Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

Gangster No. 1 (2000)

All gangsters are cool. Even the crazy ones.

Malcolm McDowell plays an unnamed Gangster who, through him, we’re being told this story. He finds out that his mentor, Freddie Mays (David Thewlis) is finally getting released from prison. This is when we’re brought back to the year, 1969, where he tells us the story of when he was a young gangster (Paul Bettany) and practically climbed through the ranks of the British mafia.

It seems like whenever a gangster flick comes out, they’re always unnecessarily compared to other, sometimes better gangster flicks that came before them. For instance, if one has a bit of humor in it, it’s often considered a rip-off of Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels. Or, if one is quick-as-lightning, it can be sometimes looked as a carbon copy of Goodfellas; and if there’s a flick that’s takes its time, and prefers more of the slow-burn approach, it’s then compared to the Godfather, no matter what. Basically, gangster flicks have it tough and it’s only made worse by the fact that it’s getting a whole lot harder to tell these kinds of stories in fun and fresh ways.

When does Malcolm McDowell not look pissed-off?

When does Malcolm McDowell not look pissed-off?

But what about a gangster flick that’s more like American Psycho?

Now, that’s something new, which is why Gangster No. 1 is a pleasant surprise.

Director Paul McGuigan deserves credit here because he doesn’t try to be like any other types of gangster flicks out there, nor does he over-do anything, either. There’s no hip soundtrack, nor are there any bits of wit to break-up the tension when things get too serious; it’s very straight-forward gangster movie. However, it is, in no way, a boring or conventional one; it’s a surprisingly ruthless piece that, once it gets going, starts spinning faster and faster, only until that wheel eventually breaks loose and becomes a wild ride where you have no idea where it’s going to end up and how. The story may not be as unpredictable as I may make it sound, but what really makes this film tick is the style (or lack thereof) of the violence in this film that no matter how gruesome or tense it got, it keeps you glued.

One scene in particular that stays clear in my mind is the one where “the Gangster”, finds a rival mob-boss, and slowly tortures him. Heard it done before? Of course, but there’s a surprising twist with it: It’s told in the victim’s view-point. It may sound gimmicky, but surprisingly it’s effective as every little piece of pain that gets inflicted onto him, almost feels like it’s getting inflicted onto us. The blood for that scene just shoots out everywhere, the camera is constantly moving rapidly, but yet, still stays on the violence happening, and there’s even a nice little pop tune playing in the back to remind us just how more sinister this piece of torture truly is. Anytime you have pop song in your violent movie, always make sure to play it during the most violent scene.

Always ironic. Always awesome.

And while that was just one scene in particular, the rest of the movie works because McGuigan doesn’t seem to try too hard to make this separate itself from the plenty other gangster flicks out there.

But if there was something here that bothered me, it was the narration from Malcolm McDowell, that honestly, was heard one too many times. At first, it didn’t seem like much of a problem because it placed us in the story and setting, but after awhile, it just became over-bearing and pointless to where it just seemed like half of the stuff he said was profanity. He even goes as far as to describe one scene while it was happening and it just seemed like over-kill and probably could have been done a lot better without really having to explain the needless things. Then again, they were probably just trying to put us in the mind of a psycho killer, which honestly, we kind of get the drift of after the first ten or so minutes.

Gangsters? Or Wanksters?

Gangsters? Or Wankers?

And before I forget to mention it, why the hell did everybody look the same with some nice make-up on after the 30 years, but Paul Bettany completely changes into McDowell. Everybody in this cast gets some fake, gray hair, a couple of wrinkles in their skin, and a very fragile voice, but the main Gangster is the only guy that gets fatter, has a bigger head, has a terrible five-o’-clock shadow, and is still yelling, pissing, and screamin’ all of these years later. Maybe people don’t change after 30 years and still stay their same old, crazy selves, but it seemed a bit unbelievable to me that after 30 years, these people would all still look and act the same, as well as holding the same, old grudges they held before.

Maybe I’m just not a true gangster.

Though it may not sound like I was happy with him doing anything here, McDowell is still quite solid in this role as the aging, but still vicious gangster. It’s obvious that they placed him in the role of an older, and much more crazier psycho (*cough cough* A Clockwork Orange *cough cough*), but he kicks ass with the role still and made me laugh whenever he seemed like he just felt like dropping the C-word for no good reason at all.

But it’s Paul Bettany, playing the younger version of him, who steals the whole show. Bettany has a lot to work with here because he gets to show a lot of evil and dark aspects to this guy, while also showing a lot what makes us love him so much in the first place. However, a lot of that lovely shite he usually has in those other flicks, isn’t as showy here and we get to see what he can do whenever he gets angry and just feels like gutting somebody up into little pieces. We’re never made to feel sympathy for this cat, which works; he’s not asking for that and that’s what makes him so much more bad-ass. Now, will somebody please give Paul Bettany one more leading role and just act like Priest doesn’t even exist.

Consensus: Without trying to be too flashy or shiny, Gangster No. 1 is still an effective, surprisingly fun gangster flick that puts us inside the mind of a psycho killer, and allows for Paul Bettany to work wonders with the meaty role as said psycho killer.

7.5 / 10 

Silent, but deadly. Yup. Obvious one, I know.

Silent, but deadly. Yup. Obvious one, I know.

Photos Courtesy of: Nick Tentis, Film4, Mubi 

Spectre (2015)

Hey, at least it’s not another remake of Home Alone.

After the events of Skyfall left him depressed and battered, 007 agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) is now back on the hunt, except this go-around, it’s on his own time. Because while things back at MI6 headquarters may not be going as swimmingly as he’d like, Bond is still going to make sure that he gets his job done, so that he can feel a whole lot better about himself. Or something. This time around, Bond, is going after a shadowy criminal organization who may, or may not, have had something to do with the death of M, and/or also may be connected to some of his past adversaries. But in order to follow the bread-crumbs, Bond will have to go through and meet all sorts of colorful characters. One, is Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) a psychologist he comes to have a relationship with, whereas another is a jacked-up, bulking henchman (Dave Bautista), who wants nothing more to do than just beat the hell out of Bond. There’s also Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a man believed to be dead but for some reason, is actually alive and hunting Bond because, well, he’s evil and he can do that sort of thing.

Do you really need that gun to be menacing?

Do you really need that gun to be scary?

The Bond franchise has been around for such a long time that it’s no wonder that, every once and awhile, we get a crummy movie. While they don’t come every year and are, in ways, considered to be “events”, Bond movies can sometimes range from being “awesomely rad”, to just being “fine”. Though most people want to put Bond up on a peddle-stool that refrains from it ever being compared to any other thriller released, ever (because it’s Bond, dammit!), the fact remains: Bond movies, too, can also be mediocre.

Which is exactly what Spectre is.

But for the longest time, it isn’t. In fact, it’s actually a pretty solid Bond flick that reminds me of some of the best parts of Skyfall, which makes sense because Sam Mendes is thankfully back for another go-around. The best element that Mendes brings to these Bond movies is that he not only allows for the stories to be more dramatic and emotional, but also puts an over-emphasis on the “gritty” aspect of these movies that separates them from the rest of the pack. While there’s plenty of gorgeous-looking women, cars, martinis, dudes, guns, locations, and buildings, there’s still an inherent darkness to it all that makes it seem less like a glamorized version of being a high-class, smart and talented spy, but also more humane.

Sure, the glitz and the glamour is what Bond fans come to expect with these movies, but Mendes and the rest of the crew he’s with do nice jobs of keeping the stakes relatively high, while also building more complex relationships between these characters. This is also to say that the story, while a tad confusing at certain times, also stays compelling. While we’re never sure of where the story is going to end-up, we’re still glued to the screen enough that it doesn’t matter how much exposition they’re throwing at us – we’re just trying to see how and where all the cards fall. We know that there’s bad people involved with doing bad things, and that’s pretty much all there is to it which, given the complexity of most of the Bond story-lines, is fine.

But then, the movie gets a bit ahead of itself.

For one, Spectre is nearly two-and-a-half hours and after a long while, totally begins to feel like that. One of the main reasons for this is that the story takes a nosedive into being “slightly confusing”, to just plain and simply, “huh?”. Though it’s never made fully clear just where the story is going, and effectively so, too, the movie then decides that it wants to totally and completely throw the audience in the dark by giving us a villain in the form of Christoph Waltz who, literally, shows up outta nowhere, starts going on and on about Bond’s past troubles, and decides that he wants to do bad things to Bond because, well, it’s a Bond movie and there needs to be some sort of threat posed to Bond.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with a Bond villain being as bad and as distasteful as he can be, but there has to be a reason. To just simply have some evil, cackling baddie show-up and start throat-punching every one in sight because the box for “bad villain dude” needed to be checked-off, isn’t a good enough reason – in fact, it’s what every Michael Bay movie has ever done. You could even make the argument that, even while Javier Bardem’s villain in Skyfall didn’t have much of a rhyme or reason for being around, he still at least served a greater-purpose in pushing Bond to his deepest and darkest limitations; in a way, he was baiting-and-switching him, which not only allowed for us to see Bond in a different light, but also give us a glimmer of hope that, hey, maybe the bad guy, for once, has a point.

That said, despite Waltz being a talented scene-chewer, he doesn’t have much to do with this villain and instead, is left to just rant and rave about Bond, all the bad things he’ll do to him, and other stuff that, quite frankly, I don’t care enough about. His only purpose here is to be some sort of obstacle for Bond to hurdle over, which seems kind of unnecessary, because Dave Batista’s henchman character definitely filled that requirement perfectly. He’s big, scary, menacing and totally bad-ass, and does this all without barely even speaking a word!

She's cold, mysterious and sexy. Never seen a Bond girl be that, ever!

She’s cold, mysterious and sexy. Never seen a Bond girl be that, ever!

He’s Bond’s rival because of his brawn, not his brawn, which in Spectre‘s case, would have probably been a better road to go down.

And because the movie is so fixated on what Waltz’s baddie is up to and concocting, the rest of the ensemble and story sort of gets thrown-off to the side and feels more like filler. Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear, Ben Whishaw, and new-blood to the franchise, Andrew Scott (Moriarty!), all seem like they’re here because it’s a Bond movie, and well, Bond needs to have his adversaries on the side, just in case he needs a cool gadget or two. Same goes for Léa Seydoux who, despite being a charming, fiery-presence on-screen, also seems like she’s around because Bond needs a hot lady to bang and randomly, fall head-over-heels for. I won’t really go into too much detail about Monica Bellucci here, other than to say for a 51-year-old, the gal still looks great.

Now, why wasn’t she the Bond girl?

And for his fourth go as Bond, Daniel Craig still does a fine job at portraying both sides of this character. There is, of course, his exterior (the stiff upper-lip, the charm, the nice way with words, etc.), as well as his interior (the fact that he’s been through so much violence, disturbance and loss, that it’s beginning to take its toll on him). Even though Craig himself has been coy about whether or not this will be his final time donning the Bond penguin suit (personally, I think he’s got one more in him, but that’s just me), it still remains to be said that he’s still got some juice left in his system to be going through the motions, but at the same time, be able to show that there’s more to this character we deserve to know and understand.

Hopefully, we’ll get that.

Sooner than later, maybe.

Consensus: At nearly two-and-a-half hours, Spectre is overlong and jumbled, but still provides plenty of fun, exciting and tense, spy-oriented action that still makes it worth a watch.

7 / 10

Ain't nobody can rock the turtleneck quite like Bond.

Ain’t nobody can rock the turtleneck quite like Bond. Except Jason Statham, of course.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Truth (2015)

Just get a blog. You can make anything up!

As producer of the well-known and landmark news program 60 Minutes, Mary Mapes (Cate Blanchett) had plenty of huge stories to work with and break to the public. One in particular came around the time of the 2004 Presidential Election, in which files were leaked to Mapes that practically said that then-President George W. Bush didn’t actually complete any of prerequisites needed to become a member of the National Guard and instead, received special treatment. Knowing that she has something hot, heavy and ground-breaking on her hands, Mapes goes through all of the proper channels to ensure that the story is in fact true, but also worth sticking her neck out for. After time, she does find out that this story is true and, without any more time wasted, she gets the national news anchor, Dan Rather (Robert Redford), to break the story once and for all. Which it does and it breaks down as many barriers as CBS expected it to, if not some more. But then, people start questioning the evidence, which means that it isn’t before long until they start questioning every aspect of the story, from the information, to the leaks, and to Mapes’ own personal political beliefs themselves.

"Is my eye-shadow fine?"

“Is my eye-shadow fine?”

There’s about one too many speeches in Truth that feel just like that: Speeches. In Aaron Sorkin pieces, whenever somebody breaks out into a speech, it may sound so incredibly random and obvious, but you roll with it because Sorkin’s writing can be so compelling, that people stopping whatever they’re doing to lace into a five-minute monologue about die-hard Republicans, for some reason, feels believable. It’s Sorkin’s universe and if somebody wants to ramble on and on for no reasons other than to get a point across, then so believe it.

Problem is, Truth wasn’t written by Sorkin and could have definitely benefited from that. Not just because there’s so many speeches here that feel ham-handed or silly, but because they come at inappropriate times that don’t add much to the actual story the movie’s telling, other than to get some a political viewpoint across. And within Truth, there’s a very interesting story to be told and more often than not, it does get told; however, because it has such an agenda to get across, it feels like it’s doing a dis-justice to said story.

Then again, though, it is a movie about journalism and as most of you may now, I’m an absolute sucker for those kind,

That’s why, whenever Truth focuses in on the pre-publishing sides of getting a story together (mapping everything out, finding sources, following the money, etc), it’s a very entertaining look inside how a news outlet as widely-known and ginormous as 60 Minutes, gathered up all their info to make a story. Once again, you don’t have to be a journalist to appreciate these scenes, but if you are one, these scenes will all add a certain level of excitement; though we all know how the story ends when everything is said and done, there’s still a slight feeling that things may go down smoothly that makes it all the more enjoyable. Take away all of the political maneuvering the movie does tend to take, and deep down inside, you have a solid piece of how 60 Minutes brought together one of its biggest stories, decided to go with it, and watch as all the pieces fell.

Had it stayed like this, too, Truth would have been great. However, it doesn’t and that’s when it starts to get very preachy and become something else entirely.

To say that writer/director James Vanderbilt may have had an agenda when creating this movie, is an absolute understatement – the dude has an ax to grind and wants everybody to know! Which, in a way, is fine. Had this movie been about a fictional story, that closely follows this actual, real life story, it probably wouldn’t have felt pushy. But, because Vanderbilt is using this true 60 Minutes story, and the eventual fallout, as a place-mat for his thoughts and feelings, it comes across as off-putting.

While it’s fine that Vanderbilt had a point to prove with this story and didn’t just go through the same motions of telling it as straight as possible, there’s still a feeling that he’s taking more away from the actual impact the story could have had. Take, for instance, Cate Blanchett’s Mary Mapes, someone who feels as if she deserves her own biopic by now, starring Blanchett, of course. Mapes, from what we’re told in this movie, is a tough, rugged, and dedicated journalist who is so willing to go to the deepest, darkest depths to make sure that her story is heard, that she sometimes risks losing those closest to her.

Gasp! Journalism!

Gasp! Journalism!

Sounds corny? Well, that’s because it is.

However, Blanchett being Blanchett, is so terrific here, that I hardly even cared to notice. Instead, I just let her do her thing and see what more I could find out about this character as the story rolled along. But, as the movie continues, we start to get more and more scenes of Mapes breaking out into yammering speeches about the state of journalism, politics, and ethics – all of which don’t feel pertinent to telling the story and instead, the perfect time for Vanderbilt to get on his soapbox and yell for a little while. The movie does bring up some interesting points about political bias’ mixing with journalism, but at the end, all they do is hint at the possibility that Mapes may, or may not have, overlooked some facts with this story, just to get her political point across. Whether or not this is true to begin with, remains to be seen, but it’s not really a point that seems to work or feel well-thought out.

The same problem goes for Dan Rather, who is, oddly-enough, played by Robert Redford. The movie never really digs any further into portraying Rather as anything more than just a great, lovable guy who is willing to tackle any story, so long as Mapes was there to okay it. Redford’s fine here, however, it’s too distracting to see him play someone else who is already so famous to begin with. And given that they aren’t given a whole lot to do, Elisabeth Moss, Dennis Quaid, and Topher Grace all do fine in their respective roles as the fellow journalists who helped to layer-out this story into being more.

But honestly, Truth is mostly Vanderbilt’s time to stand up, speak and drop the mic.

And that’s it.

Consensus: Boasting a solid cast and interesting look inside an infamous event in journalism history, Truth is two-halves of a great movie, until it gets preachy and can’t seem to keep its mouth shut.

7 / 10

Gasp! Even more journalism!

Gasp! Even more journalism!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Bridge of Spies (2015)

If it comes down to the Russians and Tom Hanks, I’m going with Hanks all the way.

In 1957, at the height of the Cold War, high-priced insurance attorney James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is given a very difficult task: Defend Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) in court. Who is Rudolph Abel, may you ask? Well, he’s a Soviet spy who has been caught and brought in on charges of spying. Due to the fact that such things as Soviets, spies and terrorism are hot-button topics in the world at the time, it would only make sense that Abel see every charge that’s against him, go through, where he would have to live the rest of his days in shame and sadness. However, through his bosses, Donovan is the one chosen to defend Abel, just so that it seems like he was given a fair-trial in the country that he was solely out to ruin. It’s not an easy choice for Donovan and now that he’s put his family in the spotlight, it makes the case all the more difficult to see-through. But, because he’s a passionate, confidante lawyer, Donovan will stop at nothing to ensure that Abel sees a fair trial, and also, that his family walks away from it all, safe and unharmed.

Oh yeah, Tom Hanks totally blends in with a crowd.

Oh yeah, Tom Hanks totally blends in with a crowd.

What some people may not know about Bridge of Spies, is that while that plot I just described may be the main-center plot-line, there’s still another one in the works that finds its way of connecting all of the pieces of the puzzle together. There’s one involving a CIA spy plane being shot down over Russia, where the pilot, Francis Powers (Austin Stowell), is taken into custody; whereas the other concerns an American college student named Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers), who is studying in Berlin, only to then be detained for being on the wrong side of the wall. While Spielberg drops these two subplots in unexpectedly, they still fit in with the rest of the movie and make-up what is to be the latter-half of Bridge of Spies.

Was it necessary? Probably not, but then again, being in the hands of Spielberg, it still works.

Though it may feel like it’s two movies combined into one that’s maybe 20 or so minutes too long, Bridge of Spies does a solid job in giving its interesting story the treatment it deserves. Granted, the movie itself has a lot benefit from having a real-life story as complex and neat as this (Big Eyes was another film that I felt like benefited from this same fact), but still, Spielberg helps it all out by moving along the pace, whenever it seems like the movie may be slowing down to focus on one too many random add-ons and whatnot.

And this is all to say that, yes, Bridge of Spies is a good movie, just as it is. Spielberg and his trusted band of script-writers (Matt Charman and the Coen brothers) help stretch this story out to where it feels like we’re getting all sides of the story, told in the most complete, fair-sided way possible. For example, even when we do see Rudolph Abel early on in the movie, clearly participate in sneaky spying shenanigans, the movie still figures out a way to make him human, at the very least, sympathetic. That isn’t to say that Spielberg wants us to feel bad that he was a spy and got caught being one, but because he’s a person too, and like most people, has a family and regular life to get back to at home. And as Abel, Mark Rylance is very good in the role as he shows a certain level of heart and humor to this character that makes him a bit easier to stomach, given the charges that he’s being convicted of.

Cooler glasses contest!

Cooler-looking glasses contest!

But Rylance isn’t the star of this movie – it’s clearly Tom Hanks. And while this may come as a shock to no one, but hey, Hanks is pretty great in this role. Because Donovan is a slick, silver-tongued lawyer that tends to know the right thing next, Hanks gets a chance to have some fun with this role and not just be the usual, near-superhero role that Tom Hanks tends to be given. Though Spielberg does get a bit carried-away in presenting those holding power with the U.S. as one-sided hot-heads who can’t wait to kill them some Commies, the movie still keeps its helmet on tight enough to where it doesn’t try to teach you a lesson, but more or less, tell you a story.

That, to me, is what Spielberg is usually best at: Telling a story, no matter what sort of relevance it may hold.

From what I can already tell, Bridge of Spies will probably go down as one of Spielberg’s least-known flicks, but there’s a novelty in that idea. While it isn’t necessarily lighting the world on fire, but that’s what makes it so special; it’s just a simple movie, trying to tell a relatively complex, if at times, confusing tale of espionage and political-maneuvering. Spielberg may try his hand too many times at making this story more than what it appears to be (those countless endings, oh jeez), however, he’s just doing what he’s been doing for nearly his whole career.

Sometimes, he preaches. Sometimes, he doesn’t. But all of the time, no matter what, he’s a story-teller. And it’s nice to see that form back in full-swing from Spielberg. Let’s hope it stays this time around and we don’t get another Indiana Jones 4.

And yes, that movie did happen.

Consensus: Though it won’t be remembered as one of Spielberg’s masterpieces any time soon, Bridge of Spies is still a well-acted, entertaining and, at times, very interesting take on a story that not too many people hear or know about.

7.5 / 10

Tom Hanks vs. a wall. Now that's something I'd pay to see.

Tom Hanks vs. a brick wall. Now that’s something I’d pay to see.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Kids can have some pretty messed-up imaginations.

Set after the Spanish Civil War, a time where Spanish rebels were being fished-out in the woods and left to be gunned-down by the nation’s soldiers, a 12 year-old girl named Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) gets thrown into a new world that she never expected to be in. In the real world, her pregnant mother is stuck with a powerful, but incredibly violent captain, Fascist Captain Vidal (Sergi Lopez), who not only wants to get rid of every rebel there is to get rid of, but to also make sure that his baby-son is born so that he has something to prove to his dead daddy. In the not-so real world, Ofelia enters an imaginary land in which she meets creatures who attempt to convince her that she used to be a princess. But to ensure that everything goes all fine and dandy for her, as well as her family, she has to complete some tasks for these creatures, and follow them, rule-by-rule. If she screws up and decides to improvise, the scary monsters of this fantasy-land will know and she’ll have to pay the price. So Ofelia best ought to be careful not to mess any of these instructions up, nor get caught in the act of by Vidal.

Sort of scary.

Sort of scary.

Many people love Guillermo del Toro and it’s understandable why, too. For one, he seems to be one of the very few directors left around, still making big-budget flicks that allow for his imaginary to run more wild than an eight-year-old boy. He loves all things ghosts, goblins, ghouls, demons, and everything else that goes bump in the night. In a way, del Toro is like the kid who never grew up and instead, gets a chance to make whichever movie he sees fit; he’s living the dream, some might say, and they’re definitely not wrong.

However, I am not one of those people.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not raining down on del Toro – the guy has made many good movies in his career and will probably continue to do so until he grows ancient and decides that maybe he did get old (even then, though, it still probably won’t happen). But there’s always this feeling I get with his movies that they can’t help but feel as if they’re constantly searching for the right shot, at the right moment, with the right music, all to then give off the right feeling for the audience to take home with them. Sure, you could say he’s a perfectionist and he’s not unlike any other directors out there who take absolute, almost crazy pride and dedication with their movies, but, for me at least, it always feels like this takes me out of del Toro’s movies and the stories he’s trying to tell.

Take, for instance, this story of 12-year-old Ofelia. Obviously, for anybody who has ever seen it, the fact that she’s a little girl having imaginary, spooky friends, surrounded by a setting that’s been ravaged by war, will definitely draw comparisons to del Toro’s the Devil’s Backbone. Apparently that is intentional and this movie is, in some ways, supposed to be considered a spiritual sequel. I can roll with that, however, that movie was a bit better in combining the two separate stories together, in order to make them seem like one, cohesive whole. The story of Ofelia and her wild, fantastical adventures, going alongside the story of Vidal’s bloody, gruesome tactics in taking down rebels, doesn’t quite work.

Which isn’t much of a problem because, for a good majority of this flick, del Toro doesn’t seem at all interested in making the two into one. Then, all of a sudden, he changes his mind and realizes that maybe they do need to and it doesn’t quite work as well. In a way, it actually takes more away from Vidal’s story which can be the most interesting one in the movie; while I’m not knocking on the character of Ofelia because she’s a young girl, at the same time, everything that she was going through didn’t really register for me. Yeah, I get it: She’s a kid who talks to a lot of creepy-looking, awfully-descriptive monsters, what else does she have to offer?

Kind of scary.

Kind of scary.

Not much, honestly.

Of course though, the good part of her subplot is that it allows for del Toro to show-off all of his wonderful and wild creatures, and none of them really disappoint. This is obvious from del Toro, but it should be definitely said that someone who aligns himself so much with the designs he makes for all of these monsters and whatnot, still seem to surprise and interest. There’s a couple of odd-looking, but cool-looking monsters that pop-up here, but perhaps the best, most memorable one is the Pale Man. By now, almost every person on the face of the planet has shown a picture of it and said, “Aww, look! How rad, yo!”, so I won’t bother getting into too many of the details, but I will say one thing, it’s still an freakishly scary sight.

Did I go to bed, normal and fine as usual? Yeah, of course. But it was still pretty freaky.

And while I know it may seem like I’m getting totally on del Toro’s case here, I really don’t want it to be. Pan’s Labyrinth, despite my problems with the plotting, is still an engaging movie, solely due to the fact that del Toro brings his audience into this little universe of his, but never does he allow for it to get over-the-top or serious. There’s always a certain degree of seriousness or menace in what’s happening here that makes it feel like it’s a horror movie, definitely, but not one all the way through. It’s still got something for people who just want a good, effective movie, that has something of a political message, but also not. It’s just another opportunity del Toro gets to create and design all sorts of wild-looking creatures, and he’s clearly enjoying every second of it.

So yeah, we should probably do the same, too.

Consensus: Though it’s plotting is a bit clunky, Pan’s Labyrinth is still, no matter what, a fine film from the likes of del Toro who can’t help but gush over everything he’s done here, even if the story sometimes feels like it’s taking a back seat.

7.5 / 10

Oh no, a Fascist! Definitely scary!

Oh no, a Fascist! Definitely scary!

Photos Courtesy of: Villains Wiki, Pan’s Labyrinth Wiki

The Reader (2008)

Even the Nazis had to get a little freaky from time-to-time.

When Michael Berg (David Kross) was younger, he fell for a woman, Hanna (Kate Winslet), who was nearly twice his age. She taught him everything that he needed to know about life, cooking, books, family, women, and most importantly, sex. But because he was so young and hardly knew anything that he wanted with the world, let alone who he was going to spend it with, the years went by and Michael began to get more and more interested elsewhere. For one, he took up with a new girlfriend of his own and started focusing on his career. Because of this, Hanna inexplicably got up, left and disappeared from Michael’s life, without a note or anything. Saddened by this, Michael does eventually move on with his life and grow up to be a dashing, handsome, but sadly, flawed middle-aged man (Ralph Fiennes). But Michael is brought back to Hanna through hearing of a trail she’s being put through for war crimes she committed under the Nazis. While Michael never knew about this secret past of Hanna’s, he knows that it doesn’t make her a bad person. At the same time, however, Michael doesn’t know if he can bring himself to relive his very lustful younger years.

I know of many men who would do anything to be in that same bathtub. Just get that other dude out, though!

I know of many men who would do anything to be in that same bathtub. Just get that other dude out, though!

The Reader is the kind of movie that makes you want to punch somebody in the face. Because, for as long as it is up on the screen, you assume that it’s going to be these sweet, saucy, sexy and lurid fantasies that came true for this one dude, all those years ago when he was hardly even 15. But what works about these scenes isn’t that they are just chock full of butt, boob, penis and vagina, but that there is a small layer of fine sensuality felt within it. Most people would have a problem watching a movie that makes the case for a boy who has just hit puberty, hanging around and having all sorts of steamy sex with this much-older women, but Stephen Daldry doesn’t.

And that, to me, makes me want to give the dude credit. Not to mention a solid bro-five, but that’s for later when were singing dicks out at the bar, joshing around and laughing about all the good times.

But yeah, anyway, the movie.

So yeah, what Daldry does best is that he shows that this relationship, while definitely controversial and frowned-upon for sure (and also illegal, but hey, who cares!), is just that – a relationship. In between all of the humping, the pelvic-thrusting, the orgasms, and smoldering hot baths, these two actually strike-up something of a nice chemistry between one another. While she teaches him in how to make love to a woman so that he’s not the only one who enjoys it (which always happens, sorry ladies), he, unbeknownst to him for awhile, teaches her how to read. Sure, you could make the argument that she’s teaching him more about the ways of life than he is to her, but still, the fact that this movie shows that there’s more going on than just bodily-fluids being swapped, helps us connect to these characters.

And then, it all changes up.

About half-way through, the movie goes from being a very explicit coming-of-ager, to being another Holocaust/WWII drama that likes to prey on the fears of those who are easily vulnerable to these types of movies and love to tear up. In a way, this makes the movie feel less interesting and lose its sense of focus, but there is an interesting spin put on that whole sub-genre of film. Rather than focusing on the plight of those affected by the Holocaust (like, for instance, the Jews that Hitler killed), the Reader asks us the age old question that we don’t see too often explored in movies: Can we have sympathy for those who were on the other side of the Holocaust?

It’s easy to have sympathy for those who were personally being persecuted and discriminated against, but is it that easy to have the same kind for those who were apart of the SS? Cause, after all, sometimes, those people were the same ones who were just taking orders from the higher-ups, in hopes that they’d be done with the war as soon as possible, so that they too could go back to their normal lives. And hell, had they decided not to go through any order handed down to them, then they too may have followed the same fate as their prisoners.

But that’s why there’s a boldness to the Reader that I enjoyed and couldn’t stop wrapping my head around.

For one, we never know quite for sure that Hanna was apart of the SS, until we do, and it makes us wonder as to whether or not we can push certain truths to the side, no matter how harsh they may be. After all, she’s a woman who was just doing what she was told to, by those much more powerful than her. And it’s not like she still acts or thinks the way she does today, right?

Still can't stop thinking of K-Wins. Nor should he.

Still can’t stop thinking of K-Wins. Nor should he.

Cause after all, what we do see from Hanna, is that she’s a loving and caring woman. Sure, she can be a bit grumpy at times, but she’s got a reason to be. It should be noted that Winslet is great in this role as Hanna, even though I don’t believe it’s the role she should have won the Oscar for (Revolutionary Road would have been my one and only choice). But all that aside, Winslet is great in this role because she allows for us to see the sometimes broken-hearted woman that lies inside this rather rough and tough exterior that Hanna presents to the world around her. The role itself may have been written-out to be incredibly over-the-top and hammy (what with the over-extended German accents and all), but Winslet finds certain narrow paths to make it much more subtle and it works, especially when we get to the end of the movie and wonder whether or not this woman actually does deserve to be persecuted for these war crimes she’s being called upon.

Cause, honestly, does she?

Well, the movie brings these questions up, yet, doesn’t seem too interested on answering them. That’s fine, too, because it seems like they’re the kind of questions that deserved to be brought up in a manner that has people hitting themselves in the face, over and over again, trying to figure out what conclusion they can settle on. However, it does allow for the movie to end on a sour note that feels more interested in pushing its message across and lose the main focus of this story: Michael himself. Without him, we’d have no reason for this story to exist, but as soon as Ralph Fiennes shows up, it’s almost as if the character gets pushed to the side and all of a sudden, Lena Olin shows up, gets pissed-off and we’re left thinking, “What was the point?”

Sure, some kid got boned a lot, but other than that, did we really need that extra half-hour tacked-on at the end to remind us that, hey, the Holocaust was bad, guys? Probably not, but for some reason, Daldry included it anyway and makes me wonder just where the main focus was here. Did they use Michael’s sexual awakening as a manipulative path into talking about the Holocaust? Or, did Daldry legitimately want to talk about the Holocaust?

Eh, whatever. Too much questions.

Consensus: For awhile, the Reader is alluring, smart, and interesting coming-of-ager anchored by a wonderful performance from Winslet, but loses focus in the later-half and feels like it wants to tell a different story than it set out to do.

7 / 10

Is that a smile I see?

Is that a smile I see? Eh? Maybe? Nah, never mind!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Pawn Sacrifice (2015)

How Bobby Fischer was everyday of his life, is exactly how I get when I enter a movie theater.

Ever since he was a little boy, Bobby Fischer (Tobey Maguire) has always loved the game of chess. He’s also been incredibly paranoid about everything, too, but that’s done more to enhance his skills as a chess-player than actually hinder it. As he got older, Bobby became more and more known as a genius and gained a whole lot of notoriety – most of which, he wasn’t able to deal with. But the peak in his career/life came during the rise of the Cold War, when he challenged the Soviet Union and their best player, Boris Spassky (Liev Schreiber), to a series of chess matches. Though the Russians agreed, Bobby still felt as if the games were being rigged in ways that went against him and it’s what ultimately made him a tragic-figure in the media. Though everybody wanted to tout him as an “American hero”, Bobby just wanted to be left alone and pushed away from the rest of the society he viewed as “Commies”. This not only pushed away those who were most close to him, but also ruined his skill as a magnificent chess-player.

He's crazy.

He’s crazy.

The crazy, unusual life of Bobby Fischer is an interesting one that, sadly, not too many directors have tried to tackle. It seems as if because his antics were so erratic and controversial, that to just make a movie solely based on him and his antic tirades would lead to be nothing more than just that. However, Edward Zwick and his crew of writers (Steven Knight, Stephen J. Rivele, Christopher Wilkinson) try to make amends for that mistake in giving us a sorta-biopic of Fischer, his upbringing, and his momentous chess bouts against the Soviet Union.

There’s a slew of other characters to pay attention to, of course, but still, it’s Fischer’s story we get.

And as Bobby Fischer, Tobey Maguire is solid. Maguire gets a bad rap for not being the best actor out there, which isn’t something I wholly agree with; while he’s definitely not shown a huge amount of range over the years, he’s still proven to be a fine presence in movies that he’s just coasting-by in (the Great Gatsby), or when he has to act like a total and complete nut (Brothers). His performance as Fischer is a whole lot more of the later and it works; once we see Fischer grow up into becoming Maguire, he’s a whole heck lot more frantic, manic, and strange, and it’s something that Maguire can play quite well.

You’d think that three movies playing someone as nerdy and straight-laced as Peter Parker would make Maguire into a dull specimen, but thankfully, for him, as well as the movie itself, it didn’t.

Everybody else in this movie is fine, too and ensure that Maguire doesn’t steal the whole movie away from them, even if he does occasionally get the chance to do so. Peter Sarsgaard plays Catholic priest William Lombardy, one of Fischer’s fellow chess experts, who also served as one of his teachers, and gives a humane-look inside a guy who isn’t exactly what he appears. Sure, he’s wearing the same outfit that a priest would wear, but he swears, drinks, smokes, and is able to hang around Fischer, even when he seems to get so erratic, nobody in their right mind would stand-on by.

Michael Stuhlbarg shows up as Fischer’s manager of sorts and while you know he’s someone that’s not to be trusted, there’s still a feeling that he has Bobby’s best intentions at heart. He may not at all, but Stuhlbarg keeps us guessing as to what it actually is. Lily Rabe shows up as Fischer’s sister who tries to help her dear brother out as much as she can, but eventually, it becomes all too clear that the man is just too far gone to be helped, talked to, or aided in any way – which is actually a pretty sad that the movie doesn’t really touch on until the end of the movie. And though he doesn’t get a whole bunch to do, Liev Schreiber still does a nice job as Boris Spassky – someone who had no clue what to make of or how to handle Fischer, except to just play him in chess and hope for the best.

And honestly, the performances are all that’s worth to discuss here because they’re the reasons why this movie works as well as it does. Everything else about Pawn Sacrifice is as handsome and nice as you can get with a biopic, but really, that’s all it is and stays. Nothing really leaps out at you as any sort of insight into Fischer’s character or persona; he was just a wack-job that, yes, was great at the game of chess, also had plenty of issues when it came to interacting with others, his own psyche, and how to handle all of the fame that had totally blind-sided him. This, if you’ve ever known a thing or two about Fischer himself, is obvious, but the movie still tries to find other aspects to his character that haven’t been touched on yet.

He's not.

He’s not.

Problem is, they all have. So there’s nowhere else to go.

Zwick may seem interested in the political landscape surrounding Fischer at this time in his life, but he never goes anywhere further with it; there are constant conversations about Communism and conspiracy theories, but really, that’s just all of Fischer talking and no one else. Whether or not any of these accusations held true, are never said, which leads it to all just seem repetitive. Don’t get me wrong, there’s something enjoyable about watching and listening to Maguire ramble on about how the Jews, the Russians, the White House, and practically everybody else on the face of the planet, are out to get him, but after awhile, it becomes a bird that I would have been pleased to stop hear chirping.

And of course, there’s a post-script about Fischer’s later-life, how far away from society he had gone and where he had been living before he died, but it’s all too late. The movie had already focused so much time on Fischer’s life when he was younger, alive and successful – everything else was, as it seems, added-on filler. Which is a bit of a shame because this later-half of Fischer’s life would have been very interesting to see portrayed, but it doesn’t seem like the budget or time allotted it.

Shame. But I guess there’s another biopic to be made another time.

Consensus: Thanks to great performances from the cast, especially an unhinged and edgy Tobey Maguire, Pawn Sacrifice is an enjoyably, mildly interesting, but never seems to rise above being that.

7 / 10

The end.

The end.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Intern (2015)

White People: the Movie.

Ben Whittaker (Robert De Niro) has come to a point in his long life where he has to make a decision: Either, sit around and enjoy his retirement, like most men his age do, or, continue to work whatever jobs he can to make something out of the rest of his life? Obviously, Ben goes with the later once he goes in for a meeting with a start-up, fashion-based e-commerce company, for the coveted role as the “senior intern”. Ben, as expected, gets the job and is then transferred over to being the main intern of the CEO, Jules (Anne Hathaway). where he basically does all the work she asks of him. This means that Ben does a lot of driving around, running errands, getting coffee, and just generally, being there for whenever Jules needs him. The two, through their time together, get along, get to know one another, and eventually, start to see how one another can learn from the other’s career. However, Jules’ professional life is starting to get in the way of her personal one and it’s up to Ben to help her get through it – that’s if, he even knows how to.



Like most of Nancy Meyers’ movies – there’s not much of a plot to go along with the Intern. Basically, we get an older-guy, thrown into a much younger, much quicker work-environment, where it’s up to him to see if he can still hang with today’s generation. That’s basically it. And if you’re like me, you’re already hitting your forehead with the palms of your hands thinking about all the cliches this movie most go through.

Oh wait, let me guess, because Ben is older, he doesn’t know how to technology? Or better yet, because he’s old, he doesn’t understand some of the slang that these young people around him are constantly coining every five-to-seven seconds? Or how about the character of Jules? Let me guess, she’s one of those workaholic types that’s an absolute pain in the ass to be around, but somehow, everybody still sticks with her because her company is just so goddamn successful? And because of this dedication to work, she’s also got a terrible and lonely personal life, with no one else to go home to except her cat Fiffy?

Well, thankfully, I was wrong.

See, Meyers decides to take this movie one step past all of the conventions we expect to get with these sorts of stories, and instead, give us something, although so incredibly happy, light, and pleasant that it’s practically sickening, more realistic and smart. Yes, the Intern is as sweet as a two-for-one deal at Krispy Kreme, but there’s a nice attention to these characters that Meyers presents and highlights as her strength; no longer do her characters feel as if they’re just acting all silly and wild for shit’s and gigs.

Now, her characters, especially with Ben and Jules, seem to be actual, living, breathing, loving, caring, and emotional human beings. Neither one, despite what they may seem like from a first gaze, are types; mostly, they’re just familiar characters that also happen to be very likable. And surrounding them, are even more likable characters that, although not getting the same amount of attention as the two leads, still add their own two cents to a story that, thankfully, includes them to begin with.

But really, this tale is about Ben and Jules and with good reason: They’re strong, well-defined, and have lovely, if somewhat complicated personalities.

Ben may be a bit more easy to enjoy being around than Jules, but even he sometimes seems like he could have some problems of his own. For one, he himself has to do deal with the fact that he is definitely getting up there in age and, in a decade or so, may not even be alive. So therefore, he sets out to actually make something of the time he has left on this Earth, as best as he can. I know this sounds so incredibly schmaltzy and corny, but trust me, there’s enough depth to go along with this character to make him, as well as the situations he gets thrown into, work.

Not to mention that De Niro is quite charming here, showing us a certain happiness we haven’t seen on the screen for quite some time. Of course, whenever he’s in a David O. Russell film, De Niro seems to be as dedicated to the craft as possible, but here, he seems like he’s settling in just nice with this role. However, he doesn’t seem like he’s being lazy or phoning it in at all; his character is just a genuinely laid-back dude who tries to approach everyday, as maybe his last. But he, nor the movie, is cloying about this aspect – you can just tell by the joyful expression placed on De Niro’s face throughout.



But really, this is Hathaway’s show to steal and she does wonders with her role as Jules Ostin, the boss of her own start-up company that may be growing to be something bigger, better, and more recognizable. From the beginning, it seems like Ostin’s going to be an incredibly difficult person to be around, let alone, work for, but as we soon see, she’s actually fine to be around. I don’t want to say she’s “lovely” or “great” to be around, because there are times when it seems like she’s strict and slightly mean, but then you remember: Oh wait, she’s the boss of this company. She’s the one who has to keep it running and in order to do so, she’s got to keep a tight ship. Sometimes, that means hurting a few people’s feelings and getting on with your day/life as if it never happened.

Basically, she’s every boss I never had. They were all terrible, evil human specimens.

But I digress.

Like I was saying before about Hathaway, she’s great with this character because shows certain shades and layers to this character that we might not have gotten in another film. That Jules genuinely seems to care about her company, her family, as well as her employees, makes it all the more reason to sympathize with her when she decides to choose one over the other, and then see what happens when she does make those decisions. Sometimes, the ball in his favor – other times, it is not. But always, Hathaway’s Jules stays relateable and above all else, human.

There’s a few scenes that highlight this, but there’s one important one that comes around the end, wherein Jules breaks down about what she wants out of life and how she’s absolutely terrified of it all falling apart. At times, the scene can be funny because of what she blurts out in a mostly serious way, but it’s all revealing and shows just what really goes on behind this character when she isn’t working all day and night. She, like you or I, wants a certain level of happiness and fulfillment in her life and she’ll do anything to make sure it happens – even if, at the same time, that means she loses other meaningful aspects of life. People who dislike Hathaway because of her off-screen personality, will hopefully wake up and realize that even though she may be a bit of a grating presence when she isn’t smiling for the cameras, still can act and work wonders when she wants to.

Consensus: With a smart direction and script from Nancy Meyers, the Intern is an incredibly sweet and charming tale that may be a bit too lovely, but still features character that feel like real people we could meet on the streets, or in the office.

7 / 10



Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Minority Report (2002)

“Don’t trust the police; trust Scientology.” – Tom Cruise, probably.

Set in a future where technology reigns supreme and decides just about each and every person’s decisions, the police force known as “the Pre-Crime Division” arrest people before they can commit murders based on the psychic intuition of three Precognatives. Or, for short, “Pre-cogs”. And lead cop, John Anderton (Tom Cruise), has been working alongside them for quite some time, wherein they trust them, he trusts them, and everything goes as smoothly as possible; murders are stopped, people are put in jail, lives are saved, and everybody goes home a lot happier! However, when looking through the pre-cogs’ memory-bases, Anderton sees a murder committed by none other than himself. Though Anderton doesn’t believe that he’d ever kill someone, no matter for what reason, it’s company policy to take any person in for questioning, no matter who the person is, or what the stipulations may be. But Anderton feels as if he’s being set up, and rather than letting himself get taken in, questioned, and possibly incarcerated for something he hasn’t done yet, let alone, doesn’t think he’ll ever commit, he decides to go on a run from the law. Along the way, he hopes to find out the truth behind the murder and whether or not he’s being set-up to begin with, but a personal disaster from his personal life comes back to bite him and it may not only cost him his innocence, but possibly his life.

Somehow, this seems to be left-over set-material from A.I.

Somehow, this seems to be left-over set-material from A.I.

There’s always two Steven Spielberg’s working in this world that, on occasion, seem to battle against one another. There’s the serious, dramatic director who makes emotional, sometimes stories that breathe-off huge levels of importance and show that there’s a true artist within the work (see Saving Private Ryan and/or Schindler’s List). Then, on the other hand, there’s the fun, free-wheeling dude who appreciates his blockbusters and succumbs more to the mainstream, without really caring who is happy with that decision, or who isn’t (see Jurassic Park and/or Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). And while I’m not saying that it’s a bad thing that he plays both hands, it also calls into question just how hit-or-miss he can be; while the blockbusters he creates can be exciting and better than most others out there, they also sometimes make it seem like he’s sleeping on those fine talents of his we so rarely see put on full-display.

And then, there’s Minority Report, which seems more like a psychological battle inside of Spielberg’s head, rather than an actual, great movie.

If there’s credit that has to be given to Spielberg, it’s in the way that he allows for this dark, brooding future shine through in some neat, fancy ways. Because this is a Philip K. Dick adaptation, obviously there’s going to be a whole bunch of social-commentary about the government, the way in which they spy, as well as technology, and how it controls our each and every lives. But Spielberg doesn’t seem all that incredibly interested with focusing on that, and instead, seems incredibly taken away with all the sorts of strange, but original pieces of technology he can give us.

For a few examples, there’s weird-looking, electronic spiders that crawl around and search for people; there’s the high-velocity mag-lev cars, that are actually a lot easier to jump out of, despite the speed they appear to be going in; there’s the eye-scanners stationed nearly everywhere that not only keep track of where each and every person is at, but bother you with advertisements; and, as small as it may be, there’s cereal-boxes with electronic-screens that move and make noises. It’s such a small, little detail, but it’s the one that keeps on giving and assures me that Spielberg was just amped-up to make this movie, as some may be to watch it. That’s the Spielberg we all know, love, and wish we saw a whole lot more of.

And that’s the same kind of Spielberg we get for the longest time in Minority Report.

If Colin Farrell takes over your command, you know you're in some deep trouble.

If Colin Farrell takes over your command, you know you’re in some deep trouble.

Considering that half of this movie is literally just Tom Cruise running away from the police in a futuristic-world, it makes sense that the movie moves at a quick-as-nails pace and continue to do until there’s time needed for smaller, more character-based moments. And this part of Minority Report is enjoyable; everything moves in such a swift pace that even though there a few plot-holes to be found (like, how does someone get back into their job’s headquarters, when they’re literally on-the-run from those said people in the headquarters?), it’s easy to forget about and forgive them because everything’s so energetic as is. It’s almost like Spielberg cared so much about the look of the movie, that he didn’t get too bogged-down in certain plot-details; as long as everything’s moving nicely, all is well.

For awhile, too, everything is well. Until it isn’t.

The next-half of Minority Report is where it seems like Spielberg starts to fall back into his own trends of diving too hard into all of the family drama, twists and turns that don’t make much sense, and a sugar-coated, happy-ending that seem to come out of nowhere. And the reason why most of this stuff seems to come out of nowhere, is because a good majority of the movie is as bleak and as scary as you’d expect a Philip K. Dick adaptation to be – which isn’t something we expect from Spielberg himself. That’s what makes it all the more disappointing to see the final-act of the movie, not just grind to a screeching halt, but also seem to forget about what makes this world so damn interesting to begin with: It’s sadness and just how far Spielberg is willing and/or able to go through with developing that more and more.

Because through the likes of Tom Cruise, Max von Sydow, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Neal McDonough, Peter Stormare, and, well, many more, we’re able to see how such human beings get by in a world that’s so upsetting and miserable, and still be somewhat happy. Once all of that begins to wear thin, it becomes clear that we’re out of a Philip K. Dick story, and more of in one that’s Spielberg’s own creation; where everybody hugs, cries, goes on about their daddy-issues, and all sorts of other sappiness ensues. Sometimes this is fine, but it feels misplaced here.

If only this had been directed by Ridley Scott, straight after he finished up with Blade Runner.

Consensus: For a good portion, Minority Report is as fun, ambitious, exciting, and artistically-driven as Spielberg can get, but later on, it goes back to his ham-handed old ways and feels like a bit of a retreat.

7.5 / 10

It's okay to trust Tom, Samantha. A lot of women have.

It’s okay to trust Tom, Samantha. A lot of women have.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Twin Falls Idaho (1999)

Brothers can be so clingy, sometimes.

Penny (Michele Hicks) is a hooker who gets dropped off in front of a shady-looking motel in Twin Falls, Idaho. Though Penny has no idea what she’s getting herself into, she sure as heck couldn’t have expected to stumble upon her two customers being who they are: Conjoined twins named Blake and Francis (Mark and Michael Polish). Initially, Penny storms out because Blake and Francis are only something she’s heard of, but never actually seen in real life. But, Penny soon remembers that she needs to go back and get her purse, which is where she apologizes to both Blake and Francis, in hopes that she’ll at least end the deal on somewhat good terms, even if she isn’t actually going to go through with “the deed”. However, for Penny, she sees Blake and Francis as two guys that she can help out and get to be more sociable with the world around them; even if they all know that it’s hard to actually believe that the rest of the world would actually accept them for they who are, and not look at them as some sort of circus freaks who wandered off. This is where Penny, Blake and Francis learn more about one another and grow closer, even if the rest of society can’t help but turn their heads.

How I imagine every guy acts whenever Michele Hicks enters a room.

How I imagine every guy acts whenever Michele Hicks enters a room.

There’s not much of a plot to Twin Falls Idaho. And you know what? That’s okay. While Mark and Michael Polish seem to try a little too hard to draw some sort of over-aching story to this movie, in a means of keeping things rolling, anything resembling a story-line is far from what they really care about. Instead, the Polish brothers would much rather like to focus on these characters, their odd quirks, intricacies, and lives that, in all honesty, probably wouldn’t have gotten the same kind of front-and-center attention in much larger, more mainstream pieces.

Except if your name is David Lynch and even then, I don’t know if you can consider him “mainstream”.

Either way, Twin Falls Idaho works well because it has a heart carrying it along. The plot, like I said before, tries to be something more than what it is (aka, filler), but once you get past all that, you realize that the Polish brothers do seem to care about these characters and how they interact with one another. Obviously, the lives of Blake and Francis are tragic enough to take over a whole movie as is, but the Polish bros. also incorporate Penny’s story which is definitely just as important to keeping the central main-frame noticeable.

Through Penny, we see how Blake and Francis get by, even despite their situation. Because they are literally attached at hip, there’s no need for the other to yell or scream what the other has to say – quite simply, they just murmur. And eventually, we find out that one has a weaker heart than the other, therefore, making it absolutely essential that the healthy one stays alive and well, or else it’s goodnight for the other. While the subject of surgery does come up quite a number of times, the movie doesn’t set out to use it as a way that shows just how wonderful life can get for these two if they just break apart; sure, it would be a bit of a better convenience, but it’s something that they’ve been living with for so long, that they aren’t setting out for that kind of treatment.

It should be noted, too, that even though the Polish bros. may not be the most talented actors around, they still do solid jobs here and seem like they genuinely have the sort of chemistry that two twins in their situation, would definitely have. They’d bicker and bite at one another, but at the end of the day, they’re all that the other’s got, so it makes sense that they’d get along and love the other. Though it can be a bit hard to tell the other apart, because they truly are identical, it soon becomes clear that one has more to work with than the other and that’s fine, too. Neither actor is bad, nor good, they’re just fine.

No. This is not a TLC documentary.

No. This is not a TLC documentary.

As well as they should be! They wrote the damn movie, after all!

Michele Hicks, who some would probably know a whole lot better from her days on the Shield, does a good job as Penny, showing that there’s more of a heart and shred of humanity to this character than we’d expect from what she does for a living. So yeah, basically, Hicks plays the “hooker with the heart of gold” cliche portrayed in these types of movies, but there’s a tiny understatement to the way this character is played and written, that makes it seem less noticeable. Though she’s the one pushing these guys out the door and into the rest of the Earth’s populations eyes, they’re still the ones who have some growing up and understanding to do on their own – she doesn’t help them, nor does she need to.

And it should be noted that Twin Falls Idaho isn’t constantly trying to be a sappy inspirational-tale of over-coming one’s disadvantages. While one person could definitely grab that from having seen this movie, it’s more about actually enjoying the life you’ve got, while you’ve got it, and not really worrying about who may push you back in the shadows. People will point, whisper and take pictures, but at the end of the day, it’s how you care and experience life that makes the world around you better.

Okay, so maybe it is a bit sappy.

Consensus: Despite an over-reliance on plot, Twin Falls Idaho still works as an odd, but heartfelt slice of life that we don’t usually see get the light of day, unless it’s for harsh laughs or horror.

7 / 10

Seriously! Which one is which?

Seriously! Which one is which?

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Movie Channel

Blind (2015)

Everybody’s got somethin’ wrong with them.

Ingrid (Ellen Dorrit Petersen) is, for unexplained reasons, blind. She wasn’t always blind, but right now, at this point in her life, she can’t see and she’s just trying to adjust. She’s thankful to have her husband around to help her whenever she needs it most, but for the most part, she’s left all alone during the day, with no one to talk to, or bother with but herself. While Ingrid’s going on dealing with her own issues, there’s other people having their own problems of sorts. One concerns an older guy that’s too busy looking at and jerking-off to porn, rather than actually going out there and trying to meet a nice girl; another one concerns a mom looking for love; and then of course, there’s Ingrid’s own husband who seems as if he’s finding it hard to deal with the situation he’s just been thrown into, as well, which leads him to possibly mess around a bit. But the real kicker is this: Are any of these stories real? Or are they all just wild and imaginative stories taking place inside of Ingrid’s head, so that she can pass the time more efficiently?

Seriously. So creepy.

Seriously. So creepy.

The answer, we may never know.

On the surface, Blind seems like the typical kind of art house fare that tries to be big and about something, but more often than not, feels like it’s over-stepping its limitations. Then, add on the fact that this flick is Norwegian, and already, I feel the sweet, sweet aroma of pretentiousness hitting me slap dab in the face. But surprisingly, Blind is not that kind of movie I expected it to be.

While it definitely starts out appearing to be a sad, look-at-me-crying-over-here kind of foreign drama, it instead turns out to be something much more playful and exciting. In a way, you could look at Blind as being Norwegian’s version of Stranger Than Fiction, but without ever trying too hard to bring its feel-good message to home. Most of the character’s here and the situations they’re in, all feel real and relatable, which makes most of Ingrid’s stories, albeit entertaining to watch, interesting at the same time.

Of course though, the movie does run the risk of allowing for certain subplots to over-take the central plot, which sort of does happen. After awhile, it does become clear that whatever Ingrid is going through, although tragic, doesn’t really do much to keep the movie afloat. The one subplot that really reached far was the one about the middle-aged dude who loves his porn for sure. I apologize that I’m blanking on the names of the characters and/or the names of the actual actors who portrayed them, too, but it should be known that this role was written perfectly for this fella.

He’s not just a creepy fella we literally first meet as he’s jerking-off to porn, but someone who is easy to feel sad for. We get to realize that he hasn’t done much of anything with his life, even though holding out much promise early-on, and it makes us want to see the best happen to him. And this is why, when writer/director Eskil Vogt gives this character the spotlight, the movie’s at its most insightful.

Any other times, it’s just interesting. Which is fine, too.

I guess.

Where Vogt deserves credit is in keeping this movie evolving into being something more than just your traditional story about a random list of subplots that somehow, in some way, connect and further prove the fact that everybody on this planet is connected. Instead, it’s a movie that shows just how wacky and wild the imagination can run whenever it needs to be; though Ingrid may have her own problems to deal with, she finds a certain solace in making these stories up and, in ways, connecting to them on her own. While the whole idea of the gimmick is that we never exactly know whether these are actual stories to begin with doesn’t distract from the movie, or feel cheap, but instead, just add to the interest-factor.

Sometimes, we just have to let it all out.

Sometimes, you’ve got have to let it all out.

I know I’ve used the word “interesting” or at least some form of it, a lot, but honestly, that’s what this movie is. It’s as Charlie Kaufman wrote a script, decide he wasn’t all that happy, gave it Vogt and said he could do whatever he wanted with it. There are occasional bits of humor and fun, but overall, it’s just a neat tale that definitely deserves to be checked out. Not just because it has a neat and fancy gimmick, but because it does something with that to help put us in the same mind-set as the character that we’re watching and studying.

Which was, again, another smart decision on the part of Vogt.

Sure, while Ingrid’s own personal story may not be the most exciting one of the bunch, she’s still the centerpiece of the movie and keeps its heart in-place, even when everything seems to get a bit out-of-whack. For one, Ellen Dorrit Petersen is very good in this role and shows that there’s a lot of different shades to this character than just, initially, seeming sad. Of course she’s upset about the condition she has, but she doesn’t cry or whine for our pity; instead, she tries to do something about it and find ways to make her herself feel better and get more accustom to it. It’s still a bit beyond me why Petersen decided to bleach her eyebrows, but either way, it worked as it made this character definitely pop-off the screen a whole lot more.

Whatever that accounts for.

Consensus: With a neat gimmick to work with, Blind is a fun tale that doesn’t always make perfect sense, but is at least a joy to watch because you never know where it’s going to end up next, or what it’s going to say about its characters.

7 / 10

"See this?"

“See this?”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Nurse Betty (2000)

NurseBettyposterThe bigger question is: Why the hell do people still watch soap operas?

Betty Sizemore (Renée Zellweger) is a lovely, young woman from Kansas who is simple, loves her hubby (Aaron Eckhart), and loves to watch her favorite show, the popular daytime TV drama A Reason to Love. Betty is such a nice girl, that it’s almost insane to see what happens to her when her hubby is killed by two drug-dealers (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock), and then decides to flee the scene of the crime, in order to find and locate her favorite character from that show, Doctor David Ravell (Greg Kinnear). Problem is, Betty is so disillusioned as to what the hell is going on that she doesn’t see David Ravell as a character from a show, but an actual character in real-life. Yep, she’s nutso!

It may came as sort of a shock to some of you out there, but this flick was actually directed by Neil LaBute, way before he started hanging out with Nicolas Cage and bees. However, this one wasn’t written by him but still features a lot of his trademarks: d-bag characters, dark humor, a bit of misogyny, and a double-entendre’s galore!

You know, what everybody loathes and loves about LaBute’s pieces of work.

They don't make cardboard cut-outs like they used to.

They don’t make cardboard cut-outs quite like they used to.

With this movie, we’re able to see that LaBute has a funny bone and even though none of his actual trademarks are here as a director or writer, we still get a feel for the guy and the type of material he likes thrown at him. Later in his career, that wouldn’t do much to help him, but before it all went downhill, LaBute was a pretty big, freakin’ deal at one point and it’s flicks like these that show why. While you’re laughing, you’ll actually find yourself following a story that’s clever, but is also very informative in the twists and turns it takes and at times, you may not know whether you should or shouldn’t laugh at what’s going on.

Yeah, it gets pretty serious, pretty quick.

Which, to say the least, can sort of be the problem, tonally speaking. Don’t get me wrong, it was a bunch of fun that made me laugh, feel suspense, and question these characters and their motivations, but the tone felt a bit off to me. This is apparently clear especially around the last-act where, all of a sudden, we have characters shooting one another, murdering, bleeding, trying to save fish (once you see the film, it will make sense), and people yelling out for their loved-ones. It’s all very drastic, serious, and actually scary, considering we’ve spent so much time with these characters and all that they do, and now we actually have the possibility of seeing them be killed-off, in front of our eyes, is a pretty freaky sight. Not to always say that this movie’s most glaring problem is it’s tone, but when it doesn’t work, it shows and seems like the writers of this flick (John C. Richards and James Flamburg) may have needed a bit of LaBute-flavor to spice things up. Then again, that’s just the way I feel.

After Death at a Funeral, I don’t know what to believe anymore, but a comeback of sorts is clearly is in-store for Mr. LaBute.

I just know it!

But aside from that, everything else is pretty stellar about this movie, especially the cast. One of the biggest and best aspects of this flick, is Ms. Renée Zellweger as Betty Sizemore, our lovable klutz for the next two-hours. Say what you will about Zellweger, her scrunched-up face, her random marriage to Jack White, and her obvious, public drunkenness at the Oscars, the gal is one hell of a charmer and shows that she can make any character work, especially one that’s so strange like this. The fact that Betty is all in a daze and believes everything she sees is real, and not fictional like her favorite TV show, is more than enough to poke-fun at a character and make her seem like a total nut of a person, but Zellweger makes her more than that. She’s got a beautiful smile, a nice look to her, and is actually a sweet person, once you get past the fact that she’s a bit too cuckoo for Coco Puffs. But still, the movie plays off of her with such ease and Zellweger is more than up to the challenge when it comes to that. Without her and her earnestness, I don’t know quite how well this role, hell, this movie would have worked.

If this was the South, they'd be more than just fucked. They'd be dead.

“Next time, no driving Ms. Daisy.”

Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock play the two dudes that are after her, and work very well together, despite them seeming like an odd-match at first. Rock is the straight-laced, comedic-man that is more like the voice of reason, whereas Freeman is the down-and-out hitman, that’s on his last job, wants to retire, and is starting to see more visions than he ever planned on, sort of like Betty in a way. Both have this odd-contrast between the two, but still do well at showing how goofy they can be, but also still have you a bit scared of what they could do next.

Greg Kinnear is also a nice fit as Dr. David Ravell, aka the person his character in this movie plays on the show that Betty loves to watch (make any sense?). What I liked about Kinnear is that he’s a bit of a dick because he’s a famous star that mostly older-housewives love, and seems to have it all go to his head. Yet, still respects and loves Betty for the fact that she’s able to be “in character” the whole time that they chat, but little does he know: She’s serious. Dead serious, in fact. It’s fun to see him play that idea up as we all know Kinnear is more than capable of playing a deuche.

He’s just got that look, I hate to say.

Consensus: While going through a few tonal issues, Nurse Betty still works as a dark, twisted, but surprisingly funny piece of LaBute fiction that may not have his trademark style, but still seems up the same alley.

7 / 10

Oh yeah, and he's a dick in this too. Much of a surprise to no one.

Oh yeah, and he’s a dick in this too. Not much of a surprise to any one.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Digging for Fire (2015)

Buried treasure is a perfect metaphor for one’s mid-life crisis.

Tim (Jake Johnson) and Lee (Rosemarie DeWitt) are, for the most part, a happy couple. They have a child together, and even though they can’t necessarily agree on what education is the best for him, they still love one another enough that it’s only a slight problem. But having been married for so long can make a person feel a bit suffocated; which is why Lee decides to take it upon herself to head out on a little relaxing trip of her own. This leaves Tim at home, all by himself, for the whole weekend – which he more than takes advantage of. For one, Tim throws a banger full of booze, drugs and women, and then, all of a sudden, discovers a bone and a gun in his backyard. Where it’s come from, he doesn’t know, however, Tim is more than inspired to find out just what the hell else is hidden underneath the dirt that surrounds him and his pad. Meanwhile, Lee herself is having some bit of fun as she goes out gallivanting one night, and stumbles upon the charming Ben (Orlando Bloom), who immediately takers her breath away and makes her ponder whether or not marriage is actually cut-out for her in the first place.

If he can smoke...

If he can smoke…

You could make a fair argument that Joe Swanberg tends to make the same movie, over and over again. While he does switch-around the plots, for the most part, everything is exactly as mumblecore-ish and as simplistic as you could expect it to be. When you go into seeing a Joe Swanberg movie, you expect something with a fly-on-the-wall approach, where it may seem like nothing’s happening, or that it ever will. To some, this can annoy up to high heavens, but for others, such as myself, it’s truly a treat to watch in amazement.

Even if, sometimes, the end results aren’t always so great as you’d hope.

But that isn’t to say Digging for Fire isn’t a good movie from Swanberg in any sort of fashion – in fact, just the opposite. Compared to last year’s Happy Christmas, it feels as if Swanberg has more of a story to roll with here and even though he’s only using them as a way to pass through his metaphor about growing old and marriage itself, it’s still done in such a way that didn’t seem manipulative. Are the rusty gun and odd-looking bone symbolism for how tired and worn-out these two main characters feel? Or, are they just story-telling devices that Swanberg utilizes to make us think that something crazy, or better yet, shocking is going to happen around then, until we realize that, well, not really? Does it really matter?

Nope, not really. And the reason that is, is because Swanberg knows how to tell a story by standing back and letting everyone in front of the camera do the talking for him. Though Swanberg apparently co-wrote this script with Jake Johnson, a part of me still feels like that doesn’t account for anything; there are still many patches throughout this movie where it’s evident that everybody’s just riffing on whatever they feel should come next in the scene that they’re currently filming. Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a complaint, seeing as how I usually love the spontaneity Swanberg’s able to draw-out of his performers using this directing-approach, but it does make me wonder how much better some of these films would be, with a little more push here and there in the creative-department.

But, that said, Digging for Fire still works enough as is because it is, for one thing, a funny movie. Sure, some of that has to do with the fact that, in addition to the two main stars, the likes of Sam Rockwell, Mike Birbiglia, Melanie Lynskey, Anna Kendrick, and Chris Messina show up for a little while, but it also has some part to do with the fact that Swanberg takes Tim’s life and main dilemma seriously. Basically, the main question is why Tim’s going to town on digging into the yard? Does it really matter what Tim finds?


Then, so can she dammit!

Then, so can she dammit!

But whatever Tim does find, Swanberg makes it a point to keep himself more invested on what goes in and around Tim’s life and while they may be all a bunch of fun to laugh and be around, it’s Johnson’s Tim who always comes off as the more charismatic figure. For one, his character is given the most background info in that he seems like a bit of a boring, tied-down, but after a little while, shows that he’s capable of having a great time and being the life of the party when he’s called on to do so. Sure, he’s still got a wife and kid, but he won’t hesitate one second to snort that line of coke. Johnson does well with this character in that he shows he’s both smart, but a bit dopey at the same time, and it makes you hope that, even if it isn’t as memorable as he hopes, whatever he finds underneath all that dirt, at least gives him some satisfaction in life.

Of course, because Johnson’s role is so well-done, Rosemarie DeWitt does seem to get cheated here a bit. It’s one thing if DeWitt’s scenes just aren’t that interesting, but she hardly gets that much time on the screen. There’s the first-half of the movie and then, randomly, she’s nowhere to be seen until the final act where she’s now out on the prowl herself. DeWitt’s still solid in this role and shows that she’s able to work with not that much, but at the same time, makes me wish that Swanberg and Johnson, gave her character just as much time and effort as they gave the Tim character.

Like I alluded to before, though, there’s a lot of funny and famous people who show up here, all of whom, do fine. Rockwell is his usual killer-self; Birbiglia is nerdy and twitchy; Brie Larson is cool and full of personality; Kendrick is, for some lovely reason, a bit of a skank; and oh yeah, Orlando Bloom shows up. See, here’s the thing about Orlando Bloom: It’s not that I think he’s a bad actor, per se, it’s just that he hasn’t even really had time to grow out of being anything more than just Will Turner. You could say that he had Elizabethtown, but honestly, nobody had that movie to work with. Bloom shows up here for a short time as an object of Lee’s affection and does a solid job, given the time that he’s given to work with. He’s cool, suave, charming and most of all, not annoying. To me, this shows that maybe, given some time on his part, Orlando Bloom could start showing different layers of his acting-talent, if given the right chance and time to do so.

So, please guys! Try and do that if you can!

Consensus: Though Digging for Fire is typical Swanberg-fare, it’s still funny, insightful, and well-acted enough to where it feels like there was a bit more effort on not just the part of Swanberg’s, but the unexpectedly star-studded cast as well.

7 / 10

And they might as well, too.

And they might as well, too.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Fort Tilden (2015)

Tilden1Hey, at least the beach is free.

20somethings Harper (Bridey Elliott) and Allie (Clare McNulty) share an apartment together in New York and basically, do nothing. Harper constantly collects money from her rich daddy, whereas Allie is joining the Peace Corps for a mission in Liberia, if only so that she can tell people that she’s “joining the Peace Corps”. Together, they’re best friends who love to make fun of others around them, but at the same time, like all best friends tend to do after a certain amount of time, get on each other’s nerves. This begins to happen a whole heck of a lot one day when, for no reason other than to just relax, Harper and Allie decide to go to the beach. Problem is, getting there’s not as much of a joy as they’d expected it to be, what with transportation, money, responsibilities back at home, and all that. Mostly though, it’s Harper who seems to be holding the trip back, and this is something that irritates Allie so much that she eventually reaches her breaking point and puts their friendship into perspective.

Or so I think.

Always grumpy, never happy.

Always grumpy, never happy.

A problem with talking about a movie like Fort Tilden is that it’s so simple, easy-to-follow, and limited in its scope, that it’s hard to talk about its strengths, without sound so ridiculously repetitive. That these characters spend the whole movie constantly moaning and complaining about everything in their life, for nearly an-hour-and-a-half only makes more sense considering that I’m having a hard time recalling what it is about this movie that really worked for me. Was it that these two characters perfectly portray the millennial, me-me-me lifestyle? Or, was it that it’s a movie that didn’t seem to try too hard to be anything other than a small character-study of two characters we don’t get to see much of?

It’s a little bit of both, but ultimately, what it all comes down to is that the movie doesn’t pull away any sort of punches.

This is mostly in the department of how these characters are written, what they say to one another and others, and how it affects them, as well as those around them. Because Harper and Allie are annoying, snarky, mean, and are always putting others down for shallow reasons, it would make sense that spending a whole time with them as they try to helplessly navigate their way to the beach would just be downright dreadful, right? Well, if that sort of thing bothers you and you don’t think you can get past those problems, then sorry, move onto the next item.

However, for those of you who think that there’s more to that, then stick around cause eventually, you’ll find it. Though co-writers and directors Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers don’t exactly make these two characters the nicest human beings alive, there’s something sympathetically pathetic about them that makes it seem like all of their mean-spiritedness comes from a place a passion; the same kind of place that, had it been tuned-down a whole bunch, probably would make these two some very likable ladies. But because they aren’t likable and are never stray away from making people feel worse than they sometimes do, it makes them all the more interesting.

It would have been easy for Bliss and Rogers for Harper and Allie to eventually have their comeuppance, get together, turn the other cheek and play nice, once and for all, but they aren’t concerned with this at all. They know that these characters, for better and for worse, may never, ever change; they may always stay miserable, hurtful and nasty forever. But they’ll still be awoken to the world around them and realize that maybe, just maybe, their problems aren’t the only ones in the world that are worth caring about.

Two people more annoying than these two? Say it ain't so!

Two people more annoying than these two? Say it ain’t so!

Although Allie knows this more clearly about Harper, they still share enough of the same views and ideas that makes it understandable why they’re besties in the first place. They both love to sick the fangs into others around them that they meet and they most definitely love spending money on stuff that they can’t actually afford, but still want anyway. But together, there’s something about them that seems a bit off and it constantly makes this movie tick – almost as if some metaphorical bomb were to go off.

And eventually, it does, but the way in how it’s handled, is still smart for a movie that could have clearly gone the sentimental route.

It should be noted, too, that Harper and Allie are as good as best friends here, if mostly due to the fact that Bridey Elliott and Clare McNulty share incredible chemistry together. Though they’re a lot more Valley Girl than most portrayals of the millennial generation would have you believe, they still feel raw and honest, as if Lena Dunham had gotten tired of working for HBO and wanted to show the real people she hangs out with on a regular-basis. Maybe that comparison is already scaring people away, but have no fear: Girls and Fort Tilden are a little different from one another that makes it easy to enjoy one, but maybe not the other.

But like I said, Elliott and McNulty do well together and also help but their characters through the way they hold conversations together, or in some cases, argue. Harper is a lot more childish than Allie and because of this, she’s holding Allie back a lot from what it is that she wants to do with her life. Anybody who has ever had a friend, best or not, can totally understand how this feels and how it is you go about addressing the situation – they’re still your friend, however, it’s time to tell them what’s up and you don’t want to seem too much like a dick. So basically, the best way to go about it is just to be passive aggressive, hope they don’t get too offended, and see what you two can do next. Unless they’ve totally ditched you and you’re on your own. For now, that is.

Because besties always come back. No matter what.

Consensus: Fort Tilden, despite seeming repetitive at times, is insightful, funny and honest enough that makes it worth a watch if you still can’t get enough millennial flavor to hold you over till the next season of Girls.

7 / 10

Of course Reggie Watts is driving around on a bike.

Of course Reggie Watts is driving around on a bike.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Tom At The Farm (2015)

Stay away from farms. No matter what the stipulations are, just keep away.

After the death of his boyfriend, Tom (Xavier Dolan), is left utterly speechless. That’s why, even against his own best wishes, decides to travel out to the country and go to his funeral, where he meets the rest of his family. Problem for Tom is, nobody knows that Tom is the recently-deceased’s lover; everybody just assumed he was straight. Though Tom does get a bit close at times, he decides to keep to himself and not say anything to the family about the truth; however, that doesn’t stop the recently-deceased’s brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), from getting all up in Tom’s business from the first second he lays eyes on him. Though Tom doesn’t want to disrupt what the family has already going with themselves, Francis takes it upon himself to torture and toy around with Tom; some of it has to do with the fact that he himself is opposed to homosexuality, but some of it may also have to be because Francis actually has feelings for Tom. Weird feelings, but feelings nonetheless. And it’s these feelings that makes Tom feel as if his life is in danger and may need to do whatever he can to get away from Francis, as well as the farm, as soon as humanly possible.

Console grandma and leave!

Console grandma and leave!

It’s weird that Tom At The Farm is just getting its U.S. release date now. A few years ago, while vacationing out in Canada, I actually had the opportunity to check it out at a local theater and thought it was only a matter of time until it hit the States, won everybody over, and all of a sudden, made me the coolest guy ever, because I saw it before everyone else. But the weird thing here is that, nearly three years after its completion, it’s just now getting its stateside release.

Why is that, honestly? Is it because Xavier Dolan’s latest (Mommy) seemed to do so well that studios eventually had hope for more Dolan movies? Or, is it because the movie’s terrible, has been collecting up dust for so long that eventually, Canada got sick and tired of it and just wanted to pass off the horrid stench of it to the U.S.?

Well, thank the high heavens, it’s not anywhere near that last idea.

That said, Tom At The Farm does have its fair share of problems. Dolan, as young as he may be, has already been criticized an awful-lot for being what some describe as “pretentious”, “too artsy”, and “repetitive”, and while I may not agree with all those terms, while watching this movie here, as well as his others, it’s hard not to notice a trend and wonder if he’ll ever break out of it. For instance, there’s a lot of showy scenes where Dolan lights a scene a certain way, hits the slo-mo button, and blares some odd pop-song in a way that may make hipsters think is cool, but to others, may be a tad bit annoying. Annoying, not just because it’s a neat trick that Dolan uses well and instantly makes people jealous of, but annoying, because it feels unnecessary, especially given how strong this movie is already.

But like I said, all those problems go aside when you realize that Dolan, for all his repetitiveness, is a pretty solid story-teller. However, what makes Dolan feel like a true talent is that it doesn’t even seem like he’s trying; rather than giving us everything we need to know about these characters, their situation, and what to expect with this story, right up front and center, Dolan allows for everything play out in a timely fashion. He’s vague on certain details, but eventually, you start to see some threads and pieces of an odd puzzle come together in a way that works for the movie both as a thriller, as well as a character-study.

That we know early on that Tom is a homosexual helps us identify with him and a person put in his situation; while he means to do well, at the same time, he also may be causing a lot of trouble and interruption. A part of him knows this, however, doesn’t want to wholly believe it. He’d much rather just pay his respects, find his lover’s family, know who they are, feel as if he’s completed an objective in his life, and try to move on.

Always hated being backed-up in a corn-field.

Always hated being backed-up in a corn-field.

Then, there’s Francis who isn’t as cut-and-dry as Tom may be.

For one, there’s something completely unsettling about Francis the first moment we see him. There’s a certain feeling that this character knows what’s up with his deceased brother and Tom’s relationship, isn’t happy about it, and wants nothing more than for Tom to leave him, his family, his farm and never be seen, or heard from again. This is understandable, but Dolan’s writing takes it one step further to show that there are some homicidal tendencies within Francis that have less to do with the fact that he doesn’t like homosexuals because he doesn’t agree with their life-style, and more to do with the fact that Francis may in fact be jealous of this life-style and has a hard time controlling his temper, his wants, his needs, or most definitely, his pleasures.

Same goes for Tom and eventually, the movie turns into a cat-and-mouse game between two unlikely protagonists; one of which is clearly more evil than the other, but at the same time, still human enough to where it doesn’t seem like his transformation is all that made-up. This Francis dude may just be as nutty and twisted as some people make him out to be, and it’s from here on where Tom At The Farm gets to be a little bit conventional. It’s still interesting to see how things turn out for both of these characters, but what ultimately started out as an interesting look inside the mind of a sexually-deprived man, soon just becomes a slasher-thriller – albeit one with less blood and gore.

More sex, though. Which is always a good thing, no matter what movie you are watching.

And it should be noted that both Dolan and Pierre-Yves Cardinal are both very good in their roles. Having seen all of Dolan’s movies, I’ve come to learn that, when he gets the chance to do so, is much more willing to take the back-seat in his movies. That’s neither a good nor a bad thing, it’s just a thing. But here, it works out well because it gives Cardinal plenty of opportunities to push this character, as well as this movie, further and further into the realms of darkness that nobody will be able to expect.

Those damn Canadians.

Consensus: While Dolan’s been better, Tom At The Farm is still an effective, odd and eerie thriller that works both as a character-drama, as well as a bit of a real-life horror flick, however, the former definitely works a lot better than the later.

7 / 10

With those eyes looking at you, kid, I'd head straight for the city and never look back.

With those eyes looking at you, kid, I’d head straight for the city and never look back.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Straight Outta Compton (2015)

No Detox, but hey, at least we get a musical biopic!

Growing up as just a bunch of young bucks in Compton, Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson Jr.), Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins), Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell), MC Ren (Aldis Hodge), and DJ Yella (Neil Brown Jr.), all wanted to make a difference as the hip-hop group N.W.A. Sure, they wanted to rap, make money, party hard, and have a great time, but what they really wanted from life, was to have their voices be heard and, in some ways, maybe even change the world. Well, when music manager Jerry Heller (Paul Giamatti) gets ahold of them, that begins to happen. With the release of their seminal album, Straight Outta Compton, N.W.A. became one of the most notorious and controversial groups; most of it had to do with the fact that they’re songs were great, but also because they were so racy, that they attracted plenty of attention from law enforcement who didn’t appreciate their songs about police brutality and violence. But even though they were on top of the world and absolutely loving it, too, personal problems began to come into the fray where certain members weren’t getting as much money as they were promised, respect, or wanted to do something else with their careers.

"Yo Dre?"

“Yo Dre?”

Basically, what happens to every band ever formed.

Everything about Straight Outta Compton is as generic as you can get with a musical biopic. The rusted, ragged roots; the first taste of fame; the money; the expensive cars; the lavish mansions; the wildly kick-ass bangers; the tension between members; the idea of “selling out; the break-up; and of course, the eventual reconciliation are all fine points of the musical biopic that are covered here and even then some. In other words, Straight Outta Compton is nothing more than a dramatization of a Behind the Music episode and while that sounds terrible, director F. Gary Gray surprisingly keeps it away from being so.

I say “surprisingly” not because it’s hard to make a musical biopic enjoyable; in all honesty, all you really need is good music, good acting, and a good pace, and everything’s all fine and dandy despite the conventionality of it all. But the reason I say “surprisingly” is because having seen Gray’s past movies, I’m surprised to see that he didn’t lose any sort of conviction with this story and how it handles each and every bit of it. While it would have been easy to just end Straight Outta Compton as soon as N.W.A. breaks up and fill-in the blanks with post-script (as most musical biopics do), Gray takes it one step further and focuses on what happened to each and every member after the break-up. It’s a wise choice on Gray’s part because half of the story of N.W.A. is how they went from being the best of friends, to openly dissing and ripping one another apart in harsh, but legendary diss-tracks, that nobody in their right minds would ever forgive somebody over.

And this is all to say that the movie is nearly two-and-a-half hours long and honestly, it does not need to be.

Though, the interesting aspect behind the long-winding run-time is even though it’s clearly long and definitely needs to be trimmed-down, the movie moves so quickly and enjoyably, that it’s hardly noticeable. There were plenty of moments in the later-half of the movie where I felt like they could have definitely wrapped things up more efficiently than they did, but all in all, the movie never had me checking my watch. Gray keeps the story moving and constantly interesting, even if it does seem to cover the same ground and get a little phony after awhile.

But like I said, it’s a musical biopic that went through all of the same hoops and holes that most others do, and still, it felt fresh, if only because it was actually fun. Even when the hearts and emotions get heavy by the end, the movie still never loses its sense of entertainment; which is to say that it’s a treat for anyone who has been clamoring for this story to be brought to the big screen. There are the occasional flip-ups where its obvious that Dr. Dre and Ice Cube had some influence over which light a certain occurrence was shown in, but overall, it seems to paint a full picture that makes you feel like you know why this group was so important to the world of music, why they didn’t last, and why their own respective members deserved to be praised until the end of time.

"What up, Cube?"

“What up, Cube?”

Hell, it’s even better than some documentaries I’ve seen.

And while I’m sort of on the subject of Dr. Dre and Ice Cube producing this, it should be noted that they did a nice job of getting a good cast in these roles, even if none of them really have to stretch themselves too hard. Cube’s son, O’Shea Jackson Jr., is an absolute spitting-image of his daddy that you may have to wipe your eyes every so often to remind yourself that it isn’t actually Ice Cube up there on the screen, but his living, breathing, walking, talking and rapping sperm. Corey Hawkins is also a good fit as Dre, not because he looks a little like him (even with a slight hint of Asian), but because he handles the material well when we see the “true” Dre come out. And then, as Eazy-E, the heart and soul of the group, Jason Mitchell is very good and perhaps the most impressive of the young fellas, showing a huge level of depth to a person who would sometimes be classified as a “goof-ball” and all around “lady’s man”.

But whenever these guys are up on the screen next to Paul Giamatti, there’s almost no comparison. Clearly, Giamatti’s the most skilled actor out of everyone here and he shows that off, each and every scene he gets, because he’s constantly evolving into a human being you don’t want to believe exists, but sadly does. All problems with Jerry Heller aside, the movie paints him in a portrait that’s fair; Heller himself has even on occasion spoke of how he’s “just a man for money”, but the movie never makes him out to be sniveling, evil person that most of these movies like to paint the manager as being. He’s just another guy in California trying to make a quick and easy buck, no matter at what costs; sometimes, he’s nice about it, sometimes, he’s not. But he’s a businessman through and through, and Giamatti plays every side of that perfectly.

But poor Suge Knight! What did that guy ever do!

Consensus: Conventional and overlong, Straight Outta Compton feels like it could fall apart at the seams, but somehow, director F. Gary Gray keeps it all together in an entertaining way that makes it feel like the story of N.W.A. is, once and for all, complete.

7 / 10

"We've got somethin' to say."

“We’ve got somethin’ to say.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Irrational Man (2015)

If you’re depressed, sometimes, all you need is a little crime.

Philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) isn’t exactly in the right place of his career, or his life currently. For one, he’s just taken up a new teaching job at a Rhode Island college, Braylin, for summer courses and he’s always bored. He’s also going through something of an existential crisis where he contemplates suicide daily and can’t seem to maintain an erection, even when he’s with the lovely and super horny Rita (Parker Posey). And now, to make matters worse, he’s starting to find himself fall head-over-heels for a student of his, Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), who feels strongly about him too, even though she’s already gotten a boyfriend (Jamie Blackley). Though Abe doesn’t want to have any sort of romantic relationship with Jill because it would be inappropriate and unprofessional of him, he still can’t seem to hold back on his affections. So basically, Abe is not feeling too happy about his life right now and needs something to wake him up from this metaphorical slumber and put him back on-track. What will wake him up, though? Or better yet, will it even be legal?

It’s hard to talk about a movie like Irrational Man, because from what I know, not many people know about the twist that occurs about half-way through. Even though it was definitely hinted at in the months of pre-production and filming, many people I have spoken to, or at least have read reviews of, claim to have not known anything of the twist. Honestly, that surprises me a bit, but because I am a nice, kind, and generous human being, I will decide to hold back on spoiling anything related to the twist.

To be with Stone....

To be with Stone….

Which is a shame, because it surely makes this movie a lot harder to review now.

But what I will say about Irrational Man, in relation to that twist, is that when it comes around and shakes things up, Woody Allen’s writing gets a whole lot sharper. What’s interesting about a lot of Woody Allen’s movies is that they’re very hard to classify as “dramas” or “comedies”. He’s definitely had many that are either the latter, or a combination of both, but he doesn’t quite do the former nearly as much as he should. Even though Cassandra’s Dream was a bust, Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors forever rank as two of his better movies because they show Woody Allen in a different light than ever before. Sure, he may be able to deliver on the funny when need be, but when he wants to deliver a dark, sad and sometimes harrowing story, he can still hang with the best of them, even if there is a small wink at the audience every now and then.

And with Irrational Man, it seems as if he’s definitely come back to being slap dab in the middle of being a comedy, but with many, many dramatic undertones. Sometimes, that can cause a bit of a problem with this movie as it’s never full-known whether Allen himself is intentionally trying to make a drama, or if a lot of his dialogue just comes off in an incredibly stilted way, that it seems like comedy, but either way, there’s something more interesting here to watch than there is in say, something like To Rome With Love. Even if the bar isn’t set very high with that one, it’s still worth pointing out as a lot of Allen’s recent movies are very hit-or-miss nowadays.

Still though, there’s a lot to like here.

With Allen soon approaching 80, it’s not as if he really has anything new or interesting to say about life, love, relationships, poetry, literature, or anything else that’s discussed in his sorts movies, but there’s still something entertaining about the way in how these characters talk to one another. While the philosophical squabbles don’t really go anywhere, it’s interesting to see the likes of Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone deliver them to one another; the dialogue may not be as sharp as a tack, but it’s something different than what we’ve seen from these two before and it offers some entertainment just based solely on that level. There are bits that are funny, as well as there are ones that are just plain dramatic, but no matter what, it’s neat to see how Allen, no matter what number movie he’s on, seems to get certain stars to deliver his dialogue to the best of his ability.

Or, to be with Posey?

….0r, to be with Posey?

And with that said, Phoenix himself is pretty good here in a lighter role than from what we’re used to seeing from him. Phoenix doesn’t too often get to do comedy nowadays, and while he isn’t exactly supposed to be the most hilarious guy in the room here, there’s still some shadings of slight humor to be found if you look closely and deep into the cracks of this character and this performance. At the same time though, there’s still a lot going on with this character that’s a tad unsettling, and it just goes to show you the kind of talent that Phoenix is, to where he’s able to make you laugh along with him, as well as be disgusted by him as well.

The perfect antihero if there ever was one; something that Allen doesn’t write much of anymore.

Stone is quite good here, too, and gets to show that she’s a bit better at handling Allen’s dialogue than she was able to do in Magic in the Moonlight. The only problem that there is to be found with this character is that, sometime by the end, she goes through a change that makes her go from this lovable, doe-eyed and naive schoolgirl, to this Nancy Drew-like character who picks up on all sorts of clues that are miraculously dropped in her way. Once again, I’m being as vague about this fact as humanly possible, but it is something that didn’t seem too believable to me, even if Stone does try her hardest to make it work.

Because no matter what, it’s hard to hate this face. Maybe this face, but not this one.

Okay, I’m done now with my crush.

Consensus: A tad darker than most of Allen’s recent outputs, Irrational Man is slightly uneven, but benefits from solid performances from the cast and a smart twist that keeps certain themes from growing old.

7.5 / 10

Think it over, Joaquin. You've got some time.

Think it over, Joaquin. You’ve got some time.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Death of “Superman Lives”: What Happened? (2015)

SupermanposterNic Cage as Superman. Take my money. Please.

Way back when in the mid-to-late-90’s, there was a little movie called Superman Lives that was going to be made, but for many, many reasons, didn’t. However, that doesn’t mean it didn’t come close to hitting the big-screens and forever being apart of the Superman film franchise. Director Jon Schnepp decides to take it upon himself to figure out all that there is to know about this infamous project. From the director (Tim Burton), to the writers (Kevin Smith wrote the first script), to the artists, to the producers (Hollywood hotshot Jon Peters), and to the cast (yes, Nicolas Cage), Schnepp takes a look at every aspect of this project, what went wrong, who was to be blamed, and exactly how far along everybody was in the process before it all went away and the movie itself would be nothing more than just a wild and wacky wet-dream for all comic book nerds everywhere.

In today’s day and age, superhero movies are constantly everywhere you turn. Just when you think you’ve gone a day or two without hearing of some new info about what a certain DC or Marvel movie is up to, something happens where people hammer-away at one another, arguing about what they want to see, with whom, and why. Basically, the world in which we live in now is a fanboy’s paradise and because of that, it’s easy to understand why so many people are hopping on-board of the superhero movie train.

Are you sold now?

Are you sold now?

Believe it or not, though, there was a time when the world wasn’t quite like that. In fact, it wasn’t too long ago, either.

It’s crazy to imagine a Superman movie not being made, but in 1998, it was most definitely plausible. And Superman Lives, the movie that was supposed to be made, is something of film-nerd fare; all of the odds were stacked against it, but somehow, it seemed just weird and ambitious enough to actually work, even if it never got made in the first place. Many years after plans for this movie fell through, we’re still here left wondering, “What would it have been like?” Would it have reached the same campy, but lively and colorful heights of Burton’s Batman? Or, sadly, would it have become something of a spiritual cousin to Joel Schumacher’s dreaded, but all-time camp-classic Batman & Robin?

Honestly, the world may never know. But it’s great to see that some regular Joe like Jon Schnepp seem so invested in the past happenings of this project, because he really digs in deep with this movie here. Of course, seeing as how this is about a movie that was never made, it’s understandable that Schnepp wouldn’t have the biggest budget to work with and on occasion, that can work against him. Every so often, when describing scenes within the film, or other scenes in general, Schnepp feels the need to use cheap-looking reenactments where people are dressed up like Superman and other comic-book figures, and it’s not at all used for irony. Schnepp doesn’t seem to trust his audience well enough to take his word for whatever scene is being described and allowing for the audience themselves to use their own imagination; or, as he utilizes in most cases, just continue to show art-work from the pre-production stages, of which there is insane amounts.

But all that aside, I have to give a lot of credit to Schnepp for at least setting out to make a movie that covers everything that was working for, as well as against this lost project. While Schnepp gets a bit too carried-away with focusing on the actual comic book side of this character, as well as the stories the movie was going to be adapting, I realize that it’s a complaint that won’t matter to those who like that sort of stuff. Maybe I’m just more inclined to wanting to hear about who stabbed whose back, why, and how that affected the film from ever being made?

But that’s just me. I’m an addict for drama.

Well, what about now?

Well, what about now?

Despite some of these small tangents, Schnepp still keeps his movie on-track with focusing on both the bright and creative,as well as the dark, ugly, and dream-crusher side of Hollywood. By having interviews with the likes of Tim Burton, Kevin Smith, and oddly enough, Jon Peters, Schnepp is able to highlight many different approaches to this infamous project, as well as the whole legend that is Hollywood. With Burton, we see the weird, but artistic side; with Smith, we see the nerdy, but funny side; and with Peters, we see, well, Hollywood itself.

While it should be noted that Schnepp doesn’t seem to really be putting the blame of why this movie-idea never came to actual fruition, he clearly seems to have an idea of who started problems with it all in the first place: Jon Peters. Much has already been said about Peters in the past, so it’s no surprise here when certain cast and crew members speak of their bad altercations with Peters and how he would, on random occasions, put workers into head-locks to prove how tough and in-control he was. Even if this seems like Schnepp picking on Peters, there’s a few times during Peters interview where he makes it clear that everything said about him, may in fact be true; he doesn’t come right out and say that he’s a dick, because he doesn’t have to. He acts like it as is and it’s telling that Schnepp doesn’t harp on this fact too much, but instead, just allows for it to play out.

But like I said before, Schnepp does an effective enough job to where we see how hard it is actually to make a movie, regardless of who you have working on it, or even what it’s about. Schnepp’s intentions may not be to show how hard it is to make a movie in the first place, but it certainly comes off as a cautionary tale for most of those who may want to think twice about getting their ideas on a piece of paper, so that some big-wig, studio executive can take it for themselves, tear it all to pieces, and basically, make sure you’re name is never seen near it again.

Because honestly, if a Superman movie starring this guy can’t be made, then what can be?

Consensus: For any fans of the folklore surrounding Superman LivesTDOSLWH will definitely help answer some questions about what exactly happened, as well leave some others up in the air.

7.5 / 10

Okay, well if you're not sold by this, then I'm afraid that there's no more helping.

Okay, well if you’re not sold by this, then I’m afraid that there’s no helping. Just enjoy Zak Snyder and Batfleck!

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Pilot

Southpaw (2015)

From what I hear, the more jabs to the head, the merrier!

Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) faced all sorts of adversity over the years to make himself one of the best boxers in the profession today, and still be able to come home to his beautiful wife (Rachel McAdams) and kid (Oona Laurence). However, all of that changes when tragedy strikes and Billy is practically left to fend for himself. Due to all of the blows he’s taken to the head, not only is he a punch-drunk, fumbling mess, but he’s also lost all sorts of control over his emotions, which puts him in a lot of legal trouble. This all eventually leads to his house, car, money, and worst of all, kid get taken away in hopes that he can change his act for the good. Problem is, the only way Billy can get back on top, is through boxing – a sport he has been told, time and time again, that “he should retire from before it’s too late”. Still though, Billy sees his fight against the current champ, Ramone (Victor Ortiz), as his comeback one, regardless of what the nay-sayers may spout on about. To get back in shape, Billy enlists the help of Titus “Tick” Wills (Forest Whitaker), a trainer who only helps out younger boxers, and nobody else. However, in Billy’s case, Tick is willing to make an exception.

That is, if Billy changes his act a whole bunch.

Hey, you two! Stop PDA'ing, and give 50 some cash money! Dude clearly seems to be begging for it!

Hey, you two! Stop PDA’ing, and give 50 some cash money! Dude clearly seems to be begging for it!

I think it’s pretty safe to say that if you’ve seen one boxing movie, you’ve practically seen them all. Of course, there are the noble exceptions to the rule (Raging Bull), but for the most part, each and every movie that concerns with the sport of boxing, plays out like another take on Rocky. Underdog has dreams; underdog faces adversity; underdog faces set-back; underdog gets back on his feet; underdog sets out to defeat the champ. It’s all been said and done before, many, many times and you know what?

Southpaw isn’t going to change that formula.

Thankfully though, it’s the kind of movie that’s lucky to benefit from a talented cast who, despite having to deal with a very over-dramatic and sometimes corny script from the wild and wacky mind of Kurt Sutter, make better because they’ve come ready to play. Case in point, Jake Gyllenhaal who, believe it or not, is actually taking up a role written for Eminem. While I would have definitely liked to see how that played out, in hindsight, I’m still glad that the second person to get the call was Gyllenhaal, cause not only is he proving himself to be one of the better actors we’ve got around working today, but he’s able to throw himself into any role where it doesn’t matter who was supposed to be in it originally, or not. Gyllenhaal’s going to make you believe it should have been him all along and that’s why he works wonders with Billy Hope – the most conventional character he’s had to work with since Bubble Boy.

Which I know sounds terrible, but it actually isn’t; Gyllenhaal’s more talented as an actor now, than he ever was before, and it’s great to see him sink his teeth deep into what could have been a total paycheck gig. Though it most definitely is the kind of role that’s paying for Gyllenhaal’s pad in Malibu, he still gives it his all, showing the sadness and sometimes, vulnerability to this character of Billy Hope. He’s conventionally written in that he’s an underdog who brought himself from nothing, to something, only to have to do it all over again, but Gyllenhaal takes it some steps further, by showing that this character really needs to box for his life.

Because without it, what is he?

Just another average Joe, working a 9-to-5, having to come home to a wife, two kids, dog, and white picket fence? Or, is he a guy that has to constantly wade through the thick, the thin and do what he can to provide love and support for those he cares for the most? The movie itself seems to lean more towards the latter, but Gyllenhaal, even despite the fact that he got himself all jacked-up and scary for this role, constantly makes you wonder where his mind is heading toward and thinking of the most.

And of course, Forest Whitaker’s great as Billy’s trainer, as well is Rachel McAdams as Billy’s wife, but the reason why I’ve high-lighted Gyllenhaal’s performance so much is because he’s clearly the heart and soul of this movie, and proves to be the best part of it when all is said and done. Sure, Southpaw is entertaining in that it features plenty of boxing, running, training, cursing, and rap music, but at the same time, it’s a little too hard to take seriously at times, even if it so desperately pleads and begs you to do otherwise.

Imagine how he looked in Nightcrawler, but with a whole lot more muscles.

Imagine how he looked in Nightcrawler, but with a whole lot more muscles.

You can, once again, chalk that up to the fact that Kurt Sutter is here writing this thing, but you can also add on the fact that Antoine Fuqua directed this and even though he’s had some good movies in his past, he’s no master of subtlety, that’s for sure. Every time it seems like Billy’s going to lose his shit and break something in his way, have no fear, because he will. Heck, every time that you think Whitaker’s character is going to have something inspirational to say to give Billy more hope, don’t worry, because he definitely does. It’s not much of a problem because Whitaker and Gyllenhaal are both pros at what they do and share incredible chemistry with one another, but after awhile, it’s get to be a bit disappointing when you know that they’re working with mediocre material.

Granted, you should always take a movie for what it is, and not what it could have been, but in this case, I’m making the exception. Whereas, on paper, with the premise and cast involved, Southpaw could have been a huge, hot and heavy Oscar-contender (like it was originally planned to be), with the likes of Sutter and Fuqua combined, their brand of unsubtle melodrama takes over everything and has it play out a bit more soap-opera-y. It’s what we’ve got, so I shouldn’t complain too much, but man, imagine what it could have been with some other people involved. Like, I don’t know, say, Marty Scorsese?

Yep, that sounds like a perfect idea. Somebody call him up next time.

Consensus: With Gyllenhaal in the lead role, Southpaw turns out to be a lot better, but can get so over-the-top and silly at times, that it takes away any sort of momentum that it can sometimes build for itself.

7 / 10

Good thing Rach wasn't around.

Good thing Rach wasn’t around, cause she’d definitely want to butt in…..

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Escobar: Paradise Lost (2015)

I thought Vinny Chase already did this movie?

Colombian cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar (Benicio Del Toro) was known for committing many terrible acts in his life and sometimes, those who were closest to him were the ones who were on the receiving end of these said acts. One person who is about to find this out, up close and personal, is Canadian surfer bro Nick Brady (Josh Hutcherson). After he and his brother (Brady Corbet) are hassled endlessly by locals for using their land as a place to rest, Nick starts to date Escobar’s niece, who then invites him to meet her infamous uncle. Though Nick doesn’t know what to make of this larger-than-life figure that is Pablo Escobar, the two end up striking something of a friendship; with Escobar even going so far as to call Nick “a son of his”. While Nick is happy to receive this sort of treatment from Escobar, he knows that his true home is Canada and he wants to go back to it, however, little does he knows that when you’re with Pablo Escobar, you can never leave. And even if you do try to, good luck, because he will find you, hunt you down, and make sure you lose all those who are close to you.

He's just kindly saying, "Hello." No need to fret.

He’s just kindly saying, “Hello.” No need to fret.

While a lot of Paradise Lost has been advertised with Del Toro’s name and face pushed to the center, it’s actually the opposite when you look at the final product of the movie itself. Sure, Del Toro is in this movie plenty of times, getting his moments to shine and menace as the role he’s always been born to play, Pablo Escobar, however, it’s clearly Josh Hutcherson’s movie. That’s not to say that Hutcherson acts out Del Toro, but that is to say that Hutcherson’s character is clearly the main protagonist here that we spend an awful bunch of time with, getting to know, understand, and see as he gets himself out of whatever terrible situation he’s thrown into.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Hutcherson himself is actually very good in the lead role as the fictionalized Nick Brady; while I’ve been fine with his performances in the past, from here on out, I remain forever confidante that he can hold his own. Because the Hunger Games franchise is coming to an end, it’s time for Hutcherson to grow into his own as not only an actor, but as a man who is capable of handling adult-like roles. Here, as Nick Brady, he gets many opportunities to do so and it works quite well, especially considering the fact that a lot of what this Brady character goes through, can seem somewhat repetitive and boring.

While he does start off as something of a squeaky clean, overall good guy, Brady’s eventually taken down several dark paths that mostly question his sense of humanity. The actions that he’s called onto commit, are not only heinous, but quite surprising, and it’s interesting to see how this character handles each and everyone that’s thrown at him; while he doesn’t want to necessarily deny these choices he has to make, Brady is still wondering just how he can get by these decisions, and still keep a sense of dignity within himself. Slowly but surely, though, Brady starts to change in front of our own very eyes, and it’s very intriguing to watch coming from Hutcherson – someone who is so used to being seen as “a kid”, is now able to fully grow-up as a desperate, tough and unpredictable person.

And yes, Del Toro is good, too. But once again, it’s Hutcherson’s movie, and it all works, even if may piss-off those who were looking to see a movie where Pablo Escobar commits all sorts of dastardly actions.

Looks like Peeta finally escaped and has been hanging out with Johnny Utah.

Looks like Peeta finally escaped and has been hanging out with Johnny Utah.

Although we do get to see some of these actions, or better yet, the after-effects of them, writer/director Andrea di Stefano is more concerned with the plot itself and it shows. Not only does di Stefano know how to create tension, but he knows how to settle it all in a way that’s effective, as well as smart; it is, at one point, a social tale about all that Escobar did to Colombia and those who worked with him, but it’s also a compelling thriller. It goes down certain alleys you don’t see coming, but they also don’t feel cheap, either – they just add more danger to this tale than ever before and it allows the stakes to continue to rise, even if you know how it all ends for Escobar himself.

But then, at the end of the movie, there’s an odd feeling of wondering: What was the point of all that? Sure, we got to see how one character got so sucked into Escobar’s personality, that he was also the one who had to break away from it as soon as he realized he was in harm’s way, but other than that, is there anything else?

Hate to say it, but not really.

Maybe that’s exactly what di Stefano wanted to deliver on – a thriller of sorts – but it also feels like a missed opportunity to go deeper. Heck, having Del Toro around to play Pablo Escobar is already enough promise as is, so why not try to capitalize on it a bit more? The angle of focusing on Nick Brady was interesting, yes, but it also makes it feel very simple and easy, especially given the fact that this movie could have focused on so many more elements at play in this real life story.

Then again, the movie does cover a whole lot more ground that Entourage ever did in their third season, so I guess there is something to be said for that. And maybe, it’s just a case of me complaining about nothing just for the sake of doing so, but when your movie turns into a Colombian-version of Behind Enemy Lines, there’s a part of me that feels like maybe a few other angles could have been taken. Even if, you know, the angle they took worked as it was.

Consensus: Even if Del Toro isn’t around as much as Pablo Escobar, Paradise Lost is still a solid-enough thriller to be gripped by, especially due to the fact that Josh Hutcherson brings his A-game as well.

7.5 / 10

Can never trust a dude who rocks a 'stache that awesomely.

Can never trust a dude who rocks a ‘stache that awesomely.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz


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