Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Julieta (2016)

This can happen to moms everywhere! Just get off of our backs already! Jeez!

Julieta (Emma Suárez) lives in Madrid with her daughter Antía. They both suffer in silence over the loss of Xoan (Daniel Grao), Antía’s father and Julieta’s husband. However, there are times grief doesn’t bring people closer, it drives them apart, as is the case with these two. Julieta doesn’t quite know this just yet, until she realizes that right after she turns 18, Antia gets up and leaves her mother, without a simple explanation, rhyme, reason, or even a clue of where it is that she might have gone. Julieta, like so many other mothers in her position, is obviously distraught and tries whatever she can to find her daughter and, hopefully, bring her back home, where she rightfully belongs. But as this journey goes on and on, Julieta realizes the painful truth that maybe, just maybe, she didn’t know much about her daughter to begin with.

"I'm so sad, wanna know why?"

“I’m so sad, wanna know why?”

Julieta is an odd movie for Pedro Almodóvar to write and direct, because while watching it, it’s hard to think of it as a movie that’s coming from him. Sure, there’s chunks of melodrama, a lot of female characters, and of course, plot twists that seem to come out of nowhere, but at the same time, it still feels like an everyday, normal melodrama about a mother, a daughter and all of the other missed connections families have with one another. In other words, Julieta is a “safe” movie and probably the safest I’ve ever seen from Almodóvar, which is neither a good thing, or a bad thing.

It’s just a thing.

But unfortunately, it’s a thing that keeps Julieta from really working as well as it probably should have. Once again, it’s nice that Almodóvar is giving us a story about women, when so many other writers/directors would shriek at the idea of doing such a thing and it’s also nice that Almodóvar is able to wrangle out such good performances from this cast. Emma Suarez as the older-version of the title character is probably the best here, because she has to go through a whole bunch of emotions – most of them sad – but never seeming boring. There’s just something about her presence, as sad as it may be at times, that makes her watchable and take over this movie every chance she gets.

That said, the rest of the movie isn’t quite helping her out. For one, it seems like Almodóvar himself sort of realized that he wasn’t working with that meaty of a story; there’s a mystery here, but mostly, it’s all tucked in the back so that a bunch of people can cry, get sad, and go on and on about their emotions. In fact, these characters here talk so much about their emotions, that it makes me wonder if they ever had anything else on their mind, like I don’t know, sports, the weather, politics, or hell, just anything else about how they feel?

"Please, stop speaking about your feelings. I've stopped caring about forty minutes ago."

“Please, stop speaking about your feelings. I’ve stopped caring about forty minutes ago.”

Probably not, but hey, it’s an Almodóvar flick so of course, this is to be expected.

But what’s different about Julieta is that, when it’s not constantly jumping in-and-out of its narrative from past, to the present, it’s giving us a story that just doesn’t feel all that compelling in the first place. From what it seems, Julieta is just another mother confused and worried about her daughter – one of whom who just seems like a brat that, honestly, Julieta herself may be better off without. It’s an odd thing to say, I know, but it’s what kept going throughout my mind the whole time I was watching this and thinking of where this story was going and whether or not any of it was going to matter in the end.

And honestly, it kind of doesn’t. Julieta may show us that Almodóvar is able to restrain himself again and take a bit of a chill-pill when it comes to his story-telling (especially after the crazy and wild one-two punch of the Skin I Live In and I’m So Excited), but it also proves to be his most boring movie by a long shot. Sure, there’s certain aspects surrounding it that can be admired, like the previously mentioned characters, or the colorful look of it all, but when you get right down to the meat of it all, it just doesn’t quite hit hard. It feels like there may have been a real juicy, compelling, emotional and exciting story somewhere in here, but it doesn’t quite seem to come out.

And for Almodóvar, that’s at least, a problem.

Consensus: Not necessarily bad, as much as it’s just a bit of a bore, Julieta highlights Almodóvar’s knack for telling a laid-back story, but never quite giving it the right amount of heart, or energy it seems to need.

5 / 10

Oh, man, the 80's! What a crazy time! I mean, just look at that 'do!

Oh, man, the 80’s! What a crazy time! I mean, just look at that ‘do!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Founder (2017)

Yeah, still eating at McDonald’s. Sorry, guys.

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is just another salesman trying to get by in the world so that he can come home to his wife (Laura Dern), and have something to show for it. While on his travels one day, Ray stumbles upon this new fast-food restaurant in Illinois called McDonald’s. While there’s not much to them at first glance, the fact that they actually have only a few items on the menu and are so quick, automatically strike Ray as something that he needs to work with. So, he hatches a plan with the owners, brothers Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman), in that he’ll help them expand and bring McDonald’s to the rest of the world. But eventually, as time rolls on, he starts to realize that there’s more money to be made in this food-joint, but the only way to do so is in having to back-stab and get rid of everyone in his life, who has loved and supported him all of these years. Also, he’ll have to get rid of Mac and Dick, leading to an all-out legal-battle that will continue to haunt the McDonald’s name until the end of time.

Okay, probably not, but still.

Yeah, this convo's about to get real weird.

Yeah, this convo’s about to get real weird.

The Founder is actually a pretty misleading title, but it works perfectly with what the rest of the movie is trying to get across. This idea that a person who thought of an idea, as smart as it may be, entitles them to some sort of power, fame and fortune, is an interesting one, especially when said person didn’t actually do anything with the idea. In the Founder, we get this sort of conflict – Ray Kroc may forever and ever be known as the one who got McDonald’s name out there to the rest of the entire world, but he didn’t find, or better yet, even invent the place, the art, the craft, and originality that went into it all in the first place.

Which begs the question: Who’s worthy of being considered “the founder”? The guys who made the place, or the guy who brought the place to where it is today?

It’s a bunch of interesting questions that, thankfully, get brought up many of times throughout the always entertaining, compelling and rather insightful tale about McDonald’s, how it got started, and how it got to be the fast-food juggernaut that it currently is today. Say what you will about McDonald’s, their crappy, fast and easy food, and even the people who work there, but it’s a place that is everywhere you look and will probably stay that way until the person is left breathing. So yes, it’s very interesting to see where it all came from and how it came to be, especially since there’s darker-beings at play surrounding this tale.

For one, director John Lee Hancock approaches Robert D. Siegel’s script in a smart way; he never allows for us to think that this is going to be some quick, fast-paced and glossy biopic about this one smart businessman who hatched this plan to become one of the richest men in the world. There’s always this idea of a darker, more sinister undercurrent here, which makes all of the ups and constantly colorful montages, in a way, seem eerie; we know that Kroc is going to eventually turn the other cheek, lose that winning-smile of his, and start to, as they love to say in the entertainment world, “break bad”, but when, where, and how it all goes down is always left in the air, making this tale a rather unpredictable one at times.

Then again, it’s also a smart and honest tale about what can happen when one person sees money-bags in their eyes and doesn’t really care about the people around them. The Founder makes us wonder whether it was all worth it for Kroc and everyone else involved with the restaurant; can you be a rich, successful and live a rather comfortable life by sticking to your principles and not letting your image get away from you? Or, do you have to get a little down in the dirt at times, hitting elbows and yeah, making some uncomfortable compromises? The Founder asks these questions, never quite comes up with a clear-cut, obvious answer and for that and that alone, it’s a very good movie.

It doesn’t ask whether or not you should go out there and support McDonald’s (which yeah, you probably shouldn’t), but it does ask whether or not someone can stay true to themselves when they want to make some money for themselves.

Sorry, guys. Should have stuck with Burger King.

Sorry, guys. Should have stuck with Burger King.

That, to me, has stayed in my head ever since.

Regardless, as Kroc, Michael Keaton gives us an amazing performance because Keaton, like the man he’s playing, always seems to have something brewing underneath the surface. On the surface, Kroc seems like a rather nice, almost squeaky-clean guy, but the more and more time we get to spend with him, the more realize that there may just be a small screw loose in his head that has him ticking like a bomb, ready to explode and lose all control. Keaton constantly has us guessing just where he’s going to go next with this person and constantly surprises us with his portrayal; while this is no doubt a person we’re supposed to have hard feelings towards, it’s kind of hard because Keaton is just so damn charming. The movie doesn’t let Kroc off the hook, though, and in today’s day and age, that’s something definitely needed.

Everyone else is pretty great, too. Laura Dern doesn’t get a whole lot to do as Kroc’s first wife, but she brings enough warmth and sympathy when is necessary; John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman are perfectly as the two brothers who came up with McDonald’s and are slowly, but surely, starting to see that dream slip away from them; Linda Cardellini shows up in a under-written role as Kroc’s second wife, but tries; B.J. Novak is perfectly slimy as the one who hits Kroc’s head the hardest with opportunities and business ideas; and Patrick Wilson, as brief as he’s here, does a solid job at seeming like a guy who may be a little smarmy, but also may just be something of a good guy, trying to make a quick buck, and oh yeah, loses his wife for it.

Chew on that, people.

Consensus: With an absolutely terrific lead performance from Michael Keaton, the Founder not only makes us question the meaning of its tale, but many others, while still giving us a smart, rather haunting portrait of a business man, with an idea, an agenda, and of course, a shady moral compass.

8.5 / 10

What an empire of morbidly obese customers.

What an empire of soon-to-be morbidly obese customers.

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

All About My Mother (1999)

Everyone’s got mommy problems. Some more than others, obviously.

Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a nurse and single mother tries her hardest to come to terms with the death of her one and only son, Esteban (Eloy Azorin), who was tragically killed when he was struck by a car. For some odd reason, Manuela never got around to telling her son about his father, except that he was dead. However, that was all a lie and after much time of just sitting around and wallowing in her own grief, Manuela decides to get up and leave Madrid and head for Barcelona in hopes of finding Esteban’s actual, real life and hopefully, still alive, father. However, the man that she left behind, eighteen years ago when she was pregnant, is now a transvestite named Lola (Toni Canto). Now, Manuela has to find out just what happened to Lola all of these past years and actually come to grips with where her life has gone, for better and for worse.

All About My Mother is typically considered one of Almodóvar’s best, and with good reason. For obvious reasons, it won him a plethora of awards, especially the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, among some very stiff competition that year. But despite all of that surface-junk, it’s one of his most tightly-written; his balance of wacky, over-the-top comedy, with heartfelt, somewhat subtle character-drama and obvious melodrama is so perfect here that it almost seems like he’s not trying.

Laugh it up, ladies. Something bad may happen soon.

Laugh it up, ladies. Something bad may happen soon.

If anything, it’s the one movie where it doesn’t even seem like he was on the set for half of the days, directing and you know what? The movie’s kind of better off for that. There’s a feeling of ease to this, that isn’t found in all of his other flicks; other movies obviously show a tad bit of restraint and relaxation from Almodóvar, but for the most part, they all flirt with it, until they’ve had enough of sitting around and decide to get a little wacky. All About My Mother, in another way, sort of stays the same, practically the whole time and it’s a better movie for it.

Still, it’s an Almodóvar movie through and through and that should never be forgotten.

What it mostly all comes down to is the characters and from Almodóvar, they’re always strong. But what’s always most interesting about his characters is that he’s writing strong, emotional roles for and about women, without ever seeming like he’s looking down upon them, judging them, or simply using them as a prop so that he can get his kicks off of them. Sure, he’s had some questionable issues with sex and gender in the past with his movies, but when you get right down to it, no one is writing strong characters for women like he is and it helps you think of his movies in a far better light because of it. Most Hollywood movies have forgotten how to write for, or about, women in the first place, so it’s a nice bit of fresh air to see someone who knows what he’s doing and how he’s going to go all about it.

And if you need any further evidence of what I’m trying to get across, just look at each and every character in All About My Mother. Sure, a lot of them are goofy and rather over-the-top, but they’re also real, honest, living, breathing and emotional human beings, not to mention, women; the same kind of women who aren’t afraid to lash-out and be emotional every once and awhile, because, well, they’re allowed to. Almodóvar seems to have every character here perfectly written down, even to their smallest, little tic or trait, that it feels like, as time goes on and on, we get to know and love them even more.

She's not just beautiful, but a good actor, people!

She’s not just beautiful, but a good actor, people!

It also helps that the ensemble is pretty great, too, as is usually the case.

Of course, All About My Mother features the usual talent we’ve come to expect with Almodóvar, which isn’t necessarily a criticism, as he knows what works for thee ladies, and what doesn’t. Cecila Roth’s Manuela has to act-out in some unsympathetic ways, but because this is, essentially, her tale, we always feel for her; Marisa Paredes’ celebrity-mother character is perfect for her vamping-side, but we also get to see a little more underneath the facade that makes her everyday interactions with those around her, incredibly interesting; Penelope Cruz is here in an early role, showing a certain bit of heart and humanity that I wish more modern-audiences knew her for; and as Agrado, the most fun and exciting member of this cast, Antonia San Juan steals every scene she’s in, showing a great deal of heart, humor and humanity, just about with every opportunity. Watching as all of these characters sit in a room and chat about whatever comes next is enough of a treat, but because everyone is so good and their characters are so vividly-drawn, the movie’s just a blast to watch.

It’s hard to imagine saying that about a drama, but such is the case when you have expert-writing, directing and of course, acting.

Man, why can’t all movies be like this?

Consensus: Smart, funny, emotional, and above all else, heartfelt, All About My Mother is one of Almodovar’s best, but without ever making a big stink about it.

9.5 / 10

Mothers never quite leave you alone, do they?

Mothers never quite leave you alone, do they?

Photos Courtesy of: Enter the Movies

I’m So Excited! (2013)

Trains are so much lamer.

A plane setting off for some sort of destination runs through all sorts of problems while up in the air. It all starts when a technical failure endangers the lives of everyone aboard the Peninsula Flight 2549. The pilots are in constant communication with the Control Tower to figure out just how to fix the issue; the flight attendants and the chief steward are, even in the face of danger, try to put on a happy face for the passengers, forget their own personal problems and devote themselves body and soul to the task of making the flight as enjoyable as possible for the passengers; and basically, yeah, everyone sits around as they wait for a solution. But it’s not all that bad, boring and miserable because first class is tended to by Joserra (Javier Cámara), Fajardo (Carlos Areces), and Ulloa (Raúl Arévalo), three fellows who know how to throw a good party, even if they’re up in the air and probably, most likely going to die by the time the plane hits the ground.

Hey, just be happy there's no snakes and Samuel L.

Hey, just be happy there’s no snakes and Samuel L.

The most interesting aspect surrounding Pedro Almodóvar and his movies is that there is, essentially, two beasts to him that he’ll play around with from time-to-time. There’s eccentric, rather crazy, unpredictable side that takes these whack-o stories that he’s thinking up and just get as insane as he wants with them. Then, there’s the other beast that’s far more reserved, emotional and sensitive, with the occasional burst of craziness thrown in for good mix. Almodóvar has made a career of this and while the results aren’t always perfect, needless to say, they prove that Almodóvar, no matter how old he gets, no matter how movies he makes, and no matter how long he stays around, he’s always finding something fun and fresh to keep himself going.

And that all goes away by the time you I’m So Excited, perhaps his most wacky, wild and silly movie, but probably his least compelling.

Which for some, may be all that’s needed; there’s nothing wrong with a seasoned writer/director taking some time away from the heavy, emotionally-gripping tales that they usually create and laying back, popping-up a bottle and letting the good times roll. Almodóvar himself has done this on quite a couple of occasions, for sure, but here, it feels like it gets away from him a tad bit too much. For one, I’m So Excited is, essentially, one-joke spread very far and wide for a premise that’s already too thin in the first place.

It also doesn’t help that Almodóvar’s sense of humor seemed to have gone away this time around, with him making some very lazy and obvious jokes about sex, drugs, women, men, gays, race, and even blow-jobs. In fact, there’s maybe a few too many blow-job jokes, which isn’t bad to have around, but they’re just not funny. It’s as if Almodóvar actually sat himself down and watched an Adam Sandler comedy, tried to reenact some of what goes on in those movies, make his own little twist, and see what happened.

Well, I’m So Excited happened and unfortunately, for everyone’s case, let’s just hope and pray that Almodóvar stays away from the Sandler filmography.

Is it too soon to be making cracks about pilots being messed-with in a live plane?

Is it too soon to be making cracks about pilots being messed-with in a live plane? Still?

That said, there are bits and pieces of I’m So Excited to enjoy, but they’re very few and far between. There’s a quite a few dance-and-music numbers that work well to keep the momentum going and the usual cast of characters that we all know, love and associate with Almodóvar are all here and having a very good time, but still, there’s something missing. Almodóvar, you can sort of tell, seems to know this about halfway through, when he’s gone too far with the possibility that all of these characters may die and doesn’t even try to have us sympathize with them.

Instead, we sit around and watch as if they act crazy, say silly things, do drugs, get drunk, have sex, and yeah, cry a whole lot. The movie does try to get across some idea that on this plane, there’s a real issue of classes that needs to be addressed, but in all honesty, it’s a bit underwhelming and feels thrown in there. Almodóvar tries and because of that, it’s really hard to attack a movie, because it seems like he always knows what he’s doing, even when he’s not, but yeah, sometimes, it’s not too hard to realize when a movie just isn’t quite coming together, so you decide to stick around, see what happens next, and, if worse comes to worse, join in on the escapades a tad bit.

After all, the movie’s done in barely 85 minutes, so what kind of harm could be done.

Consensus: Not necessarily “bad”, as much as it’s just “off”, I’m So Excited shows the fun and wacky side to Almodóvar, but without the stellar results we know and usually expect from him.

4 / 10

First class must be a blast. Too bad I'm not a millionaire.

First class must be a blast. Too bad I’m not a millionaire.

Photos Courtesy of: Reel Talk Online

Volver (2006)

It’s like Paranormal Activity, but you know, actually good.

Revolving around an eccentric family of women from a wind-swept region south of Madrid, Penélope Cruz plays Raimunda, a working-class woman forced to go to great lengths to protect her 14-year-old daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo). To top off the family crisis, her mother Irene (Carmen Maura) comes back from the dead to tie up loose ends. But is this just Raimunda’s mind going a little out-of-whack, or is her late mother actually alive, well, and not actually dead?

Surely, something that sounds so simple and straightforward cannot be the work of crazy, envelope-pushing director Pedro Almodóvar. Over his long and storied career, he’s tackled subjects like pedophilia, sexual-awakening, incest, crime, murder, homosexuality, and HIV, among many others, so how the hell can a guy who likes to talk about stuff like that, be tackling a flick that seems like it came straight-from-TV? Well, it’s easy, he’s Pedro Almodóvar and he can do whatever he wants and thank the lord that he can.

It's an Almodóvar flick, so of course people have to smoke when they get stressed.

It’s an Almodóvar flick, so of course people have to smoke when they get stressed.

Even though this easy subject may not seem like a piece of Almodóvar’s work, in a way, it still is. The attention to color and detail is absolutely beautiful (as if that poster didn’t already tell you), and his way of capturing the life and beauty throughout the streets of Madrid is eye-catching and makes you feel at home. I heard that Almodóvar decided to film this movie around the area of where he grew up and you can really tell. There’s a sort of love and fondness for this area and it shines through each and every frame.

So yeah, it’s pretty, but there’s also more to it than just that.

Volver is very different though, because it’s not fully entrapped in its own plot conceits, like some of his other work can be/get. Though there’s a few nifty twists here and there, Volver‘s still a pretty straight-forward family-drama that hits the right notes because we spend time with these characters and get to know them. And in doing that, we also get to understand them and see them for all that they are, and who they are. Meaning, not everybody here has a halo around their head, but that’s what makes it more interesting to watch, because they’re real people.

Just a lot whole lot more attractive and emotional, it seems.

It’s also one of those films where everybody talks so interestingly, that you always want to hear them chat about whatever is on their mind. Whether they’re talking about food, family, life, sex, money, death, or ghosts, I was always hooked and listening and payed close enough attention to what they all were saying because they even give us hints about certain plot-points that pop-up later in the movie. Almodóvar’s always done that with his flicks and while it’s definitely a neat little trick of his, it doesn’t, in any way whatsoever, get in the way of his actual movie.

Definitely not ketchup.

Definitely not ketchup.

Another thing that Almodóvar does best, is also be able to assemble an awesome cast and that is exactly what he has done once again here. Penélope Cruz stars Raimunda and is radiant and as believable as she’s ever been seen before. Yes, Cruz is beautiful, gorgeous, sexy, vivacious, and as perfect of a looker as you can get, but beauty aside, she can still act and especially in an Almodóvar flick, someone who seems to know exactly what her strengths are. Anyway, what makes Cruz so great here as Raimunda is that she feels like a real woman that’s going through a lot of problems that gets to her and ends up taking a lot of that anger and frustration out on the others around her, but yet, also has this sweet and kind side to her that shows she cares for the ones around her, even if her character doesn’t always show it. Cruz is a beauty to watch because she commands the screen every single time she shows up, and also shows that she can bring out any emotions in her act and make it all seem believable.

There are others here, too, so I guess I’ll chat about them, too, although it should be stated one more time that Cruz is great here, as she usually is.

It’s been a long, long time since I saw Carmen Maura in anything, let alone a Almodóvar film, and shows that she’s still got the chops and makes her old-lady character a lot more lovable and understandable than you’d expect. Lola Dueñas plays Cruz’s sister and is very funny, but also very realistic in how she seems a bit more grounded in reality and happier with her life than Cruz may be. This provides a great contrast between the two ladies but in the end, you can still that they are sisters that love each other and care for each other no matter what. These three work well together and show that even though they may have some problems here and there, they are still a family and they still love each other no matter what happens to them in their own, respective lives. It’s a nice message to understand and see on-screen, especially when it comes from the guy who’s most known for making a movie about a priest who touches little boys.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a change of pace, I guess you could say.

Consensus: Considering this is Almodóvar’s way of “playing it cool”, Volver definitely does seem a bit held-back from the explosiveness of a story it could have been, but still has enough heart, emotion, beauty, and well-acted performances to make it an easy-going experience that will probably make you want to hug your mommy or sister. As for your brother and daddy? Tell them to hug themselves!

8.5 / 10

"Hello, agent? Yeah, just keep scheduling me in Almodóvar's flicks."

“Hello, agent? Yeah, just keep scheduling me in Almodóvar’s flicks.”

Photos Courtesy of: The Red List

Paterson (2016)

There’s a poet in all of us.

Paterson (Adam Driver) is a hardworking bus driver in Paterson, N.J., who follows probably the same routine each and every day of his life, with the exception of a few changes here and there. He wakes up for work bright and early in the morning, eats his cereal out of a small cup, packs a lunch, goes to work, listens to the people’s conversations, observes the city around him, has lunch in front of a lovely, relatively soothing waterfall, comes home to his somewhat quirky wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), walks his dog Marvin (Minnie), around the town late at night, stops by the local bar, has a beer, talks to people, comes home, goes to sleep in the arms of his wife, and wakes up the next day to do it all again. However, the one thing that Paterson seems to really care most about in his life is his poetry and the hopes of one day making it big, so that the whole world can see what he’s jotting down in that notebook of his.

Paterson is perhaps the most relaxing and calming movie that I’ve ever seen. It barely follows a plot, there doesn’t seem to be much of any development found whatsoever, there’s no conflict, and there’s no real narrative driving the movie from one scene to the next. If anything, the movie just wanders around, following a familiar pattern that we get used to after the first ten minutes or so, taking its time to tell itself, and barely ever cranking up the energy a single bit. Normally, this would piss me off to high heavens, especially for an indie flick, and not to mention, one by Jim Jarmusch.

Public-transportation employees unfortunately don't all look like Adam Driver.

Public-transportation employees unfortunately don’t all look like Adam Driver.

But for some reason, I came close to kind of loving it for that reason alone.

Jarmusch’s movies, despite them not all being great, all clearly come from a very interesting mind who has a knack for telling stories the way he wants to tell them, regardless of if they actually work in the shown final product, or if they even make sense (the Limits of Control). But no matter what, it’s hard not to watch his movies and think long and hard about what must have been going on through his mind during the creative-process’ of making these movies and with Paterson, I’m probably the most interested in, because while most of his movies are slow, meandering pieces about goofy characters, this one’s a slow, meandering piece about relatively normal characters, with the pace feeling more deliberate and mannered, than just, well, boring.

And I think that’s what separates Paterson from a lot of these other slow-as-molasses indie flicks I see nowadays, especially those from Jarmusch – the feeling, the tone and the aspect that sticks inside of this town known as Paterson, is so calmed-down, that it only makes sense a movie about said town would play-out the same way. There are some brief, fleeting moments in which it seems like Jarmusch is going to step things up a bit, but nope, they go away the next second, and the movie moves on to whatever it wants to do next.

And you know what? That’s perfectly fine with me, because it worked here.

Normally, it doesn’t and can just feel like a director trying something new and it not working a bit, having them come-off as pretentious. Jarmusch has had this problem before, but here, it works in his favor, as he never really gets in the way of the characters, the story, or the mood. It’s just simple, non-stylish and show-offy storytelling that, quite frankly, needs to be done more in the world of indies. So often, film makers working in these independent frame of minds, no matter how seasoned or young they may be, often feel the need to show-off all their skills, talents and ideas into one piece, and actually get in the way of what could have been a very effective, smart story. Jarmusch, like I’ve said before, has done this before and may do it again, but he doesn’t with Paterson and that’s why it deserves to be cherished.

And the Oscar goes to..

And the Oscar goes to..

That, and because Adam Driver’s quite great in the lead role, too. Without sounding too much like Buzzfeed here, Driver is definitely having a moment in today’s pop-culture landscape, but you wouldn’t quite know it. He’s been in a lot of movies over the past few years, some big, some small, but regardless of the size of them, he’s always good in them, trying out something new and interesting, each and every time. As Paterson, Driver dials down a lot of that free-wheeling energy we so often know and sometimes adore him for like when he’s on Girls, but it works for the character and for the rest of the movie. Due to Paterson himself being an actual observer of the world around him, it makes sense that he wouldn’t take over every scene he’s in, but instead, allow others to talk, express themselves, and get us, as well as Paterson himself, a better chance to know them.

It’s sort of like a poem, right?

Anyway, as his wife, Golshifteh Farahani is an interesting choice and one that pays off, because not only is she charming as all hell, but she actually makes his scene’s better. Her character treads this very fine line between being annoyingly quirky and charming, but most of the time, it’s hard not to be charmed by her. The movie doesn’t know how to treat her, which is actually okay, because it just gives Farahani more opportunities to light the screen up and show us not just why Paterson loves her the way his eyes show, but us, the audience, as well.

It’s been awhile since my last screen crush has hit me, but I think that may be about to change.

Consensus: Incredibly slow and melodic, Paterson may drive most people away from its downtrodden pace, but will bring in those more thoughtful and attentive viewers, with an eye for clever detail and interesting storytelling, that never once feels showy.

8.5 / 10

Who isn't in need of a good spot to chow down on their bagged-lunch?

Who isn’t in need of a good spot to chow down on their bagged-lunch?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

20th Century Women (2016)

Women rule. Boys don’t drool, but they don’t rule, either.

It’s 1979 and Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is going through some growing pains. Now that he’s growing up more and more, he’s starting to see the world for the sort of ugly, sometimes evil place that it can be, but he’s also realizing some beautiful things about it, too. This is mostly through the women that surround him, day in and day out. His mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening), stands by him every step of the way, smothering and protecting him from the outside world; Abbie (Greta Gerwig), when she isn’t dealing with her own problems, takes him out to rad-as-hell, incredibly violent and crazy punk shows; and Julie (Elle Fanning), while admittedly a friend, also gives him that idea that they could be together, forever, but she’s also a little too busy having sex with random a-holes who don’t care about her nearly as much as Jamie. There’s also William (Billy Crudup), who tries to be something of a father-figure to Jamie, even if he’s got his own problems with growing up, too. Altogether, they create an imperfect, dysfunctional family of sorts that all love and respect one another, but also find it very hard to get by in day-to-day life.

Beach makes everyone better.

Beach makes everything and everyone a little bit better.

20th Century Women is, thankfully, Mike Mills’ least stylish movie. It also happens to be perhaps his most heartfelt, with fully-realized, smart and honest characters that aren’t hiding behind a behind a bunch of twee style-points and narrative-conceits. Due to this, it often feels like the typical indie we’d expect from one Wes Anderson, however, it doesn’t quite reach those great, emotional highs – if anything, it’s a movie that stays so put in the lows of life, that it’s actually more realistic.

And yet, there’s still a style to this that can sometimes actually get in the way of the story itself.

For instance, we never quite know where the story’s going to go, end up, or even what sort of flow it’s going to follow through with for the whole two hours or so. It’s actually somewhat refreshing to get a movie that doesn’t have any need for such silly things like formula, or convention, but like I’ve stated many times with stylish movies, clearly trying to make their mark, they also can come close to ruining any sort of emotional power that they may have otherwise built on. 20th Century Women is an odd movie in that it constantly interrupts its own flow, but in doing that, it’s constantly telling us more about these characters, their lives, their relationships with one another, and just where America was at the time.

In all honesty, it’s hard to really hold much against 20th Century Women, because even when it does come close to being downright irritating, it still gives something else to chew on, so to speak. It’s not a slow movie and it’s definitely taking its time for unknown reasons – it’s just telling a story, the way it can only be told, shedding light on each and every person we see. It not only makes us feel closer to these characters, but makes us gain a sense of emotional attachment to them, as well as their surroundings.

Because if anything, the movie’s plots a little funky and doesn’t really seem to be all that focused, but a part of me thinks that was the point of what Mike Mills was doing. In life, there’s no clear objective, no one set standard or rules, and there’s sure as hell no just one obstacle to overcome and everything in life is all okay. Life is a constant stream of series of events, happenings and moments that you can’t predict and never quite see coming, which is actually the beauty about life in and of itself.

How many decades is Greta going to conquer next?

How many decades is Greta going to conquer next?

The same kind of beauty that, in its brightest, shining moments, 20th Century Women really harps on.

But Mills is a smart director in that he doesn’t always get in front of camera and let everyone know it’s his show and that’s it – he’s got such a good cast that it would almost be sacrilege to get in their way and not allow them to do what they do best. Annette Bening turns in another great performance as a mother-figure, who may not be a total hippie, but also may not be a pushover, either. It’s an interesting narrative that she constantly plays with this character and shows us that Bening can play all sides to a character, no matter how big, or limited her role may be.

Greta Gerwig also shows up and is quite good as the rather punk-ish gal going through all sorts of issues and problems, yet, isn’t a total sap that ruins every scene she’s in; Elle Fanning continues to get better and better and shows it here as the apple of Jamie’s eyes, who may love him like he does, or may be simply just using him as a total friend and that’s about it; Billy Crudup gives one of his better performances in recent-memory as the bro-y super of the building they’re all living in and feels like he could have had his own movie, but because he’s here, he’s just another one of the great, highly interesting stories; and as Jamie, Lucas Jade Zumann, despite having a lot of talent to battle, more than holds his own and makes it very clear that he’s going to have a bright and shining future in movies.

Especially if he can hold his own in a movie filled with as many heavyweights as there are here.

Consensus: 20th Century Women may bounce around a tad too much with its style, but mostly gets by on the sheer strength and warmth of its cast and message.

8 / 10

Nothing like a slightly over-bearing mother's love.

Nothing like a slightly over-bearing mother’s love.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Live By Night (2016)

Alcohol kills. Literally.

It’s the 1920’s in Boston and Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) wants to make a name for himself, and get out of the shadow of his father (Brendan Gleeson), a Boston police captain. By doing that, he starts robbing banks and taking out local gangsters, getting his name more known, of course, but also putting him on a lot of people’s radars. Eventually though, once Joe does his time in the slammer and gets out, it’s the 1930’s and more people want to get drunker than ever before. What ends up happening is that Joe gets sent to Tampa, where he and his best buddy (Chris Messina), will watch over rum-business, make sure people are drinking it, buying it, and not trying to start any scuffles. However, when you’re a bootlegger, things aren’t always going to go as planned and when you’re with a lovely lady, like Graciella (Zoe Saldana), you’re going to continue to have issues – not just with racist locals, but sometimes, even with your own bosses. This is something that Joe realizes right away and has to start acting quickly, or else he, as well as everyone else that he loves, may soon be killed.

Oh, the hot and stirring possibility of chemistry!

Oh, the hot and stirring possibility of chemistry!

Live By Night isn’t nearly the disaster, or awful train-wreck, so many have been calling it. If anything, it’s just a sure sign that Ben Affleck, like many other great directors/actors/writers/artists/human beings before him, is capable of giving up, admitting defeat, and being a disappointment. Sure, say what you want about his acting resume, as a director, Affleck has rallied-up an impressive roster behind the camera; Gone Baby Gone, the Town, and Argo are all pretty great movies, highlighting that Affleck knows what it takes to make a solid, exciting and compelling piece of film. Are they all perfect? Nope, of course not, but they get a lot more right, than they don’t.

And there’s the ugly stepchild known as Live By Night, that shows Affleck’s directing skills that he continuously building on and on as the years and projects have gone by, perhaps, came back to stab him in the back a little bit. But what’s odd about Live By Night is that it’s not a bad movie because of what Affleck does, it’s more of what he doesn’t do, or better yet, include.

For instance, Denis Lehane’s book could probably be adapted into some sort of miniseries, let alone, its own show altogether.

There’s a lot of subplots, relationships, characters, ideas, and messages toggled around with here, some of which are very interesting to watch and see how they play-out, but unfortunately, they’re all packaged within a movie that’s just a little over two hours, not allowing for there to be enough time and attention devoted to ensuring that each and everyone of these points gets the eyes that they deserve. Don’t believe me? Well, take for example, halfway through the flick, our lead protagonist, Joe Coughlin, goes to prison for what seems like a pretty heavy sentence and then, in the next scene, he’s out and ready to continue on with the rest of his life.

But there’s more of that going on here. Certain characters pop in and out, who are supposed to have some sort of overall meaning to Coughlin, his life, and his work, but for some reason, they are harped on for about ten to fifteen minutes, forgotten about and never to be heard from again. It’s odd, because it seems like Affleck himself knows that he’s got a lot on his plate and seems like he has an eye for this period’s detail and style, but it never quite translates to the story. It feels too jumbled, messy and sporadic, as if it’s not ever safe to get too attached or involved with one major plot-point or character, because they next scene, it/they could all be gone.

What a preacher's daughter!

What a preacher’s daughter!

Which isn’t to get past the fact that Live By Night is an entertaining movie, it’s just sometimes too random for its own good.

It’s a shame, too, because Affleck shows that he can still direct a somewhat compelling movie, all obvious issues aside. There’s a few gun-battles that are tense and fun, there’s a car-chase sequence that’s well-staged, and yeah, there’s even some compelling moments involved with Coughlin and how exactly he runs this rum-business. But like I said, there’s probably six or seven hours worth of material, all cut-up, jumbled and put together in a two-hour piece, that also feels like it’s trying hard to get everything out there, but doesn’t know how to package it correctly.

Even the ensemble, as talented as some of these people may be, don’t always get-off quite easy. Affleck is fine as our lead, although never quite as magnetic as he should have been; Zoe Saldana and Sienna Miller are sultry and sexy, but that’s about it; Elle Fanning’s character has an interesting complex, but it ends on such a silly note that it’s easy to forget about her; a porky and relatively plump Chris Messina shows up as Coughlin’s cousin/go-to man who feels like he deserved so much more attention than he got; Brendan Gleeson shows up as Coughlin’s very Irish dad and feels like he wandered off the set of Assassin’s Creed and thought about collecting a nice paycheck; and Chris Cooper, despite trying very hard as the town’s preacher, oddly enough, gets a whole lot to do, then leave in such a manner that feels rushed and a total betrayal of the character himself.

Oh well. At least Miguel’s in it for about five minutes.

Consensus: With so much going on and to explore, Live By Night can’t help but feel like a jumbled-up mess, albeit, one with a great look and feel to it, that occasionally stirs some sort of emotion resembling excitement.

6 / 10

Walk away from it, Ben. You'll be okay.

Walk away from it, Ben. You’ll be okay.

Photos Courtesy of: GQ, Are You Screening, Metro

Mystery Train (1989)

trainElvis truly was the King, baby.

Memphis, Tennessee is known for a lot of things. Most importantly, the hotbed for a lot of early rock ‘n roll, featuring the one and only Elvis Presley himself. Over the course of one day, a bunch of random people will navigate through the city and do things their own way. There’s the kitsch-obsessed Japanese couple (Masatoshi Nagase, Youki Kudoh), who seem to love one another a whole lot, but the language barrier keeps them away from fully attaching themselves to Memphis fully. Then, there’s a trio of amateur robbers (Joe Strummer, Rick Aviles, Steve Buscemi) who take one night to roam free and act wild, crazy and drunk like they’ve never done before. And an Italian immigrant (Nicoletta Braschi), who has no clue of where she actually is, tries to survive Memphis for this one night only. Meanwhile, there’s a somewhat eccentric and creepy night clerk (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) at a hotel who seems to have a lot more to do with these folks than you’d think.

Look out, Memphis!

Look out, Memphis!

Writer/director Jim Jarmusch likes to take his time with his movies. That’s a known fact and in certain ways, it can make his movies feel like boring slugs, than actual slam-bang, fun and compelling thrill-rides. Those who expect the later, probably know not to go to a Jarmusch flick, whereas those who expect more time, consideration and care given, know exactly what they’re getting into with Jarmusch and it’s why so many people love and adore him.

That said, Mystery Train definitely shows Jarmusch taking as good a time as ever to tell anything resembling a story that, sometimes picks up its speed, sometimes lingers around, and other times, seems to meander without any sort of sense of direction that you wonder just where the movie’s going, or what the hell it’s even getting at. Yet, that’s also what’s kind of compelling about it – the movie literally could go anywhere, at any time, and while Jarmusch is never known for his shocking bits of violence, the way he makes Memphis out to be here, other than a pretty cool place to live, is that it can be somewhat dangerous and capable of taking down any person, at any time. Of course, Jarmusch wasn’t just focusing on the violence aspect of the whole story, but there’s that sense and feeling that makes however many small, quiet moments, still feel somewhat tense.

At the same time, though, Jarmusch is also taking his time with developing this story, which can sometimes make it an interesting watch, if not always fully satisfying picture altogether.

I'd hang with them for a night. And then some more.

I’d hang with them for a night. And then some more.

If anything, Mystery Train shows that Jarmusch can toy with his audience just as much as the next auteur, but sometimes, it can’t help but feel like he’s taking an odd detour for the sake of doing it. For instance, every chance it seems like he’s going to go somewhere with a clear plot-point, he switches things up, brings something random and cryptic into the picture, has us scratching our heads, and wondering just what it’s all about. It’s the same thing that Haneke does, but whereas his movies have a point for their sometimes sheer randomness and unpredictability, for Jarmusch, it can’t help but feel like he’s bored.

The only bit of this movie that feels like Jarmusch with a clear head on his shoulders, no tricks to be found whatsoever, is the final subplot involving the three buddies who go on something of a drunken crime-spree. Of course, this is the closest resembling Down by Law, so it’s obviously going to work in Jarmusch’s favor, but it also shows Jarmusch not pulling any punches and telling us a clear, concise, and rather straightforward story, with the occasional detour into goofiness.

But the goofiness doesn’t overtake the subplot, which is why it works best.

The rest of Mystery Train, unfortunately, runs into this problem. There’s a lot to like for sure, as the movie’s funny, interesting to see how it all connects, and well-acted by virtually everyone involved, however, it’s not asking all that much to expect a movie to follow some sort of pattern/rhythm, especially when said pattern/rhythm seems to actually be working for itself. Maybe I’m just not nearly as much as an indie-kid as I make myself out to be, but sometimes, I don’t mind convention and formula.

Oh well. Sue me.

Consensus: Even with his usual brand of goofiness and oddball charm, Jarmusch’s Mystery Train can sometimes detour too far into crazy town, losing sight of the sometimes very strong narrative it’s working with.

7 / 10

We've all got that feeling.

We’ve all got that feeling.

Photos Courtesy of:Media Life Crisis

Down by Law (1986)

lawposterSome of your best friend’s are found in prison. Not high school.

Zack (Tom Waits) is driving out late one night on the town when all of a sudden, he gets pulled over by the cops and brought in on a bunch of drugs. They weren’t his, but the cops don’t want to hear it, so they book him and now he’s forced to spend a certain amount of time in the clink. Same goes for Jack (John Lurie), who was also set-up by someone he thought he could trust. Now, he’s sharing a cell with Zack and while it takes some time for them to get used to one another, they eventually become good cell-buddies, joking around, relating and whatnot. Then, in walks foreigner Roberto (Roberto Benigni), who got arrested for a way different charge: Murder. However, Zack and Jack eventually take to Roberto and altogether, they forge a plan to get the hell out of jail and hopefully, on with the rest of their lives. The only issue is that getting out of jail is the easy part – it’s not getting caught and thrown back in the slammer that’s the hardest.

"Sing something."

“Sing something.”

What’s perhaps so interesting about Down by Law is that while it’s definitely a movie about a bunch of inmates, in prison, and trying to escape, the movie is actually not all that about the escape itself. There’s not all that much planning of where someone has to be at an exact point, who’s going to help out on the inside, the outside, and just how every part of the plan is going to go down. Most movies dealing with inmates breaking out detail this at great-length, but for writer/director Jim Jarmusch, it doesn’t really seem to matter.

In fact, it’s the inmates themselves who provide the most interesting story in the first place and it’s through them, that we get to learn a little bit more about the way Jarmusch sees the world. The one thing that there’s no denying about most of Jarmusch’s movies, is that they’re definitely quirky, sometimes, to a fault, but here, he seems to have dumbed that down a bit; Roberto can get a little silly at times, but that’s mostly because Benigni is such a clown, it’s hard not to, at the very least, chuckle at this character. Nope, interestingly enough, Jarmusch gives us a smart, compelling and sensitive character-study about three odd-balls, meeting up in the worst places of them all, and yeah, making something out of it.

In a way, ensuring to us, the rest of the world, that there is some hope for those inmates out there.

Still though, the movie isn’t trying to preach in the slightest; if anything, it’s just giving us a better glimpse into lives of three individuals, who we either don’t always see get their stories told, or when we do, they’re usually filled with drugs, violence and a whole lot of rape. Down by Law is a very different beast in the subgenre of prison movies, but it’s still a compelling one, even if the movie never does take us out of the one single cell that these guys live in. It’s not suffocating, though and it easily could have been – Jarmusch is working with some larger-than-life characters and cast-members that it helps make his movie pop and excite, rather than just drown in its sorrow and misery.

We get it, Roberto. You love your wife.

We get it, Roberto. You love your wife.

Something that Jarmusch will do in the future for sure, but thankfully, not here.

And yes, with Waits, Lurie, and Benigni, Jarmusch showed his knack for assembling a very odd cast, putting them together, and seeing what sort of odd magic happened. Luckily for him, and especially us, the three all have great chemistry and are more than willing to have us believe in some sort of budding relationship between the three of them. Aside from being together, they’re all very good, too – Waits is cool and bluesy, Lurie is a bit brooding, and Benigni’s as vibrant and wacky as you’d expect him to be, but he is still grounded, so that you do believe in him, as a person, not just another one of his characters.

That said, Down by Law does take a sort of different turn in the last-act and it works, and sort of doesn’t. The movie doesn’t go the conventional route out in ending itself, but by doing that, may have been too subtle for its own good. Jarmusch’s films always seem to have this problem, in that he himself seems to afraid to show any real, big emotion with his characters, that when it comes time for the emotional-button pushing, he backs away. He’d much rather take a hand-shake or high-five, than a hug or kiss, and honestly, sometimes we need that hug or kiss.

Only sometimes.

Consensus: With a talented ensemble and some of Jarmusch’s snappiest writing, Down by Law is a smart take on the prison movie subgenre, aiming more for character-development, than plot-mechanics.

8 / 10

Nowhere to go but East. Or East? Or, well, I don't know.

Nowhere to go but East. Or East? Or, well, I don’t know.

Photos Courtesy of: Generation Film!

Breakdown (1997)

Truck-drivers act as if they own the road and well, sometimes, they do.

A married-couple, Jeff and Amy Taylor (Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan), are leaving their regular lives from Boston, and moving to San Diego. Why? Well, I guess to get a fresh new start, but that all begins to change when they break down on the side of the road. Thinking that they’re going to be fine as long as Amy goes with a truck-driver (J.T. Walsh) to the local diner where she can call up for help and some movement, Jeff begins to get suspicious when she doesn’t come back for awhile. Now, Jeff who is all alone and without a clue in the world of what to do, decides to go out and look for her, and hopefully uncover clues and hints as to where she might be, and why the hell this kidnapping even occurred in the first place.

Sounds like a pretty standard thriller-plot, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is. Nothing really flashy here in terms of writing, directing, or even the plot – just a normal and average thriller that actually happens to be pretty damn tense as well. It starts off with a mystery that we’re totally left in the dark with and for awhile, there’s a lot of questions surrounding what’s going to happen with this plot.

Yeah, it don't look pretty, now does it, Kurt?

Yeah, it don’t look pretty, now does it, Kurt?

Director Jonathan Mastow knows what he’s doing to craft this sometimes very tense thriller, but he puts us in the same exact position as our lead character, Jeff. Everything that Jeff sees, hears, feels, or even thinks, we see, hear, feel, and think along with him. It gives us a better way of feeling for this dude, but also get into his head a bit, as he continues to look down each and every alley-way, river, and desert for Amy, wondering just what the heck truly happened to her. Mastow’s interested more in making us wait, rather than throwing each and every plot twist or reveal at us and making us feel like we know what to expect next. But rather than taking that latter, lower-road, Mastow keeps us confused, puzzled, a bit worried, and altogether, very tense.

However, it works well for about a good hour or so, and then it all begins to fall apart once more and more ideas come to our attention. I don’t know if that’s more of Mastow’s fault, or just our own. Since we know what to expect from thrillers such as these, it becomes pretty clear just where this flick is going to go and how, which sets it more and more out of the realm of actual possibility, unlike the rest of the flick that seemed to make plenty of sense, as if it could happen to either you or me, on a good day at that. Once the plot gets going and we figure out what’s really brewing underneath the surface here, the movie begins to answer questions and show us situations that could only happen in a movie, rather than in real-life.

Gone way too soon. Seriously. There were so many more psychos to be portrayed!

Gone way too soon. Seriously. There were so many more psychos to be portrayed!

Then again, I’m cynical and it’s kind of hard not to be in certain situations such as these.

At least Kurt Russell was around to save the day and keep things more and more interesting, as more and more of his true colors began to come out. Russell is good at playing these bad-ass characters that take no names, no prisoners, and sure as hell do not let-up for anyone, and is still able to show that, even with the yuppie-act he’s given here. It is a tad hard to believe that somebody as rugged and tough-looking as Russell could be this soft, wimp-of-a-man that all of a sudden has a change of heart once the love of his life is captured, but he at least milks it for all that he can, without ever resorting to the usual, snarling one-liners we tend to hear with his characters. He’s less of an action-hero, and more of a regular-dude who’s been pushed a little bit too far off the edge and it’s time for someone to pay.

In one of his last film roles ever, J.T. Walsh shows exactly why he was the go-to guy you needed when you needed somebody to play a evil and psychotic villain here as the truck driver that captures Amy. Walsh is good at the beginning because he gives you this wholesome, likable feel that you could only get with the country buck, but then changes things up once the going gets good and the devil horns begin to grow. The character Walsh plays is very one-note, but at least Walsh keeps him interesting and entertaining to watch, making us expect that he’s going to fully come out of his shell and show off a real person, underneath all of the cheating, lying, murdering, and stealing. However, we don’t get that and at the end of the day, the guy’s just another bad dude, who lives in the middle of nowhere, and does bad things because he can, and I guess that’s scary enough as it is.

But still, I wanted more. Is that so much to ask for?

Consensus: Breakdown starts off with enough juice and gas to keep it moving at a steady-pace for it’s hour-and-a-half run-time, but eventually hits the breaks by the end when it gets too silly, too goofy, and way too conventional for it’s own good.

7 / 10

Is this the part of the movie where they turn around and are absolutely horrified by what's coming at them?

Is this the part of the movie where they turn around and are absolutely horrified by what’s coming at them?

Photos Courtesy of: JMount’s Written in Blood

Thumbsucker (2005)

Sucking thumbs are bad, but what about binkies?

Justin (Lou Taylor Pucci) is going through the usual growing pains that many teens his age have gone through before him and will continue to do so after him. The only small difference is that whereas most teens get by on focusing on themselves and trying harder to get better, Justin does so by sucking his thumb. It’s an odd habit he has, that eventually, his parents get him on some medicine, in hopes that he’ll not just kick the thumb sucking, but also become more focused in school. Thankfully for them, what they wanted does happen; eventually, Justin stops sucking his thumb, starts up a relationship with a girl (Kelli Garner), gets better at school, and starts winning all sorts of championships with his debate team. But eventually, all of the medicine begins to pick-up with Justin and it isn’t before long that he starts to spiral out of control, hurt those that he loves, and realize that he needs to grow up a lot sooner, but on his own and without any medicine to help him out.

Cut it out, baby!

Cut it out, baby!

Does Thumbsucker sound like some sort of metaphor for coming-of-age, growing up and realizing that you’re not a little baby anymore? Pretty much, yeah. Writer/director Mike Mills crafts what is, essentially, the 500th quirky, indie coming-of-age flick from the mid-aughts and while this one’s a little different in terms of its style, unfortunately, the story is pretty much still the same.

But sometimes, some of the same is fine. With Thumbsucker, there’s a feeling of familiarity here, but not just with the material itself – Mills does something neat in that he does paint Justin’s issues with growing up and accepting the world around him, as almost a universal thing that all kids at that age go through. Some can handle it quite well and get by with flying colors, whereas others, like Justin, have a rough time with it, suck their thumbs, and need a daily dose of whatever medicine they’re prescribed to get by and through another day. In a way, I make Thumbsucker sound like a melodramatic piece of Lifetime-trash, but it’s a little smarter than that.

For one, it’s got a neat style, yo.

For any of those who have seen Beginners or the recent 20th Century Women, they’ll know that Mills has a knack for telling a story in his own way, visually. Sometimes, this can get in the way of the material, but here, it does help it out, especially since a lot of what the movie seems to be talking about and covering, is a little dry. It’s a conventional tale that without Mills’ constant bits and pieces of art thrown in there for good measure, would have just been another run-of-the-mill coming-of-ager, but of course, it’s got that going for it.

Where Mills seems to lose himself a tad bit is in the story department, and not really knowing how to compact everything and everyone so perfectly well. For instance, Justin’s story is the clear focal point of the whole movie, but then, Mills also veers his head towards Justin’s parents, played by Tilda Swinton and Vincent D’nofrio, and then to Keanu Reeves’ hippie-dentist character, and eventually a little to Garner’s Rebecca character. Vince Vaughn’s teacher does get a moment here and there, but not his own subplot.

For a movie that barely even hits 90 minutes, it’s surprising how jam-packed this can be with story and that ends up becoming its own worst enemy. While Justin’s story is more than enough to maintain the whole flick, all of these other stories, like with the parents and their battle with aging, fidelity and staying happy, while are admirable, still don’t matter much. It’s as if we got the story of Justin, only to get to the parents themselves, only for the movie to realize that we have to hear about Justin a lot, too. It’s a constant back-and-forth that just didn’t quite work for me and made it seem like Mills himself was figuring out exactly where to go with it all, too.

Pictured: Not True Detective season 2

Pictured: Not True Detective season 2

Then again, the ensemble he’s put together is something else, so that helps, too.

Though we don’t get to see too much of him nowadays, Lou Taylor Pucci was quite the young talent and proves it with Justin. Here, Pucci has to act really angsty and smart, which could have definitely been annoying, but because Pucci plays this Justin character as a bit of a wild and loose cannon, it actually works to his benefit. It’s actually fun to watch him interact with those around him, as opposed to sad or boring. Kelli Garner plays the eventual apple of his eye and they have a nice bit of chemistry together, which would make sense considering they were going out around the same time, too, but that’s neither here nor there.

On the supporting side, Vince Vaughn does a nice job dialing down his persona, yet, still staying funny and heartfelt. If anything, all of Vaughn’s various attempts at playing it straight don’t quite come off as good as it does here and should be the calling-card he uses for future reference. Keanu Reeves, while still totally playing in his element as a bro-ish kind of dude, is fun to watch. And as the parents, D’onofrio and Swinton are good, too, even if their story could have probably had its own movie. Benjamin Bratt is around for a scene or two, makes us laugh and most of all, makes us wish he was around more.

Don’t think I’ve ever said that before, but hey, it’s the truth.

Consensus: While a tad too quirky and overstuffed for its own good, Thumbsucker is still a familiar, but also heartwarming coming-of-ager, assisted by a very good ensemble.

6.5 / 10

Always listen to Keanu when it comes to bro-ing out. Always.

Always listen to Keanu when it comes to bro-ing out. Always.

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Roulette 

Tower (2016)

They have guns in Texas?

It was a bright and sunny day on Aug. 1, 1966, at the University of Texas. Plenty of students were all hanging around and about, going to class, cuttin’ class, drinking, eating, talking and just enjoying their lives. And then, people start hearing gun-shots. Then, they start to see people, bleeding and laying down on the ground. Soon, people start to realize that the shots are coming from the huge tower that literally hovers the whole campus and surrounding town. Eventually, more and more people begin to get shot and die, which leads many more people to not just save those who may be on the verge of death, but most importantly, stop the madman up in the tower from shooting/killing anymore people.

A lot like Waltz with Bashir did nearly a decade ago, Tower tells a harrowing, deeply disturbing, bloody and violent tale in the most colorful and bright way imaginable: Animation. It’s an interesting approach to such a deadly event in our nation’s history, mostly because it breaks down any sort of convention or idea that you’ve had about animation in the first place – it’s as if the animation on some of Adult Swim’s weirdest shows got a whole lot darker, forgot they were supposed to be funny, and instead, went right out to shock the hell out of you.

Just another lovely little couple on this fine day.

Just another lovely little couple on this fine day.

But I don’t mean for that to take away from Tower, a truly horrifying and compelling documentary that sets out to tell this story as vividly and as detailed as possible, with whoever was there, is still alive, and is willing to tell the story. Still though, the movie has another trick up its sleeve in that it doesn’t really show us who is talking, or better yet, even give us the idea that these people who are talking and letting us know of what’s happening, second-by-second, are even actually alive and telling us this. The movie gives us the voices of young people and the presentations of these animated characters, as they would have looked at the time and it’s an odd mystery that hits you very, very hard around the time it’s revealed to us what’s really going on.

That said, there’s still some problems with this format and this isn’t the only movie that’s bothered me with this issue.

Due to the movie’s dialogue and lines being literally read to us by a bunch of voice actors, who were hired and paid to say these lines, often times, it can sound grating and clearly rehearsed. Alex Gibney has tooled around with this mechanism a few times in his documentaries and it makes sense to do this; sometimes, you can’t have the actual person talking, have their voices heard, so you have to hire an actor to say these lines as if they were an interview subject. Tower, just like Gibney’s movies, don’t hide this fact that these are actors speaking to us, but it still does take away from the fact that a lot of what we’re hearing, is supposed to be off-the-cuff, shocking and emotional.

That’s the problem Tower seems to sometimes have with itself. A few of the voice-actors are good and clearly seem like they came ready to envision whoever they were speaking for, but other ones seem as if they literally just reading off of a piece of paper and not even attempting to make it sound realistic, as if we are literally listening to them air their feelings out to us in the most raw, gritty manner imaginable. It not just took me out of the movie, but made me sometimes laugh, where certain moments were supposed to be very emotional and just sounded, I hate to say it, a little cheesy.

"Yeah, it's a pretty messed-up situation here. Maybe someone should get involved and kill that shooter. Just a thought. Maybe."

“Yeah, it’s a pretty messed-up situation here. Maybe someone should get involved and kill that shooter. Just a thought. Maybe.”

However, I realize that this is a problem with me, but it’s a problem that perhaps director Keith Maitland could have gotten around, had he paid a little extra attention.

Then again, I get it. You can’t please everyone, especially those cynical and picky a-holes out there like me. Whatever. So be it.

Anyway, none of this is to really take away from the stories we hear because Tower tells its story, without holding back. We hear gun-shots, we see dead people, we see blood and we see people acting out how they normally would in these sorts of situations. Most movies such as this would lionize each and every person involved, because they were, after all, involved in a very traumatic situation, but the subjects themselves don’t hold back from letting us, the audience, know that yeah, they were definitely cowards.

Then again, how could they not? Tower doesn’t try so hard to really reach out to the souls within each and everyone of us, but it still connects on an emotional level. It’s sad to hear so many of these heartbreaking and rough takes on this one story and puts into consideration that while those died lost their lives, those who lived were still impacted and in ways, are still hurting. The real life events were obviously very upsetting, but listening to some of these testimonies, really drives it home. It not only makes you wish that there’d be more gun-reform so that something like this never happens, but that we, as a society, are able to handle it better than some did back in August ’66.

Not trying to point any fingers, but yeah, some things need to change. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Consensus: Despite some technical issues, Tower still gets by with a brutally colorful and detailed animation-presentation, to give us an even better understanding on what happened during those ugly, disgusting and downright evil 96 minutes.

7.5 / 10

Yup. Towers would continue to get a pretty terrible reputation.

Yup. Towers would continue to get a pretty terrible reputation.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, PBS, Truth on Cinema 

A Monster Calls (2016)

Hug the trees. Just not too hard.

At his age of 12 years old, Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is dealing with a lot. For one, his mom (Felicity Jones) is sick with cancer and slowly, but surely, dying. His grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), while meaning well, is also a bit of a stuck-up meanie who doesn’t let Conor have any fun, when at his age, that’s all he should be caring about. His dad (Toby Kebbell) is barely in the picture, now living in the States and occasionally coming back across the pond to visit and check-up on things. And oh yeah, there’s that talking tree in his backyard (voiced by Liam Neeson). The Monster may cause a lot of imaginary destruction and chaos, but mostly what he wants to do is tell Conor stories about life, death and love, making him think longer and harder about his own life, his family, and his whole grieving process. Of course, this makes Conor dream more than he should, wondering what’s real and what isn’t.

A Monster Calls is one of those movies that’s so emotionally draining and dour, that after awhile, you start to think whether or not it’s actually a good movie. Because while it’s definitely good at making it so that every person seeing it has at least one tear in their eye during the two-hour run-time, there’s other elements it seems to be lacking in, like an actual plot development, or meaning to it all. And sure, you could say that A Monster Calls is one, long movie about the grieving process and learning that it’s okay to be sad, but still, does that make it a better movie?

"God? Or, tree?"

“God? Or, tree?”

Not really, but I will say that director J.A. Bayona is a very talented fella who knows how to make a story about a woman slowly dying from cancer, pretty compelling.

That said, it is a pretty sad movie and at times, feels like it’s doing incessantly, to the point of where it seems like it’s got no other card to play. The only moments of actual fun and spirit seem to come through the talking-tree bits, but that’s only because listening to Liam Neeson tell folk tales is like a warm cup of coffee on a cold, winters day. Bayona definitely knows how to set a mood, as he’s done with the Orphanage and the Impossible, but he doesn’t quite know how to go from the mood-setting; to just make people feel sad and depressed is one thing, but to actually do something with that sadness and depression is a whole other thing and I’m still not sure Bayona’s been able to work that out perfectly.

However, this may be Bayona’s best movie in that it does move at a solid pace, all things considered. Being a nearly two-hour movie about a woman dying, could have been a total and complete slug of a flick, but Bayona knows that in order for a story like this to work and actually matter, there has to be something driving the movie along. And sure, while he doesn’t always seem to have it going for him in the story-department, he more than makes up for it in his characters.

As Conor, Lewis MacDougall has got a whole lot to do, but he handles it all well; there are times when he seems a bit too smart for his own good, but there are others where it seems like he’s just a kid, who has no clue of what’s really going on in the world out there, and most of all, hasn’t come to terms with the fact that his mom’s about to die and his life as he’s known it, is about to go through a total and complete change. It’s a weighty role and the kind that could definitely make or break a child actor (see Thomas Horn in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), but MacDougall’s very good here. He plays a kid very well and when the movie really starts hitting the hard stuff, he’s even more compelling to watch.

"It's okay, son. Life goes on. Just without me in it."

“It’s okay, son. Life goes on. Just without me in it.”

Felicity Jones has impressed me before, but for some reason, she doesn’t quite work here, but it may not be her fault. Due to her character literally dying the whole entire movie, we don’t really get many shades to her and instead, only see her sick and in constant agony. It’s a one-note role and unfortunately, Jones just isn’t able to do much with it. Sigourney Weaver shows up as Conor’s strict grand-mom, who may seem like the typically evil mom-mom, but has certain shadings to her that make her probably the most compelling character in the bunch. Toby Kebbell, despite getting maybe one or two scenes, does a nice job as Conor’s estranged daddy and a longer movie would have probably focused on this relationship more.

But nope, of course, we get a talking-tree and dreams.

Not that I’m complaining, because I cried. Then again, how could you not? A Monster Calls seems to have one sole objective on its mind from the very beginning and it’s hard not to let go and just allow for the movie to rip the tears right out of you. The movie’s not perfect, but hey, at least it gets its job done.

Consensus: Pretty sad and emotional, A Monster Calls is an interesting fantasy flick that deals with grief and death, yet, is still somewhat compelling.

8 / 10

Uh oh. Look out evil-doers.

Uh oh. Look out evil-doers.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Silence (2016)

Like politics, never bring up religion at the dinner table.

It’s 17th century Japan and the government is killing citizens who identify themselves as Christians. Among those killed were a bunch of priests who came over from Portugal, to not just spread the word of Christianity, but also help out the Japanese citizens who rightfully did follow the faith. Stuck over there Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a mentor to many priests still living in Portugal and influential figure in the world of Catholicism. Two of his proteges, Jesuit priests named Sebastião Rodrigues Francisco Garupe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), decide that they have to find him in Japan, discover whether or not he’s dead and see if they can change some ways in how Catholicism is accepted in Japan. However, both soon realize that, as soon as they enter Japan, the Japanese government does not at all take kindly to anyone preaching the Catholic word, especially priests from another place who came over solely to do just that.

"Trust me, my son. I used to be Spider-Man."

“Trust me, my son. I used to be Spider-Man.”

As far as passion-projects go, Silence is one of the better ones. Martin Scorsese himself has been hard at work trying to make this movie a reality for the past few decades, and while there’s been some sure signs of it possibly happening before, unfortunately, we’re just getting the movie now, many, many years after the fact. That said, whatever halted the project for so long, clearly worked and mattered in the long-run as Silence isn’t just one of the best religious epics in quite some time, but one of Scorsese’s most personal and emotional.

 

It’s a known fact to anyone who has seen more than a few of his movies, that Scorsese loves to discuss faith and how it embodies each and every person. Here, he gets to explore that idea more and more, but he’s never showy about it; the movie’s nearly three hours long and while it is definitely a slow-mover, it’s never boring. Every shot, every action, every line of dialogue, everything in general, is so perfectly specific and timed, that it seems like Scorsese himself had everything planned-out perfectly way ahead of time, so that he didn’t miss a single beat. It’s the sign of not just a true director, but an even better storyteller, finally getting the chance to tell a story that’s closest to his heart, the only way he knows how: Through film.

That said, Silence is less about Scorsese and his battle with his demons, and more about the actual battle between right and wrong, understanding one’s faith, and how it actually makes you who you are. The movie could have been incredibly preachy and come right out and said, “Without faith, you are nothing,” but it doesn’t. The movie’s much smarter in that it shows how religion can be used in many different ways; for some, it’s a healing mechanism to help get them through hard times and remind them of the better ones to come, while for others, it may be used as a weapon. The movie makes it a point to show how much these Christians are being persecuted for what they believe in to their core, and while a lot of people may come away from seeing this thinking the movie’s all about that, it’s actually much, much deeper than that.

If anything, the movie does something smart in that it actually raises a magnifying-glass to Catholicism and many other religions, without ever showing a sign of disrespect.

Without diving into it too much and having this just be one, long sermon courtesy of someone who doesn’t know how to deliver an effective one, Silence is interesting in how it shows that all religions, when you get right down to it, may act and work in different ways, but are mostly all beneficial to those who are involved with it. The movie also dives deep into this idea that those using faith and Catholicism to their advantage, may be just as bad as those persecuting the ones for following said same faith. There’s a lot of discussions about one’s identity and how one’s faith connects it all, which made this adventure all the more compelling.

Because yes, the movie is, after all, an adventure and it feels very much like that. But with Silence, we don’t get the typical flair and energy from Scorsese – this time, he’s much more mannered, subdued and surprisingly, subtle. For instance, there’s a lot of scenes involving gruesome and ugly violence, yet, rather than getting all in-your-face about it like he’s done before, Scorsese takes a step back, shows it in a different light and in a way, makes the violence being portrayed on the screen, all the more terrifying. Same can be said for the rest of the movie, where it seems like Scorsese’s following a certain path, where he sets the pace and carries us by his side.

"Please, Father. Keep me away from more Taken movies."

“Please, Father. Keep me away from more Taken movies.”

Cause if I’m going to spend nearly three hours in 17th century Japan, the only person I want to do it with is Marty Scorsese.

That said, Scorsese doesn’t take away from his ensemble, either. While it’s a bit disheartening to see the likes of Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play Portugal priests, it’s still easy to get past once you actually see them act and realize that they’re very good at what they do. Neeson and Driver aren’t around nearly as much, which gives Garfield plenty of time to work through this material’s like no one’s business; the character is already so interesting that Garfield doesn’t have to do much, but there’s an extra layer of emotion and compassion to his performance that makes this character downright heartbreaking. If anything, this performance reminds me that Garfield is probably one of the most exciting talents we’ve got working today and makes me so damn excited to see what he’s up to next.

It’s interesting though, because you’d assume with a movie about how rather villainous and evil that these Japanese folks can get, that they’d all be despicable and one-note, but that’s very far from the truth. Sure, while they’re mostly all terrible human beings, they’re layered and have more going on underneath the hood, other than just wanting blood and guts. Some are just doing their job and sticking to it, while others are simply scared as hell and just trying to survive. In ways, God or Jesus doesn’t even factor into it – it’s just life itself.

And sometimes, that’s more important.

Consensus: Many years in the making has proven to be a smart move for Silence, Martin Scorsese’s decades-long passion project that is quite possibly his most emotionally satisfying, powerful and personal since the Last Temptation of Christ.

9 / 10

"So uh, what's up with the food?"

“So uh, what’s up with the food?”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Cape Fear (1991)

Criminals never forget.

When attorney Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) knowingly withholds evidence that would acquit violent sex offender Max Cady (Robert De Niro) of rape charges, Max spends the next 14 years of his life in prison. And of course, while in the clink, Max has been thinking about that decision each and every day of his sentence, while on the other side of the bars, Sam has been living life with his wife (Jessica Lange) and young daughter (Juliette Lewis), who seems to be getting more and more rebellious as the years go by. But now that the 14 years are up, Max is ready to extract some revenge right from the get-go. However, rather than just beating the hell out of, or better yet, killing Sam, what Max does is spend every waking moment of his life and dedicating it all to stalking Sam, his family, and especially his friends. To Max, no one is safe and after awhile, Sam starts to realize that he’s going to have to come to some pretty drastic decisions if he’s going to protect the lives of those that he loves and wants to keep alive.

Bad lawyer.

Bad lawyer.

There’s nothing like watching an insanely talented director have the absolute time of their lives. It’s like watching a little kid in a Toys R Us, but rather that kid being limited to only buying a few items, the kid’s allowed to have the whole store. They can do whatever they want, however they want, and with all of these wonderful, fabulous and great toys.

That’s what it’s like watching Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear; the kind of movie where a master of his craft knows exactly what it is that he’s doing, having a lovely time with it all, and is barely ever going to let-up. And honestly, when you’re doing a remake on an already-great movie, that’s sort of the way you’ve got to go – you can’t follow the same, beat-for-beat, note-for-note, track-for-track, but instead, amp things up a bit differently. You can focus on a different plot-point altogether, bring out more interesting ideas of the story that may not have been discovered originally, and basically do whatever else you want with the story, so long as you stay true to heart and soul of the original. So few remakes actually abide by this rule, but despite the changes in story and style that Scorsese goes through here, he still sticks true to the original with an eerie tone humming all throughout.

But what’s interesting is that it’s different this time around.

Scorsese approaches the material as if it was an over-the-top, wild, wacky, crazy and unpredictable adventure into one man’s psychotic psyche – someone who doesn’t seem to have a moral compass anywhere to be found and because of that, is taking out the nice, somewhat innocent people. The original touched on this idea, obviously, but Scorsese really hammers it in, allowing for the character of Max to be as depraved and as sickening as humanly imaginable. Sure, it’s campy, it’s wildly insane, and it’s really schlocky, but you know what? It actually kind of works.

A good portion of that has to do with Scorsese’s quick pace, but another portion of that definitely has to do with De Niro’s committed-as-ever performance. Of course, working with Scorsese brings out the best in De Niro, but here, it’s unlike how we’ve ever seen him before – he’s definitely flirted with the idea of being a villain in other flicks before and after this, but never to the supreme extent that he goes with Max. The movie does try some avenues to have us, in the very least, sympathize with him and his stance, but for the most part, the movie knows that he is a monster, and so does De Niro, which makes every scene in which he’s just acting like the creepiest, most erratic person around, so damn entertaining.

It almost makes you wonder where all of the inspiration’s gone in the past few or so years.

Bad housewife.

Bad housewife.

Regardless, Scorsese doesn’t shy away from letting the rest of the cast have their moments, too, especially since they also get to have some development and not just become a typical white, suburban, upper-class family who plays golf and tennis. Nolte’s Sam has got some dark issues to work with, Lange’s Leigh seems to be struggling in her own ways, Lewis’ Danielle, while most definitely a teen, is also a little bit smarter than we’re used to seeing with this kind of character, making her one key scene with De Niro all the more creepy, and Illeana Douglas, in a couple or so scenes, shows true fun and spirit for a movie that seems to enjoy her presence, yet, at the same time, remind us that there’s something dark and grueling really behind all of this fun we’re having.

In fact, where Cape Fear works less is probably in the last-half, when Scorsese really loses his cool here. In a way, Scorsese wants us to see Max as a sort of Christ-like figure which, for a short while, is fine and all, but by the end, becomes such a major plot-point, that it’s almost unbearable to sit and listen through. We get the point as soon as it’s mentioned, yet being that this is a Scorsese movie, faith must be driven into the ground and because of that, the final-act of Cape Fear feels more like wild and over-the-top symbolism, on top of symbolism, and less of a thrilling, compelling and wholly satisfying to a wild ride of thrills, shrills, and shocks.

Still though, it’s one of the rare remakes that rivals the original and how many times can you say that?

Consensus: Wild, a little insane, well-acted, and always exciting, Cape Fear is the rare remake that works just as much as its legendary original does, especially what with Scorsese seeming to have the time of his life behind the camera.

8 / 10

Bad criminal. Or is that sort of obvious?

Bad criminal. Or is that sort of obvious?

Photos Courtesy of: the ace black blog

The Color of Money (1986)

The Color of Money

“Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) has been out of the hustlin’ game for quite some time. Nowadays, he spends most of his time, jumping from town-to-town, checking out all of the local pool-halls and seeing what new, exciting and unknown talent lurks in the sometimes seedy underworld. One day, he ends up catching Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) playing and realizes that the kid’s not just cocky and brash, but he can also play a pretty mean game of pool, too. However, Eddie feels like it can still be worked on in ways, so he decides to take Vincent under his wing, where the two will go from town-to-town, playing all sorts of talented and colorful characters, sometimes for money and other times, just for plain and simple respect. Vincent wants to learn from Eddie, but he’s also got a chip on his shoulder, making Eddie feel like he has to try harder to teach the kid a thing or two. And of course, the relationship only gets more complicated once Vincent’s girlfriend, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), comes along for the trip, catching the eye of Eddie.

Old school....

Old school….

The Color of Money, as a movie all by itself, is okay. In a way, it’s a perfectly serviceable sports movie, in which we get to see a certain side of society that we don’t often get to see, with a story that’s conventional, and some pretty good performances. But when you also take into consideration that the Color of Money isn’t just a 25-year-late sequel to the Hustler and directed by none other than Martin Scorsese, well then, it takes on a whole new life.

If anything, it feels like a total disappointment.

Which isn’t to state that the Color of Money is a bad movie in the slightest, but it doesn’t feel like anything particularly fun, exciting or ground-breaking as it probably should have been. Did we really need a sequel to the Hustler? Probably not, but the idea here is promising and the fact that the movie was able to get Newman back in the iconic role of Eddie Felson, makes matters all the better. That’s why, while watching the Color of Money, it’s not hard to sit and imagine, “How could something with so much working for it and with so many damn talented people involved, turn out to be so ‘meh’?”

Honestly, I don’t have the answer. The only person who probably does is Scorsese himself as, as much as it pains me to say, seems like he was doing this for nothing more than just a paycheck. Sure, there’s brief, fleeting moments of the same kind of energetic inspiration we’re so used to seeing from him and his movies, but for the most part, the movie’s slow, the momentum barely ever picks up, and the times where it seems like there’s going to be some real stakes and/or emotional tension in the air, the movie suddenly backs off and continues on some path that we aren’t totally interested in.

It’s odd, too, because like I’ve stated before, the performances are quite good here, it’s just that they’re not playing with all that much.

It’s nice that Newman won the Oscar for this, but it’s also a shame, too. The reason being is because out of all the other 8 times that he was nominated, the one time that he won had to be for his least-compelling role to-date, not to mention an inferior take on a character he already played to perfection over two decades before. That’s not taking anything away from Newman, because he’s one of the absolute greats of cinema in general, but it goes without saying that it’s a little bit disheartening when someone who is so talented, so amazing and so compelling to watch, wins the highest prize an actor could win, for a role that shows him not doing much but just coasting along like we’ve seen him do before.

...meet new school!

…meet new school!

Because most of the movie is actually spent on Cruise and his character, who also seems like doesn’t have enough to really work with. Cruise does a nice job with the super-hyper, super-cocky Vincent, but also gets to be a tad annoying, mostly due to his character just being boring. We’ve seen this kind of character before a hundred million times, we know he’s got talent, we know he’s going to put it to good use, and we know he’s going to be successful, but we also know that he’s got a huge ego and will most likely make a terrible decision that not just hurts him, but all of those around him.

Sound familiar yet?

Surprisingly, the one who actually leaves the biggest mark is Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s Carmen, who not only feels like the voice of reason here, but in a totally different movie altogether. Mastrantonio’s best skills as an actress has always been that she was the cool girl in the corner, who always had something to say, but didn’t mind keeping it to herself – here, she plays that role and is perfect with it. The chemistry she has with Newman is actually pretty electric, making it all the more clear that the movie should have probably been more about them, and less about the mentor-student relationship that’s overdone with Cruise and Newman.

Oh well, at least Newman got that Oscar. We can all walk away happy from this knowing that fun fact.

Consensus: Even with the talented cast, Scorsese being the camera, and promising material leftover from the original, the Color of Money unfortunately still feels conventional and tired, like the sports genre itself.

5.5 / 10

Wow. They sure do learn quick.

Wow. They sure do learn quick.

Photos Courtesy of: Moon in Gemini 

New York, New York (1977)

Frankie should have sued somebody.

It’s the end of WWII and the nation wants to keep on celebrating like there’s no tomorrow. One person in particular is Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro), an aspiring saxophone player, who meets a band singer by the name of Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli) during V-J Day celebrations. While she initially doesn’t appreciate his constant nagging, eventually, she gives in, realizing that the guy may not mean all that much harm and, in the end, may just want to become the greatest musical duo the world has ever seen. And the two do band together, set out on the road and tour with a band, picking up gigs left and right, as well as attention from those who can make both of their careers pretty big. However, what does end up happening, too, is that the two start to fall in love, leaving the important decisions of their careers to become even more serious and passionate than ever before.

Generally, when people think of New York, New York, they either never bring it up, because they don’t know it even exists, or they think of it as a failure because it’s a Martin Scorsese movie that barely anyone talks about, remembers, and absolutely bombed at the box-office when it came out. However, there’s something to be said about a movie that, nearly 40 years later, we as a society, are still trying to make sense of and answer. For one, what was the experiment Scorsese was trying to go with for here? Not to mention, what made him want to tell this story in the first place? Did it have to be a musical? Did it have to be over two-and-a-half-hours (in its original-cut and not the 136-minute version that was re-released into theaters)?

Close, but no Cabaret.

Close, but no Cabaret.

Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be many answers for those questions, but that’s sort of what’s interesting about New York, New York: It’s the kind of movie where you can tell that there’s a lot of inspiration and thought behind it, that even when it doesn’t quite work itself out together perfectly well, there’s still something compelling about. You could almost make that same argument about a lot of Scorsese’s other movies, but for New York, New York feels exactly like a director testing himself and his limits, seeing where he can go next, figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and what could possibly be worked on in the future to-come.

Does that make it a bad movie? Not really, but it can make it sometimes seem like a uneven mess of one.

Or basically, the only kind that Scorsese knows how to make.

For one, what it seems like Scorsese tries to do here is take the bombastic, colorful, glitzy and glamorous musicals of the 40’s and 50’s, and cross them with a down-to-Earth, raw and understated story of two people falling in love through each other’s own creative talents. The later is something we’re used to seeing from Scorsese, but the former isn’t, which makes this experiment all the more interesting to watch and see how it plays out; while a lot of the musical-numbers are fun and exciting, they do come in at random times, when it literally seems like no one’s saying anything and maybe, just maybe, Scorsese himself got bored. And it’s not like Scorsese favors one idea over the other – he genuinely respects the music, as well as the dramatic emotion, but at times, the two do combat one another.

A perfect example of this is the final-act, in which all of a sudden, the movie becomes an absolute, unabashed, without-a-doubt musical, channeling the likes of Singin’ in the Rain and Cabaret, among others. The number goes on for nearly 20 minutes, in which we sit and watch Liza Minnelli change up styles with the drop of a hat, which is all great and exciting to watch, but it feels odd and misplaced. It’s as if Scorsese finally found some time to really let loose on the music and did so, but chose to do so so late in the game that we mostly all forgot this movie was supposed to be a musical in the first place.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

In fact, the movie would probably be better had it not been classified as that at all. Because with New York, New York, we really get a small, yet lovely love story about two people finding one another at the end of the war, realizing that anything’s possible, and both having a shared affection for music. In a way, it’s probably Scorsese’s most romantic movie, even if it does dive into the predictable areas where violence, drug-abuse and gangsters seem to pop-up, but it still works. If anything, Scorsese seems to be showing us that these beautiful and magical worlds that these musicals paint, don’t quite exist and instead, are a lot harsher than they attend to appear to be.

Or, something like that.

Once again, still not sure I’ve got all the answers here.

Still, if there is one thing I definitely know, it’s that Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli are quite great here and surprised the heck out of me, what with the chemistry they’ve got going on here. Of course, both are very much playing in their wheelhouse, but together, they bring out the best in one another; De Niro shows a much more softer, more vulnerable side than we’re used to seeing from him, whereas with Minnelli, we see someone who is sweet, but also not going to take any crap, either. Their characters may feel thinly-written, but because the performances are so good, it hardly matters. It makes you wish that the two worked together again, whether in another Scorsese movie, or just in general.

But yeah, definitely a Scorsese movie for sure.

Consensus: Clearly more of an experiment than a full-fledged, thought-out feature-flick, New York, New York finds Scorsese trying to mesh intimate-drama with musical-numbers, and while the results don’t always click, the performances do.

7 / 10

Love? Between these two?

Love? Between these two?

Photos Courtesy of: The Red List

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Sometimes, you just need to start anew five times straight.

After her husband dies, Alice (Ellen Burstyn) and her son, Tommy (Alfred Lutter), leave their small New Mexico town for California. There, Alice is hopeful that she’ll be able to make it big there achieving her one true dream: Singing. However, the town is so small and dry, that there’s hardly any work for a bartender, let alone for a singer. So eventually, Alice and Tommy end up settling for Arizona instead, where she takes a job as waitress in a small diner and Tommy is left to make friends with some mischievous locals. She intends to stay in Arizona just long enough to make the money needed to head back out on the road, but her plans change when she begins to fall for a rancher named David (Kris Kristofferson), someone she can’t help but be drawn to, even if he’s got his own problems going for him as well.

Seeing Martin Scorsese’s name attached to this flick may seem odd, until you actually see the movie and totally get it. For one, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore has the same type of free-spirit, wild and rather chaotic energy that all of Scorsese’s movies seem to have, not to mention that the movie itself hardly ever seems to let-up. It’s part road movie, part romantic-comedy, but altogether, it’s an entertaining piece that would soon show the world what Scorsese could do out of wheelhouse.

alice1

Look out, world! Here’s Alice!

Which isn’t to say that this movie’s perfect, but it’s the first sure sign of Scorsese taking a risk and seeing it pay-off quite well. While I’m most definitely in the minority of feeling like Mean Streets is incredibly overrated, it’s still an enjoyable movie, considering that it’s showing-off what Scorsese could do with a story about crooks, gangsters, cops and all sorts of hectic violence – something that we would see him continue to make movies about for the next many decades. That’s why a movie like Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, while seeming like an unabashed and boring chick-flick on paper, moves like a fast-paced thriller, but still doesn’t forget that characters do matter here and they are what make the bulk of the flick so damn good.

That is to say that Ellen Burstyn, in her Oscar-winning role of course, is great.

Then again, when isn’t the gal?

Burstyn’s great here, but it does help that she has such a meaty character to work and play around with; Alice is a very challenging character because she doesn’t always make the right decisions, nor does she seem to apologize for them, either. Scorsese and Burstyn both present this woman as someone who knows that whatever move she makes next, probably won’t be ideal, but she’s constantly thinking about what’s best for her and her son, meaning that every once and awhile, she’s got to make a sacrifice and suck up the stupidity. Even the smart decisions that Alice seems to make, still end-up biting her in the rump by the end, making you wonder whether or not this woman should be trusted with the care of a pre-adolescent boy in the first place. But still, there’s something compelling about this woman, flaws, warts and all that junk, as well as Burstyn’s performance that make it all the more watchable.

The happiest diner in the world it seems.

The happiest diner in the world it seems.

And it’s actually very interesting to see this movie and think about it in retrospect, as we’ve come to see Scorsese’s career grow further and further away from female-led stories, making us wonder one simple thing, “Why?” After all, he handles this story with such delicate care, never shying away from showing this woman for all of who she is, that he not just respects her as much as we do, but he loves her, even. It’s a rare sign that even though Scorsese’s movies tend to gain all sorts of controversy for their violence, drugs and crime, mostly all involving and/or against women, there’s still this small glimmer of hope that maybe, just maybe, he was curious of taking this road even further.

It makes you wonder, really.

Regardless, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, all things considered, may be a bit too long for its own good, but in a way, that’s okay. We get to see and learn about more characters throughout Alice’s journey, some of whom are really fun and exciting to watch. Harvey Keitel shows up as a slimy dude Alice starts hooking up with; Kris Kristofferson’s is interesting enough of a dramatic-lead to make you want to see more of him around; Jodi Foster shows up in a very early role as one of Tommy’s friends and is very good; Diane Ladd steals just about every scene she’s in as Alice’s co-worker/best friend; and even as a young kid here, Alfred Lutter does a nice job as Tommy, mostly due to the fact that the kid’s not annoyingly written. He’s a little too smart for his britches at certain points, but that’s mostly because his mom makes him that way; there’s quite a few scenes where the two have heart-to-heart conversations about all things in life and while they may seem a little tacked-on, the chemistry between Lutter and Burstyn is so good, that you sort of believe in it.

Consensus: Not his best by any means, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore still presents a very bright and entertaining picture for the whole cast, especially Burstyn, and Scorsese, and the many years to come.

8 / 10

Keep on smiling, Ellen. You'll get that Oscar.

Keep on smiling, Ellen. You’ll get that Oscar.

Photos Courtesy of: The Soul of the Plot

Patriots Day (2016)

We could be heroes, just for a few solid hours.

It’s Monday, April 15, 2013 in Boston and man oh man, what a lovely day. The Boston Marathon is set to happen, with tons and tons of people all involved and excited to run for a good cause. But of course, things don’t go down this way. In the final stretch of the run, bombs start going off, injuring and killing some. This leads the Boston Police Department, as well as the FBI to get involved as best as they can. Eventually, they find out who is responsible and limit their search to two people: Brothers Tamerlan And Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff). Of course, it’s now up to everyone to get together, stand strong and find these guys before they cause even more damage to the city of Boston and put an even greater shadow over what was supposed to be a very lovely, carefree day.

The term “too soon” is normally used with a negative connotation and well, there’s good reason behind it. People, the fragile beings that we are, find it hard to connect or accept tragedy or heartbreak, that talking about it immediately or even a little time after, seems to be too much to handle; nobody can really talk about something sad, because well, that just brings on more sadness. I point this out, not to just ramble on and on for no reason, but to point out why a movie like Patriots Day, while immediate, exciting, tense, and well-done, also feels like it may have been done way too soon.

Marky Mahk thinks he hears something fizzlin'.

Marky Mahk thinks he hears something fizzlin’.

But not in the way you’d expect.

When United 93 came out over a decade ago, it was four years and a few months after the events of 9/11, and considering how emotionally jarring that movie was, it makes sense that people would get up in arms, wondering whether or not this tale needed to be told, so suddenly, so soon, and so in-our-faces. After all, we as a nation still have yet to get over 9/11, 15 years after the fact, so you could only imagine how those in the mid-aughts must have felt when they saw a documentary-like film based on one of the hijacked planes. That said, director Peter Berg approaches the Boston Marathon Bombings with the same sort of tenacity; it’s the kind of movie that takes awhile to get going, but is setting up so many pieces of the story, that just watching and seeing how they connect in the long run is really interesting.

And then the movie does get going and eventually, it becomes something along the lines of a typical action-thriller, except with very real-life circumstances. Just like he showed with Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, Berg has a knack for telling these fact-based stories where we probably know the ending and certain details, but there’s still a thrill and a certain energy behind it that’s hard not to get compelled by. Even when it seems like he’s manipulating certain elements of the story a bit, there’s still a feeling that Berg is giving it all that he’s got to make us feel as if we are there, while the action is all happening, trying our own hardest to put together this sometimes convoluted and crazy pie.

But then again, there’s that issue of being “too soon” and I think that’s where Patriots Day really runs into problems.

For one, it’s been a little over three years since the attack, meaning, that a lot of old wounds still have yet to heal. Due to that, it seems like there’s not enough appropriate room, space, or time to really think about the hard, thought-provoking questions that need to be asked in order for us, a society, to gather a better understanding of what happened. Sure, Berg does a nice job of sticking straight to the facts and giving us what is, essentially, a play-by-play analysis of what’s happenin’ and shakin’, but for a movie such as this to really resonate and hit hard, it also needs to be more than just that.

At its heart, Patriots Day is definitely a tribute to those who lost their lives and those who worked day and night on that one, fateful afternoon, and there’s nothing wrong with that – these are all stories that deserve to be told and given the type of treatment that Berg is more than happy to give them. At the same time though, there’s not enough introspection that makes us think longer and harder about this event – it’s just sort of the standard, bad guys did something bad, now good guys must go and find them. It is, for lack of a better term, a procedural.

An entertaining one at that, but still, a procedural.

"I told ya, it was paked down by da riva."

“I told ya, it was paked down by da riva.”

The bits and pieces of the movie where it seems like Berg really wants to dive in further to this event, is through the portrayals of both Tamerlan And Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Surprisingly, the movie does go the extra mile to try and develop them, show them for what they were, and most importantly, give us a better look into what the hell was going through their heads, which is admirable, on the part of Berg’s. He’s telling the whole story for what it is and considering that a good portion of what happens can only happen from their point-of-view, it makes sense that we get some time spent with them and try whatever we can to understand them for their actions. The movie doesn’t hold back on showing us their terrible actions, but it also doesn’t shy away from showing that, well, they were human beings. As troubled and as ill-conceived as they may be, they are still human beings and sometimes, it’s interesting to see their side of the story, regardless of whether or not you sympathize with them or what they did.

Which is interesting here, because while the movie boasts a big, starry and shiny cast with the likes of Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, Rachel Brosnahan, and plenty others, really, the movie’s more concerned with Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff’s portrayals of the brothers. It shows that Berg was at least trying to go somewhere more interesting with this material, but of course, also realized who he was doing this movie for and didn’t want to offend anyone. There’s nothing wrong with that, either, however, it does leave that feeling of wondering maybe it was too soon and maybe something else will come down the pipeline.

Like, I don’t know, say a movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Malsany?

Oh, well there we go.

Consensus: Compelling, thrilling and well-paced, Patriots Day works as an exciting take on the events, as well as a nice tribute to those who lost their lives and responded quickly, even if there’s still some material left to be covered.

7.5 / 10

Marky Mak is da best cop awound dese paks.

Marky Mak is da best cop awound dese paks.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire