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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

Be Kind Rewind (2008)

What’s a VHS?

In a downbeat area of New Jersey, there lies what seems to be one of the last ever mom-and-pop-run video-shops that actually still sells VHS tapes. The place is called “Be Kind Rewind” and it’s run by the old and a bit out-of-touch Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). However, in order to see what’s wrong with his video-store and how he can fix all of its problems, he decides to take a bit of a vay-cay and do some thinking on his own. This leaves his most trusted, dedicated employee, Mike (Mos Def), the responsibility of watching over the whole shop and making sure nothing bad at all happens. Somehow though, it totally does, because once the buffoon of the neighborhood, Jerry (Jack Black), gets electrocuted and comes into the shop, he wipes all of the tapes clean with nothing but static on them. Scared to have his boss find this out and be ultimately disappointed in him, Mike decides to pick up a camera, get Jerry and start filming their own versions of these movies. It’s called “Sweded”, and somehow, the town catches on and, in a way, like these versions a lot more than the actual movies themselves. This gets the store all sorts of attention – both wanted and unwanted.

So yeah, while that premise may sound strange and all, just let me tell you that this is a film written and directed by Michel Gondry; somebody who is definitely one for not always being the most “normal” film-maker out there. However, that’s the reason why this movie actually works – Gondry has a vision that may alienate some, but to others, there’s a certain joy in seeing what he sees through those artistic eyes of his. And while I couldn’t necessarily call something like this “artistic”, there’s still something joyous about it that makes it all worth watching.

"So you want me to get rid of all the Woody Allen pictures?"

“So you want me to get rid of all the Woody Allen pictures we have in store?”

Gondry’s weird-isms aside and all.

Although, I do have to say that for the first half-hour of this movie, nothing seemed to be happening at all. I get that there was supposed to be some sort of reason behind why these tapes were all erased and therefore, drive these guys to actually have to make these Swedes, but it seemed way too slow and messy. Almost as if Gondry himself was searching everywhere he could for anything that resembled a plot and didn’t know where to start, or end; he was just searching and searching, while annoying us at the same time.

But eventually, once the plot gets going and the Swede-ing starts happening, then the movie gets to be a bunch of fun. Which is mostly due to the fact that I think Gondry shows exactly what it’s like to have the creative adrenaline run through your body; the same kind of adrenaline that makes you want to get up from what you are doing and just have the world see what it is that you see, or are able to create. A part of me likes to think that Gondry uses this angle, only to express his own knack for creating low-budget remakes of popular films, but another part of me likes to think that whatever the case may be, it doesn’t matter. He’s clearly happy making these small, really cheesy remakes, and as a result, I was too.

And basically, that’s the whole gist of this movie. For a good portion of it, at least, the movie is all about what it’s like to have the need to make a movie right from where you are, with whatever you’ve got. It doesn’t matter if you have a budget, a whole lot of talent, or even all of the right equipment to get going from the ground-up. All you need is some inspiration and that drive to make you keep on shooting whatever it is that you want to shoot. If it’s a video of you just ranting about whatever it is that’s on your mind in that point in time – then go for it! If it’s a video of some Charlie kid biting somebody – then sure, totally go for it!

Whatever the idea in your head may be, it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that you’re able to get up off your rump and film something! That’s what movies are all about in the first place, and while this movie may not be the most perfect piece of cinema to exemplify that fact, it’s still a noble effort from someone who clearly knows a thing or two about what it is that he’s talking about/filming.

How I imagine he acts every time he steps out of the shower.

How I imagine he looks every time he steps out of the shower.

As for the rest of the movie, it’s all pretty fine, especially in the casting-department. Though Jack Black’s shtick is the same here, as it’s been in, I don’t know, say, every single one of his damn movies, it’s still pretty entertaining and makes sense once this Jerry character gets a little bit too big for his britches and acts like he’s some big-time star of some sort. Sure, he has plenty of haters, but Black’s shtick, when used well, is entertaining and fun to watch. Same goes for Mos Def who, despite being on a short list of rappers-turned-actors, is one of the better ones because he’s able to go from role-to-role, without ever seeming like he’s trying too hard for one thing or another. He’s just being an actor, although there still has yet to be that one role that distinguishes him from the rest of the group.

Still though, I hold out hope. Not just for Def, but for the future of movies as a whole. Because even though certain people don’t believe the movie-business will be the same twenty-thirty years from now, there’s still hope out there that people will feel the need to want to express themselves in a fun, creative manner. Especially with a camera in their hand; something in front of them; and a chock full of ideas inside their noggins.

I still hold out hope, people. And you should too.

Consensus: While inherently messy, Be Kind Rewind still gets itself together in time for it to be a fun, creative, and rather passionate-look at what it takes for a person to create something, whether it be a film, a book, a song, or any piece of work that expresses themselves for being who they are.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Now they're all working at FYE. Damn, DVD's.

Now they’re all working at FYE. Damn, DVD’s.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

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Zero Effect (1998)

We all knew there was more to Bill Pullman than just delivering kick-ass speeches.

Bill Pullman is Daryl Zero, the self-titled world’s greatest detective and Ben Stiller is his reluctant assistant. Together, they begin to investigate a blackmail case that turns out to be much more than they had originally expected. So much so that Daryl Zero himself, realizes he may be a bit too over his head for the first time in his life and may have to cool his jets before he makes this the last case he ever does.

Son of famed writer/director Lawrence Kasdan, Jake Kasdan finally got the chance to make a name for himself with a little flick he did back in ’98 that I can’t believe I found anywhere. I hear about it from time-to-time and I even saw it at a yard sale not too long ago, but other than that, nothing else for this little-known flick has ever popped-up.

Thankfully, On Demand always has me covered so that I can discover little gems such as these.

What I liked most about what Kasdan does with this flick here is how he starts it off in a goofy, off-kilter type of way but then soon changes up the whole pace to where it’s actually more about the mystery case than you would think. The opening credits and first 15 minutes may have you think in you’re in-store for a type of nutty, Coen Brothers-like dark comedy/thriller, but somehow that changes up about half-way through; without feeling too sudden or random. It’s just right, because these characters are given such time and care through Kasdan’s direction.

RIP payphones

RIP payphones.

I think that’s where most of the kudos to this script has to go to is with Kasdan’s handle of these characters and their stories. As soon as we meet these two guys, they seem like your typical bunch of dorks that we have to watch for the next two hours, just walking around and bumbling on and on about some case that has no suspense or surprises. However, that’s the difference between this film and those other flicks: This one actually has some surprises and characters we care about. The mystery did get me involved and kept me wondering what was going to happen next, but I also felt a bit worried for what was actually going to happen to these characters in the first place, since Kasdan made me care for them so much in the beginning. It’s remarkable how Kasdan was able to balance out the human side of this story, along with the mystery one so well to the point of where the transition doesn’t even seem noticeable. Really takes you by surprise even more when you realize that this is by the same cat who did raunchy-comedies like Bad Teacher and Orange County.

Where this film lost me a bit was by the end and how it seems like they really, really lost any sign of their funny-bone that seemed attached so well in the first couple acts. I will admit, I was going into this film expecting some laughs and even though I got that for a good amount of the picture, they seem to have taken a trip elsewhere once the middle act comes strolling right through. That bothered me because the off-kilter humor had a certain type of charm and energy to it that made this flick pop out a bit more and I could have only wished that Kasdan decided to stick with this side of the film just a bit more. You know, just so I was able to get entertained from all areas of the film.

But despite this, the film still works because of what I mentioned earlier: It’s characters and their development. And when I’m talking about “character development”, I’m mainly talking about Bill Pullman and what Kasdan gives him to play around with as Daryl Zero. What’s so fun to watch about Pullman in the first place is that the guy seems like he’s really having a fun time right from the start with this role as this goofy detective, and it only seems like it’s going to get better with him along the ride. This is exactly what happens, but not in the way that you would expect, nor in the way that I actually expected.

Ben Stiller: All the ladies love 'em.

Ben Stiller: All the ladies love ‘em.

Zero begins to find out more about himself through this one gal he becomes involved with and as corny as it may seem to some, to me, it seemed believable and deserved since this character was a mystery to me and I wanted to know more about him. Pullman’s great when it comes to displaying all of the goofy antics and ways of this guy, but when it comes down to getting underneath his skin and realizing what makes him tick the way he does, he’s even better and it makes you think more about Pullman’s acting chops. The guy has never been perfect, but he’s always been good and that’s definitely what’s on-display here.

The other character in this flick is played by Ben Stiller and as good as Stiller is with handling these types of yuppie-like roles, he sort of gets a bit annoying after a bit and you can’t help but be less interested in his story, compared to Zero’s. Now granted, this flick is mainly about Zero and his realization of himself through this one case, but Stiller’s character never really seems to get that chance to fully flesh-out and show us more about him. The guy wants to get out of the life that Zero has put him in, get married, have a family and eventually settle into retirement, but it’s a story I, for some odd reason, didn’t see myself caring about too much when all was said and done.

Because, when it comes right down to it, you can’t mess with Bill Pullman, people. That’s just a fact.

Consensus: It may not stay consistently funny throughout the whole duration of its two-hour time-limit, but Zero Effect at least keeps its story interesting, fun, fresh and surprising in ways that may take some for a bit of a different turn.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Eat your heart out, ladies. And possibly curious men.

Eat your heart out, ladies. And possibly curious men.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

This Is Not a Film (2012)

It actually isn’t.

Jafar Panahi is an Iranian film-maker who is quite known for his movies pushing the boundaries and challenging the way that country’s government is run. So much so that he eventually lands himself under some serious hot water, when he is placed under house-arrest. Even worse though, he is given a 20-year ban on making, writing, or even producing a movie. Also to add insult to injury, he can’t leave the country either. Basically Panahi is supposed to just sit around all day, watch movies, go on the computer, feed his pet lizard, stay with his family, and wait around as a possible rebuttal is being drawn-up. But Panahi isn’t going to wait any longer; not just because he feels like pissing off the government anymore than he already has, but because he has ideas, dammit! And you know what? He’s going to try and film them to the best that he can. That’s when he decides to give his good buddy, Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, a call to come over and help him film everything that he’s doing. Which, for the most part, consists of him talking about this idea for his next movie, his frustration with the situation he’s being thrown into, and the life he’s had, up until this point.

So yeah, this is a pretty tricky film in the sense that it’s a documentary, but not really; it’s about this guy’s life, but it’s also just about this one day in his life, as opposed to it being a biography of his life until this point. Any way that we’re supposed to know about Panahi’s childhood or his introduction into the filming-world is all up to us to find out for ourselves. Which yes, can be quite frustrating if you’re used to ordinary documentaries just telling you everything you need to know about its subject, but then again, this isn’t an ordinary documentary.

Still surprised I didn't see any FYC ad's going around town for that lizard. He practically steals the show.

Still surprised I didn’t see any FYC ad’s going around town for that lizard. He practically steals the show. Or whatever this is that they’re filming.

As if you haven’t been able to already tell so far.

But regardless of if we get any background info on Panahi or not in this movie, it doesn’t matter, because what it does so well is that it places us in a day in the life of this guy as he’s under this peculiar situation. And by “a day in the life”, I mean exactly that – we start the movie with this guy in his kitchen, eating some sort of bread, talking on the phone, and ending it all with him outside as the night crowd rages on. We start the film seeing him, and end it, seeing what he sees it. And that’s pretty much how the whole film rolls for the most part.

May sound like a drag to some, and for a good portion of it, it totally is, but there’s still something quite invigorating about spending a whole day with someone you just literally met, and seeing everything that they are seeing. Which is to say that there’s not much camera-trickery to be found here; we get a couple of glimpses into a flick of his past and even his iPhone’s video-camera, but other than that, everything we see is solely from the view-point of Panahi and whatever it is that his camera films. It can either be him mapping-out set-designs for his next “possible” movie, or him just sitting on the computer, browsing as his lizard crawls up on him and scratches him with its sharp nails.

Sounds monotonous and somewhat boring, but I think that may be the point. And because that’s the point, it’s not boring to watch. We get a sense early on that this is a man who is genuinely upset about the position that he is thrown into and rather than pissing, moaning and ranting on and on for days about it, he thinks of ways that he could get any sort of creativity out of his system that may at all be possible. Sure, it sucks for him to be stuck inside his house all day during one of the craziest days of the year, while his family is all out and about, but he makes the best of it and there’s something nice and rather endearing in seeing that.

However, that isn’t to say it’s just Panahi the whole damn time; right around the middle of the flick, we get a visitor in Mojtaba Mirtahmasb, who doesn’t do much talking, but at least takes the camera for awhile and just films Panahi as he does whatever he wants (except go outside or make movies, that is). Because of him, this movie is possible and it makes us see the troubled, upset man that Panahi is. Yet again though, that isn’t to say he’s constantly whining about where he’s at and why he’s there; he understands why he’s being punished, by whom and is just trying to make it through it all. For that, it’s a bit of an inspirational tale, though it’s not hokey.

As I imagine Lars von Trier literally plans most of his movies out.

As I imagine Lars von Trier literally maps his movies out.

Once again, it’s just this guy’s life; more specifically, a day in his life. Not much happens, then again, not much needs to happen. Just seeing him let loose with all of the smart, creative ideas he has in his head and watching as he lets that spill out onto the floor around him, is really something of a sight; something I imagine almost each and every film-maker does with an inspired idea of theirs. Of course there are some brief detours (one in particular, a lady who knocks on his door trying to have him take her dog for her), but nothing to the point of where we lose our focus: Jafar Panahi. But then again though, there isn’t really much of a focus to begin with. We’re just watching him, his day, and occasionally hearing what he has to say, or seeing what he has to do.

As I said before too, some may find that utterly the most boring thing on the face of the planet, and I can’t necessarily disagree with that. Parts of it seem stale and uneventful, but that’s just how life is. Most importantly, that’s just how life is for this man, Jafar Panahi. He’s a creative-mind that wants to be able to use his talents, but can’t and because of that, he’s suffering and finding anyway he can possibly let all of his creativity out. Even if it does get him in some trouble.

And I don’t know about you, but that’s quite admirable.

Consensus: Though not an ordinary, conventional documentary by any means, This Is Not a Film still is unique in the way that it presents this man’s life, not through background info that reads like a WikiPedia page, but through this one day in his life where he has nowhere else to be except for his house, with his camera and with his creative-mind.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Sort of like the Blair Witch Project, except 21st century technology. And more accessible portable-devices.

Sort of like that scene from the Blair Witch Project, except 21st century technology. And more accessible portable-devices.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Cold Weather (2011)

Detectives are so mainstream, man.

A forensics-science major named Doug (Chris Lankenau) returns to his hometown of Portland and shares an apartment with his sister Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn). Doug doesn’t really have much ambition with his life, so he takes what he can get, even if that is getting a job at a local ice factory, where he meets a dude named Carlos (Raúl Castillo). Together, they form a nice friendship that kind of hits a rough-patch when Carlos starts trying to aim his sights on Doug’s ex, Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), but not as much of a rough-patch as when the gal goes missing. In search of Rachel and a sense of life itself, the three all go running around like crazy, as if they were younger, smaller-budget versions of Sherlock Holmes themselves, which makes it even more ironic since they read him on a regular-basis.

The whole idea behind this flick is obvious, but also smart in a way as well. It’s a mumblecore movie, which means we get a whole bunch of scenes featuring young, twentysomethings just sitting around, drinking and/or smoking, talking about how much life blows, how much their parents blow, and when they aren’t doing that, they’re mostly just staring into space, contemplating what to do next with their lives. Most mumblecore movies seem to be like that, which gets it down for us on a real level, one that we can connect with a lot easier than most of these big-budget, shallow, mainstream flicks. However, this mumblecore is slightly different from the rest because not only does it play with the conventions of the same genre it’s to be considered apart of, but actually ends up being a mystery-thriller. But hold up, because the joke isn’t quite done yet. Rather than it being a movie about an actual mystery, with actual reasons for a bunch of thrilling moments, the movie features zip of that aspect.

"Wow. This pipe has given me the most excitement I've had ever since I turned 22."

“Wow. This pipe has given me the most excitement I’ve had ever since I turned 22.”

That’s right, the whole 96-minutes of this flick is basically about nothing. However, that’s the whole point of this flick: Nothing. Right when we meet these characters, we realize that most of them live empty, boring lives where the most excitement they have is either playing poker with two or three friends, getting drunk, or going to Star Trek conventions that feature some of the lamest characters of the whole franchise. It does take place in Portland, so it should come as a surprise to almost no one that these people are so bored and tired with their lives, which makes it all the more reason for them to get all hyped-up over the possibility of a crime that needs to be solved. I almost feel guilty calling it “a crime”, because once we actually find out what’s happening behind this mystery and all, it comes off as a bit of a disappointment by how uneventful and smart it actually is.

Then again though, that’s sort of the point of this movie.

Writer/director Aaron Katz seems to have a good grasp on what makes any movie, no matter how big or small, interesting. Yes, there are plenty of scenes where these characters are seemingly doing nothing, talking about nothing, and planning on doing nothing the next day and so on and so forth, but it feels honest and realistic. Also, Katz never shines a bad light on these characters either. So what if they’re uninspired and constantly dry? They’re actual people, you know? They have feelings, want to do human things, and also want to have fun every once and awhile as well. Showing these characters in that type of light is what saves this flick from being uninteresting and also gets it out of the genre of mumblecore, since most flicks associated with that genre either give every one who watches it a bad vibe right after.

However, that could just be me.

All of that can especially be said for our main protagonist, Doug, played very well by Chris Lankenau. I’ve never seen Lankenau in anything ever before in my life and I don’t think I will again anytime soon, however, the guy does well with a character that could have easily been a totally unlikable person from the start. Doug seems like he has all of the promise in the world to make something of his life, but is a bit of a loser in the way he just sits around, mopes all day, and gets lame-ass jobs that don’t pay much or give him much to do anyway. Then again though, that’s life so you got to take what you can get. But there’s a nice naturalism to Lankenau that made me feel like I was watching a dude practically play himself, without any strings attached. I don’t want to say he has much charisma going for himself to carry this movie, but he does have enough moments where you wonder if he ever acted before-hand, or just tried something out as a hobby. Wouldn’t be surprised by either decision of his.

Life is catching up with you, indie-boy. Better start running for the suburbs!

Life is catching up with you, indie-boy. Better start running for the suburbs!

The same type of naturalism that Lankenau has going for himself can be said about the two other actors in this movie, Trieste Kelly Dunn and Raúl Castillo. Dunn is great as Doug’s sister because there’s something about her that makes you not want to like her, but you still do because she’s just as bored with life as Doug is, she just has more to show of it. The scenes with them together are great and probably connected with me a bit more than the usual, average person because of the relationship my own sissy and I have. Sometimes we get pissed at one another and can’t believe how ridiculous the other one’s being, but we love each other, are always there to talk to, and like to have a good time with as well. That touched me, not just because of my own relationship with my sister, but because the writing between them two are the best moments, and Dunn and Lankenau feel like an actual brother-sister combo.

Castillo is also very good as the buddy that Doug makes at work, and actually has you believe that these two random people would spark-up a friendship, despite it occurring practically overnight. Castillo has a certain sense of naturalism and likability to his act and character that makes him seem like the only dude from this movie that could break out and make something of his career, just as long as he continues to get more juicy roles. Fingers crossed on that one. The one person of this cast that I didn’t mention is not mentioned for a reason and that’s Robyn Rikoon as the gal who goes missing. Despite having a name that sounds like she was a long, lost member of the Loony Tunes, Rikoon’s able to be taken seriously for a good chunk of the movie, until shit gets a bit serious and her acting goes a bit overboard. I don’t want to say how or why, but just to let you know that out of everybody else in this cast, she’s the only one seems to actually be “acting”, which is a problem for a movie that’s trying to be so real, and came close to pulling it off so well.

Consensus: Most will wonder why Cold Weather is so aimless and pondering with its premise, but soon will actually begin to realize that’s the point once the tension, the mystery, and the actual story begins to kick in.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Yup, I'm bored already."

“Yup, I’m bored already.”

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

They Came Together (2014)

So if I don’t profess my love to a girl in the pouring rain, she won’t fall in love with me? Damn rom-coms!

Joel (Paul Rudd) and Molly (Amy Poehler) are practically perfect for one another. They’re both two kind, gentle and easy-going people who just got out of relationships and need somewhere to start fresh and anew. That’s why it’s so weird that when they finally meet up, there’s so much distaste between them both. It’s strange really, and nobody knows how or why it is the way it is, but that’s just the fact. However, late one night, when Joel has some time to think to himself and even talk to his “baby brother” (Max Greenfield), he realizes that it’s time to nut up, or shut up. So, he asks Molly out on a date and they both realize they’re perfect for one another in every which way. They compliment each other; they have wonderful sex; and Joel is even something of a father-figure to Molly’s son. However, there is problem in that Joel works at a Candy Research Factory that preys on knocking out all of the smaller, mom-and-pop chain candy stores; one in particular they are looking at is one owned by Molly herself and it just may possibly ruin their relationship forever.

If you just read that synopsis up above and felt like everything I just said was quite familiar, that’s because, it is! Or, better yet, it’s supposed to be!

See, They Came Together, is exactly like every romantic-comedy ever made; it has all of the troupes, the formula, and heck, even has the same characters that you’d find in any rom-com, had you just been scrolling through the channels or on your Netflix queue. And as a whole, the rom-com genre sort of deserves this much of a thrashing; it’s a genre that hardly ever seems to learn from its mistakes, and instead, just continues to force-feed us the same bullshit stories and resolutions that happen in only said types of movies. Not at all in real life, and anybody who believes otherwise, don’t deserve to be reasoned with.

Aw!

Aw!

Anyway, that’s why watching something as obvious and goofy as They Came Together is something refreshing, regardless of how much it actually does, or doesn’t work. Sure, it’s definitely funny in spots, but there’s something to a movie that understands it’s a joke and doesn’t really try to make itself anything else. Some may complain that this movie doesn’t have much substance, nor even a real, actual story-line to follow along and get involved with, but I don’t think it needs one to be considered a fine movie. If you just want spend a near-hour-and-a-half watching as somebody riffs on the rom-com genre, then this is more than fine for you.

Better yet, if you’re already a fan of the type of humor David Wain brings to any project of his, then it’s even more of a treat for you. Because, for one, he doesn’t hold back on really letting this movie expose the same old and tired troupes we’ve all seen practically done to death. Maybe he’s a bit too obvious about what it is that he’s trying to say or get across, but I didn’t mind that because most of the time, he had me howling like a wildebeest that couldn’t get a firm grip on his own self-control.

That said, if you’ve seen any David Wain production ever, you’ll know that, for one thing, he doesn’t really take himself away from getting really weird. And here, there are many occasions where Wain lets his weirdness really take over and even confuse the hell out of the viewer who may be watching it.

For instance, there’s a scene in which somebody is sad and lonely, sitting at the bar after they’ve just had a pretty shitty night (after a bad date, presumably), and, as expected, the bartender asks the person who’s drinking, “Bad night”, in which the character drinking responds, “Tell me about it”. And I swear to you, for the next five-to-seven minutes, this whole scene is played-on repeat, almost giving you the impression that something is wrong with the actual movie you’re watching. Sounds a whole lot like the kind of stunt that Andy Kaufman would pull, and for some odd reason, it works here. It’s just that strange and random, that it actually works.

Need another example of weirdness taking over Wain’s flick? Well, try the idea of incest between a grandmother and her grandson, that, surprisingly, gets even weirder than you could originally imagine.

AW!

AW!

So yeah, if that tells you something about this movie, it’s that it’s constantly up to no good, making fun of rom-coms, and even itself at points. And although it is a relatively short movie, I did find it running a bit out of steam by the end. Then again though, that’s the case with most parody-movies; there’s only so much surprises they can throw at us for the first two-halves that once things have to settle down, get resolved and eventually end, you can feel it and in a way, you sort of want it as well. That’s not to say the last-half of this movie isn’t funny, it just feels long-winded, even if, like I said before, it’s only an-hour-and-20-minutes (which is like three episodes of Breaking Bad, kind of, sort of, maybe).

And of course no parody movie would work if its cast weren’t up to the task of absolutely just letting loose and looking like total goobers and I think Wain’s assembled a great one here. It’s nice to see Paul Rudd and Amy Poehler work together again (especially after something as classic as this), because their chemistry together is pretty great. Although it’s a bit hard to tell because you can never take them seriously for a single second, it helps that they at least feel comfortable enough with one another to just be all sorts of crazy and weird, just exactly like they know how to. Now, that’s not to say that I kind of wished this was a straight-forward rom-com, both starring Poehler and Rudd in the lead roles, with Wain writing and directing, but for something as funny as this, I guess I’ll just shut up and take what I can get.

Consensus: Those who want a somewhat serious, standard rom-com will be utterly shocked and displeased to find out that They Came Together is neither, and instead, a crazy, funny, wacky, and sometimes incredibly weird, parody that doesn’t always work, but at least tells enough truth in what it’s making fun of.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Huh?

Uhm….huh?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBAceShowbiz

The Signal (2014)

Don’t ever trust hackers. Not that you ever could anyway, but just saying.

Three MIT students, Nic (Brenton Thwaites), Jonah (Beau Knapp), and Haley (Olivia Cooke) are on the road to Haley’s new place, where it’s presumed that her and Nic will eventually break-off, because a long-distance relationship just isn’t something that two 20-year-old’s can handle together. Anyway, on the road, Jonah and Nic discover that an anonymous hacker they’ve been talking to and playing around with wants to take them to a destination, where they’ll meet up for the first time ever. When the three do get to the destination, it just so happens to be a worn-down house in the middle of the desert that they go into and hear some weird stuff. Moments later, they are mysteriously knocked unconscious, and several moments later, wake up in a padded-up testing center where they are asked a series of strange questions by Damon (Laurence Fishburne), someone who seems like he knows a thing or two about what he’s talking about. However, Nic is tired of all this crap that he’s been force-fed and decides to take it upon himself to discover the truth about the place that he is at, and find out whether or not he can be reunited with his friends, once again.

I must say, while that may not sound like all that much of an intriguing premise, there’s something interesting about what this movie does with said premise that makes it worth watching. It’s strange, because for the first 20 or so minutes of this movie, it’s pretty much like any other indie coming-of-ager – there’s shots of young college kids in a packed-car driving down a highways, looking out from upon a mountain, discussing what the future holds for them, and trying to grasp adult-hood, while somewhere in the background M83 plays. It’s no surprise to me that this movie screened at Sundance, because honestly, it seems like the kind of movie that that sort of crowd would go bananas over.

I too, hate it when the milk man misses the front-door.

I too, hate it when the milk man misses the front-door.

Not me, however. And it wasn’t that I was bored, it was because the movie just moved too slow without anything interesting to be happening at all. Sure, the idea that this hacker wanted to meet up with them was something that kept me wondering, but the characters were boring, the soundtrack was so moody and saddening, that it made me want to chug a whole bottle of Merlot, and there was no Laurence Fishburne. Sounds dumb, I know, but when you expect Laurence Fishburne to show up in a movie, because you know he’s in it, it’s a bit hard to get past the fact that his lovable mug isn’t present within the first half-hour of whatever movie is in question.

Thankfully though, that all changed once the movie reveals to us that “twist”. I use parentheses, because the movie never makes it clear to us what’s going on with these three kids, or what these people in padded-up, astronaut-like suits are actually up to; the movie just plops us down into the middle of a situation that we have no clue about and are left to fend for ourselves. Whenever that happens to me in a movie, I’m always grateful, because it’s so easy for a movie/director to just force-feed us everything we’re supposed to know or understand, in order for our eyes to stay glued to the screen at all times. Not every movie has to be so obvious with what it wants us to know to add tension or a whole understanding of everything, but not many directors out there are fine with just playing it subtle.

But director William Eubank totally is and that’s what really kept me alive and awake during the second-half of this movie. It was still slow like the first-half, but this time, there was something actually charging it and keeping it alive and interesting. The story itself could have turned out to be 1,000 different things, and as ridiculous as most of them could have been, they still worked because it was a movie that didn’t show, nor tell us everything.

Instead, we come to our own conclusions about certain characters, their motivations, and just what the hell is going on behind the sealed-doors. Because we’re thrown into the mind of our lead protagonist, Nic, we never have a totally clear clue what those in charge are absolutely up to; all we do know is that they want to extract info and play some strange mind games with Nic himself. It’s supposed to make us pissed that they aren’t telling him anything at all and practically messing with his head every chance they get, and because we’re thrown into his head, his mind, it sort of works.

There was a certain part of me that wanted to see this Nic kid to find his friends, break out of this “prison”, and find any sort of peace or safety that’s at all possible, while also exposing these mofo’s for all that they are worth. In a way, I got a rebellious spirit in the pit of my stomach and though I didn’t want to see Nic go full-Pacino and start screaming “Attica!” from the top of his lungs, I still wanted him to get out of this strange situation alive, well, happy, and at least safe from these creepy, vague a-holes.

"Whadup? It's me, Laurence Fishburne. Just hanging out."

“Whadup? It’s me, Laurence Fishburne. Just hanging out.”

However, there’s a problem with all this because once the movie becomes all about Nic on the run from these mofo’s, it gets repetitive, albeit, conventional. Don’t get me wrong, the reason this is an original sci-fi movie, is because of how much it keeps us away from knowing the truth; everything else, from the gadgets, to the vernacular, and even to the post-apocalyptic-ish landscape is just feels like ground covered before. But it’s how the story tells itself is what works so well and makes it seem like something of its own beast. That’s why once the final-act comes into play, it seems like an ordinary-thriller that loses its way about two plot-twists right off the bat.

It was a bummer that it happened so late in the movie, but it was an even bigger bummer that the plot-twist that it ended on was so bizarre, it reminded of David Lynch. And no, not the good David Lynch either – the bad!!

That said, the cast is serviceable, if not entirely memorable. The three younglings who play these college-grads don’t have much to work with, and as a result, feel underdeveloped despite how hard they try. Though, the one who gets away with this problem is Laurence Fishburne, which more or less has to do with the fact that his character leaves so much to be desired, it’s intriguing to watch. Not to mention that Laurence Fishburne can read any line, humorous or not, and make it seem like he’s thinking of 30,000 different things at the same time. He’s just that good and watching him ask a kid if he’s agitated or not, was surely some fun. And lord knows there needed to be more added to this.

Consensus: While its an interesting premise that goes into some very strange places, perhaps the Signal‘s biggest problem is that it doesn’t know when to stop with these strange places, and just let the story tell itself in a regular way, without any added excitement or craziness.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Whaaaaaa?

Whaaaaaa?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

In the Valley of Elah (2007)

Surprise! Surprise! The war fucks up young people and their minds.

Hank (Tommy Lee Jones), a former military MP, finds out that his son has gone AWOL and that there might even be a possibility of him dead. Hank then decides to take it upon himself to drive down to the Army base, and figure out just what the hell has happened to his kid and all of the fellow soldiers that were with him. The problem is, nobody’s giving him straight answers. That’s when Hank asks the help of Emily Sanders (Charlize Theron), a New Mexico police detective, who finds it harder and harder to not only discover the truth, but be taken seriously among the rest of her fellow, more-masculine detectives.

Most movies that deal with the war, usually aren’t the pretty ones where everybody loves the war, hangs their flags, high-fives their fighting boys, and ends by chanting, “U.S.A!! U.S.A.!! U.S.A.!!”, altogether at once. Nope, Hollywood is a bit too liberal for that crap and instead, decides to usually stick it’s nosy head in, peek around a bit, and have a thing or two to say. And usually, it’s not a pat on the back, or a simple “thank you”.

Now, don’t get me wrong, nine times out of ten, you’ll usually find me talking shit against the war, some of the people that take part in it, and just what the hell is the reason behind all of it, but still, Hollywood never seems to have anything nice to say about it at all, and even when they do, it usually turns into over-patriotic shite like this.

Still, though, you have to give credit to movies like these that are able to tell us some obvious and well-known ideas about the war, but still make it feel honest and raw, rather than blatant and preachy. Some of it does feel like that, but not all of it, and that’s a sigh-of-relief, based on the fact that this movie is written and directed by the same dude who gave us this scene. Yeah, if you’re with me on this, Paul Haggis is the notorious writer/director behind Crash, everybody’s favorite-hated Best Picture winner of the past decade and tries to bring that same heavy-handedness to this story. Thankfully he doesn’t get too far because he always has a sense of human depth and emotion that keeps it surprisingly grounded in reality most of the time. Not all of the time, but most and that’s great to see in a flick where it could have easily been a train wreck of non-stop patriotism, from start-to-finish, but ends being something honest.

"Here, take it. It's called "The 100 Steps to Being One, Grumpy-Ass Motherfucker."

“Here, take it. It’s called “The 100 Steps to Being One, Grumpy-Ass Motherfucker.”

But what this flick is more concerned with, is its characters, and showing how they deal with their daily hardships they encounter day to day, and how they get through grief, sadness, and the war our country is currently fighting in. Seeing how most of these characters can relate and act with one anothe, is a beautiful thing to watch because it feels natural. Some scenes are coated in sugar, and some don’t go down quite as well as Haggis may have imagined in his head, but to see these characters realize more about their lives by just relating life-experiences and stories with one another, really touched me in a way that was hard to explain when it happened, and especially after too.

I was actually really surprised how the movie depicted not just the war in Iraq itself, but it’s soldiers and how much we can still trust them with our country and our lives, but may not think the same when they get back. The most prime example of this is the fact that Hank’s son isn’t really a nice guy, and in fact, turns out to be more of an asshole as we find more out about him, what he was up to, and how he caught himself going AWOL. This movie could have definitely gone down that wrong path of making him seem like everybody’s, true American hero that fights for The Red, The White, and The Blue, sings John Mellencamp all day, and does it all for our safety, so we may live, breath, sleep, eat, and die in peace, like we were meant to be. If this sound’s lengthy and over-exposed, then you get my point: This flick could have easily gone down that path, but decided to show him as a human, rather than a figure we all like to imagine each and every one of our soldiers as. They all have problems, they all get sad, and most of all, they are pretty fucked-up once they get off the battlefield, and back at the dinner table with ma and pa.

It’s sad, but it’s reality, baby.

However, the movie isn’t focusing on it’s characters, it’s themes, or it’s harsh-realities, it’s focusing on it’s police-procedural that feels more like a cheap-version of NCIS that I didn’t need to be bothered with seeing in the first place. Usually, I don’t mind when movies keep this element in because it entertains, excites, and keeps the mystery afloat, but after awhile, there was no mystery nor was there any case. It came pretty clear to me that the kid was not going to be okay, and that somebody did do something bad to him. No real gray area to be found whatsoever. And before people get on my ass, I’m not trying to give anything away, but you’ll start to see that the movie isn’t trying to reveal more details and clues about what happened, it’s just trying to show it’s characters. We already know, they don’t. And that’s what felt unnecessary and stupid to have, even if it was worth it for the first 45 minutes or so.

Thankfully, Tommy Lee Jones was the one to keep this whole movie going and always rose above the material, even when it seemed to sink, lower and lower as it went along. Jones surprised the hell out of everybody when he was nominated for an Oscar for his role as Hank, as it not only came out of nowhere, but little to no one even heard about this movie nor that Jones was even in it. Maybe I’m wrong, but I still rarely ever hear this movie mentioned, which is a shame, because Jones’ performance is a great one that could have only came from this man who may always be known to be cranky and quick-whipped, but can play it subtle like nobody’s business. Jones shows real heart and emotion with this character and as time goes on and we see more about his kid, we start to see more him layer-out, especially in ways that I didn’t think were possible from Jones and Haggis. Jones’ character began to bother me a bit when he started to show unbelievable ways in how much smarter he was than the police, but after awhile, I stopped caring and just enjoyed the show that Jones was giving me to see. Maybe “enjoy” isn’t the right word to describe this movie or this performance, but I think you get my drift.

Her only scene. Nah, jaykay. But seriously. She's like barely here.

Her only scene. Nah, jaykay. But seriously. She’s like barely here.

Charlize Theron doesn’t back down from Jones’ acting either though and actually makes her character more than just another run-of-the-mill, strong female that we need in a flick like this, to show that she can not only hang with the big boys but learn a little something in life as well. Yep, her character is pretty conventional with the whole single-mommy thing, but yet, still works because Theron is not only a strong actress, but one that is able to adapt to any environment she is placed in and that’s a skill that most actresses haven’t been able to master just yet.

Susan Sarandon also got top-billing in this movie, and is pretty solid (as usual) as Hank’s equally-grieving wife, but doesn’t get much screen-time to develop her character. Then again, it’s Susan Sarandon and the girl can act alongside a piece of wood, and make it work. She’s that damn good. Also, James Franco is randomly here trying to look tough, buff, and cool, but seems like he’s really trying to hold in the fact that he just wants to smoke and eat some munchies. It’s so painfully obvious.

Consensus: Paul Haggis isn’t known for being all that subtle when it comes to his themes and messages about life, liberty, and war, but In the Valley of Elah still benefits from a wonderful cast, especially Jones, and characters that give us a darker look at the boys in uniform who are over there, fighting for us, protecting us, and yet, are just as equally as messed-up as we are.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Sir, yes sir?

Sir, yes sir?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB

Borgman (2014)

Don’t let bearded-men into your home. Ever.

Camiel Borgman (Jan Bijvoet) is a man who, along with his two associates, live out in the middle of the woods, alone, peaceful and presumably, up to something weird. That is until a priest and his fellow henchman come along one day and dig up their holes, leaving Camiel and his gang to run away; with the former getting separated from the rest. Camiel eventually runs into a wealthy suburb and targets a house where he acts as if he knows the wife of the house (Hadewych Minis), even if the husband (Jeroen Perceval) doesn’t believe it for a single second and kicks his ass out. However, there’s something strange going on between the wife and Borgman – she doesn’t know him at all, yet, she feels the need to help him and make sure that he has a place to stay and be safe. But in order for him to do so, he must clean-up his look and take over their job as gardener, even if it is already taken by somebody else. That doesn’t phase Camiel though because, along with his band of trustees, he’s able to take out the gardener and secure his position as the family’s new and improved gardener that’s doing some real business on the backyard, as well as the family itself.

So basically, the whole idea of this story is that our title character, Borgman, has a certain way, or aura if you will, about him that conjures up all of the weirdest, darkest and most sinister thoughts of those around him. It doesn’t matter if he’s around the most clean-cut, respectable, moral human beings on the face of the planet, whenever Borgman stands right next to them, all of a sudden, they’re thrown into a trance that they can’t control or explain. Instead, they just stay drawn to Borgman and never, ever want him to leave their sides. Doesn’t matter if he’s dangerous for their own well-being or not, there’s just something about him that tempts people to do and say things they wouldn’t normally do or say in their own, normal states of minds.

Missed a spot, bud. Like, I don't know, say your whole head!

Missed a spot, bud. Like, I don’t know, say your whole head!

Like as if he’s like the Devil himself, except in a human-like form, you know?

Well, that’s exactly the idea that I think writer/director Alex Van Warmerdam is going for, because, on numerous occasions, Borgman himself makes reference to God, several biblical stories and, a weird tale about “the White Child”. In all honesty, I’m not going to sit here and pretend like I understood everything that this movie was serving to me, however, I will tell you that there’s something strange about this movie that just kept me watching. Sort of like it’s titled-character, I know, but there’s something interesting about watching an upper-class, normal family of five just get possess because of one man.

And to be honest, it sort of happens for no reason; in fact, there’s some hilarity to that whole situation in that this one man can take down a whole family, without anybody really objecting to any of it or even taking notice. They too are stuck under the spell of Borgman and while that may sound too goofy and aloof to actually work, for some reason, Van Warmerdam’s takes his material just seriously enough that it does work. In a terribly freaky, unsettling way, of course, but also in the kind of way that makes it seem like this is the type of movie that’s skewering the general perception one has about the perfect, settled and common family.

Which is to say that there’s some delight to be had in watching a character constantly screw it up, time and time again, while doing all sorts of strange things every so often as well. Not saying that any of these characters in this family deserve to have their lives messed-up (okay, maybe except for one), but it’s just interesting, and sort of funny as well. However, that’s exactly the kind of emotions/feelings Van Warmerdam seems to embrace, which is why his story can go through as many strange hoops as it wants, it’s hard to lose its audience.

Yet, no matter how many times this movie took pride in “being vague” and trying to confuse the hell out of us, it still somehow works. Like I said, it’s all about seeing somebody screw a family up, without any of them ever noticing, but it’s also the idea in which a movie that plays by its own rules, never settles for anything else but its own self, as well as its own personality.

That said, most of the time, it doesn’t work and that’s because a lot of it seems to be going to a point in which we already expect from the second Borgman walks into that house and practically takes over the whole family’s mind. It’s almost as if we, the audience, get exactly where this movie’s going to go and wants to go, and it takes quite some time to get to there. The movie throws enough hoops here and there to screw us over along the way, but it felt like the movie was just spinning its wheels for the sake of doing so, even if it was totally clear where it was trying to go with itself.

Did that make any sense? I don’t know. But either way, what I’m trying to say is that at an-hour-and-45-minutes, the movie feels a tad too much longer than it wholly needs to be. Maybe a quick, lean and mean hour-and-a-half would have done more justice?

Must be that new performance art all the cool kids are talking about or something.

Must be that new performance art all the cool kids are talking about or something.

I don’t know. Most likely, it’s just me.

But thankfully, Jan Bijvoet is so darn good in this role that it’s easy to get lost in just about everything he does, even if it isn’t totally clear what that is, or why. We know for certain that he’s not up to any good, but we also know that he may have a bit of a conscience, if only slightly. The only times we see that conscience shine any bit whatsoever is whenever he and Hadewych Minis are together on screen; who is also another performer here that does very, very well with what she’s given. What Minis does well as Marina, is that she gives us the impression that even though she’s sad, repressed and feeling a bit trapped, she would never leave her husband, her kids, or her lavish luxury behind. She’s happy being the mommy, the wife, as well as the artist, even if theyt do come with their hardships at times.

However, once Borgman walks into her life, things go haywire for this lady really quick and its fascinating to watch. She doesn’t do a total 180 and just fall right into Borgman’s arms – much rather, she throws him small, playful hints that she wants him, the excitement and the possibility of leaving this life behind. Slowly but surely, we start to see her change her personality and begin to, somewhat, lose her mind. It’s interesting to watch this character dissolve into somebody totally, unmistakably different than who she originally was before, but it’s also a tad disturbing because you know that it’s not going to end well for her, no matter which way you put it.

All I can is don’t ever get yourself mixed up with the Devil. Or, in this case, Borgman. But what’s the difference, really?

Consensus: Though Borgman is a strange beast of its own kind, it’s nevertheless an interesting, albeit disturbing watch of what happens when one good person flirts around with the idea of evil, and how it seemingly effects all those around them.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Hey, who hasn't been awoken in the middle of the night because of a bad dream and needed to sleep in the same bed as mommy and daddy when they were 40?

Hey, who hasn’t been awoken in the middle of the night because of a bad dream and needed to sleep in the same bed as mommy and daddy when they were 40?!?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Fair Game (2010)

Does anybody in the CIA ever smile? Better yet, do anything pleasant whatsoever?

Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) live a relatively comfy-life together in Washington with their two kids. She works for the CIA and is currently in the middle of an important mission that would allow for her to receive info on possible terrorists’, whereas he’s a former United States diplomat who takes pride in making sure that he gets his point across in any way possible, regardless of how unpopular it may be amongst the post-9/11 society. But their lives change in a drastic way when Plame allows for her husband to get sent on a mission to Niger, where he would inspect certain yellowcake uranium to see if it was being made for the construction of nuclear weapons. Wilson does not think so and lets his voice be known, however, his strong-willed opinion is practically ignored when the President of the United States himself decides to go after Africa anyway. This drives Wilson into a bout of late-night madness where he writes an op-ed for the New York Times, uncovering what it is that he saw and he believed. The White House catches wind of this and to say the least, they are not happy. Therefore, they decide to take matters into their own hands and drop their almighty power and weight on Wilson, as well as Plame, even going so far as to uncover her as an “CIA Agent”. That’s something that should never be unveiled to the public, but when you’re the United States government, you can practically do whatever you damn well please.

Though most of those may think otherwise, I do keep up modern-day politics and all sorts of happenings. But even for me, I had no clue of this story about Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, and I can bet you donuts to dollars that not many others do either. Which is definitely an element you have to take into consideration while making a movie about it, whether it be a documentary or full-on narrative-flick: It must be as interesting and feel just as important as the film-makers behind the camera think so.

She blends in real nice.

She blends in real nice.

Here, director Doug Liman clearly feels a passion and an anger with this injustice done to Plame and Wilson, and because he feels it’s important, that feelings brought out onto us. However, it isn’t done so in a needy, obvious way that has Liman practically grabbing you by the head and saying, “Pay attention to how important this is!” Many movies of the same nature can and will do that, but thankfully, Liman doesn’t fall for that trick and instead, allows us to follow through the story in the easiest way possible that not only makes it understandable to any regular citizen, but also to anybody who has heard a bit about this story, but didn’t know all the nitty, gritty details of it.

And in making sure we follow along with the story and actually give a hoot about it, Liman focuses most of his attention on the core of this story: Plame and Wilson themselves.

See, it’s easy for a movie like this to get all sorts out-of-whack when there’s as much CIA-talk/espionage/back-stabbing/bullshit that goes on here, and while that does distract from the main reason why this movie’s worth seeing in the first place, it’s not terribly distracting. We still get an idea and feel for who these two people were before all of this havoc came into their lives, and just exactly why it did in the first place.

It would have been real easy for us to hold plenty of judgement against Joe Wilson for speaking his mind and landing his whole family in hot water, when he was assuredly guided to do otherwise, but the movie makes it seem like he needed to. Joe Wilson was the type of man who didn’t want to stand by all of these wrong-doings occurring around him and he sure as hell wasn’t going to stand by while it happened to him and those that he loved. It should be noted that Sean Penn is great as Joe Wilson, although there is one key problem with this casting and that’s because Joe Wilson himself does seem a lot like Sean Penn, the guy in real life. Especially towards the end, when Liman decides to hell with subtlety and starts really preaching to the choir, and gives us many scenes where it’s just Penn ranting, yelling and raving about how we all, as a society, should stand up for what we believe in and not get knocked down by the power of the metaphorical “man”.

"So I said to her, "FuckyoufuckingbitchI'llkillyou." Funny, right?"

“So I said to her, “FuckyoufuckingbitchI’llkillyou.” Funny, right?”

There’s nothing wrong with these scenes or what it is that they are trying to get across, per se, it’s just hard to separate a character Sean Penn is playing, from the person Sean Penn is in real life. Heck, there’s also another scene in which Wilson himself comes pretty close to beating the shit out of a reporter/paparazzi! Art imitating life? Maybe, maybe not. But what I do know is that Sean Penn was a wonderful choice for the part of Joe Wilson, for better or worse.

That’s not to say Naomi Watts is chopped-liver as Valerie Plame either, it’s just that she gives the type of performance we expect to see from Naomi Watts: Strong-willed and emotional, yet, still keeps a lid of silence on all of it. Watts is always great and it’s no surprise that she and Penn have a very comfortable, relaxed chemistry together, considering that they starred together in two movies before this. Together, they build a couple that has an understanding between what’s expected of a married-couple with kids, as well as what is expected to ensure the safety of them and their said kids. They’re the quintessential couple, except that this time, they’re practically facing off against the whole United States government. And while Liman realizes that this is a challenge for them (hard to believe, I know), he still realizes that when everything in life seems to be working against you, the ones you can always fall back on are your loved ones.

Even if they just so happen to be Sean Penn.

Consensus: Fair Game clogs itself up a bit way too much with unneeded subplots, but the arch of the story, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, is done well and effectively, to where we stand behind them with every decision they make, regardless of how risky it may or may not be.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

 

"Honey, can you do me a favor and shut your mouth? Maybe just for a few minutes?"

“Honey, can you do me a favor and shut your mouth? Maybe just for a few minutes?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Filth (2014)

Still trust your local police department?

Bruce Robertson (James McAvoy) is one twisted individual. He likes to party hard; screw just about any woman that’s capable of walking, regardless of if they’re married or not; manipulate his way into getting what he wants, from whomever he wants; do as much blow as humanly capable; and do what helps him, and forget those around him. And you know what else there is about him? He’s a detective that’s trying his hardest for a promotion that’s been spurred on by his wife’s hopes and wishes. Bruce knows that if he puts his mind to it, that promotion will be his, and life will be grand for he and his family once again. However, as time goes on, Bruce’s mind starts to get more and more warped up into things that may not even be real – they just make him go all the more ballistic than he really is. Those around him start to take notice and wonder if he’s not only right for the job in the first place, but also if he’s just right in the head in general. Bruce doesn’t care though. As long as there’s plenty of booze, blow, women, and rave music around, then he’s all fine and dandy. Fuck everything else.

I guess the best way to start this review off would be to talk about what really make this film stand-out, and that’s James McAvoy himself. See, with James McAvoy, I’ve always felt like he’s been a good actor, he just has yet to have that role where he’s really showed the world what he’s got and his range. He’s always been the confident pretty-boy in just about everything he’s showed-up in and more often than not, ended up doing a nice enough job to where I didn’t care if he was just playing the same role he’s played before; he’s just always been James McAvoy, playing James McAvoy, in a very James McAvoy-y role.

Oh dad.

Oh dad.

And to be honest, there’s nothing wrong with that – so many actors (like Christopher Walken) just live their lives off of playing the same persona, time and time again, regardless of if the character is a different one or not. It’s just that they have this certain “charm” to them that makes their performance all the better and more charming, hence why they’re not changing anything up to begin with. Why fix what’s clearly not broken, right?

In McAvoy’s case, it’s not that there wasn’t anything broken in the first place, it’s just that things were looking to get a tad bit boring on his part. Thankfully, with this role as Bruce Robertson, McAvoy has finally found the role that will not only have everybody look at his pretty-face in a whole new light, but may even have some people thinking of that, with the right role, in the right movie, he could even be an Oscar-contender. I know, a pretty bold statement, but just viewing his work here, I can totally see it.

What McAvoy does well as Bruce Robertson, is that he always lets us know he’s having a good time, yet, never gets away from the fact that there’s an under-lining sadness and depression to it all. Early on, we know that something’s a little iffy with Bruce’s home-life (we hardly ever see him and his wife together, and whenever we do see her, it’s in a strange, flash-back fashion that has her talking directly to us), so it’s clear that all of the good/wild times Bruce is having, definitely seems to have a deeper meaning to it all. Is he doing all of this to get the promotion and ensure that his marriage will stay put? Or, is he just doing all of this rambunctious, crazy shite because he’s a deeply dark, upset, and messed-up dude?

It’s a little bit of both, but what McAvoy does here, and he does well, is that he’s able to turn it on, and then turn it off. He’s able to be the life of the party, that’s always the first one to bring out the coke or whip out his cock; but he’s also the last one to go home without anybody by his side, nor a shoulder to cry on. He’s a sad man, we know this and because of that, we sort of sympathize with him, even while he does do some mean, nasty, and cruel things to others that clearly just want to be a friend of some sorts to him. McAvoy uses Bruce Robertson as a tool to show everybody that he’s not only a very scary-presence to be seen, when given the right material, but that he’s able to make us see him as a bit of a good guy, as well as a bit of a bad guy.

The conclusion we end up coming to with this character at the end, is totally up to us, the viewer. But there’s no doubt in my mind that everybody can come to the same conclusion with McAvoy’s performance in saying that it’s pretty damn spectacular.

It's like Reservoir Dogs, except for the fact that everybody's talking in ways you can't ever understand.

It’s like Reservoir Dogs, except for the fact that everybody’s talking in ways you can’t ever understand.

The problem is that while McAvoy’s great, the movie itself necessarily isn’t. What works so well for the rest of Filth is that it is, for the most part, constantly moving and on its feet. Much like another Irvine Welsh adaptation, Trainspotting, we get an colorful-narration from somebody who clearly seems like their hopped-up on something fun, some sort of music in the background that keeps everything moving, and a bunch of lines that come and go so quick, you may have to either pause and rewind just to get everything clear, or just decide to move on and enjoy the ride while it’s on and running. And that’s why, for what it’s worth, Filth is a pretty good time; there’s hardly ever a moment where the film slows down the brakes to a total halt, and even if it does come close to doing that, it’s only because it wants develop characters and their relationships with others a little bit more.

Nothing wrong with that at all, except for the fact that the movie never really has anything interesting to do with its characters, except for Bruce Robertson of course. The ensemble the movie’s put together is great and really helps the characters grow and be something more than just typical cliches, but nobody can really overcome it all like McAvoy does, who clearly has the best-written part in the whole movie. Eddie Marsan gets a chance to bring some pathos to this material, as well as Imogen Poots, but for the most part, everybody’s pretty wacky and zany, as if they were in some version of a cartoon. Except with this cartoon, there’s more sex, drugs, and boozing.

Which, once again, is all fun – everybody loves a good party, and who doesn’t love them even more when attractive-people are the ones involved with it? Me! I just wish there was just more to this party than just all of the favors we’re promised at the door.

Consensus: The main attraction of Filth is clearly James McAvoy and his wild and crazy performance that sheds some emotion here and there, however, everything else is clearly not as up-to-par, nor is it really all that interesting to make you want to see more of it. You just sort of want McAvoy to keep on getting nuts and have absolutely no shame whatsoever.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Don't worry, James. You're still looking fine.

Don’t worry, James. You’re still looking fine. You lucky bastard you.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Normal Heart (2014)

AIDS are bad, m’kay.

During the early 1980′s, numerous homosexual men were being infected with a certain disease that barely anybody knew anything about, except for that it was lethal and that many more people were dying from it, each and every day. Eventually, some homosexual men, whether they be closeted or as “out” as they come, decided to start up a group called the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, which would bring attention to this deadly disease that would come to be known as AIDS, or HIV. One man in particular, former-journalist Ned Weeks (Mark Ruffalo) took matters into his own hands on numerous occasions by publicly going on television, bad-mouthing the government for not paying close enough attention to this disease and doing whatever it is that they could to stop it from killing almost anyone and everyone it infects. However, as the group begins to get closer and closer to figuring out a deal with the government to increase funding for these studies/tests to be done, Ned finds himself in even more hot water with the rest of the group, as not all of them feel as if it’s their duty to be out there fighting and never giving up. Some just want to wait and see what happens next; something Ned doesn’t want to do, considering those closest to him are dying as each and every second goes by.

Though I myself am a straight-man, I have seen quite a number of AIDS-related documentaries high-lighting the troubles and tribulations that most homosexual men and women were, and still are, facing when it comes to getting what it is that they need to stay alive and beat the disease, if that’s even possible. By now, it’s almost become hammered into my head that, for those people who were apart of that movement and were in fear for their lives, it was a terrible time and one that most straight-men or women would have not a single clue knowing about. And that’s true, which is why I don’t pretend to act as if I know everything about what a homosexual goes through on a daily basis; it’s just not fair and personally, it doesn’t seem like it should matter.

Born in the U.S. and gay!

Born in the U.S. and gay!

We’re all humans, after all, regardless of who we like to go to bed with, right?

And while that’s definitely a stance that’s become more and more popular within our society as the generations change, it’s still not a notion that everybody feels comfortable with admitting to believe in, nor do they ever feel comfortable admitting just how truly scared they can be of the idea of homosexuals being all around them. For some people, it doesn’t matter whatsoever and is just another simple, walk-in-the-park; but for others, it’s absolute hell that makes people want to run away back into their safe, little hiding places where they can’t be a witness to any of those “un-Holy acts” being committed. I’m not one of those people, but there totally are plenty still out there and it should be noted that this will seemingly never go away.

Anyway, what brings me to this film is that with the Normal Heart, I felt like everything was a tad too familiar; not just that the story has been done before, but the total act of despair and loneliness that these homosexual men must have felt during this period. I’ve seen it documented in plenty of other films before, whether they be narratives or documentaries, and personally, seeing a movie in which many very-handsome, talented people had to act everything out, just seemed like it was going to be a trip down depressing-lane.

And for the most part, it was, but I think it needed to be in order to get its point across. You can’t have a story told like this that’s all bright, sunny and happy, when the idea is that thousands and thousands are dying, and nobody is doing a single thing about it. It’s a very sad story that needed to be told in the darkest way possible, without an ounce of any sentimentality; which is probably why it’s a good thing it was released on HBO and not on some channel like Lifetime or even Hallmark. For the most part, it would have all been watered-down as to not to offend anyone and it definitely wouldn’t be able to dig deep into some of its most disturbing, darkest moments when trying to get the point of its story across.

Which is definitely to pass all of that credit onto director Ryan Murphy, who definitely seems like he wants to tell this story straight from the heart, no strings attached. Sure, there’s a couple of moments that are a bit too stylized for its own good and sort of take away from the overall impact of this story, but you can clearly tell he wants to tell this tale and put all of his might into it. Better yet, it’s a way better movie than any of his past films to date (Running with Scissors, Eat Pray Love), so I have to congratulate on doing that.

However, there’s one thing about this movie that’s really keeping me away from praising it so damn highly, and that’s because a lot of it does feel like a long-winded, two-hour-plus preach after awhile. Which I guess makes sense when you consider the fact that this is adapted from a stage-play of the same name, but still made this whole thing feel a bit tacked-on whenever, say, a certain character or two would be exclaiming their feelings to others; rather than it feeling genuine and like how someone would actually speak to another person, it just seemed like a person ranting the best way possible. That makes sense too, considering that this movie is on the same side of homosexuals, but it soon made me think that there wasn’t a real story here, and instead, just a bunch of scenes in which people yelled about how they aren’t getting treated fairly and so desperately need to be.

For a better, more clearer example, I’d choose the character of Ned Weeks himself. Weeks is supposed to be this loud-mouth dude that loves to start trouble wherever he goes, because he sees it as him “fighting for what it is that he believes in”; not just pertaining to homosexual problems either, just anything with life in general. Weeks is all about fighting and never giving up, even when it seems like people are really tossing the mud in his face and screwing him over even more. This usually would make him an inspirational-figure in any movie, but here, he’s always constantly yelling, hollering and going off about how he’s fighting and nobody else doesn’t seem to.

The movie sees this as his down-fall, not just as a character, but as a person, and while it definitely gives Mark Ruffalo plenty of meat to chew on, it doesn’t really do wonders for his character. It seemed like whenever there was a time for us to learn a lesson, it was usually through Ruffalo and his lungs, without us ever having to dissect something for ourselves. Like I said before though, Ruffalo is good in the role, it’s just that he has a fairly one-note performance where all he has to do is holler at somebody and let us know that, “Guys, this AIDS stuff is some serious business.”

Got some marker on your right cheek there, bud.

Got some marker on your right cheek there, bud.

Julia Roberts’ hard-nosed, yet totally-determined doctor character goes through the same sort of motions as well, but not nearly as obvious as Ruffalo’s. Still though, it’s lovely to see her doing something different with her career that has her acting as mean as she could possibly be, but at the same time, still not letting us forget what makes her so charming in the first place. Same goes for Jim Parsons who gets to take a breath of fresh air for a bit from his Sheldon act and play everything a lot more serious than we’re so used to seeing him play. Yet, he’s also still funny and brings a lot of the more light-hearted moments to the screen, which is something this movie was clearly in desperate need of.

Matt Bomer is also great as Weeks’ boyfriend, Felix, who believably falls in love with him and sets up some very emotional-ground for the later-part of the movie when the AIDS epidemic gets even harsher; Taylor Kitsch shows us all that he’s back to actually “acting” once again and putting himself in some roles that challenge him, not only as a pretty-boy, but as an actor in general; the always great Alfred Molina plays Weeks’ brother and has to battle whether or not he considers himself an equal as his brother, or better-off because he isn’t “gay”; and Joe Mantello has a great scene that really hit me hard as one of the members of this group that just can’t help it anymore that he’s being looked at as the bad guy for continuing his day-job during the morning, and at night, still coming around to help out with the cause.

All of the performances are great and nobody here really tears down the whole ship, it’s just that with more-subtle writing, who knows what could have happened.

Consensus: While most of the Normal Heart feels like familiar-ground being covered again, the fine cast and Ryan Murphy’s stylistic-choices as director make it an emotional trip that still feels relevant in today’s society. Just wished it didn’t blatantly say the same thing, over a hundred times in a row.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Screw your male-on-female relationships! That's love right there!

Screw your male-on-female relationships! That’s love right there!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Internal Affairs (1990)

Why can’t cops just be nice guys that do nice things for the sake of humanity? Just why!

A newly minted Internal Affairs officer, Sgt. Raymond Avilla (Andy Garcia), has come upon the fact that his old buddy from the Academy, Van Stretch (William Baldwin), might be in a bit of heat when him and his partner get caught killing a dude in cold blood. His partner, Dennis Peck (Richard Gere), is the one who bailed him out and has been bailing him out for quite some time, whether it be on the force or at home, with his wife and family. Together, they have a buddy-buddy relationship but knowing Peck, and the way that he is, it’s more than just that and Avilla finds this out the hard way.

Cop movies are usually the same thing, time and time again. So rarely do they ever shy-away from being like any other, that it’s almost like when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. The same can be said about this flick, however, there’s something more going on here than just a bad cop vs. an evil cop. It’s more of a game, than it is a movie and coming from director Mike Figgis, I wouldn’t expect anything less compelling or enthralling. And yes, I wouldn’t also expect anything less than sexy, that’s for sure.

What Figgis does well with this material is that he builds it up plenty, without really giving us a clue of what to expect of the plot or the characters. We get a first-hand account that both of these characters are pretty cut and dry; Avilla is a straight-shooter, who does his job, loves his wife, kisses babies on the forehead, whereas Peck is a bit of shady character that not only bends the rules to help out those who are close to him, but gets more and more of a steady income through odd-jobs on the side that actually consist of killing and hookering. Basically, you think you have these characters all figured-out for who they are, what you want them to be and what they’re going to mean to one another, but that all changes once more and more layers are peeled off, and you see who these cats really are.

Wow! Are they gonna kiss?

Are they going to go for it?

Now, that being said and all, the movie is not a sure thing for surprises; a couple of twist happen here and there that will take you by surprise, but overall, it’s a pretty conventional flick in the way things happen, and the way people reveal themselves. What is so surprising about this movie is what each and every character reveals about themselves, and how dark they can actually be. You think you have them all figured-out from being the “baddie”, to the “goodie”, and watching these two duke it out to see who’s the bigger and better man is a whole bunch of fun and what kept this movie going, even when it did get close to the usual conventions of what makes a cop movie, a cop movie.

They don’t get many scenes together, but everytime you see Avilla and Peck together on-screen, you know some bad and crazy shite is going to go down, and you have a feeling that it’s only a matter of time until all hell breaks loose and one of these guys can’t bounce back from it. It’s fun to watch because both Gere and Garcia have a dynamic that’s unbelievably entertaining to watch, but they also bring out more within these characters than you’d ever get from a movie that’s about the good guy trying to overcome evil and defeat the bad guy. It does come down to that eventually, but the movie and the performers keep it more than just that, every chance they get, whether it be a simple conversation, a battle of wits, a threat, or just the usual mind-games that they both stoop-down to playing, once the shit gets hot.

Actually, at some times, it was almost too hot for these two to be on-screen together as I wouldn’t have been the least bit surprised if they started beating the shit one second, and hooking up with one another the next one. Seriously, it gets pretty damn hot at times and it’s attributed to the fine performances from Gere and Garcia, both of whom have never really done much for me in the past, Gere especially who, as you all know, is not my favorite actor.

Yeah I know; he’s from Philly, he’s been in good movies, and he’s even been in a couple of Best Picture winners, but to me, the guy has only been doing the same act, time and time again, and it’s a real surprise that he didn’t play that same dude here as Dennis Peck. Then again, I think the way that the character is written, Gere didn’t have much of a choice other than to stretch out his acting skills and see what he could come up with because this dude is one, messed-up mofo of a guy. Like I said before, Peck starts off as a reasonable guy that does some odd stuff that may make you think twice about his morality, but once he shows who he really is and what he has the power to do, then Gere really takes over and shows us layers of Peck that you’d never expect to see from a guy who practically saves his buddy’s ass in the first shot of the movie. Peck continues to mess with Avilla’s mind, almost in a way that’s entertaining, as bad as you feel for the dude, and it shows that Gere can have fun with a role, do well with it, and also be able to make us actually care for a character that’s so despicable and immoral. Once we do figure out that this dude is bad news, then the character gets a bit too strange for my taste, but Gere continued to enthrall me and I have to give the dude credit, especially since I’m always hating on him.

No, are they!??!

No, but are they!??!

Not like he cares anyway, because who the hell am I?!?!?

I’ve never really given Andy Garcia much of a bad-rap in the past, mostly because he hasn’t really been in much stuff where he’s liable for scrutiny. He rarely ever is the leading-man in a movie, and even when he does, the movie’s so small that it’s almost too unnoticeable for me to even watch and review. That said, the guy’s very good here as Avilla because he not only plays up the straight-laced, calm and collective act that this character keeps for a good-portion of the movie, but also makes you believe that he may have to cut some corners just to prove justice. It’s that idea that the nicest and most moral character in the movie, the one your supposed to be rooting for, might just be a bit of a bad guy as well, is what makes this character more than just another detective who wants to be promoted, and more of a guy who wants to do his job and get his man, in anyway possible. Garcia keeps us guessing, just like Gere, but the thing is with this character, we don’t know whether or not he’s going to stay the same good guy we saw from the first shot, or if he’s going to get a bit nutso towards the end. You never know with him, and Garcia keeps us guessing.

The supporting cast is pretty solid as well, even if it is apparent that it’s more or less Gere and Garcia’s show than theirs. Nancy Travis is a fine fit as Avilla’s wife who may, or may not be sleeping-around on him and the mystery behind that idea and her character is what keeps her more interesting than just the ordinary character of “the wife that gets pissed because her detective is too busy solving crimes and not at home banging her”. Yeah, you know; that type of chick. Laurie Metclaf is also very good at trying to remind us that she isn’t always playing Roseanne’s sister, and can drop an F-bomb and be bad-ass like any other motha on the face of the Earth. She tries, it works, but it also does get obvious at some points. And of course, there’s Adam Baldwin here playing a fuck-up, who’s addicted to coke, beats his wife, kills people when they are unarmed, and doesn’t know how to keep his cool. Hm? Is it acting? Or is it just being a Baldwin? You be the judge on that one, my friends.

Consensus: Despite falling for some of the same trappings and conventions we have come to know and expect from the cop-genre, Internal Affairs still offers us something slightly new, exciting, and compelling to watch with two amazing performances from the leads, and a plot that spirals out of control, in all of the juiciest ways possible.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Nope, these two definitely are. Yes!

Nope, but these two definitely are. Yes!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Immigrant (2014)

Becoming a hooker and spending money on hospital bills. Ah, the American Dream.

When Polish immigrant Ewa (Marion Cotillard) comes over on a boat to America, she automatically runs into problems. Her sister (Angela Sarafyan) gets taken away and put into intensive care because she is believed to be “sick”; her aunt and uncle don’t want her staying at their place; and she is desperate fear of getting sent back to her country, which seems to be going through a wild period of violence, death and bloodshed. However, in comes walking the mysterious Bruno (Joaquin Phoenix), a man who makes her a deal: Come along with him and live in his place, as long as she agrees to work. Seems simple enough, until Ewa realizes that the job she’ll be doing is as a prostitute – the kind of job she doesn’t want to do, but pretty much has to, because she has nowhere else to go and needs to pay for her sister’s medical bills. So, Ewa goes along with the job, screwing, making money and staying loyal to Bruno; however, that all changes once a local magician by the name of Emil (Jeremy Renner) takes a bit of a liking to her and is not going to leave her alone. Bruno doesn’t like this and, as expected, leads to a bit of a strange love-triangle that spurs out of control, with devastating results.

James Gray loves these types of small, slow, and intimate character-pieces. With most of his movies, you get a sense that the premises should have the pace going a-mile-a-minute, but somehow, Gray finds a way to keep them mellowed-out and calm by paying attention to his characters. Violence and action does usually rear its ugly head, but its done in a way that feels realistic, if only because we’ve invested so much time and patience to these character’s and their lives, that it makes total sense why one would decide to commit an inappropriate act of sorts.

A rare case in which somebody as looked at Joaquin Phoenix as "their savior".

A rare case in which somebody looked at Joaquin Phoenix as “their savior”.

And in the Immigrant, Gray is in top-form, for lack of a better word. You get a sense that Gray isn’t trying to talk about one story in particular, but a plethora of stories that stem from the idea of the American Dream. As our world has made it out to be presented as, America usually seems like the type of country where dreams are made of – the kind of country that embraces individuals that want to do when they want, how they want to, and wherever they want to, because it’s a free country and just about everybody is allowed to be themselves to a certain extent. To be honest too, there’s nothing wrong with that vision – I live in America and, despite a couple of questionable decisions made on our President’s behalf more than a few times, I love it. Not to say that there’s any problem with other countries out there, but for one thing, I’m glad I was born and bred in the good old U.S. of A.

Gray doesn’t necessarily have a problem with America, either, however, he understands that the means for which a person needs to survive by, can sometimes be immoral and dehumanizing. Even in a place like America, the land of the free and the home of the Brave.

With Ewa’s story, Gray shows what it’s like for a person to feel as if they are leaving their troubled, horrible past behind themselves, only to then be thrown into a new world, better yet, a new life, where it seems like things may be even worse than before. Those who come to America, expect happiness, beauty and all sorts of pleasures that they may have not been able to receive in the previous country, however, the harsh reality is that sometimes, that’s not really the case. It’s a shame to say, but it’s the truth; and while times may have gotten better for those who want to come into America and become a “citizen”, some of it still sort of sucks, almost to the point where it makes sense why one would divert away from the standard, typical professions one expects another to take in for means of survival. And by that, I mean taking a job that would require one to have sex, deal drugs, or be involved with any type of immoral behavior, all for money.

Like I said before, I love my country, but there are sometimes certain aspects of everyday life that even I have to admit are in my country and cannot look away from.

Anyway, I know I’ve gotten past the fact that this is, yes, a movie, but it’s one that’s very thought-provoking. In fact, that’s all it may in fact be. Gray presents a well thought-out idea of what people perceive the American Dream to be, and allows it to live through the story of Ewa’s – a pretty sad one, I may add. However, the sadness gets to a point of where it’s almost too bleak to really be anything else except for that; we get that Ewa doesn’t have much of a chance to get a high-paying office job of sorts, but is it really that bad that she can’t practically go anywhere else without being taken in by police and thrown back on Ellis Island? I don’t know, but to me, it seemed like a bit of a stretch; almost as if Gray used it as a ploy to keep Ewa with Bruno, and try to create as much tension between the two as he could. It works, but it does seem deliberate, and because of that, a little less realistic.

However, with this small, but effective cast Gray assembles, we get fully-realized, understandable human characters that seem like they could exist even in today’s day and age, except with maybe fancier clothes and a knack for taking selfies. Leading the cast as Ewa is Marion Cotillard and, believe it or not, she is great. There’s just something about those expressive eyes of hers that you can feel the pain, the remorse, and the agony that’s going through this character at every point in time, that you want to hug her like you’d want to embrace a sad, little and lost puppy. But once Ewa starts to embrace this newfound lifestyle for all its worth, there’s a change in Cotillard’s eyes and her demeanor as a whole, and it’s astonishing to watch. Once again, it’s all through the eyes in which Cotillard lets us know and understand what Ewa is going through, and it’s a riveting performance, from one of the best actresses working today, who makes me feel like a failure at life for not being able to complete a full sentence in Spanish, let alone any other language for that matter.

"Ignore the top-hat and guy-liner, and you'll see that I'm a really cool guy."

“Ignore the top-hat, villainous-mustache and guy-liner, and you’ll see that I’m a really cool guy.”

Another one of our finest workers in the biz today, Joaquin Phoenix, gets plenty of chances to run wild with this material. Gray and Phoenix have done four films together now, and you can tell that both completely know and understand each other’s strengths and weakness as creators. Gray probably wrote a lot of this material for Phoenix to work with, but by the same token, it also seems like Phoenix just decided, “Aw heck with it!”, half of the times and just went crazy. That’s not a bad thing, because if there’s anybody I feel comfortable with doing that in any movie, it’s Phoenix, somebody who is probably a lot more bonkers behind the camera, than the characters he plays in front of it. Together, him and Cotillard create a relationship that’s weird and clearly not the best thing for either of them, but as time goes on, you can tell there’s a strong connection between the two and by the end, they feel almost inseparable, despite the circumstances made in how they met and how they stayed together for so long.

Another great actor in general, doing exceptional work here, is Jeremy Renner who shows up every so often and brings just enough charm and loveliness to this movie, to keep it away from being a total drab-fest. You can clearly see that he has affections for Ewa that are just and realistic, but you can also get a sense that maybe, just maybe, he has another trick up his sleeve and is trying to fool her, like Bruno fooled her. Then again, she’s not wrong in thinking that, nor are we as an audience: The world is full of selfish, manipulative and distasteful liars. Even in America.

Consensus: While, at times, exceptionally slow and dark, the Immigrant poises an interesting anecdote to the general perception of America with a well-written script, and a pair of exceptional performances from its cast, especially the always amazing Cotillard.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Welcome to America. Now please, hand over your dignity."

“Welcome to America. Now please, hand over your dignity.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBAceShowbiz

Chef (2014)

Is it me, or has my stomach just been ripped to shreds?

Carl Casper (Jon Favreau) is a professional chef working in a place that allows him to make whatever sort of menu he wants to and command the kitchen the way he wants, however, he still butts heads with his boss (Dustin Hoffman) every so often. Still though, cooking food for plenty to enjoy is what Carl lives off of and loves; maybe even more than life itself. So, he just goes with the flow most of the time, and lets people know that he knows a thing or two about making some grade-A quality grub. Problems arise though when Carl goes head-to-head with a popular food blogger (Oliver Platt) who absolutely trashes him in a scathing review. This brings Carl to not only confront him in an anger-filled, rage-like way, but to also quit because he doesn’t like the way things are going with the restaurant. This brings Carl to a crossroads in his life: either a) apologize to his former-boss, get his job back, and continue to take orders from schmucks who don’t know the difference between a crepe and a pancake, or b) start up his own food-truck business in which he has command over everything, and may even get a chance to rekindle a relationship with his son (Emjay Anthony).

Decisions, decisions for Mr. Carl Casper, and plenty of Cuban sandwiches to eat along the way.

Before I get into the actual details of what I felt about this movie, first thing’s first: Do not, I repeat, DO NOT come into this movie on an empty-stomach. As if that wasn’t already obvious enough by the plot, the foodgasms-filled trailer, and heck, even the title itself, just know, you must eat a hearty meal before seeing this. I don’t care if it’s a home-cooked meal, something you picked up on the go from Burger King, or a small bowl of Ramen Noodles (gotta think about the college kids here) – just do not see this movie without at least a meager amount of food in the pit of your stomach.

Oh, old people learning how to use Twitter. So precious.

Oh, old people learning how to use Twitter. So precious.

Because, if you don’t, you’ll be screwed. No matter what goes on in this movie, you’ll constantly be thinking about what you’re going to have when you get home, be getting constant head and stomach-aches, and maybe even think that that $13 large popcorn may do the trick to cure whatever hunger problems you may be having. You may enjoy the movie still, for sure, but all will be in your mind is how much longer this film is going to go on so that you can go home, and cook up some fresh Hot Pockets and call it a night.

And the reason why I’m harping so much on the idea of eating food before seeing this, because you don’t want to be distracted during this movie. Trust me, it’s a pretty good one that you don’t want to forget about because you couldn’t get that half-slice of pepperoni left-over in your fridge, out of your mind. You’re going to want to enjoy yourself during this movie, because, quite frankly, that’s what Jon Favreau wants you to do. Sure, he also wants you to rub your tummy like you’re playing an old-fashioned game of “Simon Says”, but he also wants you to enjoy the fun-filled spirit of this movie, and just about everybody in it.

Pretty fitting that it’s released in the summer, eh?

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that with Chef, Favreau clearly isn’t trying to go for anything life-changing. There’s a lot of talk about him changing his life, being a better mate, being a better father, and being a better person that’s open to criticism, but it’s all there in sprinkles to make it seem like this story is more than just Jon Favreau and friends laughing, cracking jokes, and making food for nearly two-hours. Don’t get me wrong, that type of movie actually excites me, but I could probably do the same thing with half of my buddies, spend less money, and maybe even have a better time than simply watching these peeps do it.

Actually, that’s a lie. I’d totally have a better time hanging out with the likes of John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale. Sorry to any of my friends that are reading this, but what can I say? They’re rich and they’re funny. Can’t ever go wrong with that!

High-lighting the cast would actually probably be the best way to go about with this movie, because they really are the reason why this movie works as well as it does. Sure, Favreau’s style and script is very funny, charming and heartfelt at times, but anybody can make an alright script; it’s the cast you work with, and how much they are able to elevate into being something more that really matters. And here, with this ensemble, which is basically just anybody Jon Favreau’s ever made a movie with (i.e. partied and did blow with), with the exception of Vince Vaughn. Pretty weird, right? You have just about anybody in the biz that Jon Favreau can call “a friend”, and yet, no Vince Vaughn.

Guess Couples Retreat really tore those two apart. Oh well. RIP Vince and Jon. Maybe one of these days they’ll be money again. Who knows.

Anyway, like I was saying about the cast, everybody that shows up here is fun and entertaining to watch, even if they only show up for a little over five minutes or so. Case in point, Robert Downey Jr.’s near-cameo as Carl Casper’s ex-wife’s ex-husband, who is the type of character you’d expect to see RDJ to play: Weird, off-kilter, goofy, fast-talking, and always acting as if he’s on another planet. However, with the limited screen-time, he makes it all so worth the while and leaves us wondering why the hell he doesn’t just do more movies without superheros and Guy Ritchie. I mean seriously: Come back to being a human, RDJ! There’s nothing at all wrong with that, dammit!

#RDJSwag

#RDJSwag

Others that pop-up ever so slightly too, are folks like Scarlett Johansson as Casper’s possible love-interest, who, weirdly enough, looked like my sister with her black hair, black bangs, black dresses, and tattoos. So every time the two would be hooking up or doing anything remotely sexual, I automatically got creeped-out. But hey, I guess my sister could do a lot worse, so good for her if that ever does happen! Dustin Hoffman also shows up for a small bit as the Casper’s boss that, can be a bit of a dick, but in reality, is just trying to keep his business afloat and do whatever’s best for his joint, even if that means getting rid of some of the best talents it may have to offer. You know, sort of like a real business man.

Also to mention, again sort of, is Oliver Platt as the critic that gives Casper a written-dialogue spanking that is actually a lot more terrible than some of the reviews I’ve seen on sites like Yelp, but still feels real, especially in the way Casper reacts to him in a way that’s both cruel, funny, and a bit sad, considering Platt’s character is a critic, doing what he does best: Critiquing. Sofia Vergara shows up as Casper’s ex-wife who is very wealthy and seems like she’d be a total shrew, but is actually supportive and nice to Casper, even when he seems to be a bit of a dick to everyone around him; Emjay Anthony is a good fit as Casper’s son who is a bit needy at times, but still feels like a kid who just wants to hang with his dad and get to know him about more; and, in case I didn’t need to re-iterate this anymore than I already have, it’s always lovely to see John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale show up in anything, and here is no different. They’re funny, exciting, cool, and always bringing the room’s volume up to at least an 11. My heroes.

But, in the middle of all this is Jon Favreau, who, considering this is a movie he single-handedly wrote, directed and put together all himself, could have easily made this a movie where he gets to do all of the heavy-lifting and show why he’s the man. But he doesn’t. Rather, Favreau is kind and allows everybody else to work off of him and get the most attention from the crowd; while in honesty, he’s the real heart, soul, and charm of this movie. As a whole cast, they make it better, but with Favreau at the dead-center of it all, just acting like that normal, everyday-man we all loved seeing him act like before, he keeps it all grounded and sincere. Without him, this movie would have never been made. Yet, without him, this movie wouldn’t have been so lovely to watch. Nor would it have been as delicious to look at neither.

Yum.

Consensus: Not the deepest movie ever made, yet, Chef is still able to slide by with a charming ensemble, well-written script, and many food delights to make you reconsider the next time you ever think McDonalds is a suitable dinner.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Yeah, well my dad's a government worker. So take that.

Yeah, well my dad’s a government worker. So take that.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Belle (2014)

Good thing she didn’t have to wear one of those horrendous powdered-wigs.

When Dido Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw)’s mother dies, her white, Royal Navy officer father (Matthew Goode) takes her in and leaves her at his uncle and aunt’s (Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson) place, in hopes that she’ll not only be treated fairly, but also have the same wealth, tender, love and care that he had. It’s hard considering that Dido is of mixed-race, which means that more than a few people will whispering about her, but the Mansfield’s get by and allow Dido to dine with them when nobody else is around, and be, essentially, a playmate of sorts for Dido’s own cousin, Elizabeth Murray (Sarah Gadon), whose father left her with absolutely nothing but shambles. As Dido and Elizabeth grow older, they both realize that it’s time for a man in their lives, which also means getting hitched-off to somebody whom has more, or at least as much, money as you do. Since Dido’s father left her with a lot of cash-money to get cozy with, all sorts of men come knocking at her door-step. However, to Dido, it doesn’t matter how rich, how powerful, or how cool any of these men are, all she wants is somebody who is smart, nice, and respectful to her; which, from what it seems like, she has found. Except it’s not with somebody of a very high status, it’s a young, but ambitious lawyer by the name of John Davinier (Sam Reid), who seems to be working on a case with Dido’s uncle that may strike as some importance, especially to her.

Anytime a person thinks about racism, better yet, slavery, where is the place they most often connect that disgusting term to? The dirty, deep and dark South. However, what’s strange to find out is that not only was slavery happening all around us, but in different parts of the world as well. This may not seem like as much of a shocker to anybody with half-a-brain, but after all of the constant talking and loving of 12 Years a Slave, it’s kind of a nice change-of-pace to get a movie that not only deals with the same themes as that movie, but done so in a way that isn’t nearly as brutal, nor isn’t anywhere to be found in the South with Michael Fassbender yelling, preaching, dancing and raping all over the place.

Of course every woman's dream guy looks like 17th Century Rob Van Dam .

Of course every woman’s dream guy looks like 17th Century Rob Van Dam .

Thank heavens for that, too. Because honestly, I think I can only handle watching something like that every so often.

Anyway, what makes Belle so unique, isn’t just the idea that it takes place in Britain and deals with an dark-skinned lady having to get used to the old school, preppy British ways these people were so accustomed to; it’s that the movie doesn’t try to preach its heart out about what it is trying to get across. Sure, there are plenty of moments where it seems like the script is just yelling at us, “Pay attention to how important and powerful I am!!!”, but other times, it felt like the movie was going for more of a character-study about who this Belle woman was, and why the position she was thrown into, sort of sucked. But by the same token, why she was lucky that she wasn’t worse off.

In fact, if there was any problem I had with this movie, it was that the tone and overall mood of this thing was a bit off. I get that costume dramas are supposed to be quiet and filled with emotional moments of people professing their love one another in the pouring rain, but there were too many times here where I felt like director Amma Asante wanted to go in one direction with this movie, but then, for some odd reason, decided to say, “Aw, fuck it!”, and changed everything up. It’s hard to explain for somebody who hasn’t seen this movie and doesn’t want it to be spoiled for them, but it goes a little something like this: For every quiet, subtle moment of either racism or class-warfare, there’s a loud, over-the-top scene in which somebody is saying something emotional, and totally meaning it.

In a way, it’s part-Jane Eyre (the 2011 version), and part-Pride and Prejudice (the Colin Firth-starring version). Easy comparisons I know, but they’re both costume-dramas that feel like they have one set mood/tone, and they absolutely stick with it. No changing up from scene-to-scene; just one, cohesive thread. However here, with Belle, it always felt like that thread was being pulled this way, then put back into place, and then pulled again. It never seemed to do its story as much justice as it should have.

Don’t get me wrong, there were some juicy bits to be found, especially whenever a character would get into a shouting argument with another character, in what I can only describe as “19th century rich people fighting”; however, they didn’t always last. The story itself may all be true, however, that still doesn’t keep it away from being a tad corny and made for somebody who can appreciate these types of Jane Austen period-pieces.

Notice how I said “somebody”, and not just “women”. Trying to keep it safe over here, people.

Anyway, the only aspect in which this flick really seemed to hit its stride, was with the ensemble cast of characters. For some odd reason, Matthew Goode gets his name high up there on the poster, despite practically being in the movie for less than five minutes. Guess he was just too charming and handsome to let go of for good. As for the two peeps playing his aunt and uncle, as predicted, Tom Wilkinson and Emily Watson are terrific and show us two sides to the way in which Belle needed to be brought-up. Watson’s character is more of a prickly, stern woman, whereas Wilkinson’s is a bit more about expressing one’s self, being who you are and not letting up for anyone, no matter what they say. In fact, Wilkinson saves this movie’s script a couple of times from sounding so hokey, that it could have been “laugh-out-loud hilurrious”. However, that’s just what you get when you sign Tom Wilkinson to a movie: He’s always going to assure you that you get the best that he can deliver on.

Oh ladies! You must stop looking so revealing!

Oh ladies! You must stop looking so revealing!

However, the stand-out of this cast is the one who plays our titled-character Belle herself, Gugu Mbatha-Raw. Yes, the name is a bit hard to pronounce (Goo-goo M-Bath-a-Ra), but once you can get past that fact, you’ll realize that there is a lot to this gal that’s just waiting to be revealed. If nobody remembers just who exactly Mbatha-Raw is, she’s that cool, hip chick from Larry Crowne. The movie itself wasn’t anything at all close to being special, but she made something about it seem so everytime she showed up, getting us away from the fact that she also happened to be playing the girlfriend of Wilmer Valderrama’s character for some odd reason.

But the past is the past, people! We, as a society, must get past that and take her for what she is, and what Gugu Mbatha-Raw is, is a great actress. She’s a name not too many people know about, but I feel like she may be able to get out there now and show the world what she’s got, because her performance as Dido is pretty stunning. She, just like Wilkinson and Watson, seems to come from the same school of “subtle acting” that really helps her character develop and morph as time goes on. At first, she’s a small, naive girl that doesn’t really know how she feels about anything in the world, including herself, but as time goes on, she starts to see the world for the wide, wonderful canvas that it has, with sometimes beautiful, and sometimes ugly things happening in it. Once she starts to see everything there is to see about this world around her, it’s not only done well, but makes us see Dido for what she is: A young woman who has been sheltered her whole life and is ready to take it on with all she’s got. She”s a bit of a cliche, but Mbatha-Raw helps her get past that and have us believe in her.

Hopefully this means bigger, better, and brighter things for our gal, Gugu. Maybe now is the time she should get the rare advice to, in fact, “stay away from Tom Hanks.” Just saying.

Consensus: Sometimes, Belle is thought-provoking, smart and subtle, whereas other times, it’s obvious, cloying and all too much like other costume-dramas of the same vein, however, the cast is always consistently great and make this totally worth watching, especially if you want to be the person who says that they “knew that Gugu chick before everybody else did”.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Why's her hat fresher than mine? Is it because I'm black?!!?!"

“Why’s her hat sexier than mine? Is it because I’m black?!!?!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net

Submarine (2011)

Don’t ever trust the girl in the red coat.

14-year-old Oliver Tate (Craig Roberts) has a lot going on in his life at this point in time. He’s found himself very much attracted to a mysterious girl he knows named Jordana Bevan (Yasmin Paige); he’s got a new neighbor (Paddy Considine); and is beginning to realize that his parent’s marriage is slowly, but surely, falling apart. Oliver may be you and a little naive, but he knows what he wants in life, and that’s to have love coming at him from all sides. Therefore, that means he’ll have to be able to handle his problems with both his parents, as well as the object-of-his-eyes. Though it may seem like an easy-task for Oliver at first, given the fact that he’s had everything mapped-out ever since the initial thoughts came to mind, he’s going to realize you can’t just plan life to go as exactly as you want it to. Sometimes, problems arise, over-lap one another and give us a choice as to what is better for us, and what matters most.

Gosh, what I would do to be 14-years-old again, man! I mean, jeesh! It seems like it was just yesterday that I was getting ready for that big, brave, new world they call “high school”, expecting the worst, but wanting the best. The same world in which I knew I wanted to meet the girl of my dreams, fall in love, get good grades, be happy, and still be able to maintain my youth throughout it all. And yeah, I guess that sort of happened (depending on who it is you ask), but that’s not what matters here.

But what I’m trying to get across with that whole random rant about my expectations going into high school and approaching the next stage of my life, is that the feelings of being young and youthful is exactly what resonates so well with me for certain movies, and that is exactly what happened here with me and Submarine.

Yes, 80's mullets are still funny to look at.

Yes, 80′s mullets are still funny to look at.

Right from the very beginning, I felt like this was a Wes Anderson-clone with more naturalistic-realism thrown into the bit. That’s not to say that Anderson’s movies aren’t filled with real people, doing real, believable things, but for the most part, his movies do usually consist of people living lives inside the head of nobody else’s but his own. They’re fun, they’re light, and most of all, they’re charming, but they’re so whimsical, that they could never, ever be real people. That is, unless they were the biggest, most annoying hipster kids on the face of the planet.

Here though, writer/director Richard Ayoade feels like he’s going for more of a connection with his work and place us inside the real lives, of real people; more specifically, real kids that, believe it or not, feel just like you or I. Sure, Ayoade more often than not jumps into some wacky bits that dive deep into the mind of its narrator, Oliver himself, but they’re there for the sake of being day-dreams and images inside the head of Oliver. And for the most part, they’re used to show us just how wild Oliver’s imagination can be, therefore, making us believe more in the creative, ingenious ways he is able to finagle his way from fixing his parent’s marriage, to then fixing whatever problems he may be having with his girlfriend.

In fact, who really makes this movie work is Oliver Tate himself, played so effortlessly by Craig Roberts. Roberts was clearly a young kid while filming, which makes a lot of sense when you see how it is that he reacts to everything around him. It would have been real easy for Ayoade and Roberts to come together and make Oliver Tate an annoying, too-smart-for-his-own-good-and-age type of kid, but they don’t bother with such conventions as that. Instead, they give us a kid who is definitely smart and wise a year or two beyond his peers, but still doesn’t know nearly as much about life, making decisions, facing consequences, falling in love, feeling heartbroken, being dedicated, than he thinks he does.

Then again, weren’t we all like that at one point in our lives? Hell, come to think of it, some of us still are probably like that! I know I am! That’s why it makes so much sense when and feels honest when Oliver begins to grasp life itself, tries his hardest to make sense of it and at least give it all he’s got. He’s sympathetic, he’s likable and he’s sort of cool, but he’s also a real-life kid I could have seen myself hanging out with and maybe even talking to a few times in the early days of high school. Then, as time went on and I became a total jock, I would have left him at the “weirdo lunch table”. Sorry to state it like that, but hey, it was high school. It’s a dog-eat-dog world in them parks, man.

Like I was saying though, Roberts is always doing a good job with Oliver, having us believe in him as a character, as well as a 14-year-old that’s going through some growing pains almost nearly as much as his girlfriend is, Jordana Bevan. Everything I said about Roberts and his performance, is pretty much the same for Yasmin Paige and her performance – fun, likable, charming and most importantly, believable at all the right times and ways. They have a nice chemistry despite being young actors in a movie that’s sort of all dependent on them and their ability to make this work, but it clearly doesn’t phase them one bit.

As for the adults, they’re all detailed and layered just about right, although, if anything, their conflict with the story was one of the main problems I had with this. First of all, let me just say that Sally Hawkins, Noah Taylor and even Paddy Considine all do fantastic work with their roles. They could have easily been dull in hopes that the kids’ personalities would just take everything over and get our minds away from the older-heads, but that’s not what happens. They’re just as, if not sometimes, even more charming than the little kiddies they’re sharing the same movie with.

However, where my problem with this movie comes in is how Ayoade handles both subplots, yet, never fully feels committed to either. The whole subplot about Oliver trying to win the affection of Jordana takes up most of the first-half, and is easily the best part of the whole movie. It’s sweet, tender, lovely, romantic and has plenty of choice tunes from Mr. Alex Turner himself. What else can I say about that!?!?

Parents: So boring, so drab, so whatever.

Parents: So boring, so drab, so whatever.

But once that plot sort of settles-down a bit and put on the back-burner, then the whole “possible affair” angle comes up and the movie gets a tad bit messy. Some of it still stayed charming, likable and fun, but for the most part, I could tell that a lot of what Ayoade was going for, didn’t really end up showing itself by the end. He tries to juggle these two strands of plot, and while they seem like they’d be an easy act to move around with, he seems to get his ideas and themes lost in a bit of a jumble.

In all honesty, it’s difficult to explain my problems with this movie, without describing everything, word-for-word, scene-for-scene, but just know this: Once the young love angle sort of chills out, so does this movie, and it’s kind of a bummer. Not saying that the movie as a whole is a bummer, I’m just saying that you should realize what you’ll get yourself into. Especially if you’re longing for nostalgia like me.

Damn being old!

Consensus: If you’re going through something of a mid-life crisis, Submarine, for the most part, will do you in and make you long for the good old days of falling in love for the first time, going into school, dealing with angst, and all that jazz. However, it’s not always focusing on that and when it doesn’t, it gets a tad messy.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Damn you, young love! You get me everytime!

Damn you, young love! You get me everytime!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Dom Hemingway (2014)

Don’t drunk and drive, kids. Or go to jail for 12 years. Or do drugs. Or, simply, just don’t do anything bad.

It’s been quite a long time since Dom Hemingway (Jude Law) has been out in the outside world (12 years to be exact), but he finally gets released one day, where he goes back to doing everything he once did before. He collects debts; has sex with women; does blow like nobody’s business; drink; illegally smoke tobacco inside of a pub; hang out with his close-buddy Leftie (Richard E. Grant); kick the shit out of the man who married his wife when he was thrown in jail; and try his damn near hardest to reconnect with his estranged daughter (Emilia Clarke). The only problem is that Dom has a bit of a temper-issue, which more often than not, has gotten him into trouble in the past, and seems to be getting him in even more trouble now when he realizes that he’s out of money and needs a new gig. Being the swift heist-man that he is, with the niftiest of fingers, he decides to go back to his old ways of breaking into concealed-vaults; something that’s a lot harder now with every vault being electronic, thus throwing Dom off of his game. Thus, as a result, making Dom even more pissed-off with everything and everyone around him.

It’s been a long while since I’ve seen something in which Jude Law really wow’d me. Not saying that he’s a bad actor by any means – in fact, he’s a terribly consistent one. He always shows up in movies, acts, does what he has to do, look charming, get his paycheck and continue on to the next project in which he’ll do the same exact thing. There’s nothing wrong with that really, especially if you’re somebody whose been surviving in Hollywood since the mid-to-late-90′s, but there is something to be said for an actor who has always been around, but really hasn’t had that one, amazing performance in which he’s knocked down all of the doors and showed us his true talents as an actor.

Hey, uhm, whose driving?

Hey, uhm, whose driving?

I think Dom Hemingway may in fact be that performance we’ve all, myself included, have been waiting for.

What Law does so well here as Dom Hemingway, unlike from anything else we’ve ever seen him do, is be brass, crass and all sorts of detestable. Dom Hemingway, by creation, is a dirty, mean son-of-a-bitch that looks as if he’s stumbled out of the pubs from the 70′s, and into the modern-era in which none of the kids want anything to do with his old, grungy ass, and just want to hang out and drink their Pabst Blue Ribbons alone and in peace. He’s always wanting to get pissed, get some blow, bang some fine ladies, and start trouble with anybody who dares to ever step up to him. Because of that, we’re supposed to dislike him and think he’s just a total jack-ass that doesn’t our sympathy, or even time of day – but somehow, Law makes us do just that.

Law is every bit as loud as he’s ever been in a movie before. With Hemingway, Law’s asked to be a total sleaze-ball, but a sleaze-ball that is always making those around him feel uncomfortable. Not just because he always seems to do and say the wrong things, at the wrong time, and to the wrong people especially, but because he’s just so damn unpredictable with his actions. One second, he’ll be so drunk that he’ll be offending and screaming at the most powerful mob-boss in all of Europe; but then, the next second, be totally cool, calm and suave at the dinner-table, with the same guy he was just insulting clear to his face. So yeah, Dom Hemingway is not an easy character to pin-point down, but that’s why it’s so amazing to see Law tackle a hard task like that and seemingly get through it all without making us ever seem like he’s trying too hard to be something that he clearly isn’t.

Sure, the receding hair-line, chin-strap facial-hair, and over-worked jaw-line may also have something to do with that, but for the most part, it’s Jude Law that makes us believe in somebody like Dom Hemingway.

The same actor whom, ten years ago, was most known for tappin’ his nannies and filling in Michael Caine’s shoes, in a movie most of us would like to just forget about by now.

But there’s a reason why I’m talking so much about Jude Law’s performance in the first place because, as much as I hate to say it, the rest of the movie doesn’t really live up to everything he does. The supporting cast is good here – with Richard E. Grant being a particular stand-out as Hemingway’s close buddy/voice of reason – and there were a few moments in which I had no clue what Dom was going to do next and how it was going to affect him and those around him. But, like I said, there just wasn’t much else here to really keep me going and all that interested.

Practically me, every night of the past week.

Practically me, every night of the past week.

There’s a twist that occurs somewhere around the half-way mark in which the tone of the movie sort of changes and we see how Dom’s life goes from shit, to even shittier in about a matter of a couple of minutes. The surprising switch itself is one that I think writer/director Richard Shepard pulled-off well, but he does with that feels sort of like an after-thought; almost as if the only idea for this movie was to focus on how much fun it is to watch Jude Law yell, rather than actually give us a plot, or even much character-development really. Then again, we do get some character-development here for Dom, it’s just that a lot of it seems so cheap and over-used.

Like, for instance, the whole idea that Dom’s daughter absolutely hates his guts because he left her and her mother all alone, with nobody to care for them at all, isn’t anything new, but you could do so much with that to make it feel genuine and heartfelt. Here, it felt like Shepard knew he wanted it to be the sweet aspect about the movie that the more emotional moviegoers would enjoy more than just seeing Jude Law eat cocaine like breakfast cereal, so he didn’t put much thought into it. All we get are a couple of arguments that go nowhere except show us that Dom’s daughter doesn’t like him and doesn’t want to give him a chance to get to know her better and make up for lost times, which then makes Dom want to go out and go back to his old ways of pulling-off heists.

For some reason, I didn’t see the connection and I sort of wish I did. It not only would have made the movie more interesting as it went along, but would have made a lot more sense to me once Dom started going nuts and humping vaults. Yeah, it gets a little nuts, but that’s all this movie seems to want to be: Nuts, with Jude Law providing most of that craziness for us.

Consensus: Though Jude Law clearly carries Dom Hemingway on his bulky shoulders and booze-breath, the rest of it doesn’t feel as well thought-out or interesting, it’s almost too in awe of its own main character.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

The only way Dom Hemingway knows how to make an entrance: Through the damn wall.

The only way Dom Hemingway knows how to make an entrance: Through the damn wall.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

Think of a duel between Don Corleone and Samurai Jack, with the Wu-Tang Clan blasting somewhere in the background. Yeah, pretty weird.

Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a quiet, lonely hitman, living in the modern world. Nothing really all that strange about that right? Well, he is a hitman that adheres to the code of the samurai; meaning he doesn’t use technology, has total respect for those who employs him and can only be contacted by carrier pigeon. As odd as this may seem, it somehow has been working for him for the longest time, all until he finds himself in a huge pickle once the mob that hired him to do the job, decide that he botched it up and want him dead. However, Ghost don’t play that shit and they’re going to most likely find that out.

To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of Jim Jarmusch. The guy seems like he has his own certain style that pretty much leans only towards his audience and kind of says, “‘eff off” to those who aren’t as fond of it, or not nearly as hip as those who do like and appreciate his work. I think I’m a bit part of the latter, which is why I wasn’t really looking forward to watching his mash-up of a gangster and samurai film. Seems a bit of a strange mixture to put together in the first place, and having Jarmusch being the one to combine the two, only made it seem the more odd.

However, it seems like without Jarmusch, this material couldn’t have even worked any other way.

Don't you just hate it when that happens?!?

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?!?

What I liked about this flick and Jarmusch’s direction is that the guy settles things down pretty quickly, and allows us to feel the nature and essence of this story. It’s a pretty standard story of a hired-job-gone-wrong and the people having to pay for it, but the way Jarmusch focuses more on the characters, the style behind the characters, and the setting that surrounds them is something that makes this a tad different than many other crime movies of this nature. There’s a laid-back feel to this movie that doesn’t really kick-start up once the action does; it sort of just moves around. But it’s never boring because of that. Instead, it gave me a clearer-view of whom I was working with here and got me ready for the grisly violence that actually came to be a bit of a shock for me.

Though Jarmusch is, in essence, a very stylish-director, the violence he portrays in this movie doesn’t really have all that much style to it. There’s a lot of guns being touted-around like candy; gun being fired; blood squibs flying; limbs being torn-apart; and more than enough people getting offed in some pretty reckless ways. It’s all standard crime-thriller stuff that we’ve seen a hundred times before, but Jarmusch does something neat with it that makes it work moreso for him and his legion of fans.

That mainly has to do with how Jarmusch is able to incorporate humor and a bit of dark comedy to each scene that features somebody getting shot-up. It almost reminded me a bit of a Coen Brothers movie where somebody’s head could be practically on the ground, and they’d still find a way to make a chuckle or two about it. That’s how Jarmusch is with the violence and material here and even though he isn’t as subtle or surprising with it as the Coens, he still has something to show and provides us with plenty of violence to cure any crime-movie lover’s needs. Still, it’s a movie about a samurai who lives in the current-world, so why the hell didn’t Ghost Dog at least draw the sword every once and awhile on some unlucky piece of Italiano shit? Seriously, I mean we see him practicing with it and laying by it, but it’s barely ever used.

Oh well, the guy could definitely kill me in a heartbeat so I won’t go on any longer.

Even though this isn’t as weird and quirky as most Jarmusch films are, you still can’t help but feel like this guy really carries the film back. For instance, all of the samurai babble that would literally come in every six minutes was okay for the first two or three times it was done, because it made sense to the story and to our main character. But after awhile, when they dived themselves into about 15 sayings that nobody cared about, then I got annoyed. And it wasn’t even that I didn’t try to care about them and pay attention, because trust me, I did but after awhile, I just started to realize that they had nothing to do with the story and was just one way of Jarmusch trying to get us inside of the head of this character that I feel like we connected with already. There’s a whole bunch of other liberties that Jarmusch takes with this movie and even though they didn’t all piss me off, they still made me feel like it was just another case of Jarmusch trying too hard.

Also, I get that everybody loves this soundtrack because it featured all of RZA’s work before he went-off and did the score for Kill Bill, but it is literally the same noise over-and-over again. Every time there’s a sequence of Ghost Dog walking down the street, driving down the street, or just looking plain and simply cool, the film starts to play this over-bearing track of RZA rapping over a bunch of bells and weird drum-beats. Just like the “samurai babble” I alluded to earlier, once or twice is good but after it gets into the double-digits, then I have a bit of a problem. Mixing mobster and samurai movies, to the beat of rap music is a pretty nifty-idea, I just wish there was more rap involved to where I felt like it really made a difference to the story and not just used as a gimmick to show how whack those old, Italian mobsters are because they can’t connect with the modern-world.

From one true samurai, to another.

From one true samurai, to another.

Despite all this, the highlight of this movie for me was probably watching Forest Whitaker (and his lazy eye) just kick total-ass as Ghost Dog. Whitaker is the type of actor that’s all about presence and having a look to him that can scare the hell out of you. That’s what he does here as Ghost Dog, but the guy isn’t one, big walking cliche of the silent stranger who does his dirty work and gets on with his life like a bit of a scarred-weirdo; he’s actually pretty down-to-earth and you like him for that. Yeah, he’s a bit weird because he talks to pigeons half of the movie, but then again, you would too if all you did was kill people, send people messages by birds, and never want anybody to know who you are.

Actually, I think I’d just get a dog instead, but that’s just me.

Anyway, Whitaker is awesome as Ghost Dog and makes you feel like you can stand fully-behind this guy to do the right thing and hopefully, just hopefully, just come out on-top at the end. Watching him kill all of these old, out-of-date mobsters was hilarious because they just fumbled around like a bunch of worthless goons and watching them get taken down by a dude who seemed to be in a whole, different time-zone than they were, really made this a bit more enjoying to watch. Sounds quite morbid, I know, but it’s the simple pleasures like that, which make movies like this a lot better in my mind.

I’m a sicko, I know. It’s what I live with on a day-to-day basis.

Consensus: There’s a couple of instances in which Jim Jarmusch allow his goofiness to get too in the way of Ghost Dog‘s story, but nonetheless, it’s still a neat mixture of everything that mobster movies do so well, along what samurai movies as well.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Beautiful New York: Where African-American samurais run free on roof-tops.

Beautiful New Jersey: Where African-American samurais run free on roof-tops.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Enemy (2014)

So does that mean Maggie has a look-alike?

Anthony St. Claire (Jake Gyllenhaal) lives a simple, quiet life in Canada. He teaches history at the local college; has a girlfriend (Melanie Laurent) that he drinks with and bangs just about every night; and he doesn’t really seem to have much problems in his life, except for the fact that he’s sort of just moping around and not caring about much of anything at all. One day, however, a colleague of his recommends a movie to him in which, all of a sudden, he notices somebody in the movie who looks exactly like him. Automatically, this drives Anthony to figure out just who the hell this person is, and why it is that they look so similar to begin with. Anthony soon discovers that this man is in fact Adam Bell, a two-bit, actor with a pregnant wife (Sarah Gadon) who doesn’t like it when Anthony starts calling the house and wanting to arrange a meet between the two. Eventually though, Adam realizes that he can possibly use Anthony’s resemblance, as an advantage of sorts, in which the two could pass as one another, without anybody noticing a single difference, except for the fact that one’s a bit of a loser, and the other is an ambitious, lively-fella. Or, so we think.

There’s clearly a lot more to this story than what’s just presented up-top. For instance, you’d think that this is just a simple tale of a man who realizes he has a doppelganger, that he decides to scope-out and try to build a relationship of sorts with, that suddenly goes out-of-whack. But nope. That’s how it seems to play-out, at first, but eventually, things get to be a little haywire.

How haywire may you ask?

Leather jacket = cool.

Leather jacket = cool.

Well, Isabella Rossellini, one of film’s most recognizable faces working today, shows up for no less than three minutes on screen and just leaves, never to be seen from again.

However, that’s just the beginning of the strangeness within this movie, because once you realize that there’s more clues than you can shake a stick at here, it’s going to get very complicated to digest. Which is why, despite my enjoyment of it, I can’t say that it’s for everybody. Heck, I can’t even say fully, or wholeheartedly, that it’s for me either. What I can say is that if you like a nice mystery that doesn’t always clue you in on everything it’s trying to do or reveal, then go for this one.

But, if you’re like some ladies and gents out there that I know of, then don’t even bother with it. Not only will it make your mind hurt, and twist, and pull, and do all sorts of terrible, unhealthy things that you won’t like, it will make you want to re-watch it again, and again, and again, and again, only until you finally feel justified in saying you know exactly what happens, for what reasons, to whom, and exactly why. And even then, I can’t assure you that you’ll fully understand it.

So yeah, I may be setting this one up in a pretty big way, but I think it deserves to be. Going into this, I sort of expected a natural-thriller that would give me itty, bitty clues along the way as to what I’m supposed to think and why, but this isn’t that type of movie. You can tell that director Denis Villeneuve is clearly trying to set-up a story in which everything and everybody you see, may not be what it is you’re seeing. Is it all taking place inside of this one guy’s mind? Or, is this all actually happening the way it is presented to us, which could only mean that there are two Donnie Darko’s now gracing this fine world?

The answers never come in a clean way, and I’m not even sure if they come at all, but the movie kept me guessing and trying to connect the dots as much as I possibly could, which is you need with a good thriller. Doesn’t matter if the thriller has barely any shoot-outs or chases through dark and narrow streets; what does matter is that it at least keeps me wondering, waiting and intrigued in the characters, as well as the mysteries surrounding them. And that’s a thriller needs to do – not just for me, but for anyone who wants a little suspense and confusion thrown their way.

The only aspect of this film that I will talk-out against is that I couldn’t help but think that by the end, I didn’t get to know a single person at all. Granted, that may have been what Villeneuve set-out to do all of this time, in a way to only confuse me further, but I did wish that there was somebody I could really get behind or even feel the slightest amount of sorrow or pity for, seeing as how this world they’re in doesn’t always treat them with the best intentions. Sarah Gadon’s character comes sort of close to that kind of sympathetic-figure a movie like this needs, but even when I got to thinking about her character more and more, I felt like the only reason why I did even care for her was because she was pregnant and her husband was a bit of a dick towards her. That’s pretty much it. It didn’t seem to matter if the story on a good note, or bad one, because either way, the gal would have continued to live her life and be fine. Except now, she’d probably have the baby or something. Hell, I don’t even know if she was actually pregnant!

Damn this movie!

No leather jacket = not cool.

No leather jacket = not cool.

Anyway, besides Gadon, Jake Gyllenhaal’s one character in this movie, Anthony, comes to a close second as being the only guy I could even care about, which more or less has to do with the fact that Gyllenhaal is so damn good here at playing both characters here. Granted, it’s not all that hard to play two, different versions of a character in one movie, because when you think about it, all you really have to do is play both sides with totally opposite personalities, or rely on the make-up team to help out in making sure the audience know which character is which. Here, however, Gyllenhaal has a harder-task on his plate where he has to seemingly play two characters who are, essentially, relatively similar. Not just in the way they look like fraternal twins, but by how one character is only a tad more high-strung than the other, but not by all that much.

At first, it seemed like a really hard job for Gyllenhaal to pull-off, but somehow, he does so well with it, that I didn’t even get confused for a single bit as to whom it was that he was playing. And he does so in subtle ways; a twitch of his eye, a tone in his voice, the way he carries himself from one end of a room to another, it all felt so distinctive to whichever character he was supposed to be portraying. Yes, a little more depth into both of these characters would have made this performance so much better than just “Gyllenhaal pulling an Adaptation-like role”, but man, I have to say that this guy seems to keep on impressing me, more and more each time I see him.

Don’t ever give up, Jakie-poo. Keep on acting your rump off, and don’t let these nasty T-Swift rumors get you down. She’s a crazy chick anyway. Ammiright?

Consensus: Will most likely not make a lick of sense after the first couple or so viewings, but regardless, Enemy is still an interesting thriller that doesn’t always answer its questions in an easy manner, but does allow Jake Gyllenhaal to act very well in these dual roles of his.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Dude, who are you?" "I'm you!" "Who?" "YOU!!"

Not-so cool guy: “Dude, who are you?”
Cool guy: “I’m you!”
Not-so cool guy: “Who?”
Cool guy: “YOU!!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider

Hateship Loveship (2014)

Nothing stranger than a gal who doesn’t mind cleaning up beds after people soil them.

Quiet, reserved and slightly off-kilter middle-aged caretaker Johanna (Kristen Wiig) has to move when her last employer passes away, which then leads her to her new job: Taking care of a young teenager named Sabitha (Hailee Steinfeld). She is currently living alone with her grand-father (Nick Nolte), while her alcoholic father Ken (Guy Pearce) is out-and-about, saying of how he’s trying to get his act together and start up his own Motel. At first, Johanna seems to do her own thing and not really get in anybody’s way, that is until Sabitha and one of her friends find and read a note that Ken has written Johanna. The note itself is harmless and practically meaningless, as it’s just Ken scribbling down his thoughts about how he appreciates Johanna looking after his daughter while he’s gone and whatnot; however, Sabitha decides that it’s time to have some fun with these two adults, and decides to make fake letters for Johanna to respond to. This continues on for quite some time, and gets very serious once Johanna herself even gets an e-mail address, but where it really goes overboard is when Johanna shows up at Ken’s dilapidated place, expecting him to great her with arms wide open, when in reality, he’s sleeping, high, confused and already in a relationship. Still, that doesn’t mean a relationship between the two can’t happen, or even work-out, right?

You’d think that after the smash-success of Bridesmaids, that Kristen Wiig would have taken just about every big, payday-gig Hollywood had to throw at her, right? Well, think again, crazy ones! See, with Wiig, she’s done just about the exact-opposite: She’s used a lot of her “star-power” as pull for these small, relatively low-key indies that she gets apart of, not to just make her shine better as an actress, but actually have audiences see her in a different-light than ever before.

Yup, she loves staring. Just accept it and move on.

Yup, she loves staring. Just accept it and move on.

Cause, Christ, after doing this for about seven years, you’d think that audiences wouldn’t ever take you seriously again!

Well, that’s what’s so surprising about Wiig – not that she’s good at playing-up the whole “drama” aspect to her acting skills, but because she’s able the compelling element in a movie, without barely uttering a word. For people who have wanted to see Wiig just shut it for at least an hour or two, then here’s the movie for you, because she does a whole lot of staring. And also a lot of awkward-pausing, stuttering, more staring, making-out with herself in the mirror, making food silently, and yes, even more staring. However, it’s not as boring or as repititious as I may make it out to be, because there’s always an under-lining thought throughout this whole movie about just who this Johanna woman really is.

Most of that mystery can be attributed to some fine character-development, but it can also be attributed to Wiig herself who, despite only saying more than a couple of paragraphs throughout the whole movie, is by far the one element this movie has that keeps it moving. You can tell that she’s a nice lady, but you can also tell that there is something brewing inside of her, which may either be some sexual-tension she wants to release, or just words that have been stuck inside of gut for the past 20 or so years. Either way, we want to watch her interact with those around her, it’s just hard to see how those people react to her and her way of not responding in a normal, thought-provoking manner like most human beings are pleased with.

But screw human beings, you know!!??! What a weird species, man!

Anyway, despite all of my love for Wiig and what she does here, I don’t mean to take anything away from anyone else in the cast, nor the movie itself. In fact, I’d say that despite the movie being practically just another, slow, quiet and subtle indie-drama, it was one that I rarely ever felt a false note rung with. I would have definitely loved it if the movie went into more depth with these characters, particularly Ken, who spends most of the movie looking like he’s tired, beat-up and doesn’t know what to say. Sure, Guy Pearce is great in the role (then again, when is he never?), but once he and Johanna actually start hanging out and “talking” (notice the parenthesis), I couldn’t help but feel like all of the movie’s steam that it had been building up for so long, just went away and evaporated into the air. It disappointed me a bit, although I do see where they were going with this direction, as well as what it was trying to say about these characters. Can’t say I really agreed with it all that much, but hey, I’m not a director making a movie with the likes of Guy Pearce, Nick Nolte, Kristen Wiig and Hailee Stenfeld, so what the hell do I know, right?

Eh. Teenage girls.

Eh. Teenage girls.

No, really. Somebody help me out here. What the hell do I know?!?!

Well, I guess I can sort of help myself out and answer that I know fine performances when I see one, and there’s plenty to be found here. I already mentioned that Pearce and Wiig are great in their roles, but it’s that Hailee Steinfeld who really left an impression on me with her role here as the 17-something Sabitha, the kind of girl I would approach in high school and talk to, but never really become close with, all because she’s a bit shallow for my taste. Then again, what 17-year-old girl in high school isn’t a bit shallow? Heck, that’s how half of me and my girlfriends met – by being shallow!

Anyway, what I’m trying to say here is that Steinfeld plays the role of the “coming-of-age, female-teenager” very well, without over-doing it at all. She seems catty and mean whenever she’s talking about Johanna and other people she doesn’t like; but also a sweet, endearing little gal whenever she’s chatting it up with her grand-pop, late at night, while chewing on some Honey Combs. See, she’s just like you or I! Except she’s an Oscar-nominated actress, appearing alongside the likes of Nick Nolte and whatnot!

God, I really have to get my act together already. Jeez Louise.

Consensus: More of a pleasant, little viewing-piece, rather than something that lasts in your mind for a long time afterwards, Hateship Loveship still boasts good enough performances from the A-grade cast to ensure that our minds won’t linger too much from the conventional material.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

But seriously, that stare doe.

But seriously, that stare doe.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net

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