Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

Take it from rappers, being imprisoned makes you a better musician.

In Depression-era Mississippi, Ulysses McGill (George Clooney), Pete (John Turturro), and Delmar (Tim Blake Nelson) all escape from jail to embark on a buried-treasure that Ulysses himself declares that he hid and is safe and sound somewhere. However, they have an awful long way to go before they get to the treasure, which means that they have to go through a lot of hoops, meet a lot of shady characters, and most of all, try to stay away from the police’s sights. Obviously, this sounds a lot easier said then done, but everything and anything seems to be happening around the same time that these three are heading out for their adventure. For one, they unintentionally become a popular folk band, then, they get mixed-up with the KKK, make an African American friend by the name of Tommy Johnson, have a run-in with Baby Face Dillinger, and, most importantly, meet the acquaintance of some very lovely ladies. But no matter how many holes may stand in the way of these guys’ trip, they never forget about the treasure that’s just awaiting for them to seize and make their own.

Try singin' your way out of this one!

Try singin’ your way out of this one!

There’s no denying that the Coens have a certain love and adoration for their characters, no matter how silly, ridiculous, or over-the-top they may, or can get. Some people say that they make fun of said characters, as well as their settings, but I tend to disagree with this notion, as it’s clear from the very start that the Coens find something very interesting about each one of their characters that they draw and create, as well as the world around said characters that seem to take on a whole personality on its own. In O Brother, it’s clear that the Coens have a soft place for the sweaty, mugginess of Depression-era Mississippi that’s less about making fun of people who talk funny, but more about embracing some of their more old-timey notions of life.

Obviously, the Coens are a bit subversive about this idea, too, with featuring a story all sorts of violence, racism, and blood, but they don’t ever lose their sense of fun here. They also never seem to sell themselves short; rather than making this just a one-note premise in which these stupid characters get away with everything that comes their way, they show that there’s some trouble and difficulty for these characters to get from point A, to point B. Of course, O Brother is, first and foremost, an adventure flick and it’s nice to see the Coens give as much attention to their characters, as much as they do to the jokes and random sequence of events.

For instance, Ulysses, Delmar, and Pete may all seem like your typical, bumpkin idiots, but really, the Coens show that there’s more to them.

Not only do they have hearts, but they all do seem to genuinely care for one another that makes it easy to see why they’ve got such a strong bond in the first place. As a result, we want to see these three together more and more, not just because they’re fun to watch (which they are), but because there’s something warm, soft and cozy about knowing these three pals are all together and because of that, nothing will go wrong. Of course, things don’t always turn out that way, but still, watching and listening to these three characters was more than enough to stick around.

Stop trying to make yourself ugly, George. It ain't gonna work.

Stop trying to make yourself ugly, George. It ain’t gonna work.

And let’s not forget to mention that George Clooney, John Turturro, and Tim Blake Nelson all do fantastic jobs in these roles, seeming like they’re very interested in who these characters are, past the backwater-stereotypes. Clooney, however, is the one who really seems like he’s having the time of his life, smirking, snarling and laughing in just about every scene he’s shown, where you get the idea that he could not wait a single second to work with the Coens, nor could he get enough of the fact that his character is, in some ways, the smartest out of the three. Clooney gets to use a lot of big words and articulate a whole lot, which may not sound like it works, but surprisingly, does, and it just goes to show you what Clooney can do when he’s a bit unhinged and less caring about appeasing a certain demographic.

There’s more people in this film, like John Goodman, Holly Hunter, Charles Durning, and others, who show up here, do their thing and show that they’re worthy of being around, which makes O Brother all the more exciting.

There’s not a huge world out there for the Coens to work with, but it’s all up to their own choosing. While O Brother is certainly not the Coens best movie, it’s still their most ambitious as it shows that the studio had no problem funding their vision and idea for this movie, even if every period detail seems perfectly picked to the bone. And with more money and freedom to do what they want, they run wild. Sometimes, the goofiness, other times, it doesn’t; when the movie is supposed to be deep and serious, it can’t help but stumble and make you wonder where all the smiles and charms went. But still, it’s a Coens brother movie, which mostly always means, it’s worth seeing.

If not for them, then at least do it for the soundtrack.

Consensus: Perhaps not the Coens best, yet, at the same time, still very much an exceptional piece of work from the power duo, O Brother shows they not only have a keen eye for attention to detail and character, but also their odd sense of humor that still hits.

7.5 / 10

Back on the chain gang, boys!

Back on the chain gang, boys!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Diary of a Teenage Girl (2015)

Don’t worry, fellas: Girls definitely think about sex more than us.

You go through a lot when you’re 15 years old. For Minnie (Bel Powley), this is especially true. Not only is she going through that transitional period in her life where her boobs get bigger and her sex drive is becoming more and more heavy, she’s also now started hooking-up with her mom’s boyfriend, Monroe (Alexander Skarsgård). Although mommy (Kristen Wiig) doesn’t suspect a thing, Minnie and Monroe still want to keep it a secret enough so that they continue on to have fun, regardless of the serious consequences surrounding them. But considering that Minnie is still very young and has a life to live, she goes out searching for other men on her own. Sometimes, she finds winners, other times, she doesn’t. But most of the time, she always finds herself back into the illustrious, sexy arms of Monroe. Same goes for Monroe, who can’t seem to keep his eyes, as well as his penis away from Minnie, no matter how hard he tries to remember the fact that he’s with her mom. Regardless of all this though, Minnie’s just trying to get by in life, for the time being, and if that means having a little sex, then so be it. She’s just happy being herself.

Ah, who doesn't remember that awkward car ride with your mom's boyfriend who you secretly want to bang?

Ah, who doesn’t remember that awkward car ride with your mom’s boyfriend who you secretly want to bang?

We’ve seen this kind of coming-of-ager done before, but where the Diary of a Teenage Girl does service well to its source material is that it never, not for a single second, seems to judge its characters for behaving how they do, or being just who they are.

Case in point: Minnie.

Not only is Minnie your classic case of a teenage girl going through the process of womanhood, she’s also an understandable and relateable one, to both girls and boys. Minnie’s at that point in her life where’s seeing her body go through all of these sorts of transformations, understand the world around her a bit differently, and most of all, be horny basically all of the time. She acts out in some devious ways, however, no matter how far she goes with her sexuality, writer/director Marielle Heller never makes the false step in judging her.

And as Minnie, Bel Powley does a wonderful job, not only being able to show us the frustration that can go through this woman’s mind as she’s coming to terms with everything in and around her, but also the delight. Right from the very beginning, when she has sex, you can tell that there’s a certain bright glow and charm to Powley that’s not hard to love or enjoy; after awhile, that same glow and charm starts to win you over, even if the character of Minnie herself, seems to make some tricky decisions throughout. Which isn’t to say that it’s bad for a girl to act-out sexually, but when it’s with your mother’s boyfriend, who also happens to be a bit of a self-destructive being in his own right, well then, some judgement is deserved.

But once again, the movie never does any of the judgment and instead, allows her to be herself.

This goes for the rest of the cast and crew. Wiig’s mother character isn’t seen as a mean, cruel and despicable woman who is mean to those who love and surround her – if anything, she’s more sad. She’s still getting over a divorce and taking control of her life, but also knows that she’s getting older and losing out on options she once had in her life. It’s a tender performance that we don’t tend to see from Wiig, yet, it still works all the same.

Same goes for Skarsgård who, in the past few or so years, has proven himself to be quite the acting-talent, when given the right material to roll with. Sure, he was hot and sexy on True Blood, but that show didn’t really allow for there to be any semblance of subtlety or humanity, however, with movies like Melancholia, What Maisie Knew, and the East, he’s shown that he’s gotten a knack for taking certain characters, and showing that there’s more to them that just meets the eyes. At first glance, Monroe may seem like a total and complete loser, 70’s porn-‘stache and everything, but really, you start to feel a bit of sympathy. Whether or not he actually has feelings for Minnie is left up in the air, but the slight possibility that he does remain in the air and it’s what keeps him, at most, a compelling character.

"You look a lot like your daughter."

“You look a lot like your daughter.”

Oh and as for the movie itself? Yeah, it’s still pretty good.

However, in today’s day and age, it’s really hard to figure out a way to make coming-of-age themes really resonant or change anybody’s life, considering that almost everything’s been said, in all sorts of ways. That’s not to say that the Diary of a Teenage Girl doesn’t find some interesting avenues to look down to uncover what it means to be a kid going through their own sexual transformation, it’s just that a lot of it’s been done, said, and studied for so long, that if you aren’t bringing anything and everything to the table, then sometimes, yeah, it won’t hit as hard.

Still, what the movie has to say is fine enough, which is that being going through puberty can, more often than not, suck. You’ll go through all sorts of changes that you don’t see coming, your emotions will go from dead to electric in the span of a minute, and your mind will probably be thinking way too many things at one time that you’d want it to, but the fact that you’re still kind of a kid, makes it somewhat okay. The world’s not depending on you just yet, so have sex, drink, smoke, party, and have a good time, because sooner or later, before you know it, life is going to come a callin’, and it’s going to be up to you to see whether you answer it, or leave it at the door.

The choose is up to you, but for now, enjoy the party.

Consensus: The Diary of a Teenage Girl deals with familiar themes within the coming-of-age genre, but also finds ways to unravel heart, humanity, and most of all, humor within them, especially due to solid cast.

7 / 10

Yes, girls really just wanna have fun.

Yes, girls really just wanna have fun.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Grandma (2015)

Sometimes, the oldest people are the coolest.

Sage (Julia Garner) just had sex with her boyfriend (Nat Wolff) and, well, wouldn’t you know it? Turns out that she’s pregnant. So, rather than keeping it around and having to deal with all of that in her young life, she decides that she wants to get rid of it and have an abortion. Issue is, she doesn’t have the money. And even though her mom (Marcia Gay Harden) has plenty of it, she doesn’t want to bother her with the situation. So, that’s when she turns to her hip, cool grandmother, famed poet Elle Reid (Lily Tomlin), who is going through some issues of her own. One, she just broke up with her girlfriend (Judy Greer), and secondly, she doesn’t really have any money. So this means that the two will have to band together and search for money anywhere they can. For Sage, this mostly means going to the father of the unborn child and that’s it, but for Elle? Well, this means that she’s got to go way back in time to all of her friends and confidantes over the past many years, hit them up for money, and promise them favors she doesn’t really seem to keen on holding up.

I'd take the ride if she was offering it.

I’d take the ride if she was offering it.

A typical Grandma, you see?

Grandma is the type of vehicle that someone of Lily Tomlin’s talents deserves. Though people have loved seeing Tomlin show up every so often in random films, some good, some bad, it seems like she’s never been given that extra time to show and remind the world why she kicks so much ass. Heck, even Grace & Frankie, a show that’s purpoted as “Lily Tomlin’s”, really seems to be wasting her on tired, old hippie clichés.

Something that Lily Tomlin herself is much better than.

That’s why Grandma works as well as it does; not only does it give Tomlin the chance to shine and show the world the true talents that have been lying within her for so very long, but it also presents a solid character worthy of our attention, care and, possibly, love. Because as Elle Reid, Tomlin plays the typical stereotype of an aging lesbian who does what she wants, says what she wants, kicks whoever she wants to in the nuts, doesn’t give a flyin’ hoot about whatever anybody else says, and bangs whomever she oh so pleases. Are there people out there like this? Of course! But is this a bit of a bore to see?

Oh definitely!

However, that’s why Tomlin is so good here, as she not only transcends that stereotype, but shows that there’s a reason behind the way she acts. Not only is she still heartbroken and destroyed over the death of her long-time girlfriend, but she also’s coming to terms with her own mortality, as a whole. That’s why, on this little road trip Elle and Sage take, we start to learn more and find out about Elle herself – not just through what people tell us about her, but how they act towards her, even after all of these years. It’s this kind of story-telling and character-development that isn’t just smart, but engaging, as we don’t really know just what Elle’s life has been, but we get a good idea through the constant interactions she has with those around her.

And every step of the way, Tomlin is there to make it work. A lot of the “funny” dialogue that she has to work with can occasionally come off as cloying, and sometimes, annoying, but that’s only because the movie feels as if it has to present Elle as a wise-cracking granny. Having her just be a no-bullcrap woman is fine as is, all the added-on punch-lines and jokes at other’s expense, don’t really matter or work. There’s one painful scene with Nat Wolff, where he ends up getting kicked in the nuts and it’s played for laughs, in a shocking. almost outrageous way, but it never works and feels like a scene thrown in there because Wolff himself decided that he had a day or two to film his scene.

Who wouldn't want the kid from Paper Towns, who also bares a striking resemblance to Adam Goldberg, as their baby daddy?

Who wouldn’t want the kid from Paper Towns, who also bares a striking resemblance to Adam Goldberg, as their baby daddy?

There are a few other weird scenes that play-out just like that, but it’s always Tomlin who keeps these moments, as well as these characters, grounded in some sort of reality that makes sense and can be, at the very least, relateable.

Aside from Tomlin, the rest of Grandma is pretty stacked with some heavy-hitters, all of whom are game for Paul Weitz’s script, adding in their own two cents whenever necessary. Julia Garner doesn’t really need to do much as Sage, instead just sit there and let Tomlin do all of the work, but she’s fine as is; Judy Greer gets a few solid scenes as Elle’s former-lover; Marcia Gay Harden is funny and exciting as Sage’s mom, which makes me wish that this probably was a movie about Sage, Elle and her character, all hangin’ around one another and getting into the occasional squabble; and there’s a few nice appearances from Colleen Camp, Laverne Cox, John Cho, and the late, great Elizabeth Peña.

But the real star of the supporters is Sam Elliott, playing one of Elle’s former lovers, as well as ex-husband, and gives perhaps one of his most “human” performances since Thank You For Smoking. This isn’t to say that all of Elliott’s little pop-ups in random pieces haven’t been unwelcome or bad – it’s more that it seems like he’s playing that same kind of character he’s been known for all along and rather than upending that appearance, he’s been fine with just staying the same, adding the grizzle whenever he feels necessary. Nothing wrong with that, but watching his performance here, it makes you wish that he was more demanding with his own roles, as he’s not only a bright spark of liveliness this movie needed, but gives us everything and anything we need to know about Elle and the sort of affect she had on those people in her life. We get the basic idea of what happened between them both, but really, we don’t know everything and that’s fine.

Grandma isn’t about knowing everything. It’s about the little details that can sometimes make people’s lives the most interesting.

Consensus: With a solid, but rare leading role from Lily Tomlin, Grandma works because of its gentle, tender care and attention to its characters and heartfelt themes, without overdoing it, even if the comedy doesn’t always work.

7.5 / 10

Daughters become grandmothers, but turn to mothers. Why am I quoting John Mayer?

Daughters become grandmothers, but turn to mothers. Why am I quoting John Mayer?0

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Finest Hours (2016)

Well, if pneumonia doesn’t kill ya!

Based on the true story of events that took place in February of 1952, a when a brutally strong storm hit the coast of New England. During this storm, an oil tanker, the SS Pendleton, found itself in a whole of trouble – meaning that they’re ship was literally torn in half. Captain of the ship, Ray Sybert (Casey Affleck), as well as thirty two other men found themselves in the back half of the ship and were in desperate need of some help and attention. Because, well, the longer the ship stayed floating in the water, the more and more flooded it got, leading the men closer and closer to their own respective deaths. Obviously, nobody on the boat was happy about this, so they decided to make one last call for help, in hopes that somebody, even despite the terrible storm, would be able to come and save them all. Well, wouldn’t luck have it that a U.S. Coast Guard station hears it, and one person in particular, Bernie Webber (Chris Pine), decides that it’s his responsibility to save the day and make sure that all of these men get home alive and safely. But Bernie, as well as the other brave souls who go along with him, will soon find out that maybe their dream all along, just was that: A dream that maybe couldn’t ever come true.

He's so normally good-looking.

He’s so normally good-looking.

The Finest Hours is a better movie than people seem to be giving it credit for. Although that isn’t to say it isn’t without its faults, because, well, it definitely has problems. One such is that director Craig Gillespie seems like he’s trying to do a tad too much here, but never really fleshing each plot-line/subplot out to their fullest extreme. Gillespie brings us into the sort of old timey, nostalgic-tone of the early-50’s for the first half-hour of the movie where we see love, happiness and all sorts of novelty expressions of the old days, blossom and it’s a genuinely sweet little movie in its own right. It feels odd considering that we know the movie is going to have to do with a huge storm and ship at one point, but hey, it’s fine for a short while.

Then, it jumps right onto the ship and all of a sudden, we’re getting what is basically the prequel to the Perfect Storm.

Had this movie been released in 2000, right before the Perfect Storm, the Finest Hours would have been called that and it probably would have been a bit of a better movie (although the later is definitely better than the former). However, the Finest Hours is a movie that exists, features a huge boat, as well as a destructive storm that, believe it or not, is actually pretty scary; even though Gillespie literally goes from us watching as Chris Pine makes on some sweet girl, to then being thrown head-first into this dirty, sweaty, wet, and muggy ship, at the drop of a dime, it’s still surprisingly effective.

A bit jarring? Yeah, but it still somehow worked.

But most of this is due to the fact that Gillespie seems to put a lot of his focus onto the storm at-hand and it’s where the movie really excels. Though the CGI can look a bit shoddy, as well as incredibly dark at times, the movie still gives you this idea that, no matter how determined or empowered these guys may be, there may just be one too many odds stacked against them. Despite the fact that it’s based on a true story that most people probably already know about, it’s not hard to get wrapped-up in the characters, as limited as they may be, and the storm, watching as the two sides constantly duke it out.

Once again though, Gillespie’s focus does tend to lean back towards the characters and this is where the movie can sometimes lose its grove. Personally, I was all fine with the central romance between Pine and Holliday Grainger, but once Pine’s Bernie Webber is out on the water, Grainger’s character is sort of just left there to fend for herself, going from one random house to another, looking scared and beautiful at the same time. Why she wasn’t cast in Carol is beyond me!

But regardless, yeah, everything on-land is pretty dry and more often than not breaks up the tension of the movie. However, the storm/rescue sequences themselves are so compelling and tense, that they’re almost worth all the little breaks in between. That’s not to say that Gillespie could have probably made better, tighter movie without all of the stuff on-land, but still, it exists and it’s worth getting past, just to get to the good stuff.

Work that ship, Casey. Show big bro who the real Affleck is.

Work that ship, Casey. Show big bro who the real Affleck is.

And it’s not like the characters are played by any chumps, either, as everybody here is pretty solid.

Chris Pine is surprisingly playing against-type here as Bernie Webber, someone who is neither cunning nor charming, but just sort of the quiet and meek dude who always happens to be in the corner. Granted, it’s Chris Pine, with Chris Pine looks, so it’s hard for him to really play anyone as normal and everyday as someone who doesn’t already look like Chris Pine, but it’s fine because he’s at least trying with something different and, for the most part, it works. Ben Foster plays his pal, and doesn’t really have much to do or say, despite being in just about every scene. It’s a shame because we know so much more from Foster, but still, the presence is welcome.

And yeah, there’s a whole bunch of other character actors here to shake a stick at and be happy to see, but it’s really Casey Affleck and Eric Bana who steal the show – the former for good reasons, the later, for memorably bad ones. What Affleck does well here with his character is that he presents him as a smart, but determined man of very little words who doesn’t beat around the bush when the ship is sinking, but knows exactly how to save himself, as well as the rest of the crew on-board. There’s something comforting about his presence that makes him take over every scene and sort of just wish the movie was about him, his crew, and what’s always going through their minds.

Then, there’s Eric Bana who, sadly, is doing one of the worst movie accents of all time, although it’s not entirely his fault.

Okay, that’s a lie, because it pretty much is. However, I’m just trying to be nice to the guy because it seems like he’s got a lot to work with here. For one, he’s an Australian, trying to play a Texan, who just so happens to be stationed out in Boston. It’s initially odd because we don’t know what accent he’s doing, but after awhile, it becomes clear which one he is trying and it just never works, nor makes any sense. The movie could have definitely just placed him as a normal American from California or Montana, and Eric Bana would have been fine. However, they don’t do that and instead, Eric Bana looks and sounds so ridiculous.

Poor Eric. At least he got to be the Hulk in the new millennium before it was cool.

Consensus: Though the Finest Hours doesn’t always focus on the miraculous and surprisingly uplifting escape plan, it still works when it does, but then, doesn’t work when it’s looking elsewhere.

7 / 10

Ew! Bring back the hot and sweaty dudes!

Ew! Bring back the hot and sweaty dudes!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Everest (2015)

Staying at home is fine, too.

Mount Everest is considered to be one of the greatest snowy mountains to climb up and sights to see, ever. That’s why, in March 1996, there were a few commercial expeditions all getting ready together and prepared to climb the mountain, even if they knew it can sometimes be rough and not so lovely, even if you do reach the top and complete the trip. One group in particular was lead by Adventure Consultants’ Rob Hall (Jason Clarke) who, with his latest group with the likes of Beck Weathers (Josh Brolin), who’s dealing with some marital problems of his own, as well as mailman Doug Hansen (John Hawkes), who is apparently using the trip as a way to prove himself to his wife, as well as some sponsors of his. However, these two are just a slight few of the many who decided to travel up the mountain, reach the top, and achieve their goal. There were plenty others like traveling journalist Jon Krakauer (Michael Kelly) and Scott Fisher (Jake Gyllenhaal), just to name a few, but no matter how many there were, they still all faced the extreme weather conditions and storms that would soon sweep their area.

If Everest can take these three on, it can take on anyone!

If Everest can take these three on, it can take on anyone!

When all is said and done, all Everest really has to say about climbing and traveling and all that fun stuff is, that well, “it’s really hard to do”. For one, you have to have a whole lot of money to actually get the right treatment. Secondly, you have to train and prepare for it so much that, it comes to an eventual point where you don’t know how to live your own normal life, in normal society. And then, of course, there’s the risk-factor where, any wrong turn, slip, slide, or move in any way, can actually result in your fatal death. And while Everest can sometimes work as a way to get more and more tourists up there to check out the mountain for what it is, at the same time, that’s not at all the truth.

Because as the movie tells us, people die there. In fact, a lot of people.

And that’s about all Everest really has to say about this one particular, if true, story. People got cold, people got swept up in the huge storm that began to form right over them, and yes, people died. Of course, it’s very sad and there is no way of shining any sort of light or hope on it, however, there is something to be said for a movie that presents these deaths in a surprising manner, but also doesn’t shed any thought on them. It’s almost as if every character in Everest who dies, was around not to just die, but to also show us that hiking up a mountain like Everest is as scary and as terrifying as you’d expect it to be.

Which is a huge shame, because the cast here is pretty well-stacked and great. One can only assume that this great deal of talent got together in a movie like this because the paycheck was nice and there wasn’t too much heavy-lifting needed to be done, but still, you can tell that everybody here is trying and giving it their all. Jason Clarke finally gets a chance to shine and be charismatic for once, here as Rob Hall – somebody you just feel so incredibly safe and comfortable with, that you’ll almost forget your climbing one of the biggest mountains in all of the world. Though we get to see that he’s a generally nice guy who takes care of his free-loading buddies, picks up those that have fallen down, and loves his wife, it’s really Clarke who does most of the work here and shows just what he can do with such a limited-role.

Because frankly, everyone else’s characters don’t get much to do, either. And once again, it’s a total shame.

Josh Brolin gets to show us some semblance of humanity as Beck Weathers, the character we expect to be “the villain” of this whole story, only to realize that he’s nicer than expected; John Hawkes’ Doug Hansen is a bit of a corny character, but Hawkes is so likable that it almost doesn’t matter; Michael Kelly’s character feels like he serves more importance to the overall story, but doesn’t really get to stretch any of that out; Jake Gyllenhaal is hardly here as Scott Fisher, someone who is constantly drunk, miserable, tired, and hopped-up on some sort of drug, which Gyllenhaal works fine with, even if we don’t get any sort of background as to why; Emily Watson and Sam Worthington stay in the safe parts of Everest, for the most part, but still show enough humanity as much as they can; and Robin Wright and Keira Knightley are mostly downgraded to “wife roles” where they sit at home, watch over the house, and have occasional conversations with their spouses.

That snotty Keira, all tucked away and cozy in her warm home.

That snotty Keira, all tucked away and cozy in her warm home.

In case you couldn’t tell, that’s a lot of characters for a two-hour movie. So, it’s probably no surprise that a good handful are just left to act for a scene or two, and leave it at that. Most of them are effective, but overall, you can tell that, had the screenplay been more with their interest at-heart, something special would have happened.

That said, Everest is still pretty hard to look away from and get discouraged from, mostly because it does the job right in painting this storm as one of the most terrifying ones ever.

Director Baltasar Kormákur obviously didn’t set out to make some sort of thought-provoking piece of drama, but instead, wrap us in on a suspense-ride from beginning, to end. And honestly, it kind of works. The movie not only looks beautiful, but truly does make you feel as if you’re there at Everest, watching as each and everyone of these characters grapple with each one’s lives and try their hardest to stay the hell alive. Honestly, once the storm kicks in, which isn’t until about an hour in, is only when the movie really gets going, but it’s so enriching and compelling, that I was able to forgive it for all of the missteps it made before.

Even if the cast gets wasted on roles that are way too limited, there’s still the feeling that, deep down inside, Kormákur wanted to chronicle this tragedy. Sure, he went about it in such a manipulative manner, but he’s a film-director – how could he not want to make a little bit of money out of other people’s suffering?

Consensus: Despite not feeling as if it’s fully up-to-par with the extreme talents of the ensemble, Everest still works a chilly thrill-ride that keeps you enamored with the spectacle, so long as you don’t try to look too deep enough.

7 / 10

"Yeah, it's uh, it's pretty cold up here."

“Yep. Still pretty cold up here.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Good Dinosaur (2015)

Don’t tell me, but they die at the end. Right?

Imagine a world where the dinosaurs didn’t die and instead, continue to roam the planet as if nothing ever happened. Humans are other species exist, but for the most part, the dinosaurs are the dominant ones. And in this alternative timeline, lives an Apatosaurus named Arlo (voice of Raymond Ochoa), who isn’t nearly as a strong-willed or smart as his older brother and sister. His parents knew this at an early age, which is why they’ve always tried to push him into taking more care of himself and being there to help the family when help is needed. However, for the most part, Arlo’s father (Jeffrey Wright), has always been there to save the day and pick up Arlo’s slack. After a tragic event that leaves Arlo forced to have to pick up his own slack, as well as more responsibilities, he meets a small human who he doesn’t know if he can or can’t trust. But regardless of this, he gets lost and taken away from the rest of his family, which leaves him no other choice than to trust this little human to get him back home, where he can be safe, sound and help his family finish stocking food and shelter for the winter. Issue is, the trip home is going to be a brutal and scary one, which is why Arlo and this human may need to trust each other more, even if they don’t like it.

Oooooh.

Oooooh.

With Inside Out, you could say that Pixar has been on something of a roll, as since the release of Cars 2, they haven’t done so well. Which is to say that any Pixar movie from now, until the end of time, that’s considered to be “good”, will be fine enough; the bar isn’t raised as high anymore and for now, we’re just hoping that they continue to make good movies and not get caught up in their own system again. Sure, even though Inside Out was an amazing movie, it still came after a time where we don’t fully know just yet what to expect from Pixar.

But now we know that the Good Dinosaur is, well, good Pixar.

And that’s all it needs to be, really.

As usual with Pixar, everything about the Good Dinosaur is beautiful to look at. Because the movie is dealing with large landscapes, with hardly anything in them but trees, mountains and water, it’s surprising to see just how much the movie actually brings to the table in terms of what it wants to pop-out at us and have us gasping, wondering just how they made it all look so great. But then again, that’s the beauty of the animation team at Pixar – they make the kinds of movies they want and they don’t give a damn, all they want to do is make sure that they’re something worth looking at.

But honestly, this should come as no surprise to anyone knowing Pixar, but it deserves to be said because the story here isn’t nearly as surprising, or breath-taking as the visuals. If you take a gander at it, the Good Dinosaur is another re-working of the Lion King, where instead of having lions, we have dinosaurs, and instead of it just being Simba all by his lonesome for awhile, it’s now Arlo, accompanied by a cave boy human named Spot. It’s obvious from the very start just what’s going to happen with the story, where it’s going to go, and what sort of messages it’s going to push along, but surprisingly enough, it still kind of works. It’s not all that original and can, in some ways, appear to be “the Lion King for the new age”, but overall, it’s still a heartfelt story told with power and emotion that made that movie so damn great to begin with.

There’s no dancing, singing, or Nathan Lane, but hey, it’s got dinosaurs and sometimes, that’s all you need.

Still though, despite the story not winning points for originality, there were still plenty of moments where, like usual, Pixar found a way to have me reaching for the box of Kleenex and making sure nobody was looking at me. But what’s so surprising about this is how it seems like they’re not trying at all. One scene in particular has Arlo and Spot communicating with one another about their own family-units, but because neither speak in a language the other can understand, they just use the ground and a few sticks. It’s the one scene in this movie where it was obvious that the people in Pixar were reaching for my tears, but I didn’t care – it worked, it was effective, and it didn’t seem like they were trying to show off anything at all.

Aaaah.

Aaaah.

The only issue that seems to persist in the Good Dinosaur is that because they’re dealing with so many deeply heavy emotions and feelings, that whenever they try to throw comedy in to lighten things up, it doesn’t always feel pertinent to the story. Of course, it’s understandable why some of the comedy is here, what with this being Pixar and their a family-oriented company, but still, the comedy tries a bit too hard and if anything, comes in at unnecessary moments. When we see Spot and Arlo getting along with one another and building something of a friendship, it’s light, goofy and playful, just like we expect from Pixar, but other times, like with the characters Sam Elliott and Anna Paquin voice, it just seems obvious that Pixar wants people to laugh and forget that so much death has already occurred in such a story as this.

But no matter what, it’s the lovely friendship between Arlo and Spot that makes it worth watching. The heart is still plenty in-tact for a story like this, but it’s really them who make us wonder just where they’re going to go together. If anything, if there’s to be a Good Dinosaur 2, I’d be fine to see, if only because this one leaves plenty room open for new, inspiring things to happen.

Or, Pixar could just give us a Cars 3 and ruin everything they’ve been trying so desperately build back up. It’s their choice, I guess.

Consensus: Gorgeous-looking, but also heartfelt and sweet, the Good Dinosaur may not be a slam-dunk for Pixar like Inside Out, but still features plenty positive attributes that make us understand why they’re so trustworthy to begin with.

7 / 10

Oh, human? Nah.

Oh, human? Get out of here!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Tangerine (2015)

The streets are hard for a girl out there.

Sin-Dee Rella (Kitana Kiki Rodriguez) is a Trans who just finished her short stay in prison and automatically, wants to find out just what her boyfriend/pimp (James Ransome) has been up to and who he’s been up to it with. Issue is, she doesn’t have a working-phone to call him with, nor does she have any clear way of finding him on the gritty, but bright streets of Los Angeles. That’s why she enlists the help of her best friend, fellow prostitute, Alexandra (Mya Taylor), who doesn’t want to be apart of any of this drama, but clearly, doesn’t have much else to do except jerk dudes off in the front seats of cars for a couple of bucks. While this adventure is taking place, another one is occurring with local cab-driver Dinah (Mickey O’Hagan), who, despite being married with a wife, actually prefers the company of trans prostitutes, something his mother-in-law is suspicious about and wants to catch him in the act of doing. This is all, of course, happening on Christmas Eve, where joys may be merry, but for the most part, everybody’s just trying to live and survive another holiday season.

See plenty of this walking around Philadelphia. Trust me.

L.A. New York. Philadelphia. It don’t matter. Every city has the same people. 

Co-writer/director Sean Baker likes to focus on the smaller parts of the Earth that we don’t necessarily pay attention to. With Starlet, his last feature flick, Baker shined his lens on a relationship between an 80-year-old woman and a small-time, young porn star. With Tangerine, Baker is focusing on the lives of two trans prostitutes – both of whom, honestly, we’d never see in a mainstream, big-budgeted flick because, well, producers get scared of that and would much rather focus on white people, doing white things, so that other white people can go out and watch these white people do these white things. However, as snobby as I may sound, Baker actually isn’t; instead of making it seem like he’s trying to get a point across about the people he focuses on in his movies, he actually seems invested in where these character’s lives go and just how easy they are to relate to, regardless of what gender, race, or sexual preference you are.

And that’s one of the main reasons why Tangerine works as well as it should.

Not only does Baker keep things moving with this story at a fine pace to where we get to know everything about these characters from the very beginning, so that the reasons for why they act the way they do throughout the movie makes sense, but also gets us wrapped up in the excitement of this adventure they’re having as well. Baker infamously filmed all of Tangerine on an iPhone and while it may seem like a unnecessary gimmick, sooner or later, you totally forget about it and, if anything, realize that it’s perfect for capturing L.A. and these characters as they roam about the streets of it. There’s a certain tone that an iPhone catches, that most other digital cameras can’t, which allows for us to feel as if we’re not only right there with Sin-Dee and Alexandra, but feeling and smelling everything, too.

If anything, Baker’s success with filming Tangerine the way he wanted to, shows that up-and-coming film makers can probably do the same and make their own film. Who says they need a fancy, schmancy camera to do it with?

They can just reach in their pockets, after all!

But speaking of Sin-Dee and Alexandra, both Kitana Kiki Rodriguez and Mya Taylor are quite solid here, which probably has to due with the fact that they’re actual trans actors, playing trans characters. This may not seem like much, but considering that every movie nowadays that seems to tackle the subject of trans-sexuality and what it actually means to be “trans”, they cast a well-known, straight celebrity in the role and act as if said celebrity is really gritting their teeth by getting deep, down and dirty with such a role like that. Here though, Baker wisely makes the decision of having Rodriguez and Taylor portray these characters and it helps add another sense of realism to a movie that’s already sweating in it.

James Ransome playing a bad person? You don't say?

James Ransone playing a bad person? You don’t say?

Also, too, both have great chemistry that clearly seems to transcend well onto their characters, as both even each other out in surprising, but sweet ways. Sin-Dee is a bit reckless, dramatic and over-the-top with her emotions, whereas Alexandra is more reserved and about keeping her reckless feelings to herself. Watching these two pal around and walk throughout the grimy streets of L.A. is entertaining, especially since both actually seem like best pals in real life and not just two people forced to work together because they filled a certain look or image.

The only issue that I have with Tangerine has nothing to do with either Rodriguez or Taylor, but instead, with the supporting character who constantly jumps in every so often – Mickey O’Hagan’s Dinah.

Nothing against O’Hagan as I think he’s quite solid in a role that seems like it wants to be much more than just a subplot, but his role could have easily been taken out of this completely and Tangerine would have probably worked fine. It’s understandable what Baker is trying to do with this Dinah character from the very start, but after awhile, once he breaks apart some real exciting moments that push the story forward, it becomes clear that he’s just getting in the way of what could be a much more intimate story. But because Dinah exists in this story and is given so much focus, he ruins a lot of the swiftness and fast-pace that both Sin-Dee and Mya seem to really bring here. Once again, not saying that O’Hagan is bad here, or even that his character is given bad treatment – it’s just that maybe he doesn’t need to be here at all.

Which is a shame because really, Tangerine is all about Sin-Dee and Mya, as well as it should be.

Consensus: Despite an odd bit of plotting from Sean Baker, Tangerine still works as an entertaining, quick romp of a ride with two characters who, quite frankly, we don’t get to see a whole lot of focus on in movies.

7 / 10

So, anybody gonna finish that doughnut?

So, anybody gonna finish that doughnut?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Amy (2015)

Go to rehab. Don’t say “no, no, no”.

Even at an early age, everyone around Amy Winehouse knew that she was destined for some sort of greatness. Mostly though, everybody had the feeling that said greatness would be seen through her singing and performing, live, in front of crowds, for the whole world to see. And all of those friends, well, for the most part, were tragically right. When she first got her start in the biz, Amy was considered to be the young, fresh jazz voice for a generation that, quite frankly, didn’t quite seem to know what jazz was. Her first album, “Frank”, brought her all sorts of accolades and praise, but at the same time, it also brought on a whole lot more attention and popularity that Amy may have ever wanted in the first place. Once her album started selling in huge numbers and her album started winning her awards, more and more of her personal life was being focused on, which lead a lot of the public media to speculate about what else she did when she wasn’t on the stage. Most of this had to do with her frequent battles with drug and alcohol abuse, both of which were main factors in the taking her life at the very ripe and young age of 27 in the summer of 2011.

Amy in her awkward, teenage phase.

Amy in her awkward, teenage phase.

Just like he did with Senna a few years back, director Asif Kapadia takes the whole formula of what a documentary should look, act and feel like, and turns it slightly on its head. For instance, there’s not a single talking head or person seen speaking directly to the camera for the purposes of this documentary. Of course, we can hear all of the subject’s voices and whatnot, but we never actually see them speaking to us; instead, we get a bunch of archival footage that actually does Amy the real benefit of putting us there in the scene, at the time that something was happening, and having us feel a few steps closer to Amy Winehouse herself.

And that sense of intimacy is what helps Amy move right along and feel as if there’s something to feel bad for and pity with this Winehouse figure. A lot of people, those mostly involved with the media, have probably looked at Winehouse in the past and saw her for nothing more than just another piece of grade-A talent, who was too spoiled and drugged-up beyond her days to appreciate just what sort of skill and beauty she had. In a way, you could make that same argument about almost every artist, no matter what the field may be, but it doesn’t really make it true. Sure, artists are much more talented than us, but if they’re struggling with a personal/drug problem of any kind, that doesn’t make it phony or unimportant – it just makes it, well, perhaps a bit more dramatic and focused-on.

But with Amy, Kapadia sets out to show us that deep down inside of all the hard booze, drugs, partyin’, and singin’, lied a very sweet, sincere and troubled young woman who had a wonderful voice, but ultimately, just got eaten up in her own demons.

Most people, such as myself, will initially find it hard to really gain all that much sympathy for Winehouse, but as the tale grows larger and her life gets more exciting, it becomes all too clear that her life was quite messed-up to begin with. Winehouse, despite being told she was destined for greatness, always had a problem with her appearance, and a result, was bulimic for almost all of her life. While mostly everyone around her knew about this, nobody ever seemed to do anything about it, except just pat her on the back, tell her “it’s going to be okay”, and have her record another track. Everybody around Winehouse, as the movie will have us believe, was in it solely for the movie and everything else, whether they be her own, actual issues, be pushed to the side.

Which is yes, very cliche of an artists’ life, but it’s still a very true happening that makes Amy hurt just a bit more.

Amy in her Back to Black days.

Amy in her Back to Black days.

However, if there was an issue found with Amy, it was that it seems like Kapadia misses a few notes here and there that would have definitely helped make better sense of certain aspects of Amy’s life. For example, we’re told that her father left her and her mother for another woman, when Amy was only nine years old. So why, when Amy’s name is starting to get more and more popular, does he all of a sudden show up and act as if he cares? Better yet, why does she let him into her life and not act as if he wasn’t around for her upbringing?

For some reason, Kapadia seems to bring these questions up, but never get anywhere close to actually answering them. The same goes for Amy and her on-and-off-again relationship with Blake Fielder-Civil, a wild boy in his own right, but one that I still don’t hate as much as I probably should. Together, the movie makes it clear that while Fielder-Civil may have been ultimately bad for Winehouse’s own good, there’s no denying that the two loved each other beyond belief and that Amy was stuck on him since day one. In fact, this aspect of the movie, as well as Amy’s life, is perhaps the most interesting, as well emotional; so rarely do we see a tale in which a famous celebrity actually sticks by their previous love, or surprisingly, get tossed and turned around by them.

If anything, it makes you feel bad for Amy a whole lot more, but also for Fielder-Civil, which isn’t something the movie may have been going for, but either way, it kept me constantly watching.

Above it all though, what Amy shows the most is how there’s so many factors at-play as to why Winehouse died the way she did, and without anyone really there to make sense of it. Of course, there are plenty of fingers pointed in certain directions, but nobody here is the outright one to be blamed. Instead, you can just sort of push it on everyone in the world, because even though Amy had a talent beyond our wildest imagination, we may never get to see it and it’s truly a shame.

Consensus: Without any frills or cheap shots taken, Amy turns out to be a surprisingly heartfelt, if sad look inside the life of a late, great artist who could have definitely done far much better for the music world, but tragically, was stopped short. At 27, no less.

7.5 / 10

And Amy, from a day that's obviously, not very recent.

And Amy, from a day that’s obviously, not very recent.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Concussion (2015)

Nobody can stop Will Smith! Not even the NFL!

Dr. Bennet Omalu (Will Smith) is a Nigerian immigrant who performs autopsy’s in Alleghany County. Not only is he brilliant, but he’s also dedicated to his job so much that he believes that even the smallest detail can matter when it comes to deciding why a person did something, or just how exactly they died. But when NFL legend Mike Webster (David Morse) winds up dead from an apparent suicide, Omalu stumbles upon a shocking discovery: Although Webster was only 50-years-old, he was acting in ways that a man nearly 30 years older would be acting with Alzheimer’s. Except, here’s the kicker, Webster didn’t have Alzheimer’s; instead, he just took one too many hits to the head and it’s here that Omalu decides to study this idea himself, forcing him to put in his own time and money into the project. Eventually, it all pays off and Omalu discovers that Webster, along with countless other NFL players are dealing with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and now, it’s up to Omalu to let the NFL, as well as the rest of the world, know of the dangers it promises. However, being a billion-dollar corporation, the NFL decides not to listen, which leaves Omalu to take matters into his own hands. Matters which, honestly, can tend to do more harm than actual good.

Is Jada Pinkett upset about this? Or approving? Who knows with those crazy cats!

Is Jada Pinkett upset about this? Or approving? Who knows with those crazy cats!

Whistleblower movies, despite their importance and relevancy, no matter how many years go by, always seem to have a tough time working as well as they should. For one, it depends on the cause; if people feel as if the cause someone is “blowing the whistle” about, doesn’t have enough of an impact, then they won’t care once all goes to hell. Speaking of everything going to hell, it’s quite obvious that once the word gets out and the whistleblower’s identity is made known to the big, bad and evil corporation being spoken-out against, then they will go through all sorts of tense, almost life-threatening situations that will have them rethink the decision they made to open their mouths up in the first place.

Concussion is that same kind of movie that goes down the same alleyways and roads, but at the same time, that doesn’t defeat the fact that the cause it’s fighting for isn’t important. It’s just that, you know, what with Spotlight coming out this year and all, we’ve seen just how well “the whistleblower” movie can be made. While there’s no denying that the Catholic Church covering up countless acts of sexual abuse is perhaps a more jaw-dropping and intriguing topic to go at, Concussion makes it very clear that the issue going on currently with the NFL isn’t one that’s going to go away one day and that be the end of it. Instead, it’s going to continue to go on and on and on, until there’s not a single sane mind left in the NFL and just about every player imaginable, has either completely lost their minds, or killed themselves.

In other words, the NFL does not look pretty in Concussion, which makes me wonder just what was apparently cut-out in the first place to ensure that Sony didn’t face any legal action on behalf of the NFL.

Regardless, the NFL, as portrayed in Concussion, is not a very loving, caring or kind organization – instead, they’re nothing more than just a bunch of heartless, greedy creatures who are more concerned with the thickness of their wallets, rather than the well-being of their own players that make them so rich to begin with. That CTE and brain trauma within the NFL is already a very current and already developing issue, sort of makes Concussion feel like it’s missing out on some bits and pieces of info, but for the most part, it gets right, what it needs to get right.

For one, writer/director Peter Landesman does not lose sight of what makes this story hit (pun sort of intended) as hard as it does. There’s a few scenes where Landesman shines the focus on Dr. Omalu and shows just what it is exactly that’s going on wrong with these player’s brains and why it is that this problem can’t be seen right away, but rather, after the player is already dead and gone. Even though we see plenty of these real life circumstances play-out in the film, it’s still effective to hear it all come from the mouth of a person who clearly seems to know what he’s talking about, as well as a person who actually cares.

Yet, like I said before, the NFL does not play well, according to the film, and it’s what sets up a pretty tense battle between Dr. Omalu and the billion-dollar corporation.

"Hi, my name is Will Smith. Don't you dare bring up Jaden."

“Hi, my name is Will Smith. Don’t you dare bring up Jaden.”

It’s the typical David and Goliath story that, we so often see, yet, don’t actually get all that wrapped-up into. Here, Landesman makes it clear early-on that he’s behind Omalu’s back every step of the way and shows that he’s just trying to make things better – not just for himself, or the NFL, but for the players who make a living off of playing football for said organization. However, there’s no pretentiousness or inferior complex to be found with Omalu; he simply just wants to keep more and more players from dying, which is why he cares so much to begin with.

Not to mention that he wants to be a fully-fledged and adored American citizen, which the film smartly focuses on and brings up every so often. Still though, if there’s an issue with Concussion, it’s that whenever the film focuses on Omalu’s own personal life, with his girlfriend and her own problems, the movie seems like a bit of a drag and not all that interesting. It’s not that it doesn’t feel pertinent to the story, it’s just that it lacks the same kind of angered energy found in the parts of the movie where it’s Omalu trying his hardest to remind those within the NFL of what’s going on and why they should stop acting like fools, pay attention already, and accept the fact.

This is, of course, to say that as Dr. Bennett Omalu, Will Smith is great. Then again, how could he not be? The dude’s charismatic as hell and, every chance he gets, gives a subtle power to Omalu that you really do feel for this guy, even when it seems like his voice is being heard loud enough, or even at all. The fact that Smith himself is adopting an African accent for this role made me a bit worried, but honestly, after the first five minutes, it was easy to forget that I was watching the Fresh Prince and instead, was just watching as one simple and kind man, singlehandedly tried to take down the NFL.

While time will tell if he’s still fully successful or not, there’s no denying that Concussion will have you look at the NFL in a way different light than ever before.

For better, but mostly, for worse.

Consensus: Despite a few hiccups in the narrative, Concussion benefits from a strong central performance from Will Smith, as well as a relevant message about how it’s maybe time for the NFL to wake up, smell the cauliflower, and gain a conscience.

7 / 10

Just turn away, Will. And pay attention to what your kids are tweeting already!

Just turn away, Will. And pay attention to what your kids are tweeting, would ya!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Joy (2015)

So, did Jennifer Lawrence invent feminism, too?

Ever since she was a young girl, Joy Mangano (Jennifer Lawrence) knew that she was always destined to do something great for the world. While it may have all started in her room where she would experiment with creating little inventions here and there, after awhile, real life started to get in the way and it’s where she found it harder and harder to let her true inspiration come out and make a difference. For one, she got married, had two kids, and then got divorced from Tony (Édgar Ramírez). Then, she moved back into her mom (Virginia Madsen)’s place, where her grand-mother (Diane Ladd) also lives, meaning that the current house situation is incredibly cramped. And now, if matters weren’t already bad, her unpredictable, but always trouble-making father (Robert De Niro), has moved back in and wants to take over the whole family again. But knowing that she’s destined for something greater, one day, Joy stumbles upon a brilliant, but all-too-simple idea: the Miracle Mop. While Joy believes her billion-dollar idea to be brilliant, the only issue here is that she doesn’t quite know how to get in the business of selling her invention to the larger masses where each and every person can see what she’s made. This is when Joy decides to really push her boundaries and take chances that no simple woman in her situation would ever take, but because she’s got nothing to lose, she doesn’t care.

Even during serious times, this family can't help but get ready to start brawling.

Even during serious times, this family can’t help but get ready to start brawling.

About an hour into Joy, after we’ve gotten through all of the wacky family drama, the random dream-sequences in the form of a corny soap opera, the flashbacks, the narrations, the exposition, etc., something happens that wasn’t quite there all along: Excitement. This starts to happen when writer/director David O. Russell decides that the next best step to take this story is to QVC which, believe it or not, ends up working out quite well for the film in the end; it’s only about 30 minutes or so, but it’s absolutely the most fun to be had in the whole two-hours here. Of course, this has to do with the fact that Bradley Cooper shows up and he and Jennifer Lawrence are as spicy and as fun as ever, but it also gives us an inside glimpse of how exactly a product is sold, what goes into getting said customers to buy something, and just how manipulative home-shopping networks can be.

In all honesty, had David O. Russell just made a movie solely based around the inner-workings and early days of QVC, there’d probably be more of something to discuss with Joy. However, the sole issue here with Joy is that it’s not always about QVC, nor is it really about Joy, the character, and her product – it’s more about those around her who constantly bring her down, never allow for her to reach her dreams, and constantly screw up. Once or twice in the beginning of the film is nice to give us an understanding of the kind of situation Joy’s in, but after awhile, it becomes clear that O. Russell has a dead horse he wants to beat, leading to a lot of situations happening the same way, over and over again, with hardly anything new, or surprising learned in the process.

Which is to say that yes, Joy is a disappointment considering what O. Russell has been able to do in the past five years with his career.

However, when you take into consideration great flicks like the Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook, and American Hustle, not only is the bar raised pretty high, but there’s also a certain expectation that O. Russell himself has already carved-out. Considering that O. Russell himself seems to love and adore dysfunctional families, and cast practically the same people, each and every time he gets a chance to, it’s almost impossible not to approach Joy, another movie about a dysfunctional family, with at least three-fourths of the cast from Playbook and Hustle, and expect the same kind of wonder and entertainment.

The thing with Joy, however, is that it’s a much different, more dramatic, and far more serious movie that, quite frankly, isn’t as bad as I may make it out to be. Disappointing? For sure, but that’s also to say that someone like O. Russell can’t switch things up every so often because of a niche he’s already made for himself; no director ever would be able to stick with one and only style, which is why, on O. Russell’s part, it’s a brave choice to take a story such as this and take it a bit slower.

And this is why there are certain parts and moments of Joy that are actually pretty wonderful.

The babies these two would create. Oh my gosh.

The babies these two would create. Lord almighty.

Of course, the aforementioned QVC-subplot works wonders, but what happens afterwards is interesting, in the way that we get to see Joy, the character, gain more confidence in herself and start to try her hand at making something of her invention and seeing where she can go with it. Because Joy Mangano is already a pretty sympathetic figure who makes it clear from the start that she’s a smart, brassy girl, it’s easy to get behind her and watch as she takes whatever challenges life tosses at her. While most of these challenges concern her family just acting like selfish a-holes, it was still interesting and compelling to watch and see how she reacted to each situation and got through.

And with that said, yes, Jennifer Lawrence is quite good in this role, because how can she not be? Lawrence, despite playing another character she seems too young for, grabs this character, shakes her up and gives it all she’s got; sometimes, it seems like she’s working with a script that isn’t nearly as up to her speed, but at the same time, she keeps things moving and most of all, believable. Though Joy’s already shoddy performance with critics may keep Lawrence away from winning another Oscar of her own, it’s still hard not to believe her getting a nomination for what she does here, as she can be, at times, the best thing going for it.

Which isn’t to hate on the rest of the cast as the likes of Robert De Niro, Virginia Madsen, Édgar Ramírez, Isabella Rossellini, Elisabeth Röhm, and the already mentioned Cooper don’t put in fine work, either, but clearly, O. Russell has a problem handling all of their stories/personalities and allowing for them to mix with Joy’s story in a cohesive manner. Because a good portion of these characters are so self-centered, it’s never easy to feel bad for them, which makes them also feel like they’re getting in the way of what could have been a very powerful story about one, small-time woman standing up against all of the adversity in her way to, well, make a difference in the world.

Though I’m not sure just how much of what appears in Joy, is actually true of the real person’s life, O. Russell searches far and wide to make perfect sense of it. He doesn’t always come up with any easy answers or solutions, but for the most part, he gives it his absolute best. But if anything, he just makes you appreciate his last three movies even more and also give the inclination that maybe, just maybe, it’s time for him to change things up a bit.

Not just with his cast, but subject-material as well.

Consensus: Joy is not nearly as magnificent as what David O. Russell has put out in the past five years, but because of a solid lead performance from the always radiant and exciting Lawrence, as well as some strokes of genius, it still works.

7 / 10

No matter what, that J-Law can't seem to get herself out of trouble.

No matter what, that J-Law can’t seem to get herself out of trouble.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Capitalism: A Love Story (2009)

People, hide your money under your mattresses.

Why exactly did the Stock Market crash in 2008? Well, Michael Moore, using his notorious tactics, will try to find that out, while at the same time, still shinning a light on what exactly is capitalism. And while many may see the U.S. as a capitalist-free society, Moore shows just how exactly capitalism operates in the U.S. and why it’s probably not the best idea to allow for the wealthiest of the wealthy to make it out to of certain financial predicaments alive. Moore also puts some focus on those said human beings who, despite being responsible for some of the biggest financial downfalls in U.S. history, are still able to get away with it all through bail-outs, general support from shady characters, and the will of the citizens who are, sadly, still paying for the mistakes made by these immoral and sometimes, downright evil, pieces of human specimen. But of course, this being a Michael Moore documentary, there’s plenty of time dedicated to those who lost their jobs in the crisis, and just what it is that they’re trying to do next to survive and thrive in an economy that, quite frankly, doesn’t know if it can contain them, or give them any help whatsoever.

Who wouldn't want Michael Moore into their building?

Who wouldn’t want Michael Moore into their building?

As is usually the case with Michael Moore and the movies he creates, you tend to get more of a sermon, rather than an actual life-lesson learned. Though there’s no denying the fact that every documentary film-maker has an agenda from the very start, some are obviously better at hiding it than others. Whereas some directors are more known for playing the middle-ground and letting it be known that they’re not necessarily trying to force you feel a certain way, but instead, presenting the facts for what they are and allowing for you, the audience, to come up with your own conclusions (Erroll Morris). Then, there are other directors who tend to just tell you what they want you to think right away, present facts as to why you should, and do his absolute best, but not-at-all subtle way, to strong-arm you into thinking the same he does.

And yes, this kind of director is in fact, Michael Moore.

But that isn’t to say that this approach is a bad one, as it’s definitely helped such flicks like Sicko and Bowling for Columbine really hit hard and at-home, regardless of how you felt about either the health-care system, or violence in the states, respectively. Here, when approaching the subject of capitalism and all of the other factors that were at-play with the financial crisis of 2008, Moore shows that he clearly has an agenda set and ready for this movie, but at the same time, it’s not hard to actually join in his frustration and outrage. After all, the people he’s talking out against here are in fact those who are held solely responsible for what occurred on Wall Street in 2008, which is to say that if you feel bad for them, or in a way, want them to be given an equal trial just as the others focused on here, then you shouldn’t be watching this movie in the first place.

Granted, Moore could have definitely done a bit more focusing on the opposite side of the coin that he loves to attack and prod, but really, he does an effective job at just presenting them with all of the mistakes and follies they’ve committed over the years, that it’s hard to really expect him to ever bother with getting actual interviews from any of them. After all, Moore believes that this movie is for the people who got screwed over in the crisis, and as such, we get to hear from a lot of them, their stories, what jobs they had, what they lost in their lives when they lost their jobs, and most importantly, how they’re doing now just to try and scrape by. Moore loves these kinds of sentimental, almost too-hokey stories to thrown into the mix of all his reporting and casual stunts, and while they’re nonetheless corny here, they still work.

Moore taking on the White House? What else is new?!?

Moore taking on the White House? What else is new?!?

For one, they’re real people we are seeing in front of our eyes. It’s hard to dispute the fact that these people have lost their jobs and have in fact, been trying to do what they can with what they’ve got, and just however much they got left after the stock market crashed. Of course, most of the time, it’s all about context with a movie like this, and because Moore is clear from the very start of what he’s trying to say and do, it still works.

At the same time, the reason these life-affirming interviews don’t hit as well as they have done in Moore’s past flicks, is because they’re caught in a mix and mash of a whole bunch of other stuff going on.

At nearly two-hours-and-ten-minutes, Capitalism is a pretty long movie. However, what’s weird about that fact is that it probably could have been a little longer and possibly benefited from the added-on time. Right from the very start, Moore makes it clear to the audience that he’s going to make us fully understand everything there is to understand about capitalism, which is fine and all, but in order to do so, he goes through all of these other hoops and alley-ways to discuss why capitalism is relevant to today’s issues. By doing this, Moore runs the risk of losing his audience and while he tries his absolute hardest to make sure all of the info is easy to decipher for any layman, he still misses the mark on delivering what he set-out to do in the first place: Actually explain what capitalism is all about.

Granted, I know exactly what capitalism is, but watching the movie and seeing how Moore tries to draw lines between that topic, as well as the current day’s economy (this movie came out over six years ago, however, much is still the same), and he loses himself a bit. With all the countless interviews, pie-charts, facts, ideas, and dramatic music, Moore gets a little too loose for his own good and forgets what he made this movie for in the first place. That isn’t to say that Capitalism doesn’t have a true message at the dead-center of it, but maybe next time, Mikey, give us a bit more time and space to cobble everything up together.

Consensus: Capitalism: A Love Story presents a very dark side of the American economy, and while it doesn’t always gel well together, Moore still offers plenty of fine and interesting insights into just what went wrong on that fateful day in 2008, and how we can all move forward, as a whole.

7 / 10

Let 'em hear it, Mike! But hey, less preaching.

Let ’em hear it, Mike! But hey, less preaching.

Photos Courtesy of: Joblo, Indiewire

Youth (2015)

Hope I die before I get old. Or probably not.

At a fancy health spa located somewhere in Switzerland, Fred Ballinger (Michael Caine) walks around aimlessly, thinking about life, love and his career that he’s had. During one point in his life, Ballinger was a renowned conductor/composer who has, for personal reasons, lost the will to record, or better yet, live. Granted, he doesn’t want to kill himself, but he doesn’t really appreciate life quite as well as his dear best buddy, Mick Boyle (Harvey Keitel), does. Boyle’s different from Ballinger in that he thinks that he’s got some of his best work ahead of him, which is why he’s currently stationed in this spa with four younger confidantes, working on what he pledges to be “a testament to cinema”. However, while together in this spa, the both realize that not only has life passed them by, but that they’ve also got to do something with the last couple good years of their lives they have left. This means that they do a lot more walking, talking, swimming, sun-bathing, and oh yeah, ogling at hot chicks.

Just as old men tend to do.

My cocaine not happy with white walls.

My cocaine not happy with white walls.

No matter what problems persist in Youth, there’s no denying that writer/director Paolo Sorrentino has an eye for beauty. Every shot in Youth, feels as perfectly calculated and put-together as you’d expect a Renaissance portrait to be, but instead of feeling as if he’s just being showy, it just somehow works and you get used to it. That Sorrentino set the movie, first and foremost, in the lovely countryside of Sweden, already allows for him to shoot any scene, whichever way he wants and it’s hard to take your eyes off. Of course, this is perhaps best seen on the big screen, but no matter what screen or aspect-ratio it’s seen on, Youth is a beautiful movie.

Which is a shame that it’s script is a bit annoying.

For one, a lot of the visuals that Sorrentino sets up here only seem to exist for the sole purpose that they’re metaphors and that’s it. While I have no problem with the visual-imagery here being displayed as shiny and bright metaphors, the issue with Youth is that the screenplay itself starts drive home the same kinds of points that the visuals are trying to get across, so after awhile, it just feels like over-kill. It’s almost as if the movie didn’t trust having a scene in which Michael Caine’s character went out into the middle of the woods and started imagining a piece of music he would create using only nature’s sounds to drive home the point of getting old and losing one’s mojo, that they had to have him constantly go on and discuss with just about everyone he comes into contact with.

And honestly, this wouldn’t have been too bad to listen to, except for the fact that what these characters all talk about, only serve one purpose and one purpose only: To preach. It’s hard to listen to characters talk about their own mortality and aging-process, when it seems like they’re reading free-form poetry; had more of the dialogue been a tad bit more naturalistic, the conversations these characters have probably wouldn’t have been so nauseating at certain points. It’s obvious from the very start that these characters are all going to be sad about getting old and realizing their time has come, but give us more reasons to care for that and not just go, “Oh, well it’s sad. But hey, look at this pretty bird and how Michael Caine so adoringly gazes at it.”

Perhaps less navel-gazing would have helped Youth in the long-run, but really, I’m not sure.

Old men sneaking a peek. What else is new?

Old men sneaking a peek. What else is new?

All I do know is that what Youth benefits from the most, aside from Sorrentino’s keen eye for detail, is that the ensemble here is just terrific. Of course, Michael Caine plays Fred Ballinger to near-perfection, as it genuinely seems like he’s touched by this character’s willingness to keep his career on-halt, even though there’s much more demand for him to come back to the stage and continue making music. There’s one scene in particular that shows Caine’s true connection to this character, when he lets loose on why he doesn’t want to perform any of his old material for and in front of the Queen, and it’s quite emotional, but well-done as well. While not much of Youth is subtle, Caine still finds a way to peak underneath the cracks and slip a little piece of it every now and then.

While it’s weird to see Harvey Keitel being cast as Michael Caine’s best friend here, surprisingly, it works. Because Ballinger and Mick Boyle are so different in ways, it’s fun and interesting to hear them go on and on about their careers, their interests, women they’ve slept with, and their history together. It’s hard to imagine that Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine would ever sit down and have a fully-functioning conversation, let alone, be besties, but still, the two make it work and it was also nice to see Keitel dig hard and deep into a meaty role that we haven’t seen him get for quite some time. And yeah, Paul Dano shows up as a “serious actor” working in Switzerland, whereas Rachel Weisz plays Ballinger’s heart-broken and pissed-off daughter, and both do good work here and it’s nice to see them round it all out.

However, the one who probably walks away with the whole show, is Jane Fonda showing up in nearly two scenes as Brenda Morel, a friend and co-worker of Mick Boyle.

Though Fonda appears seemingly out of nowhere, she takes over the whole movie by showing that her Brenda Morel character is, most importantly, the exact kind of worker in the biz that Youth seems so obsessed with focusing on. Even though her best years have gone past her and, quite frankly, she’s holding on to her career and fame by a thread, Morel’s still trying to keep herself busy and relevant, even in a world that could probably care less about her. She won’t give up and won’t let anybody stand in her way, which is why her scene, while hilarious and exciting (something the rest of Youth really isn’t), is probably the most heart-breaking. Fonda’s terrific in this role because even though she gets maybe only 15 minutes of screen-time, she delivers us everything we need to know about this character, from the very first second we get with her, to the last and it’s hard not to stop and think about her when all is said and done.

Consensus: As pretentious as it can occasionally be, Youth still offers up some wonderful visuals, as well as a great couple of performances from both veterans and stars alike, that all give a little extra to the sad, but true message of the movie.

7 / 10

Pictured: Metaphor upon Metaphor.

Pictured: Metaphor upon Metaphor

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Baby Mama (2008)

Who doesn’t have baby mama drama?

Kate (Tina Fey) is a businesswoman who, for the most part, has been pleased with her life thus far. She has a good job, a nice apartment in Philadelphia, and generally considers her life simple and easygoing enough that she doesn’t have to worry about too much. Problem is, there’s one thing that she really wants to do with her life that sadly, she may not be able to do: Have a child. Due to her being infertile, Kate has not been able to, no matter how hard she has tried, to naturally have a child; so, she takes the next best step in the matter, which leads her to becoming apart of a surrogacy program. In the surrogacy program, for those who don’t know what that means, Kate’s baby will, through sperm injections and all sorts of other medical shenanigans, be conceived and born through some other woman. This other woman in question just so happens to be Angie (Amy Poehler), someone who is definitely not at all like Kate. Which is fine for Kate, so long as she can trust Angie to be smart about her body and realize that there is indeed a human growing inside of her. But after Angie runs into issues with her own husband (Dax Shepard), she begins to live with Kate, which is when the two begin to learn more about one another, even if they also have differences as well.

Tina doesn't need Greg Kinnear in her life, but hey, she'll take him!

Tina doesn’t need Greg Kinnear in her life, but hey, she’ll take him! And you know why? ‘Cause she can!

Of course, in Baby Mama, wacky hijinx ensue. That’s obvious from the very start, however, Baby Mama is a tad bit smarter than most of the other broad comedies out there that would have attacked this premise as dumb as possible. This isn’t, of course, to say that Baby Mama isn’t predictable, by-the-numbers, or at least, conventional, because it’s each and everyone of those things – but working behind all of those conventions and obvious story-structures is, for one, laughs, and also, a decent-sized heart that reminds you that you’re watching a female-lead comedy, that can appeal to basically everyone.

Sure, it may definitely help if you’re a woman or going through the same life event as the one depicted here, but regardless, it doesn’t matter.

Baby Mama is, first and foremost, a comedy. And a funny one at that. Most of that comes from the fact that both Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have such great chemistry between one another, that it’s hard not to get wrapped-up in the fun and enjoyment they clearly have playing side-by-side. Even though their characters are, obviously, general opposites, not just in terms of personality, but also in social backgrounds, you still get the feeling that Fey and Poehler can’t wait for that moment in this film where their characters start to put all of their issues aside, take some shots, get wild together, and generally, have fun together.

To say that Fey and Poehler are both funny here, is doing them justice. However, there’s also another element to their performances that factor in well and that’s that their characters are actually well-written, despite initially seeming like stupid and dull caricatures from the beginning. Like, for instance, try Fey’s Kate: While she appears to be a stuck-up, way-too-serious businesswoman who is all about her job and not much else, eventually, the story goes on and we see that there’s actually a lot more fun and excitement to her life. Heck, the reasons for why she wants a baby to begin with, regardless of whether it’s naturally or through agencies, are understandable; she’s gotten to that point in her life where she wants one, she doesn’t need one, but wants one.

It's set in Philadelphia, so of course the bell-hop is a token black guy!

It’s set in Philadelphia, so of course the bell-hop is a token black guy! Gotta love my city!

That is, most of all, perhaps the greatest distinction this movie makes and is truly a smart piece of writing. It shows that woman like Kate, whether they be successful or not, don’t need to have babies to make their lives feel fulfilled. Does that mean that they’re not nice to have around? Of course not, but Baby Mama doesn’t believe that in order to make sure that your life is great and superb, it needs to be so with a baby by your side. It’s a small piece of writing, I know, but it’s what sets it apart from most other female-driven comedies out there that are all about getting married and having kids, because of some ill-conceived notion from many, many years ago, that says women need a certain amount of requirements to make their lives great.

But still, seriousness aside, Baby Mama is still a fine comedy.

Like what I said for Fey’s Kate, can be said the same for Poehler’s Angie: She may seem a bit white trash-y, but after awhile, the movie just shows her more off as a wild girl who not only likes to have some fun, but also wants to be a bit more serious in her own life as well. She doesn’t need to be serious, but she wants to be. There are others in this movie that show up in this movie that are funny, charming and welcome, but it’s really Poehler and Fey who make the movie work the most.

Even though the movie does admittedly get a bit syrupy and sentimental by the end, Poehler and Fey still feel fun and fresh, adding another sense of enjoyment to the proceedings. The plot does eventually get to be a bit too much and be about things happening, one after another, with random twists coming out left and right, but regardless, Baby Mama can still be funny and at times, relatively insightful. It may not be trying too hard, but in its own way, it sort of is; it’s taking the female-driven comedy and doing something with it that isn’t revolutionary or game-changing, but normal.

And hey, there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

Consensus: Predictable and lightweight for sure, but regardless, Baby Mama still offers up plenty of laughs and enjoyment courtesy of Poehler and Fey’s lovely chemistry.

7 / 10

Does this tend to happen? Ladies?

Does this tend to happen? Ladies?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Danish Girl (2015)

No Kardashian drama here. Just drama in general.

In the mid-20s, Danish painter Einar Wegener (Eddie Redmayne) was living what appeared to be, the life. Married to his beautiful artist wife Gerda (Alicia Vikander), was able to have as much fun as he wanted to, by going out to lavish parties, drinking all sorts of fine drinks, and, occasionally, getting a chance to dress up in women’s clothing to model for his wife’s paintings. At first though, it all seems like fun between a couple who clearly can’t be more in love. Eventually though, all of the fun begins to change and become, surprisingly, quite serious; now, instead of just having fun and wearing the women’s clothing for the hell of it, Einar is now wearing it all the time and doing it because he really feels the need to. Also, not to mention, that whenever Einar does dress-up, he does so under the persona of “Lili,”. Because, at is appears, Einar wants to be a woman, but considering that this is the early 20th century, it’s mostly frowned-upon and unheard of. But as his feelings become more conflicted with his feelings of being trapped in the wrong body/gender, friction between he and his wife start as they’re left to wonder what to do next with their relationship, as well as their own lives.

Wait? Stephen Hawkin?

Oh yeah. I can totally see the Stephen Hawkin comparisons now.

Around this time every year, there’s always that one movie that’s drenched in so much Oscar-bait, it’s almost embarrassing. These are, quite frankly, the kinds of movies that, on the surface, are pretty, handsomely made, edited, acted, and feature many “big” moments that demand your attention. But by the same token, these are also the kinds of movies that care so much about how many nominations they tally during awards season, that they forget what makes movies work so well in the first place: You know, things like heart, emotion, and most of all, importance. This isn’t to say that the Danish Girl, given the current world of media, isn’t important, but it is, at the same time, also the kind of movie we’re all used to seeing around this time of the year.

Meaning that, yes, the Danish Girl is safe, conventional, hardly surprising, and most obviously, accessible to just about each and every person who is the least bit interested in what this subject material is all about.

But I’m actually kind of conflicted in my feelings about that fact. For one, it’s nice to see a movie like the Danish Girl not be tied down by its subject material and instead, be able to tell its story the way it wants. Sure, there’s some full-frontal nudity and racy sex that will most definitely upset the elder ones in the crowd, but they don’t carry the movie down, or feel gratuitous; they work, given the context of the story. If anything, I’m more surprised that the movie itself wasn’t slapped with a NC-17 right off the bat, but hey, I guess there’s a true sign that we’re growing as a loving, caring and accepting society.

Still though, the Danish Girl is also too safe that it feels like it doesn’t really care about going hard or deep enough into this story to really have each and every person connect to it. This isn’t to say that unless you are in some way, shape, or fashion, trans, you won’t find something to be touched by with the Danish Girl, however, the movie doesn’t really set out to grab ahold of anyone. It has a story to tell here, which it does so well enough that it’s easy-to-follow and understandable, however, also feels like it’s just going through the same sorts of motions we’ve seen a story such as this go before.

It should also be noted that Tom Hooper, of the King’s Speech fame, directed the Danish Girl and clearly seems invested in what this story represents and discusses. That Einar’s constant need and desire to be accepted for who he was and not what others wanted him to be, is a universal enough feeling and idea that makes it easy for anyone to connect to. Granted, most of the Danish Girl is spent just watching as Einar goes from one scene to the other, trying harder and harder to hide his feminine ways, but still, given that this story takes place nearly a century ago, there’s something interesting to see and take note of; that everyone Einar goes up to to ask for “help”, is already prepared to fire up the lobotomy machine, or call up the cops, already gives you the right idea of just how controversial and forbidden homosexuality was.

"Why does he want me to paint him like one of my French girls?"

“Why does he want me to paint him like one of my French girls?”

This isn’t anything new, obviously, but Hooper presents it in such a way that’s neat to watch.

Problem is, like I said before, the rest of the movie moves at such a languid pace, it’s hard to ever get wrapped up. That’s a problem, too, because this tale of Einar’s own self-discovery, is supposed to be the one we feel apart of right from the very start – instead, it’s more of his wife’s story and just how she accepts the strange and unexpected turn her life has just taken. This isn’t to disregard Eddie Redmayne’s performance as Einar/Lili, as anything but good, because he really is; after awhile though, the character does become one-note and eventually, it’s easy to predict just how he’ll act when thrown into a certain situation.

The one I really couldn’t help but get wrapped up in was Alicia Vikander and her character’s story. 2015 has, for the most part, been Vikander’s year – she’s appeared in nearly 8 films this year, most of which, she’s done something new and interesting within each one. While this role is most likely to be her the one of hers that garners the most attention, there’s no denying the fact that she, as well as the role, deserve it. What’s so interesting about Gerda is how accepting and supportive she is of her husband, even despite the fact that he’s clearly starting to drift further and further away from her and more into his own world.

It would be easy to chalk Gerda up to being “annoying” and “pathetic”, because of for how long she decides to stick by her husband, no matter how much pain or turmoil he causes her, but it’s obvious from the very start, really: They’re in love. And when two people are in love, it’s hard for the other to just get up and leave, regardless of the situation. Though Vikander does so much crying here that I was actually worried her tear-ducts would just split open, she’s still so effective here that, if the movie wins for anything, I hope it’s for her. She’s the heart and soul of this movie that always seems like she knows what she wants the most, even in the most confusing of times.

Which is, yes, absolutely what love’s all about.

Consensus: Lush, well-acted, and relevant, the Danish Girl is a fine film that’s easy to admire, yet, at the same time, feels so safe and conventional, that it’s also easy to not ever actually get too involved with.

7 / 10

Perfect make-up partners!

Perfect make-up partners!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Trumbo (2015)

Wow. Communists make the best screenplays.

In 1947, there was nobody hotter than Dalton Trumbo (Bryan Cranston). While he wasn’t the one you’d see on the screen, he was still the one responsible for so many great flicks, that people come to love and appreciate his work. But after this, people started to worry about his politics. See, Trumbo, as well as a few countless others of his closest friends and confidantes, were all blacklisted for showing their support for the Communist regime. Because of this, just about everybody who was blacklisted, were told to come forward and give away more names – for those dedicated few who didn’t, they risked never working in Hollywood ever again. Trumbo was one of those people, however, he still found a way to keep on working and turning out scripts, without ever jeopardizing the studios he actually wrote for. Through the next few years, Trumbo will write some of the very best screenplays, to some of the most iconic and revered movies of today’s day and age, however, all of that hard work and hardly any play begins to take a toll on Trumbo, as well as his loving, caring family who depend on him and his talents.

Wife = good.

Wife = good.

A lesser film, by a lesser director probably would have just kept the story limited to just Trumbo being accused of being a Communist and leaving it at that. However, because Trumbo isn’t a lesser film, and because Jay Roach isn’t a lesser director, there’s more going on with Trumbo’s life that the movie continues to focus on. And while the movie may definitely benefit from having a source as strong and as interesting as Trumbo to make their movie about, it still deserves to be said that Trumbo is a solid piece of showbiz entertainment that shows us everything we despise about the industry, as well as the things we love.

Sure, maybe it’s more of love than hate, but hey, it’s still a pretty place that anybody would want to be apart of, if they had the talent to pull it all off.

But like I said, Trumbo is all about Hollywood at a certain period and time that was, on one side, very exciting and glamorous, but on the other, quite scary as well. What Trumbo does best is that it highlights the absolute paranoia and fear those within Hollywood feared due to the Communist blacklisting; while most of those associated with the biz were also Communist sympathizers, they weren’t allowed to come out and say so because, well, they wanted to continue to work. There’s a select few of insiders with Trumbo’s group of trusted allies that all seem to be on the same page, initially, but slowly and surely, start to peter-off and throw the other under the bus, just so that they can continue to work and make as much money as they were before. While we may not share a whole lot of sympathy for these attractive stars and celebrities, there’s still a certain feeling of some sadness when one or two of them have to suck their pride in, accept their lashings, and move on with their careers.

At the same time though, Trumbo is still, first and foremost, a small biopic of a movie legend that, honestly, not many people remember or still treat as an inspiration.

Though it’s interesting to see how Trumbo, the man, handles all of the negative press and attacks he gets for being a Communist party sympathizer, it’s even more so when the later part of his career comes into play and he’s stuck writing crappy scripts, for crappy production companies, and sometimes, making great scripts, for great companies, but not being able to take any sort of credit. It’s both fun and exciting to watch, while, at the same time, a bit heart-wrenching because we know that Trumbo deserves all of the credit and praise for these scripts, but just can’t actually go out into the world and say so.

Not to mention, it’s great to see a flick that focuses on, most of all, a screen-writer. So rarely do screen-writers get the credit that they so rightfully deserve – especially those from the older-days of Hollywood. While there were a few directors who directed their own screenplays, for the most part, directors made scripts that they picked-up and decided to go from there – due to this, not a lot of screen-writers got the whole credit that they deserved. With Trumbo, Roach not only shows that it’s definitely up to the writer themselves, to tell whether or not a piece is going to work.

Because, quite frankly, if you don’t have a good screenwriter, what good is your movie anyway?

Journalist = bad.

Journalist = bad.

As Dalton Trumbo, Bryan Cranston does a nice job of taking what could have been, at first, a very over-the-top impersonation of the real life figure, but then takes it one step further and digs deeper. There’s a lot more to Trumbo than just a bunch of witty-lines, humor, and a fancy ‘stache; the dude’s actually getting to become a bit stressed-out and screwed-up from writing all of these screenplays and not being able to take any credit for them. Cranston’s good here as he not only shows the light-hearted, fun-loving side to this man, but also the sometimes angry, almost spiteful side as well.

And everybody else surrounding Cranston is quite good in their own roles, too. Though Diane Lane isn’t asked much to do, she still gets some bright, shining moments as Trumbo’s wife, Cleo, who wants nothing more than for her family to be happy and peaceful; Helen Mirren is nastier than ever as Hedda Hopper, the most hated journalist at the time and shows just why she was so despised, but why she was also always getting dirt on those around her; Louis C.K. has a couple of nice scenes with Cranston as one of Trumbo’s buddies who is involved with the Communist-sympathizing party; and Michael Stuhlbarg does a good job at giving us more to Edward G. Robinson, but never fully lapsing into an impersonation that seems like a parody.

If there’s anything about Trumbo is that, when all is said and done, it’s a fine piece of cinema, but that’s about it. Having focused on Dalton Trumbo and looking at all the work that he’s created over the years, the movie definitely doesn’t live up to the legacies, but as it is, it’s still a fine piece of showbiz entertainment. People laugh, people cry, people learn lessons, people get better, and most importantly, people make a lot of money. That’s about all there is to showbiz, which is why that’s all there is to Trumbo.

Consensus: Maybe not setting the biopic world on fire, Trumbo is a solid piece of showbiz drama that doesn’t step too far out of its comfort-zone, but also benefits largely from having such a talented cast on-board.

7 / 10

Screenwriter = always good.

Screenwriter = always good.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Gangster No. 1 (2000)

All gangsters are cool. Even the crazy ones.

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

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

When does Malcolm McDowell not look pissed-off?

When does Malcolm McDowell not look pissed-off?

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

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

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

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

Always ironic. Always awesome.

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

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

Gangsters? Or Wanksters?

Gangsters? Or Wankers?

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

Maybe I’m just not a true gangster.

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

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

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

7.5 / 10 

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Nick Tentis, Film4, Mubi 

Spectre (2015)

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

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

Do you really need that gun to be menacing?

Do you really need that gun to be scary?

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

Which is exactly what Spectre is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, why wasn’t she the Bond girl?

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

Hopefully, we’ll get that.

Sooner than later, maybe.

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

7 / 10

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Truth (2015)

Just get a blog. You can make anything up!

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

"Is my eye-shadow fine?"

“Is my eye-shadow fine?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gasp! Journalism!

Gasp! Journalism!

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

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

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

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

And that’s it.

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

7 / 10

Gasp! Even more journalism!

Gasp! Even more journalism!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Bridge of Spies (2015)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cooler glasses contest!

Cooler-looking glasses contest!

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

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

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

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

And yes, that movie did happen.

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

7.5 / 10

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Kids can have some pretty messed-up imaginations.

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

Sort of scary.

Sort of scary.

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

However, I am not one of those people.

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

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

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

Kind of scary.

Kind of scary.

Not much, honestly.

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

Oh no, a Fascist! Definitely scary!

Oh no, a Fascist! Definitely scary!

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

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