassination attempt on her failed, he’s made to spend a lot more time with her in which he gets to know more about her, discuss life, politics, romance, and most of all, realize that he may actually be in love. While this is all going on, the Galactic Republic and Jedi council are also trying to prevent from there being an all-out war from a separatist movement with the help of a clone army.

Ripping-off Blade Runner? I'll leave that up to you to decide

Ripping-off Blade Runner? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

So yeah, is Attack of the Clones better than the Phantom Menace? Well, yeah, of course it is. But then again, look at how low the bar has been set. Then again, I do have to give credit to Lucas for at least stepping back up to the plate with the Star Wars franchise, seeing what he could bring to the next installment and, while maybe not totally listening to the haters and their complaints, at least giving them something that they can still enjoy, regardless of if they’re old or new fans of the franchise.

And by this, I mean Lucas gives us plenty and plenty of action.

Sure, the problems with the story and character-development are still here, but they’re not on such full-display as they were in Episode 1; instead, they’re now just used as filler to get us from one action sequence to the next. In all honesty, I would much rather have that, than to be stuck watching as Anakin grew up and as Jar-Jar goofed-around and generally pissed everybody off. Speaking of the later, he’s definitely thrown on the back-burner, although, at the same time, it’s still a tad ridiculous that he’s now playing Padme’s senatorial representative.

Still though, hardly anywhere Jar-Jar anywhere is fine, because, like I said, there’s still plenty more to focus on here. One of Lucas’ strong suits has always been his skill of setting-up and handling action set-pieces, which here, all seem to work out well. There’s a nice piece between Obi-Wan and Boba Fett that not only remind us how crafty and skilled of a Jedia Obi-Wan actually is, but why Jango Fett was considered such a deadly assassin in the later movies. While he’s only seen as a kid here, the movie still sets up the fact that he’d grow up one day to be a scary, trained hitman just like his daddy. Of course, the CGI, despite being somewhat choppy, still helps these scenes to be more intriguing and fun-to-watch, although they were still clearly miles away from having everything look genuine.

And of course, yeah, the movie still does a nice job at setting-up what’s to come with this story next and just how exactly this galaxy gets set into the Clone Wars. Though most of us expect it to come very soon, while watching this movie, it’s hard not to get tense and be curious as to where all the pieces of the puzzle fall. While prequels can get annoying doing too much setting-up and not actually delivering on anything, Attack of the Clones does a nice job in that it sets a lot up for the next, action-packed installment, while still giving people a lot to lock onto here and, overall, be entertained by.

Once again, it’s not a perfect installment, but it’s still far better than anything that the Phantom Menace tried doing.

However though, the one key factor that keeps Attack of the Clones away from going anywhere towards being considered “great”, is that Anakin’s a lot older now and is played by Hayden Christensen. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t really hate Christensen as an actor; sure, he’s definitely weak and doesn’t seem to have that certain screen-presence that grabs you from the very start, but I’m hesitant to call him “a terrible actor”. In movies like Shattered Glass and even to a certain extent, Life as a House, Christensen has shown that, with the right script to read from, as well as a talented director to help guide him along, he’s actually quite fine. Not terrific, but just fine.

Anakin and Padme? Eck! More light-sabers!

Anakin and Padme? Eck! More light-sabers!

But what he’s forced to work with in Attack of the Clones, is what sets him so far back and really, Lucas doesn’t help much. Though the script here is nowhere near as cringe-inducing and as scattered as the first flick, Attack of the Clones still suffers from a lot of the poor-wording and corniness of what we can come to expect from Lucas, and it doesn’t help that Christensen is, more often than not, the one delivering these sorts of lines. That his story-line is mostly focused on a supposed romance he has with Padme, already makes it hard to watch, but the movie constantly gives Christensen nothing to do except bitch, moan and act as if he’s never had a conversation with anyone else in his entire life.

Which is a huge problem because, well, Christensen is supposed to be the leading-force of this movie – he is, as we know, going to become the one and only Darth Vader. So why he’s such an annoying pain-in-the-ass, is totally beyond me. All I do know is that Christensen spends the majority of this flick whining or kissing, neither of which he does so in a compelling way. Is his poor acting-skills to be blamed? Potentially, yes. But at the same time, I’m still not going to rag on him too much considering I’ve seen him do well before and really, with Lucas, sometimes, you’re just left to fend for yourself.

Which, sadly, Christensen seemed as if he had to do here.

Anyway, the rest of the cast seems like they’re trying too, but like Christensen, aren’t allowed to do much beyond the boring stuff Lucas gives them to do. McGregor is more believable this time as a more seasoned, skilled and disciplined Obi-Wan; Natalie Portman seems like cynical this time around as Padme and is, sadly, left to drop the same corny lines as Christensen had to; Samuel L. Jackson gets more time as Mace Windu here and shows why he’s more of a bad-ass than most of the other Jedi’s hanging around; and Christopher Lee, despite seeming like he was a last second call to fill out a villainous role, does a nice job as Count Dooku, showing us why he’s so menacing and deserving of being a baddie that our heroes can’t seem to defeat.

Oh, and yeah, we get more of Yoda here. Which, honestly, never gets old.

Consensus: Despite the occasional script and tonal issues, Attack of the Clones is still a step-above the Phantom Menace, which may not be saying much, but still says enough if you remember Jar-Jar Binks and all the pain and torment he caused.

6.5 / 10

Literally and hypothetically looking up.

Literally and hypothetically looking up.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

Death to Jar-Jar.

In order to tell the story in its fullest form, sometimes, you have to go to the very beginning. In this case, we start with two Jedi knights, Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson) and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Ewan McGregor), who are sent in to break up some sort of intergalactic trade embargo that’s going on and interrupting all sorts of people. However, while they’re on the case, they also manage to uncover a secret, scary plot by a bunch of aliens who’s sole plan is to take over the planet Naboo by sheer force and power. While all of this is going on, the two Jedi’s also discover the presence of two Sith warriors, who were thought to be long extinct by this point, but are still a force to be reckoned with. And of course, the Jedi’s end up crossing paths with small, young slave boy who has something about him that just makes them want to work with him to be the next great Jedi. The kid’s name? Anakin Skywalker (Jake Lloyd) and he is destined to be “The Chosen One”. Even though certain folks like Yoda, aren’t too sure of the kid and make it their top priority to test him every chance they get.

2-on-3 has never been so cool.

2-on-3 has never been so cool.

It’s become almost second nature to despise the Phantom Menace. When I was around six or seven and saw this movie, I’ll never forget the feeling; there was just a certain rush of joy and excitement that I couldn’t get out of my system. I was hooked from the very beginning and all I wanted to do was see it again. Then, once that happened, I got the awesome PS1 video-game, caught up on the other Star Wars flicks, and considered myself a fan for so very long. But now, after all of these years of constantly pushing it away and not wanting to admit it, I can easily say that, well, yes, the Phantom Menace is not a very good movie.

Does that mean it’s an awfully terribly crappy one that deserves every cop in existence to burned and steam-piled?

No, of course not. In fact, there’s very few movies that actually deserve that; while my mind automatically jumps to Adam Sandler’s flicks, even then, I still find something here and there to take away. With the Phantom Menace, you get the sense that because the movie had so much hype surrounding what it was supposed to be, that when it ended-up actually becoming something of a let-down, it wasn’t just a disappointment – it was a sign of the end of the world. That the movie and George Lucas was given as much money and time as he needed to make this movie and do whatever he wanted to with it, already puts everything into perspective: Like, is this really what he wanted to do?

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a nice couple bits within the Phantom Menace that are still fun and exciting, even if they feel thrown in a jumbled-up mess. The pod-racing scene, of course, is neat to watch, even after all of these years; the Jedi-battle duel at the end is by far one of the very best of the franchise; and Liam Neeson, playing the almighty dad-like figure as he’s best known for, does seem like a genuinely nice and warm figure to have around. Do all of these factors add up to a good movie? No, they do not. However, by the same token, they at least help the movie out in ways that, quite frankly, people don’t give them enough credit for.

Once again, I am in no way saying that the Phantom Menace is a misunderstood masterpiece that people just wanted to hate because they could – what I’m saying is that, well, it’s pretty lame and misguided, but not terrible.

Most of this has to do with the fact that George Lucas, who returned to directing and writing after 22 years for this, doesn’t seem like he’s always clear of what he wants to do with this story, whom to put the main focus on, or set things up for the next two movies. It’s obvious that, from the very start, Lucas set-out to make a Star Wars movie that his kids could enjoy and because of that, we’re tragically forced to sit through and watch as Jar-Jar Binks and Anakin take over the film, and hardly bring out any emotions whatsoever. Everything’s already been said about Jar-Jar, his faux-Jamaican accent, and the fact that the movie itself couldn’t get enough of his slapstick, so without trying to beat a dead horse, I’ll just say that, yes, when I was six or seven, Jar-Jar was awesome – now, he’s just super annoying and makes you feel like you’re watching a different movie.

Someone misses Leon.

Someone misses Leon.

But really, I still can’t wrap my head around the casting of Jake Lloyd in the iconic role of Anakin Skywalker. For one, as much as it pains me to say this, Jake Lloyd can’t act; though the movie seems like it wasn’t helping him out much either, there’s still the impression that the kid doesn’t know how to read his lines without seeming like he’s confused and in need of some help. This isn’t me ragging on him and being a cruel, miserable a-hole, because it’s not just his fault, but why he was pushed so far to the front of the line for this role, is totally beyond me. There’s also the idea of why he’s so young to begin with, but hey, that’s another post for another day.

And what the real shame about Lucas putting all of his focus on the likes of Jar-Jar and Anakin, is that it takes away from the overall impact of the story. Because this is the first movie of the supposed trilogy, after all, it makes sense to start things off slow, easy-going, and relatively peaceful, but really, a lot of this film just seems meandering. It’s as if Lucas wasn’t ready to scare his audience just yet, so in a way to wind them all up, he just gave each and everyone a film that’s perfectly serviceable for the whole family. Of course it worked for me when I was younger, but now, it just feels like a waste of what a great opportunity this movie could have been.

Thankfully, it gets better from here on out.

Sort of.

Consensus: George Lucas clearly had some rust when making the Phantom Menace, which will always and forever be known as the unwanted and unloved “Annie and Jar-Jar Show”, despite it not being the end-all, be-all disaster people love to hop on the band-wagon and go on about.

4.5 / 10

"Get out of this business while you still can, kid. Trust me."

“Get out of this business while you still can, kid. Trust me.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

More robots?

Since their big battle in New York City, the Avengers crew has been up to a lot; although, more often than not, they’re separated from one another, left to fend for themselves. Now, many years after their last team-up, the gang is back together and, for the most part, everybody seems to be the same. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is still a snarky deuche; Captain America (Chris Evans) is still trying to keep everybody in line; the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is trying his hardest to control his temper and not lose all sense of control; Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is still kicking as much ass he possibly can; Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is doing the same as Thor, except with her sheer beauty; and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is, well, still there. However, now with a new threat on their hands, inadvertently courtesy of Banner and Stark, the gang has to fight even harder than ever before, especially since they’re going up against new foes like Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Scarlet Witch (Elisabeth Olsen), and perhaps more dangerous than they ever expected, Ultron (James Spader), a piece of artificial intelligence that nobody seems to be ready for.

"Quit crying, bro. We've got baddies to fight."

“Quit crying, bro. We’ve got baddies to brawl.”

The first Avengers was pretty much everything anybody who had been waiting four incredibly long years could have ever wanted. It was fun, hilarious, action-packed, and featured all sorts of fan boy moments that made not just the die hards happy and not taking their disapproval straight to the message boards, but also showed that, while this may have been the pinnacle of the Marvel franchise so far, it wouldn’t at all be the last outing. In fact, if there was anything at all spectacular about what Joss Whedon did with the first movie, was that he showed that there was plenty more life to be found inside of these characters, their stories, and what could come their way next.

And now, it’s time for the eventual sequel to that near-masterpiece of everything that’s right with superhero movies and there’s a slight feeling of disappointment. It’s not because Whedon messes up here and gets everything wrong; in fact, everything that Whedon does here, for the majority of it, is that he allows for the action to be as fun, as loud, and as energetic as possible, while also still allowing for us to see everything that’s happening where, when, and to whom. However, he never loses sight of what makes them kick so hard and as well as they do, and that’s the characters.

Yes, these are the same characters that we’ve spent so much time with already, but as you’ll see here, Whedon breaths some new life into them and allows us to see them in a light that we haven’t quite seen them in before: A vulnerable one.

See, what Whedon gets right here, as Guardians of the Galaxy showed us all last summer, is that these characters probably work best when they’re just hanging around with one another, shootin’ the shit, getting on each other’s cases, and overall, learning more than they ever thought they could. Because, as they’re getting to learn more about each other, we’re doing the same; which in and of itself, is not only interesting, but fun. We think we know these characters for all that they appear to be and then we see a certain conversation they have go a way they didn’t expect it to, and all of a sudden, something new is learned. There are many moments of that here and, due to reasons that can’t be disclosed, they feel more emotional and compelling, rather than just fine bits and pieces of filler.

Problem is, that once the filler comes around, it feels like it’s just around to take-up space.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not mad at a Marvel movie for offering all sorts of action it can come up with. However, I do get a tad bit ticked-off when it takes away from moments that could be spent, dedicated to more and more character development, where we feel like something is actually being accomplished, rather than just tacked-on so people don’t get bored quickly. Whedon does a fine job at putting in certain action sequences that go everywhere and anywhere that they want, with absolute reckless abandon and they’re fun to watch, it’s just that it sometimes feel like the wheels are spinning, but there’s nobody driving.

Things can blow up as much as they want, but when there’s general basis for them, then there’s a bit of a problem. Which, like I’ve said before, wouldn’t have been bad, had it been serviced by something of a plot that worked, or better yet, made some bit of sense. From what I can tell you, Ultron is bad and is capable of planting his subconscious into any robot-body it wants. This, for the most part, made sense to me, but then, for reasons I can’t understand as anything but “corporate excess”, Whedon throws a plethora of characters onto our plate where we’re wondering what they serve to the plot, what they’re all about, and whether or not they’re even worth our time.

Not saying that I have a problem adding in new characters, but when it eventually seems like too much, then you have the same sort of problem that a fellow superhero flick like Spider-Man 3 had. While that movie was definitely off a lot worse than this one, there’s something here that makes me think that all of the added-on characters and subplots, like some of the action, were all just filler; they weren’t to serve much of a purpose, other than to just distract the audience from what is a very confusing and nonsensical plot, and the fact that it could care less about developing the already-known characters a bit more.

"Me mad? But why? WAAH!"

“Me mad? But why? WAAH!”

This isn’t to say that the characters here don’t get some attention and care that they deserve. Above everyone else, Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner gets the most development of the pack, where we see him not only tangle with his possible emotions for the likes of Black Widow, but his actual emotions as well. There’s been a lot said about the Hulk character in the past where he seems like too much of a supporting character that, when he’s given his own, single-picture, it doesn’t quite work as well as the others. If that is the case, then Whedon has done a true service to this character where we get enough of him to sense the danger, the sadness, and the actual thrill within this character that people always want to see.

Everybody else that isn’t the Hulk, though, sort of get the short-end of the stick.

One of the more genius aspects surrounding the newly-recruited Scarlet Witch’s character is that she’s able to dig into anybody’s deepest, darkest and most painful secrets imaginable, and with that power, comes plenty of glimpses into some of these character’s heads that are not only disturbing, but pretty sad. For example, Cap’s and Thor’s memories are all about how they miss the people they let-down and left behind, whereas with Black Widow’s, we see her horribly violent up-bringing that makes you wonder just how far she’s willing to go with these missions, where she runs the risk of losing herself. These small glances are what help make these characters all the more compelling to watch and root for, however, there comes a point where it seems to just be used as a way to make us think that the odds are fully stacked-up against the Avengers’ crew.

And while that may most certainly be true with the likes of the absolutely dangerous and intimidating Ultron, the fast, furious and cocky Quicksilver, and the previously mentioned Scarlet Witch, it seems unneeded. It’s almost as if Whedon wanted to jump inside these character’s heads, and jump out as soon as quickly before the going got too heavy. This definitely puts it a step-up above most of the summer blockbusters that are constantly thrown at us left and right, however, it also feels like a teaser for something that’s deeper than what any of us expect.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but why the small hints, Joss? Give us it all!

Consensus: As far as superhero blockbusters go, Avengers: Age of Ultron is as action-packed, exciting and as fun as you’d expect it to be, however, some of it is starting to feel repetitive now, especially since there’s more to be unraveled about these characters and what we do get, works so damn well.

8 / 10

Basically a film adaptation of the Blacklist, but with no fedoras. Bummer.

Basically a film adaptation of the Blacklist, but with no fedoras. Bummer.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Kingsman: The Secret Service (2015)

James Bond was never this cheeky.

After a mission ends up disastrously and leaves a fellow agent dead, secret service agent Harry Hart (Colin Firth) makes a promise to the man’s family, especially to the young baby, that he will look after them and be there when they need him the most. Fast forward a couple years later, and that baby, is now a young man named Eggsy (Taron Egerton), who has problems with his mom’s trashy boyfriend, the local bullies that seem to always be on his case about everything, and most importantly, the law. After landing himself in the slammer, Eggsy meets the man he met as a baby, who then recruits him for a secret training-session where he, and many others, will be fighting for the position of being a loyal, noble Kingsman. And honestly, the world needs Kingsmen more now than ever, what with millionaire tycoon Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) setting up an evil plan that threatens society as we know it. But with a bit of tuning-up and order thrown into Eggsy’s head, he might just be the one to stop Valentine, all before it’s way too late and there’s nobody left to save.

Matthew Vaughn makes fun movies. Regardless of whether or not you like those fun movies, it can’t be argued against that no matter what stories he decides to take, Vaughn always finds his own, unique way of electrifying them any way he can. That said, there’s a lot of people out there who just don’t care for his work – especially Kick-Ass. Though I quite liked that movie and felt like it was an honest superhero movie, where it seemed like there was no such thing with Marvel and DC hanging around, constantly trying to one-up one another, there’s plenty of people who don’t feel as I do. And that’s fine. I’m used to the rest of the world not agreeing with me on everything I believe in; it helps make me a lot more popular at parties, if I’m being honest here.

"Hey, thir. Nithe to meeth youthe."

“Hi, thir. Nithe to meeth youthe.”

But those who hate Kick-Ass, have to admit that Vaughn, for all that it’s worth, at least tried to spice everything up as much as he could. You could argue that he goes a tad bit over-the-top in certain instances and doesn’t really know whether he wants us to think of a situation as seriously as it’s intended to be, or just scoffed at and not taken seriously one bit, and I wouldn’t argue against you. But for some reason, Vaughn’s movies are fun and they hardly ever bore.

Which is sort of why Kingsman is a bunch of fun to sit back, watch and enjoy, even while stuff is constantly exploding and being shot at. The problems that seem to have followed Vaughn practically everywhere he’s gone in his career, where everything he features is so ridiculous and over-the-top, that it can’t at all be taken seriously, actually work quite well here. The whole movie, for what it’s worth, is essentially one big “yeah, whatever you say, bro” – scenes that seem so over-dramatic and nutty, are made a lot better by the fact that Vaughn has placed Kingsman in this world where everything crazy, is known to be as such. Therefore, rather than trying to explain it all for the people at home, the movie just lets us know right away that it knows it’s being ridiculous and allows you to make up your own mind as to whether you’re down for the ride, or not.

If you are, I can assure you, it’s a fun ride. If not, then piss off!

And that’s mostly where all of the fun can be had with Kingsman; it never wants to take itself too seriously to the point of where it’s dismissive of all its unexplainable, highly improbable acts that occur throughout, but it’s also never too goofy to where it turns into a parody of itself, or better yet, a Bond movie. In fact, if there was some problem to be had with this movie, it was that I felt like the humor didn’t constantly click as well here, as it does for a a movie from someone like, I don’t know say, Tarantino, or an earlier-version of Robert Rodriguez.

Those two film-makers have found their inherently genius ways of combining both bloody, shocking bits of violent, with subversive humor that clearly loves itself, but is also quite funny. No offense to Vaughn, because he clearly has a solid funny-bone located in his body, but he’s no Tarantino; he may be a bit better than Rodriguez nowadays, but then again, so is my dad when he’s had about four beers in his system. What starts out as a James Bond-ish parody flick, soon turns into it’s own comedy that sometimes hit, solely due to the fact by how knowing it is of all its ridiculousness, but then when it tries to sprinkle the funny throughout all of the in-your-face action sequences, it doesn’t always connect well.

Once again, that’s not to say that this movie’s action isn’t fun, or at least worth getting smiley-faced over – because it definitely. There’s actually one scene that takes place inside of a church that goes from normal, exposition-filled scene, to absolutely balls-out, wild and crazy action scene that goes nowhere you’d expect it to actually go to. It then ends in a shocking manner, but I won’t spoil it for you any of you here. I’ll just say that the movie is fun, just not as funny as it thinks it ought to be.

I’ll leave it at that.

"Daniel Craig? Oh, what a hack!"

“Daniel Craig? Oh, what a hack!”

Another element to Kingsman‘s success with most of this wacky material is that its cast is more than willing to commit whatever sorts of heinous it needs for them to do, and still be able to make it all cool with a smile or a smirk soon following. Colin Firth, in what seems like the role he’s been waiting nearly 30 years to play, gets a chance to show the world what it’d be like if he ever got the chance to play Bond, and it’s pleasant to watch. Of course, Firth’s charming and cunning as ever, but there’s also a certain bit of anger and aggression lurking beneath this character that makes you believe he’s a ruthless, sometimes toothless killer. When he’s called upon to act like so, that is.

Same goes for Samuel L. Jackson as Richmond Valentine, another pro who seems to be relishing in a role that he’s been wanting to play for some time now. You could say that Jackson’s doing an impersonation of Mike Tyson, what with the lisp and his goofy-demeanor and all, but there’s something more to this character that made him one step above most action-movie villains we normally see. He has an evil plan to get rid of most of the humans on the face of the planet, which is so that he can save the environment from turning on society and destroying Earth itself. It’s an evil plan, no getting around that, but it’s one that has some ground set in reality and for that, it’s worth noting.

The rest of the cast is pretty fine, too, with mostly everyone having a grand time with this wild material. Taron Egerton proves as a suitable protagonist with Eggsy, and gives us the impression that bigger, better things are to come of him; Michael Caine isn’t in this nearly as much, but is still such a class-act, that he brings plenty of dramatic-weight to any scene, just by showing up and doing his thing; Mark Strong, believe it or not, isn’t actually playing a lying, conniving, sniveling baddie like we’re so used to seeing him get type-cast as and it works well because the lad’s quite charming when he isn’t twisting his mustache; and Sofia Boutella, in a movie filled to the brim with male counterparts, somehow finds a way to stand-out as Gazelle, a bad-ass villain who has a set of deadly-pegs for legs and proves to be more deadly than Samuel L. Jackson’s actual, main villain.

You go, girl!

Consensus: Its tongue falls out of its cheek a few times, but for the most part, Kingsman: The Secret Service finds ways to keep things exciting and fun, even if it is completely over-the-top in ways you may not be able to imagine.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

One of these things does not quite look like the other.

One of these things does not quite look like the other.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

Get your head out of the past, man.

After being brought back into the world, only to find out that he’s in a new millennium, where mostly all of his friends, families, confidantes, anyone he’s ever known, is dead, Captain Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans) decides to lay low in his nice, cozy life in Washington D.C. He’s made a new friend in the form of Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie), he stays in shape, he saves the day when it needs saving and hell, he may even start getting busy with that fine-looking nurse neighbor of his (Emily VanCamp). Sounds pretty ideal, right? Well it is, but it doesn’t last. Somehow, he, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and a handful of other good-hearted citizens, all end-up involved in a huge conspiracy with the head-honcho of S.H.I.E.L.D., Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), where apparently just about every which person is out to kill them. It’s pretty nerve-wracking as is, but it gets even worse when a certain masked, hired-assassin named the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) starts rolling around town, blowing shit up and trying to kill whoever gets in the way of his targets. But what’s so weird about the Winter Soldier is that he seems to hold a very close resemblance to a man Cap once knew. A man he never thought of to be alive, but somehow, seems to be in the form of this walking, talking hitman.

By now, I think we all know that no superhero movie, let alone a Marvel superhero movie, that doesn’t either consist of more than one main superhero on the same screen, for a longer amount of time than a simple cameo or end-credits scene, is not going to be better than the Avengers. It just won’t. And it’s not because it’s hard to accept these superheros as individuals, with their own battles to overcome, and adventures to journey, but the bar has been raised so high now, it’s just not capable of handling. We have seen mostly all of the best a superhero movie could be, and for that, we are better as a society. May not be better for these stand-alone, superhero movies, but hey, at least we know that Age of Ultron is coming out next year.

"No, I was serious. Does he look like a bitch to you? Cause I sure as hell can't see him!"

“No, I was serious. Does he look like a bitch to you? Cause I sure as hell can’t see him!”

So, until then, we have plenty of time to just wait around, kick-up dust and have our time with these stand-alone flicks, in which we get to see most of the same magic, fun and wittiness play-out like the awesome spectacle that was the highest-grossing movie of 2012, but still realize that it’s not quite as magical as we have seen done before. Hate to keep on harping on that, but it’s the truth. It’s just the fact of the matter. Doesn’t make these types of movies bad or anything, just not nearly as great as we have seen before.

But away from that, and more towards the actual film itself: The Winter Soldier is pretty rad. With the other Marvel Phase II movies we got last year with Thor: The Dark World and Iron Man 3, this one definitely seems to be the darkest, most serious one out of the whole bunch, but that still doesn’t take it away from being fun, if not more so on some occasions. Actually, much rather than being a “fun” type of action-blockbuster, because the suspense and the drama is so heightened this time around, a lot of it begins to just feel “tense” and “exciting”. Sure, there’s plenty of winks, nods, jokes and playful banter we usually see from these types of movies, but there’s still a whole lot more going on here like political-intrigue, mass-destruction of a society, genocide and the media.

Yup, it’s all so very serious and in ways, a lot darker than it should be, however, the movie barely ever misses a note with what it is trying to do; as long as what it is trying to do is be fun, exciting and as loud as it can possibly be. When it begins to shy away from that aspect of the story, you can tell it bites-off a bit more than it can clearly chew. For instance, the first 20 or so minutes of this movie, I had no idea just what the hell was going on. I knew that S.H.I.E.L.D. was clearly up to no good and being as sneaky as they could possibly be, but whatever plot the writers were trying to set-up here, made no absolute sense.

And it wasn’t like it didn’t make any sense because I’m a big dummy (which I am), but because it seemed like the movie itself was just packing itself with so much dense exposition, that it really didn’t seem to want to make sense. The clear synopsis of this plot, and also why there are baddies we hate, and goodies we cheer for, would be that it’s just a simple tale of a company owner not being too happy with his workers, so, as any smart, powerful businessman would do, he decides to have him, his friends, his family, anybody he’s ever loved, killed right away. That’s pretty much the basis for the whole story in a nutshell, however, it not only took me nearly a half-hour to get to that point, but it took the movie even longer as well.

That said, what eventually happens with this movie is that once it decides to stop being so damn melodramatic and confusing, it gets very wild and energetic, but in a good way. It’s strange that we’re getting something that clearly could have been released in the summer and not suffered at all, but hey, who am I to complain about a Marvel movie being released one month before the official start of summer?

Also, why would I complain about getting to see the lovely, delightful faces of such darlings like Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan and yes, even Samuel L. Jackson? I’m nobody, that’s who!

May have been an inspired-choice to cover-up most of his face, but you also run the risk of leaving plenty desperate, horny housewives disappointed.

May have been an inspired-choice to cover-up most of his face, but you also run the risk of leaving plenty desperate, horny housewives disappointed.

Speaking of these cats, as you could expect, they all do fine. Evans shows us more and more reasons why should want to see him play Cap for the rest of all humanity, even when his body’s rotting and deteriorating, while in his late-90’s; Johansson does a lot of that punching, kicking, and pistol-shooting as Black Widow, while also looking extremely well in tight-leather and heating things up with the awfully-flirty chemistry her and Evans build; Mackie is a nice-addition to the cast as Sam Wilson and shows everybody else once again why it is that his bright, and smiling face should be in every movie, ever made; Sebastian Stan does a lot, without doing much, playing the Winter Soldier, but that’s about as much as I’ll say about that; and Samuel L. Jackson, you know, does his thing where he yells, acts like a bad-ass and sets some people into their place as Nick Fury, in a role that’s just Samuel L. Jackson with an eye-patch and a fancy-looking gun. That’s really all he is.

Now, except for the mention of Stan as the Winter Soldier, there’s some new villains here that I think really do work well in this universe, and especially in this movie. Which, yes, means a whole lot when the only, actual villain worth anybody’s time in your universe is the same guy who switches sides more times than Michael Stipe at a music festival. Bad analogy, I know, but if you know rad music, you’ll get it.

Robert Redford is a great addition to the cast as Alexander Pierce, the type of sinister, back-stabbing and ruthless corporate bighead we’d usually see him play-against. Redford doesn’t do movies of this size or stature much too often (hell, he doesn’t even do movies in general), which is why it’s so great to see him show-up here, chew-up the scenery, has some fun being the baddie and get his paycheck like he should. Same goes for grade-A character actor Frank Grillo, who almost never ceases to let me down, even when he shows up in some real crap. Even UFC fighter Georges St-Pierre gets his kicks in (pun intended) as Georges Batroc. Now, if only he’d be able to do the same when it came to getting in the ring with Silva and not being such a chicken-shit, whiny baby, then yeah, maybe I’d have more to say about him. Come on, men! Am I right!?!?

Consensus: One of the more serious entries into the Marvel Universe, Captain America: The Winter Soldier doesn’t always know what it wants to do, but when it has its head on straight and just allows the exciting, fun-nature of this material take notice, then it’s definitely worth your time.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Even from the back, he's still got that charm. Whatta stud.

Even from the back, he’s still got that charm. Whatta stud.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Snakes on a Plane (2006)

It’s all in the title, folks.

This is going to be a bit of a struggle, but I’ll get through it somehow. Anyway, the story goes a little something like this (I think): Agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson) boards a plane in order to protect and guard a key witness (Nathan Phillips) in a crime he is investigating. There seems to be no problems whatsoever with the flight once it first gets off and running, as there are plenty of fun, vibrant people from all walks of life gathered together to reach their destination of L.A. However, there seems to be one problem, and one problem only that nobody on-board ever anticipated: Fucking Snakes, man! Snakes are on this motha fuckin’ plane!

So yeah, as you can tell, I didn’t really have to go into too much detail with that premise, because it’s all pretty simple: There are snakes, who are very high, that also just so happen to be on a nearly-packed plane, where nobody is expecting these sorts of mofos to come right at them as they put on their gas-masks. Sure, you could say this is terribly stupid, and if you did say so, I wouldn’t hold it against you one bit. In fact, I’d applaud you for at least noticing the sheer-stupidity that comes along with a movie when you’re title is in fact Snakes on a Plane.

So fake, but so cool!

So fake, but so cool!

However, I would hold it against you if you weren’t the slightest bit interested in seeing something like this, because even the reprehensibly idiotic movies have to have at least something worth seeing, right?

Well, I’d say have to say yeah, because this is what happens when you take your B-movie premise, your B-movie title and a meager-enough budget to make something that’s not only quite dumb, but actually know that it is, not try to make any mistakes by adding unnecessary melodrama and give it all you got. Because hey, if you fail at making a dumb movie, you’re just a terrible person who should never work a movie camera in your life ever again. Just saying, but it’s true.

Thankfully though, director David R. Ellis knew exactly what he was getting himself into with this kind of material and doesn’t step-back once from pushing it over that extra-step into total “crazy town”. Think about it, when all you have is an-hour-and-a-half-movie dedicated to snakes on crack, slithering around, eating and killing people in whatever possible way you could imagine, you have to have a bit of fun, right? Hell yeah! And that’s why Ellis, deserves credit here for not trying to get too serious here or too dry. Sure, the humor is pretty awful, and so are most of the lines, but at least the guy doesn’t focus on them too much in hopes that people catch onto that aspect of the movie and have an even better time with it.

That would have definitely helped, but I think Ellis was fine with just relying on the action, tension and pure fun of watching some dude’s junk get attacked by an Anaconda. Especially when your target-demographic for something like this is drunken-teenagers, then you have to give them what they want, and that’s boobies, banging, blood, snakes, guns and Samuel L. Jackson yelling, screaming and doing whatever the hell he wants.

And yes, I did just spell-out your recipe for “What Makes an Awesome Movie”. You can all thank me later when you’re rolling in the hundreds of millions and billions of dollars.

But once again, I know I’m stretching it a bit here trying to go into this as much as I can, with as much detail as possible in order to have your opinion swayed on this in any possible way whatsoever – but I really can’t. All it really comes down to is whether or not you’re willing to put-up with a bunch of talented-people, yelling some cheesetastic lines, running away from CGI snakes and, at the end of the day, trying to look as if they aren’t doing it just for a paycheck. Maybe some of them are, but that’s not the point; the point is that this is a movie that realizes it’s not made for those who want to see a piece of grand cinema.  In fact, they’re much more attuned to the movies that don’t need much thought or even plausibility; just expectations of pure schlock, craziness and fun. That’s all.

Totally slumming it here. But it's all for a good cause!

Totally slumming it here. But it’s all for a good cause!

People nowadays go out and see something like Sharknado, or Croctopus, or whatever animal-and-natural-disaster-equation you can come up with, for the pure fact that they are going to see something that isn’t weight, isn’t thought-provoking, and sure as hell doesn’t need to be seen with a clear mind. And there is absolutely, positively nothing wrong with that, because sometimes, when done right, those types of movies can work all sorts of wonders. In ways, they can make people laugh their assess off; in other ways, they can even go so far as to transport that viewer into a whole different world where nutty shit happens, just for the sake of pure entertainment. Now, I don’t know what any of ya’ll out there think, but isn’t that the whole point of going to the movies in the first place? Sure, you want to see those real heavy, real dramatic and real life-changing pieces of film where you can’t seem to get its memory out of your head, nor can you stop allowing it to affect you and your daily-life. Those movies are all fine and dandy, but when I want something to be in front of my eyes, not only entertaining me, but not trying to make too much room in my head, for it to pick my brain to pieces and leave me in whatever shape it leaves me in, I’ll go with something like this. Not saying you totally should, but give it a whirl and see what happens.

But hey, don’t just listen to me, let Samuel L. tell you what it’s all about. Oops, wrong one! But you get the idea.

Consensus: Undeniably stupid in every aspect of its existence, but that still doesn’t keep Snakes on a Plane away from being a good time for anybody who wants pure, unadulterated, non-thought-provoking fun for a quick hour-and-a-half.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Yeah, you heard me! MUTHAFUCKA!

Yeah, you heard me! MUTHAFUCKA!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

RoboCop (2014)

Please, please, please! Don’t give the police-force any more ideas than they can already handle!

After Detroit policeman Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) gets caught snooping around in all of the wrong places, he’s set-up, blown-up and left in fatal-condition, to where death is most likely the answer. Left with the decision to either never see him again, or allow him to be apart of some scientific-experiment let on by this multi-national company known as OmniCorp, his wife (Abbie Cornish) decides that she doesn’t quite want to let her hubby go, considering that he still has a son to care for. Once scientist Dr. Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman) is given the “go ahead” from the wifey-poo, Murphy is somehow made into this $2.7 billion (or so) cyborg cop that can detect when something dangerous is about to occur, or already has and the baddie has gotten away and somehow into his sight. Murphy is so unstoppable, that every criminal and corrupt-cop in his jurisdiction run and hide for their lives, while also trying to find out a way to get rid of Murphy for good. However, their not alone, as OmniCorp’s CEO Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) is about to pull the plug, all due to the bad press that Murphy is attracting him and also for the sheer fact that RoboCop may not be able to be stopped, once his path of anger, violence and revenge begins.

"How many fingers am I holding up?"

“How many fingers am I holding up?”

I think I stand for everyone else out there when I say that we definitely didn’t need a RoboCop remake. Two shitty sequels, and an even-shittier TV show, I think, was more than enough for the RoboCop franchise to over-stay its welcome, without ruining the legacy of the kick-ass, slam-bang, Paul Verhoeven original. As usual though, the powers that be in Hollywood always seem to get their ways and despite everyone’s best wishes, we do in fact have a RoboCop remake in the midst of ourselves and it’s just a reality we have to come to grasp with. Doesn’t mean we have to be happy about it, but just realizing that there is a remake out there and accepting it for what it is, definitely goes a long way, which is why I think this is a classic-case where there’s a remake of a beloved-movie that doesn’t do too much wrong, nor too much good – it’s just there for us to see and hopefully make the people behind it a bit more richer.

Don’t think that’s going to happen, but this isn’t “Dan the Man’s Box-Office Predictions”, now is it? So on with the review!

If there’s one thing most remakes should do, it’s not to just tell us the same story again, beat-by-beat, note-by-note, but more so to try and differentiate a bit in ways that would not only improve upon the original, but make it not seem as dated in the new society it’s being presented to. Here, one of the key differences between this film and of the original, is that OmniCorp isn’t as heartless as they once were and are shown to actually be working with the U.S. government, rather than trying to take it over. This makes them seem like not only does Murphy really have all of the odds stacked-up against him once the going gets good, but it also gives you a better sense with the type of people he’s dealing within OmniCorp.

Most of the people that work in OmniCorp, this time around, are exactly what you’d see with most business-heads nowadays: They fight, they yell, they strike-up deals, talk, discuss what to do next, try to make as much money as possible and they also definitely make sure that their public-image isn’t ruined, even in the slightest bit. Sure, that was definitely looked at in the original movie, with a whole bunch of satire to go along with it, but here, it feels like we really are getting a story, with a real billion-dollar company like OmniCorp, that could have possibly even taken place in today’s day and age. All of the sci-fi gadgets and robots aside, there is a true sense that not only is OmniCorp trying to make this world a bit of a better place, but they are trying to be seen as the saviors as well.

Ring a bell of any politicians we may, or may not have out there in the real world today? Just think about it, people! It could happen!

But I digress. Mainly the point I’m trying to get across is that this isn’t a slap-dash remake that just tries to go over everything that the remake did back in 1987; this time around, we actually get a modern-day look and feel to it, although it still has that “futuristic” twist to it. Other than this aspect of the story though, everything is a bit of the same and nothing special, which is a shame, because the rest of the film seemed to hold some actual promise. The biting satire from the original is all but gone this time around, and only shown in bits and pieces where a character will randomly drop-in a famous quote from that movie and make things a bit awkward. Like for instance, a certain character drops the “I’d buy that for a dollar!” line in some form, and it literally comes out of nowhere, and seems like a lame-attempt at director José Padilha trying to have us remember how great the original was. Which, he does do, but probably not for the better sake of his movie, as we are constantly being reminded that this is a remake of a way, way better flick.

Oh, what could have been.

Oh, what could have been.

Speaking of Padilha, the guy didn’t really do much for me with his Elite Squad film, and needless to say, a lot of what he did with the look of that film, is pretty much the same thing this time around. A lot of shaky-cam; a lot of frenetic-movements; a lot of grit; and plenty more corny-lines that only stock cop characters could deliver. It’s not like Padilha does an all that of a terrible job as director, it’s just clear that since he’s working with a PG-13 rating, things are a bit tamer than he may be used to and it translates to the screen, as the action never fully gets off the ground. It just thrills every once and awhile, which is mainly due to the wonderful sound design. Never thought I’d compliment a movie on its sound design, but so be it the case with the RoboCop remake.

What’s also a step-up for this remake, as opposed to many others out there is that the cast is pretty darn promising, even if they don’t all live up to what should have been. Joel Kinnaman shows some of that swagger he had on the Killing and does a fine enough job as Murphy, even though he does struggle quite a bit with some of the cornier-lines he’s given. Especially one scene where we see the extent of his injuries and have to hear him utter out such lines as, “Oh lord no! Oh lord no!”. It’s all so corn-ballish, but reminds us why Peter Weller was such a treat as Alex Murphy to begin with. Even Murphy’s wife, played by Abbie Cornish, is a bit bland, though it’s only because she gets pushed to the side for so long and rarely ever shows her face, if only to bitch and moan about how she “doesn’t get to see her husband enough”. Women, right men?

Though there’s definitely plenty more people here other than just these two, although some are wasted among these well-regarded names. Gary Oldman probably gets the meatiest role out of anybody else here in this supporting cast (which isn’t saying all that much to begin with), and does all that he can with what seems to be a more humane, caring guy that literally feels like his back is thrown-up against the wall, despite him not wanting it to be; Samuel L. Jackson gets plenty of chances to yell, scream and be a lot of fun as a Republican pundit, who frequently shows up to inform us on what the rest of the world is chatting-about; Jackie Earle Haley gets to be a bit gritty as the guy who is always against RoboCop, for no other reason than that he prefers robots with no soul or heart at all, over robotic-humans with hearts and souls; and Michael Keaton, in what seems like his first major-role in 100 years, finally gets a chance to chew some scenery up as the smart, charming and conniving Omnicorp CEO, Raymond Sellars. And there’s plenty of other heavy-hitting, supporting stars to be found here with Michael K. Williams, Jay Baruchel, Jennifer Ehle and even Zach Grenier, who all do what they can, but do feel like a bunch of pretty faces and names, just thrown into a movie that clearly needs the name-recognition. Shame too, because with this cast, we could have had something quite solid on our hands here. Instead, we just get a RoboCop remake, without any penis-shooting.

Boo to that!

Consensus: Surely not as bad as one might have expected from a RoboCop remake, which is to credit more of the different-directions the story takes from the original, but still doesn’t go any further than that and leaves the action, the satire and the overall mood a bit bland.

 5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Dead or alive, you're going to watch this movie, America. You better!"

“Dead or alive, you’re going to watch this movie. You better!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Patriot Games (1992)

Those crazy Irishmen. You take away their Guinness and bodies start flyin’.

While he’s on vacation, having a rumpus-good time with his fam-squad, Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) finds himself caught in the middle of an IRA attack in England, where he kills one person and subdues another (Sean Bean). Ryan used to be apart of the CIA, but is now spending his time to be with his family, teach military students about history, and just keep on living his life in the most relaxing way possible, and then all of this comes up to ruin everything that was so peaceful to begin with. Although he’s touted as a “hero” and a “savior” among the mass-media, some think otherwise. And by “some”, I mainly mean the one dude who got arrested, who wants to extract revenge on Ryan the most sinister way possible: By getting right to the man’s family. Ryan, as any man of the house would respond, doesn’t take so kindly to some crazy, vengeful Irishmen trying to stomp all over his family, so he goes back to the Agency and finds himself ready to hunt this man, and his accomplices down, in hopes that they’ll leave him and his family alone. Easier said, then done, I’m afraid to say, Jack. Easier said, then done.

The most interesting thing about most Tom Clancy film-adaptations is how little they focus on the new technology, and more on the characters that inhabit the story. It’s very interesting, although, very strange as well, considering most of Clancy’s focus more on the hi-rez technology of the agencies he’s writing about, rather than the actual agents themselves, who use the technology on a regular-basis. More or less, they’re just there as paint-thinner on the wall, meant to show you that there is substance to the story you’re reading, no matter how weightless it may be.

The owner of that car never washed it again after that. True fact.

The owner of that vehicle never washed it ever again after this. You can still practically see the cheeks.

That said, Clancy sure does love the character of Jack Ryan and come to think of it, so does Hollywood. Not only have they adapted the character of Jack Ryan numerous times for the big screen (five to be exact), but they’ve also never given up on the possibility that this character will eventually break it big with mainstream audiences, and become something of a more classier-version of someone like, say, Ethan Hunt or James Bond. Seems like a very hard obstacle for this character to hurdle over, but I think with the right time, right direction, and right leading star playing that role, then Jack Ryan may be the household name Hollywood has been wanting for the longest time since 1990.

Which is why even though it’s the only Jack Ryan adaptation out of the whole bunch to actually gets it own sequel, Patriot Games still feels like it’s trying a bit too hard to reach those same heights, even if the heights of Ethan Hunt weren’t found yet. Don’t get me wrong, this movie is fun, but it’s fun in the type of way that you only get with thrillers that take their time and focus on the smaller things in their plot, like clues, like hints, and hell, even like twists that come at you, and yet, still feel deserved. Rather than focusing on all of the blood, bullets, octane and expositions, director Philip Noyce keeps the movie’s tension focused in on the story, what could happen next, why and by whom will be affected. These are the types of thrillers that usually work wonders for me, and for the first half-hour or so, I was really on the edge of my seat, while still waiting in anticipation for the violence to really start coming out at me.

That’s why when the action did start coming out at me, in full-fledged form, I was a bit surprised how disappointed I was with it all. It didn’t disappointment in the way that it was light on all of the action I feel like the story needed to fully kick itself into high-gear; it was more that the non-stop, high-flying action made this whole movie feel somewhat disjointed when the rest of the movie before then is taken into consideration. So much time and focus is placed on the plot, and all of the little intricate details surrounding it, and then once that all goes out the window because some bullets go flying and machine guns start getting fired, it felt out-of-place, as if Noyce knew that he had Harrison Ford in the lead role, therefore, he needed somewhere to show him throwing people off of moving-objects. Which, all seriousness aside, is awesome because Ford’s the man and can make kicking anybody’s ass at his age seem believable, but after all of the slow pacing the movie went through, it seemed like a cheat at the end of it.

Guess what happens next to this character that Sean Bean is playing?

Guess what happens next to this character that Sean Bean is playing?

Then again, like I said, having Ford in this lead role is more than enough to compensate for the fact that this movie gets a little off its rocker by the end. Ford handles this role of Jack Ryan like a champ, giving us a mean bastard who knows when’s the right time to get vicious with somebody, how and for what reasons. He’s not the type of a-hole member of the CIA that we usually see in movies; in fact, he’s very different because of the fact that he actually left the agency to try and make something better for himself and his family. In that case, he’s your regular, loving father in America, just trying to do right and make everybody that surrounds him happy, even if that means killing some people in order to do so. Even then, you still feel like he could be your next neighbor; the type who holds a very deep and dark secret in his basement, somewhere underneath all the cardboard boxes used for moving.

And while Ford’s lighting up the screen, doing his “everyday man” act like no other, the supporting cast is doing a pretty fine job as well. Anne Archer shows, once again, why she’d be the coolest wife for any guy to get to go home to and continues to have dreamers like us just wishing, hoping and waiting for the day that someone like her walks on by; Samuel L. Jackson plays one of Ryan’s buddies, and gives us a rather nice, soft, sweet and cool role that’s even more enjoyable to watch now, considering this all came before the Sam Jackson we all know, and mostly, love in today’s world; Sean Beans plays the nutty Irishman out for revenge and goes a bit over-the-top, but then again, I feel like that’s what he was called on to do, so whatever; and James Earl Jones shows up as Ryan’s head-boss and scares the crap out of everybody around him, everytime he shows up. And that’s even before he starts opening his mouth!

Consensus: The last-act may get too action-y and crazy for what was before, a smarter, thoughtful thriller, but Patriot Games still proves to be a nice adaptation of the Jack Ryan character, mainly due to the fact that Harrison Ford can play a character like this in his sleep, without ever seeming like he is in fact sleeping.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

He'll take a bullet for his family anytime. Then again, if my wife was Anne Archer, you bet I sure as hell would too!

He’ll take a bullet for his family anytime. Then again, if my wife was Anne Archer, you bet I sure as hell would too!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB

The Long Kiss Goodnight (1996)

Now you probably wonder what your parents must have really been like before you came around.

Eight years ago, Samantha Caine (Geena Davis) was diagnosed with amnesia, not having any clue of where she was, how she got to where she was, who the father of her baby was, and/or just what her previous life had been life. Therefore, she chose to live on in the arms and comfort of a man, raise her child, become a suburban house-wife, and practically be all nice, kind, civilized and as pleasant as you maternally can get. However, the past that she originally knew nothing about, begins to resurface when she gets into an accident and, yet again, hits her head on the ground. This is when Samantha begins to gain flash-backs to old memories she had, as well as old tricks that she used to know begin to pop-up in everyday, normal activities that she’s been so accustomed to as of late. But now, her past has come back to get her and somehow, she finds herself stuck with a sad-sack detective named Mitch (Samuel L. Jackson) on a run for their lives. Where are they going? It’s not quite known yet, but throughout this trip, Samantha’s act begins to wear thin and sooner than later, her old persona begins to come back up in surprising, sometimes even ugly ways; that “old persona” of hers is named Charly, and she’s one bad beotch.

Once the hair-color changes, ya'll best get the hell away.

Once the hair-color changes, ya’ll best get the hell away.

The whole joke surrounding this premise is that Geena Davis’ is an amnesiac that is learning things for the first time, just as we are, and it’s a joke that writer Shane Black runs rampant with. Sometimes more so than he should, but it’s always funny to watch and see how he brings out more about this character with her present, her past and why she’s the type of character we should watch and pay attention to. Black definitely doesn’t try to take this material too seriously, and for that matter, neither should we; both Charly and Samantha are such complete, total opposites, that it’s practically a joke in and of itself that they just so happen to be two personalities that one woman juggles around with.

But it’s a joke that never gets old and for that matter, neither does the movie itself. It’s always fun to watch one of these old-school, action-comedies that try to be all hip, cool and funny, just like as if they were another Lethal Weapon or Tarantino movie. However, while most of them did fail, this movie isn’t one of them as it definitely does play-around with the idea of an ridiculous amnesiac in the middle of all this corporate espionage, car crashes, murders, crime, twists, turns and so on and so forth. In some ways, the movie may actually throw a couple of shocks your way in terms of where the plot goes, but if you’re like me, you’ll lost interest in that part of the film real quick.

Rather instead, you’ll just pay attention to the action and the winning-humor Black throws has on-display here, considering that he’s one of the very few writers out that can turn a totally violent situation, filled with all sorts of death, blood, violence, gore and fear, and somehow find a way to make us chuckle at it, and look at it in a different light, all just by throwing in a wise-crack on the side. He also has that ability to over-do that style of his sometimes, as well, but I never found that to be the case here. In fact, I’d say that when the final-act was going on, I noticed that the laughs began to go away, just as soon as the plot itself began to get uber serious and the threat of death became more and more evident. There’s nothing wrong with that, especially considering that there are some very close-calls with this movie in which a character could bite the dust at any given second, but there was the rare occasion in which I just hoped that Black would throw in a little joke or remark here or there, just to lighten things up a bit.

I mean, hell, it’s a movie for god sakes! We want fun; we want action; we want heart; and most of all, we want some humor! Anything wrong with that!?!?

But like I was saying up-top earlier, the fact that Samantha is your quintessential, boring, settled-for-nothing and peaceful suburban mother, and Charly is tough, rugged, lean and mean, ass-kicking machine, is a total joke that shouldn’t be taken seriously, or even work. However though, not only does it work through Black’s script, but it also works through the way in which Geena Davis channels-on both personalities in some very unexpected, but entertaining ways. Davis has always been a radiant screen-presence on screen, so the fact that she’s this mother and wife, living in the winter-y suburbs of PA (woo-hoo) and is absolutely lovable and pleasant, is no surprise whatsoever. We’ve seen her do that act a million times and quite frankly, she owns it. If she continued to spend the rest of her career doing that, I don’t think anybody would cause a ruckus or even object to that.

Not smart, dude.

Not smart, dude.

But when the change comes around for Davis to start shaking things up a little bit, getting nasty and violent, it’s kind of shocking really. Sure, we’ve seen Davis play a bit of a meanie-wad before in movies, but here, she really goes for full-throttle with this role. She yells, curses, smokes, drinks, screws anybody she wants, lies, cheats, steals and will kill anybody if she so damn well pleases. If it weren’t for all of the cursing and smoking, you would have maybe been able to call her “the female Bond”, but nope, this is Charly, and she’s one gal you do not want to be on the opposite-end of a battle with. Which is strange considering that this is Geena Davis I’m still talking about here, the wholesome, loving and kind woman we always love to see show up in movies; but here, she’s a pretty bad-ass chick that can do anything she wants, no questions asked and it’s fun to watch Davis do this kind of role. It’s sort of a shame we don’t get to see her do much nowadays at all, but seeing her branch-out a bit and show her nasty side, really made you think about the type of leading-lady she actually was, and one that I wish showed her face around more.

Come back, Geena! Please! If not for me, then for all us Thelma & Louise fans out there!

As much fun as Davis may be to watch her play-around with the image we usually see her get stuck with, Samuel L. Jackson ain’t no slouch either. In fact, he actually has some wonderful moments too, playing the type of character we don’t usually see him try-out; the scared, rather wimp-ish type-of-guy that would more than likely give away his wallet and keep his trap shut during a robbery. And yes, that was a Pulp Fiction reference! Anyway, it was fun to watch Jackson here as he gives us a character that’s a bit of a coward when it comes to getting his hands dirty and taking chances, but when he actually does step-up to the plate and risk life-for-limb, you kind of have to give it to him. That, and also the fact that Jackson’s pretty dumb funny with him, giving some of the movie’s best lines, most of which can be found whenever he and Davis are on-screen together, working off of the other. Strange how you wouldn’t think, not even in a million years that these two would work wonders together, but somehow, they do and it’s what makes this movie just a tad bit better and easier to consume.

Consensus: Won’t be the most memorable action-comedy you’ve ever seen, but for nearly two-hours, The Long Kiss Goodnight will be well-worth your time with a funny script, a playful-feel from both Shane Black and Renny Harlin and two likable performances from both Geena Davis and Samuel L. Jackson, who are trying out new things you may not have seen them do yet before, yet they totally succeed at.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Bitch! You best watch where you pointing that thing!!!"

“Bitch! You best watch where you pointing that thing!!!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBJoblo

Oldboy (2013)

oldboyWe get it! IT’S HAMMER TIME!!

After he screws up with a major client, advertising executive Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) knows that there is only one way to ease the pain: By getting utterly and completely plastered. He does this, but after falling asleep in the streets, he somehow finds himself trapped inside of a cellar, disguised as a hotel room. Doucett is obviously bewildered as to what the hell is going on, why and who is doing this to him, but all of those thoughts get thrown to the side once he finds out, via the television in his room, that his wife was raped and murder, allegedly by him, leaving his three-year-old daughter an orphan. Doucett has know idea what the hell to do with his life, but after several attempts at trying to get out “the easy way” he decides that he wants to live and continue to train his mind, body, soul and hatch out a plan to escape. However, he wakes up one random day in a box out in the middle of nowhere, with only a phone, a couple thousands dollars and some clue as to where to go. From there, he’s told that he must find the man who did this to him, but also, find out why this happened to him. The results, as you may suspect, are utterly shocking.

Oh yeah, and a hammer does come into play at one point or another.

"And I thought being an Olsen sister made me messed-up in the head!"

“And I thought being an Olsen sister made me messed-up in the head!”

Everybody’s been awaiting this moment, and here it finally is: The American-made remake of the near-perfect, 2003 Park Chan-wook South Korean flick, and as you could expect, people will be furious. I was too, not just because there were actual ideas of a remake being talked about, but that they were actually being pursued and were even touched by the likes of Will Smith and Steven Spielberg. Yes, I know that they are two very talented guys in the business and would have done all that they could to make this piece of film work, but I highly doubt that their sensibilities (especially the former’s) would have done justice to the original tale. But time went on and once Spike Lee got attached to the flick, I felt like maybe, just maybe there’s something to see here; and lord, being a huge Spike Lee fan (of his movies, that is), I definitely went in with some happy and hopeful expectations. I expected it not to be as good as the original, but I still expected it to hold some weight on its own, considering that Lee is one of the most important, most original directors we’ve had the pleasure of being graced with in the past two decades.

And you know what? That’s pretty much what I got, except with some disappointment.

Most peeps are going to be pissed about this movie and already write it off as “useless”, “unneeded and just plain “stupid. And to be honest, none of those words of slander are wrong, nor are they right. They are simply just fans of the original’s mind-sets going in, but knowing that this isn’t going to be word-for-word, shot-for-shot exactly like that movie going in before-hand, definitely helps you know what to expect and where to be surprised by, as it sure as hell helped me out to get through this flick. Well that, and being a huge fan of Spike Lee’s directional-skills.

While there definitely isn’t the constant trademarks we usually see from Lee in this flick (with the exception of a near-two second infamous “dolly shot”), there’s still that dour, sad feel we usually get to see and feel from his movies. The original tale of Oldboy is not a very pretty one, and with every chance he gets, Lee never forgets to remind us of this. The violence is bloody, in-our-faces and definitely quick like it needed to be, however, it’s never gratuitous and gives us the impression that Lee wants to stick to his guns with the original, while also not letting-go of what made it such a fun time to begin with. And although he did screw-up the all-mighty, all-known “hammer sequence”, I’ll still give him a pass because he gives us an American-made remake that doesn’t feel like a cash-grab, and more of something along the lines where an original auteur wanted to try his hand at mainstream films once again. The results may not be as spectacular as they were with his last “big” flick, Inside Man, but they are still interesting nonetheless.

But that’s when the problems with this remake do begin to arise. Once Lee has to put his mind on the story, how it develops over time, why and whether or not it totally invests us in all that’s happening, it kinds of screws up and loses some tension. Granted, I’ve seen this story happen before, so obviously mind was a bit turned-off to some of the twists here and there that may be shocking to newcomers, but even then, when Lee decides to change the story up-around a bit, something still didn’t feel right. We get this whole new back-story as to why this is happening and the mystery in which our main characters go out to discover the truth, actually becomes something rather conventional and unexciting, which isn’t because I knew what was going to happen, it’s just because there was nothing really all that interesting surrounding it. It was just a bunch of people hiding, running around and looking for clues, but in all-too-serious matter, as if Holmes and Watson needed to be called to the scene, and pronto!

See, while the original wasn’t necessarily a comedy that made light of the situation that this dude was imprisoned, alienated, framed for murder and sent back out into the wild after all of these years, there were still moments where you could tell that the creator wasn’t taking himself too seriously, only when needed. And it worked, to great-effect because it gave us something that knew the type of audience it was going to please, and didn’t try to steer-away from them one bit. Here, it felt like Lee needed a dash, or hell, even a sprinkle of some lightness to go around, rather than just making this a very deep, dark and depressing affair, with barely any signs of hope or happiness involved. May sound like a weird complaint, I know, but some smudges of light would have went a real, REAL long way.

The cast Lee chose may not be the heaviest-hitters out there in the world today, and they sure as hell aren’t the household names the producers probably intended on originally having, but with whom they have, they made the best out of it, especially even in the smaller roles. But playing the biggest role of all is James Brolin as Joe Doucett, the type of despicable human-being you learn to hate in the first couple minutes, then begin to actually like as time slightly goes on. Brolin’s good at keeping Doucett’s heart and humanity well in place, but he can only go so far with that when all the guy wants is to get revenge on the man that ruined his life, while also trying to find his daughter. The rugged look and persona that Brolin has, does well for Doucett when he has to throw-down and get his hands a little bloody, however, I never quite felt as bad for this guy as I did for Hwang Jo-yoon’s portrayal in the first one. Some of that may have to do with the fact that Brolin’s character has barely any little-to-no personality once he gets out of captivity, or that he looks like he could take on anybody and anyone with his quarterback-shoulders, but overall, I just didn’t feel as attached to Doucett as I should have. I felt bad for him, but I was never rooting him on, which is a little weird for a revenge-thriller.

It's like The Rock's awesome tat, except it's permanent. I mean, so is The Rock's, but...aw, you get it!

It’s like The Rock’s awesome tat, except it’s permanent. I mean, so is The Rock’s, but…aw, you get it!

The one real improvement in terms of characters from the original is with Elizabeth Olsen as the young, sweet-natured, but damaged girl that falls for Doucett, just as soon as she meets him once he’s roaming around the free world. Olsen’s a good actress, so she definitely has that going for her, but also, the character feels a lot better-written this time around, making her more of a “person”, and less than just a “fantasy-image” that most older dudes seem to have for ladies half of their ages. Nope, she’s actually a sad, hurt and wounded bird, just looking for a nest to settle into and be sheltered by and she may have found that with Doucett. Michael Imperoli shows up as Chucky, Doucett’s old buddy from awhile ago and does a nice job portraying the type of guy that’d be there for his friend, even after all of these years has gone by, but begins to seem like a bit of an unbelievable dick, just as time goes on.

Last, but certainly not least though, we have Sharlto Copley as Adrian Pryce, the crazy Brit who has put Doucett through all of these problems to begin with, and only wants to prolong them some more. Copley’s a very interesting talent as he shows up in certain movies, and you can almost never pin-point down, exactly where the hell you’ve seen him from before and whether or not he’s played the same character twice. Basically, he’s the type of versatile actor modern-day flicks need nowadays, and he does a stellar job giving us the sick and twisted, but passionate individual Adrian Pryce. While the portrayal and development for Yoo Ji-tae’s character in the original was a bit better, Copley does all that he can with this character and gives us a menacing figure, that never feels like he isn’t capable of taking control, however he wants, at any given time. Same could be said for Samuel L. Jackson’s performance as one of Pryce’s most-trusted lackeys, Chaney, except that he definitely says “motherfucker” a lot more. Not than just Pryce, but more than anybody else in this flick. But then again, I think we’ve all come to expect that by now and we love it!

Consensus: No doubt in my mind is telling me that this Oldboy remake isn’t better than the original, however, my mind is also telling me that if you are at all interested with seeing how it turns out, given all of the talent involved, then you should definitely give it a go since it’s better than expected, with a couple of questionable choices here and there.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Thus it begins.

Fine. “It’s hammer time.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

The Spirit (2008)

White blood is not cool! Give me red!

Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) was a murdered cop who is mysteriously reborn as the masked crime fighter called the Spirit. The Spirit roams throughout the streets of what he calls, “his city”, loves it’s women, and fights crime whenever it rears it’s ugly head. The only problem is that his arch-enemy, Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), is a bit more than he can handle and as his past continues to come right back at him, he finds it harder and harder to get past what might just be his final battle. Everybody else, except for him, hope it truly is.

In a time before Dan the Man was the esteemed critic he is today, he was just a young lad going to the movies, seeing what he could find, and making up his mind on what he thought. That’s right, it was all in my head before I ever started typing down crazy crap! But during that time, the Christmas season of 2008 was where I single-handedly, self-financed AMC for the sole reason that I was there almost every other day. This was the days before I was able to get into screenings so in ways, I had to pay and in other ways, I just snuck in. I was a bad, bad cat, but not as bad of a cat as I thought I was until I saw this movie. Then, maybe I thought it would just be best to live off of Netflix for awhile.

Even after the 4 or 5 years since I’ve seen this; little of this movie has changed. I still remembering it sucking, even until this day, except now I have a clearer-view on what does and what doesn’t work in a movie. Especially shitty ones like these, where almost nothing works. Sounds harsh, but it’s the truth. The only positive-element of this movie that was worth watching and waiting around for this second-go around was Gabriel Macht as the Spirit and the cat that followed him around.

So obviously Gabriel Macht...

So obviously Gabriel Macht…

Macht has never been the type of actor to really knock it out of the park in a role, mostly because he’s never really gotten the spotlight. He’s usually been known as “that guy” in big-budgeted, shit-boxes like Bad Company, Whiteout, Because I Said So, and many, many more that I’m almost too ashamed to admit that I’ve seen him in, let alone actually viewed (the shit I do as a critic). So, this is why his performance as the Spirit is actually pretty good because he gets a chance to take over the film, do his thing, show some wit, have his charm, and be done with it. Is the guy anywhere near spectacular? Hell to the no! But in a movie like this, you need something that keeps you going, and he was exactly that for me in this movie. No wonder why the guy hasn’t really been given center field ever since this, but it’s a damn shame because the guy handled the pressure well. It’s everybody else who screwed him over.

No matter what crap he shows up in, Samuel L. Jackson is always the best part of it all. He’s always loud, crazy, yelling, and finding ways to have fun, even if he is the only one but even his performance here as the Octopus felt like he was parodying himself in a Funny or Die video. Not only is the Octopus a shitty villain to begin with, but this guy is literally all-over-the-place in terms of if he’s trying to be goofy, scary, intimidating, or even worth the fight at all. One second, he’s beating the crap out of the Spirit with a toilet, then the next second, he’s dressed-up as a Nazi talking about lord only knows what. It’s strange to see Jackson in such a role like this and have it not work, considering that he is usually the most entertaining aspect of any movie. ANY MOVIE.

But enough of the man meat, what about the ladies?!? Well, they are probably even worse and that’s not a rift against of their acting-abilities at all, it’s just the hands that they were dealt. Eva Mendes plays the Spirit’s old-squeeze who shows up looking all hot, sexy, and bad-ass, and does nothing with it at all. I mean, she shows her back-side once but if that’s all you got going for you in a role, then you’ve got major problemos. Scarlett Johansson seems like she should have been having the time of her life as the Octopus’ side-kick, Silken Floss, and she might have very well been, but we would have never known since she dead-pans to the point of near-boredom. And I’m talking on her part, not mine, even though, once again, she could have easily been having a ball with this role. Then, sadly, there’s Sarah Paulson as the Spirit’s current gal-pal, Ellen Dolan, the nurse with a heart of gold and the leniency of a nun, and does nothing at all with this character. Sad to say, too, because I love this girl in almost all she pops up in.

The reason why I’m paying so much attention to the cast, right off the bat, is because the main problem with this movie lies solely with them. Not their performances (even if they do suck), it’s more that the script has nothing go for it. It’s not fun, it’s not entertaining, and terribly disjointed. I never knew if whether or not this movie was trying to be funny, tongue-in-cheek, or just a serious, superhero movie with action. Very, small amounts of action. I never knew what the hell Frank Miller was trying to do and from the looks of it: neither did he.

Is it purrty as hell? Damn straight, but it only goes so far as to seem like a distraction to people who care about more meaningful things like plot, character-development, and action. None of that is here and even when it attempts at tackling anything like that; Miller and Co. miss terribly. It was a boring as hell experience that I remember so fondly for boring me to near-tears when I saw it all those years ago as a young guy, and still sucks all of these years later. Whether or not this review will make you want to see it yourself and take out of it what you can, is totally up to you, yourself, and you (I know: close, but no cigar). However, if I am going to advise anything: stay away from this movie. If one of your hardcore, nerdy friends say it was rad, kick them in the ass, slap them ion the face, or do something that has them wake up, smell the roses, and realize that their asses are wrong. DEAD WRONG!!!

Consensus: The Spirit is one of those movies that seems like on-paper, it would have been bucket-loads of fun, but is nowhere near that with a dry-personality, performances from a talented cast that seems as if they are lost in the whirlwind of a storm of confusion, and nothing really fun, exciting, or remotely interesting to stick around for. Just see it for the kitty and let that’d be it.

1 / 10 = Crapola!!

Pictured: the editing room.

Pictured: the editing room.

Iron Man 3 (2013)

At least he’s on the wagon now.

After the wild events that took place in New York with Gods of Thunders and worm-holes and such, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has found himself in a bit of a crisis. Not only is he constantly reminded of what occurred, but he can’t seem to get any sleep and continually works on his hobby: building and building shit. It doesn’t matter what it is or what it could do, the fact is that he’s building shit, losing sleep, losing the love of his life, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), and losing what it means to be a superhero. However, an evil terrorist by the name of Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), might just change that feeling in the pit of his stomach and have him realize what it was about him that made him Iron Man in the first place.

Since the Avengers came, saw, and conquered the world last Summer, it seemed only right that Marvel would unleash it’s brand-new bag and go back to where it all started: Iron Man, or if you really want to be legit about it: Tony Stark. Without the first movie coming out in 2008 and taking over like it did, who knows just what the hell Marvel might have done not just with their fellow, other superheros, but in general as well. But from what we’ve all seen and what we do know is that Tony Stark is the go-to guy for when you need a compelling movie, and Iron Man is a pretty bad-ass superhero, even if he doesn’t have a big hammer. I still think that’s one of the all-time best weapons in superhero history. By far.

The first piece of curiosity that sprang through my mind when I initially heard of this movie happening, was the choice of Shane Black as director and co-writer. If you don’t know who this cat is, I suggest you go and find Kiss Kiss Bang Bang somewhere on DVD and check that out because it is a gem of a movie and it’s all because of Black. The guy’s also written Lethal Weapon, but in my eyes: his directorial-debut ranks supreme against all others because it’s funny, exciting, and filled to the brim with plot that may seem like over-kill, but keeps you guessing until the end. And just as promising as that may sound for a guy who’s about to tackle Iron Man, it still seemed strange considering that not only was this his second movie to date, but also that his first one had barely any CGI whatsoever, or action for that matter. Most of it was just shooting, guns, bullets, a car-crash, and fake blood. That was it. So, how the hell did Marvel trust this guy with their biggest money-maker to date?

"Sometimes, my left hand just have a life of it's own. I swear, Pepper...."

“Sometimes, my left hand just have a life of it’s own. I swear, Pepper….”

Well, whatever it was that the big guys at M found in him, sure as hell worked because Black does a superb job as both director, and co-writer. Not only is his humor present throughout the whole flick, but the guy also finds a way to throw in some neat and nice little twists here and there to spice things up. One plot-twist that I won’t give up unless you want to e-mail me about it (CMrok93@yahoo.com), really divided this movie into two, different ways. Some will definitely go along with it and think that it was a nice-departure from what we are used to seeing with typical, superhero movies, whereas others may be a bit pissed and wished that they exactly got that typical, superhero movie they had grown so accustomed to. I still haven’t been able to rack my brain around whether or not I liked it all that much, but I will say that in Black’s case, it sure as hell was risky, something different, and not exactly what I was expecting. So, yeah, maybe you could put me in that earlier-group of peeps, but at the same time, don’t, because I’m still not sure.

Just give me some damn time, man!

But what really worked for Black and what mainly surprised the hell out of me is how well he handles all of the action, CGI, and 3D (basically, the big-budget). Black knows exactly what the fans want to see when they see a superhero movie about Iron Man and that’s what the dude gives to ’em. Some may actually be surprised to see that not all of this action features the actual superhero, Iron Man, but features more of Stark doing all of the ass-kicking himself, but it’s still fun and exciting to see, especially when you add a darker-element of story-telling on top of it all, which is what Black has done surely well. Of course the humor is always there to keep people laughing and giggling, but the stakes feel higher with this one and it’s no surprise that some may actually be scared as to who’s going to get off’d next, who might not make it for Iron Man 4 (although Paltrow spilled the beans on that enchilada), and who’s going to come out victorious and with a little bit of something to brag about. It’s fun to watch a movie that knows how to keep the energy rolling without a real break in the pace, but it’s even better when you feel like the seconds you see a person on screen for, could just might as well be their last. Black keeps this going for quite some time, that is, until the last-half shows up and sort of ruins things.

For the most part, about an hour and a half in, I was on-board with this movie and I easily felt like I was working on a 9-9.5 here, but something happened. No, not the twist I was talking about earlier, but the final showdown that we all know is going to eventually come. Something, I don’t know what it was, just didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel as epic as the rest of the movie did and it sure as hell didn’t do much to really knock me out of my chair with it’s originality; something I was seeing from Black’s side of the room, more and more. Don’t get me mistaken, I still had a ball with this final-act and just about lost my hearing by how many clangs, booms, and bangs I continued to hear (that’s a good thing, by the way), but something didn’t make it feel like the movie was tied-up with a pretty, little bow at the end like all of the other superhero movies have lately. Even Iron Man 2 somehow decided to do that, and as we all know: that was nowhere near greatness.

However, I can’t put anything against this cast because as usual: they are all phenomenal, even the newbies too. But I’ll get to them later, let me stick with the man of the 2 hours, the man with the power, and the man who practically has it all: Robert Downey Jr. Everybody and their mothers (the coolio ones who didn’t give up on him when he got busted all of those years ago) know that Downey was made for this role and he continues to show us why with his egotistical act, look, and feel. Yet, there’s something more to this guy that makes him actually feel like a hero worth rooting for. Stark does make some stupey mistakes and gets caught-up in situations that he could have easily gotten himself out of if he just thought more, but he’s human, dammit! That’s what we do. And even if we don’t have a mansion, a billion dollar corporation, or a suit made of iron that can kick ass and speak like Paul Bettany, we still feel like this guy would do the right thing, if he was given a chance to make the decision as to what that exactly is. Downey is funny as usual, and probably a lot better with the script considering that he practically vouched for Black to get this job, but it’s his human-aspect within that makes this character tick, rock, and kick….some ass. See what I did there? Yeah, I’m all out of being witty for the night.

Always gotta tug on the suit-jacket to make sure you know how big pimpin' you truly are.

Always gotta tug on the suit-jacket to make sure you know how big pimpin’ you truly are.

Even if it seems like nobody in their right minds is willing to let all of the hate for Gwyneth Paltrow go, just for a little bit of time over 2 hours, at least the girl still shows us that she can act and be charming as hell. I don’t hate Paltrow like everybody else seems to, and that’s why I really liked her as Pepper Potts because it not only felt like her character really loved Tony and wanted him to be all fine and dandy once things were over with, but that she could also stick up for herself in the chance arose itself. Pepper isn’t the type of character that you could classify as a “damsel in distress” and that’s the route that Black turns away from and gives her more a chance to knock some people out, if she needs to. During this movie, she definitely does need to and that’s exactly what she does. Keep on going, Mrs. Coldplay!

Don Cheadle is here once again as Col. Rhodes (still thought Terrence Howard was better, but hey, that’s just me, baby) and does fine with what he’s given. Cheadle doesn’t have a huge role here but gets more to do than just pick up Tony’s scraps and make us feel like he’s more of a bad-ass too. Although, I will say that he does get to show us what makes him all bad-ass still. Oh, and before I forget about it all: Rebecca Hall is here as an old-fling of Tony’s and is good, even if her beauty and charm does seem a bit wasted on a character that is essentially around just to show how much of a chauvinistic a-hole Tony basically was back in the darker days before he fell in love with Pep. Still, the girl is mighty fine!

Now is the part where we go onto the baddies and this is where things begin to get a little dicey for me and you. See, Ben Kingsley and Guy Pearce both play some evil a-holes that definitely are not the breed you want to mess with, let alone see Tony mess with, but there’s more to them than just that and I can’t give away too much without sounding annoyingly-vague, or just giving it all up. Both do what they need to do as the baddies, especially Kingsley who actually terrified me at one point, but there are more layers to them and once you see what’s really going on with these cats, you might just be a bit surprised. I sure as hell was and once again: I still don’t know what to make of it. What I can say though, is that the movie does not, for a second, stray-away from giving these two guys plenty of scenery to chew on and that’s where all of the fun comes from. Because if you think about it: that’s all you need in a good villain, right?

Consensus: Starts off perfectly with a funny script, electric set-pieces, and a cast that never backs down from a script they can’t grapple, but Iron Man 3 ends more on a whimper, than on a bang. Which would have been all right and perfect with the world, had we not already see the Avengers and know what there is to expect with the Marvel Universe.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

P.S. Stay for the credits. Even though you probably already knew that, didn’t you?

It's like Gandhi all-over-again, except Chinese.

It’s like Gandhi all-over-again, except Chinese.