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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Willem Dafoe

Justice League (2017)

Just not the same without Superman. He’s not in this, right?

After the rather tragic death of Superman (Henry Cavill), the world is in desperate need of a superhero. And with the current uprising of evil super-villain Steppenwolf (Ciarán Hinds), the world is in desperate need and they need it quick. Enter Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), who decides that it’s time to get together all of the best and most powerful of superheros to take down this foe. There’s Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), who we know has supreme strength and can kick all sorts of ass, when she isn’t playing with the heart and emotions of Bruce. There’s Aquaman (Jason Momoa), who can not only talk to fish, but kick all sorts of ass, too. There’s Barry Gordon, aka Flash (Ezra Miller), who can run just as fast as he runs his mouth. Then, there’s Victor Stone, aka Cyborg (Ray Fisher), who uses his robot body to do, well, whatever he damn well pleases with it. Though it takes some time, the gang gets together and decides that it’s best to save the world from ultimate destruction, but for some reason, they’re just not as powerful as they think. All they need is one more hero and they’ll be set.

But who?

When you need a Quicksilver, but your movie just not funny enough. Or at all.

No matter what, I am always rooting for DC. While Marvel is clearly kicking all sorts of ass in the superhero-movie world, I still hold out hope that one day, DC will give them the opponent they probably need and deserve. And with this past summer’s Wonder Woman, hell, I thought that maybe DC was getting their act together and was ready to put up a fight. Then, after Zack Snyder had to tragically bow-out, and they were able to gather up the talents of Joss Whedon, things were looking even brighter and better. It seemed like, oh man, DC showed up to the duel and was ready to go all the way, last corporation standing, do or die.

Unfortunately, quite the opposite happens.

In fact, Justice League seems like another five steps back, when it should have definitely been the same amount, but at least forward. But for some reason, the same issues that have been plaguing their past few films (except for the aforementioned Wonder Woman), seem to still be coming up: Their just too uneven and disjointed to fully work as one, cohesive whole. Whereas Marvel seems to have a formula that they will never stray away from, it’s one that works; their movies are the right combination of humor, action, quirkiness, character-work, drama, world-building, exposition, and excitement that when they decide to mix it up every so often, it never feels like it’s going to fail. It’s a near-perfect formula that works for them each and every time and it’s the same kind of formula that DC is trying to imitate, but just can’t seem to completely comprehend.

One of the main reasons for that, at least here, may be that Whedon’s script and Snyder’s direction just don’t mix-and-match well. Like, at all. For instance, Snyder’s direction is so gloomy, so serious, and so moody, and Whedon’s bits and pieces of script are so light, silly, and in ways, meta, that they feel like two different movies. One is trying to be Dawn of Justice (not as bad as people say, especially compared to this), and the other is trying to be both Avengers movies (both are pretty solid).

And like I said, the two just don’t fit.

Just kiss already! Get this testosterone done with already!

There are some moments of pure fun and excitement to be found, however, they are incredibly fleeting. After the initial half-hour and we’re done with all of the annoying exposition, world-building, and sort-of origin-tales, the movie sort of comes together in that the gang’s all in one place, fighting, picking each other’s look apart, and oh yeah, actually building character. It takes so long to get to this point, that when we’re actually there, it’s hard to notice – but when it is there, it’s quite fun and worth watching.

Same goes for the action which, regardless of who directed it the most or not, still works. Each superhero gets to show-off their own superpower and it feels worth it. It’s almost enough to get past the fact that the movie seems sorely underwritten and so rote, but hey, at least it’s not a total slog, right?

If anything, Justice League has me at least somewhat curious to see what they do next and where they go with these solo films. After all, the main reason why some of these characters just don’t work is because we hardly even know them in the first place; Cyborg’s backstory is constantly being brought-up to us and it just gets to be annoying, because we don’t care. We’re supposed to be getting those movies in the upcoming future, but we sort of need them desperately and now.

Cause without them, DC’s just not going to be able to put up the fight that they oh so want to put up.

Consensus: Even though they get an “A” for effort, Justice League is another sign that DC has a lot of work to do, especially on its characters, its script, and its oversall management of their promising franchise.

5.5 / 10

The male-gaze is back, fellas. Yay for misogyny!

Photos Courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures

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The Florida Project (2017)

Disney’s overrated anyway.

Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is a young girl currently living in a shady, relatively scummy hotel with her young mother Halley (Bria Vinai). Most days, Moonee is spending her time running around with her friends, causing all sorts of havoc, and getting into all sorts of trouble, while her mother is off trying to make money anyway that she feasibly can. Sometimes, this means selling cologne/perfume on the streets, other times, this means a little something more that Moonee doesn’t quite know about, but everyone around her does. Either way, the two try their best to make something of a lovely little life for themselves, given the current situation that they’re in, despite being only a few miles away from the Magic Kingdom itself. And one person who is also doing all that he can is the manager of the hotel, Bobby (Willem Dafoe). He too has been dealt a pretty crummy hand at life and is just doing all that he can to get by and also ensure that his tenants, that he tries not to get too close to, are safe and sound in their own little bundles of trash paradise.

Save the day for once, Willem!

Basically, it’s two-hours of misery and I loved almost every minute of it.

Actually, that’s a lie. The Florida Project isn’t as miserable, or as depressing as I make it sound; Sean Baker is such a talented film-maker that he knows how to keep downbeat, relatively disturbing material like this, not only quick, swift, and entertaining, but also make it all compelling, even when it doesn’t ever seem to have a real story-line or plot to work with. But that kind of works in the movie’s favor; Baker has always moved to the beat of his own drum and here, he gets the opportunity to tell whatever story, however he wants to.

And it’s why the Florida Project is his best movie so far. Sure, it’s a lot like his other movies, in that he focuses on a large part of society that has, unfortunately, been pushed away from the movies, or entirely forgotten about, but this one has so much heart, so much energy, and so much creativity, it’s hard not to get wrapped-up in all of it. Right from the beginning, you have an idea of where it’s going to go and end up, until, about halfway through, it switches itself up, decides to go down another path, and it’s just surprising.

Cause in a way, the Florida Project is a coming-of-age flick, that is very loosely following some form of a plot or story-line. Baker has done this in the past with all of his movies, where he doesn’t really concern himself with much in the way of plot, but instead, just relies on the strong characters and performances to hold things over. Occasionally, he’ll drop in a bit of story here and there, but it’s never anything too crucial to where it ruins the overall improvisational look and feel of the flick.

And it’s what the Florida Project specializes in.

Due to it being a movie about such a downtrodden and depressed group of people, it almost feels like it should be preaching a whole lot more and trying to say something about the way our society is forced to treat these people who we’d rather not admit to being alive, or taking up any space. Baker knows and understands that this is something the common, everyday person thinks and while he, as well as all of us, knows that it’s wrong, he doesn’t let it get in the way of this movie, or getting to actually know these characters. All of them could have easily been pedestals for Baker to jump off of, but he’s a much smarter film-maker than that, to just use compelling characters, for the sake of getting an agenda across – he knows that they are the heart and soul to a good movie and with the characters here, he gets a lot of mileage.

Which is to say that everyone here is great. But what’s really shocking is how very little everyone seems to be working from a script; this is something I thought to myself throughout the whole movie, but it wasn’t until I went home and actually checked-out interviews and realized that a good portion of the movie was improvised and sort of made-up, on the spot, with the actors making their stuff up as they went along. I’d expect this out of a pro like Willem Dafoe (more on him later), but with relative newcomers like Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite, I was especially surprised.

That I never heard of them before now, doesn’t really matter. That they never actually acted before, is all the more shocking.

Damn kids and their ice cream.

In the case of both Prince and Vinaite, these will be star-making roles, and with good reason: Both are great and go well beyond convention. Prince is a smart, sassy, and charming little girl who, just about every second, actually feels like a little kid who may be a little too smart for her own good, but a smart girl nonetheless. Vinaite, despite seeming like the typical cliche of the awful mother who doesn’t really care for her kid and just wants to smoke, drink, and have sex all of the time, eventually, shows us a real heart and humanity within this character. It’s something that you don’t expect with this character – all of the tattoos and piercings, I’ll admit, are more than enough to turn any person off immediately – but that’s sort of the point.

Baker isn’t making a movie full of gorgeously beautiful A-listers, who are risking their lives and careers by slumming it down. In fact, what’s crazy about getting Dafoe here, is that even though he is quite the known-talent, he’s also one of the uglier guys in the business (which I mean, in a good way). So yeah, even though Baker was able to nab a top-tier talent like Dafoe for his small, scummy indie, he was able to get one who fit and looked the part.

That said, Dafoe, like everyone else here, is amazing. He fully understands and sinks into this Bobby character who, you think is going to be a terrible, awful human being who just wants money and lots of it, but shows a true heart after a short while. He actually cares for his tenants and the hotel that he imagines, and while he’s stuck with the hard task of keeping everything all together and in-check, he sort of loves getting the pleasure of keeping this close-knit family, well, together. It’s a wonderful performance filled with subtlety and beauty, sometimes, both at the same time and it makes me happy to not just see Dafoe giving this really small indie a chance, but also working wonders for it, too.

Basically: Give him the damn Oscar already. Same goes for Vinaite. Hell, same goes for the whole movie. Give them everything!

America needs it. We all need it.

Consensus: Scrappy and gritty, the Florida Project realizes the harsh conditions in which it is set, yet, never succumbs to the inherent sadness and is instead, a beautiful, well-told, well-acted, and honest film about growing up, loving those close to you, and making your own little piece of paradise, the only way that you can. It’s sort of sappy, but the best kind.

9 / 10

The American Dream, everybody. Learn it. Love it. Accept it. And shut up.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Death Note (2017)

Books are bad anyway. Don’t bother with them.

Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is like any other high school kid his age. He’s angsty, pissed-off, and just trying to do whatever he can to get by. While doing other students’ homework for money, he stumbles upon a book called “Death Note”. It’s mysterious and weird-looking, with random names in them and Light has no clue what to make of it. Somehow though, he discovers that names can be written into the book and whoever they are, they’ll be killed by an evil, maniacle death god, Ryuk (Willem Dafoe). Ryuk torments Light and forces him to write more names down and while Light is initially against this form of punishment, a girl he’s been crushing on mega-hard (Margaret Qualley), begins to fall for him, as well as the book. So what’s the harm in using the book, so long as it’s used for the greater-good? Well, law-enforcement begins to catch wind of something funky happening, which leads expert L (Keith Stanfield), to help out the police in nabbing just who, or what, is behind all of this.

Just what America needs. Another sort of masked crusader.

For a short while there, it seemed like director Adam Wingard was going to be the bright new voice in horror. With two films under his belt (You’re Next, the Guest), Wingard showed us that while he loved paying homage to the old-school horror flicks of the 70’s and 80’s, he also enjoyed developing some original ideas of his own, where he was able to be inventive and original, while also still maintain a sense of fun for anyone who decided to check out what he was doing. Then, he took an odd step last year with the incredibly misguided remake, Blair Witch, and then things got weird. All of a sudden, it seemed like the fresh, young talent involved with these indies was all wrapped-up in the world of mainstream, big-budgeted film-making.

Surely, this wouldn’t be the same case with Death Note, right?

Unfortunately, nope. It seems as though we’ve lost Wingard again. And while Death Note isn’t nearly as bad Blair Witch, there’s still an issue with it in that it seems messy and almost rushed; it’s as if Netflix had a certain, specific-date of when they wanted this to hit the streaming-service and gave Wingard just enough time to film and edit everything. But for some reason, it just doesn’t quite work, or ever seem to come together.

CGI’s cool, though. Right, guys?

It wants to be many of things. For one, it wants to be a coming-of-age flick in which a young kid tries to grapple with school, life, his family, his career, and death. Another, it wants to be a creepy, cruel and spooky horror-flick in which a death god speaks directly to him. Then, it also wants to be a dark-comedy that sort of plays with the goofy idea of a book being able to kill people. And last, but certainly not least, it sort of wants to be a superhero flick. In a way, all of these different strands of story are interesting and, if put together well enough, could actually work, side-by-side.

But that never happens.

Instead, we get a lot of hinting and swimming over these certain aspects, without any really being fully developed. For instance, we never really actually get to know Light beyond what we’re told of him and his life; he and his dad don’t get along, his mom was killed, he’s smart, and yeah, he’s a bit of social outcast. Nat Wolff is constantly getting better and better with each role and he truly does try his all here, but this character is so thinly-written that at the end of the day, it feels like a waste of his talents. Same goes for everyone else in this talented cast, with the exception of Keith Stanfield as L, a possible hero/possible villain, who gets enough wacky moments to have some fun, but also falls prey to the weak writing here.

And that’s what it all comes down to: Weak writing. The action isn’t all that tense, the drama isn’t really compelling, and the premise, while promising all sorts and sorts of fun and excitement, never actually gets to that point. It feels too much like Wingard and company are doing fan-service to those who loved the manga from which this is adapting, but also actually forgot to really give the fans a good time.

Which is all anybody wants.

Consensus: With a talented cast and crew, as well as an interesting premise to-boot, Death Note should have been fun, exciting, and worth the watch, but instead, it’s misguided, incoherent, and boring. Good thing it’s short. Right? Is it. I don’t even know.

4 / 10

“Gonna finish that?”

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

Basquiat (1996)

Just cause you don’t get it, doesn’t mean it’s not “hip”.

Despite living a life of extreme poverty in Brooklyn, graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Jeffrey Wright) ended up becoming one of the biggest and brightest names in art, during the 70’s and 80’s. He became the poster-boy for what would essentially be known as “neo-Expressionism” earning all types of praise, as well as money from those who wanted a little piece of his pie. It also helped him gain something of a wonderful and lovely friendship between him and Andy Warhol (David Bowie), who, at the end of his life, was looking to hang out with the hot young thing in the art world. However, Basquiat’s personal demons continued to haunt him throughout his whole life, whether it was his battle with racism, drug addiction, or staying loyal to his girlfriend (Claire Forlani), the art was always there to aid him. But was it ever enough? Judging by how his story ends, probably not.

There’s Courtney Love ruining another artist’s life.

Basquiat is a an interesting biopic because it isn’t what you’d expect a movie about an artist, directed by an artist, actually be like. Writer/director Julian Schnabel could have easily decked-out every inch of Basquiat with all sorts of watch-me, pretentious style-points and he probably would have been able to get away with it, too; artist biopics are probably the easiest where a director’s own creativity has no limits and allow for them to go as overboard as they want. Of course, there are the exceptions to the rule like Pollock and Basquiat, which makes them both very compelling to watch, if only because neither one loses sight of what the real story is about and, yes, that’s the artist themselves.

And in this case, Basquiat deals with a very sad and interesting figure that, for a solid portion of the movie, hardly does, or says anything – for a good portion of the running-time, Basquiat is seen being told what to do and going from one character to the next, occasionally having conversation, although mostly, just standing around and mumbling to himself. Sounds boring and like a true waste of having someone like Basquiat at your disposal, but it actually works in the movie’s favor – it gives us a better idea for who this person was, why his art mattered so much, and why the art-world, at the time and in the present day, isn’t all the love and hype it’s made out to be. It’s a pretty soulless and annoying world, where people constantly try to piggy-back off of the latest and greatest thing, even if they don’t really know what it all means.

So long as they have enough money to buy it, then who cares, right?

Clearly thinking about his future character-roles.

Although, that’s where Basquiat, the movie, does fumble a tad bit. It doesn’t quite know if it wants to be a small, understated character-study, a satire on the art-world, or this ensemble piece about said art-world, with all sorts of colorful and wild characters popping in and out. In a way, I sort of like all three of those movies, but together, they don’t always gel; the movie will actually forget about Basquiat at certain times, making it hard to wonder just who’s story this actually is.

It’s nice though to get the ensemble piece, because it allows for us to get a treat of the lovely and awesome ensemble here, what with some of the finest character actors of the day having an absolute ball. The likes of Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Parker Posey, Benicio Del Toro, Claire Forlani, Courtney Love, and a stand-out Michael Wincott all get plenty of ample opportunities to bring something to the story and Basquiat’s life, but it’s really David Bowie who steals the whole show as an aging, late-in-life Andy Warhol. What’s interesting about this portrayal is that Bowie never overdoes the mannerisms that we all knew Warhol for; he’s soft-spoken and whiny, but never feels like he’s acting. In other words, Bowie inhabits every bit of Warhol and allows for us to see not just someone who’s still very funny, but also a little bit sad, trying to grab onto any sign of fame and fortune that he has left.

Once again, it just proves the kind of talent Bowie was.

And this isn’t to take anything away from Jeffrey Wright, either, as he does a fine job in the lead role. But like I said before, the movie does often get distracted by all of these colorfully wild and entertaining bit-players, most of whom steal the spotlight from Wright in the first place. There’s still a sweet, soft and hurt soul within Wright’s performance that makes it compelling, but you’d think that in a much more focused movie, he would have been able to do so much more. Still though, it did put Wright on the map and man, oh man, the guy has gone on to do some great stuff, so hey, can’t be all that upset about it.

Consensus: Well-acted and intimate, Basquiat is an interesting, heartfelt look at the life of the infamous artist, but also loses focus every so often, and makes us wonder what could have happened with a smaller cast.

7 / 10

I’d pay to watch a conversation between these two.

Photos Courtesy of: Alt Screen

The Great Wall (2017)

Monsters are everywhere you look. Except the literal ones. Yeah, those things don’t exist.

While on a long, far-reaching search for black powder, mercenaries William (Matt Damon) and Tovar (Pedro Pascal) hold-up one night and encounter something strange, mysterious and deadly. They are able to chop off a piece of its arm, carrying it around with them everywhere they go, even if they don’t fully know just what it actually is. Then, they stumble upon the Great Wall and are taken prisoner by Chinese soldiers of a secretive military sect called “the Nameless Order”. Led by General Shao (Zhang Hanyu) and Strategist Wang (Andy Lau), the Nameless Order has been making it their mission to taking out any sort of threat that has come their way, but as of late, it’s been these odd, very vicious and disgusting monsters that, are also of the same kind that William and Tovar ran into that one night. That’s why, rather than killing the two, the Nameless Order decide to take the guys in, asking them for a helping hand in taking down these monsters, once and for all. It’s easy for William, but for Tovar, not so much.

White.

White.

There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding the Great Wall for a rather understandable reason: Matt Damon’s casting in the lead role seems like, yet again, another instance of Hollywood being too scared of casting any sort of minority in a lead role, that they just give it to the next big name, who also happens to be white. Hey, it’s happened before and it will definitely happen again. However, in the Great Wall, it’s not all that justified for a few reasons:

  1. Damon’s character in the movie is actually supposed to be white and isn’t supposed to be Chinese, therefore, making him a suitable actor for the character’s supposed race.
  2. Nobody really seems to have gotten all that mad that, included in this movie’s large international cast, Willem Dafoe (a white guy), is here, as well as Pedro Pascal (an Hispanic man) – two people who, last I checked, aren’t actually in the least bit Chinese.
  3. The movie itself is not meant to be taken seriously under any circumstances and because of that, it’s really hard to get mad at it for anything, let alone its casting decisions.
  4. And yeah, it’s just a silly movie.

Which is to say that, despite all of this, the Great Wall is still an enjoyable movie, although yes, incredibly stupid once you realize that it’s actually about a bunch of warriors, facing-off against a bunch of nameless, literally brainless green monsters who don’t really look like anything we’ve seen before, but they’re still not all that original, either – they’re like a weird cross between a dinosaur and a rat, but even then, I’m not so sure.

And coming from director  Zhang Yimou, you’d probably expect a little something more, but just like he proved with House of Flying Daggers, Yimou doesn’t always care the most about story and character-development, as much as he cares about what looks cool on the big screen, in 3D, and what’s fun. Sometimes, too, that’s all you need; the Great Wall is the perfect example of Yimou having so many toys at his disposal and getting an opportunity to play with each and everyone of them. Could he have gone deeper with the plot, these characters, and the overall message of the tale?

Nope. Still white and this time, a little Hispanic.

Nope. Still white and this time, a little Chilean.

Sure, but he doesn’t and it helps the movie not feel like all that much of a slug to get through.

Because when the movie does try and dive into the stuff like that, well, it doesn’t always work. We don’t really get to know anyone here, nor do we ever fully understand the plot itself, so when it takes time to explain itself, it just takes away from the movie and almost makes you wish for more monsters to show up. The characters themselves don’t have anything interesting to really say or do, either – sometimes, it seems like a lot of it was just filmed with the hopes that it would make it into the final-cut, but with no obligation whatsoever. Granted, we don’t always need clear, pitch perfect and three-dimensional characters in goofy monster movies such as the Great Wall, but it certainly does help us feel like there’s more at-steak, than just a bunch of lifeless, bland things getting killed on screen.

It also helps because you’ve got such a good cast here, with not much to do. Damon’s working with an odd accent the whole time, making him sound like he’s straight from Canada; Pascal’s character has all of the witty one-liners and laughs, as corny as they can sometimes get; Dafoe’s character is shady and mischievous, for reasons never made clear; Jing Tian gets to be a bit of a bad-ass when she isn’t trying to get some sort of spark flickering between her and Damon; and everyone else who shows up, well, they try, too. Mostly, the Great Wall doesn’t care about this stuff and for once, it’s sort of okay.

What it does prove is that it’s sometimes best to just take in and accept a monster movie, for exactly what it is.

Consensus: Even with the weak characters and story, the Great Wall still mostly gets by on the action, the look, the feel, and the surprisingly great deal of eye-popping 3D.

6 / 10

Ah, yes. That's more like it.

Ah, yes. That’s more like it.

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

Finding Dory (2016)

Stop getting lost, you damn fish!

Nearly one year after finding Nemo and returning him home safely, Dory (Ellen DeGeneras) and Marlon (Albert Brooks) have figured out a way to stay close to one another, where they can always be there for each other, just in case something goes awry again. And because of Dory’s short-term memory-loss, this means a whole lot, what with her always wandering off, never having a clue of where she’s at, or even what she’s doing. At first, it’s just small things that Dory gets mixed up with, but one day, she somehow gets lost in the ocean, leading her to some sort of aquarium where she encounters all sorts of lovely and colorful characters of the sea. But while Dory’s there, she begins to remember that she accidentally left home when she was young and is now just remembering that her parents may be looking for her. So Dory does whatever she can to find her parents, while seeming to forget everything that’s happening and relying on the help and kindness of former friends she knew when she was younger, as well as a new pal, the crabby octopus Hank (Ed O’Neill).

You da man.

You da man.

I hate to say it, but I wasn’t expecting much from Finding Dory. Say what you will about the original and how good it is, but compared to a lot of other Pixar flicks, it’s probably the weakest of “the very best” (which may sound silly and like a non-complaint, but does mean something when you compare almost all of the Pixar movies side-by-side), and not to mention that a movie that literally substitutes “Nemo”, for “Dory” and features, yet again, a lost fish in need of being found and saved, already sounds boring, unoriginal, and most of all, unneeded. If anything, I was expecting another Cars 2.

Which is why I can say that I’ve come out Finding Dory more than pleased to announce that it’s way better than I expected and yes, another home-run for Pixar.

In fact, it may be better than Finding Nemo.

I know, shocking, right? Well, the reason why Dory works a little better than Nemo is because the groundwork has already been laid-out and it would have been easy for everyone involved here to just rehash the same story again, without any bit of excitement or freshness added to the proceedings. But somehow, Finding Dory finds neat, creative and interesting avenues, peaks and valleys to tell its story, without ever seeming like its hitting the same beats the original did – even if, yes, it totally is. Where as any other sequel would have just done the typical thing that most sequels do to popular flicks (more of everything that made the original so charming), Dory changes certain things up; it not only introduces new characters that absolutely rival the lovely ones of the first, but also adds on a new setting that goes beyond and out of the sea, but it’s a welcome change-of-pace.

And this obviously all to say that Dory‘s story is pretty damn exciting; once we get the idea that Dory loses her train-of-thought/memory about every minute or so, the movie plays out like a G-rated Memento of sorts, with her asking people certain things that may help her quest out a bit more and also, thinking long and hard about where she came from and what’s next. It’s actually pretty fun to watch and it’s absolutely difficult not to get wrapped-up in all the excitement and anticipation, watching and waiting for Dory to reach her destination. And with that destination, we’re never too sure what’s at the end for her; while every other movie of this nature that makes it abundantly clear that their adventure will turn out good and give everyone a happy ending, the way Finding Dory is structured, makes you believe that possibly, quite possibly, Dory may not reach the goal that she wants.

She may complete her journey, but she may not get what she wants and honestly, that’s the one main reason why Finding Dory moves at such a great pace, that it almost never slows up.

Mhmmm. Tuna.

Mhmmm. Tuna.

If there are times that it does, it’s only to give us more backstory on certain characters, as well as Dory’s own life. And because this is her own solo movie, Dory gets a whole lot of attention here that really works and makes us feel for her a whole lot more; while a whole movie dedicated to her character, I must admit, had me feeling as if she was going to be grating the whole time, actually works in hindsight. The movie shows us that Dory’s story is a sad one and though she is indeed a fish, you could take her story and place it in a human’s life, and it would still hit hard. Pixar movies work best when they have you relating to their inanimate characters and here, Dory hits a real sweet spot that I didn’t expect to see coming.

That said, Dory’s not the only character worthy of attention here. In fact, it’s Ed O’Neill’s Hank character that just about steals the show, making his one-dimensional grump of an octopus, actually come-off as a sweet, endearing and sympathetic figure, even when it seems like he’s acting out in pure self-interest. Of course, Albert Brooks is here as Marlon, but he’s pushed to the back of sorts, so that DeGeneras and Dory can get all of the attention and it’s fine, but honestly, I kept coming back to Hank and had that feeling that we may, sooner or later, be seeing Finding Hank sooner or later.

Hopefully sooner, than later, and not another thirteen year wait like we had with this one.

Consensus: Heartfelt, emotional, compelling and above all, exciting, Finding Dory finds a fresh new voice in this well-worn story, making it a Pixar classic and better than the first.

9 / 10

Okay, now stay with your friends, Missy.

Okay, now stay with your friends, Missy. One movie is fine, but two?!? That’s too much!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Finding Nemo (2003)

Animals lose their kids, too. It’s not just humans.

Marlin (Albert Brooks) is an obsessively overprotective Daddy clownfish, but with good reason. Some time ago, when he and his late wife had just welcomed all of their children to the sea, because they weren’t paying enough attention, somehow, they all got swept away, and the wife died. There was one left, however, and it turned out to be Marlin’s sole child: Nemo. And needless to say, yes, Marlin is very uptight and worried about Nemo, so much so that Nemo himself feels as if he needs to venture out there into the world a whole lot more than he’s allowed to. However, all of that adventuring gets Nemo caught by a bunch of humans and thrown in some dentist’s office fish-bowl. For Nemo, this is a new world, but it’s one that he doesn’t quite love just as much as he loves the sea. But Marlin will not stop until he finds Nemo and brings him home safe, once and for all – now, though, he’s got the help of a fellow fish, Dory (Ellen DeGeneras), who may actually be more of a problem than a solution.

How I imagine Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneras talk to one another in real life.

How I imagine Albert Brooks and Ellen DeGeneras talk to one another in real life.

Finding Nemo came out at a time for Pixar that was definitely crucial. They were still hitting it out of the park with each and every flick they offered, but by 2003, you could start to tell that maybe, just maybe, Pixar’s appeal was starting to wane. Sure, a sequel to Toy Story works perfectly, because who doesn’t love talking toys, but talking sea-creatures? And one that involves one fish being lost and, hopefully, found?

Well, regarldess, none of this talk matters. Finding Nemo wasn’t just a hit commercially, but it also showed that everything Pixar was able to do with their first couple of movies, they were still able to carry-on with and remind everyone that they were the voice and brand-name to be reckoned with when it came to the world of animation. Nowadays, it seems as if they’ve fallen a tad off the ladder, but still, Finding Nemo, as it still lies, works.

The visuals, for one, are as beautiful as they ever have been. Given that the story literally takes place under the sea, it only makes perfect sense that every bit of Finding Nemo be as eye-engaging and beautiful as the bit before it. Heck, even after it being over 13 years of this thing being out and about, you’d think that at least some portion of it looks dated, or doesn’t quite hold-up; technology has, believe it or not, gotten a whole lot better and Pixar has definitely shown this. But nope, it’s still a beautiful movie.

And I’m not just talking about the visuals, either, although they are quite great to look at.

The greatest aspect of Finding Nemo is that it wears its heart on its sleeves practially the whole way through. It all starts off somber, tragic and absolutely upsetting for the first five minutes, but sooner than later, turns into this pleasant, relatively sweet story about overcoming one’s fears, adversities, and own handicaps to get something in life, as well as making one’s self better. While, yes, you could most definitely chalk that same message/theme to every other Pixar movie ever released, the fact remains that it still works and hits close to home here, even if you also get the idea that maybe Pixar wore it on a bit too strong?

Maybe? Eh?

Then again, maybe not. What Finding Nemo works best in is that it allows for its story to hit the emotional archs and all that, but also bring on the funny, too. There’s so many silly and lovely side characters that, honestly, it’s not hard to want to see a movie about them. There’s the sharks going through AA for blood; there’s the sea turtles who live the rock ‘n roll lifestyle like bro-ish surfers; and most especially, there’s the sea creatures stuck in a fish bowl who want nothing more than to escape this unforgiving prison. Of course, Finding Nemo gives all of these characters their chances to shine, but what matters most is that none of them feel like throway gags that Pixar thrown in there to create more toys, or because, well, they were bored; each and every character serves a greater purpose to the story and helps it move along.

Cowabunga dudes!

Cowabunga dudes!

And yeah, while I’m on about the characters, I might as well say that the voice-casting is probably the ballsiest, yet, smartest bit of casting Pixar has ever done. Albert Brooks’ gruff, yet slightly neurotic voice is perfect for the overly neurotic and scared Marlin, who is easy to warm up to, especially since we know that Brooks is such a lovely presence on the screen. But it’s strange that he was cast in the role, because honestly, he wasn’t all that big at the time of this release; it’s hard to say if Finding Nemo helped revitalize his career (he’s not on the screen at all and half the people who saw it probably have no clue who Albert Brooks is), but hey, if it’s a role that utilizes him well, then so be it.

But really, the star of the show is Ellen DeGeneras’ Dory.

Now, despite this too being a voice-role, Dory’s the character that definitely regenerized DeGeneras’ career for the greater good of society. The character allows for her to get as high-pitched and silly as she wants, without ever seeming as if she’s over-doing it to a huge exteme. In fact, it’s the right bit of goofiness and charm that works well for this character, as well as DeGeneras, because even if we do want to strangle Dory at times, it’s still hard not to want to see her and be around her more.

Probably why she’s getting her own flick, now that I think about it.

Consensus: Just as you’d expect from Pixar, Finding Nemo is a heartfelt, sweet, honest, fun, and downright hilarious tale of adventure, family and love, which is what makes it all the more great.

9 / 10

Yeah, now you're lost.

Yeah, now you’re lost.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Cry-Baby (1990)

Think of it as the true story of Elvis Presley’s high-school days. Gosh, what a prick.

Cry-Baby (Johnny Depp), is the leader of the Drapes and a bad boy juvenile delinquent with a heart of gold who’s only sin is loving the wrong girl (Amy Locane). This love, however, is what gets in the way of the Drapes and the Squares, which automatically leads into tensions arising.

Writer/director John Waters makes some pretty wild movies. With Cry-Baby, he brings his odd appeal to the art and style of a 50’s musical, where times are lighter, lovelier, and simpler, even though, essentially, the stories were about gangs, illegal drag-racing, and diners.

Lots and lots of diners, I may add.

Welp, there goes the neighborhood!

Welp, there goes the neighborhood!

What’s so funny about Waters’ direction here is that the whole film is one, big, giddy satire at those teen-idol movies of the 1950’s. You got the typical conventions you would expect from a movie of this genre: The bad-kids, leather jackets, greased-up hair, motorcycles, the stuck-up, rich kids, the good girl who wants to explore the wrong side of the tracks, a jailhouse, fancy cars, hip music (of the time), and parents that just never seem to understand and try too hard to be cool and “with it”. All of that cheesiness given a crazier edge here with Waters’ script and direction, and that’s where the whole fun of this movie comes from. There’s always a weird joke placed in this movie somewhere, and it takes a good half-hour to actually get used to what you’re watching and spot a lot of the goofs that Waters’ places in this flick.

In fact, that may have been a bit of my problem with this movie, as it’s a little too energetic and never really settles down. Maybe that’s a weak complaint to have for a musical, but it seems like a good portion of Cry-Baby may have been a bit too crazy to really enjoy and have as much of a ball with, if it had been tuned-down just a bit. Then again, it’s just another one of my weird nit-picks that I have with movies and it sort of went away as soon as those phenomenal and zany musical numbers would pop-up, and take all of my problems away.

The musical numbers here aren’t anything entirely special, other than the fact that they are a bunch of fun to watch and listen to, since they are all done with as much as hype and energy as the rest of the film is treated. Waters always finds a keen way in introducing these songs and although none of them are as terribly memorable as you may expect from a musical of this nature, you still will find yourself humming along to the tracks, long after the movies over. One of the most specific tracks I’m talking about is that“King Cry-Baby” song, that reminded me so much of Elvis Presley and the type of song he would sing to win a gal over, no matter who she was, or where she came from.

Did conjugals always exist?

Did conjugals always exist?

Yeah, Elvis was the man and to watch Waters make a character that’s just like him in every which way, was neat, if an easy target.

Other than the infectious musical numbers, the other element of this movie that’s incredibly fun as well is the strange ensemble that Waters puts together. In the lead role as everybody’s favorite bad boy, is Johnny Depp as Cry-Baby. It wasn’t just one of Depp’s first starring roles in a major motion-picture, but it’s also one of the first roles where he tried to break-away from that teen-idol sensation look he was given after his stint on 21 Jump Street. It’s great to see Depp perform as a young cat and still display that perfect type of energy and charm that we all know and love him for today, and if anything, you got to give this guy credit for going out there and taking on a weird role like this, especially when you’ve just got off of one of TV’s hottest-shows. Depp’s performance is nothing remarkable, nothing memorable, and nothing really special once you think about, but you can tell from the first shot until that last one, that this guy had something that was made for Hollywood and damn, do I wish I was alive and well in 1990 to put money down on that idea.

Then, there’s the rest of the cast that could literally just be a names-name of people you may have infamously heard of, or thought that you would never, ever see work again in a major, Hollywood-production.

Kim McGuire gives us a memorable performance as the terribly-disgusting, Hatchet-face, and you got to give the girl credit for taking a role that pretty much makes fun of the way she looks the whole time; Iggy Pop is randomly here as Belvedere Rickettes, and has a wild bathtub scene even though I was a bit disappointed to not hear him sing once throughout the whole movie; ex-porn star Traci Lords plays a young whippersnapper of a gal that hates how uncool her parents are; Patty Hearst is randomly here playing a very bright and sunny mother that always seems to be happy about something; and the strangest, most memorable performance of all from the whole cast definitely goes out to Willem Dafoe as the evil prison-guard. What’s odd about the role is that you see his name in the opening-credits, yet, have no clue or idea of when he’s going to show up. And when he does show up, well, let’s just say it’s near-perfection. It’s a wonder why this guy has never really anything that could be considered comedy. There are plenty of other names in this whole flick that you’ll probably see and recognize but seriously, I’d have to write a whole book for that.

Consensus: Cry-Baby may be a tad too manic for its own good, but will occasionally break out a lovely, zany piece of music that’s worth watching and enjoying, even if the targets are easy enough to scoff at on your own.

7.5 / 10

The perfect American couple, courtesy of John Waters.

The perfect American couple, courtesy of John Waters.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, I Love Hotdogs, Challenges

A Most Wanted Man (2014)

The Germans are the good guys now?

In the wake of 9/11, every country seemed to be hot on the heels of any person/organization that may, or may not, have been affiliated with terrorists and nobody else is feeling this worse than German Intel agent, Günther Bachmann (Philip Seymour Hoffman). While Günther knows that there are bigger fish in the sea, just waiting to be caught, he also knows that he’s getting a lot of pressure from those higher in the food-chain. That’s why, when he finds out about the case of a Chechen, who may possibly be planning a terrorist attack, he jumps on it right away and starts to negotiate deals with people who may be possibly linked to this suspected terrorist. One is Annabel Richter (Rachel McAdams) a small-time lawyer who makes a living out of giving benefits to possible refugees, and a shady banker, Tommy Brue (Willem Dafoe), who may be funding most of these terrorists. Either way, Günther knows that he has to come up with a result, by any means possible. Because if not, somebody else will. And in this case, it’s U.S. embassy ambassador Martha Sullivan (Robin Wright).

I'd be scared to even go to sleep.

I’d be scared to even go to sleep.

With Philip Seymour Hoffman gone from ever appearing on our screens again (except for the second part of the Hunger Games: Mockingjay due later next year), it’s always bittersweet to check out some of his past projects. Also though, by doing this, it’s inevitable to compare his latest works to what some would consider “his best” and sometimes, “most inspiring”. And in the case of Seymour Hoffman, and the legacy he leaves behind, there’s plenty to compare and contrast with.

However, with A Most Wanted Man, it’s a bit difficult – while the movie itself may not be all that on-par with what we most know him to have done, he’s still pretty good in the movie. That said, the movie itself is still lackluster and feels like a mediocre piece that Seymour Hoffman himself, as well as the rest of the cast, elevates to being something worth watching, if only ever so slightly. But that’s why we can rely on actors such as Seymour Hoffman; they make whatever they show up in, interesting and exciting.

As Günther Bachmann, Seymour Hoffman gets plenty of opportunities to show us what’s really brewing inside this man. While it may not always be pretty, there’s still a feeling that we can trust this character to get past his problematic ways and complete this mission of his, as troubled as it may sometimes be. And like with most of his other performances, Seymour Hoffman does quite a few subtle things with his performance to give us an impression of who this guy is; a certain way he takes off of his tie, or orders a drink at a restaurant, there’s always something for Seymour Hoffman to do where he can continue to build and build this character into being someone worth identifying with. Even though, you know, it may be hard for some simpletons to identify with a German Intel Agent in the first place.

But, like I said before, that’s why we can always rely on talents such as Seymour Hoffman to make that idea, an actual reality.

Though, Seymour Hoffman isn’t alone in putting in a good performance, as the rest of the cast all get their own, respective chances to build their characters and, as a result, the plot as well. Rachel McAdams’ character may be flawed and thinly-written, but she still tries hard enough to make it seem like she’s just another well-intentioned woman, who sadly, doesn’t seem to know the reality of the world going on around her and just how serious certain circumstances can be. Also, Willem Dafoe puts in a sneaky performance as the shady banker who may, or may not be, a total bad-guy behind some dastardly plans, or just a guy, trying to get by in the modern-day economy, even if his own morals are a bit questionable.

While these performances may be good, there’s still a feeling in the pit of my stomach that feels like they deserved a better movie. See, what’s so disappointing about A Most Wanted Man is that it comes from director Anton Corbijn, a director who is most-known for his various, stylized photos, but doesn’t really do much for this movie, except pack it with so much information that it can sometimes be way too overbearing. Especially for even the smartest, most determined-viewer out there.

Be jealous, Sean Penn.

Be jealous, Sean Penn.

But while there may be all of this information tossed at us, in hopes that things get intriguing and tense, the problem is that hardly any of that actually happens. Much rather, the movie just ends up becoming a slog and a meandering one at that. That’s not to say all of Corbijn’s choices are bad, but when you’re movie is this based on a possible case, and hardly delivers any suspense or excitement in the air, it’s quite hard to get involved with the proceedings, let alone care for those involved with them.

The only interesting aspect I can think of that Corbijn brings to the forefront of this film is that he discusses the behind-the-scenes, sometimes back-handed politics between the German and American Intel Agencies, and how both were so desperate to get results, that they didn’t care about who they got or how, they just knew they wanted them right away. This is probably where Corbijn breathes some life into this material, because it not only shows us that Günther may not be as powerful as we’d wish he was, but also gives us a chance to see him develop a nice bit of chemistry with Robin Wright’s Martha Sullivan. The two seem like they enjoy working with one another and amidst all of the political exposition – this means a lot. It actually gives a hint that there may be something deeper, and far more involved between these two characters and it brought plenty of promise to the rest of the film.

But, as fate would have it, all of that promise goes out the window as soon as the case ends and we realize that there are bigger hands at play here. While this may seem like a huge wake-up call to the characters involved – to us, the audience, it feels like the sign of a movie ending, way later than it should have. At least it gives us more time to share and adore with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

A true talent meant to be missed forever.

Consensus: Unexciting and sometimes meandering, A Most Wanted Man deals with certain meaningful political ideas and well-done performances, but doesn’t really get the audience involved as much as it nearly should.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

That look. Oh, how I will miss it so.

That look. Oh, how I will miss it so.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

John Wick (2014)

This is what happens when you take the blue pill.

John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is, seemingly, a simple man who lives a simple life. He has a wife (Bridget Moynahan); lives in a rather large, exquisite house, and always seems to have something to smile about. That is, until his wife tragically passes away and he’s left with nothing but a new life, a big house, a fine-ass car, and basically, nobody to spend time with. But, have no fear, because even though she’s long and gone by now, Mrs. Wick still finds ways to contact her hubby from the dead – but this time, it’s in the form of a small puppy. And Wick can’t say “no” to it and decides to just let the thing roam all around the house and be happy, just as his late wife would have wanted. That all changes though when a group of thugs break into Wick’s house, beat him to a bloody-pulp, steal his ride, and worst of all, kill that lovable pooch. As one would expect, Wick is pissed and starts on his path for revenge.

However, this time around, there’s a bit of a twist: John Wick’s a total and complete bad-ass who, for the past couple of years or so, has just settled down and tried to find a way from that old life of his.

And thus, folks, you have the movie’s synopsis, in a nutshell, no questions asked, no answers guaranteed. Now, with that all said, does it sound like the most conventional, run-of-the-mill action-thriller you’ve ever seen since the first Taken? Oh, you betcha! But sometimes, there’s a certain level of joy to be had in just knowing to expect right from the first glimpse of a trailer, or poster, or photo still, and being totally blind-sided by the fact that, yes, sometimes, movies can surprise the hell out of you by being more than just what they present.

Nature vs. nurture? Aw, who cares! Just kill 'em already, Wick!

Nature vs. nurture? Aw, who cares! Just kill ’em already, Wick!

But that’s not necessarily the case with John Wick, nor is that much of a problem; though the story doesn’t really try to reach deep, or far down into its themes about grief, revenge, or the soulless killing of others, it doesn’t necessarily need to because everything else is working so well. By this, I mean mostly the action-sequences, most of which are exciting, brutal, stylized, and sometimes, so simply put together, that it’s almost refreshing to watch. Because even in the days of the crack-cam, even us the audience can get a bit annoyed by not knowing who is doing what to whom, where at, and what the hell else is going on around them. So many directors of action out there make this mistake (looking at you, Mr. Bay), but neither co-directors David Leitch and Chad Stahelski are one of them.

Which is not just great for us, the audience watching in our seats, eating our X-Large-sized popcorns, but also great for the rest of the movie because it constantly stays simple, easy, and most of all, fun. Yet, it never forgets that in order for it to fully work, not just as an action film, but as a gritty crime-thriller, it also has to add some tension to the proceedings, which is what happens here. A sequence that takes place all over a nightclub comes to my mind the most apparent; not just for being exciting and stylized, but because it literally felt like it could have gone anywhere, at any second. Though we know John Wick won’t die so early in the film (which is when this sequence takes place), there’s still a feeling going around that he could slip, fall, or not do something properly, and lose his life, therefore, allowing the baddies to prevail.

And then, presumably, sadness would ensue.

But nope, that doesn’t happen and for the rest of the movie, it’s still the same thrill-ride.

Although, I do hesitate to call this movie “great” (as so many critics have been quick to call it), only because I definitely do think there’s some problems with the movie, especially with its plot. There’s maybe, I don’t know, two, possibly three, different endings to this movie that were all satisfying in their own rights, yet, splashed together, feels off. It was almost as if Leitch and Stahelski weren’t confident in the numerous decisions they wrote out, so they decided to pick the best three, film them all, and then decide which one’s the best to go at the end of the film, and what other two will be left for the special features. Except, they decided to keep them all and see what happens.

And, predictably so, it doesn’t work and makes a rather lean, mean hour-and-a-half-movie, seem/feel a lot longer than it should.

However, the fact remains mighty high and clear: The movie’s fun. It’s hard to really have a problem against that when all you ever set out to do with your movie, is exactly the kind of result you get. So, in that aspect, yes, I’m willing to give the movie’s various endings a pass, but I will still not go so far as to call it, the movie John Wick, “great”. It’s still a great time at theaters, but please, don’t get so wrapped up in all the insanely positive press out there.

But, if there is anything to get wrapped up in, concerning the press that this movie’s getting, it’s that Keanu Reeves is back, baby! And this time, he doesn’t care whether he’s old, considered to be “past his prime”, eating all by himself on benches, or that nobody really calls him up anymore – he’s Keanu Reeves dammit, and the dude’s allowed to do what he wants. All that said, Reeves is fine here as Wick. Though people get on Reeeves’ case for his acting-skills (or, lack thereof), the guy has that inherent likability to the way he carries himself that’s hard to have a problem against, let alone despise. He’s just Keanu Reeves, plain and simple. Throw a gun on him, give him some kick-ass moves to perform, and a few cheesy one-liners here and there, and your movie’s fine. Meaning, I’m totally fine with Reeves staging a comeback, so long so as he realizes that his main strengths are in goofy action films such as these.

I'd murder 50 thugs for that little face. I mean, come on, just look at him!

I’d murder 50 thugs for that little face. I mean, come on, just look at him!

Anything more, may be pushing it a tad too much (looking at you, 47 Ronin).

Though Reeves definitely anchors this movie in his own way, the supporting cast definitely deserves some love and praise, mostly because they allow this movie’s sometimes strange script, just totally do the trick and play with its own universe. For instance, there’s an interesting little angle this movie’s story takes in that it gives us a glimpse into this underground world/society of criminals, where they all go to the same places to hang out, drink, sleep, eat, and basically, stand by each other’s rules to not conduct any sort of “business”. Though it’s weird, the movie plays it up so nicely that it’s easy to just fall in line with and accept, rather than be freaked-out by.

Another reason why it’s so easy to accept this angle for what it is, is because the cast of characters this movie has inhabit this little, under-seen world, is chock full of “you name it’s” – Willem Dafoe, Dean Winters, Michael Nyqvist, Adrianne Palicki, John Leguizamo, Lance Reddick, Kevin Nash (yes, Big Daddy Diesel), Clarke Peters, David Patrick Kelly, and an always welcome Ian McShane, all show up, do their thing for as long as they are allowed to, leave their impressions on us, and move on. Probably how it’s best to approach the movie itself; expect to have fun and nothing but.

Move on.

Consensus: By sticking to its gun (literally and figuratively), John Wick is nothing more than what it presents to be seen as – a fun, exciting, if conventional crime-thriller, with a cast full of wild supporting characters, and of course, the always likable, Keanu Reeves.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Yeah. I did that. Whaddup?"

“Yeah. I did that. Whaddup?”

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

eXistenZ (1999)

You know what’s so lame about GTA? It’s not real!!

Allegra Geller (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is a famous video-game maker who has made a video-game where people can transport themselves into other lives, as well as gives them the chance to constantly guess whether or not they are in real life, or just living a pure fantasy where they can do anything that they want. This inventive, yet, incomprehensible game is called eXistenZ, and it soon takes over her mind, as well as her bodyguard (Jude Law)’s.

Video-games have become so crazy now, that I honestly wouldn’t be surprised one bit if somebody came from out of nowhere, made this type of game, and watched it as it sky-rocketed to the charts of the highest-sellers come the Holidays. That person would also have to watch as the suicide-rates would be sky-rocketing off the charts as well, because with a dangerous mind-fuck of a game like this, you know people are just going to go crazy. I’m telling ya, it’s a surprise that this hasn’t happened yet and I’m just waiting for more video-game designers to think of the next “Million Dollar Idea”.

Uhm, yeah. Just roll with it. Yo.

Uhm, yeah. Just roll with it. Yo.

However, if they do come up with this idea, they do have to give some of that change they earn straight to writer/director David Cronenberg, because he’s the main guy who came up with the idea in the first place and milks it to the brim with this movie. I have to give Cronenberg a lot of credit here because the guy definitely starts this flick out on the right foot with any eerie feel, a lot of mystery in the air, and a whole bunch of suspense as to what the hell is going to happen next to these characters once they finally suit up (I guess that’s what you could call it), and whether or not they’ll make it out of the game alive. When Cronenberg gets crazy ideas like these, they usually don’t pan-out so well for me, but here, he actually kept me involved and kept my mind on the film at hand, considering the whole game these two are playing, is just one, big twist after twist without any real type of explanation as to what’s going on and what it isn’t.

Which normally isn’t fine for me with most of his movies, but here, was surprisingly so.

As much as Cronenberg may toy around with the idea of us not knowing whether or not this is a game, or real life, he still allows himself to get real nutty on all of us and uses some of the trademarks we all know him for. The gore here is downright disgusting as we go through a couple of different spots where blood comes shooting, guts fall out, and people’s faces just come flying straight-off, landing on the floor below them. And on top of that, there’s also a lot of gooey, slimy sounds that make you squirm even more and add just another level to Cronenberg’s already, ‘effed-up mind that he obviously wants us to play around with him in. But while this would usually tick me off with some of his movies, here, I decided to just go along for the ride and enjoy myself, even if I had no idea what exactly was happening, or even what it meant.

But that was the problem I eventually ran into with this movie: I knew everything about anything Cronenberg was trying to discuss. See, while this movie, on the surface, is about this insane, balls-out game that allows its players to do whatever they want, in a world that they have no idea about as is, when you dig a bit deeper, it ends up becoming something darker and more upsetting. In a way, Cronenberg is trying to get across what your mom has been saying for the past two decades to get you off you Laz-E Boy and in the classroom: Video games are bad and they make you do bad things.

Now, while I don’t necessarily agree wholly with that statement, I still understand that many people see an evil in the art of video games and how it may drive certain people to lose their minds. We’ve seen certain cases regarding this in the past and while I don’t feel its appropriate to voice my opinions out on those here and now, I’ll just say that whatever Cronenberg is trying to get across here, is practically the same message and it’s kind of annoying. We get that video games mess with certain people’s minds and allow them to not be able to differentiate the difference between “reality” and “fiction”, but do we really need to be reminded of this every five-to-ten-minutes? Maybe because of the time this was released (nobody in 1999 had ever heard of an XBOX), but the message, in today’s world, seems relatively preachy and dated. Granted, back in the day, these ideas may have been revolutionary and eye-opening, but to us humanoids from the 21st Century, we realize that everything being said here, is why we moved out of parent’s place in the first place.

The future of gaming, people. Except, not really at all.

The future of gaming, people. Except, not really at all.

So take that, older-generation!

Another problem that most Cronenberg movies, not just this one in particular, is that usually he’ll cast an interesting bunch in his movies, but since his material is sometimes so weighty and dense in the way that it’s delivered, you can tell which actors are more suited to it than others. For a total surprise, Jude Law actually ends up doing well in a rather restrained role as this body-guard. Sure, Law’s using some of his charm to get us to like him and his character here, but most of it is actually just him trying to be weird and mysterious, and it works well and to his advantage. Same goes for the likes of Sarah Polley, Willem Dafoe, and Ian Holm who don’t show up too long or often to leave an impression, but show that they are capable of fitting into Cronenberg’s world, where everyone speaks like he imagines them as speaking.

The only one who feels totally off in this movie is Jennifer Jason Leigh, who is supposed to play this geeky, downright off-kilter video game nerd, but just ends up coming off as she’s bored. In fact, a part of me felt as if she was in her own movie altogether; one where she was allowed to deliver her lines like she’s been doing for the past three decades, but instead, actually worked. Here, it seems like Cronenberg cast her, without really knowing full well if she’d be able to handle his “speak”, quite as well as the others. Don’t get me wrong, Leigh’s still a top-notch actress in most of the stuff she does, but here, she feels awkward stilted.

Maybe that’s how Cronenberg wanted her to be? Then again, maybe not. Who the hell knows what goes on inside that dude’s head!

Consensus: David Cronenberg loves to play with his audience and in eXistenZ, he gets a chance to do so, but too many times does it feel like he stops the wild fun, just so that he can prop us down for a lesson or two about the world of video-games that, trust me, we already know full well about.

6 /10 = Rental!!

Even in so-called "virtual-reality video-games", the ladies still fall head-over-heels for J-Law. Damn that Brit bastard and his sexy charms!

Even in so-called “virtual-reality video-games”, the ladies still fall head-over-heels for J-Law. Damn that Brit bastard and his sexy charms!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Fault In Our Stars (2014)

Having cancer doesn’t really have to be all that bad, now does it?

Hazel Grace Lancaster (Shaliene Woodley) is your typical sixteen-year-old girl; she’s sassy, wants to have fun, listens to cool bands, loves her parents, and is taking up classes when she can. She also wants a fake ID, so you know she’s exactly like every other teenager that’s ever lived a day in their lives. However, what separates Hazel from most other teenage girls, is that she’s suffering from cancer. She gets by with her oxygen tank that she hauls around wherever she goes, but for the most part, she knows that anytime, at any place, she could be gone from this world. However, Hazel isn’t all about soaking in her own misery and decides to look at it in a relatively positive light; yet, she doesn’t care too much about telling others about it. That’s why when she’s forced to go into a support-group for fellow cancer patients, she couldn’t be less miserable. That is, until she meets a charming, older guy by the name of Augustus Waters (Ansel Elgort), whom also is suffering from cancer. The two strike a bond that automatically has them deciding whether or not they should be together, considering that their fates are unpredictable, yet, they still stick together and see where it can go. But don’t forget, for most people, when one has cancer, it hardly ever fully leaves the body forever, until the end of time. Sometimes, it can come back and ruin lives more effectively than ever before.

Considering that I myself am a young adult, I’ve heard my fair share of talk surrounding the novel of this movie. Many girls loved it, some didn’t, and most dudes hated hearing about it. I didn’t necessarily care, however, what I did hear was that it was a lot better and smarter than many of those other young adult, sappy-romance novels that never cease to keep on being released to mass-mediums. That’s what got me slightly interested about this movie; thinking that maybe, just a big maybe, this novel-adaptation could be different and change the game for other young adult novel adaptations from here on out.

Don't worry, concerned parents, I can assure that it's only grape juice in their glasses.

Don’t worry, concerned parents, I can assure that it’s only grape juice in their glasses. It just so happens to look as if they are consuming champagne under legal-age.

Sadly, my mind was wrong.

However, according to the rest of the theater I was in, I’m a total idiot and have no idea what I’m talking about. Why is that? Well, for starters, all of the young tweenie-boppers in my theater loved this movie – they laughed at every joke (regardless of whether or not it was actually “funny”), went “aaawww” whenever somebody said a romantic-line (even if it was schmaltzy beyond belief), and cried whenever something bad was about to happen to one person, or had already happened (okay, I’ll give them that, some of the stuff was pretty sad). And there’s no reason they shouldn’t have loved it – they’re are this movie’s target-audience.

That’s why whenever a movie is released and a certain group of people, or persons, adore one movie (regular, everyday citizens), and a certain group of other people, or persons, don’t wholly agree (critics), there’s a huge backlash, where words are exchanged, death threats are thrown out, and subscribers are lost till the end of time. That’s one risk any human takes when forming their own opinions and decides to make it public for the rest of the world to see; that’s the risk I took, and honestly, I’m a better person for it. Not because I like to inadvertently tell certain people to “fuck off” whenever I damn well please, but because it allowed me to see just how differently my mind works from other’s.

And trust me, I don’t do that because I want to think differently like others and be considered “hip”, or “cool”, or “annoying” (I usually am considered this by others regardless of what I say), but I do that because it’s my voice. Hear it or not, it’s my voice. Deal with it.

The reason why I’ve gone into total “preach-mode” is because I know, as soon as this review is posted, so many human specimens are going to get on my ass because I: a) didn’t love this movie with all of my heart, b) haven’t read the book, or c) all of the above. And that’s fine, but there’s a reason why I don’t like certain movies – and it’s not to just break from the norm and show everybody how much of a rebel I am. Because see, something with this movie was just not clicking for me.

The acting from Shaliene Woodley was fine, in fact, she downright saves this movie, so it definitely wasn’t her. No, it was more that the tone to this movie just felt so one-note the whole entire time. I get that this is something of a cancer-dramedy in which these characters sort of understand that they have cancer, know it sucks, and do whatever they can to make their situation better by just noticing it and moving on, but for the first hour, that’s the whole movie. There’s hardly any drama, and just all comedy; comedy which, mind you, wasn’t all that funny and felt terribly tacked-on.

For instance, this character of Augustus who, on paper, sounds like a total dream boat that any girl, cancer patient or not, would go buck wild for (maybe even some curious guys, too, but that’s a different story). He’s smart, funny, chock full of wit, spirited, loves to have himself a good time, and is never against using a metaphor he doesn’t like. In essence, he’s what every girl wants their boyfriend to be, but the problem is: He’s only “real”, in a movie sense. Somebody like Augustus may exist out there, but if that is the case, I do not want to know him. To me, every time Augustus showed up and spouted some line that was supposed to make him sound “witty”, I got even more and more annoyed by his character.

That’s not to say Ansel Elgort isn’t good as him – more often than not, the dude really does try. However, he’s just given some really lame material that has him doing the same act, practically the whole damn time, and even when he does get serious, he’s so far gone into “goofy” territory, that it’s hard to take him at all serious. And yes, I know that because he has cancer, we’re supposed to feel sorry for him, and I’m not saying that she shouldn’t, it’s just hard for me to really get behind a character that feels so fake, annoying, and around as a “type”, rather than an actual human being that I would meet in real life, have a cup of Joe with, talk to, and enjoy my time with.

Oh, just do it already! Spare us!

Oh, just do it already! Spare us!

Sorry, everybody. Maybe I’m just a depressed, angry asshole that doesn’t like fun.

Like I said earlier though, Woodley is probably the saving-grace to this movie because she feels somewhat real when placed against everybody else. But what brings Woodley down is that the way we’re introduced to Hazel Grace, makes it seem like she’s something of a rebel herself; she doesn’t want to be treated like a cancer patient, she doesn’t want anybody’s pity, and she sure as hell doesn’t want to do all of that corny, “falling in love” crap that she sees done in the mainstream media. However, without saying too much that would jeopardize my respect with fellow bloggers, she starts to fall for those corny cliches and it makes it seem like the movie didn’t really think all of those ideas out well enough. It just threw it on there to show that she’s somewhat different, and that’s about it. Woodley’s still good, but man, it just sucks when a character gets written one way, and turns out another way, without any real, believable transition to be found anywhere.

And before I head off into a cabin in the woods where I’ll most likely be hiding for the next week or so after this is posted, I will say that I did tear-up a bit by the end. However, that’s only because I feel like I had finally given up on trying to stiff-arm this movie into making me tear. Because, for the whole two-hour run-time, you can feel this movie just reaching deep inside of you, trying to get anything close to resembling an emotion of sadness or sentimentality, and it downright annoyed me. But, like I said, before the movie was up, I succumbed to this movie’s over-powering strength and felt one, teenie, tiny, small tear run down my right cheek. I should have taken a picture or something, but I assure you, it was nothing compared to the kinds of tears I produce while watching Hardball.

Please, don’t anybody show this review to my father. Something tells me I’d be without a roof over my head for quite some time.

Consensus: While its heart is in the right place, the Fault in Our Stars is just too one-note and unbelievable, for so long, to where when it does get serious and melodramatic, it feels drastic and needy, rather than understandable and heartfelt. Also not to mention that Augustus can get real annoying, real quick after he’s introduced.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

We get it, you're adorable. Damn, meddling kids.

We get it, you’re adorable. Damn, meddling kids.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBAceShowbiz

Spider-Man 3 (2007)

Like they say, “Once you go black, you never go back.”

When we last left Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), things seemed to be going relatively fine. Not only did he save the day, once again, but he got the girl of his dreams, M.J. (Kirsten Dunst), patched things up with his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris), and finally told his best-friend Harry Osborne (James Franco) about the fact that he’s not only Spider-Man, but that his father tried to kill him. Sure, the relationship between those two may be strained and even have Harry himself go a bit coo-coo with vengeance, but for the most part, Pete’s life is happy, joyful and one that makes him happy to wake up in the day. However, that all changes one day when he finds out that his Uncle Ben’s killer, believe it or not, is still out there, and he’s going by the name of the Sandman (Thomas Haden Church). To make matters even worse, Peter’s finding it hard to keep things going steady at work, and is finding some stiff competition in the newsroom with aspiring, fellow photo-journalist Eddie Brock (Topher Grace). Also, remember the girl of his dreams that he thought he won, hook, line and sinker last time? Well, she’s starting to get second-thoughts about dating a superhero. Oh, and as if that wasn’t all bad enough for Spidey, for some reason, there’s this black, venomous acid following him around and latching onto his suit, changing up his hair-do, and making him act in a totally different way, that may make him feel great and all, but pushes those whom are close to him, further and further away.

Okay, so yeah, that’s a long premise. But it needed to be because let’s face it: This movie is a total, complete, over-stuffed mess. I knew that the second I walked out of the theater back in the early days of summer ’07, and I knew that less than three or four days ago when I found enough guts to go through with it and actually give this movie another try. Shame on me, but you know what? I gotta do it for all of you.

"Kame me, kame me...huh?"

“Kame me, kame me…huh?”

All you mofo’s better be happy with this.

But, to be honest, even though I’m getting off of on the wrong foot and making it seem like I absolutely loathe the heck out of this movie, I can’t say that I really do. Because somehow, I was able to find little, itty, bitty, pleasures here and there throughout the movie. Now, whether or not these pleasures were indeed intended to be “pleasureful” is totally up to Sam Raimi and the creative-powers that be whom got behind this, but the fact remains: Spider-Man 3 isn’t all that terrible. It’s not good, that’s for certain, but it’s not shitty either.

Confused by what I’m trying to say? Don’t worry, I am too. Here, let me try to explain:

What I like to think of this movie as being is one, big, nearly-two-and-a-half-hour long “fuck you” from Sam Raimi. No, not a “fuck you” to us, the dedicated, lovely audience that spent all of our minimum-wages on seeing his past couple of Spider-Man movies, but more as a “fuck you” to those who tried to get in the way of his creative-vision way too many times before. Maybe I’m just making this all up in my head to make myself feel better, but there’s no way in hell that Sam Raimi, the creator of some of the greatest, most iconic cult films of all time, thought that this was a good idea. Or hell, even this! And oh god no, dare I even talk about this travesty!

No, no, no! I refuse to believe that the some mastermind behind Ash would ever stoop this low and give us something as painstaking as most of this movie can be! I don’t care what anybody says, I will stand by my grave if I have to! They always say that “money can’t buy happiness”, well, nor do I think that it can buy creative consciences either. It’s clear to me that Sam Raimi doesn’t know what to do with each and everyone of these subplots, so instead, he just crams them altogether in a way that’s incoherent, but wholly uneven. One second, you’ll be getting something out of a comedy-sketch in which Peter Parker is walking down the street, dancing, walking all fly, acting cool and hitting on the ladies, while some funky bass-action plays in the background; and then, all of a sudden, the next second, you’ll get a scene or two in which the Sandman talks about his dying-kid and how he does all of this crime and whatnot for her.

One second, it’s a laugh-out-lough, camp-fest; the next second, it’s a total downer that will make you want to say “party’s over”. I’m not saying that certain movies can’t be both frothy and dramatic at the same time, there’s just a specific-balance that these movies are capable of handling and maintaining, and it’s clear early on that Raimi is not able to do that. Whether or not this was him just having an off-day and deciding to hell with it all, is sort of beyond me, but there’s just so much going wrong here, that it’s almost too hard to think of it as anything else other than a ruse played on all of us, as well as the numerous Hollywood producers backing this thing.

Which is a total shame, because with all of the material and promise Raimi had at his disposal here, he could have done some wonders – given that he had a three-hour run-time and at least took away a villain or two. But what happens here is that we get just about three villains, four-to-five conflicts for Spidey (not including his own conflict with himself), three-to-four extraneous subplots that literally add nothing to the story, and a two-hour-and-twenty-minute run-time that goes by quick, but only because the movie is never comfortable enough focusing on one thing. Raimi always has to be moving from one end of the story, to another, which makes a lot of sense since he clearly has a lot on his plate to chew on, but made it seem like it didn’t really know what to do or say with its plot, or any of its characters. So instead, it just fell back on the same old, high-flying, CGI-galore action that was always there to make things better for these movies in the past.

Yup, they're totally boned from here-on-out.

Yup, they’re totally boned from here-on-out.

However, this time around, everything else is so poorly-developed, that it just feels like a cheat to get our minds out of everything else that’s going on so wrong with this movie – especially with the characters. And hell, if there’s anything about this movie that fuels me even more is how they wasted the whole potential that Eddie Brock/Venom had as a villain. Don’t get me wrong, I think Topher Grace is a fine actor that’s been trying his hardest since day one to get out of that Eric Forman-shell that’s been carved for him since, well, yeah, day one, but he’s not right for this role. I get what Raimi was trying to do with the casting of him – make him something of an over-the-top, immoral, sneaky and sly son-of-a-bitch – which yes, does work when he’s being Eddie Brock, the photojournalist for the Daily Bugle, but when he has to transform to Venom with about 15 minutes left of the movie, it feels like an after-thought. Almost as if the producers wanted Raimi to throw him in there for good measure, only to realize that the rest of the movie was stacked with so much to begin with.

And since I’m on the subject of new faces to this franchise, I have to say that I feel very bad for Thomas Haden Church here, because the dude is a great talent who just about makes everything better the minute he shows up in it. The problem with him here, as the Sandman, is that he’s given just about nothing to do. We get enough back-story to his character so that we can sort of see where he’s coming from, but it gets so convoluted once they start talking about how he apparently killed Uncle Ben in the past, that I just wanted them to stop with it all and move on. Give me the action, give me more scenes of Thomas Haden Church actually talking and showing some personality, and give me more of the core that really makes these movies tick in the first place: Pete and M.J.

It doesn’t matter what you’re own, personal opinions may be on Tobey Maguire and Kirsten Dunst as working-professionals, but it should be noted that without them and their chemistry (or in some cases, lack thereof), this franchise would have fallen flat on its face as soon as it hit theaters. There would have been no “superhero movie boom”; no Spider-Man 2; no Amazing Spider-Man; no Amazing Spider-Man 2; nobody remembering who the hell James Franco was; and sure as hell no Spider-Man 3. Maybe we could have lived peacefully with that last aspect being gone and lost forever, but you get the picture – M.J. and P.P. gave these movies an extra oomph of heart and emotion that so many superhero movies try to recreate nowadays, but just can’t seem to get down perfectly.

However, here, the whole idea is that M.J. and Pete stop loving one another and grow apart, which kind of sucks to see since we’ve invested so much of our time in them, but by the same token, needs to happen in order for us to make them just a tad bit believable in terms of character-development and rounding the two out as individual beings, rather than just a couple. If this was done right, it would have been phenomenal to see, in a big-budget, superhero movie no less, but the movie really stumbles when it’s paying dear attention to this subplot. Pete eventually becomes a bit of a dick because of this venomous, gooey thing that keeps on attaching to his suit and making him act differently; and M.J. is coming at a bit of an existential crisis where she wants the focus to be constantly on her, her failing-career as a Broadway actress, and the fact that she’s been so loyal and dedicated to Pete, despite going around and starting to sleep with Harry, once again.

Ain’t nothing like old times, right peeps?

Yes, get as far, far away as you can from this movie, James. Don't just do us the favor, do yourself one.

Yes, get as far, far away as you can from this movie, James. Don’t just do us the favor, do yourself one.

Tobey Maguire, god bless him, tries his heart out but once Peter Parker gets that new, emo hairdo, it’s all downhill for him from there; Dunst looks bad because Mary Jane is so unlikable and unsympathetic in her whiniest performance yet; and James Franco, believe it if you will, probably has the best performance out of everyone here, just by getting a chance to live a little and show some of that Daniel Desario charm that was so absent from the two other movies. Which is strange considering that right as soon as this movie came out, hit theaters, broke a bunch of box-office records and basically ended the franchise that came to be known as “Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man“, Franco started popping-up in some interesting movies like Milk, Pineapple Express and In the Valley of Elah that not only stretched him a bit as an actor, but also showed the world that he wasn’t going to be doomed by his infamous past as “Harry Osborne, snobby, prick-ish son of a crazy billionaire”.

So yes, if there is anything, heck, anything at all good that you can take away from Spider-Man 3, it’s that it allowed James Franco to break-out from his cage and start trying his hand at some weird, quite frankly, goofy shit. But hey, we’re better as a society for it. Because seriously, when was the last time you actually got amped-up for something either Kirsten Dunst or Tobey Maguire were doing?

I rest my case.

Consensus: Long, overstuffed, uneventful, confusing, incoherent, and definitely disappointing, Spider-Man 3 may go down in the history books as one of the weakest superhero movies made in the past decade or so, but it isn’t without its small pleasures found along the way, if only for its most dedicated, easy, and calm viewers.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Shit. Gotta remember to take my suit off next time I tan."

“Shit. Gotta remember to take my suit off next time I’m trying to get that summer glow.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Just when you thought saving the world from evil, maniacal villains was enough.

Last time we left Peter Parker, he was trying to save the world from the havoc of a super-duper evil villain; win the heart of his lovely neighbor, M.J. (Kirsten Dunst); ace his college courses; still have a roof over his head; and be able to sleep soundly at night, knowing that he’s saved the day. And well, not much of that has changed a bit. Well, maybe instead of having the Green Goblin as a villain, he now has the incredibly smart Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), and the four metal arms that control his every action and thought, leading him to want to destroy the world that’s been so crummy to him as is. Or, you know, something like that. Also going on, Peter has a problem with telling his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) the truth about what happened to their dear old Uncle Ben, on that one, fateful night. And then of course, there’s Harry Osborne (James Franco) who is rich and powerful now, after inheriting the family business from his deceased-father and still having a bit of a problem with Pete and the fact that he takes the man who killed his father’s pictures all of the time.

I’ve seen this movie many quite a couple of times and it hardly ever ceases to amaze me. Of course when I was a lot younger, this was considered “the best movie ever made, by far”, but now that I’m older, and hopefully wiser, it’s stooped-down to being “just as good, if not better than the first”. That’s just what happens with age, though, people. You get older, you learn a lot more and you know what you like, and dislike.

Here though, I like pretty much everything, even if I have seen this movie about ten or more times. That’s not an understatement either; I was brought-up on the Tobey Maguire – Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, which is why I have such a hard time loving these new ones, as well as being able to hate on the magic these two made in the first place. Sure, they’re definitely a lot goofier and lighter on their feet than what most of us are used to with superhero movies (thanks for that, Chris Nolan), but there’s something about their fun spirit and excitement that’s too hard to hate or ignore. Even when it comes close to running into “campy territory”, there’s still an essence that everybody involved is having a great time making this and for that, my soul just cannot hate any of them.

"Dammit M.J.! I mean, I love you and all, but you got to stop getting captured!"

“Dammit M.J.! I mean, I love you and all, but you got to stop getting captured without wearing a damn bra!”

Even the third one. But that’s a different review, for a different time (aka, tomorrow).

But anyway, like I was saying before, what Sam Raimi does so well here is that he does keep the same frothy, sometimes goofy and joy-free mood and tone of the first one, but ups the intensity of this by adding both bigger, bigger stipulations, but also giving us characters we can care and love a lot more than we did with the first one. It’s not like we didn’t get any character-development in the first Spider-Man movie, but it definitely didn’t go any further than “good guy”, or “bad guy”. Here though, we get characters, in a comic-book movie no less, that also happen to have dimensions and qualities that most human beings contain.

Sounds crazy, right? Well, that’s because it totally is! However, Raimi has just about each and every moment here that’s dedicated to building and making these characters who they are, feel somewhat genuine. He also does something strange for a mainstream, superhero blockbuster in that he lets a lot of scenes where two characters may be having a heart-to-heart or talking about something rather emotional, play-out in total silence, as if he isn’t telling us when the sad moments are coming. We’re just supposed to know what to feel, and cry, shake, tremble, or smile on our demand.

We so rarely see that with superhero movies, but Raimi took a big time risk here, and it paid-off especially well.

Another risk he took was in actually showing us the shitty side of being a superhero. Most of the time, we always see the person in the suit, messing shit up, being a boss, saving the world and getting the girl, the glitz, and the glamour by the end of the day, but what most of us really don’t see is what goes on when that said person gets out of that said costume and becomes what most of us are: Actual humans. Here, with Peter Parker, we get an idea that not only does it suck being depended on just about every second of every day, at every location in the heart of New York City, but that it’s even more of a drag having to deal with all of your other problems when you’re not out saving the world, one criminal at a time.

For Peter Parker, life kind of blows – the girl of his dreams is with some total meat-head, his best-friend doesn’t trust him, he’s not paying his rent, he hasn’t told his Aunt the dreaded secret that may ruin their relationship forever, and he can’t seem to hold down a steady job, or wage. But when he puts that suit on, life is suddenly better, if only by a bit. Still though, it’s apparent that being a superhero, no matter how many people look up to you as a result, it’s still a hard life to live. That’s why when Pete decides that it’s time to take a sabbatical of sorts, we want him to get all of the rest and chillaxing he can get; but also, not to wait too long either. Because, let’s face it, he’s Spider-Man and he’s a pretty awesome superhero when he’s kicking all sorts of butt.

And kicking all sorts of butt is what Sam Raimi allows for Spidey to do, more times than he did in the original. Though there is plenty of dramatic moments here where it’s just a couple of characters or two just sitting around and talking, Raimi still never forgets about the action, which features some of the most memorable brawls of recent-memory. That bank-robbery that turns into a fight on top of a skyscraper? Damn! The train-battle? Gosh! The moment Octavius becomes “Doc Ock”? Well, yeah, it’s pretty disturbing, even for a PG-13 superhero movie, but man, it was awesome!

In other words, Raimi gives us all the goods an average, everyday moviegoer could want, especially if they were coming to see a Spider-Man movie.

And of course, the cast is great too, with a few even putting in their best work of the whole franchise. Tobey Maguire may get a lot of crap for being the good-looking nerd everyone aspires to be (myself included), but it’s totally undeserved because the kid can act and handles his own as Spider-Man, and most importantly as Peter Parker. In fact, if Maguire wasn’t putting in great work here, this movie probably would have failed considering mostly all of it is focused in on Peter Parker, the person, rather than Spider-Man, the superhero the person becomes. Maguire may get a bit too earnest for his own good at times, but it’s easily forgivable since he’s just so likable and easy-to-root-for, because you know that while he wants to be at his girl’s play more than anything else in the world, he’s got a world to save and maintain peace within. If that doesn’t sound like a total dream-boat, I have no clue what does.

Ladies, we know the sex with him would be awesome. Let's just keep our heads out of the gutter for the meantime.

Ladies, we know the sex with him would be awesome. Let’s just keep our heads out of the gutter for the meantime.

Speaking of “his girl”, Kirsten Dunst is another who seems to get a lot of crap from those who think she can’t act, and I think that’s terribly wrong. For starters, she totally can and as she’s gotten older, she’s only been able to prove that moreso, time and time again. However, back in those good old days of the early-21st Century, I could see why some people got on her case as M.J. definitely isn’t the best-developed or most believable character out of the whole bunch, but at least Dunst seems like she knows what she’s doing when she’s delivering some of the cheesy-lines to be heard here. Same goes for James Franco as Harry Osborne, another one not many knew what to make of back in the day, but clearly has made a huge name for himself by just being him.

God, how time has changed.

With the absence of Willem Dafoe as the main baddie, we get Alfred Molina as Dr. Otto Octavius and the guy’s very good, as many could probably predict seeing as how Molina’s been a stand-out actor, putting in great work, time and time again. With Octavius though, Molina not only gets to show a human-side to a person who could be seen as a total monster, but even makes us see those small spots of humanity, even while his mind is practically being taken over by the evil chip in his brain. Though he’s clearly not as hammy as Dafoe was (therefore, eliminating some of the fun), Molina still feels like a real person who has been utterly driven to do bad things, for bad reasons and under extreme circumstances. Sort of like how Sam Raimi must have felt doing the third movie.

But like I said: Different review, for a different day, folks. Just you all wait.

Consensus: With a perfect mixture of heart, humor, action, excitement, and fun, Spider-Man 2 will go down in the books as one of the best superhero sequels of all-time because it never forgets what makes its story kick as well as it does, while also not forgetting to give the audience the high-flying, ass-kicking action they come to expect with a product like this.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

How could you hate that heart-throb? I mean, heck, it's a freakin' subway he's holding back!

How could you hate that heart-throb? I mean, heck, it’s a freakin’ subway he’s holding back!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Nymphomaniac: Volume II (2014)

Sex isn’t the root to all evil. It just matters who you’re having it with.

When we last left-off with Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her life’s story, she was younger, happily-in-love with Jerome (Shia Labeouf), but had a problem: She couldn’t be fully sexually-satisfied. Most of that problem had to do with the fact that she was pregnant, but that’s also because she longed for something more. After all, she is a self-described Nymphomaniac, and Nymphomaniac’s need all the pleasure and sex they can get. Even if that does mean getting late-night spanks from a random stranger (Jamie Bell); going to see a sex-therapist (Katie Ashfield) to “get help”; and start working as a debt-collector for a brutal man known as L (Willem Dafoe). Eventually though, all of this screwing around, comes back to bite her in the rear-end, which also leads us to the present-day in which she is telling Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) everything that he needs to know about her. He’s still using every chance he can to bring up random facts about fishing, religion, family and art, but he may even have a little something to share with Joe as well. Maybe something that will make her seem in a different light?

Volume I of Lars von Trier’s two-parter surprised the hell out of me. Not because it wasn’t as disgusting or vile as I originally thought of it as being upon first hearing the term, “Four-hour sex-epic from the guy who made Antichrist“, but because it did a lot of stuff that we don’t see von Trier often do in his movies. For one, it was pretty funny. Many of times, I caught myself laughing at the pure-randomness of this material, like Christian Slater using a British-accent, or Joe ejaculating while watching her father lie-naked and die right in front of her eyes; however, I feel like that’s what von Trier wanted me to do. He was intentionally messing around with me, the viewer, and for that, I appreciated him, as well as the movie, a whole lot more.

Nothing like a good old Oreo sandwich.

Nothing like a good old Oreo sandwich.

Also, von Trier never seemed to be judging Joe for any of the dirty, immoral things she was doing with her body. She was having all sorts of sex with anybody she could find, yet, she was using it to her advantage. Rather than painting her as a total and complete slut, who doesn’t deserve the time of day, let alone, our warm, cozy bed, we get to see a woman, being a woman, who also happens to have plenty of needs. We never hate her, nor do we like her – we just see her for what she is. Von Trier was smart in using that method of story-telling and character-development to his advantage, which is why that first part had me expecting all sorts of greatness for this.

Sadly, no such thing happens.

The reason why I mentioned the whole hilarious, and non-judgmental-aspect of the first film, is because all of those elements that made the first one such a fine-watch, are pretty much gone here. Acts of hilarious randomness are replaced with dark, twisted confusion; whereas the idea of not judging our character, is replaced with a view on this character that is the least bit flattering. Now, of course it’s von Trier’s movie and he can wish to do whatever the hell it is he wants, with whomever he wants, but I feel like the transition from something so fun, light and exciting like the first-part, to something so dark, angry, mean and nasty like this part, would have been a lot more cohesive, had this film been shown in its original, straight, four-hour run-time. Had that been the format chosen, there wouldn’t have been such a tonal-difference between either parts, and how von Trier decides to switch gears up.

That doesn’t make this movie bad at all, it’s just disappointing is all. Where in Volume I, I thought I saw a quick, humorous-side to von Trier that I had never, ever known was there before; here, we get something that’s going back to the Lars von Trier we all know, and sometimes loathe: Evil, cruel and mean. He still pays close-attention to his characters, the situations they are thrown into, and how they react to them, but it’s not nearly as entertaining or interesting as the first movie. It just seems like von Trier ran-out of some ideas here and there, so instead of keeping with the frothy-pace of the first movie, he just decided to throw more and more crazy acts at us, in a way to both shock us and have us trying to make sense of what we’re seeing.

Problem is, that barely ever happens. It’s just Lars von Trier, being Lars von Trier. And I guess I just wanted more growth. May be a problem only I had, but it’s still a problem that continued to bug me, again and again.

"Yes, the glove DOES matter."

“Yes, the glove DOES matter.”

All that said, I can’t take away from what’s really working here, which is the ensemble von Trier packs a bit more from the first. Stacy Martin may have stolen the show in the first-installment, but this time, we finally get to see a lot more of Charlotte Gainsbourg’s portrayal of Joe, and needless to say, it’s another compelling performance from an actress that always seems to put in great work. Especially when she’s working with von Trier. Gainsbourg has a lot of crazy stuff to do here, such as getting whipped, brutally beaten, ripping her clothes off and having to kiss other woman. And while that may not sound like much of a range at all when all it is you’re doing is going through motions, Gainsbourg is still believable during every part. The only thing really holding her character back is that we begin to care less and less for her character, her journey and where it is she’s going with her life, because of the way von Trier’s light portrays here as. Shame too, because Gainsbourg is a solid actress who is clearly not afraid of stepping out of her comfort-zone; even if that does entail showing her bum.

Like Gainsbourg, Stellan Skarsgård returns as the heartfelt, sensitive man who is always eager to see and hear where Joe’s story goes next, sometimes a little TOO eager. We get more shading to his character than ever before here, but, like with the character of Joe in this movie, von Trier’s starts to paint a portrait of this man isn’t as sympathetic as it was in the first place. That’s about as much as I’ll say about that, but it surprised me. Then, I got to thinking about it, and then it didn’t. Because, hell, this is a Lars von Trier movie, what do you expect to happen!??! Roses, happiness, peace and love to be spotted in every frame?!?!

Consensus: The drastic change in tone and character-development for Nymphomaniac: Volume II, may be surprising when compared to the first-part, however, it’s a surprise that we’ve seen von Trier use way too many times before and by now, it seems like the man may have to find new, and improved ways to tell his stories. More like Volume I was.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

To move forward in one's life, they must burn every car. I know that's not really a saying, but in this case, it can be.

To move forward in one’s life, they must burn every car. I know that’s not really a saying, but in this case, it can be.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Nymphomaniac: Volume I (2014)

Let us talk about sex, shall we?

During one fateful night, an old man by the name of Seligman (Stellan Skarsgård) stumbles upon a brutal, beaten and battered-up woman by the name of Joe (Charlotte Gainsbourg). Though he does not know much about her, other than the fact that she does not want to have the police or ambulance called in at all, he decides to take her back to his place where he treats her to tea, his warm, cozy bed and even a small pastry as well. During her stay, Joe decides to tell Seligman her life’s story from when she was a youngin’ getting in all sorts of racy, sexual escapades, to the present-day, where it’s clear that she’s seen plenty of a lot and isn’t afraid to talk about it all. In between these stories, the two get into conversations about nature, fishing, nymphs and, randomly enough, cake forks.

Oh yeah, and people do bone, but that’s not the point, you dirt balls!

By now, I’m pretty sure that most of you ladies and gents have heard a thing or two about Lars von Trier’s, self-proclaimed, “Sex Epic”, which, as dirty as I may sound, is something I was looking forward to. No, not because I want to see dongs go in and out of all such places for the sake that I don’t have to worry about SPAM attacking my computer’s hard-drive, but because in the way that I know von Trier’s movies, I know that when he puts his mind to something, it works perfectly.

Whatever you two on my right do, just DO NOT, look to your right. I repeat: DO NOT LOOK TO YOUR RIGHT.

Whatever you two on my right do, just DO NOT, look to your right. I repeat: DO NOT LOOK TO YOUR RIGHT.

Okay, so maybe Antichrist was a bit too wacky, maybe even for his own disciples, but that’s another discussion, for another day. The fact of the matter is that when Lars von Trier decides to make a movie, no matter what it’s about (mostly stuff that isn’t in good-taste), you’re going to want to see it, just to understand what all of the fuss about it is for. And when you just add sex to the equation, hell, even in some cases, “real sex“, then you know all hell is going to break loose!!

But here’s what’s so shocking about von Trier’s latest: Despite it featuring a whole bunch of hot, attractive people participating in sexual-acts, it’s never actually hot, or even sexy. Instead, von Trier pulls the rug right from underneath us and just shows us these acts of sexual-promiscuity as if they were happening in real life. Sure, depending on what type of person you are, this may seem like the hottest thing since Janet Jackson’s nip-slip, but for others, it’s not really all that titillating to begin with. Most of that has to do with the fact that von Trier simply doesn’t care too much about the acts, and more or less actually cares about the story itself, and building characters; mainly in our female-protagonist, Joe.

Now, the one problem with this movie is that you can totally tell it’s a first-parter in a two-part series. First of all, that idea upsets me as is – I feel as if the producers and everybody else behind this should have just bit the bullet and made this a three-hour epic of sorts, because when this part of the series ends, it just ends. It doesn’t really stand on its own, and even during the end-credits, we’re shown a “teaser” of what’s next to come in Nymphomaniac: Volume II. I don’t know whose idea it was to think that we needed to cut-down something like this, nor take away Lars von Trier’s edits, but whatever. I guess it’s the reality I have to stick with, regardless of if I like it or not.

So screw me, right?

Anyway, where I was trying to go with that is in our lead character of Joe, we get to see a lot of Charlotte Gainsbourg just looking depressed, angry and very downtrodden. Which is all good since the gal owns it perfectly, but she isn’t nearly as much the star of the show as Stacy Martin is, playing Joe in her younger, wilder days. Martin, despite being a model, actually has a great screen-presence that commands your attention. But not just with her always naked-body or constant O-faces, but with the way she’s able to hold the screen by just being silent. You never know what it is that she’s thinking and you’re always left to wonder what she has to say next, if anything at all. In fact, I got the same impression from Gainsbourg’s performance as the older-Joe, showing us that these two gals are actually the same person, and didn’t really change all that much; except for the fact that their skin got flabbier and more wrinkly. But such is the case with aging, right?!?!?!

But yeah, Martin is great and although I know we’re more often likely to see Gainsbourg a lot more in Volume II, I still hope that we don’t fully kick Martin to the curb, because she’s actually very good and the type of female-actress I could see popping-up in more of von Trier’s stuff, forcing her to do all sorts of crazy shit that I won’t even dare to mention.

Dude’s a crazy bastard, in case you didn’t know.

"We're still talking about fishing, right?"

“We’re still discussing the art of fishing, right?”

The rest of the cast that von Trier is able to assemble is, as usual, quite impressive, given the fact that it’s a known-fact by now the type of stunts he pulls in order to get emotionally-draining performances from his actors and actresses. But yet, time and time again, talented, well-known people still sign-up to be in his movies, so who am I to judge, you know? I guess whenever we see a Lars von Trier movie, we should come to expect that Stellan Skarsgård will show up in some form, which I’m fine with since the guy’s a great actor and shows that he’s more than capable of handling whatever weird material von Trier throws his way. Here, as the friendly guy that looks over Joe and takes care of her, in a not-at-all-creepy way, Skarsgård is given a task in which he has to constantly relate Joe’s nutty escapades to other aspects of life, like literature, food, and especially fishing. However, his character never seems like he could be replaced or gotten rid of entirely; he’s there to serve as a voice-of-reason to Joe’s story as she’s telling it and for that, he brings some much-needed perspective. I look forward to seeing where this talk leads them and best of all, to see if they end-up shacking the boots. Crossing my fingers and holding out hope over here.

The newcomers to von Trier’s world of depravity are inspired, if even stranger than I expected. Having Christian Slater, Shia Labeouf and Uma Thurman in your movie is usually very interesting, which here, it still is, it’s just odd since they all have to carry-out British accents that sort of go in and out. However, it’s almost as if von Trier wanted this to happen, just so that he could screw with our minds even more. That, or the fact that nobody who actually was from Britain wanted to work with him in the first place, so why not get three has-beens and an actor that almost everyone in this world hates a bit more than Justin Bieber? See, I know how von Trier thinks, baby! Probably not a good thing to say, though.

Nonetheless, they’re all fine with what they do: Slater poops and pees himself, while having nightmares, but still has enough time to chat with his daughter (Joe) about leaves and each one of their meanings, or something like that; Labeouf, despite seeming as if he is trying a bit hard, is actually pretty hilarious as Jerome, the guy that Joe loses her V-card to, only to then stumble upon him later in life where he’s a bit of a deuche that tries hard to get laid, but can’t help but get the stiff-arm (much like what probably happens to Shia Labeouf in real life); and Thurman, with her one scene, steals the whole movie as the shamed wife who comes to Joe’s place, just to mess with her, the guy she is screwing (Thurman’s character’s husband), and the other guy Joe is screwing, all while her kids look on in absolute fear and silence. It’s nice to see von Trier give some of these actor’s new-lives as actors willing to hang with him and his demanding directorial-process. Though I know that there’s plenty of more faces and talents to come in the next installment, so I guess for now, I’ll just have to wait.

Damn you, whomever it was behind that sham of breaking this up into two movies! Damn you!

Consensus: Though there’s plenty left to be desired for what’s next to come in Volume II, Nymphomaniac: Volume I sill gives us all the dark, awkward aspects of the human-condition, with plenty of sex sprinkled throughout, and never never having it seem distracting or gratuitous.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Yeah, I think it's gone.

Yeah, I think it’s gone.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014)

This type of nonsense would never occur at a Motel 6! That’s for certain!

In 1968, a writer (Jude Law), staying at a beaten-up, run-down hotel called “the Grand Budapest Hotel” meets millionaire Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), who apparently has a lot to do with the history of this hotel – the same type of history not many people actually know the exact story to. Together, the two decide to meet-up, have dinner and allow for Moustafa to tell his story and why he is the way he is nowadays. The story goes a little something like this: Back in 1932, young Zero (Tony Revolori) was hired as a Lobby Boy at the hotel, where he eventually became concierge Gustave H.’s (Ralph Fiennes) second-hand-in-command. Gustave, for lack of a better term, is Zero’s role-model and he’s a pretty darn good one at that: Not only does he treat his guests with love, affection and respect, but he even gives them a little “something” more in private. And apparently, he treats one guest of his, Madame D. (Tilda Swinton), so well, that he’s apparently the owner of one of her prized-possessions, the same prized possession that her bratty son Dmitri (Adrien Brody) won’t let him have. But you can’t tell Gustave “no”, when he knows what is rightfully his, so therefore, he takes it, which leads onto all sorts of other crazy, wacky and sometimes deadly, hijinx.

So yeah, for the past week, I’ve been kicking ass and taking names with all of these Wes Anderson movies, and if there is one thing that I myself (as well as most of you) have learned about, is that I really do love his movies. I mean, yeah, I knew Wes Anderson has always been a favorite of mine, but what really surprised me with this past week is that not only have I been watching and taking note of how his style changes over time (or in some cases, doesn’t), but also, how he’s grown as a film maker and decided to get a whole lot more ambitious.

Did the elevator really have to be THAT red? You know what, never mind!

Okay, but on a serious note: Did the elevator really have to be THAT red? You know what, never mind!

And I don’t mean “ambitious” in the form that his movies are a whole lot bigger or more ensemble-driven, but more that they tackle on so many different-threads of meaning, rather than just being all about family-issues amongst a group of dysfunctional, troubled-characters. Don’t get me wrong, I usually love those said “family-issues”, but even I know when it’s time to move on, start trying something new and most of all, stretching yourself as a writer, director and overall creator.

Thankfully, not just for me, or you, or even Wes Anderson, but for all of us: Wes has finally shown us that he’s ready to take a swan-dive out of his comfort-zone and shock us with something that he’s almost never done before.

Key word being “almost”. More on that later, though.

First things first, I feel as if I am going to talk about any notable, positive aspect of this movie, it’s going to be the overall-style. Now, I think we’ve all known Anderson to be a bit of an eye-catcher with the way he has his flicks so colorful and bright, that you almost practically go blind because of them; but this, he truly has out-done himself. Since most of where this story takes place is made-up inside that creative little noggin of his, Anderson is practically given free-reign to just ran rampant with his imagination, where every set looks as if it was taken-out of an historic, field-trip brochure, dibbled and dabbled with some pretty colors, and thrown right behind everything that happens here. In some cases, that would usually take away from a film and be just another case of a director getting too “artsy fartsy”, but due to how crazy and rumpus most of this story is, it actually helps blend these characters in to their surroundings, as well as make this world we are watching seem like a believable one, even if they are so clearly made-up.

Which is why this is probably Anderson’s most exciting movie to-date. Of course though, Anderson’s other movies like Rushmore and even Bottle Rocket had an hectic-feel to them, but they were done so in a type of small, contained and dramatic-way – here, the movie is all about the vast, never ending canvas surrounding each and every one of these characters, and just how far it can be stretched-out for. So while those other movies of Anderson’s may have had a sense of adventure where a character would want to get out of the house, only to go running around in the streets, here, you have a bunch of characters who not only want to get out of their household, or wherever the hell they may be staying at, and get out there in the world where anything is possible. They could either go running, jogging, skiing, sight-seeing, train-riding, bicycle-hopping, parachuting, and etc. Anywhere they want to go, by any mode of transportation whatsoever, they are able to and it gives us this idea that we are not only inside the mind of Anderson and all of his play-things, but we are also stuck inside of his world, where joy and happiness is all around.

Though, there definitely are some dark elements to this story that do show up, in some awkward ways as well, the story never feels like it is too heavy on one aspect that could bring the whole movie crashing down. Instead, Anderson whisks, speeds through and jumps by everything, giving us the feeling that this is a ride that’s never going to end, nor do we want to end; we’re just too busy and pleased to be enjoying the scenery, as well as all of the fine, and nifty characters that happen to go along with it.

And with this ensemble, you couldn’t ask for anybody better! Ralph Fiennes isn’t just an interesting choice for the character of Gustave, but he’s also an interesting choice to play the lead in a Wes Anderson movie. We all know and love Fiennes for being able to class it up in anywhere he shows his charmingly handsome face, but the verdict is still out there on the guy as to whether or not he can actually be, well, “funny”. Sure, the dude was downright hilarious in In Bruges, but being that he had a dynamite-script to work with and was one out of three other main-characters, did the dude have much of a choice? Not really, but that’s besides the point!

What is the point, is that I was a little weary of Fiennes in a Wes Anderson movie, where most of the time, comedy and drama go side-by-side and would need all of the best talents to make that mixture look and feel cohesive. Thankfully, Fiennes not only proves that he’s able to make any kind of silly-dialogue the least bit “respectable”, but that he’s also able to switch his comedy-timing on and off, giving us a character we not only love and adore every time he’s up on the screen, but wish we saw more of. Because, without giving too much away, there are brief snippets of time where we don’t get to always be in the company of Gustave, and when those passages in time happen, they do take away from the movie.

No Luke?!?! Fine! I guess this chump'll do!

No Luke?!?! Fine! I guess this chump’ll do!

It isn’t that nobody else in this movie is capable enough of handling the screen all to themselves, but it’s so clear, early on, that Anderson clearly beholds this character as much as we do, and we can’t help but follow suit and wish to see him all of the time. Most of that’s because of Anderson’s witty and snappy dialogue that’s given to Fiennes to work with, but most of that is also because Fiennes is such a charismatic-presence that the fact of him actually making me, or anybody laugh, is enough to make you want to see a biopic made about him, and him alone.

But, like I was saying before, the rest of the ensemble is fine, it’s just that Fiennes was clearly meant to be the star of the show and plays it as such. Newcomer Tony Revolori feels like a perfect-fit for Anderson’s deadpan, sometimes outrageous brand of humor that’s practically winking at itself. What’s also worth praising a hell of a whole lot about Revolori is how he more than holds his own when he’s stacked-up against certain presences that aren’t just Fiennes (although the two make for a wonderful duo that they are another reason why it sucks whenever Gustave isn’t around). All of these other familiar faces that pop-up like Bill Murray, and Owen Wilson, and Saoirse Ronan, and even Jeff fuckin’ Goldblum are all great, but surprisingly, Revolori doesn’t get over-shadowed and keeps the heart and soul of the story clearly alongside with him, as it was intended to be. And yes, even though that heart may not be the most richest, most powerfully emotional we’ve ever seen Anderson bring to the screen before, it’s still the same kind of heart that has go along with Anderson on any ride he takes us, all because we know that, at the end, it’s all going to be totally worth it.

That, and also, that we’ll have something new to recommend to our white friends.

Consensus: The Grand Budapest Hotel is definitely Wes Anderson’s most ambitious work to-date, meaning that we get plenty of laughs, jumps, thrills, some chills, heart and enough familiar, talented-faces working with some wacky, but fun material from one of our finest writers/directors working today.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

All in the 'stache, ladies. All in the 'stache.

All in the ‘stache, ladies. All in the ‘stache.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004)

Ice-fishing is definitely a safer-bet.

Famous oceanographer Steve Zissou (Bill Murray) is a man that likes to think of himself as something of a genius. He has many faults, yet, he never admits to them, and is starting to find out that it may just come and bite him. While he and his crew of rag-tag misfits get to embark on a series of wild adventures, soon, and totally out of the blue, walks in Steve’s estranged son, Ned (Owen Wilson), who he may, or may not have known actually existed in the first place. But, Steve sees this not only as a way to gain another loyal crew-member, but to spend some more quality-time and get to know the son he never knew was out there, which starts to become an after-thought once a journalist (Cate Blanchett) steps onto the ship and begins to catch both Steve, as well as Ned’s eyes. Also, on the side, they are looking for an exotic sea-creature known as the “Jaguar Shark”, who killed Zissou’s old-buddy. Problem is, nobody knows if it exists or not, not even he knows.

Even though I’m a fan of Wes Anderson, I have to say that even I can get a bit skeptical of his work. When you go into a Wes Anderson movie, you have to expect all of his trademarks, whether you like it or not. Sometimes, there is a slight spin on those said trademarks, but most of the time: What you see from a Wes Anderson movie, is most likely what you are going to get. And if you don’t like it, then suck it!

Or, if put in a nicer-way, just don’t pay to see it, or something like that.

Only could these two be a father-and-son combo in a Wes Anderson movie and get away with not being similar in any way whatsoever.

Only could these two be a father-and-son combo in a Wes Anderson movie and get away with not being similar in any way whatsoever.

And most of the problem with this movie is that nothing really seems to be working at all for Anderson, in probably the first hour or so. It isn’t that it’s boring because people are just standing around and talking, it’s more that it never seems to be going anywhere. It’s almost as if Anderson thought it would be easy enough to give us a bunch of wild, crazy and colorful characters, have them do their thing, and that would be enough to hold our interest, as we waited for something to actually happen. It began to worry me a bit, mainly because I know what can happen when Anderson gets a little too up-in-his-own-ass sometimes.

Yeah, it can get bad, people. VERY BAD.

However, things did in fact pick-up, and I think it occurred right when Zissou and his crew start their journey, wherever the hell it may lead them. Most of the charm that we see Anderson utilize so well when he’s on-point, gets done quite efficiently here, but it also seems to show everything coming together. Of course there’s a lot of the same close-ups and strange-cuts that we have come to know (and sometimes love, sometimes hate) from Anderson, but there was more originality to the way he framed certain scenes and gave it an extra-spunk of color that made this film a lot more goofy than I was expecting.

Actually, “goofy” is probably the perfect word to describe this movie as, mostly because that’s exactly what I saw it as once the whole journey began. Don’t want to give away what happens on this journey that spices everything up and makes it go into a totally different direction than I was expecting, but just like me, you’ll be surprised regardless and its a whole lot of fun as well. It seemed like Anderson really took a liberty with a story of his, put his trademarks on it and gave it an unpredictable feel that completely comes out of nowhere. In fact, it actually gets a bit darker, as many situations take on a very serious, very violent-turn for the worst. But it’s never tonally-jarring, and that’s why Anderson’s movie works as well as it does in the final hour or so, rather than in the first hour, where it doesn’t seem like he knows what to do, or where he’s going. He’s just moving along on the current. You know, sort of like a boat on the sea.

Though, what doesn’t work so well here is when Anderson decides that he really wants to touch our hearts by getting to the core of these characters, and how well it doesn’t translate. See, there are a couple of moments by the end where you realize that Anderson really wants us to start crying like big, effin’ babies and grab whatever towels near us that we can find; however, it doesn’t work that way. For the most part, I was having a good time with this just being as goofy as possibly could be, with some darker-elements under-lining it all, but once it took that other page that makes it a lot weightier, it didn’t feel right. Nor did it gel with everything else that happened before. Doesn’t make it terrible, just makes us, the audience, confused as to whether we’re supposed to laugh, cry, feel warm inside, angry, or all of the above. At the same time, no less.

But, like most of Anderson’s movies, it’s the cast that really shines here as he’s seemingly able to get a wonderful performance out of everybody he has here. And of course, that also means we get to see Bill Murray show up and do his dry-wit thing in a Wes Anderson movie, but this time, it’s playing Steve Zissou, who, in case you didn’t know, is based on a real-person. Still though, that doesn’t seem to faze him much since it’s practically the same type of performance we usually see from Murray, in all of his glory. Without saying anything at all, Murray is able to speak volumes to us about his character by keeping that sad, expressionless face throughout the whole movie, and still be the most likable character somehow. He’s a bit more of a dick-head here, than he is in other of Anderson’s flicks, but there’s still a bit more to who he is, why he is the way he is and what makes him a guy worth seeing a movie made about, that keeps us going with liking him and his company.

He sings David Bowie songs, but in French. Oh, the whimsical features!

He sings David Bowie songs, but in French. Oh, the whimsy!

There’s also Owen Wilson who, much to everybody’s surprise here (including mine), is probably the one who steals this movie away from Murray as he seems like the perfect fit for a guy who is so innocent, so clean and so well-intentioned, that it’s so hard not to just love the guy right from the start. I’ll admit, Wilson has never been a favorite of mine but he totally had me won over here with a performance as Zissou’s long, lost son that he never met until now. There’s a lot of development to this character that makes him more than just another, “Southern bumpkin”-like character that he first starts off as coming-across, which makes it nicer and more pleasant to watch when he and his daddy do form a bond and continue to do son-father activities together. Even if the activities are shark-hunting and fossil-discovering.

Cate Blanchett plays the untrustworthy journalist, that’s doing a report on Zissou and his crew and handles a lot of the comedic-material very well, as well as having a believable romance with Wilson that I thought could have had its own flick, if at al given the chance to come to fruition. Willem Dafoe tests out his comedic-abilities as Zissou’s left-hand man, Klaus Daimler, and has a funny running-gag going on between him, Zissou, and Ned, where he just wants to be loved and treated like the best on the crew. It’s a side of Dafoe that I wish we saw more of, rather than just seeing the nutty, second-coming of Harry Osborne in everything that he does now.

Hold up, though! I’m not done, yet! Jeff Goldblum isn’t here as much as I would have liked as Zissou’s rival, Alistair Hennessey, but is still a lot of fun to watch as he just acts like, well, you know, Jeff Goldbum; Anjelica Huston is spicy (and surprisingly), very hot in her role as Zissou’s wife that doesn’t really want much to do with him since he’s such a fuck-up in his personal, and professional life; and it was a “nice welcome-back to the big-screen” for Bud Cort, who is a guy I haven’t seen awhile and does a nice job as Bill Ubell, the guy that’s forced to watch over production of this trip to make sure the funding of it is alright. Sadly, there was no Maude to accompany him. Wah.

Consensus: May not always work when it’s supposed to, but when the Life Aquatic of Steve Zissou finds a way to gel all of its different elements together, it’s a surprisingly fun, heartfelt time, with an extra-ounce of whimsy, due solely to Wes Anderson and his quirky ways.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

So many ego's just going head-to-head right there.

So many ego’s just going head-to-head right there. And Bud Cort.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBJobloComingSoon.net

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

All that I take away is that Jesus, plain and simply, knew how to charm the ladies. That is all.

I don’t think that I’m jumping too far by assuming that just about all of us know the story of Jesus Christ, the son of God, right? Well, if you need some reminding because you skipped CCD or were like me, and just cheated your way through Theology class in high school, then here’s a short synopsis for ya: Here is the story of Jesus Christ (Willem Dafoe). He’s the son of the almighty God that only he, and few other loyal and dedicated followers believe in, however, daddy’s been on his nerves a bit as of late. Not only does God keep pushing his son to do things he doesn’t really want to do, like going out in the world, saving people’s lives and preaching the gospel, but he’s ruining practically any bit of social, or personal life the guy could, or would want to have. But, being that Jesus’ daddy is in fact, the almighty Lord himself, he decides that it’s best he listen, get out there in the world, start speaking his mind, letting people know what’s up and ruffle a few feathers, if at all possible. Jesus does in fact, do that, and pays the ultimate price for doing so. However, there’s a small twist here that dodges away from what the Gospel would have you believe as “truth”.

Because see: When you’re working with Marty Scorsese, you’re working with a guy who doesn’t play by the rules, no matter how set-in-stone or followed those rules may be.

You can't tell me you wouldn't want to hang with that guy!?!?

You can’t tell me you wouldn’t want to hang with that guy!?!?

But you got to chalk it up to Marty’s willingness to take something like this head-on, as controversial as it may have been. Sure, Marty was, is, and never will be a stranger to controversy, but taking on the story of Jesus, our savior, and making a movie about him where he not only is painted as a human, but even has “temptations”, is just downright blasphemous. Of course, not in my eyes though. Many heavy-duty Christians would have you believe that anything that differs from their script of Christ’s life is not only false, but downright evil and should be broken in two, before it causes any more damage to the fragile, God-worshiping minds of our youth.

As you can probably tell, I’m clearly not a huge believer in my faith, despite going to Catholic school for all 12 years of my general-education, but that’s not what matters here. What does matter here is that Marty Scorsese, a guy we all know and love for painting some harsh, violent and brutal pics about the rusty, ragged streets of New York City, for one reason or another, decided it was his time to go in full-on “Christ mode” and start giving us the story of the Bible. Although, as he notes early-on, Marty does not adapt this story from the Gospel so many Christians hold so near and dear to their hearts; rather, Marty adapts the novel that this is based-off of and gives us what some might definitely say is a “humane-approach” to the story of Jesus Christ, and what we may have known him as.

Sure, this is downright despicable in the eyes of the Christians to paint Jesus, our lord and savior as anything else as a man who was more than willing to do and listen to whatever his powerful daddy told him to do, but when you take into context what Scorsese is really doing with this well-known story and “character”, then you wonder why they bitched and complained at all. Surely they couldn’t have not watched a film and got pissed-off about it because the words “temptation” and “Christ” were featured in the same sentence, right?

I mean, they definitely had to have seen this movie, therefore justifying their angry thoughts and complaints about its material, right?

They wouldn’t just jump to conclusions and automatically think that the said “temptations” that the title was referring to was those of the known-prostitute Mary Magdalene, now would they?

Anyway, I think you all know what I’m doing here, and I promise you, I’ll stop my snarky ways sooner than later, but think about it: Had most of those Christians who were originally upset with this movie being made and released to the general-public, actually decided to shell-out some gold and give this movie a watch, they would have probably been happy, since it doesn’t do much to either offend them, nor tell them that they are wrong in their thought-process of believing that Jesus Christ, God and all of that stuff is real and did in fact happen (snarkiness hasn’t ended yet, sorry). Because what Scorsese does here, is that he shows us that Jesus, despite being pushed and pulled this way and that by his daddy and everybody else in his life, really just wanted to break free, live a life, get a job, have a family, tap some fine ladies’ behinds and be like everybody else around him, while also still maintaining his title as “The Son of Christ”. In all honesty, I don’t find anything wrong or even “sacrilegious” about that, do you?

And that’s exactly why Scorsese’s movie works as well as it does; it goes through the tale as old as time that we know of Jesus Christ, and gives us a chance to see just exactly who he was a person, rather than what he was, as a symbol for religion. And though it may have been extremely odd that somebody who is so attuned to gangsters getting their heads popped-off as Scorsese is, to do a movie about Jesus Christ, when looking into the subject-matter, it actually isn’t. Like most of Scorsese’s characters, Christ goes through problems like guilt, repression, evil confusion, temptation and coming to terms with his own identity, and just figuring out who the hell he is. It’s exactly what all of us feel as humans, on a day-to-day basis, and it’s what makes Jesus Christ, in here, seem like such a real person that we could have cracked a few cold ones and shot the shit with, and even dare to ask that girl at the end of the bar’s number.

Okay, maybe he’s not that cool, but he’s pretty damn human, dammit!

"You remind me of a man I once knew. His name was Ziggy, and he played guitar."

“You remind me of a man I once knew. His name was Ziggy, and he played guitar.”

But while the whole “humane-element” surrounding Jesus Christ and practically everybody else around him works for them in believing them as people, the performances don’t do much to help out. Which, yes, is a total surprise considering the amount of talent on-display here, however, I feel like it’s not entirely all their faults. What separates this flick from most of the same skin, is the use of its anachronistic dialogue, where just about everybody here, speaks and acts like you or I would today in the present-day. Yeah, it makes it easier for those to understand just who is saying what, for what reason and to whom, but it makes everybody here seem like they just showed-up for dress-rehearsal, went over some of their lines and had no idea that Marty would be rolling the camera as they spoke in their natural, modern-dialect. At first, it’s a bit weird, but after awhile, it becomes totally distracting.

Instead, what ultimately happens is that we mostly just see Willem Dafoe playing and dressing-up as a Jesus-like figure, although doing a very good job at doing so; Harvey Keitel who isn’t even hiding his New York accent as the ultimate betrayer of the big JC, Judas, who has more homoerotic undertones added to him than I ever caught notice of in Vacation Bible School; Harry Dean Stanton gets to be, as usual, lovely to see show-up as Saul, even though his character is barely given much, or any time to develop at all; and randomly, David Bowie shows up as Pontius Pilate, making Jesus feel like a huge, steaming pile of shit, while walking-off and, more than likely, continuing his large, extravagant party of sex, grapes and togas.

The only one out of this whole bunch that really seems to be on their A-game and totally attuned to what Scorsese has given her is Barbara Hershey, playing the very grimy, very sexual Mary Magdalene that Jesus takes a liking to, if only because he wants her to make her feel better about herself (yeah, right!). She seems to be the only one who finds a way to mix the modern-day sound of her voice, to the old way in which people would have talked back then, without ever seeming like she’s stretching too hard. Not that anybody else does either (or in the case of Keitel, not at all), but she actually felt like the only one who could have lived, breathed, banged and been around during that period.

At the end of the day though, I think where Scorsese really hits his mark with this feature is that he ends it all on a positive, uplifting note. I won’t dare spoil it here, but when you see it, you’ll wonder just exactly why those devoted Christians were so pissed in the first place.

Oh wait, I know why: Because they’re Christians! End of snarkiness, I swear!

Consensus: Though the idea of a movie devoted solely to Jesus Christ and his humane-like ways, may be a sore-spot for some more faith-based viewers out there, for the rest of us, the Last Temptation of Christ ends up being an honest, wonderful and insightful look at the life Jesus himself may have wanted to live, had he been real, or, had he been real, would have liked to do when his daddy wasn’t looking or pushing him.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

The end. Or so we think......

The end. Or so we think……

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider

Clear and Present Danger (1994)

What has this Ryan dude got himself into now??!?!?

After saving his family and the Prime Minister of England from a slew of crazy Irishmen, Jack Ryan (Harrison Ford) is now an assistant to the CIA Deputy Director of Intelligence when all of a sudden, his longtime friend Admiral James Greer (James Earl Jones) is diagnosed with cancer. This is tragic news for both Greer and Ryan, but both know that a job has to be done, so that’s when Ryan decides to take over the job as the Deputy Director of Intelligence, where he is assigned his first assignment: Recover $650 million from the Colombian drug cartels that was left over there by one of the President’s good buddies. Ryan is more than willing to complete the task, but he finds out that there is more brewing beneath the surface than just some money being needed. Apparently, some of the President’s closest advisers are involved with these same said drug cartels and want to keep on continuing to make more money, while also getting rid of Ryan and his boy scout-ways. However, as we found out before, Ryan doesn’t go down easy and won’t back down from a challenge, no mater whom it may be coming from.

Patriot Games was no beauty, but it was at least a relatively small, inspired and taut thriller that worked well when it was showing off the mechanics of the technology that surrounds Ryan and his skills, rather than the fists he uses in fights. And compared to this movie, it was a hell of a lot shorter, clocking in at less than two-hours which, still felt long, but nowhere near as long as a near-two-and-a-half-hour movie like the one we have here, which makes this one feel like any other sequel out there: Overlong, over-exposed, over-stuffed, and worst of all, over-directed.

I wouldn't advise somebody turning their back on Willem Dafoe, but that's just me.

I wouldn’t advise somebody turning their back on Willem Dafoe, but that’s just me.

But while I do feel like director Phillip Noyce got his vision better this time with the action, there’s still a weird feeling with the story that didn’t quite keep me as interested here as it did with the last movie. For instance, the novelty of the first movie where it was just this one situation, with these handful of characters, felt like it was a smaller, more-intimate thriller, for lack of a better term. It made you feel as if you were right there in the moment, with these characters, figuring out what was going on, how they were going to solve it and whether or not they were all going to make it out alive. Problem is, that was when Jack Ryan was just a small-timer in the CIA, but now, he’s taking orders directly from the Big Man himself, which already means that the issues are going to be expanded and a whole lot more jumbled.

That’s why I can’t get too pissed at this movie for giving me a story that covers a larger map of where it goes and how, but I can be pissed off at the fact that it was just so damn convoluted. It seems like with any movie that concerns politics, there’s always got to be a slew of lies, deceptions and back-stabbings, which is exactly what we get here, however, there’s just so many that you lose count of who is screwing who over, and why. In fact, half of the people whose names were said, I couldn’t really match the faces with, all because the movie would focus on this one character for a couple minutes, have them leave and then, all of a sudden, let us know that that character was an important player in the rest of the proceedings we were about to be a witness of.

Think Miller’s Crossing’s Mink, but instead of one character played by Steve Buscemi, you have ten different ones, all played by people less charming and lovable as creepy blue eyes.

So, in essence, when the movie does begin to get closer and closer to its climax, it became to be such a chore for me to keep up with who was who, what they were doing, for what reasons and what the major ramifications of them were. That’s why I just gave up and decided to enjoy the action. Which, no surprise whatsoever, was a smart decision on my part because Noyce definitely got that part of the movie down perfectly. Not only does the action come at you at a full 100 mph, but it also feels very tense, as if the whole movie leading up to it was meant for just this one moment. They aren’t action scenes just thrown in there because they were needed, they feel like they enhance the story and keep it moving at a nice pace. That’s what I wish I saw more in my action movies, but I highly doubt I’ll get. So be it.

Tuco?

Tuco?

And, like usual, it’s always a joy to see Harrison Ford acting in a actioner, regardless of who he’s playing, and his second outing as Jack Ryan, shows that he never gets old as the character, even if he is getting a bit old himself. Once again, Ryan’s less of a bad-ass, and more of a smarty pants who knows what to do at any situation and, if he has to, will get his hands dirty. Ford definitely shows no signs of slowing down with this character, which is why I feel like he could have gone on and did ten more of these movies, and we’d still have a great time with him. However, like what seems to be the case for many major motion-picture franchises nowadays, Ben Affleck came, he saw, and he conquered. That Boston bastard.

The most disappointing aspect behind this flick is even while it does put all of this focus on all of these numerous subplots, characters and emotions, we never really get to see much of Anne Archer or Thora Birch as Ryan’s wife and daughter respectively. Makes sense since this movie is more about the government and its non-stop clusterfucks, and less about the family-dynamic inside the Ryan household, but still, a little bit more development would have been perfect. Especially since Archer, even with her shortened screen-time, shows that she’s still a cool wife that’s willing to take the fact that her hubby could die at any second, and she’d be the one to take over the fam-squad. God, that woman sure is a breath of fresh air that I so desperately need in my life. Tired of all these young bimbos. They don’t know shit about the 70’s like my girl Anne does.

Consensus: Like most mainstream sequels usually are, Clear and Present Danger is quite overblown, loud and excessive to the point of where it’s numbing, but still does feature some fun and exciting moments amongst all of the numerous subplots that are hard to keep track of, characters that we don’t care about and less-focus on the ones we do care about, meaning the rest of Ryan’s family, including the new baby boy!

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Jack's still got it. Oh, and so does Harry.

“Knew I should have taken the keys out.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB