BRAD’S STATUS review

This looks like it could be pretty charming. Been seeing the trailer crop up from time to time and I’m pretty intrigued. The story looks like it’s about a father and a son. The father takes his son touring a college that he wants to get into all the while wondering if the life choices he’s made has made him a successful person, comparing himself to other more successful friends of his from years ago. Oh… well, now that I’m writing it out, I have my reservations. If this movie is about a grown man comparing himself to his friends and the movie’s resolution is that he learns to accept his life as is, then… yeah, this better be a short movie.

Here’s the cast. Starring, we have Ben Stiller (ZOOLANDER 2 [2016], TROPIC THUNDER [2008], and MYSTERY MEN [1999]) and Austin Abrams (PAPER TOWNS [2015], THE KINGS OF SUMMER [2013], and GANGSTER SQUAD [2013]). In support, we have Jenna Fischer (HALL PASS [2011], BLADES OF GLORY [2007], and SLITHER [2006]), Michael Sheen (HOME AGAIN [2017], MIDNIGHT IN PARIS [2011], and UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS [2009]), Jemaine Clement (LEGO BATMAN [2017], MEN IN BLACK 3 [2012], and DINNER FOR SCHMUCKS [2010]), Luke Wilson (ROCK DOG [2016], IDIOCRACY [2006], and MY DOG SKIP [2006]), and Mike White (THE STEPFORD WIVES [2004], SCHOOL OF ROCK [2003], and ORANGE COUNTY [2002]).

Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Mike White, making his directorial return in ten years, but is known for writing THE EMOJI MOVIE (2017), NACHO LIBRE (2006), and SCHOOL OF ROCK (2003). The composer is Mark Mothersbaugh, known for BEATRIZ AT DINNER (2017), FANBOYS (2009), HAPPY GILMORE (1996), and upcoming films THE LEGO NINJAGO MOVIE (2017) and THOR: RAGNAROK (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is Xavier Grobet, known for WHISKEY TANGO FOXTROT (2016), FOCUS (2015), and MONSTER HOUSE (2006).

Overall, I’m interested, but not excited.

This is my honest opinion of: BRAD’S STATUS

(SUMMERY)

Brad (Ben Stiller) is a father taking his son Troy (Austin Abrams) out to tour colleges. But while he’s doing that, he’s struggling with what he believes is a life that he didn’t expect have, comparing his mediocrity with his college friends who are wildly more successful that he is.

(REVIEW)

I don’t think I hate this film, but it’s definitely not that good.

The first and primary problem is that Brad isn’t a very likable character. All he does throughout the film is complain. Complain about how his life isn’t where he thought it was going to be, constantly sizing himself up with his old college friends who found success in other fields. He daydreams about how their lives are. The good, the bad, barely ever focusing on his own life, which clearly needs reworking. Even when he does think about his life, he’s complaining. About the kid who quit his position in Brad’s nonprofit organization, his wife’s total complacency, hell, he even comments how he’d feel jealous of his own son’s success. I mean, what the hell? What parent thinks about this?! And this translates to him being a pretty spazzy asshole, telling Troy that even geniuses get rejected from Harvard, that he needs to start thinking about what he wants to do with his music, and bringing up money that he doesn’t want to needlessly spend, he’s actually a pretty mean-spirited person, and when he’s not mean-spirited, he’s depressive.

And when he’s neither of those things, he’s kind of creepy. Yeah, no joke, Brad is really creepy. One of the first scenes in the movie is Brad looking at his half naked son, covered only by a bath towel, and says, “You have the body of a man now.” Uh… Another scene is where they’re both in a hotel room and he has a tickle session with him in his underwear. Really, a father is having a tickle session with his eighteen year old son… in his underwear…? Uh…!!! But it doesn’t end there. Somewhere in the middle, Brad decides to go almost full AMERICAN BEAUTY (1999) and starts fantasizing about these college girls who seem to have the rest of their lives figured out. It’s about as uncomfortable as it sounds.

And do you want to know what his ultimate resolution is? The one thing in the story that makes him realize how good he’s got it? He attends a concert with those same college girls and their music is really pretty. That’s it. That’s literally it. *face palm*

I don’t want to make it sound like it’s all bad. There is a level of self-awareness in the film that makes for some humorous moments. There’s characters that look at Brad as he dozes off and comments how he’s being weird. Or when he’s talking too much, people will tell him to shut up. These are admittedly very satisfying moments and do prevent it from being a total disaster of a movie.

And there is admittedly something relatable about Brad himself. As much as I complain about the frequency of his daydreaming and comparing and contrasting, as an insecure person myself, I do that too. I’m on social media a lot and I do browse by posts of people who are doing such fun things, like going to clubs, traveling, meeting new people, getting married, having kids, climbing the ladder of their dream jobs, or being otherwise successful. And then there’s me, not doing all that because I’ve got my own life to deal with and how my choices got me to where I’m at and constantly trying to get out myself out. It’s hard not to feel a rush of mixed emotions, even toward the people I love: jealousy, envy, pride, sadness, depression, it’s enough to get your head spinning. But the thing is, even on the worst of days when I do that, it goes away the moment I switch off Facebook and watch a video on Youtube. Or when I’m on the road to work. Or even watching these movies and writing about them. It most certainly goes away when I’m talking to my amazing girlfriend. The point is, this isn’t shit that gets me all day. Just in that one moment, and that’s where I feel the disconnected from Brad. He dwells on it even in times when he’s supposed to feel the proudest. He’s too insecure and his life really isn’t all that bad.

Overall, I can’t say this the worst thing ever. It’s clear that there was a good, even poignant idea here that wasn’t developed properly. Some of it pays off in the end, but far too much of the movie follows a man who is way too much of a crybaby and not even all that likable, even by the film’s end. I don’t think I recommend this. No, it’s by no means the worst movie I’ve ever seen, or even the worst this year, not even close, but I just don’t think anyone would get anything out of it. At best, save it for a rental or viewing on Netflix, but definitely not in theaters.

My honest rating for BRAD’S STATUS: a weak 3/5

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HOME AGAIN review

Yay! A romantic comedy with Reese Witherspoon! Is it just me, or does it feel like it’s been awhile?

The movie looks like it’s about this woman who recently divorced or separated from her husband and has returned to her hometown with her two daughters. After a night of birthday drinks and meeting a cute, younger man, she takes him home, they sleep together, and somehow she winds up with the man and his friends, who are all aspiring filmmakers, living with her in her house. Of course, things get weird when her ex eventually shows up, likely doing the whole love-triangle angle. How do I think it’s going to be? Probably meh. I suspect I’ll be entertained enough because I love Witherspoon as an actress and I am bias toward rom-coms, but love-triangles as a plot-point annoy me. No movie that I’ve seen has ever gotten it right. They’re supposed to be about a person caught between two good people that the person can’t pick who to commit to. Thing is, in movies, one person is always more obvious who will be picked than the other, so there’s no real surprises. I’m also predicting that Witherspoon’s character’s ex will eventually charm her into giving him a second chance, only for him to screw up again, so she’ll run back to the younger guy’s arms and they’ll live happily ever after. It’s going to be a sad day if this is an accurate prediction.

Well, here’s the cast. Starring, we have great and still-inhumanly-gorgeous Reese Witherspoon, known for SING (2016), PENELOPE (2006), LEGALLY BLONDE (2001), and the upcoming TINKER BELL, no release date announced. Alongside her, we have Pico Alexander (WAR MACHINE [2017], INDIGNATION [2016], and A MOST VIOLENT YEAR [2014]) and Michael Sheen (NORMAN [2017], NOCTURNAL ANIMALS [2016], UNDERWORLD [2003], and the upcoming BRAD’S STATUS [2017]). In support, we have Candice Bergen (RULES DON’T APPLY [2016], SWEET HOME ALABAMA [2002], and MISS CONGENIALITY [2000]), Lola Flanery (TV shows THE MIST [2017] and SHADOWHUNTERS: THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS [2016 – ongoing]), Eden Grace Redfield (THE GLASS CASTLE [2017]), Nat Wolff (LEAP! [2017], PAPER TOWNS [2015], and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS [2014]), and Lake Bell (I DO… UNTIL I DON’T [2017], THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS [2016], and MAN UP [2015]).

Now for the crew. Writing and directing, we have Hallie Meyers-Shyer, making her directorial and writing debut. Congrats, miss. Composing the score, we have John Debney, known for ICE AGE: COLLISION COURSE (2016), SIN CITY (2005), INSPECTOR GADGET (1999), and upcoming TV shows THE ORVILLE (2017) and the pilot episode of YOUNG SHELDON. Finally, the cinematographer is Dean Cundey, known for JACK AND JILL (2011), GARFIELD (2004), JURASSIC PARK (1993), and the upcoming ANASTASIA (2018).

Overall, I’m pretty excited for this, if only for the talent.

This is my honest opinion of: HOME AGAIN

(SUMMARY)

Alice (Reese Witherspoon) is unfortunately separated from her record producer husband Austen (Michael Sheen), and has moved back to Los Angeles, California with her two daughters, older Isabele (Lola Flanery) and younger Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) into her childhood home to rebuild her life. However, on a night out with her friends to celebrate her birthday, she meets a trio of young and rising filmmakers, director Harry (Pico Alexander), his younger brother and actor, Teddy (Nat Wolff), and writer George (Jon Rudnitsky), and Alice nearly sleeps with Harry. They all end up staying at her place and after developing a connection with Alice’s mother Lillian (Candice Bergen), a retired actress herself, wants to bunk the three young men in Alice’s home until they’ve gotten their movie worked on.

(REVIEW)

Man, I really wanted to like this movie. All the negative reviews are going to be difficult to argue with.

While this won’t be a bashing jamboree, it’s probably best to talk about the negatives, as there’s quite a bit. The basic premise is that Alice winds up in a relationship with the younger Harry. Thing is, their relationship is about one of the worst written relationships I’ve seen in awhile. Almost from the moment that Harry meets Alice, he is pretty obnoxious. At first, it’s just sort of the typical young guy flirting with the woman thinking he’s more charming than he really is, so I didn’t have a problem with it right away. But as soon as her mom invites them to stay in the house, this is where Harry slowly, but surly, becomes unlikable to the umpteenth degree. He really crosses lines with Alice that she finds alluring, but any other woman in real life would acknowledge as pushy. Even after his talk about “staying friends” after a failed night of sex, he’s the one who initiates the topic of making it more serious, which is when Alice invites him to a dinner engagement that her friend is hosting. However, on that same night, Harry has his own meeting to go to about his movie, something that Alice was aware of. Sadly, you can probably guess exactly where this goes. He doesn’t show up because he drank too much and wouldn’t assert himself to leave, and Alice takes it way too personally and they end their relationship.

There is no reason for this to get so dramatic. Alice knew that the boys are on the cusp of living out their dream of getting their movie made, an obviously exciting and busy time. So why isn’t Alice more understanding? And he didn’t stand her up at the altar, it was a small dinner date at her friend’s house! And it was their first attempt at a date, not their tenth. If anything, you get annoyed and try again. Not one small misstep and act like it’s the end of the world. This is the most unlikable Alice gets in the film. And as for Harry, this scene establishes that he’s kind of a pussy. You can clearly tell that he’s trying to leave to go to the dinner date, but he can’t get away because the producer “wouldn’t shut up.” Oh jesus, get your balls out of your purse, dude, and get up and go. Or fake needing to go to the bathroom. There was a million work-arounds to get where he needed to go and not once did that logic come across in this scene. Hell, he probably could have saved some serious face if he had texted her and said, “Hey, sorry, can’t get away, enjoy yourself, I’ll make it up to you, xx” and really nullified the situation. But these set of scenes are completely devoid of logic and make themselves out like the script just needs to get a move on.

But while I can argue that this is the only time Alice is unlikable, the frustrations I had with Harry didn’t stop at Alice. He’s a dick-cheese to everyone else he’s around. He’s extremely selfish and acts more like a child than a twenty-seven year old grown ass man. We eventually learn that George, the writer, has been taking side jobs of looking over other scripts to make a little extra money. Okay, sounds harmless enough. And Teddy has opportunities to audition for other parts. Once again, sounds reasonable. Here’s the thing, they hid all this from Harry because he’d freak out and think they were trying to ditch him, and when he finds out what the other guys are doing, he freaks out. Why? A writer needs to write and they’ll take any number of extra jobs to put food on the table. This is a natural part of writing in Hollywood, but Harry somehow thinks that because they worked on one movie together, a movie that hasn’t been green-lit or properly financed, that they’re bound by blood to never work on anything without his explicit consent. Piss off, you little bitch. He’s never happy for the others’ accomplishments, so it’s a wonder why they bothered being friends with him when he stormed off like a petulant child.

There’s also a bit of build-up with George developing feelings for Alice, but he never acts on them. This movie teases a love-triangle and doesn’t even bother to deliver it. Not that I’m complaining too much, as triangles rarely work out in films, but it’s still wasted script pages to devote time to something else. Also, throughout the film, we’re constantly told that Austen is this party boy that never grew up and is largely manipulative, but we’re never actually shown that… ever. In fact, in every scene that he’s in, he seems like a nice guy. Even when he’s an asshole, you can sort of understand why. He calls Alice, he tells her he misses her and seems really conflicted about his job anchoring him away from his family. The next time we see him, he’s made a surprise visit to see his family and seems to really love his daughters and wants to make a real attempt at repairing his broken relationship with Alice. None of the negative stuff ever makes an appearance in his character until he picks a fight with Teddy. That’s when his manipulation comes in, but that’s it. And it’s not like it truly pays off when Alice decides to divorce him, to which he takes it incredibly well. I don’t know many manipulative assholes who take losing very well. They pass it off as someone else’s failure and they’re the victims of circumstance.

Sounds like a bunch of pretty good reasons to pass on this movie, huh? Well… probably, but that shouldn’t suggest that there wasn’t some things that I liked. Witherspoon is always amazing, so she’s always got this charm that keeps me liking her, even if her character is poorly written. One of my favorite parts about Alice was that she never ends up with a man at the end of the movie. She smooths things over with everyone, but never truly commits to any one guy. They’re just all close friends. I also bought the connections she had with the trio. They did have a really cute relationship between each other and that carried the film well enough for me. George was about the only real likable character out of the trio and I did enjoy his connection with Isabele and their mutual love for writing. The kids were flirting with being annoying characters, but never quite crossed any lines for me, and did have their funny moments. “How old do you think I am?” “I don’t know… Mom-age?” That kind of got me. Even Sheen was pretty entertaining to watch. And a brief appearance by comedienne, Jen Kirkman as one of Alice’s friends? That was a particularly special treat for me.

But yeah, none of the positives really save the flick from it’s horrible writing and misunderstanding of how dating works. While not the worst of Witherspoon’s films, it’s certainly no WALK THE LINE (2005) or LEGALLY BLONDE. It’s not one of her worst films either. I see it as something more akin to SWEET HOME ALABAMA. It’s one of those movies that she did that no one will really remember. It’s hard for me to recommend this to anyone. Maybe it’d be a fair enough movie to take your middle-aged mother too, but it’s definitely not a good film. Like I said, I don’t hate it. There had enough charm to keep me interested and even entertained, but it’s not enough to save it completely. Save this for a rental, if anything, but even then, I don’t think it’s worth your time.

My honest rating for HOME AGAIN: a weak 3/5

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Quick Netflix review: MIDNIGHT IN PARIS (2011)

Starring: Owen Wilson (CARS 3 [2017], ZOOLANDER 2 [2016], ANACONDA [1997], and SHANGHAI DAWN, no release date announced), Marion Cotillard (ASSASSIN’S CREED [2016], THE DARK KNIGHT RISES [2012], and INCEPTION [2010]), and Rachel McAdams (DOCTOR STRANGE [2016], MORNING GLORY [2010], THE NOTEBOOK [2004], and the upcoming SHERLOCK HOLMES 3, no release date announced).

In support: Corey Stoll (GOLD [2017], CAFÉ SOCIETY [2016], ANT-MAN [2015], and the upcoming FIRST MAN [2018]), Kathy Bates (BAD SANTA 2 [2016], TITANIC [1997], and TV show AMERICAN HORROR STORY), Michael Sheen (NORMAN [2017], PASSENGERS [2016], UNDERWORLD [2003], and the upcoming BRAD’S STATUS [2017]), Tom Hiddleston (KONG: SKULL ISLAND [2017], I SAW THE LIGHT [2016], THOR [2011], and upcoming Marvel films THOR: RAGNAROK [2017] and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018]), and Léa Seydoux (THE LOBSTER [2016], 007 SPECTRE [2015], and BLUE IS THE WARMEST COLOR [2013]).

Writer/Director: Woody Allen (CAFÉ SOCIETY, IRRATIONAL MAN [2015], MIGHTY APHRODITE [1995], and the upcoming WONDER WHEEL [2017]). This film does not have a composer. Cinematographer: Darius Khondji (THE LOST CITY OF Z [2017], THE IMMIGRANT [2013], and THE RUINS [2008]).

(SUMMARY)

Gil Pender (Owen Wilson) is on vacation in Paris, trying to find inspiration to complete the novel he’s writing. Though inspiration is slow, he’s quickly fallen in love with Paris and is even considering to move there. His feelings are not shared by his prickly fiancé Inez (Rachel McAdams), and the two butt heads constantly. One night, strolling through the streets of Paris, he ends up lost, but the most bizarre thing happens to him at midnight. He’s picked up by an old fashioned car and somehow finds himself in the 1920’s, meeting all of his historical icons, like Ernest Hemingway (Corey Stoll), Pablo Picasso (Marcial Di Fonzo Bo), F. Scott Fitzgerald (Tom Hiddleston), and even finds possible romance with the beautiful Adriana (Marion Cotillard), a mistress of Picasso.

(REVIEW)

I was surprised by how much I fell in love with this movie.

On top of being Wilson’s best performance I’ve ever seen in his library, it’s a truly gorgeous film just to look at, making the cinematography just as much the star as the actual characters the story follows. Already I love fantasy films and have a soft spot for rom-coms, and it’s not very often that the two are combined and leave this kind of an impact. While I can’t attest to the accuracy of the film using these historical people in Paris at the exact same time, but I doubt I’m supposed to take all this very literal. It’s a fantasy film after all and more of an appreciation of times long gone and a story that challenges a man to assess his relationship and what he wants for himself. At least, that’s what I got out of it. All I can tell you is that I got sucked into the style, the music, the aesthetics of it all, as well as the phenomenal chemistry between the actors, the comedy, and the romance. It’s a gorgeous film to be sure and I’m sad it took me this long to see it.

My honest rating for MIDNIGHT IN PARIS: 5/5

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NORMAN: THE MODERATE RISE AND TRAGIC FALL OF A NEW YORK FIXER review

Um… it looks alright. I have no idea what to say. I’m not even I entirely know what this movie is about. Some guy is supposed to be a well-respected fixer, then later loses his touch? If I were to hazard a guess, it’s because he’s getting older and less relevant, but he’s got one last shot to prove that he’s as good as once was. Eh… that’s probably incredibly off, especially considering how cliché I just made it sound, so I’m going to give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s much better than that.

Well, here’s the cast. Starring is Richard Gere (MOVIE 43 [2013], AMELIA [2009], and RUNAWAY BRIDE [1999]). When was the last time you saw this guy in a movie worth seeing? I mean, the 90’s were practically owned by this guy, but he sort of dropped out of existence some time in the mid 2000’s. Well, good to see him coming back. In support, we also have the amazing Michael Sheen (PASSENGERS [2016], FROST/NIXON [2008], and UNDERWORLD [2003]), the legendary Steve Buscemi (THE BOSS BABY [2017], CHARLOTTE’S WEB [2006], and FARGO [1996]), Dan Stevens (COLOSSAL [2017], THE FIFTH ESTATE [2013], and TV show LEGION) Lior Ashkenazi (a ton of foreign or unknown films), and Charlotte Gainsbourg (INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE [2016], MELANCHOLIA [2011], and JANE EYRE [1996]).

Now for the crew. Writing and directing is Joseph Cedar, known for foreign films. Not familiar with anyone else on the project, so let’s push ahead.

Overall, I’m not sure what to say or feel, so… here we go.

This is my honest opinion of: NORMAN

(SUMMARY)

Norman (Richard Gere) is a well-meaning, but often intrusive fixer, constantly offering his services to high-profile individuals and connections to other high-profile individuals. Soon, he meets a young Israeli politician named Micha Eshel (Lior Ashkanazi) and the two become good friends. But as the years go by, their connection to each other changes Norman’s life, some in good ways, some in bad, leading to some huge consequences when Micha becomes Israeli’s Prime Minister.

(REVIEW)

And… I’ve got nothing. To this very moment, I have no idea what this movie is about or what the critics see in this picture. I’m not going to go out and say that I hate this movie or anything, but… damn, why the rave reviews?

From start to finish, I haven’t the slightest idea what this movie was about. If you thought my half-assed summary up top was… well, half-assed, you’d be correct. That’s all that I really took away from the film. You have this really obnoxious guy who somehow knows where to find these high profile people and tries to help them out in whatever way he can offer, usually trying to get them to meet another high profile person that he somehow knows. The movie is divided into four acts. I know this because each new act is labeled for the audience. The first act is all about Norman trying to get this one guy to meet this Israeli politician, Micha Eshel. But… why? I don’t recall a single bit of dialog that explains Norman’s motivations, desperation, or perpetual need to get these two men to meet. Yet, that doesn’t stop him from calling Eshel repeatedly.

And that’s the consistent problem that I had with this movie. A bunch of stuff happens and you have Norman trying mediate something that will benefit someone, but there’s nothing to explain anything. Scenes happen and you never really understand their relevance to the overall story, if there is one to speak of. There’s this political get-together to congratulate the new Prime Minister, and Norman and Micha are reunited in friendship after three years. I do not know the point other than to have an excuse for Norman and Alex (Charlotte Gainsbourg) to meet up on a bus later. There’s an extended montage scene with Norman trying to save a… synagogue, or something, from being torn down and they need to raise money to save it. Norman says he has an anonymous donor, but at the end of this montage, he tells Rabbi Blumenthal (Steve Buscemi) that the donor wants to remain anonymous, even though we know that Norman doesn’t have such a source. Why does he lie? I get that Norman is just a guy trying to do good with his life and to do right by the people around him, but this excessive lying is beyond frustrating because half his problems later on wouldn’t have been an issue if he’d just been honest and said that he tried, but his efforts didn’t pan out in their favor. People are more understanding than that and even if there is a knee-jerk negative reaction, that would fade in time. Beside that, this is also as cliché as you can get because it sets up a liar-reveal scene. You know, character lies for insert-bullshit-reason here, someone or everyone finds out about the lie, which results in the character’s proverbial balls getting kicked. We see it coming a mile away and it’s not suspenseful. It’s irritating, which goes back to my original thought; there’s no motivation behind it!

But as much as this really hurts the film, there are plenty of surprisingly good things about it.

For one, Gere is phenomenal. I know I’m complaining about the character of Norman a lot, but the character is, for all his inconsistencies, very well written and Gere shines beautifully. While Norman’s less than ideal actions wear off in the second half of the film, there is a likability about him that kept me from completely hating him or finding him annoying. Yes, Norman is intrusive and has no real concept of leaving things well enough alone, but he’s so brilliantly written that he’s that despicable. You always have this sense that he’s trying to make everyone’s life better, even when it doesn’t work out well and he never seems to get anything of value out of it other than the personal victory of being helpful. That’s actually a really admirable trait to have in a character and his flaws keep him interesting and engaging until the very end. Oh, there’s certainly been characters that have been done before that try to do the right thing but somehow make things worse, but Norman feels fresh and unique. Even when he’s lying, he’s always got something nice to say about the people he’s lying about, and for all intents and purposes, he’s not entirely wrong. He’s just caught up in a bad situation that he’s trying to get out of. It may not take away from the fact that we don’t know how or why he’s in these situations at all or what’s at stake if he fails and why that means anything to him, but the performance from Gere alone is worth the price of admission.

And there are some pretty fun plays on interconnected scenes. You know how in a lot of “business” type movies that when two characters are talking on the phone and the screen splits in two to show both characters talking in their respective locations like comic book panels? Well, this movie does that, but in a very unique kind of way. The dual locations are shown like they’re on the same set, or in the same shot. Damn it, I wish I knew how to properly explain it. It’s like, on one half of the screen, you have Gere outside next to a tall building, it’s cloudy outside, and standing next to a fountain, right? The other half of the screen is some schmucks in suits in an office building, sitting at a desk, and it’s sunny outside. Usually, there’s a black line running down the screen to illustrate that the scenes are separate, but there isn’t one here and it’s kind of trippy to speculate if these scenes really are in different locations, or if they really are just incredible set pieces. Again, this movie is incredible for that alone.

For all the great things in this movie, there’s an equal amount of bad. Gere’s performance is brilliant, but Norman’s motivations are nonexistent, despite being a likable character. The story itself makes very little sense and gives no reason for the audience to really care about what is happening or what the consequences are should failure be met. Some scenes work amazingly, but they don’t save the movie as a whole. By no means bad, but I have a hard time to bring myself to say that it’s really good. There is something here of value and worth checking out. So… yeah, I recommend this movie. In theaters, a matinee ticket at best, or definitely worth a rental. It doesn’t have the widest release, so finding it may be a challenge, but it’s worth seeing. I’m glad I saw it, but I don’t see myself revisiting it. Maybe some scenes, but not the entire movie.

My honest rating for NORMAN: 3/5

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PASSENGERS review

The moment this trailer premiered, I was hooked like a fish. Well, sci-fi does have that effect on me no matter what, and riding off the high off of some truly awesome sci-fi films of late, I saw this as among one of the most anticipated movies of the last stretch of this year. It looks like a story about a pair of space-farers that were originally part of a voyage to a new planet to colonize. But during their cryogenic sleep or whatever they’ll use, they woke up way too early and now just try to cope. Looks interesting.

But lets take a look at the cast. Co-starring, we have Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence. I find myself in the minority of those that aren’t totally on board with Lawrence. She’s by no means a bad actress, far from it, but everyone seems to make her out to be the next Meryl Streep. I’ve seen her turn in the Hunger Games films, but it seemed like only CATCHING FIRE really showcased her talent. A lot of people like to point to films like SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK or WINTER’S BONE, but I thought both characters were not that interesting. She’s not bad, but she’s not what I remember most or cared about. Although I did thoroughly enjoy her in AMERICAN HUSTLE. The actor I am excited for is Pratt. From his humble and hilarious beginnings in TV show PARKS AND REC, to GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY and JURASSIC WORLD, he is probably one of the funniest, most engaging actors today. I have a man-crush and I’m proud to admit it. In supporting roles, we have Michael Sheen (NOCTURNAL ANIMALS [2016], UNDERWORLD [2003], and FROST/NIXON [2008]), Lawrence Fishburne (BATMAN V SUPERMAN [2016], THE MATRIX [1999], and PREDATORS [2010]), and Andy Garcia (MAX STEEL [2016], THE UNTOUCHABLES [1987], OCEANS ELEVEN [2001]).

Now for behind the scenes. Directing, we have Morten Tyldum, known for THE IMITATION GAME (2014) and HEADHUNTERS (2011). Penning the screenplay is Jon Spaihts, known for DOCTOR STRANGE (2016), PROMETHEUS (2012), and THE DARKEST HOUR (2011). The composer is Thomas Newman, known for FINDING DORY (2016), 007 SPECTRE (2015), and GET ON UP (2014). Finally, the cinematographer is Rodrigo Prieto, known for THE HOMESMAN (2014), THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013), and WE BOUGHT A ZOO (2011).

Overall, high expectations and expecting really good things.

This is my honest opinion of: PASSENGERS

(SUMMARY)

The starship Avalon is making its 120 year space voyage to the newly colonized world of Homestead II. However, thirty years into its journey, it comes across a nasty asteroid field that causes a ship-wide power surge. This causes only one sleeper pod to malfunction and wake up one of the passengers, James “Jim” Preston (Chris Pratt). Naturally, this puts him in quite a pickle. For a whole year, he tries to make the best of it, but eventually, loneliness and depression settle in and his only companion during that time is an android bartender named Arthur (Michael Sheen). Well, soon, his need for any companionship leads him to the pod of Aurora Lane (Jennifer Lawrence), a journalist back on Earth. He listens to her farewell vids, even reads her work and becomes fond of her talent and eventually, her. Despite debating and knowing that opening her pod means stealing the life the planned on Homestead II, he does it anyway. As the two become closer, the ship begins to slowly break down and more systems go haywire, making a desperate race to fix the problems and save their lives and everyone else’s life aboard the ship.

(REVIEW)

DISCLAIMER: I’ll be going in depth with the film and will be sporadically talking about spoilers and won’t really be able to keep them separate. So if you haven’t seen this film yet, skip ahead to the bottom of my review (CTRL-F, type in “end spoilers”) for my overview of the flick which will have no spoilers.

Remorsefully, it’s not quite the great movie that I was hoping for. Far too many flaws, but it’s still mostly a solid film with more than a few good qualities to make it worthwhile.

***SPOILERS***

 

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Alright, so first thing’s first, my boy Pratt maintains his lovable charisma and perfectly bounces between comedy and drama. Jim is the only person awake for a year and the story does a pretty solid job of showing what that would entail. A sense of fear to figure out what’s going on, getting few answers, or meaningless ones. He doesn’t quite break down into a panic, but because there’s no one around to dish out consequences, he eats food in the ship’s restaurants, and drinks at the bar, with his room getting billed the entire time. It’s actually pretty funny and some of the visual gags, while not hilarious, are still pretty fun to look at. He helps himself to a more expensive room, takes part in dancing games, even taking a space suit to “bungie jump” off the side of the ship. Anything to keep him occupied and from going insane, but this doesn’t last forever before he starts getting bored and his suicidal tendencies start seeping through. There’s even a great moment when he’s standing in the airlock without the suit and he’s ready to flush himself out into the cold vacuum of space. He obviously doesn’t do that because there’s still an hour and a half left of the flick, but Pratt still delivered a heart-breaking moment. That all dissipates when he happens across Aurora’s pod and he starts contemplating waking her up. It’s written careful enough to make it not seem entirely out of a creepy sense of sexual desires, but rather out of a desperate need for some sort of companionship that isn’t Arthur. No one condones his actions when he does wake her up, but in retrospect, you see the horror in his own eyes. Not okay, but not beyond the realm of understanding.

Now speaking of Aurora, this is officially ranked among one of my favorite Lawrence performances. Bar none, this surpasses many of her previous films. While Jim plays a charade that he doesn’t know why she’s awake any more than he is, she also goes through the motions of panic, misery, but eventually does fall for Jim’s charms. Both Lawrence and Pratt have great chemistry and they do make a cute couple. But as soon as secrets unravel, Lawrence naturally is horrified by Jim’s choices and avoids him, hating him. Quite intelligently, despite Jim’s sincerest attempts at justification and sorrow, she never buys it, at least not until the end of the film.

Unfortunately, this is also where I realized the story started to fall apart, and in retrospect, was somewhat dead on arrival. I can’t help but feel like the story that was presented in the trailer, a man and a woman wake up not knowing why they’ve woken up too early, and spend the entire time trying to get back to sleep. There was a serious sense of mystery and intrigue that the final product doesn’t quite deliver on and would have worked so much better the alternate way. Instead, Jim can quite understandably be seen as a creep and the story a case study in Stockholm syndrome. The first and second act work fine in their own respects, but the third act comes along and it’s only now that the two characters try to fix the problems with the ship. The only fix I can see is pick which story should be developed: a space romance, or a mystery thriller. Hell, even combining the two isn’t a terrible idea, the pieces are all there, but they’re not arranged very well and the focus isn’t where it should be. It’d be a much better story if they both were awakened and spend the entire movie trying to discover what caused their pods to malfunction and what they can do to fix the problem with their limited knowledge. That would have been such a better story.

The liar-reveal scene can be seen a hundred miles away. Predictability on this level is always a frustrating downgrade, as well as the contrived manner in which is happens. “I’m not just a bartender; I’m a gentleman,” my ass. Fishburne is a wasted character, literally coming on screen to die and give the remaining characters a golden pass to get through any locked door (a wrist ID badge, but golden pass sounds cooler). And I’m pretty sure certain sciences have taken way too much fictional license. There’s a scene where the gravity is turned off and Aurora is swimming. Immediately, the pool starts to rise and she’s trapped in the center of the floating pool. At first, she’s able to swim out to the edges to catch her breath, but then when another chunk of the pool collides with her, suddenly she’s helpless and shown to be lifeless. The gravity turns back on… and she gets out of the pool. The hell, movie?! She was dead! Give us a few seconds of her convulsing, splash back into place, and then get out gasping for breath.

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***END SPOILERS***

The biggest issues with the movie is that there are fixes that I don’t think were ever considered. A lot of the problems felt lazy and needed a logic check. But I’d be lying if I said I still didn’t enjoy it. The special effects were great, the set designs were fantastic, the humor was funny, the drama was engaging, it’s not the worst. Sure, it’s clumsily put together on the whole, but it still worked enough. I love the leading pair, and I loved this set-up, but it is indeed imperfect. I do recommend seeing this film, all things considered. Just take those expectations and bump them down a few notches because it’s not that good. It’s not that bad either, it’s still a solid movie, but not what the trailers promised.

My honest rating for PASSENGERS: a strong 3/5

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NOCTURNAL ANIMALS review

So before seeing this movie, I had no idea what to expect or even what the story was really about. No matter how many times I stared at that trailer, all I got was Amy Adams looking intense while sexy, and Jake Gyllenhaal… doing… Gyllenhaal things. I don’t know, the plot wasn’t clear! Even descriptions about the plot online didn’t seem to make it sound very interesting. A woman’s ex-husband writes a book that’s violent and sad and she thinks it’s a proverbial threat against her? Eh… I guess there’s potential in that, but even if that was the story, the trailer wasn’t doing that idea justice. But then I checked the ratings. At the time, I think IMDb had it at an 8.0/10. That’s… pretty nuts. I guess this movie had something going for it if the masses were liking it. And despite no idea what the movie was about, I was still kind of interested. Both Adams and Gyllenhaal are reliably great actors and it tickled me that Adams was competing against herself since ARRIVAL (2016) was still out.

So let’s take a look at the cast. The movie stars Adams (ARRIVAL [2016], ENCHANTED [2007], and THE FIGHTER [2010]), and Gyllenhaal (DEMOLITION [2016], SOUTHPAW [2015], and BUBBLE BOY [2001]). In supporting roles, we have the underappreciated Armie Hammer (THE BIRTH OF A NATION [2016], THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. [2015], and THE LONE RANGER [2013]), the ridiculously amazing Michael Shannon (MIDNIGHT SPECIAL [2016], MAN OF STEEL [2013], and MUD [2012]), and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON [2015], GODZILLA [2014], and KICK-ASS [2010]).

Now for behind the scenes. Writing and directing is newcomer Tom Ford, who only has one other directing credit under his belt, the 2009 film A SINGLE MAN. Composing the music is Abel Korzeniowski, reuniting with Ford from A SINGLE MAN, as well as having composed for BATTLE FOR TERRA (2007) and TV show PENNY DREADFUL. Finally, the cinematographer is Seamus McGarvey, known for THE ACCOUNTANT (2016), CHARLOTTE’S WEB (2006), and SAHARA (2005).

Overall, I’d say I was looking forward to it. Maybe not crazy excited, but I was intrigued. How did it fare against my expectations? This is my honest opinion of NOCTURNAL ANIMALS.

(SUMMARY)

Susan (Amy Adams) is an art gallery owner. She’s wealthy and all, but has suddenly felt like her life hasn’t gone in the direction that she believes it should have. Even her marriage to her second husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) seems to be static now. But things start to change when she receives a package in the mail. A manuscript to a novel written by her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), which he dedicated to her. Alone in her home while Hutton is on a business trip, Susan begins to read Edward’s dark and violent story. At the same time while reminiscing about her once happy marriage with him, she begins to see that the novel might have a few glaring undertones and that the dedication to her may not be one intended for flattery.

(REVIEW)

For the first time in a long time, I’ve actually made a point to look at a few opinions of other movie-goers out there. Critics seem to like it just fine. RottenTomatoes has it at a 73% and IMDb continues a strong hold on to its 8.0/10 (both respectively as of 12/1/2016). However, IMDb reviews from the common folk seem to peg it as over-rated, pretentious, and not very good overall. And… yeah, from the first couple scenes, I didn’t have a very high opinion myself.

Quite literally, the opening titles are just overweight women dancing around stark naked in patriotic hats and sparklers. It’s… distracting, needless to say. Not that there’s anything wrong with naked overweight women, per se, every woman has tits and asses, but I really wanted to know where this film was going with this imagery. Already, I was pegging this film’s theme as, “the challenging of our perception of beauty.” But I’m literally saying that barely five minutes into the story. I chose to sit there and patiently wait for the story to unravel before damning it.

But again, the film wasn’t doing itself any favors from it’s opening scene with Susan and Hutton in their home. The dialog in this film is almost cringe-worthy. Both characters speak entirely in exposition. “You remember my first husband, Edward. He’s a writer now.” “I didn’t know he could write.” “It’s sad that he never remarried.” It’s so bland and grating that I’m pretty sure I bruised my own arm from grabbing it so hard trying to get through this scene. And never mind the awkward retelling of Susan’s back story, which we were going to learn via flashback anyway, the structure and direction of this scene seemed all over the place. At first, Susan’s upset that Hutton didn’t come by her gallery to show support. His apologies are half-assed, and there’s this hint of marital-problems that you know these characters have. But before they’re fully addressed, that’s when Susan breaks out the conversation about Edward. And before you have a chance to give a shit about that, it’s more marital problems! “I’m leaving on business.” “You just got back.” “I know, but this is important.” Ugh! This scene couldn’t have ended fast enough.

And then the next scene threw me for a loop. Do you realize how many celebrity cameos are in this picture? I counted!

Celebrity cameo number one: Michael Sheen! His scene is basically telling Susan that she’s being silly and should enjoy her life, but Susan remains unconvinced. This scene probably lasts less that five minutes and his character never returns. Wow. I was not liking this movie.

Finally, the story starts to unfold. In this case, quite literally. Susan gets Edward’s manuscript. After another awkward conversation between her and Hutton, this time over the phone, and a pretty non-subtle implication that he’s having an affair on her… and she seemingly uncaring about it, opens Edward’s book and starts reading.

This is where the movie ironically picks up. While Susan reads the book, the scenes in the book are played out for us. Gyllenhaal essentially has a dual performance as Edward, as well as his novel’s character, Tony (who has a beard, while Edward is clean-shaven).

Celebrity cameo number two: Isla Fisher (probably the longest cameo)! She plays Tony’s wife, Laura. Disclaimer: I actually didn’t know this was Fisher. Every scene she’s in, I’d have sworn on a stack of Bibles that Adams was doing a dual performance. Fuckin’ attractive redheads, man, they all look alike! I’m not used to Fisher not being in a comedy role! Anyway, Tony, Laura, and their teen daughter India (Ellie Bamber) are on a road trip. It’s night time and they come across some jack-ass hillbillies who ram them off the road. I gotta say, the stuff in this book is pretty damn good. It’s atmospheric, I can’t predict what’s going to happen, and Taylor-Johnson is phenomenally chilling in his performance. It’s over-the-top, sure, but his character’s insanity just makes the scene that much more unsettling. His character, Ray Marcus, tries to make their tussle look like it was Tony’s fault. Slowly, he gets the entire family out. Taunting galore, exchanged punches, this scene is pretty intense until it finally culminates into Laura and India getting kidnapped in their own car and Tony is forced to follow with Ray’s henchman, Lou (Karl Glusman).

Did you get goosebumps yet? Well the movie says, “FUCK YOU” and cuts away to Susan’s boring life. She starts saying how she’s thinking about Edward more and comments on his novel to a… friend? Co-worker? It’s not clear. Anyway, if we’re not getting glimpses of that boring-ass crap, we’re treated to those flashbacks of Susan’s relationship with Edward. It started off as all passion and romance. He’s a good kid, but he’s not from a wealthy family and Susan got ear-fulls of that from her mother.

Celebrity cameo number three: Laura Linney! Another disclaimer, I thought it was Joan Allen for some reason. Yeah… I’m pretty dumb sometimes. Anywho, Susan doesn’t care that Edward’s a struggling artist, she loves him! She wants to marry him! Everyone knows this story. But as time passes, she grows increasingly less happy with him as she doesn’t really think his writing is all that good and eventually wants to break up with him. Mostly for two reasons. One, she’s unhappy (covered that, I know), and two, she met Hutton in class and they begin their fling.

So from this point on, dear readers, I’m going to enter some serious spoiler territory. If you’ve had an interest in seeing this movie, don’t read further because it’s some seriously important shit. So CTRL-F and skip to “end spoilers” to see my overall opinion of the film. Without further adieu…

***SPOILERS!!!***

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She breaks up with him and we learn that she was actually pregnant with Edward’s baby and she had Hutton accompany her to get an abortion. She thought Edward would never find out, but lo and behold who finds out.

The flashbacks end there, but interlaced, the audience is still treated to the best part of this movie, the novel.

Tony is forced into the middle of nowhere, no longer following Ray and his family and soon left stranded. He eventually arrives into the nearest town and gets the police involved, namely Detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), who seems to take a particular interest in Tony’s case. Probably because not long after his involvement, they find Tony’s family. Both his wife and daughter dead… naked… and raped. Unable to let this monstrous act go, Andes cautions that while he’ll look for the assailants, cases like Tony’s could take months or even years to gain any headway, to which Tony doesn’t care. When they finally track down one of the goons, specifically Lou, they also track down Ray himself. Tony and Andes take them to a secluded house to confess their crimes at gunpoint. Ray escapes, but Andes kills Lou. Tony and Andes separate to track Ray down and eventually catches up with him in the same house where his wife and daughter were raped and killed. Tony shoots Ray a couple times, but Ray manages one good blow with a… fire poker? I couldn’t tell what it was, but Tony gets knocked out, waking up to find Ray dead on the ground and Tony stumbles outside… to die.

This concludes the book and Susan, who’s been emailing Edward about his story asks to meet up, to which he says okay. She arrives at the prescribed restaurant and waits for him, but never shows. And then the movie ends. Yeah, roll credits.

Oh, celebrity cameo number four: Jena Malone! She showed up once.

So I’ve yammered on about the story. Basically a long ass version of my summary. What do I actually think of the movie then? Sounds like I don’t like it much, outside of the reenactments of the novel. Well… actually, I think this movie is kind of brilliant. I truly think it’s deep and thought-provoking. I bet some of you are doing a double-take on what you’re reading here, going, “Hold on a sec, you were agreeing with us at first!” Well, yeah, I was.

The movie has an incredibly confusing and frustratingly horrible start. Awkward dialog, and an opening that still to this very minute made very little sense other than to be obviously symbolizing something when it’s really symbolizing nothing. But… by the end of the movie, my perception of the story completely changed. I think a lot of people who didn’t like this movie got it all wrong. Even certain websites that wrote out the synopsis of the movie didn’t quite get it right. I never got the impression that Susan thought that Edward was threatening her over through this book, or “torturing her” as some reviewers said. I think Edward’s book was a representation of his torture. Because of what Susan put him through, cheating on him, aborting their unborn child, that had to put the poor guy in a dark place. Hence the novel. My first thought was that Laura was supposed to represent Susan, but actually, I think Ray Marcus was representative of Susan. What happened to Edward? He lost his wife and his kid. Tony lost his wife and his kid. But Edward blames Susan for everything. In his tortured mind, Susan committed the ultimate heinous act that you can do to a man and probably saw the abortion of their child as murder. The ending of the novel represents how Susan is dead to Edward and, despite her wanting to catch up with him for probably old time sake, Edward should be dead to Susan, which is why he never shows up for their rendezvous. Maybe, in it’s own right, Susan is metaphorically dead. I remember one reviewer declaring that Adams looked like she was bored in the movie. I think that was point. While not a completely unlikable character, she is impossible to please. In one life, she had a loving husband, but a down-in-the-dumps lifestyle. In the other, she’s very rich, but has a very loveless marriage. In comes this book and she’s practically thinking about rekindling what she gave up on. I think Edward knew that and is essentially rejecting her happiness just like she rejected his so long ago.

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***END SPOILERS***

So… do I love this movie? Yeah, I kinda do. Sure, the opening titles are… confusing and don’t do much other than exactly what it does, there’s star power that only appears for a few minutes, and many of the scenes involving Susan in the present are horribly written and uninteresting by comparison to what happens in the novel she’s reading, but it all does build-up to a pretty complex ending that has a ton of layers to peel back, and I’m sure I only peeled back a small portion. This is definitely a strangely structured psychological tale, but it’s phenomenal and compelling. Hell, I think I’d want to watch this a second time just to see how it all holds together. So… sorry, common folks, I agree with the critics on this one. It’s different, it’s engaging, it’s high concept, it’s pretty damn fresh. I don’t know how everyone else would like it, so I find myself conflicted on who to recommend this too. If you’re a fan of the cast, I think you’ll do fine. Both Gyllenhaal and Shannon own this movie. But if you’re in the mood for a different kind of psychological and dark story, then this might be up your alley. Personally, I think it’s worth it.

My honest rating for NOCTURNAL ANIMALS: 5/5

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