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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

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Frank (2014)

Indie musicians have it worse.

Wannabe musician and overall simpleton, Jon (Domhnall Gleeson) stumbles upon the opportunity of a lifetime: Fill in as a keyboardist for a band that’s coming to town. Seems simple enough and will definitely allow Jon to show others his love and passion for music, but he soon finds out that this isn’t necessarily the band to show that off with. First of all, nobody in the band really cares for him. The manager (Scoot McNairy) is constantly on the verge of losing his total mind and doesn’t really know what to do with this band. And to make matters worse, the lead singer is a guy by the name of Frank (Michael Fassbender), who wears a paper-mache head. Is it to hide who he really is? Is it some form of artistic expression? Or, is it just a gimmick that the band rolls with in order to gain any sort of publicity? Nobody really knows, but Jon’s willing to find that all out when he joins the band in the woods where they’ll stay at a cabin and record what’s supposed to be their next album. However, the process is a lot harder than he, or anybody else involved with the band had originally imagined.

So yeah, basically, this is just Almost Famous, but with a smaller-budget and an odd gimmick. Which isn’t to say that’s such a bad thing to begin with, but it turns out that the gimmick after all is really just that this dude wears a paper-mache head practically the whole entire time this film is on for. And to make the gimmick even more unique, well, we have none other than Michael Fassbender himself underneath that head.

Didn't feel like shaving your face in a normal way, now did ya?

Didn’t feel like shaving your face in a normal way, now did ya?

Which is, yes, a total shame for any ladies/men out there who wanted to get their fine helping of some M-Fass, only to come in and realize that you just hear him use this really poor American-accent. And hey, if that’s how you like your M-Fass movies, then this will definitely be a treat for you. However, if you’re at all like me and actually like to see M-Fass put his talents to good use by using that demanding face of his, or just his overall, physical-prowess that seems to command any movie he’s apart of, then you’ll probably want to steer clear of this and watch something like Shame or Hunger.

Because you’ll most likely get more than a small helping of M-Fass watching those two.

Anywho, I guess what I’m trying to say is that while it’s definitely interesting to see someone as notable and as talented as Michael Fassbender to hide his face from us and act in a movie where we hardly see him at all, it doesn’t quite work. Which isn’t to say that he’s bad, it’s just that the rest of the film surrounding him doesn’t really know what to do, or where to go with his character, or even the plot as a whole.F

For instance, the aspect of this movie where it could have really excelled was in the recording-process and how these band-members all came together to create something wonderfully unique. That would have been neat to see, but as time goes on, it becomes quite clear that director Lenny Abrahamson isn’t at all interested in doing something like that; instead, he focuses most of his attention on these characters, their quirky “isms”, and how all of them are incapable of just being normal for a single second. They all seem likes satirical jokes of the kind of hipster, lo-fi indie band you’d see from music festivals like Firefly, or Lollapalooza, or Coachella, but instead, they’re here and rather than humanizing them or making them anything more than just a butt of their own jokes, Abrahamson just explores their quirky-personalities even more.

Which would have been fine in the first place, had any of these personalities been funny in the slightest bit, but they’re not. They’re just strange people, acting strange and doing strange things, without much rhyme or reason. People out there who enjoy smoking weed or can at least identify slightly with these struggling, rather pretentious musicians, will probably find a whole to laugh and love about these characters and how they are, but for anybody wanting a reason for their actions or what it is exactly that they can bring to the table in terms of plot/character-development, then they’ll be utterly disappointed.

And if I had to label this whole movie down to one word, it would probably be just that: Disappointed. I myself am a musician and enjoy watching how certain music is made or comes to fruition in the first place, regardless of if it’s in a documentary or a scripted-piece. Either way, I just like to see how music is made and how people can put their minds to the test when it comes to creating something. Here though, I didn’t get that; instead, I just saw a bunch of wacky characters, be just that. Problem was, I didn’t really care for them, the music the ended up creating (if they ever even got to in the first place), and really, there ended up being nothing interesting said here at all.

Add in some drum-loops and you've got yourself a catchy single.

Add in some drum-loops and you’ve got yourself a catchy single.

Abrahamson seems like he sort of gets to doing that with the character of Frank himself, but it never really pans out to much other than just, “this guy’s a bit cooky, but he’s somehow a musical genius”. Firstly, we never see him actually being a musical genius; he just says and does weird things, and when he doesn’t have the right inspiration for whatever piece he wants to create, he loses his mind and runs around like a crazed-lune. The movie is clearly in love with this character, but it spends so much time just focusing on his odd personality, it hardly leaves us any room to make up our own minds on him. We’re just supposed to love him too, but the “why” is never made clear enough.

Same goes for our main protagonist, Jon. While Domhnall Gleeson is perfectly cast in, yet again, another “normal guy” role, his character’s just boring. Maybe that’s the point, to show the differences he has with the rest of the members in the band, but it doesn’t do anything to help him, or even this movie considering he’s the only character we could connect with amongst all of the hustle and bustle. But that’s not what happens. So instead, we’re supposed to wait around for this band to eventually come together, create some sort of wonderful music, and see if they can all survive as one. But like with music as a whole, everybody likes something different.

Consensus: By appearing so helplessly in love with its title-character, Frank turns out to be nothing more than a fluff-piece for somebody who doesn’t really deserve one, nor any of the other characters either.

4 / 10 = Crapola!!

Sort of like how my band's shows look like. But with ACTUAL PEOPLE THERE.

Sort of like how my band’s shows look like. But with ACTUAL PEOPLE THERE. Yeah! Take that, hipsters!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

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The Drop (2014)

Never trust a silent bartender. Don’t even bother tipping them, either.

Bob Saginowski (Tom Hardy) is a bit of a lone wolf in that, he mostly keeps to himself, goes to work at the bar his cousin, Marv (James Gandolfini), run, and goes to Church every Sunday. Also, occasionally he drops some money to fellow gangsters who own his bar. So yeah, life is good for Bob, that is, until he discovers a beaten-up and bruised puppy in a trashcan. Which yeah, doesn’t seem all that bad considering that he takes it in as his own and even names it, but he starts to develop a relationship with the woman who found it with him (Noomi Rapace), which brings around her ex-boyfriend, the near-psychotic Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts). Also, to make matters worse, he and Marv’s place ends up getting robbed, which means that they have to find a way to pay the owners back, or else they’ll be sleeping with the fishes. And if things couldn’t get even worse for these two fellas, a local detective (John Ortiz) starts sticking his nose in certain places that comes a little too close to comfort for both of them.

What we have here is another one of those simple crime-thriller dramas that, on paper, don’t really seem like much: Quiet dude finds dog, quiet takes dog in, quiet dude falls in love with dog, quiet dude’s life suddenly becomes a whole lot of hell. That sounds boring and, like I noted before, on paper, it probably would be. However, that’s what happens when you’re able to transport something to the silver screen, where you not only having somebody direct others about how certain scenes are supposed to sound or look, but also those “others” being some very talented actors and actresses that can jump into any role, without ever making us second-guess their casting decision.

Oldest trick in the book. Oh, Tom Hardy. You snake, you.

Oldest trick in the book. Oh, Tom Hardy. You snake, you.

I’m rambling on so much like this because it’s so very often I get a small, intimate movie such as this, that doesn’t feel like it’s being that way due to budget-constraints. There are so many movies out there (aka, indies), that feel like they have a small scope because they can’t go anywhere else. Here however, director Michaël R. Roskam keeps his story tiny, because that’s what it exactly is: A small crime-tale of a bunch of thugs, low-life’s and simple do-gooders that just can’t help but be taken down by the world they live in.

And that’s why most of the Drop works; whenever it pays close attention to these characters, their connections to one another and what makes them who they are, the movie stays interesting. They’re not the best-written characters in the whole world, but they’re done well enough to where you can find a little something to sympathize with in each and everyone of them. Then again though, it’s also easy to be able to distrust some of them too and realize that while on the surface, they may be fine, simple-minded people, deep down inside, underneath all of the tucks and turns, they can be really mean, almost savage-like people. They can easily do the wrong thing, to the wrong person, and continue to move on with their lives as is, even if it does beat them up inside. They’re just trying to survive in a world that, for the most part, could live on without them.

Sounds like some pretty sad, mopey stuff to deal with here, but I can assure you, the movie’s not nearly as dark as I present it to be. There is some humor to be found and when the actual crime-angle of this story starts to develop, there can be some fun to be found. However, the double-edged sword here is that while it may be fun to watch a bunch of gangsters go around, shooting, killing and yelling obscenities at one another, it doesn’t really add up to much like the character-based drama does. Still though, I can’t complain too much because while there is plenty of moments just simply dedicated to people doing bad things, there are still more than a few scenes where it’s just two characters getting to know one another better and for me, that was always something to watch and listen to. Even if, sometimes, it didn’t pan-out to much in the end other than being “bad guy”, “good guy”.

And a lot of that credit deserves to go towards Roskam, who got a very good cast together and allowed them to just sink their teeth into some small, bare-bones material we don’t see too often from these actors. Tom Hardy is doing that silent-yet-demanding thing he does in most of his movies, and while he has to do it this time with a New York-accent, the guy handles it very well. We get the feeling right away that this character is a good guy, but we also understand that there may be some darkness lying underneath it all and Hardy’s to thank for making us think that each and everytime this character’s morals get called into question.

I don't know who's scarier.

I don’t know who’s scarier.

Even Noomi Rapace does a fine job playing something of New York white trash, even if she has to do the accent, too. She’s nice enough to where you could see why some normal, everyday dude would want to take a run at her, but you can also tell that she’s been through a whole heck of a lot in her life as is, so she won’t put up with it anymore. Her and Hardy develop a nice bit of chemistry that definitely seems like it’s going to lead some heavy foreplay, and to just watch as they both wonder how to go about it is neat, especially since these characters both seem to know what they want, they just don’t know to go about getting it from the other.

You know, much like how most of my relationships with the opposite-sex are!

Anyway, most of the spotlight is being put on this film because it just so happens to feature the final performance from one James Gandolfini and honestly, it’s a great swan song for him to go out on. It’s not the most perfect performance he’s ever done and it sure as hell isn’t much different from his days as Tony Soprano, but it’s the kind of role that makes us look at Gandolfini and realize what a talent he truly was. He was mean and nasty when he wanted to scare a room full of children, but he could also lighten any mood of a scene with that big grin of his. But no matter what, you always knew that there was more to his character than what he was presenting, which is why it was always a pleasure of watching him just act; something he definitely seemed perfectly suited to do right from the very start.

Consensus: The crime-thriller aspects of the Drop may not always mesh very well with the character-based ones, but nonetheless, it’s still an interesting watch, especially if you want to see some great actors put in some wonderful work. And most of all, if you want to see James Gandolfini’s final role ever on film.

8 /10 = Matinee!!

Aw, wook at him! Sorry, Tom. You lose this time.

Aw, wook at him! Sorry, Tom. You lose this time.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

United 93 (2006)

Staying right here on the ground and not moving.

On September 11, 2001, four planes were hijacked by terrorists with bombs strapped to their chests. Three of them reached their targets. This is the story of the fourth that didn’t and the people that made that possible.

It’s been just a bit over a decade since that fateful day where more civilians were killed than any other day in history, ever. It’s something that we Americans are still hurting from but is also something that has made us stronger as a country. I know that I don’t usually get all this patriotic and loving like I am right here, but I’ll be damned if this film didn’t make me feel a little bit sentimental towards the country I live in!

U.S.A.! U.S.A.! U.S.A.!

Anyway, enough of that, because while I do realize that this movie is definitely centered towards those who can remember that day, where they were at, and exactly how they were affected, I have to make a note that it is still a move nonetheless. Meaning, it can be viewed by many, regardless of what country they lie in. I bring this fact up because it’s so strange to see a director like Paul Greengrass (somebody who resides from England) tackle such a controversial subject/event such as this. And don’t forget people, this movie came out nearly five years after the attacks and if anybody who lived during the year 2006 will tell you: We as a country still weren’t willing to get over it. Add that to the fact that Greengrass’ track-record up to that point was good, but mind you, this was when people already got a helping of what he could do with the Bourne Supremacy, where people already knew he loved to shake that camera all over the place.

Hey, look! It's that dude who sings on Broadway!

Hey, look! It’s that dude who sings on Broadway!

So yeah, you could say that it was a pretty daring move on everybody’s parts involved to not only make this movie when they did, but to make it in general, with the lad behind it all.

Somehow though, I couldn’t imagine anyone else directing this. There’s something about Greengrass’ down-to-Earth direction that really gives you the impression that not only is this happening in real time, but that it’s literally happening right in front of your own very eyes. It feels, looks, and sounds exactly like a documentary, and because of that, it just looks, feels, and sounds real. Which is basically saying that it’s a terrifying experience to watch, because even though you know what’s going to happen in the end, you can’t help but get swept up in it all and root for the passengers, yet, at the same time, still can’t lose that sense of dread that sooner or later, it’s all going to end and these passengers are going to perish.

As morbid as it may sound to write or read, it’s the truth and that’s why this movie hit me so hard. Because rather than trying to go for some sort of political-agenda and say who was in the right, the wrong, or indifferent when it came to this situation, on this very day, Greengrass just stands behind the camera and films how it probably would have happened. He’s not offering any “rah-rah” patriotism about how these passengers all acted on the plane when they found out what was really happening, but rather, showing us what can happen when a band of practically strangers get together, figure out what predicament they’re in, and how they can get out of it. Which yes, sounds totally different when you think in the grand scheme of things, what was going on outside of this one aircraft, but when you’re watching this movie, you’re not really thinking about everything else that’s going on in the Big Apple and how the rest of the world is reacting to it – you’re simply thinking about how these passengers are going to get off of this plane and survive, if that’s at all possible.

Which, yet again, is a strange feeling to have, especially when you consider that you know how it ends. If you don’t, then I suggest you read more.

And that’s why, despite him having some bad-press surrounding his name and his “crack-cam”, Greengrass truly was the perfect choice to direct a movie such as this. He not only knows how to ramp-up the tension so well, that you practically forget about the actual, real-life ending itself, but he also reminds us that even the smallest gesture of humanity and bravery can matter. Like I said before, he’s not necessarily commending everybody involved and their actions, but he’s just shining a camera-light on what may, or may not, have happened and how certain people reacted to this specific situation they were tragically thrown into.

That’s what brings me to my next point and how this daring this film truly was. See, it’s one thing to portray an event in the history of the world that happened to, and was felt by numerous people from all over the globe. However, it’s another thing to portray an event in history that has a few specific amount of people involved, and to portray them, their stories leading up to, and during this event, is definitely a ballsy move. Not just because you have to worry about who you offend, or who you don’t, but because this movie right here is their legacy; if you’re bad-mouthing them and people know about it, then you, my sir, may have something of a lawsuit on your hands, not to mention many, many years of angry fan-mail pouring in by the thousands.

Guess the fact they were sweating buckets didn't set anybody off.

Guess the fact they were sweating buckets didn’t set anybody off.

But once again, Greengrass proved me wrong and showed that he can take any drastic steps he wants, he always comes out on top. In the case of the characters here in this movie, nobody’s really all that famous or well-known to the point of where one could say, “Oh, that guy was in that episode of Seinfeld!” And even if you could, it probably wouldn’t get in the way of being able to accept this “character” for who they are and what they resemble. Greengrass clearly did the bit of casting in which he got a whole slew of unfamiliar faces and names, just so that it would be so much easier for us, the audience, to not get distracted by seeing a famous person, play a character; especially not a character who is supposed to be based on someone who actually existed.

Nobody here is really outstanding in terms of acting and to be honest, even after all of these years, nobody’s really all that recognizable either (with the exception of Cheyenne Jackson and a blank-a-few-times-and-you’ll-miss-her appearance from Olivia Thirlby), which is good. In fact, it totally works in the movie’s favor. It makes you see each and everyone of these “characters” as who they’re supposed to be: Real-life, actual people that, sadly, were thrown into such a tragic situation as this. It makes you wonder about what they had to go through and how, even when it all ended, their families were affected. But no matter what, the movie reminds us that it’s because of these people and their bravery, that some lives were changed. For both better and for worse. But most of all, they changed history and had us remember that regular, everyday human beings, just like you or I, can change history by just getting up and not taking something we don’t believe in. Even if the end game doesn’t look so pretty.

But hey, that’s just what being humans all about: Making decisions, regardless of if they end well or not. You just want to help and save others, if that’s at all possible.

Consensus: Though it had everything to lose by simply just being made in the first place, United 93 turns out to be not just an effective piece of film-making, but a compelling and emotional look inside the lives of those who were on this one specific airplane, on this one fateful day.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

Never forget, people. No matter where you are in this world, just never forget.

Never forget, people. No matter where you are in this world, just never forget.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Bullhead (2011)

Guess there’s an underground mob out there for everyone. What a world we live in.

The underground meat market in Belgium is full of all sorts of trouble and corruption, which, for some, makes lives total hell. One such life is Jacky Vanmarsenille (Matthias Schoenaerts); although most of the problems he has in the present day, stems from an tragic incident that occurred early in his life. While hopped-up on all sorts of drugs, pills, steroids and whatever else can help him get through the day, Jacky realizes that the world he knows as the cattle-trade business, is going to be shaken up a bit now that a supposed “meat inspector” has been killed. Although the rest of his associates around him go nutso and find out any way they can get past the fuzz, totally unscathed and unharmed, Jacky couldn’t be too concerned as he’s more or less trying to move on with his messed-up life. And this usually involves him pining after a girl he’s known since he was little that he wants to be with, but doesn’t know if he can push through this travesty of a life that he has.

In case you don’t already know this by now and are wondering if I acted like a dummy and left anything out, well, surprise, surprise! I did! See, while most of Bullhead is centered around this Jacky character, the life he has had and the one he lives now, there’s a good portion that’s also dedicated to this on-going police-investigation that concerns a childhood friend of Jacky’s. And the reason why I chose not to include this synopsis up above is all because, honestly, it’s not what really gets this flick moving.

Cheer up! Stop feeling so blue...

Cheer up! Stop feeling so blue…

In fact, if there was anything that really took me away from loving this movie more than I probably should have, it was the fact that this subplot constantly reared its ugly head. And that’s not to say it wasn’t pertinent to the story; it definitely was and showed that this meat-trafficking business was as brutal and as unrelenting as any other shady business. However, whenever the movie really seemed to be paying attention to Jacky, his plight, who he is and how he gets through life on a day-to-day basis, it felt emotional, powerful and consistent, especially in terms of how interesting it could get by just being as simple as the sky. But whenever writer/director Michaël R. Roskam decided that it was time to throw in this gangster-lite tale, it just seemed to get in the way of a good thing.

Maybe had this story been all by itself, in its own movie, its own run-time and its own general basis to do whatever it wanted, whenever it wanted and how it wanted, then maybe we’d have a way better movie on our hands. But being a person who is supposed to judge a movie on the merits presented to me, and not what it could have been in my mind, I guess I have to take into consideration that this movie isn’t perfect. Doesn’t mean I have to be happy about. Sure as hell doesn’t mean I have to not mention it whenever I bring it up into conversation with my peeps. But what it does mean is that this movie could have been so much better, had they just decided to cut out a good portion of this movie that was, well, for lack of a better word, “conventional”.

But, like I was saying, the movie itself here, people!

And like I was saying about this movie here, while it seems like two stories converging into something of a relatively uneven movie, the one story is so compelling and powerful, that it’s hard for me to really walk away from this film and not say that it deserves to be seen. The reason for this to, is all because of this character, Jacky, and how the movie paints him as. Yes, because while he may be involved with this underground meat-market trading business where he jacks up his cattle on constant steroids and HGH hormones (though, to be fair, not nearly as much as he seems to do to himself), there’s still something about him and his complexities that draw us to him just about every second he’s on screen.

Some of that has to do with what happened to him as a child (which we do eventually find out and is easily the most disturbing scene in a movie that I’ve seen in quite some time), but some of that also has to do with the fact that he just wants to live his life, and a full one at that. Even if that does mean creepily shackin’ up with a girl he hasn’t seen since he was nearly 12 or so. Or, hell, even if that means using steroids to have that perfect, muscular-build to look and feel “masculine” – it doesn’t matter because to him, this is his way of living. He makes money illegally, yet somehow, it’s hard for us to really put that on the side and just realize that this is a very sad person who we can not only help but feel bad for, but even come close to rooting for whenever it seems like he’s getting close to hitting his personal goal of “being a normal person”.

Metaphor, I guess.

Metaphor, I guess.

It’s the way Jacky’s written that makes us think this; he’s not always the most moral guy, making the right decisions, but when he gets a chance to do somewhat of the right thing, he does and moves on with his life. However, most of the reason why Jacky is such an interesting, wholly complex character, is because Matthias Schoenaerts is so great as him, feeling, looking and basically, just being a person that you’d imagine who would live a life as sad and as painful as he has. Schoenaerts has become something of a bigger name since this movie came out, and it’s easy to see why – there’s something cold, dark and mysterious about his presence with Jacky that makes us feel like we must get to know him each and every second he’s around.

Some people get this way with Tom Hardy, but mostly everybody was like this with one Marlon Brando. And trust me, I know those two comparisons are pretty ballsy ones to make, but seriously, I feel like Schoenaerts and the work he puts in here is actually deserving of it. If only somewhat, that is. He practically carries this movie on his own, busted-up back and shows you that it’s not what you say with your words, it’s more of how you carry yourself from scene-to-scene, with your own body-language. Schoenaerts is great at showing us somebody who literally feels awkward and unknowing of the world around him, so much so that when it comes to having conversations with those not within his underground meat-market circle, he’s a blabbering, nervous mess. But rather than having these scenes play out like an intentional, hella-awkward comedy, Schoenaerts and Roskam make these moments hard to watch and listen to; you know he’s trying to make things right and it’s just not at all working out for him.

But, then again, that’s why we have such a thing as “heroes”, “villains”, and a little word called “anti-heroes”. Those we don’t want to like, sympathize, or even care for, but we as normal, everyday human beings can’t help but do so. It’s just in our nature.

Consensus: In Bullhead, there are two opposing stories ramming against one another, and while one is clearly not interesting, the main one featuring Matthias Schoenaerts in a stellar performance is what keeps this movie interesting, emotional and worth watching, if only for when he himself is around.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Silly, Mathais! That's not potty!

Silly, Matthias! That’s not potty!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Life Of Crime (2014)

Of course they had to kidnap the one housewife who looks like Jennifer Aniston!

Repressed and angry housewife Mickey Dawson (Jennifer Aniston) doesn’t like the life she’s practically married into; her husband (Tim Robbins) is a philandering drunk, her son doesn’t really talk to her anymore, and she sees there almost no chance of being able to escape. That is all until she ends up being kidnapped in a get-rich-quick-scheme set up by two cons, Ordell (Yasiin Bey) and Louis (John Hawkes). While the plan seems simple at first (kidnap the wife, demand money from the hubbie, run off and have no problems), it suddenly all goes South once the husband’s mistress (Isla Fisher) gets involved. Also not to mention the fact that Louis and Mickey actually begin to develop something of a friendship that makes it a lot harder for Mickey to really be scared in a situation such as this, when she really should be. But she shouldn’t worry any longer because coming to he aide is a friend (Will Forte) who wants more than to just be a dude she casually talks to – he wants to be with her and won’t stop until he finds her and uncovers this plan.

There’s a strange fact that connects me more to this movie than I would like to; see, way back when in high school, I decided to give Elmore Leonard’s the Switch a read. I had already read a few of his books beforehand and considering that the film-adaptations of his books that I had already seen were great, I thought to my young, restless-self, “Why the ‘eff not?” Well, funny thing is that while I’m reading the book, I just so happen to stumble upon a news story that this same book I’m reading, is the latest Leonard piece to be adapted into a film and was going to feature none other than a favorite of mine, Mr. Dennis Quaid himself.

Thought I smelled a rat, too.....

Thought I smelled a rat, too…..

Fast forward a couple years later, Quaid’s out, replaced and the whole movie has come together in something that I didn’t expect. Now trust me, I won’t try to make this a review of the book vs. the movie; although I certainly can’t promise I’ll stay fully away from it either. However, all that said, it’s easy to see why they’d want to adapt this story, of all the other promising pieces of Leonard’s works – it’s quicker, funnier and features more character-development than most of his other works and it made total sense as to why such a high-caliber cast would get involved in the first place.

Even if, you know, my main man D-Quaid wasn’t involved anymore.

Anyway, though the source material holds out a lot of promise, there’s just something totally and completely “off” about this movie to where I feel like writer/director Daniel Schechter didn’t fully understand what it was that he was reading, and as a result, writing down. There are some genuine moments of suspense, even for somebody who has already read the book and knows what happens, but that’s pretty much it when it comes to getting Leonard’s style down perfectly and put onto film.

That’s why certain directors like Steven Soderbergh and Quentin Tarantino have done so well with his pieces: They get Leonard, the way his characters talk and how the plots progress on and on. Schechter, on the other hand, doesn’t really seem like he’s capable of bringing Leonard’s fun, vivid mind to the big screen and because of that, the movie feels incredibly uneven. There are moments when it’s supposed to be quippy and funny, almost to where we can believe these characters saying these certain lines of wit at these specific moments, but it feels very tacked-on; which isn’t to discredit the cast, it’s just that they’re given such lame material to work with, that even their charming presences can’t make it any better.

For instance, try John Hawkes, an actor who, no matter what he shows up in, is always doing something interesting, yet always stays believable in that character’s skin. He can play a good guy, and literally be the nicest human being alive; he could be a bad guy, and possibly be the most despicable person you’ve ever seen. He just has that certain way about him that allows him to blend into whatever character he’s playing. And honestly, that’s why Louis (the same character played by one Robert De Niro in Jackie Brown) seems like such a perfect character for him to play: He’s not necessarily a moral person, but he has a kind heart. Given the right script, too, Hawkes could have ran wild with this character but instead, he comes off as poorly-written and is hardly ever considered somebody “bad”. There are small instances of his rage, but whenever he’s on the same screen as Jennifer Aniston’s character, he automatically softens up and seems like it’s coming completely out of nowhere.

It was the 70's, so it's okay.

It was the 70’s, so give him a break.

Not to mention that this is hardly ever mentioned/alluded to in the book, but like I said, staying with the movie here, people!

And the same sort of goes for Aniston – while I’ve never been absolutely stunned by the work she puts into certain movies, she’s always likable in her own way. Here, she just seems like she’s on auto-pilot and doesn’t really get much to do that’s neither believable, nor even fun to watch her do. She just sort of yells, screams, runs away and occasionally, tries to act smarter than the criminals who have in fact kidnapped her.

But the same I say for Aniston, is pretty much the same way for everybody else in this cast and it’s absolute waste of some real fine talent assembled here. Yasiin Bey (aka, Mos Def) does his best impersonation of Samuel L. Jackson without totally over-doing it and he gets a few laughs, but all in all, seems like he’s just there to be the token black character who makes stereotypical jokes about race, food and women; Tim Robbins plays the husband as a total dick (mostly how he was written) and is fine, but after awhile, you wonder just what the hell there was about this guy in the first place that actually attracted her to him; Will Forte is goofy and that’s about it; and Isla Fisher, despite being a lot older than I expected her character to be, is smoky, sexy and that’s all she needed to be for this character to work, although it never makes full sense as to why she gets involved with these cast of characters either.

Consensus: Despite boasting an impressive cast who are all clearly trying with all their force and might, Life of Crime can’t help but just feel like a dull, aimless, uneven and rather boring crime-thriller that doesn’t do its source-material justice whatsoever.

2.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"Yeah, this is NOT Mos Def calling. It's my real, actual name."

“Yeah, this is NOT Mos Def calling. It’s my real, actual name.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (2010)

Whoever thought that the scariest lady on television could ever be so damn funny?

This film makes an attempt to peel away the mask we usually see with comedian, actor, writer, director, and pop-culture sensation known as Joan Rivers. We follow her for 14 months, mostly during the 76th year of her life and find out how hard it is to get work no matter how funny you are. We also get to hear her side of the stories on such events in her life like when her husband died, or how everybody on the face of the planet attacks her numerous dates with plastic surgery.

For the longest time, I was never quite a big fan of Joan Rivers. I don’t really think I’m alone on the boat with that statement right there but she’s just always been one of these gals that bothers me with her screechy, Brooklyn accent, scary surgery that seemed like it got worse and worse over the years, and some questionable decisions she’s made in the past, most notably the one she did behind Johnny Carson’s back, aka the guy that basically gave her a start. Then, after seeing her on Louie, I realized that there was a whole lot more to this lady than just making wise cracks on celebrities outfits on the red carpet.

What surprised me is how damn hilarious dirty Rivers still was in her later years. At the time of this documentary, I think she was around 76 or so and she still did stand-up work that would make Sam Kinison and Bob Saget both run for the doors. The stand-up stuff she does is so funny and even though it all depends on what you think is actually humorous or not, Rivers still delivers in her politically-incorrect way that has seemed to get her so far throughout all of these years. And because of that, not only was I able to give this movie a shot, but even her herself and see what her side of the story was all about.

Take a wild guess as to who that is....

Take a wild guess as to who that is….

This film also paints a picture of Joan Rivers, not just in a way that makes her seem like one of the funniest gals in comedy (right next to Kathy Griffin, in my opinion), but also shows that she’s a bit scared and insecure deep down inside. Rivers has the status of celebrity (well…sort of), but isn’t afraid to take any show that comes her way just in order to stay out there, get money, and keep her name up in the clouds. This shows that she has some real dedication when it comes to what she’s been put on this world to do but we also see a side of her that’s unlike anything else we see in most docs about certain high-profile stars such as this one we have here: She’s worried.

It’s sucks that Rivers went through all of the crap she went through where she hit a bump in the middle of her career, had her husband commit suicide, and spend the next 30 years of your life trying to regain that stardom and respect in the biz, but always end up having an empty calendar for the next month. She’s always scared about hearing crickets out in the crowd and tries her hardest to entertain even the hardest crowds, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way and it’s a shame of a reality once you think about it. I’m not saying that I totally pity this chick beyond belief, but it makes you realize that she has a lot more going behind the scenes than we might have ever expected and she doesn’t take any of what she’s given for granted. She’s a very talented comedian that obviously knows what she’s doing, but there still some stuff to her that still remains a mystery to her, even after all of these years.

Problem I met with this documentary is that it doesn’t keep you as fully entertained the whole time considering it constantly shoves in-and-out of this comedy and dramatic junk. One second we’re getting Joan talking about how her daughter didn’t pose for Playboy, then the next second we’re getting here crying about her late husband that killed himself. One second we’re getting a scene of Joan doing stand-up, absolutely taking the balls right out of this heckler, then the next second we get her crying about how she’s scared of rejection. Both worlds are great ones to discover and dig deep into, but when you have them in the same film going around and about, it comes off more as uneven, rather than actually engaging.

That's you, Joan. Butter believe it.

That’s you, Joan. Butter believe it.

The other problem I had with this documentary was the story about Melissa Rivers getting voted off the Celebrity Apprentice. I don’t care what anyone says, those shows are crap, they always have been, and do nothing else but allow the Trumpenator to say his famous catchphrase every episode. Everybody knows this, but it seems like both of the Rivers’ don’t and that’s a little bit too funny to watch considering how serious they take it. I actually started laughing when Joan started to tear up once Melissa gets booted off the show and states that, “It just wasn’t fair! It just wasn’t!”. Really Joan? Does it matter that much whether or not Donald says “you’re hired”? Now that I think about it, maybe it would be pretty cool.

Either way though, this documentary is really all about Joan Rivers and those lives she’s been able to touch. Sometimes, it wasn’t in the best ways like she had originally intended, but most of the time, if she got a laugh or two, she was content. And when you’re somebody who aspires to do that, day in, day out and most of all, for a living, then that’s all you need. Even if you are Joan Rivers; a woman who never let up, even when she was being told to do so.

Once again, another legend lost. Meaning, another person we won’t soon forget.

Consensus: While uneven, Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work is a nice, insightful look into the life of Rivers, the woman she was, who she became, and why exactly she decided to do all of those terrible, horrible things to her face.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

You tell 'em, girl!

You tell ‘em, girl!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Rover (2014)

If somebody took my precious moped, trust me, I’d travel to the ends of the Earth, too.

Set in the Outback, ten years after what is called “the collapse”, a lonely, disheveled man (Guy Pearce) parks his car by the side of the road, only to realize that, moments later, it’s stolen by a bunch of thugs who got in a car crash and needed the next best set of wheels to roll with. The man clearly doesn’t like this, so he sets out to get his car back, but not without stumbling upon one of the younger brother’s of this gang, an autistic redneck by the name of Reynolds (Robert Pattinson). Together, the two embark on a journey of sorts in which the man can get his car back and hopefully keep Reynolds with him, almost as a use of leverage. However, their two troubled pasts and the decisions they’ve made eventually come back to bite both of them in the rear-ends during this trip, and most of the times, it usually leads to disastrous results. Especially when all hope in the world, is practically lost.

In case you couldn’t already tell, there’s something strange about this premise. Like, for instance, why on Earth is this one dude going so deep and far just to get his car back? Speaking of the Earth, how did it “collapse”? Was it a virus? Did it hit everywhere on the planet, or just Australia? Better yet, why the hell does there happen to be numerous Americans roaming the Outbacks? And what the hell is up with these soldiers?

Basically, this movie has a lot of questions and has no interest in actually answering them, so if that isn’t your cup of tea, then there’s no reason you should really see this. It will only have you be more and more incredibly pissed as it trudges along, not to mention that it’s not necessarily the greatest pick-me-up, either. So just imagine the Road, but this time, without a father-son dynamic, therefore, getting rid of any sort of hope or humanity one may be able to find in a flick as grim and as brutal as this.

"Oy, mate! There's plenty of bushes around here! Why couldn't you just go in one of them?!?!"

“Oy, mate! There’s plenty of bushes around here! Why couldn’t you just go in one of them?!?!”

But that’s why we have movies such as the Rover – not to be enjoyed, but simply, to be intrigued by. Most of the times, it’s for the worse, but sometimes, especially in the case here, it’s for the better because the movie doesn’t feel like it needs to really explain itself. Sure, it would have been totally helpful to get a bit more background info on just how Australia turned into this Mad Max-style playing field, but there’s something quite interesting in that mystery surrounding it, that it’s hard to have it ruin whatever movie-viewing experience when can have while watching this.

Which, for some, may be a bit of a change if they had already seen writer/director David Michôd’s previous flick, Animal Kingdom; which, surprisingly, was a conventional gangster tale of a family full of thugs and crooks, but was spun so many times, it hardly ever felt conventional or boring. Here though, there’s hardly any convention to be found: Basically, it’s just a road trip from one blazingly hot Australian location, to another. And while that may sound like a whole bucket of fun, it isn’t and really, it doesn’t need to be.

Because mostly, what Michôd does so well as director is that he sets a mood; it’s a very dark, brooding and ominous one, but it’s one that throws us into this post-apocalyptic world we know hardly anything about, except for that everything is screwed up beyond belief. Somehow though, Michôd is able to find these small shots of natural beauty, which is mostly to credit the landscapes in which he shot this movie, but also to credit him as having a keen eye on what pops in a movie that can be so grim at times, you’ll wonder if there’s going to be any humanity found at all.

And eventually, Michôd does find some humanity in this story, however, if there was a element that I felt like this movie needed the most help with, it was this. While Michôd clearly gets the look and feel of this movie down perfectly, there’s a certain idea about these characters that leaves plenty to be desired. Sure, we’re practically thrown into a situation, with characters we hardly know right off the bat, but the time one dedicates to driving and staying in seedy hotels, should definitely be time for us to not only get to know our characters, or understand exactly why it is that they’re in the situation they’re in. It’s understandable why Pattinson’s character is in this situation (he’s simply not all that there in the head), but as for Pearce’s character (who I’m being told is named “Eric”, although I hardly ever heard this mentioned at all), there’s never a full understanding as to why his character is setting out so passionately on this trip just to get his car back, nor do we understand why he’s doing so many barbaric things on the way as well.

Maybe that’s the point Michôd is trying to get across: In a world that is so run-down and torn to pieces, there’s hardly any room for human connection. Which, if that was his intentions to begin with, then fine job on his part. In fact, I’d say the message was totally received. However, that also means the film suffers because of that and it made me wonder just why we couldn’t at least get two or three more scenes of Reynolds and Pearce’s character talking about whatever. Even if the conversation went nowhere, at least there would have still been an effort for us, the audience, to get to know them better just by how they talk.

He still hasn't forgotten, Rupert Sanders.

He still hasn’t forgotten, Rupert Sanders.

But sadly, we don’t really get that. Instead, we get many scenes where Reynolds and “Eric” sit in a car, or fireside and, occasionally, getting involved in countless acts of violence. It should be noted that these acts of violence are quick, shocking and ultimately, brutal, however, there’s not enough emotion to go behind them. The only time there ever is any emotion involved whatsoever, is whenever Pattinson’s Reynolds is one of those in the action. Some of that has to do with the fact that it’s easy to feel sorry for this character as is, but some of that also has to be given to Pattinson for diving straight forward into this role, without hardly ever over-doing it; which any person who has ever had to play a mentally-handicapped character will tell you, can be quite hard to stay away from.

However, that’s the surprise we get from Pattinson here who, for what it’s worth, adds enough heart to a character you don’t necessarily root for, but don’t want terrible things to happen to either. Then again though, there’s this realization that this character isn’t the most moral one out there and, for the most part, has violent tendencies. Because of this, the character’s unpredictable and Pattinson is definitely capable of keeping that act up throughout the whole majority he’s on-screen for. As for Guy Pearce, though he looks perfect as this mean and nasty son-of-a-bitch “Eric”, there’s just not enough for him to do here, except just snarl, angrily stare at people around him, and hold up a gun. Which honestly doesn’t sound like such a problem when it’s Guy Pearce doing all of these things, but when he’s out-shined by Edward Cullen, there is something of a problem.

Not a huge one, but a noticeable one.

Consensus: Heavy on its unquestionably bleak atmosphere, the Rover will definitely tests those willing to go through with it, while also disappointing others who don’t get more than just another gritty, raw Australian-thriller, with some interesting ideas.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"I said, 'G'day, mate'!!"

“I said, ‘G’day, mate’!!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Ali (2001)

Float like a butterfly and sting like a, uhm, something. I forget.

Meet Cassius Clay, Jr. (Will Smith), a twenty-something boxer who is fresh, young and chock full of fight. He’s also got a bit of a mouth on him that doesn’t make him the most popular boxer among his fellow confidantes, but definitely makes him popular in the eyes of the media that wants to hear/see everything he says/does. But like it is with most celebrities in the public limelight, there usually comes controversy and Clay’s was filled with plenty of it. First came his name change; then, his alliance with Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles); his numerous marriages and affairs; his defiance against joining the U.S. Army due to “religious reasons”; his relationship with known sports-commentator Howard Cosell (Jon Voight); and plenty more where that came from. All of this eventually leads up to the infamous fight he had with a boxer by the name of George Foreman, in which most people dubbed, “the Rumble in the Jungle”.

Some of you die hards out there may already take notice to the fact that I’ve reviewed this one before, but honestly, that was so far back when, I can hardly remember what I gave it. All I do remember is that I watched it, wrote a terrible review on it and hardly remembered anything after seeing it. That’s what happened to me with most movies back in those early, immature days of my life, but nowadays, when I see something, I give it my full, undivided attention.

So yeah, I decided to give this a re-watch because I knew there was something about I needed to see once again and decide what about it drew me back to it. And after having seen it, for a second time mind you, I can’t really come up with an answer. That’s not because I didn’t pay attention again this time; in fact, it was quite the opposite. I fueled up on so much coffee, I was about to jump right out of the window before seeing this. Meaning, that I was so ready to see this and be able to give it the response it’s worth and not something I put out those many years ago.

"West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!"

“West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!”

But nope. Somehow, nothing seemed to change. Sure, I remembered the movie a lot better now than I did before, but there’s just something odd about this movie and I think that all comes down to Michael Mann himself being the director. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Michael Mann as a director; in fact, I think he’s one of the better ones out there nowadays and I can’t wait to see what he’s got cooking next with this new film starring Chris Hemsworth. However, the problem with him is that when he’s feeling extra “artsy”, it gets in the way of his story – or, in this movie’s case, the lack thereof.

Which, for a biopic about one of sport’s most influential icons ever, means something. Not only do you get in the way of actually connecting to a character that some can deem “misunderstood”, but you don’t really allow there to be anything remotely interesting driving this character, or their story along for us to say. Throw on a two-and-a-half-hour run-time and you’re asking way too much of an audience, especially when you’re not giving them anything to really hold onto.

And that’s not to say everything Mann does here is bad – the look, sound and overall feel of this movie is, predictably, wonderful. You can tell that Mann didn’t take this as some sort of “paycheck gig” and throw in the towel (excuse the pun); he actually puts a spin on the look of this movie when re-creating the environment the United States in the 60’s. Even the boxing sequences themselves are pretty neat, but not in the way you’d expect them to be; rather than having the boxing bouts be full of hooks, jabs, punches, punches and hugs every single second, Mann focuses on what most boxing matches can be: Boring. Now, I’m not saying that boxing in and of itself is boring, but there can be the occasional lull in the action and Mann focuses on that quite well, almost to the point of where it’s too realistic.

Still though, I’ll take realism over any goofy, over-the-top boxing match (which is pretty much what the Rocky films ended up being).

But, like I said before, those bold moves don’t really work unless you can find a way to make the story work as well and that’s just what the problem is here. Mann literally places us right slap dab in the middle of Ali’s life without much rhyme, reason, or even a background on who this person is, why he is the way he is, and exactly who/what made him this way. A part of me feels like Mann was just assuming that all of us know this, or simply don’t care, which isn’t true; getting to know somebody famous and iconic from where they came from is probably the most compelling aspect behind getting a full picture of a person really is and why they’re so worth studying in the first place.

Here though, we just get Ali, who talks a lot, bangs a lot, fights a lot, and changes his mind about whatever it is that he believes in with the drop of a hat. Which, yet again, is another interesting spin Mann takes on this story, but it hardly ever goes anywhere. Instead, we just see Ali act this way and hardly ever get anymore development on it. And that’s pretty much how the rest of this movie plays out: Stuff happens, you never really get a reasoning behind it and it’s off to the next sequence of stuff happening. But while for most movies, from some directors out there (namely Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, etc.), this would work because of how exciting and compelling this stuff is, Mann goes at such a slow-pace, it’s downright dreadful to sit through at times.

For instance, did we really need a seven-minute concert performance by Sam Cooke to start the movie off? Better yet, did we need to see a whole, nearly ten-minute sequence in which Ali jogs through the streets of Africa? Sure, all of it looks and sounds pretty, but when it doesn’t really add much to the final product, what’s the point? By then, you’re just taking up space and precious time, so don’t bother with it!

The make-up department was just having a field day with this one I'm sure.

The make-up department was just having a field day with this one I’m sure.

Another problem that most seem to have with this movie that I can somewhat attest to is how Will Smith is doing more of a full-fledged impersonation of Ali, rather than an actual performance in and of itself. And while I don’t necessarily think Will Smith does a bad job in the role (he tries so very hard, it’s almost uncomfortable to watch at times because you never know if he’s going to sprain an acting-muscle), I can’t say that I think this performance is “Oscar-worthy” or even the best he’s given, ever. Regardless of what some may say, Will Smith is a very good actor when he wants to be and when he’s given the right material, and here, he just doesn’t have it. He’s supposed to sound, look, and act like Ali and he does a fine job at that, but really getting to the core of somebody the media usually portrays as a “misunderstood, yet incredibly influential icon”, is just not something he’s able to do.

Once again, most of that blame is put onto those who gave him this thin-material to work with, as well as Mann for not really pushing Smith harder than he’d ever been pushed before.

The same can sort of be said for the supporting cast as well, which has plenty of recognizable names and faces, yet, aren’t given much to do except just act like other famous people. Jon Voight, for no other reason than that he’s Jon Voight, was nominated for an Oscar here as Howard Cosell which, like in the case of Smith’s Ali, is nothing more than an impersonation aided by very well-done hair and make-up; Giancarlo Esposito shows up as Ali’s daddy and gets a few scenes to work, but seems like a lot of his stuff was cut-out; Mario Van Peebles has some impressive scenes as Malcolm X, but, yet again, is just doing an impersonation; and Mykelti Williamson, despite being quite hilarious as Don King, feels more like a caricature than an actual boxing promoter (much like the real Don King, I guess, but that’s not the point). The only one who really steps away unscathed is Jamie Foxx who, before this movie, was mostly known for his comedy, but at least shows that he had some dramatic-chops in his system as one of Ali’s trainers.

Makes total sense now why Mann would later cast Foxx in the much-better Collateral, but that’s another review, for another day, folks.

Consensus: While it’s clear that mostly everybody involved tries, Ali comes off more like an uninvolved highlight-reel of the famous boxer’s most famous and controversial moments, that would probably be more compelling to actually read in a biography, than everything here.

4.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"You best watch what you say about Jaden! That kid's an intellectual!:

“You best watch what you say about Jaden! That kid’s an intellectual!:

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould (2010)

Jim Morrison wouldn’t have lasted a day with Mozart around, shaking things up.

Meet Glenn Gould, a child prodigy pianist who traveled over from Canada into the U.S., and made quite a name for himself in the classical music genre. He did certain things to original composings by Bach and Mozart that nobody had ever dared tried to do before and his unique style of playing the piano really made him an act that people needed to see, as soon as possible. Problem was, off the stage and away from the crowd, Gould was something of a troubled-dude. He didn’t have many friends, and for those who could consider them as such, didn’t really know him all that well. Did it stem from the fact that he was a hypochondriac? Was it because he and his family hardly ever spoke? Or, was it simply because he was just too smart for his own good? Whatever the reason may have been, is totally unknown, because just as soon as he hit the ripe of age of 50, Gould passed away, leaving a legion of adoring fans and pieces of work in the dust.

The general consensus of classical music is that, for the most part, it’s considered “pretentious”. The music itself; the people who conduct it; the people who listen to it – it doesn’t matter, it’s all pretentious. Some of that’s correct and some of it isn’t, because classical music is just like any other music out there. Sure, there usually aren’t any lyrics in any classical pieces, and there certainly aren’t any surprise guest-appearances by Lil’ Jon to be found either; but it’s music no less and it deserves to be treated as such.

That’s why, despite not having much of a background in classical music, I decided to give this documentary a shot. And I’m glad I did because I realized one key element to music that I so desperately needed to be reminded of: Every piece of music matters. And sometimes, not even just the pieces themselves, it’s those who create it, why, and the kind of impact they left on the music world for creating this one piece of music. Some may consider it “bad”, others, “a near-masterpiece”, but overall, it’s music that made a difference and I don’t see any problem with that whatsoever.

Ironic, I guess?

Ironic, I guess?

Which is why watching Glenn Gould’s story be told to us in a chronological, simple way was compelling; he’s the type of artist most comedy sketch-shows make fun of because of how strange he was, but that’s sort of the mystery behind Glenn Gould, the person, hence why Glenn Gould, the musician, was so enthralling to begin with.

And while watching this documentary, you sort of get the impression that Gould was just like every other musician out there who has ever been touted as “the next big thing”, only to have a nervous breakdown, turn away from the public eye, do whatever they want and basically, fade off into oblivion. However, in the case of Gould, there’s something slightly different – even while he was away and doing his own thing, in his own spare time, the man was still working and keeping himself busy, it just wasn’t what anybody was expecting him to be working on.

Rather than sticking straight to creating classical music, Gould traveled out into different places like the recording studio, radio, film-making, acting, writing, etc. And while he was working on these various different forms, he was finding more and more ways to make them accessible to those who wanted to work with them. He was the type of artist that was considered being perfect at his craft, yet, didn’t let that fully get to this head and just lounge out till the end of his days, while simultaneously collecting paycheck, after paycheck. Nope, not Glenn Gould and there’s something refreshing to see that in a musician of his stature.

Though it may seem like I’m just filling this review up to talk on and on about Gould himself, rather than actually focus on the movie at all, I can assure you, that is not the case. It’s just difficult to talk about a documentary when it’s main attraction is the subject itself in whom it is documenting. Because with Glenn Gould, you get a person who did something wonderful with his instrument and the world he lived in, yet, didn’t know exactly what to do with all of that notoriety. Instead, he just got away from it all and continued to live a quiet, peaceful life. But while this may all seem peachy-keen, the movie assures you it’s not. Most of this is due to the fact that Gould mostly kept to himself, but that he also didn’t always treat those around him with the utmost love and respect.

Play that funky music, white boy!

Play that funky music, white boy!

Later on by the end of the film, we get the impression that Gould was really “losing it” by the end of his life, which isn’t just sad because it’s a fragile, yet, incredible mind going to waste, but that all of those who ever supported him, were nowhere to be found. That’s not necessarily their fault, as much as it is his own, but it’s still interesting to see how this guy reacts to the fame brought onto him for his magnificent playing skills and also how he seemingly pushed any of those who ever loved him, away.

Which, once again, brings us to the mystery of just who the hell this person truly was underneath the wonderful piano-playing? Was he some sort of genius that was a lot better at playing music, then performing it in front of huge crowds and having to promote it? Or, simply, was he just another Kurt Cobain of his day? A creative genius that, sadly, was misunderstood by all of those around him. Thankfully, for Gould, there was no MTV, there was no Courtney Love and there sure as hell was no Smells Like Teen Spirit. Instead, there was just him against the world and it what proved to be his predictable, yet utterly tragic downfall.

Consensus: Regardless of your musical interests, Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould will please anybody looking for an intriguing documentary about a subject who wasn’t what we’d call “normal”, nor would we call “uninteresting”.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

How I usually sit. But in crowded rooms, mind you.

How I usually sit. But in crowded rooms, mind you.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Take that Wall-E! This is real animation!

Writer/director/producer Ari Folman was 19 when he served in the Lebanon War in the 80’s. He did his job, his duty, and did it all for his country. However, after all of these years, Folman seems to have forgotten all that has happened, with the exception of a dream that he and two buddies of his have had where they emerge from the water, naked. Seems rather strange, but again, he doesn’t know if that’s real or just a dream. That’s where his former-soldiers help him out to tell him what happened, what they did, and what exactly went on in the Lebanon War. The results not only shock us while we sit and listen, but even them as well.

This is one of those hard flicks to categorize because not only is it a documentary, but it’s also an animated movie. When I first started watching this, I was terribly confused as to what the hell I was seeing. I knew I was seeing a bunch of cartoon-figures chat about the war and whatnot, but I didn’t know if the voices were going through the motions or if they were actual interviews. As you could probably tell, I wasn’t used to seeing my documentaries changedup like this but thankfully, I got used to it after awhile and that’s when things really started to set in.

First of all, let me just go right out by saying that the idea of shooting this movie in an animated-form was sure brilliance on Folman’s behalf. Not only does it allow these stories to hit the imagination that most of them are told in, but it allows you to sink into the material even more. These are real people, talking about real happenings that they either witnessed, or heard of during their time in the Lebanon War, and after awhile you just forget that it’s all told to you in an animated-form. Not only does this allow Folman to film stuff that would have been a bit too costly for him, had it been shot in a live-action way, but you just feel as if you are right there.

When in doubt, just dream of fully-naked women. That will get you by when it comes to war-time.

When in doubt, just dream of fully-naked women. That will get you by when it comes to war time.

On top of that, the animation is pretty damn good as well! Some characters look goofy, some animation seems cheap compared to others, and not everything works, but there is still always something to gaze at with this flick and with this animation. It’s also great to see a flick that uses it’s animation as a tool for telling a more compelling story, rather than to just get away with being dirty and grotesque. Some moments here are downright disturbing and seem like they would have been slapped with the NC-17 had it been done with real actors and real film, but nonetheless, it all feels suitable to the harrowing and disturbing tales these guys are all talking about. Seriously, some of this stuff here will mess you up.

This is one of those movies that totally took me by surprise because within the first ten minutes; I was already bored. I didn’t get what this movie was trying to talk about, the style of filming it was using, and whether or not everything I was hearing was real, or just stories that this dude wrote. But as time went on and I started to gain more and more knowledge of my surroundings here, then it all started to make sense. What’s so unique about my slow, but moving-knowledge of what was going down in the grander scheme of things, was sort of like what our main protagonist was going through as well.

Not only do we not have any clue what the hell happened or what we are about to hear, but neither does Folman. That’s why it’s so intriguing to see a flick not only put us in the same spot as the lead character (or whatever you’d call him), but have us grip on to reality just as he does. The whole idea behind this movie is that after the war, some men come to terms with the harsh-realities of what they just witnessed, or they just throw it to the back, forget about it all, and have it placed as dreams. That’s exactly what this movie touches on, in a way that I never expected to not only affect me, but show so strongly in animation.

And even with the animation, nothing of what you see here is going to be watered-down. You’re going to see some pretty disturbing stuff that will not only have you shadow your eyes away, but may also piss you off, as it did to me. Just knowing that these types of travesties actually occurred and, in some ways, still is to this day, really upset me to the high heavens because it made me feel as if there was no need for any of this violence or war. Now, some peeps may disagree with me and say it’s all about religious conflicts and that they need to settle their differences as soon as possible, but is this really the answer? Killing un-armed people in the streets? Destroying farms and live-stocks so people starve? Using a gun and a rank as a power-method;  getting rid of religions in hopes that they will one day, fade away into obscurity? Really?

Are these really the answers we all search for when we need to settle any conflict?

"Hey, how's the ki...AAAAHHH!!"

“Hey, how are the ki…AAAAHHH!!”

For me and my thoughts, this is just wrong. But to see it displayed in a way like this, really hit me even harder. Hell, I could probably type in some war-footage and find tons and tons of actual deaths and murders caught on-camera, but somehow this hurts me on the inside more. Something just didn’t sit well with me and had me feel as if this world, not only has it’s beauty, but it’s ugliness as well. It made me angry, it made me upset, but most of all, it made me happy to live ithe life I live, where I live it. Not saying America’s better or anything like that (because clearly, that isn’t the whole truth), but it does make me realize that the life I’ve been granted is one that I should be thankful for, each and everyday I wake up.

Sorry if this is beginning to sound like I just smoke a bowl, but that’s what happens to me when I see a movie that really has an effect on me; it has me thinking, talking and hoping that other people feel the same way as I do. And if not, then oh well. Still see this though.

Consensus: Depending on what your view of the Lebanon War is, Waltz with Bashir may, or it may not, connect with you, but if you have a heart, and a thirst for human-righteousness, it should still hit you hard and where it hurts the most inside.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

Can't say that it's not an AIRport.

Technically, it’s still an airport.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

The Trip to Italy (2014)

More food; more locations; more My Cocaine impressions; more British-talk.

Two years after their initial food/sights tour of Northern England Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan are back at it again! But this time, they’re going to Italy! Meaning, more food, more spicy women, more impersonations, more jokes, more one-up-manship, and definitely more conversations about their careers and where they’re headed. However, now that both of them are a bit older now, they question just whether or not has life passed them by and have a trouble accepting the fact that they are, yes, nearly 50. But Rob and Steve are jolly fellows that don’t let this get in the way of their wonderful getaway too much and instead, depend on one another for laughs and their own respective families for some sort of comfort when they get lonely, or sad at night. Still though, the two wake up the next day and woolah, they’re back on the road, doing what they do best: Just being themselves. Even if they do sometimes get on each other’s nerves than they would like to.

So yeah, the original Trip was a nice, delightful piece of British cinema; which is especially strange, considering it was originally made-for-TV and spliced together for a full-feature flick. While that was clear and abundant in the first movie, with some scenes not necessarily feeling like they’re adding up to much, it seems like, for the second time around, director Michael Winterbottom, Brydon and Coogan have at least realized that in order to make a movie work and be effective, it has to be cohesive. Therefore, not only is the editing a lot better this go around, but the movie itself is a bit tighter in terms of how it balances its comedy aspects, along with its dramatic ones.

"Eat up, ya twit!"

“Eat up, ya twit!”

And because these guys aren’t getting any younger, they’re starting to think like older-men – which always means that there’s going to be a whole lot more drama added to the mix. Because even though both Brydon and Coogan are exceptionally hilarious fellas, two guys who seem to not have a care in the world of who they offend, or what sort of jokes they make, they’re still human beings. And human beings have feelings, dammit!

That’s why, for every ten-minute straight-sequence in which we get Brydon and Coogan riffing off one another and doing their hilarious impersonations of various James Bond actors, there’s at least two dramatic-sequences in which these two guys talk about how they’re getting old and how life seems to be passing them by. Also not to mention, these guys realize that they can’t do much about it and instead, decide to discuss whether they even want to go on further with their careers, regardless of how well they’re doing at the present time. It’s actually kind of shocking to see these two get so candid about these aspects of real life, but I guess it had to happen eventually, and I’m glad it happened in this movie, with these characters (which, I guess, is something of a joke), and together.

Which is why I don’t find it at all dumb to say that the most interesting aspect of this movie are both Brydon and Coogan themselves. Because see, like with the first one, it’s clear that these guys are playing slight-versions of themselves that may not always be on-point, but at least hit the nail on the head with how they’re famously perceived in the media, or those not-so close to them. But what’s always struck me as a little fishy was that most of this isn’t just improvised by whatever comedic-genius they concoct next, but they even share the writing credits, along with Winterbottom as well. Meaning that even when they aren’t just saying what comes to their minds first, usually, the stuff they say, has to be written out for them to then say again in front of the screen.

And this makes me ponder something: “Just how much of this movie is them just talking about stuff their “characters” would talk about? Or, how much of it really is just them, the real life personas of Coogan and Brydon, just being themselves?

Honestly, it was quite easy to tell this in the first movie; obviously Coogan was being a miserable dick because that’s how everybody and their grand-mothers perceived him as being. But here, he’s hardly ever mean to anybody and, here’s the biggie, actually laughs more than a dozen times at Brydon. In fact, if I were to state who walks away with this movie, in a comedy-sense, I’d say it would be Brydon. And this should honestly be no surprise; the guy was a delight to watch in the first movie and here, he’s as charming as ever, showing the world that he’s capable of more than just being able to do some killer Al Pacino and Michael Caine impersonations. Some of it goes a bit over-board (as most sequels do), but when he’s on a roll, the guy doesn’t stop and it’s great to see, especially considering that you know most of this is just what hits his noggin first. The guy is literally just as funny, if not funnier than Steve Coogan and there’s something to be said for that, considering the Coogs has always prided himself in stealing just about every show he’s been involved with.

But, if you were to ask me who walks away with this movie, just as in the whole thing itself, it’s Coogan. In a way, you could say he gets the last laugh, but that’s what he spends most of the movie doing: Laughing. Not just as Brydon, but at life in general. See, Coogan’s always been something of a miserable, dead-pan dude. He’s never had a positive outlook on life and, for the most part, it’s worked out well for him and his career. He’s typically the go-to-guy if you need an angry, mean Brit who doesn’t give a shit what you say, or how you say it; he’s better than you, he knows it, and don’t worry, you’ll find that out soon enough. Maybe that’s just something I see, but whatever it may be, it’s carried on throughout his career long enough for me to realize that this is what I can expect from Coogan, playing a character or not.

Besties 4 Lyfe

Besties 4 Lyfe

However, because Coogan is practically playing himself, it’s downright shocking to see him smile and, for once in a long time I imagine, be happy about the life he has. Sure, he has some reservations about certain choices he’s made in the past and he definitely wishes that he hadn’t chosen some movies that may have made it look like he was in it “just for the money”, but overall, Coogan is a happy guy. He smiles, laughs, enjoys other people’s company and actually wants to have a relationship with his son. Now, once again, I’m not sure how much of this is actually true about Coogan himself, or just the version of himself he’s playing here, but it seems almost all too real for him to be fretting on about, without hardly an emotional-connection to be found inside of him.

All that said, it’s Coogan who is really the one to watch in this movie. Sure, he and Brydon are hilarious together and a certain bit about the later killing the former had me practically in stitches, but it’s when these guys drop the facade for a short while, talk about life, exchange ideas and get to know what it’s like to “be friends”, that really stuck a chord with me. They’re funny guys, but they’re still guys nonetheless and they deserved to be seen as such.

Roger Moore impressions and all.

Consensus: Funny, heartfelt, and exquisitely shot, the Trip to Italy proves that Brydon, Coogan, and Winterbottom could continue at this story for decades and it will almost never fail. Just so long as the laughs are there, and the melancholy can still be found.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Strike a pose. Be old. Make me cry.

Strike a pose. Be old. Make me laugh. Make me cry.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Love Is Strange (2014)

It sure is! But so is this damned-to-hell economy!

Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina) are a same-sex couple that, after being together for more than a few decades, decide that it’s time to finally get hitched and make it all legal. And while this is a momentous occasion that should be celebrated with the utmost optimism, even if the reality of the situation is that George will lose his job now. Which, hey, is fine and all, but now Ben and George have to move out, save some money up to get a new place and, sadly, live with others while doing so. Ben stays with his nephew (Darren Burrows) and his author wife (Marisa Tomei); whereas George stays with the young and constantly energetic Ted (Cheyenne Jackson). While neither situation is ideal, they still get by in hopes that they, eventually, will be together and finally live out that dream they’ve always had: Legally being together, in a place that they can call “their own”. The only thing standing in front of them now is the fear of being pulled-apart by this distance between the two.

While a person could take one look at this movie and automatically think, “agenda”, I’d have to say that they’d be wrong. Because, yes, while this movie is about a same-sex couple finally getting legally married once and for all, the movie could have literally been made about any couple; same-sex, opposite-sex, interracial, etc. Though a major plot-point in this movie comes up because George actually decided to get married to his boyfriend, therefore, enabling him to getting fired, this movie is less about a same-sex relationship, much as it’s just about trying to live and stay afloat in the United States of America.

"Garbage!"

“Garbage!”

More specifically, Manhattan.

And yes, while this movie is definitely appealing to a certain crowd that loves “white people problems”, that still doesn’t mean what’s being felt here doesn’t deserve to be felt. For instance, the movie shows why it’s so hard to make a living in this world, and why sometimes, all we need is a little inspiration on the side to keep us going and going, even when we get down some. It all sounds so incredibly corny, but the way it’s played-out here, it makes you think and also feel what both Ben and George are feeling.

Which is to say that, unsurprisingly, Ben and George are the best aspects of this movie. Not just the actors playing them, but the characters themselves in how both feel so perfect together, that when they aren’t actually together, the pain, the sadness and the separation is felt. They have a love, a very dedicated and passionate one at that, but since they spend a good portion of this movie not actually together and embracing each other’s love, it’s an absolute delight to just see how they interact with one another when they do contact each other. Either through a phone-call or a simple meet-up at the nearest-diner, it doesn’t matter how these two get into contact with one another; all that matters is that they do still keep in touch with one another, because it not only makes us feel better, but them as well. Actually, them most importantly (but hey, don’t forget about the audience here, people!).

And considering that these are two pros at what it is that what they do, seeing Molina and Lithgow together really is lovely. It should be noted that their chemistry together is wonderful and really does have you believe why they’d fall in love and stick together for so long in the first place, but since they aren’t together as much in this movie, what really matters is that they do swell when they aren’t together. Oh and don’t worry, they do. However, the big problem here with this movie is that while these characters stay on-track and constantly interesting, there’s something about the rest of the movie that I can’t help but feel suffocates them.

For example, since this is a tale of two guys leaving one another to go and live in two, completely different environments, we get two very different stories going on here, with all sorts of subplots interjecting every so often. In George’s new house, he’s having a problem with getting arranged into these new living conditions, keeping in touch with “the hip crowd”, and making sure that he can still get some money through piano lessons. So yeah, that’s not so bad. Actually pretty simple, right?

"Paint me like one of your French guys, big gay uncle."

“Paint me like one of your French guys, big gay uncle.”

Well, here’s the kicker: In Ben’s new house, a marriage is slightly on-the-rocks, a mother is upset with her son’s new best-friend, Ben himself can’t find any inspiration for painting, an author’s patience is being tested, and a boy is coming-of-age and doesn’t know what to make of his big, gay Uncle, nor does he know how to interact with anybody without yelling, being pissed off, or saying something deemed “shocking”. If that sounds like a whole lot, then don’t worry, you’re not alone. Also not to mention, it’s a problem with the movie because so much is going on here, to very little effect, that it all just seems like filler to a story that could have really been effective, had it been told relatively simpler.

Sure, the rest of the cast is great and more often times than not, we see why it is that Marisa Tomei is such a lovely presence on-screen, even when she’s about to be a total meanie, but their characters do feel put-on, as if writer/director Ira Sachs didn’t have enough faith in George, Ben and their plight to just have it revolve around them. I’m not saying that there isn’t more to life than just love, but in a movie where it’s clear that the central love is what keeps its heart racing, then you have to decide: How do you want to go about it? Do you want to throw subplot, upon subplot, upon subplot to make things seem more interesting than they actually are? Or, do you just want to keep things small, short, sweet and simple, by just focusing on this relationship, their positives, their negatives, and just how exactly it is that they stay together, still happy in the end?

I’d go with the second-route, but that’s just me. Hence the blog.

Consensus: With Molina and Lithgow, Love Is Strange finds an endearing heart that is continuously present throughout the whole film, even despite the numerous and sometimes pointless subplots occurring.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!!

You wish your love was as good as this. Ladies?

You wish your love was as good as this.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

What If (2014)

At least I now know that there’s another meaning behind the term “fool’s gold”, other than just some shitty Kate Hudson rom-com.

Medical school drop-out Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe) is still trying to get over a break-up that left him nearly destroyed over a year ago. And everything looks like it’s going back to being smooth when he meets the lovely and vivacious Chantry (Zoe Kazan) at a party, where it seems quite clear that they’ll be spending the night together and will bring Wallace out of this funk. Problem is, Chantry lets it be known that she does indeed have a boyfriend (Rafe Spall) and that things between them are still quite serious. However, she still wants to be friends with Wallace, which he can’t resist because he knows that there is a certain connection between them both that makes the two happy. So, they decide to try and be friends for as long as they can; that is, until one decides that maybe it’s time to take things to the next level, if that’s even possible. But as we all know: It’s easier said, then actually done.

So yeah, the whole “Can men and women be friends?” thing has been practically hammered to death in the rom-com genre since the early days of When Harry Met Sally…, and then all the way to where we had two rom-coms in the same year talking about it (Friends with Benefits, No Strings Attached). And while, yes, that does seem awfully terrible that somebody has produced, yet again, another rom-com in which it seems like everything happens and occurs right on-cue as it’s supposed to, there’s still some delight to be had in a rom-com that takes itself a bit more seriously.

How I imagine most of the ragers at Hogwarts ended up turning out to be.

How I imagine most of the ragers at Hogwarts ended up turning out to be.

For instance, What If (formerly titled the much better the F Word) takes the conventional rom-com plot of having a guy, be a friend with a girl, even though he may/may not have feelings for her in the first place. We’ve all heard, and seen it done a hundred times before and usually, it sucks. There’s no way of getting around it, except if the rom-com called into question is a tad bit “different” from the bunch.

This is that kind of rom-com, although, you wouldn’t know right away. Because, with time, the movie does grow on you and, wouldn’t you know it, there actually begins to be something of a believable, rather sweet friendship between these Wallace and Chantry characters that not only makes you root them on to be together by the end, but to actually wish more rom-coms followed suit. Honestly, it’s not that hard: Write stock characters as much as you want, but give them at least some element resembling a personality, or heart and it’s all good. Once you are able to do that with your rom-com’s characters, then the movie itself gets sufficiently better.

Which, in case you couldn’t already tell, is exactly the case here.

Not only do we get two well-written characters that feel, talk, breathe and act like real human beings in a committed, yet, full-of-boundaries friendship, but they also have two actors in the roles that build a pretty neat chemistry between one another. For those of you who have not yet been able to get over the fact that yes, Harry Potter is over and yes, Daniel Radcliffe has aged, then allow this movie/role to be something of a wake-up call. Radcliffe does something well here in that he plays Wallace as an everyday, straight-man that you could probably meet on the street and have a conversation with on just about anything that came across your mind. He just has that certain vibe about him and it hardly ever makes him unlikable, nor even annoying; he’s just a simple dude, looking for love and any sort of connection. And because we too have, at one point, had that need in our lives, it’s easy to sympathize with him and hope that by the end, all works out well for him, girl or no girl.

That said, Zoe Kazan definitely gets the harder role as Chantry – a tied-down, twenty-something gal that has a boyfriend, yet, casually flirts and leads on her “bestie”. In most movies, this character is written off as something of a villain, but here, Chantry has to be somewhat likable and relatable in her non-stop attempts at making Wallace want to rip his hair out, and Kazan’s charm allows her to get away with that. Kazan’s another talent that most people don’t know is actually out there, yet, time and time again, the gal continues to put in great work in these small indies that reveal here to be more than just a carbon-copy of Zoeey Deschanel; she’s more down-to-Earth and isn’t all about the quirks of her personality, or her mandolin. She wants to be loved and, if given the chance to, return the favor to those who deserve it the most.

The Halt and Catch Fire and Girls team-up nobody asked for.

The Girls and Halt and Catch Fire team-up nobody asked for.

And their chemistry together is what mostly carries this movie. Their constant conversations revolve around such topics feces, fried foods, Elvis and Cool Whip, and while in most movies, this would seem so earnest you’d want to punch everybody in the face (and there are certain occasions in which I had that feeling with this feeling), but here, it feels like actual conversations between two people who feel and have a spark between them both. It’s nice to see play out on screen, but it’s even better to see what happens when these two eventually do start to question whether they can be friends, or if they can “be more”.

Now, obviously, you know where this is heading, so I won’t say too much more other than to expect from this movie, what you expect from most rom-coms: Conventional occurrence, after conventional occurrence. However, while that would destroy most movies, here, it’s fine. The movie never makes it clear that it sets out to be the different kind of rom-com that will forever change the world; it just wants to tell a sweet, rather lovely story about a boy and a girl, and how they end up being friends.

That’s all there is to it and sometimes, that’s all you need.

Consensus: By not setting out to change the game of the ordinary rom-com, What If ends up being an enjoyable, sweet and well-acted tale of romance, that’s also a fine piece of filler entertainment.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

If she jumps under your umbrella like that, bro, she wants it!

If she jumps under your umbrella like that, bro, she wants it!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The One I Love (2014)

Every couple needs a little bit of a spicing up here and there. Just don’t over-do it.

Ethan (Mark Duplass) and Sophie (Elisabeth Moss) are a couple who has come to a stand-still; they love each other, want to stay together and maybe even start a family, but they’re just too messy and broken right now to really feel like they can go any further. That’s why when their therapist (Ted Danson) recommends spending some time at this little retreat of his that he gives to all his patients, they can’t help but jump right right at the idea. After all, a little time alone and with nobody else is maybe all they actually need. So when they do get there and realize everything is exactly as promised, they have a whole bunch of fun: They cook, smoke pot, drink, eat, have sex, tell jokes and even get a bit sentimental towards one another. However, one day, while rummaging throughout the retreat’s guest-house, they realize that something strange is going on and it not only affects them now, at this moment in their lives, but for what could be the rest of their time as a couple. Or, at least what’s left of it, that is.

So yeah, I’m beating around the bush an awful ton with that synopsis there and that’s sort of the problem right away with reviewing, hell, even talking about this movie: You don’t want to spoil it for others. And usually, yeah, people say that and they either: 1) spoil the whole thing, all free-nilly, or 2) they spoil the most obvious plot-points of the whole movie like, it “all ends up being a dream”, or “Bruce Willis is actually a ghost”, or other stuff like that.

How I'd like to imagine Mark Duplass spends most of his days. While still being naturally charming as hell. Damn him.

How I’d like to imagine Mark Duplass spends most of his days. While still being naturally charming as hell. Damn him.

Either way, you catch my drift. But that’s why the One I Love is so different; not just in terms of the quality of the movie itself, but because you can’t really even hint at what this movie’s about, because it comes as such a shock.

Take me and my experience with this movie for instance; before hearing about this and deciding to give it a shot, I checked out the Rotten Tomatoes synopsis for this and it read something like, “A failing couple spends a week at a retreat to bring back the love into their relationship”. Again, that is not exactly word-for-word what the synopsis said and because this was quite some time ago when I checked it out/saw the movie, clearly, things have changed and more people are talking about this movie and even, as predicted, giving some small hints here and there away about what’s really up with this movie.

But to be honest, don’t even read any of those other reviews, no matter how talented or beloved the writer may be (except me of course, so stay put!); they’re only going to give you more impressions/expectations of what to expect, and it totally defeats the purpose of small, yet surprising movies such as this. We mostly hear about them through the grapevine, in which some cool, hip and rad person will say, “Hey, did you see that new indie with Mark Duplass, brah?”, presumably right after taking a swig of an ironic PBR. And while most people will probably either give a flat-out, “No.”, or just ignore this person and put them back in their corner, the fact is this: That person, as annoying as they may be in whatever normal discussions about life, love, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, still threw that idea into your head.

This may even get you to think, “Oh shit. There’s a new Mark Duplass movie out?”, and from then on, you will know that there’s a new movie with Mark Duplass out and you’ll want to possibly check it out, if the time in your hectic schedule ever clears up. That’s how, back in the day at least, most indies survived and were actually seen by people – nowadays, anybody can talk about a certain movie, no matter how small or obscure it may be, and it can reach millions, upon millions of people that may have the same interests in Mark Duplass movies as you (and yes, the only reason I’m saying Mark Duplass instead of the far-more well-known Elisabeth Moss is because referencing Mark Duplass in an everyday conversation just gives you the impression of how “small” a movie he’s involved with actually is).

And you, Ms. Moss. I can't even start.

And you, Ms. Moss. I can’t even start…..

And honestly, I have no problem with that – all films deserved to be known about, discussed, passed onto others, etc. That’s what film was invented for in the first place (not just for money, hookers, and coke, because Hollywood), and that’s how I’d like to imagine the rest of the movie world will continue to be like. However, there are certain instances in which there comes a point you need to stop talking about a movie, if only to not just spoil the fun for everyone else. This is that type of movie and as much as I may annoyingly be harping on it, please do not read other reviews of this.

Instead, just know that Duplass and Moss are great in this movie and show that they are able to stretch their acting-abilities further and further than what we originally see of them. Just know that the movie may not be the most perfect flick to take your significant other out to see, only because it will bring out the worst kinds of discussions between you two during the ride home. Just know that while the movie does have a few neat tricks here and there up its sleeves, it is not by any means, perfect and does get a bit messy when it tries to explain what it’s really supposed to be about. And lastly, just know that it’s good and that you should see it, if only because you want curiosity to murder that cat and give you some sort of relief that yes, you had finally seen that “new indie with Mark Duplass”.

Brah.

Consensus: Tricky and imperfect, the One I Love is a rather unique take on a story we’ve seen done a hundred times before that both brings up questions about relationships, and gives Duplass and Moss plenty to do and entertain us with.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Put 'em together, they're the perfect couple. But are they.......? Tune in next week!

Put ‘em together, they’re the perfect couple! But are they…….? Tune in next week!

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

If I Stay (2014)

It’s Ghost, but with no Swayze. Points already deducted.

Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz), her mother (Mireille Enos), her father (Joshua Leonard), and her little bro (Jakob Davies) all go out for a trip during a snow day. What starts off as promising day, suddenly turns to tragedy when they are all involved in a very serious car accident, leaving all four of them in critical condition. However, Mia ends up having an out-of-body experience where she’s not able to actually get into any contact with those around her, but is still able to see and hear every little thing. She doesn’t know whether she’s going to die or not, but she puts up no matter what and decides that it’s best to reflect on what got her here in the first place, and those who matter enough that she’d want to be alive for them. One person in particular is her indie-rockin’ ex-boyfriend Adam (Jamie Blackley) who she’s had a rough history with, but realizes that she loves and wants to spend more time with. All she has to do is fight, or something like that.

Every once and awhile, there comes a movie that totally blinds me by surprise. Not because it’s amazing or downright Earth-shattering that it makes me re-think my love for movies, as well as my whole life leading up to seeing it – nope, it’s because a movie that I didn’t expect to like in the least bit, let alone go into already hating, does something and that’s “has an effect on me”. Once again, I’m not saying that If I Stay is the one movie this year, so far, that’s made me think about those who are in my life, or has forced me to listen to the National for a whole week – I’m saying that it’s a movie I dreaded going into and about ten minutes realized that, “Oh shit, this is gonna be good.”

Parents are weird. Especially when your dad's supposed to be dead in real life.

Parents are weird. Especially when your dad’s supposed to be dead in real life.

With the incredible amount of movies I see (all good, bad, new and old), this so rarely often happens. But when your movie is another, run-of-the-mill young adult adaptation, especially when that’s coming a month or two after the Fault In Our Stars, then me actually liking, let alone, enjoying something along the same lines is downright unbelievable. In fact, if you had come up to me about a month or two ago, slapped me on the back and told me that, believe it or not, “I’d actually like this new Chloë Grace Moretz-starring young adult tale in which she plays a dying girl vowing for her love”, then I would have not only called you crazy and beat you up, but I would have probably acted like I never met you in my whole life.

But, here we are: A movie seen, a few friendships broken and more than a few assault charges added to personal record, and I actually liked If I Stay.

And what surprises me more now than ever before, isn’t that I actually liked it, but I seem to be the only one who actually does give a hoot about its existence. Sure, the audience who this is clearly made for in mind will absolutely run to the hills and then some just to see this, but for the critics and “professionals” of the movie world out there, I’m surprised by the lack of any love for this movie. That’s not me saying that every person, professional or not, should agree with whatever my opinion on a movie is, or isn’t, but it’s surprising to me on this occasion, that not only do I end up being the ultimate super fan for something I didn’t even care for seeing in the first place, but that I actually find myself wanting to tell others to check it out, even if they were in the same frame of mind I was going into it.

Typically, I would only go to one of these flicks if I had nothing else better to do, or if I was trying to impress with a girl with something other than my masculine body, but here I was, sitting in a room full of sappy teenage girls who were just looking for a cry, and the old dudes that probably were, too, but I won’t even bother going deep into that. But see, while they were all expecting a good cry, I was just expecting something that would have me laughing my ass off non-stop at all of the ultra-serious moments and, as a result, get an awful bunch of glares from those around me.

However, that didn’t happen. In fact, dare I say it, I actually joined the rest of the crowd in the tearing-up because, for what it’s worth, this is what happens when sap is done right. You can tell that throughout this whole movie, director R. J. Cutler is just pulling and peeling away at our souls in such an overly-manipulative, cloying way, but it somehow got me. Most of that has to do with the fact that when Cutler has to give us these small, bare moments of actual human connection and insight, he delivers. He doesn’t try to over-do the fact that these two teens in the middle of this love are ill-matched for each other in the first place – instead, he just lets it tell itself, with a few flashbacks to Mia herself running around, yelling at people, and being upset about everything that’s happened to her, those she loves and what is waiting for her if she ever wakes the hell up.

Actually, that was probably the worst aspect for me with this movie. Not only did it feel like a kid version of Ghost (hence the joke up above), but it’s rule are never made clear to us. Can Mia herself actually physically make herself come alive? Or, is she just supposed to stand around, yelling at those who clearly can’t hear/see her, and just wait to see how the whole medical procedure plays out? It was never made clear to us and although you could make an argument that the movie wasn’t trying to focus on this as much as they were with the characters and their relationships with one another, I would also argue right back and say then don’t even have the whole angle included in the first place. Just have her in some strange after-life sequence that lasts all of five minutes, have it all happen at the end, and get us to the point of what it’s trying to say.

It would have been a whole lot simpler, but since it was done in the book, I guess it makes sense to do it here. Although there is definitely a thing such as, “Sometimes what reads well on paper, doesn’t always play out so well on film”. Don’t know who said that or when, all I know is that it’s a saying and it’s one I live by for all these novel adaptations.

Anyway, back to the good stuff about this movie. What it does do so well is that it presents us with a believable, relatively likable relationship that makes you want both sides to be together and happy in the end. However, it doesn’t start off that way, because when we’re introduced to Mia, we get the idea that she’s a band weenie that enjoys Bach, Mozart and all that classical stuff that’s made for old people and rich, snobby teenagers, so when she and this Adam dude meet and he’s automatically attracted to her and making all sorts of moves on her, it’s a bit too sudden and not entirely understandable. He says that the reason he noticed her in the first place was because how she played the cello, was with exact precision and passion, something that he clearly wants in his life. Or something like that. Honestly, people, I don’t remember, nor do I know. All I do know is that it was stupid.

"Clear out! Ghost coming through!"

“Clear out! Ghost coming through!”

That’s why after awhile, when we do begin to believe in these two as a couple, it’s surprising, and a delightful one at that. Moretz and Blackley are charming personalities in their own rights, but together, they have a solid chemistry that feels all full of love and sympathy, even if they don’t always see eye-to-eye on every decision the other makes. They’re a typical couple and because of that, they’re worth fighting for when all seems to go bad for Mia.

And speaking of Mia, the character, she really is a nice launching-pad for Moretz to prove that she truly is a young and bright talent to look out for. Sure, she’s gotten plenty of chances in the past to prove that she’s got what it takes to be the next Mandy Moore, or even Lindsay Lohan (neither roads end well, but you get my point), but with a performance like this, I see something of a Jena Malone. She’s cute and definitely has a certain amount of sex-appeal to the way she makes herself look, but she’s too smart and wise to get carried down by all that sappy bullshit mostly connected to stuff like high school, or love, or anything like that. Moretz definitely has an even brighter future ahead of her and now that she seems to finally be growing into her own woman, I can’t wait to see what she planned next.

But like I was saying before, because they’re a believable couple, there’s a feeling of romance in the air, but it’s the sweet and tender kind that you can only find in a romance-melodrama about two kids on the verge of graduating high school, where anything and everything seems possible. I too once was in this same position and while it didn’t quite work out well for me, it was nice to see it play out once again in front of my eyes, but this time, with something feeling of honesty that wasn’t made just to ensure that the audience would sob their guts out in the end. It’s made to have us remember the young love we may have once felt in our lives and remember that life, no matter whose, is precious.

And just like that, the sappiness got me.

Those meddling kids.

Consensus: With most of its faults lying in the gimmick it presents, If I Stay can be a bit messy, but when it wants to deliver some heartfelt, emotional scenes of young love, and people in love in general, it works well. And clearly not just for its target audience, either.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Nothing says "millennial teen-romance" quite like a shot of people talking selfies.

Nothing says “millennial teen-romance” quite like a shot of people talking selfies.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Sin City: A Dame to Kill For (2014)

When a place is called “Sin City”, it’s best not to trust anyone and just leave.

Sort of taking place before the events of the first movie, and sort of not, we follow three-four different story-lines taking place in the most violent, most brutal places of all: Sin City. First, there’s a out-of-towner gambler by the name of Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) who definitely has lady luck on his side when it comes to playing a mean game of poker, but ends up realizing that maybe he’s met his match in Senator Roark (Powers Boothe). Then, there’s Dwight (Josh Brolin) who, after having reconnected with a former flame of his (Eva Green), finds himself in the middle of a scandal that puts both his life, as well as his lover’s in danger. And lastly, after having the love of her life killed, Nancy Callahan (Jessica Alba) vows for vengeance against the man who is responsible for this, although now, she’s drinking a lot more heavily than ever before. But also, lets not forget that there’s Marv (Mickey Rourke), who is basically roaming around, kicking whoever’s ass deserves a whooping next.

Though it was over-the-top, violent, gratuitous, and incredibly idiotic, there’s something about the original Sin City that still has me smile. Even to this day, if I’m running around through the channels in need of something quick, fun and easy to watch, and if it’s on, I’ll usually sit back and watch as if it’s my first time all over again. It’s also the movie I can turn on around my bros, and safely know that they’ll enjoy it.

I state this fact because I don’t necessarily think I’ll be saying/thinking the same way for this movie. Which isn’t as much of a problem, as much as it is a disappointing. Because if you think about it, we didn’t really need another Sin City; however, it doesn’t hurt to have one because the original was such a lovely surprise of dark, brooding joy. And it would have been totally fine had both Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller decided to go down the same route once again, and apart of me actually wishes they did.

Could have swore I told him not to bring that Don Jon crap around Sin City.

Could have swore I told him not to bring that Don Jon crap around Sin City.

Because yes, while this movie may not be nearly as bad as some may have been touting it as, it sure as heck isn’t what a superfan of the first movie would want to expect. Remember all of those senseless acts of over-the-top, cheesy violence in the first one that never seemed to stop showing up out of nowhere? Yeah, they’re here, but rather than being all that fun or exciting, they’re just repetitive and after awhile, just feels like a crutch for Rodriguez to fall back on when he doesn’t trust the numerous stories are keeping our attention as much.

Which, isn’t to say that the stories here aren’t at least interesting to follow, as they jump through one hoop to the next, but honestly, it becomes a bit of a drag after awhile. All of the numerous double-crosses and contrivances of the plot eventually begin to show and it makes you wonder what the real passion behind this movie being made was in the first place. It couldn’t have been to get more and more money from the die hard Frank Miller fans out there, could it have? I don’t think so, but whatever the reason may be, it doesn’t seem like Rodriguez feels all that much strive for this movie to be made and work for anybody who decides to watch it.

And I know I’m getting on Rodriguez’s case a bit too much here, and yes, I know it isn’t all that far. But however, since I saw Machete Kills and gave it some sort of “a pass”, I feel like I’m obliged to go out there and get on his case for sort of ruining another franchise that was chock full of surprise and absolute wonder. Sure, the Machete and Sin City movies aren’t the highest of art, for the most respectable movie-audiences out there, but they’re movies that, when done right, can be an absolute great time because they’re so crazy, so idiotic, and so self-knowing about their own stupidity, that anything goes, so long as the movies themselves stay as fun and as awesome of a time as they originally promise being.

With this second Sin City film, it feels like there’s not nearly as much craziness, or fun, to really make up for most of the problems with the script, its stories, or even its characters. It’s just something of a blank slate that feels like it wants to go somewhere, somewhere rather insane beyond our wildest and zaniest dreams, but for some reason, just doesn’t. This is a feeling I’ve had with most of Rodriguez’s movies and I feel like it’s time that he nuts up, or shuts up. Meaning, give me an absolute, balls-to-the-walls B-movie that doesn’t give a hoot about what people think or say about it – or, just doesn’t promise me anything like that at all in the first place, especially if you’re not going to follow through on your promises.

To be safe, just make another Spy Kids movie. Nobody seems to be complaining about them.

Or, the people that shouldn’t be, at least.

That said, the ones who mostly get out of this movie, Scott-free is the ensemble who are either as charming as one can be in a goofy noir, or downright weird that they feel perfectly suited for the material they’re given. Either way, they do a fine job, it’s just that it feels like, in the hands of a much better, more dedicated director, they could have done absolute wonders, like mostly everybody did in the first movie.

Returning as everybody’s favorite, and something of the iconic superhero for this franchise as a whole, is Mickey Rourke as Marv and shows us that, underneath that over-load of costume and make-up, lies a true talent that can still breath some dimensions into his character; even if that character is literally a cartoon. Rosario Dawson, Powers Boothe, Jessica Alba and a few others return and show why they were picked for this material in the first place, even if there is a slight feeling that maybe Alba could have been given less to do. And it’s not to rain on her parade and talk out against her skills as an actress – it’s more that her character is so poorly-written, that the only positive aspect to her character is that she, occasionally, will talk to the spirit of Bruce Willis’ character. He’s another one that shows up every so often, but really, he doesn’t need to be here; he’s just taking up space, really.

Mean, heartless, brutal and full of weapons. My kind of women.

Mean, heartless, brutal and stocked with all sorts of toys. My kind of women.

As for the new bloods coming into this franchise, most of them are fine, although, like I said before: One can only wonder what would have happened to them, had there been a far more driven director involved. Josh Brolin plays Dwight (who has a new face, hence why no Clive Owen in the role) and is fine playing this troubled character who wants to always do the right thing, but knows that in a place like Sin City, that’s easier said, then actually done. Brolin’s good here as the gruff dude that can kick ass, but he doesn’t have as much of a personality as Owen did. Maybe it’s a British thing?

Another new addition to this franchise is a favorite of mine (so back off, ladies!), Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Johnny, a known gambler who sometimes is a little too in over his head. It’s cool to see JGL challenging himself in something this stylized and strange, but honestly, if you take his character, or even his whole story-arch, out altogether, there would probably be no notable change found whatsoever. Although there is a lovely bit featuring Christopher Lloyd as a degenerate doctor, his story lacks any real muster that makes you want to keep watching him, or this Johnny character as is. So if he was taken out, there wouldn’t have been a problem, except for the fact that this is a JGL and the guy’s known to put in great work. So give him something better to do, dammit!

And last, but certainly not least is Eva Green as Ava, the dame people are “killing for”. Green, with what seems to be the second movie in a row this year (300: Rise of An Empire being the first), brings a certain level of camp that doesn’t necessarily make the movie better, but at least makes her scenes feel like they’re genuinely pulsing with some sort of energy. Add on top of that the fact that she’s naked practically every other scene she shows up in, then you’ve got the most memorable performance of a cast filled with huge, reliable names.

For better, and I guess, for worse.

Consensus: Without nearly as much heart or as much of the shock-factor as there was in the first, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is, for the most part, occasionally fun, but never jumps over that edge of making it total and complete, B-movie joy. Much like the original was.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

If I was on the opposing side of these two fellas, I'd need a new pair of shorts.

If I was on the opposing side of these two fellas, a new pair of shorts would totally be needed.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Under the Skin (2014)

Yes, there is such a thing as “sexy aliens”.

An alien (Scarlett Johansson) takes over the body of a sexy, young-ish looking thing and carries out a cryptic message from the powers that be up above. Although the message is not made clear, it seems like she is to find random, lonely men on the streets of Scotland, take them back to an isolated place, and tease them with sex, yet, at the same time, have these poor guys sucked into whatever gelatin-like substance that turns them into something that’s clearly not human. The alien is also followed by a dude on a motorcycle who keeps track of the things she does, as well as to whom, but begins to grow suspicious when she gets something of a conscious. That, or the fact that she’s noticed what the real world is like and doesn’t just want to be an alien anymore, but more human than human. If that’s even possible, that is.

If you’re confused by that synopsis right there, don’t worry, because I am too and I wrote the damn thing! However, I think that’s the first element that needs to be said about this movie: Don’t expect to know much of anything that’s going on. If you can do that and are fine with that, then this movie will be something of a strange, yet delightful treat; if you can’t, however, it may be a bit of stretch. Not just for you to stay awake and continue to give this a chance, but for your mind because this thing will surely do a number on it, as it did to mine.

I guess it’s worth noting that director Jonathan Glazer has been trying to get this movie made for a total of nine years, and whatever those reasons may have been behind the constant delays in filming, seem somewhat reasonable. This movie is definitely not an easy one to get involved with, let alone fund in hopes of more money coming back, but it gets away with being just what it is. Which is, essentially, Glazer’s insane, but beautiful mind at work.

At least we know she enjoys long walks on the beach. That's one thing we know about her.

At least we know one thing about her: She likes long walks on the beach.

Some of the things he does in this movie are incredibly stunning to look at, but not because it’s anything weird, per se; it’s more because you can never tell what sort of style Glazer himself is incorporating into this film. The story sort of comes second to whatever visual imagery Glazer wants to create and because of that, we have a movie that’s not only gorgeous, but rather large in scope of what it wants to talk about, or where it wants to go. Once again, the movie never makes itself clear about what it’s showing us and why, but that’s not the point; the point is to see what Glazer can bring to the screen and how he’s able to entrance us.

Now, that’s not to say the story doesn’t exist, nor is it not a very compelling one; in fact, it’s downright terrifying at times, but for the whole sake that it’s confusing and never wholly clear. But it is to say that Glazer wants to give us a feeling that even though the film takes place on planet Earth (in Scotland to be exact), it isn’t necessarily easily understandable, nor is it a movie that wants to connect with us. It wants to freak us out, get under our skin, and continuously shock us by bringing whatever sort of crazy imagery Glazer himself has to bring to our eyes. Some of it’s pretty, and some of it’s downright disturbing – but it’s all shocking, in the best ways possible.

That last sentence could actually apply to Scarlett Johansson as well who, for most of the movie, seems like she herself is transfixed in some sort of daze that when she wakes up, snaps out of it and has to be charming, it’s impressive-as-hell and makes you want to slap all of the nay-sayers who have been questioning her talents as an actress since day one. Now, if you don’t already know something about this movie, it’s that ScarJo actually drove a truck around Scotland, picked up random strangers off the street, drove them around, talked to them and had it all filmed, with her character’s persona totally in tact. It’s a odd element of Borat that this movie has, but it works so well because it makes you question just how far Glazer and co. were willing to go with this device, and just what each and every person they talked to was going to bring to the table.

But the one who really comes out on top of it all is Johansson herself, as she’s able to not only have us all hot, sweaty and bothered by being in her presence, but also be absolutely petrified of what she is going to do next and to whom. Her character goes unnamed and because of that, she stays a complete mysterious to us the whole entire time. And I definitely like to think that Glazer preferred it this way, rather than giving us the impression that we know this character and can easily spell her out from the very beginning.

In fact, you could even say that about the whole movie, really. To see a something that doesn’t really give a crap about keeping up with story or any certain agenda for that matter, is quite refreshing for someone like me. Sure, I would have definitely loved this movie more if the third-act didn’t topple over itself once it decided that it wanted to take its character seriously and have her seem more like a “human”, but that didn’t bother me as much as it just made me think more about this movie and what message Glazer was trying to convey with it. Is he trying to show us that “being human”, isn’t just about looking like so and being a normal, everyday citizen? Or, is it about what’s really on the inside of a person that counts and makes us an actual living, breathing, and sexxing human being?

Yep, don't even ask.

Yep, don’t even ask.

Both questions deserve to be brought up, especially when watching something as unique and mind-boggling as this, but a part of me feels like I’m just looking into something a lot deeper than I should be. That’s not to say if I went up to Glazer in real life and started having a discussion with him about this movie and my thoughts/ideas about it, that he wouldn’t welcome them because this is the kind of movie that invites analysis from various view-points. However, another part of me just believes that I want to dig deeper and deeper into this movie so that I can feel “smarter” than the rest of the bunch that may have seen this and left utterly confused. Not just with the movies, but with their own lives in general.

But anyway, I digress before I get completely off-track: This movie’s something else, and I mean that in the best possible way. It’s surprising in the certain places it goes and how Glazer makes his story seem like anything could happen, and there’d be no problem with that whatsoever. When you’re a film maker that’s made it clear your story could take place in any universe, then the whole landscape is your playing field and it was an absolute treat to see Glazer constantly play with whatever tools he had at his disposal. I may make the movie seem more “fun”, than what it would present itself as being through its advertising, but there’s a certain element of that to be felt in here; you don’t fully know what to expect next from anything here and there’s something entertaining about that.

If only more movies were like that, we’d probably be in a much better place altogether.

Consensus: While sometimes bordering on being incoherent, Under the Skin isn’t about its story, or whatever message it’s trying to get across, it’s about how far Jonathan Glazer is able to go with the look, the feel and the pulse of his movie, while we just sit back, relax, and try to enjoy it for as much, or for as long as we can.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Alien or not, I'll follow her anywhere.

Alien or not, I’d follow her anywhere.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Keep the Lights On (2012)

If your soul mate is from a phone dating-service, they aren’t your soul mate.

Late one night while cruising for sex on the phone, documentary filmmaker Erik (Thure Lindhardt) meets a closeted lawyer by the name of Paul (Zachary Booth). While they both exchange in some pretty hot sex, they also seem to want a bit more, even though Paul is already in a relationship with a woman. Erik doesn’t mind this and actually finds himself falling for Paul; so much so that it actually scares him. But it’s love and you can’t fight that feeling, no matter how bad things may get. And here, they get pretty damn terrible. Over the next ten years of their up-and-down relationship, Erik begins to realize that not only does Paul have a drug problem, but that he needs to get it fixed out before it’s too late for the both of them. But even if Erik can “cure” Paul of his addiction, what does that mean for the both of them together? Can they work it out? Or, simply put, will they just dissolve into the thin air of nothingness like most relationships end up being?

From what I’ve read, it seems that most of this is based on writer/director Ira Sachs’ own experience in love, but more importantly, a relationship he had himself. With that information taken into consideration, the film becomes a whole lot more personal and intimate than it already appears so as being, which is saying a whole lot, because this movie is so closed-off from the rest of the world around it, that it almost becomes suffocating. But that’s somewhat of a good thing here, especially since it keeps mostly all of our focus on these two men, their relationship and just exactly what makes them so compatible in the first place.

Usually how most of my relationships begin....

Usually how most of my relationships begin….

However, that’s where Sachs’ movie frustrated me: We never get a full sense as to why these two fall so madly in love together in the first place. I can totally understand and accept a movie that’s presenting a romance doomed from the very beginning, and just continuing to show it as it gets worse and worse for the individuals involved, but I can’t wholly accept a movie when that’s all it has to show. We hardly get to know these characters, except that one’s a whole a lot immature than the other; which is saying something because the other spends most of the movie running away without telling anybody where he’s going, having sex with random strangers, and doing a whole lot of crack.

And like I said before, I’m fine with a movie presenting me a complicated situation, with complicated people involved with them, but here, it feels like nothing’s all that complicated, or at least it shouldn’t be: One should clearly dump the other, but can’t because he’s just too needy and sexually-charged. It’s understandable that these aren’t characters we’re supposed to fall in love with; much rather, we’re supposed to understand them as who they are and why they want this relationship to work in the first place, but it sort of seems like Sachs keeps most of that away from us.

Well, at least in the case of Paul, who mostly just ends up turning out to be an unsympathetic dick that yes, may have a very serious drug problem, but doesn’t really feel like he’s worthy of having a connection with anyone, let alone somebody as caring and as loving as Erik. And because of this problem with Paul, Erik ends up being a whole lot more likable, even though he isn’t without his own fair share of problems, either.

For starters, Erik’s a little boy, trapped in an older dude’s body; meaning, he thinks and has feelings as if he’s still an adolescence, yet is clearly older and has to take on more responsibilities. He’s also our main focus of this movie and it’s hard to not want to give him a hug after he’s been thrown around, tossed, and kicked by this feeling of love he gets, even if it does feel way too much, for such a very short amount of time. However, it isn’t unbelievable in the way it’s presented to us in the film because of how Sachs has made Erik a sad, lonely guy who seems like he’s in desperate need of someone to hold and cherish.

...how they meander....

…how they meander….

That said, Erik’s mostly a compelling character because of how good Thure Lindhardt is at playing him. Rather than over-doing his character’s acts of immaturity to give you the impression that he’s a middle-schooler experiencing love and sex for the first time in his life, Lindhardt shows/tells us all we need to know by the way he carries himself from place to place, and the people he talks to in these places. And in these countless interactions with others, we get to understand and know a little more about who Erik is, as small as those pieces of info may be.

Still, it’s not enough to fully have us understand just why it is that we’re watching this story play out. Sure, Erik is a character that’s easy to care for, even when it seems like he’s the one who is bringing most of this pain and agony onto himself, but as for Paul and their relationship as a whole: I just wanted to see it over and done with. Most of that was to see Erik and Paul eventually released from whatever hurt they’ve been holding onto for all these years, but because it would actually bring something more compelling to the movie as a whole. It’s clear that this is a very personal story for Sachs and because of that being so, it does end up telling some hard-earned truths about love, commitment and how low one will stoop to keep a relationship afloat, but it ends up being almost too personal. Meaning that while it may mean a whole lot to him, the creator of transporting his own, real-life experiences to film, it doesn’t really hold nearly as much importance to the audience that’s watching his story practically play out in front of their own very eyes.

And, I mean, come on! Isn’t it the audience we make these movies for in the first place?

Consensus: Sachs’ writing and directing usually presents some interesting points about his character’s, as well as the situation they’re going through, but for most of Keep the Lights On‘s run-time, it just walks a very slow, uninteresting line.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

...and then of course, how they end. (That''s usually me on the right)

…and then of course, how they end. (That”s usually me on the right)

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Taxi to the Dark Side (2007)

Hey, if torture can work for Jack Bauer, it can work for anyone! Right, guys? Guys?…….

Late one fateful night, an Afghan taxi driver by the name of Dilawar picks up a passenger and isn’t ever seen again by his friends or his family. Reason being? He killed himself while being imprisoned inside the Parwan Detention Facility where he was questioned by American soldiers. However, did these soldiers do more than just questioning Dilawar? Did they rough him up a bit to ensure that they’d get the answer they wanted? Or, did they do a whole lot more than just “roughing up a bit”? And even if they did do that, would they even be in trouble? Documentarian Alex Gibney examines the story of Dilawar, those who were charged in his brutal treatment at the detention center and how so many other Afghan prisoners were taken in on a daily basis, with little to no reason other than they may have information regarding Osama Bin Laden, or other known terrorists at the time.

What’s so interesting about what Gibney does here, is that while he does go all over the place, focusing on the whole picture of what’s really going on here, from the beginning of the war, to Donald Rumsfeld and George W. Bush themselves, he never loses sight of what really made this story possible in the first place: Dilawar and what happened to him. Because deep inside of all of the numerous threads explored here, no matter how distasteful some of these truths unearthed may have you feel, no matter how enraged you may be by the end, there’s something completely and utterly depressing about Dilawar, his story and how he met the end of his life.

At least he's got a fresh-ass shirt on him now...

At least he’s got a fresh-ass shirt on him now…

See, with Dilawar’s story, we realize that he, along with so many other detainees in these detention centers, is just a normal, everyday citizen, as if he were you or I. However, the only thing separating him from us is that he was an Afghan citizen and at that point in time, the U.S. Army wasn’t taking any chances one bit and was just picking up each and every person they found to be even the slightest suspicious of being a possible terrorist. Didn’t matter if it was true or not, the Army needed to bring people in, torture the hell out of them, and see if they could get any possible answers out of them whatsoever.

Dilawar just so happened to be one of those people and he met his end in such a sad, brutal way because of so.

His story is the launching-off point for what Gibney wants to talk about and explore, and it’s deserving. Not because everything about Dilawar’s story is what helps Gibney come back to some sort of human-connection when all is said and done and he gets off of his soap box, but because it shows us that Dilawar was like every other captive inside one of these detention centers. Sure, there were definitely a few whose suspicions turned out to be actually true, but you have to think of how few that number is, compared to all of those who were taken in, brutally tortured, humiliated, made out to be “less than human”,  and even died in the custody of the U.S. Army.

And trust me, this isn’t just going to be a whole post of me attacking the U.S. Army for all their immoral-doings in the war; in fact, I’ll give most of them the benefit of the doubt. They’re all doing a job that I would never be able to bring myself to in my life and because of that, I give them a salute. However, there is something to be said for when those soldiers take advantage of the certain amount/level of power they have. It’s like what was discussed in the Invisible War (a documentary you must see, if you haven’t already done so) – does being a soldier for the Army and protecting your country mean that you can practically get away with anything that would be deemed “illegal” if you were still living in your country and not on the battlefield?

The answer to that is clearly no and Gibney knows this. However, he doesn’t give us any easy answers to make it clear exactly what he’s thinking, or even what he’s trying to say at any given moment. He easily could have made this a whole two hours of just him getting on everything that has to do with the Army; those who enlisted into it, as well as those powerful politicians who back it up with all their might, but he doesn’t. He keeps everything away at a relatively minor distance that’s hardly ever over-stepped, even though it could have easily been.

Tsk tsk.

Tsk tsk.

But like I was saying before, with this movie, Gibney reminds us what it’s like to be and stay human, even in the times of war. It made sense for most of the country to go absolutely and completely gung-ho about violence right as soon as the World Trade Center was attacked, but does that really mean we as a country are justified in acting the way we did, or hell, still do act? We’re paranoid for a reason, but does that really mean that we have to unreasonably make others pay for our thoughts and perceptions, regardless of if they turn out to be wrong?

Like every other question posed here in this movie, Gibney never gives a clear answer. Sometimes that’s a bit frustrating; other times, it’s comforting because so many documentarians feel the need to take a stance on a certain topic, without ever giving us a full, rounded-out story of everything we are being told. Here, we get to listen and learn from just about everybody who was involved with these detention centers and, after awhile, begin to realize that they too are just like you or I – normal, everyday human citizens. However, the only problem was that they were the ones with all the guns, the power, and the control to do anything that they wanted, when they wanted.

And Dilawar was the one who had to pay for it all. Although there are still plenty more where he came from and there shouldn’t be.

Consensus: Presenting as much facts as possible without over-cramming his movie, or our brains, Alex Gibney allows for Taxi to the Dark Side to be a thoughtful, mostly upsetting documentary about all those involved with the war and how all societies are affected by it.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

At least they held the sign up for him.

At least they held the sign up for him.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

What Richard Did (2013)

This Richard fella sure does like to do a lot of “things”.

Richard Karlsen (Jack Reynor) is the golden boy athlete who seems to have it all. Good looks, good parents, plenty of money, actual talent in rugby, and a very bright future ahead of him. However, there’s some quite dark lying inside of Richard that he doesn’t let everybody know about, but instead, just bottles it up all in. For some, that can work, but for others, it can’t – consider Richard in that later group. But the good thing for Richard is that he meets an out-of-towner named Lara (Róisín Murphy) who he ends up falling in love with. Problem with it though, is that he eventually begins to grow jealous of her and the numerous looks she’s getting from various men around her. Richard takes notice of this and one drunken night, it all comes to ahead when something very tragic occurs and he, as well as his lads, are left without any idea of knowing what to do next. Because, after all, they’re just teenagers and teenagers don’t always make the right decisions, especially when their futures are held in the balance.

So yeah, obviously from just reading that title, seeing that poster and reading that synopsis, we know that Richard does something that’s not too kind. However, in order to avoid from totally spoiling it all for you out there, I’ll just beat around the bush and not say what he does; even though it doesn’t really matter. Sure, there is an element of surprise here as to finding out what Richard does in fact do, but that’s not the main aspect this movie pays attention to the most.

Richard likes to cozy-up next to his girlfriend.....

Richard likes to cozy-up next to his girlfriend…..

See, what director Lenny Abrahamson does so well here is that he doesn’t just focus on what it is that Richard does to others around him, he pays more attention to the person of Richard, what makes him who he is and why he does the things he does to those around. His actions make him who he is, but there’s also a certain layer we get to watch and study delicately that not only gives us a glimpse into what he is thinking, at any given moment, but how he feels about what he’s thinking. Because, to be honest, Richard doesn’t always do/say the right thing, and rather than making him a detestable human being for doing such, the movie keeps us a couple of steps away from him so that we don’t judge him too harshly.

One could say that Abrahamson’s trying to have us sympathize for somebody who, for lack of a better term, is a bit of a dick, but you could also say that there isn’t really a stance Abrahamson takes with this character, or this whole movie for that matter. We just sit back and view Richard for what he is – questionable morals and all. And since Richard is such a challenging character to not only like, but watch, it makes the task all the more challenging for somebody like Jack Reynor, a relative new-comer at the time, to really pull it all off without over-doing it.

And somehow too, he’s a revelation to watch on screen. But it’s not that Reynor over-does it here with his acting; he’s actually quite subtle. Sure, the script and the direction calls on him to be so, but there are so many times that the camera just stays still straight on his face, as he watches those around him, or staring into space, and we’re left thinking, “What the hell is going on inside his damn head?” He always looks pissed and, in a way, slightly disappointed; disappointed with his life at the present, with his future, the fact that he doesn’t have the dream girl he oh so desires, his mates, we don’t know. It’s all pretty much a mystery to figure it out and that’s why Reynor’s performance is so great here – he keeps us guessing the whole entire time.

Which, for a young, sterling cat like Reynor, may not have been an easy job on his part. Without saying much at all, he’s given the task of just letting his facial-expressions do the talking at any given moment, but the guy handles it effortlessly, as if he’s been doing this his whole life. It’s nice to see that the U.S. has finally picked up on this kid’s talent and actually throw him in some movies. However, it’s such a shame that some of those movies happen to include pieces of junk like Delivery Man and, probably far more-known, Transformers: Age of Extinction.

That damn Michael Bay, man. He snatches up the talent as soon as they’re hot and ready and ruins them for the rest of us.

Bastard.

..Richard even likes to talk to his daddy....

..Richard even likes to talk to his daddy….

Anyway, like I was saying earlier about this character of Richard – while Reynor is superb as him, it’s really Abrahamson and writer Malcolm Campbell who deserve the credit here. Like I said before, they give us an unsympathetic character, and don’t necessarily judge him; they simply present his story to us and allow us to make up our own minds about what decision of his is a good one, and a bad one. Better yet, it allows us to draw conclusions as to what really makes this guy, the guy we see at parties, just glaring blankly at the scenery at him. Is he sad? And if so, why? What’s he going to do about it? Hell, who is he going to do it to? So many questions are left up to us to figure out on our own and it can sometimes be enraging, but mostly, it’s just a challenge we ourselves have to think about long and hard.

That’s why the movie doesn’t always work, because while it doesn’t want to give away every answer, to every question it brings up, it still wants to keep on adding more and more fuel to the fire, almost to the point of where it seems like overkill. Sure, that’s not so bad if you have a rather large, ambitious movie, filled to the brim with numerous story-lines, going around all over the place, but when you have a small, hour-and-twenty-minute character-study, it does seem to be a bit of a selfish move. A selfish move not to give us a little more tokens for paying attention to certain things, but also because it just keeps on bring more to everything it wants to do. Maybe I’m just nit-picking and making problems that aren’t even there in the first place, but for me, I wanted just a bit more. A bit more of Richard, his back-story and just why he was such an angry bloke pretty much all of the time. I guess it’s something I’ll have to live with never fully finding out about.

Oh well.

That damn Michael Bay, though.

Consensus: Featuring an amazing performance from Jack Reynor in the lead titled-role, What Richard Did proves to be both a thought-provoking, as well as a sometimes enraging drama and exploration into the mind of a challenging character.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

...but most of all, Richard enjoys lounging out on the beach. That's what Richard does.

…but most of all, Richard enjoys lounging out on the beach. That’s what Richard does.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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