Tag Archives: R

Review: By the Sea

via IMP Awards

By the Sea (2015)

R / 122 min.

Drama / Romance

Starring: Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Melanie Laurent

Director: Angelia Jolie

A French seaside resort sounds like the perfect locale for a romantic getaway weekend.  The fresh and salty breeze kisses your face as the sound of the waves crashing upon the beach fills your ears.  It is relaxing just thinking about it.  It sounds a lot better than this damp and foggy day I am currently experiencing.  Unfortunately, By the Sea, directed and written by actress-turned-director Angelina Jolie is anything but romantic…or a good movie for that matter.

via The AV Club

The film, starring Angelina and her ex-real-life husband Brad Pitt, is a reflective piece on the subject of grief and love.  It is a deeply personal film about a couple, Vanessa and Roland (played by Jolie and Pitt), at a crossroads in the relationship who decide to go to a French seaside resort to perhaps sort things out in their marriage.  Instead, things seem to take a turn for the weird when they begin to meet some new friends around the town, two of which happen to be a newly-wed couple next door.

What brought me to this movie was the obvious draw of a voyeuristic look into the real-life relationship of Jolie and Pitt.  It was no secret that their marriage was hanging on a thread and that things were not all roses and dandelions between the two of them.  By the Sea was advertised as a personal art-house piece about a couple going through a rough patch.  It does not take a genius to connect the dots and theorize that perhaps the movie is a story about the director’s marriage.  Despite these theories, we get nothing of the sort.  Instead, we get a rather odd voyeuristic look into the sex life of the couple next door thanks to a hidden peep hole that offers Vanessa a view into their life.  Feelings of jealousy and lust begin to creep into her thoughts as she becomes addicted to the peep hole while Roland is off getting drunk at the resort’s bar.

via Rolling Stone

This fascination with the couple next door is certainly something I was not expecting, but it is just too bad the overall plot is boring.  The film never managed to grab me like I thought it initially would.  It does not help that 75% of the movie is one big moan fest full of self-loathing and blank stares.  Everyone just lies around drinking and acting all mopey-dopey.  The performances feel lifeless, especially from Jolie and Pitt.  The dynamic and chemistry between their two characters is the backbone that the movie relies upon but the two never feel invested in their characters.  For a movie so personal it was surprising how detached the two felt from it.

There is one department of the movie that deserves praise and that is its cinematography.  Angelina Jolie is a great director who looks to have a future ahead of her that does not solely include acting.  She takes a simplistic angle on the film, with some great minimalist shots and a lot of silence.  It was at least pleasant to look at, despite the boring travesty that was taking place in the resort.  There was also a nice orchestrated musical score that added to the movie as well.

via Collider

Things only get worse as the movie creeps towards its conclusion, but I never found it in myself to care.  By the Sea must have been tough to create given the circumstances of what Jolie and Pitt were going through at the time, so I have to commend them for attempting to put something like this out there in the wild.  If you came into this movie looking for an irresistible look into the two’s love life however, then you are going to be madly disappointed.  It is quite possible you might self-loath yourself just as much as the characters in the movie.



Review: Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates

via Cinergetica

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016)

R / 98 mins

Adventure / Comedy / Romance

Starring: Adam Devine, Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza

Director: Jake Szymanski

Craigslist is a wonderful thing.  It’s easy to post and sell your things without having to worry about shipping costs and all the other stuff that comes with shipping packages around the world.  Instead people come to you and buy your stuff with cold hard cash.  I’m oversimplifying it (a lot) but it really is a great thing.  As it turns out, you can also use the website to find wedding dates.  In Mike and Dave Needing Wedding Dates, the movie from writers Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien (Neighbors), Mike and Dave…well, need wedding dates so they go to Craigslist to find their lucky ladies.  Just like their idea, the movie is stupidly funny but not that great.

via College Movie Review

Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) Stangle are a pair of party-hard brothers who always seem to screw up every family function they attend, whether it’s a birthday, anniversary or family reunion.  They always cross the line and things go south really quickly, as shown in the film’s introductory moments.  By the request of their father, the two are asked to attend their sister’s (Sugar Lyn Beard) wedding with two wedding dates that will keep the pair in check.  After a tedious and thorough process (involving Craigslist and a gross amount of blind dates) the two stumble upon two very “respectable as f***” ladies, Alice (Anna Kendrick) and Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza).  The girls are a wild pair but they keep themselves under control just long enough for them to get the chance to attend the wedding in Hawaii with Mike and Dave.  Let the shenanigans begin!

As far as story goes, Mike and Dave is pretty boilerplate when it comes to crazy wedding comedies.  The movie gives us nutty family members, a stressed out bride, a rehearsal dinner gone wrong, and lots of alcohol-fueled antics.  The film doesn’t do anything to change up the formula and as a result we get a largely uninteresting story.

via Tribute

Despite the unoriginal script, there’s a lot of stupidly hilarious R-rated insanity that leads to a good bit of laughter.  Moments like a weird massage and a pre-wedding ecstasy trip gone too far make for some hilarious moments.  Writers Cohen and O’Brien are no strangers to R-rated comedic romps so anyone who’s a fan of the Neighbor movies should feel right at home here amongst the shenanigans.  There’s some downtime, sure, but there are definitely some humorous scenes that make up for it.

The most puzzling thing about this movie, however, are the two female leads, Kendrick and Plaza.  It’s almost as if they put no effort into their characters.  The girls, despite their slightly insane nature, are actually pretty boring and the two don’t do a good job of selling their characters at all.  It’s a shame because their male co-stars, Devine and Efron actually work pretty well together.  Their chemistry shows on screen and some of the movie’s funniest moments come when the two are together.  It’s just too bad this same type of chemistry can’t be said about Kendrick and Plaza, who are two very funny people.  This film could have been a lot stronger if everybody pulled their weight.

via Main Echo

Despite the movie’s absurd moments, Anna Kendrick and Aubrey Plaza, as well as the uninteresting story, hold it back. I really wanted to like Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates, but I was expecting a lot more out of Kendrick and Plaza.  Luckily the movie’s humorous moments prevent it from being a total wash.  I had a good time with the film, but it’s not a movie that’s going to stick with me in the long run.


Review: American Beauty

american beauty poster
via IMP Awards

American Beauty (1999)

R / 122 min


Starring: Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch

Director: Sam Mendes

Mid-life crises hit people hard.  They’re usually drastic and come completely from left field.  They have the potential to make you do weird things…things you’ll regret after it’s all over.  American Beauty, the academy award winning drama from director Sam Mendes, gives us a peek into the life of Lester Burnham, a suburban father who finds himself smack dab in the middle of a mid-life crisis.  A really weird one as well.  What takes place during the movie is fascinating piece of work.

american beauty 1
via attheback.blogspot.com

Kevin Spacey plays the sexually-frustrated Lester, which might be one of his best roles to date.  As he narrates the movie, we get introduced to the many annoyances that plague his life.  Lester’s wife, Carolyn (Annette Bening), is a stressed out real estate agent who needs to take a chill pill.  Bening give a great performance, it’s just a shame that her character gets no redeeming moments at all throughout the course of the movie, but that was most likely Mendes’ goal.  On the other hand, we have Lester’s daughter Jane, played by Thora Birch, whose bad tempered and generally unfriendly.  American Beauty is family dysfunction to a T.  It’s no surprise that Lester is bored with life, because he certainly isn’t getting any pleasures from his family.

Things quickly start to take a weird turn when Lester is introduced to Jane’s cheerleading friend Angela Hayes (Mena Suvari).  She puts him into a state of trance, giving him feelings he hasn’t experienced in a long while.  She essentially drives him to quit his job, work out, and smoke weed.  He even buys a new car.  Topping it all off, he begins to have fantasies about Angela where she’s always covered in roses.  The symptoms of a mid-life crisis.  Not perverted enough for you yet?  Well, we’re also introduced to Rick (Wes Bentley), the kid from next door who has a drug problem and a knack for filming people from his window.  There’s a scene where he is filming Lester work out in his garage naked from his bedroom.  Like I said, the movie isn’t afraid to get weird.

american beauty 2
via Toutle Cine

At first I didn’t know where this movie was going.  I knew that the outcome was heading for the worse, but I didn’t know how it was going to get there.  Then the third act came into play and it all started to come together and make sense.  I started to learn things about characters that we previously didn’t know and the pieces started putting themselves together.  It was enthralling to watch it all play out.  It was a depressing ending, but it made a lot of sense.  It came together brilliantly, which is the product of good screenwriting.

Perhaps the most enticing storyline of them all was the relationship between Rick and his family.  His mother doesn’t really speak much and his father, played by Peter Gallagher, is an ex-military prim-and-proper type.  Rick is a mentally estranged kid who has had problems with drugs in the past.  As the movie goes on, things get more tense in the family as Rick develops a relationship with Jane.  On the outset it might not seem like a big deal but Rick’s father gets the wrong idea, which is where things start to get interesting.

american beauty 3
via Masculinity Movies

Everything about American Beauty works really well.  Everything from the imagery to the performances make the film a stand-out.  It’s no surprise that the movie got well received by the Academy.  Every character is chasing their own version of the American dream, but they all fall short in their own ways.  It’s a smart movie that comes together in an illustrious way, which is a surprise given the fact that this was Mendes’ directorial debut.  American Beauty is an example of films done right.  Also, nothing ever good comes from having an infatuation with your daughter’s friend.  Just don’t do it.

american beauty score

Review: The Shawshank Redemption

shawshank redemption poster
via Movie Poster

The Shawshank Redemption (1994)

R / 142 min

Drama / Crime

Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton

Director: Frank Darabont

The prison walls can do a lot of things to people.  The confines of such walls can drive some men into a dark pit of madness while others might look upon the walls with hope, hope that one day they can see the light again on the other side.  Some men are put inside these walls because of their own doing, while some have no choice.  Some prisoners have fear while others believe in hope and it’s their mindset that can keep them from seeking redemption.  This is the idea behind Shawshank Redemption, Frank Darabont’s directorial debut.

shawshank redemption 1
via IFC

Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins), a well-to-do investment banker, is the last person you would expect to find behind the bars of prison.  After a series of unfortunate coincidences, Andy is convicted of murdering his wife and the man she was seeing behind his back.  He truly believed he was innocent, but the judge and jury saw otherwise.  Carrying the burden of two back-to-back life sentences, he is sent to the Shawshank prison, where he will spend the rest of his life for something he didn’t do.  The first couple of days are rough.  They’re rough for everyone, but Andy seems to walk with an air of confidence, one that surprises his fellow inmates, including a prisoner named Red (Morgan Freeman), a “veteran” of Shawshank.  After some time has passed, Andy starts to make the best of the situation he was thrust into.

Days turn to months and the months to years as time starts to pass.  Andy has a rough tenure during his first couple of years but he starts to make a name for himself inside the prison walls.  He gets on good footing with Shawshank’s warden Norton (Bob Gunton), builds and organizes a prison library with the help from senate funding, does the taxes for almost every single guard within the walls, and most importantly, deepens his friendship with Red and some of his other fellow inmates.  This is not the kind of prison movie that you would expect.  Sure, there’s some violence here and there but this is a story of redemption and good will.  Perhaps the title didn’t make that clear.

shawshank redemption 2
via Fan Pop

What makes the film work so well is the deep bond between Robbin’s Andy and Freeman’s Red.  The duo’s friendship comes a long way since the day Andy rode into the prison in a white bus with Red and his cohorts taking bets on who would be the first to cry.  The two help each other, together coping with the situation they were given.  Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman are the standouts by far, but the rest of the cast did an amazing job as well.  Every character was well written and they were all instrumental to the overall story.

Just like the characters, every single scene and detail played an important part in the progression of the story.  There were no filler scenes.  Everything was important, whether viewers know at the time or not.  The sequences documenting Shawshank’s librarian (James Whitmore) and his life outside of prison were super effective and some of the best parts of the movie.  They were depressing in a way, but they were important.  This is a movie where you want to pay attention to every single little detail because you know they will come into play later.  The Shawshank Redemption is an example of brilliant writing.

shawshank redemption 3
via Fan Pop

There’s a build-up that takes place from the very start.  The movie might seem slow at parts, especially during the second act, but this all leads to the grand finale.  Remember the part where I said every little detail in this movie has meaning?  Well, there’s a twist that comes in the movie’s third act, one tighter than a corkscrew.  It’s an impressive twist that will leave you in awe wondering how it all even happened.  However, after careful examination of the events and subtleties that led up to it, everything makes perfect sense.

It’s a battle between fear and hope.  People handle these emotions in different ways and The Shawshank Redemption encapsulates these emotions in fantastic ways.  Inside the walls of Shawshank there’s a story of hope, friendship, redemption, fear, and perseverance in the face of dire circumstances.  The Shawshank Redemption is a feel-good story that succeed tremendously in execution.  It also goes to show that it’s not always doom and gloom inside the walls of prison.  There’s always a shimmer of light inside the darkness.

shawshank redemption score

Review: Nightcrawler

nightcrawler poster
via Fat Movie Guy

Nightcrawler (2014)

R / 117 min

Crime / Drama / Thriller

Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Rene Russo, Bill Paxton

Director: Dan Gilroy

There’s something slightly unsettling about Nightcrawler, director Dan Gilroy’s exploration into the world of L.A. crime journalism.  Until watching this movie, I didn’t even know this sort of industry even existed.  Essentially, the act of “nightcrawling” involves racing around the streets of L.A. during the twilight hours to capture b-roll footage of all the crimes that take place during the night.  This footage is then shopped around to news agencies, ripe and ready to be broadcasted during the morning news cycle.  It’s a ruthless business, one that requires you to stay ahead of the curve if you want to succeed.  Nightcrawler is the story of Louis Bloom, a rookie to the business who takes his entrepreneurial abilities a little too far.

nightcrawler 1
via Moustache Magazine

Jake Gyllenhaal takes the lead role of Louis Bloom, a grungy greased-up entrepreneur.  He’s a hustler, persistent to the point of annoyance and willing to do anything he has to in order to put his foot ahead of the rest.  His search for a job comes to an end when he drives past a car accident on his way home.  He gets out of his car and before he even has the chance to take a couple of steps, a van comes to a halting stop next the accident, with two video journalists hopping out to capture the footage.  Ideas start brewing in Louis’ head and before we know it, he is dipping his toes into this somewhat sleazy business.

Louis’ operation escalates pretty quickly as he starts to learn the ins and outs of the business.  He purchases his own equipment, learns the police radio codes, and even hires an assistant (played by Riz Ahmed).  Unlike the other video journalists, Louis takes his craft to the next level and begins to blur the lines of morality.  His first video package that he prepares for a local TV station gets a little nosey as he “breaks” into a house to get the “perfect shot” of a crime scene.  His primary contact at the TV station, TV veteran Nina Romina (Rene Russo), loves this up-close-and-personal footage and decides to air Louis’ work, despite some hesitation from her peers at the station.

nightcrawler 2
via Business Insider

Things only get more intense as Louis tests the waters of moral ambiguity.  Gyllenhaal does a perfect job at portraying the young entrepreneur.  He’s cut-throat in his doings and he’s a little bit insane.  Gyllenhaal takes you down the character’s rabbit hole that he gets himself into as he tries to get “the perfect shot.”  The film ramps up in intensity, especially during a murder scene at a suburban mansion.  It’s the film’s peak, the moment that begins Louis’ decent.  Rene Russo’s Nina also takes part in this decent, although to a lesser extent.  The performances are great all around, but I would have liked to see more from Riz Ahmed’s character.  His relationship with Louis was a toxic one, one that I thought could have been explored a little more than it was.

Nightcrawler shouldn’t really be looked at as an accurate representation of the business, but more as a satire.  However, the film does raise questions about the moral ramifications that stem from such a sordid, yet lucrative job.  Morality is one of the primary driving themes behind the story, one that is handled pretty well.  Like I said in the very beginning of this review, there is something deeply unsettling about the act of nightcrawling.  It’s not the most glamourous of occupations, and this film does a great job at portraying this.

nightcrawler 3
via Reel Brief

Events build up as the movie rolls along but the final scene felt a little bit anticlimactic, and almost unnecessary. Things came to a close in such a jarring way that I was not expecting.  The ending wasn’t really effective at all and didn’t really put the nicest cap on an otherwise very well-made film.  The movie could have been extended or shortened by a scene to wrap things up better.  It would have made a big difference.

There’s a dose of grittiness and darkness that covers Nightcrawler, an unnerving look into the seedy world of crime journalism.  Gyllenhaal gives an outstanding performance of a man who takes things a little too far.  The film documents the steady decline of his character as he does some dirty things to get ahead of his peers.  It’s a fascinating film that’s full of great performances and thrills.  It’s just a shame it wasn’t brought to a conclusion in better fashion.

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Review: Deadpool

deadpool poster
via ScreenRant

Deadpool (2016)

R / 108 min

Action / Adventure / Comedy

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, T.J. Miller

Director: Tim Miller

Dark and gritty R-rated superhero content is not something you see too often.  Recently Netflix has been killing it with more mature series like Daredevil and Jessica Jones, but besides that, there hasn’t been that much to please adult superhero fans.  As of last February, a certain “hero” of sorts has been breaking records and providing adult superhero fans a movie to get excited about.  This superhero is Deadpool and his self-referential movie is full of blood, bullets, love, and R-rated anti-hero antics.

deadpool 1
via Fox Movies

The titular hero is played by Ryan Reynolds, who embraces the role with an almost joyous glee.  He has played the role before in the X-Men movies, but he has been the biggest proponent for a solo movie involving one of Marvel’s wackiest characters.  His dream came to fruition and the final product is a superhero movie unlike any other.  A large part of what makes the movie so special is the energy and dedication that Reynolds put into the role.  Deadpool is a narcissistic asshole that somehow manages to fight crime.  His incompetence seems like it would hold him back, but he manages to kick a lot of ass over the course of the largely self-contained movie.

Deadpool serves as the hero’s origin story, detailing the creation of the unlikely hero.  The movie is set up in such a way that rubber bands between present and past.  The opening introduction is a high-octane action sequence where Deadpool takes out a caravan of bad guys travelling down the highway and serves as a good introduction to the crazy hero.  We then get flashbacks interlaced throughout that give us the backstory of how he came to be.  I thought the execution of the story was well done and well-cut, giving us a unique telling of the somewhat sad story of love.

deadpool 2
via Roger Ebert

Although Deadpool would probably love the movie to just be about himself, there are some other characters in the story worth mentioning.  Deadpool’s girlfriend Vanessa, played by Morena Baccarin, is the hero’s motive that drive him to do what he does while his good friend Weasel, played by T.J. Miller gives him advice and “wisdom” along the way.  The guy that Deadpool is after, the one that made him the way he is, is Ajax, played by the Brit Ed Skrein.  He’s a steely dude that shows no emotion whatsoever.  His type of character doesn’t really fit with the whole movie’s tone and he isn’t that interesting.  His character just falls flat and doesn’t really add anything to the movie, which is a shame.  The movie tries to build up tension between Deadpool and Ajax, but who really cares in the end?  There’s also the tough girl Angel Dust (Gina Carano) that teams up with Ajax, but she isn’t that compelling either.

The anti-hero isn’t alone in his fight against Ajax.  Joining him are two members of the X-Men, the metallic meathead Colossus and the moody Negasonic Teenage Warhead (yeah I know, the name is kind of ridiculous), played by Stefan Kapicic and Brianna Hildebrand respectively.  The three don’t really get along at first, but they soon rub off on each other and they end up making a pretty good team by the end.  The exciting prospect of these three being together is that Deadpool’s movie future could involve the X-Men.  I’m not sure to what capacity, but I don’t think this is the last we will see of the crazy anti-hero.

deadpool 3
via Eklecty-City

The movie’s writing is top-notch and the humor is consistently steady with jokes flying fast and furious from the opening to the final credits.  Not all of the jokes land, but a good majority of the humor had me laughing out loud in the theater.  There’s also a certain dose of meta-humor that is clever and never outstays it’s welcome.  Director Tim Miller and his writing team nailed the type of character that Deadpool makes himself out to be.  Unfortunately, due to the nature of the movie’s humor, it’s not a movie that I picture myself seeing again and again.  A lot of the novelty wears off seeing the movie for the first time.  Your probably not going to be bored watching the movie more than once, but the humor probably won’t stick as much as the first go around.

Deadpool throws a wrench in the traditional superhero movie formula, making it a refreshing and hilarious affair.  The movie is aware of what it is and what it is doing, poking fun at superhero movies as well as moviemaking in general.  The humor is outlandish and the best moments are when it steps into the fourth wall.  Deadpool isn’t the R-rated superhero movie that you would expect.  It’s a self-proclaimed “love story” that never ceases to amaze.


Review: Welcome to Me

welcome to me cover
via Forbes

Welcome to Me (2014)

R / 87 min

Comedy / Drama

Starring: Kristen Wiig, James Marsden, Linda Cardellini

Director: Shira Piven

Mental illness is extremely hard to get right in film.  Many a movie has done a great job with portraying people with mental disabilities, but it is super tough to capture what it’s really like to live with a mental illness due to the fact that every illness is different.  With comedies, it can be hit or miss.  You have to carefully dance around the line of tastefulness and offensiveness.  With Welcome to Me, we get a hilariously honest, and sometimes dark, story about a woman with a personality disorder that wins the lottery and decides to form her own talk show.

welcome to me 1
via Variety

Actress and SNL alum Kristen Wiig plays the role of Alice Kleig, a woman who’s living a normal, yet quirky, life with a borderline personality disorder.  She’s pretty content with what she has in her life.  She has a good friend in Gina (Linda Cardellini) and she has every episode of the Oprah Winfrey show on tape.  It may not be that much, but it floats her boat.  Things drastically change in her life one day when she wins 86 million dollars in the lottery.  That’s a stupid amount of money.  What does she do with this money?  Well, she goes off her meds and decides to start a talk show…about herself, and only herself.  Can’t go wrong right?

With the life of the rich and famous on her mind, she immediately sets out and buys a room at the nearest casino.  She then finds her way to a studio where she meets with brothers Gabe (Wes Bentley) and Rich Ruskin (James Marsden) and talks with them about her grand idea for a talk show, similar to Oprah Winfrey, about herself.  Their hesitant at first, but when you have a client who is willing to drop fifteen million dollars on the spot, no idea is a bad idea.

welcome to me 2
via Gimme Shelter

Ever since Kristen Wiig left SNL she has been doing great things.  Some of her movies have been hits but some have fell low of hitting their mark.  Her role as Alice is probably her most genuine performance yet.  She does a fantastic job at portraying a woman who doesn’t really know what she is doing at first, but finds her footing and becomes a sensation among her viewers.  Everybody else is okay, but they don’t bring too much to the table.  Kristen Wiig is pretty much the star of the show this time around.

Welcome to Me is a dark movie in nature, but it managed to make me laugh at lot more than I thought it was going to.  It goes places that you wouldn’t think it would and gives a brutally honest picture of borderline personality disorder.  The scenes involving the actual talk show are some of the best in the entire movie.  I didn’t think a show where a woman talks about herself would be any interesting, but hey, after watching this movie I’d maybe consider watching a show like that.  It’s really dumb, and sometimes awkward (there’s a segment where Alice neuters a bunch of dogs on live TV…and it’s really something), but you just can’t look away.  The movie suffers from some pacing issues at times, but it kept me entertained all the way through.

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I didn’t really know what to expect going into Welcome to Me but I was pleasantly surprised with the final result.  It’s a brutally honest comedy that does some really cool things, telling a uniquely original story about some of the ups and downs of personality disorders.  Despite the bumps in the road, the movie accomplishes what it set out to do.  Kristen Wiig continues to be one of the funniest actresses in the business and I continue to look forward to what she has in the works.

welcome to me score

Review: Staten Island Summer

staten island summer cover
via Rama Screen

Staten Island Summer (2015)

R / 108 min


Starring: Graham Phillips, Zack Pearlman, Ashley Greene

Director: Rhys Thomas

Fresh new snow has just fallen which means the rough days of winter are starting to commence, and here I am writing a review about a summer movie.  I hate winter.  Correction: I hate snow.  You can give me Christmas, New Years, and some good ol’ fashioned family time, but you can keep the snow and the cold temperatures that come with it.  With the temperatures starting to drop, I figured why not watch Staten Island Summer to hold me over till Summer.  Staten Island Summer might be good enough to take the chill off, but the movie didn’t warm me the way I thought it was going to.

staten island summer 1
via Nerdist

Okay I’m going to be honest, the only reason why I decided to give this movie a try was because of the talent in front of and behind the camera.  A good portion of the cast and production crew are current SNL players and alumni.  Behind the camera, production credits go to Lorne Michaels while writing credits go to current Weekend Update anchor Colin Jost.  Jost also plays the role of Officer Greg in the movie as well.  Other SNL actors include Bobby Moynihan, Cecily Strong, Mike O’Brien, Fred Armisen, Will Forte, and Kate McKinnon.  As you can see, the movie sure has the talent behind it.

The movie falls flat when it comes to the actual story.  The summer teen sex comedy stars Graham Phillips as Danny Campbell and Zack Pearlman as Frank Gomes, two Staten Island lifeguards who want to throw a massive summer bash, along with fellow lifeguards Skootch (Moynihan), Anthony (John DeLuca), and Mary Ellen (Strong), before they leave for college.  The party planning looks to be smooth sailing until their ridiculous speedo-toting boss Chuck Casino (O’Brien) gets word and makes it his mission to have the pool to himself on Labor Day weekend.  This leaves the group desperate to think of other ideas to make the party a reality.  Unfortunately, the conflict is pretty lukewarm, attributing to the small payoff that the movie’s ending brings on.

staten island summer 2
via Hollywood Reporter

Staten Island Summer follows all the familiar tropes of a teen sex comedy, in the vein of movies like Wet Hot American Summer.  Most of the adolescent interactions and dialogue between the characters is about what you’d expect for a movie like this; the originality isn’t really here.  However, there is some scintillating wit to be found in the writing and there were some genuinely funny moments that made for some good times.  Rapper Method Man plays a drug-dealing ice cream truck driver and some of his scenes with Frank Gomes are some of the best the movie has to offer.

Things change big time for Danny when his childhood babysitter Krystal Manicucci (Ashley Greene) walks onto the scene for the first time.  Things literally explode around her as she makes her way down the swim club’s steps in slow motion on the way to poolside, where she ends up stripping down to her bikini in front of a pool full of ogling eyes.  It was quite an introduction for a character, and unfortunately that’s as far as Greene’s character goes.  Yep, her primary function in the movie is to provide the screen with eye candy.  Don’t get me wrong, Staten Island Summer certainly tries to make her and Danny’s relationship something, but it failed to reach me on a deeper level.  Their relationship goes from She’s Out of My League to Girl Next Door in almost no time flat.  The two end up together on the beach by the end, but it really didn’t feel right…or mean anything for that matter because that was about as far as their relationship went.

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I see what Staten Island Summer was trying to do, but the summer bash that it was trying to throw could have been better.  In a movie about friendship, love, sex, and pools, it’s the SNL brand of witty humor that really stands above the rest.  The movie is trying to copy its’ genre’s predecessors, but gives us an average movie in the process.  It was fun to watch, but it was nothing to write home about…unless you’re from Staten Island?

staten island summer score

Review: See You in Valhalla

see you in valhalla cover
via The Red Carpet

See You in Valhalla (2015)

R / 82 min

Comedy / Drama

Starring: Sarah Hyland, Bret Harrison, Steve Howey

Director: Jarret Tarnol

Oh the classic genre that is dramedy.  It’s a genre where you pretty much know what your signing up for when you go in.  *Insert life event* brings *insert name* back home to their crazy family where they all have to deal with *insert life event* in their own ways.  What’s that you say?  This kind of story sounds familiar to you?  That’s because you have probably seen this type of movie a bajillion times before.  Luckily (or probably not), See You in Valhalla brings a paint-by-the-numbers story to the table with a few quirks as the side dishes.

see you in valhalla 1
via Entertainment Today

The movie begins with the rather odd death of Johana Burwood’s (Sarah Hyland) brother who attempts to avenge his girlfriend by dressing up as a Viking and going after the drug dealer who was one of the reasons for his girlfriend’s overdose.  Johana’s brother was high as a kite, which didn’t do him any favors as he ended up getting himself killed.  Upon hearing of her brother’s death, Johana and her newly appointed boyfriend, Peter (Alex Frost), take a trip back to her home where she has to deal with the wack-job of a family as well as her muddled past.

Johana’s father, played by Conor O’Farrell, is out of touch with reality, hiring some therapist lady (Jamie Wozney) to be his in-home therapist.  Her brothers, Barry (Bret Harrison) and Don (Michael Weston), have quirks of their own.  Barry is gay and has a bodybuilder sensei type boyfriend named Makewi (Steve Howey) while Don is working through a divorce with a daughter who he had when he was pretty young himself.  Yeah, they’re a dysfunctional family that work each other up and get on each other’s nerves.  They all manage to be super unlikable, minus a select few like Peter and Makew who happens to be one of the movies most redeeming qualities.  There was a scene where the whole family was gathered around the dinner table for the first time in a while, where it didn’t take long for the insults to fly and the punches to be thrown.  I imagined myself sitting at one of the chairs because, I too, hated almost every person at that table.  They are all dirt bags who need to get along.

see you in valhalla 2
via Live for Films

It doesn’t take long for the movie to start throwing around the stereotypical family drama that you have come to expect from these types of movies.  Death, past relationships, current relationships, abortions, divorce, and jobs are some of the deep subject matter that the movie just tosses around like a feather, holding no weight whatsoever.  Everything is tackled at surface level without managing to go deeper.  “Hey, I’ve been going through a divorce.” “Oh really, I’m sorry to hear about that…okay what’s next?”  That right there is an example of a sample conversation that would go down in this movie.  Uh, you don’t want to go a little further?  He seems to be hurting pretty bad because of the divorce.  Well okay if you insist…

Maybe the most mind-boggling aspect of the whole movie is the fact that nobody addresses the massive elephant in the room…the part where their brother got himself killed…as a Viking?  What? The movie seems to play it off like it’s nothing.  Don’t even get me started on the movie’s final scene.  It’s kind of funny, but so out of left field that it feels super out of place.  Maybe I would have gotten a little more out of the movie if I just accepted the fact that their brother was just a casual Viking.  I was waiting the entire movie for one of the characters to be like, “hey guys, don’t you maybe think it’s a little weird that our brother got himself killed as a Viking?”

see you in valhalla 3
via Screen Picks

There were times when See You in Valhalla made me laugh, but those moments were few and sparse.  Instead, we get a movie that tries too hard at being sappy and sentimental thanks to its surface level drama.  It also doesn’t help that the movie has a plot formed by the same cookie cutter that a lot of similar movies have used.  Johana would have done us, as well as herself, a ton of favors by just staying home and sitting this one out.

see you in valhalla score

Review: Our Brand Is Crisis

via The Low Down Under
via The Low Down Under

Our Brand Is Crisis (2015)

R / 107 min

Comedy / Drama

Starring: Sandra Bullock, Billy Bob Thorton, Anthony Mackie

Director: David Gordon Green

Our Brand Is Crisis seemed to be a movie that was not quite sure what it wanted to be, which is not a good thing; especially when your movie is about political campaigns.

Based on the 2005 documentary of the same name, Our Brand Is Crisis tells the story of American political consultant “Calamity” Jane Bodine, played by Sandra Bullock, and her task of getting Bolivian presidential candidate Castillo (Joaquim de Almeida) re-elected.  Jane’s been tested and has the experience necessary, but her career started to take a dive when rival campaign manager Pat Candy (Billy Bob Thorton) started to steal the rug from right under her, winning the past couple of elections that they were both involved in.  When Jane realizes that Candy is working with Castillo’s opposition, things get personal and she realizes that she has to pull out all the stops in order to succeed.

via Mountain X
via Mountain X

After being convinced to go to Bolivia by some of Castillo’s American staff, Ben (Anthony Mackie) and Nell (Ann Dowd), things get off to a shaky start the second Jane sets foot on Bolivian soil.  The air conditions begin to make her nauseous and she literally tumbles her way into Castillo’s offices.  It’s not a good look for her, or anybody for that matter.  However, she slowly regains her footing and starts to realize that running a campaign in Bolivia is a whole different ball game from her previous campaigns in America.  She’s told on multiple different occasions that the strategies that she has employed in America do not really fly well in Bolivia, but that does not stop her from doing what she has to do to beat Candy’s opposing campaign.

It’s with Sandra Bullock’s character where the movie starts to lose its identity.  Literally the movie tells the story of two different Jane’s.  On one hand we have the serious and determined Jane who has experience under her belt and a whole library of quotes from some of the most brilliant minds in the world.  She knows how to get what she wants and she brings ferocity and vitality to a campaign that seems to be tanking.  Then we have the other Jane; the crazier side.  At one point she is getting drunk with one of the campaign’s volunteers and his friends and later she is literally sticking her ass out the window of a moving bus.  I started to see that this was screenwriter Peter Straughen’s way of bringing some comedy and zaniness into the story, but it really was not all that funny.  Instead it just made me confused as to what type of character Jane Bodine actually was.

via Screen Relish
via Screen Relish

Despite the problems with her character, Sandra Bullock did a fine job with portraying the real life Jane Bodine.  In fact, she was really the only main attraction.  Characters like Billy Bob Thorton’s Pat Candy had their moments here and there but most of the cast did not really perform up to the same bar as Bullock.  The whole movie was being carried by Bullock, with the rest of the cast seemingly along for the ride.

The premise of Our Brand Is Crisis is fascinating and intriguing in concept, but it has some flaws tying it back from its full potential.  The screenplay, despite some amusing moments, was relatively bland and lacked the kind of punch that a movie like this needs.  Bullock does her absolute best but it is ultimately not enough.  Oscar season is quickly approaching and it does not seem like Our Brand Is Crisis is going to have a successful awards campaign.  Isn’t that ironic?

our brand is crisis score