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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: March 2016

Rush Hour (1998)

Oh, odd couples.

When a Chinese diplomat’s daughter is kidnapped in Los Angeles, Hong Kong Detective Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) and his ass-kicking ways are called to the scene to help and assist the FBI with the case. However, seeing as how they’re incredibly stubborn and self-righteous, the FBI doesn’t want anything to do with Lee. As a result, they dump Lee off on the LAPD, who assign wisecracking Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) to watch over him. Carter is already in the doghouse of sorts for botching a case where explosives went off, people were hurt, and his career was in jeopardy. But Carter doesn’t know that he’s the laughing stock, so he takes this babysitting job of Lee as serious as a heart-attack, having no clue just who Lee is, or what he’s actually capable of doing. And even though they can’t stand one another, they choose to work together to solve the case on their own when they put two-and-two together and find out that the case is a whole lot shadier than they had expected.

The guys that fight crime together, sing Edwin Starr together.

The guys that fight crime together, sing Edwin Starr together.

Rush Hour, in no way, shape or form, tries to reinvent the buddy-cop genre. If anything, the movie’s pretty generic by those genre’s standards. Two incredibly different people, both cops, come together on a ridiculous case and bring their two, very different backgrounds to help one another out, solve the case, and even possibly, grow closer as human beings and friends. We’ve seen this formula time and time again, however, what makes Rush Hour so damn charming about it all is that Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker really do, surprisingly, make a great team.

Not only does it seem like they get a long great in real life, but it works out well for the movie. The twist here is that while Tucker’s Carter starts out as being awfully racist and thinking hardly nothing of Chan’s Lee, he soon grows to learn to appreciate Lee for not just being a human being, but also being one that kick some ass and just wants to solve crimes like him. Sure, you could say that it’s awfully corny and generic, but this at least somewhat makes up for the fact that most of the jokes aimed at Chan are racist and a tad offensive. Then again, this is the brand of comedy to expect from Tucker, and it’s pretty hard to sneer at when it’s actually pretty funny,

That’s why a movie as conventional, uneventful, and simple as Rush Hour, despite being awfully stupid when it comes to its plot and its jokes, still works.

It’s obvious that the studio here was trying their hardest to try and make Jackie Chan a big hit in the United States by partnering him with someone like Tucker, in a buddy-cop comedy no less. But as manipulative as this may be, it still works because, from what it seems, Tucker and Chan really do have great chemistry that shows both stars working well off of one another and adding a nice dose of heart to the proceedings as well. One scene in particular features Chan unknowingly calling a bunch of black characters the infamous “n-word”, where he then starts to battle and brawl each one, unbeknownst to Tucker who is elsewhere. While this scene may have all the social commentary of a rock, watching Jackie Chan lay the smack down on a bunch of black dudes for calling them an offensive word, somehow works.

After all, this is a movie directed by Brett Ratner, so you get what you come for.

That said, Ratner doesn’t get too much in the way of this material here. All he really has to do is set the camera down so that stars like Tucker and Chan can do their things, be fun, be exciting, be charming, be funny, and leave it all that. With that all taken into consideration, yeah, Ratner does a fine job. He doesn’t need to add his own directorial-spin onto the sometimes silly material, but instead, just allow enough time and space for Tucker and Chan to do what they do best.

"Daaaaaaamn."

“Daaaaaaamn.”

And because of this, the action scenes do tend to work. While they mostly rely on having Jackie Chan fly around like a wild goose with its head cut-off, it’s still awfully exciting to watch, and see how it incorporates itself into the story. There’s one sequence in which Chan has to fight a bunch of guys, but meanwhile, also ensure that a bunch of priceless, almost rare Chinese artifacts don’t break. It’s a nice spin on the typical kind of action-sequences we’re so used to seeing with movies like these, but made only better by the fact that it’s Chan himself doing all of his own stunts and seeming to put himself into harm’s way, every chance he gets.

Of course, Tucker gets to work his shine, too. However, as is mostly the case with Tucker, the enjoyment of the humor here will mostly rely on whether or not you’re a fan of Tucker in the first place. For me, I love the guy and feel like he’s a comedic genius, so yeah, obviously I was hooked here from the very beginning. But yeah, he’s definitely of an acquired taste and it makes sense why some people who don’t like Tucker’s brand of humor, may not like Rush Hour.

But it’s also pretty hard to hate Rush Hour when it’s just trying to be a fun movie that entertains you, makes you laugh, and offer you up an odd pairing of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan.

The kind of pair that nobody ever thought would see the light of day, let alone, actually work.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel by any means, what Rush Hour does best is that it offers up a fine blend of humor, action, and fun, also made better by the wonderful chemistry between Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan.

8 / 10

Look out, Hollywood. Jackie's taking over!

Look out, Hollywood. Jackie’s taking over!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

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The Son’s Room (2002)

SonsposterA son makes any family better. Even if he is a bit of a scoundrel.

Giovanni (Nanni Moretti) lives a relatively peaceful life with his family. While he suffers from all sorts of annoyances and craziness at his therapist job, he can always rely on going home and feeling relaxed with everyone around him. His wife, Paola (Laura Morante), doesn’t do much but sit around the house and ensure that everything is fine; his daughter, Irene (Jasmine Trinca), focuses most of her time on basketball and getting a good education; and his son, Andrea (Giuseppe Sanfelice), while normally a good kid, has been going through a bit of problems as of late. After getting called into school for a supposedly missing piece of fossil, Giovanni starts to question whether Andrea is the good kid that he raised to become. The rest of his family questions the same thing, all until they are struck with a tragedy that not only alters their lives completely, but makes them reconsider everything to come beforehand.

I think we all know what daddy's thinking.

I think we all know what daddy’s thinking.

If you’re looking for an all out, drag out, yelling, crying and slobbering mess of a movie, the Son’s Room is not that movie. What writer/director Nanni Moretti does very well is that he doesn’t allow for his movie, or his characters, to dive deep into the idea of guilt like we tend to see in films of this nature. Rather than having characters break down into terrible fits of sobbing, blaming one another, pointing the other finger, and just generally acting like and total complete messes, the characters instead play it down a whole lot more. Instead, they keep everything to themselves, only occasionally acting out in fits, but never overdoing it.

In a way, this is a lot more like real life. Not everybody on the face of this planet deals with guilt as if they were in some sort of daytime soap – sometimes, people deal with their own personal demons in their own way, where it’s much easier to bottle things up and keep it quiet, rather than let it all out for the whole world to see. Moretti could have easily allowed for the Son’s Room to break out into over-the-top and melodramatic hysterics, but thankfully, avoids any of these issues. He keeps everything much more focused and small, where not everybody’s breaking down into tears everywhere they go, but at the same time, nobody’s fully feeling great, either.

This is smart of Moretti and it keeps the Son’s Room, if anything, honest and raw.

At the same time, it’s almost too downplayed.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very fine with a movie keeping its volume muted to where we don’t always get those typical conversations about guilt between people, but there comes a point where the movie has to do something, hell, anything to keep itself alive. Moretti opts more for keeping his focus tightly on these characters, but also doesn’t give them much to say or do; they all seem to just walk around, mope, kick dirt, and occasionally drop a tear or two. The movie may not want to go for those big, powerful emotions, but in by doing so, also forgets to even try and touch the audience anymore.

A father and son can't be beat.

A father and son can’t be beat.

It’s admirable that Moretti doesn’t try to overdo his hand too much here with the Son’s Room, but there’s a feeling while watching this movie that there’s maybe something missing to go over that sentimental hurdle. Once the actual tragedy comes in, the movie kicks itself into high gear and shows just how each and every character deals with their own sadness and guilt, sometimes, in their own, respective ways, but the movie then sort of drops itself down after that and leaves some of these scenes to linger on too much, or hardly having any sort of impact to begin with. Breaking down at your day job? Seeking out for former loves of the dead? Getting into fights at basketball games? I don’t know about you, but none of this really sounds or feels like actual heartbreaking moments of down and out tragedy, which is why a lot of the Son’s Room, while smart and subtle, also isn’t very moving, either.

If anything, it’s maybe too tiny and small for it’s own good.

However, Moretti deserves at least some credit for keeping the Son’s Room smart. He avoids the typical cliches that make stories like this nauseating and annoying. Instead of becoming a Lifetime movie, it’s much more like a docudrama, where we have characters that we can relate to, and maybe possibly identify with, and we just sort of sit back and watch how they live. This peering into some people’s lives is interesting, even if Moretti can’t push it to that next step to where we feel emotionally and physically moved. Instead, it’s just more interesting, and that’s about it.

Consensus: By keeping the focus smaller and detailed, Nanni Moretti allows for the the Son’s Room to be realistic, while also not impacting the viewer nearly as much as it probably would like to.

7 / 10

Miss those days of a family piled into the car, singing Italian songs.

Miss those days of a family piled into the car, singing Italian songs.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert, The Guardian, I Love Italian Films, Mountain Xpress

Welcome to the Punch (2013)

Why can’t gangsters and cops just get along?

Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) is going damn near-obsessed with Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong), a notorious British gangster who shot him in the knee, left him injured, and with a burning flare of revenge in the pit of his stomach. So, in order to get this criminal, Max decides to devise a set-up in which they’ll use Jacob’s son as bait. The plan sort of works, but it sort of doesn’t; while Jacob shows up, he still doesn’t fall prey to the tricks and trades of Max, therefore, leading to another battle of gunshots and violence. Meanwhile, the city’s law enforcement is cracking down on crime by issuing in new, state-of-the-art facilities and plans, all of which seem to promise a better, less-criminalized future for London, but really, seems like it may just be a pipe dream. After all, when you have cops as unprofessionally obsessed as Lewinsky handling very serious, almost life-changing cases, it’s hard to wish for a better tomorrow, when the present is already so screwed up and muggy.

"You fell for the free ice cream bit, too?"

“You fell for the free ice cream bit, too?”

Welcome to the Punch is, for lack of a better term, a very bloody, very violent, and very dour adaptation of cops and robbers. I say this intending for it to sound so exciting and fun as you’d expect something along those lines to be, but in reality, I can’t help but let you know that the film is very far from being exciting, or better yet, even fun. If anything, Welcome to the Punch is so cliched, serious and boring, that by the end, you may actually want to go out and play a simple, seemingly harmless game of cops and robbers yourself.

If you want to add the guns, the violence and the cursing, then sure, knock yourself out, but trust me, the entertainment you’d find with that game, you won’t find here.

A big part of that has to do with the fact that writer/director Eran Creevy doesn’t seem to know what to do with his set-up. While you can’t say the story here is particularly “original”, or even “surprising”, per se, there’s still a lot of promise up in the air. British gangster tales like this, when done right, can be every bit as compelling as they were back in the heydays of cinema – you just have to find the right approach and spin to make them as such. Creevy seems like he’s interested in these kinds of characters, but doesn’t know where to go with them, what to do with them or how to do anything that doesn’t bring anybody’s attention to far better, more engaging movies of the same genre.

Sure, this is expected with the British gangster genre, but still, there should be something different to make a note, instead of nothing. The violence and the few action-sequences we do get are, thankfully, fun and slick enough that they nearly save the movie, but everything else, when there isn’t shooting, or killing, or bleeding, or stuff blowing up, is just dull. Creevy seems to have a bright idea of staging action-sequences and how to get them going when push comes to shove, but actually getting there and bringing enough tension and turmoil to the action-sequences, he seems to have issues with.

Nobody lives in London except for James McAvoy, apparently.

Nobody lives in London except for James McAvoy, apparently.

This is a big problem, too, considering that he’s got a very solid cast to work with, yet, also seems to saddle them with dry, almost two-dimensional characters. McAvoy’s Lewinsky is so unrealistic and ridiculous, that he’s already hard to sympathize with, but McAvoy tries. We’re supposed to believe that a character like this would be such a live wire that, despite him brimming with rage and anger, he’d still be able to maintain himself in a place of professionalism and handle such a high-profile case as this. We don’t get to know anything more about McAvoy’s Lewinsky, other than that he’s obsessed with catching his shooter and that’s it.

Yawn.

Mark Strong’s Jacob seems like he’s going to be more than just your average British crook, but turns out to be just that. Sure, he’s not a total bad guy, but other than the fact that he seems to be doing everything for his son, there’s no real development to him that sets him apart from the rest of the other gangster characters who show up here. The only aspect is that he changes his mind about killing McAvoy’s Lewinsky, which almost doesn’t matter because, well, it’s hard to really care for that character in the first place.

Other welcoming presences show up like Peter Mullan, David Morrisey, and Andrea Riseborough show up and try their damn hardest to add some bit of electricity to the movie, but ultimately, seem like they’re not given anything in return for their efforts. Everyone here reads their script and does their absolute best, but Creevy isn’t really there to pick up the rest of the slack; they’re all sort of left working with thin characters we don’t come to care about, nor really identify with. They’re just place-holders for a bunch of action-sequences that, yes, look nice, but ultimately, don’t add up to much other than a bunch of in-focus explosions.

Give me a Diet Coke, Mentos, and a video-camera, and honestly, I could do the same thing. Except that it wouldn’t cost over 10 million dollars, nor would it be 100 minutes – it would cost five bucks, and last only about two minutes. Everybody would be a lot happier and not feel as if they’re time was just wasted.

Basically, the opposite feeling you get from Welcome to the Punch.

Consensus: Despite a great cast, Welcome to the Punch flounders their talents on a lame script, predictable storytelling, and uninteresting characters that are only meant to push us to the next action-sequence.

3 / 10

"Just do it. Make this thing interesting."

“Just do it. Make this thing interesting.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

James White (2015)

WhiteposterSome kids just need to grow up. Especially when they’re nearly 30.

James White (Christopher Abbott) has been through a lot in his life, but at the same time, not really. While his father basically abandoned him at a young age and his mother (Cynthia Nixon) has been going through frequent battles with cancer, he has no job, no girlfriend, and no real place to live. But James feels as if life has chewed him up, spat him out and left him for dead, even if that hasn’t actually happened. But in order to get his back in-check and be prepared for what life has to throw at him, James decides to go to Mexico with his best pal (Scott Mescudi) where they drink, party, and do drugs, while also meeting the very young Jayne (Mackenzie Leigh). However, all of the fun comes to an end when James is called back home to tend to his mother and his needs – something he’s not quite ready for, especially when it turns out that her cancer has returned and it’s rougher than ever. Now, for James, it’s time to grow up and shut up, even if he can’t seem to do either.

Sometimes, Mr. Rager just wants to hug it out.

Sometimes, Mr. Rager just wants to hug it out.

We all know someone like James White. That self-pitiful, bratty, almost immature guy who cares only about himself, his needs and always has something to whine about. He’ll complain about not getting what he wants and being asked to do too much in his life, when, if you look at it, he’s not called on for anything. He is, for lack of a better term, a bum.

But that doesn’t make him any less interesting.

What’s neat about James White, both the character, as well as the movie, although, what’s the difference, is that the movie never tries to make any amends for the way James acts. In the first fifteen or so minutes, we see him pick a fight in a bar, let it settle down, and then start it all back up. Then, we also see him outright threaten a family member with violence at his father’s wake. There’s something to James that’s so despicable, yet, he’s so relatable that it’s hard to actually hate him; if anything, I quite enjoyed my time with James

Sure, you could say that writer/director Josh Mond is using James White as a way to spend time with an a-hole, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting. In a way, there’s always been something inherently compelling about what drives and draws a person to always constantly being an a-hole; something about how that character doesn’t give a crap about what people think of them or their actions, is, in a way, very intriguing. These types of people in life may bother us, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist, which is why every second spent with James White, watching as he navigates through his life filled with sex, booze, drugs, hotel rooms, and couches, I quite enjoyed.

You could say that I wasn’t supposed to, but somehow, that actually happened.

Mond keeps his focus so tight on White that it’s hard to stray away from him and to anyone else here. The movie uses close-up like its day job, where we are right up James navel cavities, not seeing what’s around him, but only peering down at him, seeing his eyes and that’s it. This is an effective, if very suffocating device, as it really draws us closer to this character; we may not get greater ideas of what kind of person he is, but it makes us feel trapped and alone with this guy, the way he would probably love and enjoy.

It also helps that Christopher Abbott is pretty damn great in this role, too. Even though Abbott was probably best known for his stint on Girls, time will probably change after this, and we’ll start to see more of him, which is great because he’s a naturalistic talent. As James White, Abbott gets a chance to do a lot, with seemingly, so little; while we get small outlines of who this character is, the movie leaves a lot up to Abbott to pick up the pieces and he does a good job with it. There’s this unpredictable feeling with James where we don’t know if he’s going to do something nice, or better yet, relatively sweet, or downright reprehensible, and screw-up his life anymore that he already has.

Just can't handle it right now.

Just can’t handle it right now.

Abbott, as well as Mond, keep us guessing, which is definitely a testament to the fine acting-display from Abbott – someone who deserves every role that’s probably getting thrown his way about right now.

Cynthia Nixon plays James’ mother, and even though a lot of what she has to do her is look and act sickly, especially given that her character is battling cancer, she does a good job with it. You get the feeling that she’s the warmth and love in James’ life that he so desperately holds onto and needs – not just to keep him alive, but to keep him from sleeping on the streets. They have a nice chemistry that isn’t always love-love, nor is it always hate-hate – as with any mother-son duo, they have issues, but they also have qualities that make them love the other and it’s nice to see.

If anything, James White doesn’t so much as lose focus by the end, as much as it just narrows it down more. To me, this was perhaps the weakest parts of the movie; while I understand that a story like this needed to narrow its focus down even more than it already has, there was still a part of me that was missing watching James go out into late night-NYC, cause all sorts of havoc and chicanery wherever he want. Then again, that’s not the movie I continued to get – instead, I got something that showed him more as a human being who, of course, may not be perfect, but still has any qualities like you or I and because of that, should be seen as a human being.

A very troubled, almost imperfect human being that I wanted to hang around more.

Why? I don’t know. Maybe I see a little bit of James within myself.

Consensus: With a stellar lead performance from Christopher Abbott, James White is an interesting look at a person’s life that we don’t always see portrayed in the movies.

8.5 / 10

Nothing like a son and a mother love. Even if the son is a spoiled brat.

Nothing like a son and a mother love. Even if the son is a spoiled brat.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Beats Rhymes & Life: The Travels of A Tribe Called Quest (2011)

For the last time: Yes, you can kick it.

A Tribe Called Quest were a hip-hop/jazz-fusion group in the late-80’s/early-90’s who didn’t necessarily tear it up on the charts, but were respected enough that they’re legacy long lasted anyone or anything that may have been #1 at the time. Over the course of eight years, they released five albums – almost of all of which are near-masterpieces and considered to have changed the game of rap – went on tour, made plenty of money, and began to build bigger and bigger names for themselves. After all, Q-Tip, Phife, Jarobi, and Ali were just a bunch of kids from New York, looking to do something with their lives and music was the clear way. However, after plenty of inner-group tension and fighting, the band eventually went their separate ways, with plenty of bad blood felt between certain members. Obviously, every member would go on to do their own thing and poo-poo an idea of a reunion ever occurring, until, well, they do actually reunite, get back on-tour, start performing, and, believe it or not, teasing a soon-to-be-released sixth album. It seemed like everything was going great for A Tribe Called Quest again, but sometimes, old wounds stay open.

Somebody must have not gotten the memo about the hats.

Somebody must have not gotten the memo about the hats.

A Tribe Called Quest is probably the most important hip-hop group in all of the game of rap. While a lot of people will probably fight me to the ends of the Earth about that – to which I say, “bring it on” – the fact remains that A Tribe Called Quest created this innovative sound that was, in a way, their own. They were this nice hybrid of jazz, rock, rap, alternative, funk, and blues that wasn’t heard before, or hasn’t really been heard of since and it’s a shame, too, because so much rap nowadays could benefit from that. Don’t get me wrong, the rap game is still alive and well in today’s day and age, but still, there’s that slight feeling that it’s missing the same tenacity and style that A Tribe Called Quest had.

Even if you don’t like rap, they’re still a band that you have to at least respect; for doing what they did in the rap-world, at a time when it seemed like people were still belting out “Hammer time!“. They were slowly, but surely changing the way most of us listened to hip-hop and while you may not say that they’re absolute “originators”, they still did so much with the term “hip-hop”, went above and beyond it, and well, made a respectable name for themselves. You can’t despise hip-hop as much as you’d like, that’s up to you, but you’ve got to hand it to A Tribe Called Quest.

Hence why they’re documentary is still pretty great, even if it doesn’t quite reach the genius of the band themselves.

Michael Michael Rapaport, aside from being a pretty solid actor, seems very much at-home with his directorial debut here and it’s an interesting one. Clearly he has a love and affinity for the band and in that case, probably wouldn’t want to go too far and push these guy’s buttons, especially when there’s plenty of buttons to in fact push, but nope, he goes to the extra limits to see just what is on these guys’ minds and how they feel about certain other members of the band. Sure, he gets down to the nitty and the gritty of how the band started and all sorts of other lovely insights into how some of their most iconic sounds and raps were created/originated from, but he also goes the extra mile in seeing just what makes them all tick, whether it’s ticking in a good way, or bad way.

For a lot of people, they still don’t have the slightest idea why the band did originally break-up and exactly why there’s bad blood between anyone in the first place. What Rapaport shows is that, between Q-Tip and Phife, there was plenty of anger and resentment, however, it’s not always like that. After all, they’re not just band-mates, but buddies that love the same thing in music and work perfectly off of one another. Say what you will about musicians having a sort of God-complex – which Q-Tip definitely has – they have the ammunition to change a lot of people’s minds and worlds, which is why when Q-Tip and Phife were together, and on, they could have changed the world around them.

Of course, they did seem to fight an awful lot, too, so maybe changing the world’s a bit of a pipe dream.

Spin the black circle, Q-Tip.

Spin that black circle, Q-Tip!

But still, the movie shows that there’s not just a beautiful creative-process to the guys, but a real heart and soul to what makes them live and want to create music. Rapaport gets some of the deepest, darkest secrets from these guys, but it never seems exploitative; as a fan, you can sense that he’s so interested in just what the hell happened with these guys and how they’re still touring, even if, you know, there’s still some anger between them. He isn’t asking as a journalist, or gossip columnist, per se, but more as an admirer of fan boy, which sort of makes me wish the movie featured him just a tad more than it actually did. Then again, it’s not his story, so it makes sense why we don’t get a lot of him in the first place.

After all, it’s A Tribe Called Quest’s story and it’s a story worth listening and seeing, regardless of if you’re already a fan in the first place or not. It definitely helps if you’re a fan to begin with, as some of their more pointed moments are talked about at great lengths and it’s quite salivating, but it’s not absolutely necessary. Like the band’s music, the documentary is made for anyone to listen to watch, enjoy and take a little something out of. If you come away liking the band a whole lot more than you did, or taking on a newfound love of them, then good.

Just know that they were one of the greatest hip-hop acts to ever take the mic, which makes Phife Dawg’s passing all the more tragic.

RIP Phife. You’re always on point.

Consensus: Regardless of if you’re already a fan of A Tribe Called Quest or not, Beats Rhymes & Life will do a lot inform you about the band, as well as give you an inside scoop on some of the band’s inner-turmoils and dramas, without ever overdoing it, but instead, always appearing as a tribute to the one-of-a-kind act.

8.5 / 10

Did somebody forget to tie their shoes?

Did somebody forget to tie their shoes?

Photos Courtesy of: Cut the Crap Movie Reviews

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

My money’s on the guy who can fly. And no, not like a bat.

After nearly destroying all of downtown Metropolis after his brawl with General Zod (Michael Shannon), Superman (Henry Cavill) isn’t quite loved by the general public. The media portrays him as either a “hero”, or a “dangerous alien”, government officials are calling for him to testify to his actions, and even those close to him, like Lois Lane (Amy Adams), still aren’t sure if he’s making the best choices. One person who would definitely agree with Lois is billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck), CEO of Wayne Enterprises, and one of the many people who were affected by Superman’s mayhem of destruction. Seeing as how his whole company got screwed-over by Superman, without so much as a “sorry”, or “I.O.U.”, Bruce decides to take matters into his own hands and go after Superman himself, but this time, as Batman. Meanwhile, evil-genius scientist Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) is conjuring up his own dastardly plan of sorts, but doesn’t seem to keen on letting those in governmental power know what it is. Obviously Superman and Batman got their issues to settle, but with Luthor somewhere in the background, they may have to push it all to the side and focus on the rest of humanity.

"Hero! Hero! Kill him!"

“Hero! Hero! Kill him!”

I’m going to be nice to Batman v Superman. Even after all of the anticipation, hype, and expectations built-up for this thing, it seems like a lot of people are, predictably, not liking it, which isn’t the only reason why I’m going to give it a break. One reason is that it’s a tad better than a lot of people seem to be giving it credit for in that it’s as dark, as serious and as brooding as you can get with a superhero movie. While Christopher Nolan may not be directing (he’s actually producing), his style is seen everywhere – the overbearing Hans Zimmer score, the countless shots of superheros looking into the distance and being sad, daddy issues, and, oh yeah, the seriousness.

Oh, so very serious.

But that’s one of the main reasons why I dug Batman v Superman in the first place – it’s not trying to crack jokes, wink at the crowd, break the fourth-wall, or make it seem like they’re out to provide knee-slappers. What it’s trying to do is give you this story, these characters, and do so in a very serious, almost unrelenting manner. The world painted here by Zack Snyder is a gritty, cold and bleak one, which definitely works, given how the first ten minutes start-off with us seeing just all of the destruction Superman caused at the end of Man of Steel. While Snyder himself may have caught a lot of flack for using that movie’s last-half as some sort of mindless 9/11 allegory, here, he shows that there’s actually a heartbeat to all of that pain and demolition; it’s not just about blowing things up for the sake of blowing them up, but showing that there’s a consequence for these kinds of actions.

That’s why, if anything, Batman v Superman seems to be, for the longest time, very anti-Superman. If it wasn’t for the first ten minutes portraying his act of retribution as something harmful to the rest of society, the following hour-and-a-half questions just what kind of being Superman is, whether or not he can be trusted, and why his better judgement may get the best of him if he’s not paying close enough attention. So rarely do superhero movies nowadays seem to hold a mirror up to their own characters in a way that Snyder, and co-writers Chris Terrio and David S. Goyer do with Superman and it brings up some really interesting ideas and questions about the idea of a superhero in and of itself.

Like, for instance, would we trust someone who could literally all kill us one day so easily, even if he was just saving us from every cataclysmic event? Or, would the fact that he’s always saving our butts give him enough privilege to do whatever he oh so pleased? And if not, then what would he have to do to ensure that he’s not just free-wheeling on his own? Set-up governmental rules for him to follow by? Or, just let the people decide?

Batman v Superman brings all of these questions ups and while there doesn’t seem to be much interest in actually answering them, the fact that they’re still brought-up at all means a lot.

And most of this is just to get past the fact that the rest of Batman v Superman is pretty messy and odd, even by Snyder’s standards. At two-and-a-half-hours, there’s so much, with so many, going on here, that it’s almost impossible to talk about it all to great length without spoiling something, or just getting lost in the shuffle of this movie, but just know this, there’s so much going on here that it’s basically too much. Snyder doesn’t know how to settle things down enough to where we get a few subplots and leave it at that; instead, the movie has at least five or six subplots going on, all surrounding the main, important one at the center with Batman and Superman coming to battle.

"I see youuuuuuuu!"

Way to hide, bro.

Speaking of them two, the battle they do eventually have is, pretty nice. In fact, all of the action here is pretty well-done and looks great, which is no surprise because Snyder knows his way around a good shot. It’s just that the movie literally takes two-and-a-half-hours to actually get to the ultimate showdown between Batman and Superman, when it definitely doesn’t need to. The movie already makes itself pretty damn clear what Bruce Wayne is going to be doing for the next hour, which is, chasing after Superman, so why take up all of our time, give us subplots of characters we don’t give a hoot about, and further prolonged the battle we’ve all been waiting so desperately for?

Don’t get me wrong, the fight is definitely awesome and it’s not like I would have preferred it if the fight had been in the first five seconds, but still, there’s too much time dedicated to senseless stories, when it could have been dedicated to developing both Superman and Batman more. And while you could definitely make the argument that we already got enough development with Superman, a part of me walked away feeling like Superman was a bit of a dick in this; when everyone is up-in-arms about all of the destruction he caused to the city, he literally says nothing and continues to fly around the sky, pouting, and, every so often, crying on Lois’ shoulders. No inspirational speech, no selective reasoning, no mic-drop speeches, no nothing.

He literally just takes it and leaves everyone to hate him and question him.

If anything, it’s Ben Affleck’s Batman who fares a lot better than most of the people here. As an older, much more grizzled Bruce Wayne, Affleck gets a chance to show a more seasoned-side to himself than we’ve seen in recent time and it works. While there was a public outcry over Batman being handed to Affleck, he shuts them all up by showing, not only is his Batman a freakin’ bad-ass that will literally stab a guy, or shoot him in the face, but will also take no mercy on whoever has done him wrong.

Screw these Justice League movies! Give me the solo Batfleck movie now!

Consensus: Messy and at times, incoherent, Batman v Superman has gotten its haters for a reason, but for those willing to look past its many weaknesses, will also see a very dark, very serious and very exciting superhero movie that gives us a solid new beginning to the DC franchise, that can hopefully pick up the pieces a bit after this.

6.5 / 10

It always takes three to tango. And what a hot and sexy tango that would be.

It always takes three to tango. And what a hot, sexy tango that would be.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Superman Returns (2006)

ReturnsposterHe’s back and you know what? Those glasses are still working their charm!

Five years after exploring the deepest, darkest parts of the galaxy, Superman (Brandon Routh) finally returns back to Earth. Why? Well, it seems like his time had finally come for him to get back to his old ways and schedule. Miraculously enough, around the same time that Superman reappears, so does Daily Planet reporter Clark Kent. And through Kent’s eyes, Superman gets to see just how much life has changed in the past five years. For one, Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth) is now engaged and with a child, even if she still hasn’t quite gotten over Superman; Perry White (Frank Langella) still heckles Clark over giving him crappy stories; and Lex Luthor (Kevin Spacey), well, is awaiting for Superman’s arrival so that he can launch his evil, dastardly plan of taking over the world and being rid of the super-dude, once and for all. Obviously, Superman won’t let this happen, but he’s going to have a lot of issues battling Luthor if he can’t get his personal issues in order, or if he can’t keep those that he loves, out of harm’s way.

The meet-cute knows no boundaries!

The meet-cute knows no boundaries!

But when you’re Superman, sometimes, that’s a lot easier said then done.

I’ve got to give Bryan Singer credit for going all out with Superman Returns. Not only does his fanboy love shine through each and every single scene of this movie, but even for those who may not already be on-board with Superman in the first place, well, he doesn’t forget to reach out to. In a way, Superman is the quintessential, perfect human being, except for the fact that he isn’t a human being – he’s an alien. While this may sound all cool and rad, especially if you had all of the skills and capabilities that Superman had, Singer shows that there’s something actually very sad about this fact.

After all, don’t forget that Superman’s whole family, let alone, his race perished within the first five minutes of the original 1978 flick. Now, it’s just him, all by himself, left to make up his own legacy for his own good, where nobody’s there to really care, love, or support him, except for maybe a select few. But once again, because he’s Superman, he can’t get too close, nor trust anybody quite as well – some people will try to take advantage of him, whereas others may not want to be bothered with a possibly dangerous alien from outer-space.

This inherent sadness is what drives Superman himself, and it’s also what drives a good portion of Superman Returns.

In a way, it’s not your typical superhero summer blockbuster, but at the same time, it sort of is. It isn’t because there’s so much more attention to the tenderness and the humanity of this character, rather than just how much ass he can kick, and what sorts of heavy stuff he can lift. Then again, it sort of is because Singer can’t help himself from getting lost in all of the crazy, high-intensity set-pieces that can be deafeningly loud, but still equally as effective. This mixture of two sides of Singer may not always work, but when it does come together, it comes together so well that it makes me wonder why they don’t just give every superhero story to Singer.

After all, the guy has done some pretty wonders with the X-Men, so why not anymore heroes?

Regardless, there’s a lot to really be touched by with Superman Returns in that it really does ask for us to reach out and feel something for Superman himself. This may sound almost too simple, it’s stupid, but you’d be surprised how very few superhero movies actually seem to try and get us care for their title characters, more than just because they’re going to save the day from the bad guy. Here, Singer shows that there’s more to Superman than just what meets the eye; sure, he’s good-looking, super-strong, jacked, and not the person you want to pick a fight with, but he’s so lonely in this vast, wide world where people don’t know what to do with him, and after awhile, it begins to take a toll on him and make him wonder what any of it is worth. Should he continue to fight the good fight for Earth? Or should he just stick it out all on his own?

What a happy gang of pals.

What a happy gang of pals.

Either way, Brandon Routh does a solid enough job as Superman/Clark Kent to where he doesn’t get in the way of the character. Routh has obviously received flack over the years for not amounting to much after this role, which is wrong, because not only does the guy have some charm to him, but he’s also a sympathetic figure, and not just another pretty-boy asking for our compassion. You can almost look at Superman here like a sick little puppy that needs a home, a bone, and somewhere to shed his fur. Obviously, this works in the movie’s favor, and it’s definitely because of Routh.

As the iconic Lois Lane, Kate Bosworth may seem too young at first, but eventually, she works well into the role and gives us the sense that she’s the same old kick-ass heroine that she was in the older movies, and comics; James Marsden plays her fiancee who may, or may not be a dick, but may also just be a simple, everyday guy thrown into the shadow of Superman; Frank Langella gets some fun moments and lines as Perry White; Parker Posey plays Lex Luthor’s right-hand-women Kitty Kowalski (Parker Posey), and does a nice job showing that there’s more humanity to her this time around; and as for Lex Luthor, well, Kevin Spacey does a good job in the role, however, there’s still a big issue with him.

A big, big one.

What’s bothersome about Luthor here is that, yes, he’s the stereotypical villain in a comic book movie, so obviously we can expect there to be some unbelievability. However, the plan that Luthor eventually hatches to take over the world, which would entail wiping out the rest of the human race for some reason, just seems so random and out-of-this-world. The movie seems to treat this as some grand master plan from Luthor, even though he is a crazed-loon and, for the most part, he doesn’t have the right head on his shoulders. While I could easily just pass this off as a small thing to nitpick at, it really doesn’t end-up that way and instead, turns out to take the bulk of the later-half of the story where the emotions are extra heavy and we’re really asked to pay attention.

It works, but still, it comes close to not doing so at all.

Consensus: With an extra bit of attention to the heart and soul of its title character, Superman Returns works both as a silly, yet exciting superhero flick, as well as a tender look at the loneliness these kinds of characters embody.

8 / 10

Still no glasses! Come on, girl!

Still no glasses! Come on, girl!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Superman (1978)

Those glasses really do matter.

After his mother and father (Marlon Brando and Susannah York) are killed along with everyone else on his home planet of Krypton, Clark Kent (Christopher Reeve) lands on a farm in the middle of Kansas, owned by Jonathan and Martha Kent (Glenn Ford and Phyllis Thaxter). While he’s on Earth, he finds out who he really is, what his powers are, what he’s supposed to do with them, and what could be made of them. However, those are just ideas and questions juggling around in his head, as he, nor anybody else that knows of his secret powers are quick to give the answers to any of them. So, in spite of the life-saving abilities he has as something that’s not from planet Earth, he decides to join the Daily Planet, a newspaper in the heart of metropolis, where Clark meets the wonderful, but vivacious and ambitious writer Lois Lane (Margot Kidder). Though Lois doesn’t really care much for Clark as anything other than a friend, he makes it his life’s mission to save her from harm, any chance the opportunity shows itself. That’s why, when evil mad scientist Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) begins to wreak havoc all over Metropolis, Clark can’t help but rip his shirt off, put those glasses elsewhere, and fly in the sky like, well, Superman.

Punching works, too. I guess.

Punching works, too. I guess.

There’s something so inherently goofy and charming about Superman, that even though it’s incredibly corny and silly, it’s still hard to despise. For one, director Richard Donner knows exactly what kind of material he’s working with and doesn’t make a single apology for it; good guys fly around in capes, bad guys wear ugly wigs, aliens roam the world without any of us knowing, etc. Superman never has, nor ever will be, material that we’re all supposed to take super, duper seriously, which is why Donner gives this a lovely taste of kitschy fun, as well as heartfelt adoration for Superman himself, what he represents, and just why exactly he still stands as a symbol for everything right and good with the world.

And even though it’s been nearly 40 years since it’s release, Superman is still a solid movie, even stacked-up against some of the great, nearly amazing superhero movies we have today.

Then again, it’s very hard to compare the two. 1978 was a very different time for cinema where there seemed to be a shared party between those who enjoyed both popcorn movies, as well as more artsy-fare, whereas nowadays, the line between the two has been clearly struck. Sure, there’s definitely big-time, mainstream blockbusters out there that can also be seen as a “serious films”, but there’s still an obvious difference.

With Superman, it’s clearly not trying to bring out the tears, nor is it trying to change anybody’s life – what it’s simply trying to do is re-tell the story of Superman, to the general mass public again and remind us that superheros such as this, can exist. Okay, maybe not actually exist in real life, but you get my drift. What Donner is aiming at here with Superman is that he is an icon for everything right, powerful and brave about the world we live in and we should be so lucky to have him around, constantly caring for us, saving us from near-death, and grabbing kitties out of trees. He’s the perfect man, if anything, but mostly, he’s the perfect superhero, which is why the casting of the late, great Christopher Reeve, was so pitch perfect from the ground-up, that it’s been nearly impossible to think of somebody else to take his place.

Sure, guys like Henry Cavill and Brandon Routh look an awful lot like Reeve, but it’s less about the good looks that made Reeve such a great Superman; there was this certain balance between earnestness and bravery, without ever seeming naive, that Reeve handled so well. He could, on one hand, be the most charming man alive, while on the other hand, he could also be the one guy you’d trust to kick the hell out of some evil-doer because they stole your purse. Even when Reeve puts on the glasses and becomes Clark Kent, there’s still a certain amount of charm to the way in how he heightens all of his character’s nerdy aspects and traits.

Marlon's probably very upset that the baby may not be "method".

Marlon’s probably very upset that the baby may not be “method”.

You could definitely say it’s still a tad ridiculous that all he has to do is put on a simple pair of bifocals to blend in with the rest of society, but hey, if the movie whole fully believes it, then guess what?

So do I!

And everybody else in the cast is pretty great, too. Marlon Brando shows up for at least 15 minutes in the beginning and definitely leaves a mark as Superman’s daddy; Margot Kidder seems definitely a lot stronger and smarter than your average damsel-in-distress that we tend to get in these sorts of movies; Jackie Cooper is absolutely hilarious as Perry White and just about steals every scene with every line he drops; and Gene Hackman as Lex Luthor, well, let me just say that I’ve got a lot to say about him.

If anything, I feel like the movie sort of drops the ball on him. Hackman is definitely more than willing to play along with this character’s sometimes weirder eccentricities, but after awhile, it makes us forget that he’s actually supposed to be an evil, mean, scary and despicable villain. Sure, we see and hear him do bad things, but none of them ever feel or appear to be actual threats; you could chalk a lot of this up to the fact that, with Superman looming in the background, we already get the sense that Luthor won’t achieve his dastardly plan of, uh, destroying the Earth for some reason, but still, with any movie, superhero or not, there should always be that sheer feeling of having no clue what the hell is going to happen next, or who is going to come out on top and save the day. We know that it’s going to be Superman no matter what, but hey, sometimes it’s fun to keep the audience guessing and give your superhero and equally-skilled and matched-up villain.

Consensus: Many years later, Superman still remains a great piece of superhero fiction, that not only balances the heart and humor of the original stories, but gives us an icon with the wonderfully talented Christopher Reeve.

8 / 10

It's love at first sight. Get it? 'Cause he's not wearing glasses this time!

It’s love at first sight. Get it? ‘Cause he’s not wearing glasses this time!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Blumhouse

My Big Fat Greek Wedding (2002)

Where can I find me a Greek gal?!?

Still unmarried at 30, Toula (Nia Vardalos) doesn’t have a whole lot going for her life. She’s been stuck working at her family’s restaurant for many years and whenever it seems like she’s getting tired of doing so and wants to leave, she somehow gets guilted into staying by either her parents, Gus (Michael Constantine) and Maria (Lainie Kazan), or anyone of the numerous first cousins and relatives she has, watching and judging her every move. But one day, Toula gets a job at a travel agency, where, one fateful day, she meets Ian (John Corbett), a teacher who takes a liking to Toula right away and asks her out. Of course, she says yes, and from there on, the two grow closer and eventually, wouldn’t you know it? They fall in love. Obviously, the idea of marriage is brought up and while both are clearly all for it, there’s only one issue that may stand in the way of Toula and Ian getting a chance to say their vows: He’s not Greek. And judging by how the rest of her family reacts when they hear he isn’t Greek, Toula starts to reconsider everything about her life.

The world's most attractive "normal" couple.

The world’s most attractive “normal” couple.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is obviously infamous for many reasons that don’t really have to do with the actual quality of the movie itself. Sure, it received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, but aside from that, what everyone seems to talk about with it is how it spent so much time at the box office, without it featuring any big names, franchises, or whatever else that makes a movie a huge hit. Not only was it an indie-hit, it was a hit that showed Hollywood why word-of-mouth can sometimes be better than just releasing your movie and tossing it out there for everyone to see, even if nobody does actually see it.

But regardless, the movie itself is just fine.

The best part of the movie is that Nia Vardalos’ screenplay clearly comes from a soft spot in her heart. This is clear, not just from the way she portrays the Greek lifestyle and norms, but her whole family as well. If you’ve ever met a Greek family, you’d know that a lot of the movie may be a bit of an exaggeration, but nonetheless, a lot of the running-gags are still pretty funny and do give us better understandings of who these characters are, as cartoonish as they may be. There’s the father who believes that Windex cures anything; there’s the cousins who don’t know how to tell actual, funny jokes; there’s the mother who always has to have the latest family drama; the aunt who seems to always get too drunk and tell-all with random strangers; and so on and so forth.

A lot of the movie is actually funny, which is why it’s sweet to see how Vardalos approaches these characters. While it would have been easy to make her family out to be old-timey and old-fashioned Greeks who clearly don’t live in the new millennium, Vardalos shows that a lot of the ideals and ways they live by are what make them stronger as a family. Sure, Vardalos shows that her family can be a bit annoying, but at the same time, still shows that a lot of what they do, is what makes them who they are – they aren’t apologizing for it and they aren’t asking to be accepted by anybody else who, well, isn’t Greek.

The lady's always take the wedding prep so seriously.

The lady’s always take the wedding prep so seriously.

And yeah, Vardalos herself is pretty solid in the lead role, too. Vardalos has this seemingly everyday woman way about her that makes her character easy to relate to, even when it seems like she may be the most normal character out of the bunch. Same goes for John Corbett’s Ian who, like with most John Corbett characters, is a likable, everyday guy who you would definitely meet on the street and strike up a conversation with. Together, the two have great chemistry and it’s easy to see why they’d fall in love and want to get married, even if the movie does seem to rush it a bit too fast.

But really, this story is less about them two and more about the other characters surrounding them.

Every member of Toula’s Greek family is funny and striking with personality. However, the one who really surprised me was Michael Constantine’s Gus. While the movie originally makes him out to be a bit of a controlling, sometimes overbearing father-figure, eventually, the movie begins to change its tune and show that maybe Gus, if anything, just loves his daughter and wants what’s best for her. He may be too concerned with her not being married and childless, but as the movie begins to show us, he’s only being like this because he truly does want Toula to be happy and, most of all, he wants to have a bigger, more loving family.

Just as any daddy wants.

Consensus: Though it’s a pretty average rom-com, Nia Vardalos’ smart and sometimes, very funny screenplay, allows for My Big Fat Greek Wedding to rise above plenty others in that tired genre.

6.5 / 10

Oh, you kids. So happy in love.

Oh, you kids. So happy in love.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Boomstick Comics, Zeenews.India

The Tribe (2015)

Some things are better left unsaid.

Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko) is a young deaf kid who is starting a new point in his life by attending a boarding school for the deaf. And as if the case with coming into a new school, more often than not, you’re welcomed in with fists and fights, than actual open arms. This is exactly what happens to Sergey who, from the very beginning, shows his toughness and loyalty to the certain bad kids at the school, leading him to join their group and all the other bad that they do. Meaning, Sergey gets involved with a whole lot of drinking, drugs, sex, prostitution, crime, and above all else, murder. But through all of this dark stuff, he finds some solace in Anya (Yana Novikova), a fellow student who is making her own living as a very young prostitute. Though she has plans to leave the country for somewhere better, Sergey tries to disrupt these plans as he not only falls head over heels for her, but is willing to do anything to make sure that she stays in the Ukraine with him. Even if that means risking his own life, as a result.

Uh oh. Someone's gonna get it. I think.

Uh oh. Someone’s gonna get it. I think.

Yes, the Tribe is indeed a movie where not a single person speaks. Instead, every character communicates solely through sign-language. And if that wasn’t hard enough for audiences to get teased by, well, get ready, because there’s also no subtitles to accompany this form of dialogue, either. So basically, the whole film is told through the ways characters act, flagellate their arms and hands, and that’s about it. Everything else is basically left up to us, the audience, which makes this a movie you must, I repeat, must pay absolute and undivided attention.

Otherwise, well, you’ll have no clue what’s going on.

Okay, maybe that’s an exaggeration, because a good part of the Tribe is easy to decipher, if you’re just solely judging it by how plots of this nature tend to go and play out. Of course, once the new kid comes to school, he’s going to fall in with the crowd, make enemies, make friends, cause all sorts of hi-jinx and, oh yeah, fall in love with a barely legal prostitute. Yeah, so you get the idea – the Tribe isn’t so much of a predictable film, as much as it seems like a “type of film”, where we know how the story goes and the only reason why any of it is compelling in the first place is because it’s all told through sign-language.

And yes, this would make the movie, in and of itself, a “gimmick”, but not really. While the idea of these characters not speaking to one another, and writer/director Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s (try saying that name five times fast, or at all) insistence on not actually letting us know what’s being said, or what’s happening, and just allowing for the images to tell themselves, may ultimately seem like a trick, but in the end, it actually does work. What starts as a very ordinary, coming-of-age tale with some darker themes, ends up being a far more deep, depressing and screwed-up tale about growing up with the wrong influences around you and how, if you’re not careful, it could all succumb you and leave you high, dry and nearly dead.

Then again, maybe that’s not at all what the movie’s saying.

"Hey, turn down the radio! We're trying to sign-language back here!"

“Hey, turn down the radio! We’re trying to sign-language back here!”

Because the Tribe is so messed-up and uneasy, it sometimes become almost too much. And I don’t mean “too much” in the sense that, “oh, it’s really hard for a simpleton like me to stomach”, but more that the plot can sometimes get so ugly, that it’s a tad unbelievable. A Ukrainian deaf-mob? Okay, maybe I’m willing to buy that for a dollar. But then the movie goes even further and further to show that there’s more powers at be, that not only pull the strings, but are the exploiters to begin with. While I’m not doubting the fact that this might happen in certain parts of the world (and it probably does in Ukraine), the way the movie uses it can get a tad cartoonish. Like, for instance, we’re told from the start that the school has some very strict employees and teachers, and if so, then how come there’s literally an underground chock full of these students who go around, drinking, smoking, sexing and committing all sorts of crimes, that anybody in their right mind would hear about, let alone catch wind of eventually.

They probably spoke about why this never happened, but then again, how would I know? Nobody’s speaking!

But I digress.

Regardless of what bad things I have to sat about the Tribe, there’s no denying that for nearly two-and-a-half hours, it’s hard to turn away from. Sure, it takes its time and, more often than not, manipulatively leaves you in the dark, but this world that Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy himself is peeking into, remains an interesting one. Even when it’s clear that a world like this is too hard to believe in, there’s still this driving force behind the movie and the story that makes it emotionally and physically gripping. It’s hard to imagine myself ever seeing the Tribe again, but really, I’m fine with that. The time that I took to give it a watch, and put away all of the distracting electronic devices, was worth it. So what if it’s a trip I won’t take again?

People probably say that about the Ukraine all of the time. But at least they go in the first place, see what it’s all about, give it a try, and head on home, never to look back again. That’s my reaction to the Tribe and it’s about as divisive of an opinion I’ve had on a movie for awhile.

Which means, yes, I liked it. A lot.

Consensus: Not for everyone, the Tribe will definitely test some people’s patience, but for those who are willing to take the time and dedication to it, will find themselves ultimately rewarded, if not as excited to take another gander at it.

8.5 / 10

I think I know what they're talking about here. If so, typical kids.

I think I know what they’re talking about here. If so, typical kids.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Eye in the Sky (2016)

Drones aren’t just little playthings.

Colonel Katherine Powell (Helen Mirren) wakes up early, day in and day out, to carry on secret drone missions that are already controversial as is, but still continue in today’s day and age of the war against terrorism. And on this one fateful morning, the Colonel leads a secret mission to capture a terrorist group living in a safe house in Nairobi, Kenya. However, once more and more information comes to her, she soon finds out that the terrorists are planning for a suicide bombing, leading her to now instead actually kill the terrorists. Meanwhile, drone pilot Steve Watts (Aaron Paul) targets the safe house, however, he spots a nine-year-old girl playing in and around the premises. Watts’ conscience kicks in and all of a sudden, he doesn’t want to blow away the terrorists until he knows that he is ethically, and legally covered on every ground. Certain people in power, like Lieutenant General Frank Benson (Alan Rickman), believe that he is good-to-go, however, others like political representative Brian Woodale (Jeremy Northam), are against it and want to be absolutely in the clear and sure that this situation could get any worse, way before they actually detonate any bomb, of any sort.

Hey, remember this guy?

Doesn’t look like a Captain to me.

On one hand, Eye in the Sky is this slick, contained, but small real-time thriller that likes to keep its audience in the dark about not knowing what to expect next and hanging on each and every character’s word. On the other hand, Eye in the Sky is also a smart, thoughtful think-piece about, well, drones, and all of the questions that surround them? Should we be using them? And if so, to what extent? What’s the certain legal parameters one should have to go through in order to make sure that they are totally, absolutely correct on who it is that they’re dropping a bomb on? And even if there are legal parameters surrounding it, does that make it “right”?

What Eye in the Sky does, for the most part, is deal with the issue of drone warfare stronger, and more effectively than any other movie has so far. Last year’s Good Kill wanted to be about the same thing and its negative effects on its soldiers, but was also more concerned with its central character and his reaction to drones. Here, Eye in the Sky is more about the actual debate, in and of itself, where people are arguing different, sometimes opposing sides, while at the same time, still trying to make sure that they’re trying to stop a terrorist from doing anything bad. Certain characters here could have probably been labeled as “white-blooded liberal”, or “trigger-happy republican”, and the point would have gotten across, as to who stood on what side of the debate and for what reasons.

Writer/director Gavin Hood could have clearly made any of this material boring and overly-preachy, but instead, he keeps it exciting, tense, and above all else, hard-hitting.

Eye in the Sky, for better or worse, feels like the right movie to address this debate that, quite frankly, is still going on. Society still hasn’t quite latched onto the fact that they’re puny, almost indecipherable robots floating around in our skies, watching our every move, ensuring that nobody’s up to anything naughty and if we are, then how and when can we be stopped. Surely this sort of warfare is intended more for terrorists, but once again, the movie lays on another question: What constitutes a “terrorist”? Obviously, those setting-up and putting together a bomb aimed and ready to get rid of thousands of innocents can be labeled as such, but what about those closely related to that same person? Does that make them guilty by association? Or could they have no idea about this person’s ideals and still get the nuke because, well, they were around and it might as well happen?

Once again, Eye in the Sky brings up all of these questions, gives us some answers, but mostly, leaves you could. This is intended, however, as Hood seems like he’s clearly interested in drone-warfare, for better, as well as for worse. From what it seems, Hood knows that, in some cases, drones may be effective, but in most cases, they bring doubt on those getting locked and loaded to drop the bomb. While someone lower on the food-chain may hear that they’re “getting rid of a heavily-armed and dangerous terrorist”, that person still doesn’t know a single thing about the specifics or what they’re being told is actually true. With Aaron Paul’s pilot character, we see the frustration in how he doesn’t want to drop the bomb on these suspected terrorists just yet, but knows that he has to if he wants to keep his job and not piss the wrong people off in power.

Is Eye in the Sky anti-Army? I’m not sure.

They'll definitely think more the next time they play Call of Duty.

They’ll definitely think more the next time they play Call of Duty.

Either way, Hood seems to be firing on and firing on all cylinders here, and well, it damn well works. Despite all of my yammering on about what the movie talks about and goes to great lengths to argue, Eye in the Sky truly is a tense experience. The mission itself goes from one avenue, to another, with one twist coming after another, but it never seems manipulative or necessary – if anything, it just adds more levels of intensity to a mission that could have been simple and easy-to-solve, but now, has become as complex as they get. But it’s done well in that it keeps you watching, even if you know there’s only one way this movie can seemingly end: With people dying.

And speaking of the people here, everyone’s pretty solid. Helen Mirren holds the fort down as Colonel Katherine Powell, the head gal in charge who is ready for this mission from the very start of her day and won’t stop at anything until its completed; Aaron Paul gets to look dour and scared, which he’s fine at; Barkhad Abdi plays an agent on the ground and, while he’s not doing a whole heck of a lot, it still made me happy to see him doing something (with new teeth, mind you); and the late, great Alan Rickman shows up as Lieutenant General Frank Benson, someone who is back in the office, watching as the action unfolds. While it’s a fine performance from a great actor, what really sets it over the bar, by the end, is a small, but meaningful little speech from Rickman and how it’s either get rid of the terrorists with the time they have, rather than step back and wait for the damage to be done. There’s a certain sadness and heartbreak in his eyes and it’s hard not to think about, long after seeing Eye in the Sky.

Not just for Rickman, but in general. But yeah, also for Rickman.

RIP, man.

Consensus: Incredibly tense without playing its hand too much, Eye in the Sky is the near-perfect thriller that deals with the heavy issues and questions, but also likes to keep its audience on-their-toes as well.

8.5 / 10

"Hello? Yes. Drop that bloody bomb!"

“Hello? Yes. Drop that bloody bomb!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Program (2016)

Come on, guys. Let’s cut Lance some slack. Dude dated Sheryl Crow after all.

Lance Armstrong (Ben Foster), as they like to say, came from nothing, only to then become something. Though he was just a small-time cyclist from Texas, eventually, Lance began to train more and more, to the point of where he was competing in national competitions like, well, for starters, the Tour de France. However, while he was definitely successful very early in his career, he ran into problems when it turned out that he had testicular cancer. Eventually, he got treatment and got back on his bike, except this time, it was with a whole new mission: To help those with cancer. With all sorts of support on his side from everyone around him, Armstrong created the Live Strong foundation, won the Tour de France a few more times, had all sorts of sponsors, was generally seen as “a hero”, and heck, was even in a long-term relationship with Sheryl Crow. It seemed almost as if Armstrong was the king of the world and couldn’t be brought down from his title. However, journalist David Walsh (Chris O’Dowd) saw differently and was one of the key people in challenging Armstrong’s past issues with performance-enhancing drugs. These are the same sorts of issues that would ultimately prove his downfall in the public eye.

Cars vs. bikes. Who's going to win the transportation war?

Cars vs. bikes. Who’s going to win the transportation war?

By now, I’m pretty sure that nobody’s holding a “Lance Armstrong pity party”. The dude may have fought for a meaningful cause and won a slew of Tour de France’s, but was a jerk to mostly everyone in the media, anyone who associated themselves with him, and used his good deeds and charities to almost make an excuse for all of the performance-enhancing drugs he took. Oh, and not to mention, that he lied about almost all of this. So yeah, no time soon will everybody crowd around a picture of Lance, and memorialize the person who he was and cry on his behalf.

Some people may do that now as we speak, but it’s probably a very limited number.

However, that’s what’s perhaps most interesting about the Program: While it does treat Armstrong in a sometimes negative, almost mean light, it still has an effect and makes you wonder if all of this piling-up on him is, well, enough. After the Armstrong Lie, it felt like we already had Armstrong’s story and nothing else needed to be told, which is pretty true in this movie’s case, but director Stephen Frears does something interesting in that he turns the story around ever so slightly and make us think that maybe Armstrong, while not misunderstood, was attacked way too heavily. Sure, he was a cocky dude who brought a lot of these issues on himself for just not sticking to his guns, not staying clean, and gaining a God-complex, but at the same time, he still had some nice qualities to him.

I know that statement literally means nothing in most cases, but here, it means something; rather than painting Armstrong as this completely distasteful, immoral son-of-a-bitch, the movie shows that while he was most definitely a dick, he was one that also wanted to fight for a good cause. Also, the movie likes to focus on those around him, like Lee Pace’s Bill Stapleton, or Denis Menochet’s Johan Bruyneel, and show that they most definitely had a hand or two, or more, in constituting just how far Armstrong went with his success. While he may have wanted to use his wealth and notoriety for the greater good of society and to find a cure for cancer, those around him mostly just saw a piggy-bank that needed to be constantly tapped and used.

Once again, none of this is excusing the fact that Armstrong lied on many occasions, but it brings up some valid arguments about him.

His journalistic sense is tingling.

His journalistic sense is tingling.

That’s why the Program, the movie, feels very mixed. In a way, we didn’t really need this story to be told to us, but because it’s a movie that exists, it’s hard to hate on it for existing. What I can hate on the movie for is not really offering anything fully meaningful to the debate of whether or not we should all, as a society, go back to letting Lance Armstrong into our tender arms. It makes you think if he was a total dick or not, but that’s about it; all the movie really sets out to do is tell Armstrong’s story once again, as if some of those at home didn’t already know a single thing about it, or him.

Also, what’s odd about the movie is how, even at an-hour-and-43-minutes, it goes by very quick. This isn’t something I note as a positive either, as a good portion of the film just feels like a Lance Armstrong highlight reel, where all of the good things he did, gets shown, as well as the bad things, and they’re just constantly put up next to one another, back-to-back. For instance, we’ll get a scene of Armstrong at a children’s hospital, being nice and sweet to the kids, but the next one, we’ll get a shot of him sticking a needle into his bum. While this may be effective editing, it still doesn’t help when there’s at least three or four of these transitions of seeing Armstrong do something nice, only to then have it all juxtaposed by him doing something bad.

We get it! What we didn’t see in the spotlight, was sometimes darker than what we wished!

As Lance Armstrong, Ben Foster is very good in that he’s doing a lot of acting and having seen Armstrong in plenty of interviews/public appearances, it almost doesn’t feel right. Don’t get me wrong, Foster is good and gives this all his every bit, but there’s a lot of yelling, and screaming, and posturing from Foster that I don’t feel was very necessary to this character, especially the real life Armstrong wasn’t totally like this. He was definitely a bit smarmy, in a way, but no way was he a total a-hole like the way he’s portrayed here. If anything, he was just a dull guy who had a lot of championships to his name, his own cancer foundation, and a severe drug habit.

That’s basically all there was to Lance Armstrong – the man, the myth, the cheater.

Consensus: Without making its own mind up on its subject, the Program feels a tad short-shifted, but with some good performances and entertaining, slightly easygoing pace from Stephen Frears, it gets the job done and may have you thinking a bit differently about Armstrong himself. Or, then again, maybe not.

6.5 / 10

He's a hero to us all. Now give me back my money for all those damn wristbands!

He’s a hero to us all. Now give everybody back all their money for those damn wristbands!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Hello, My Name is Doris (2016)

Oh, how far we’ve come since the days of the Flying Nun.

With the recent passing of her mother, Doris (Sally Field) is left to, basically, fend for herself. No worries, as it’s something that she’s been doing for quite some time, but now that she’s nearly 70, the time has come and gone for hoarding, taking the ferry to-and-from work, and not having any particular motivation in life. Though, after a attending a seminar by a motivational speaker (Peter Gallagher), Doris realizes that she has plenty of life to live and it’s her opportunity to grab it while she still can – even if that means, well, pining after her much younger co-worker John (Max Greenfield). And because Doris is so infatuated with John, she can’t keep herself away from stalking him on Facebook, at the office, or trying her hardest to hang out with him, every opportunity she gets. Eventually, she starts to win over John and believes that her dream may just come true. However, it’s also at the expense of her best friends, as well as her own mental-health.

At least it isn't Nicholas Sparks!

At least it isn’t Nicholas Sparks!

It’s great to see such a seasoned vet of the silver screen like Sally Field get roles like Doris. While it’s nowhere near the kind of role that would make us think, “Oh, well they could have given it to anyone,” it’s still also the kind of role that reminds us why she’s just so lovable and cute in the first place. Even at nearly 70, Sally Field can still make wonders with what she can do with a character.

Even in something as fine and okay as Hello, My Name is Doris.

And the only reason why I say that the movie is “fine and okay”, is solely due to the fact that it deals with two different tones and ideas, yet, doesn’t always have the right idea of how to balance them. For one, it’s a movie about an elderly lady getting with the times and finding her new spirit with the younger, much hipper generation, but on the other hand, it’s a movie an elderly lady who is slowly, but surely, coming to terms with her mortality and how, in some ways, she’s only got a few good years left and she might as well make the best of them, even if that does mean putting herself in a very troubling situation. Because of these two different movies colliding, Hello, My Name is Doris doesn’t always feel like the tragic-comedy it wants to clearly be, but co-writer/director Michael Showalter clearly treads the fine line between both.

In ways, too, the movie is very funny, as well as very sad, with one clear attention to the former, and not so less on the later. What’s perhaps actually hilarious about the movie is that there’s a lot of jokes made at the expense of this hipster culture, their weird, electronic music they listen, the odd, seemingly old-timey hobbies they take up (like knitting), and how their lives seem to be so run with technology, that it’s almost too difficult for them to embrace the real world around them. While the movie never tries to make this its prerogative, there’s still plenty of moments where you get the idea that someone like Doris, an older, but seemingly fun and vibrant lady, could actually throw herself into this world and into this life, and nobody would really push back.

The movie could have easily been about how out-of-place and fish-out-of-water Doris is in this younger, much faster world, but really, the movie doesn’t make itself about that. If anything, a lot of the characters want to hang out with Doris more than she actually knows and they treat her just like they would any co-worker; they may not be the best of friends, but their still easygoing enough that they don’t seem like snobs. This extra attention to detail makes the movie feel like so much more than just your average comedy, and make it seem more sweet.

Then again, there is that tragedy-aspect of the movie that comes in, but doesn’t always work.

That Doris has some sort of a mental illness (what with all the hoarding and all), makes it seem like the movie will make some sort of point about it, or better yet, try to have us understand it better. But it sort of doesn’t. This is a problem because the movie does show many of scenes where Doris is clearly having some sort of mental breakdown and doesn’t always understand what’s going on around her, but then not know what to do with them. It’s as if Showlater wants to develop this idea more, but doesn’t want to get too down in the dumps and take us away from the more charming, funny bits that the movie has to offer.

Oh, Sally!

Oh, silly Sally!

At the same time though, this is why Sally Field is such an important factor to a movie like this, where she’s able to blend both sadness and happiness, without ever making too clear of a distinction of what she’s exactly feeling. Because Doris is such a cutesy, lovely little old lady, she can sometimes be seen as the comedic-relief among those around her, but as the movie goes on and on, we see certain shades to her that, yes, may be darker, but may also give us a great understanding of who this woman was and why she is, the way she is now. We never get a clear answer, but because Field is so great at making us think more and more, it doesn’t matter – she’s great as is, creating a funny character, who also has a heart and soul, and isn’t just made to be a joke.

The same can’t really be said for the other characters, however, Showlater still gives them enough to work with.

Though Max Greenfield’s John may be a bit bland, there’s still some sort of idea of him that may actually fall for a woman like Doris. Whether it’s because he has mommy issues, girlfriend issues, or is just lonely and in need of a hug, we don’t know. What we do know is that he and Field have a solid chemistry that transcends being just an infatuated possibility, and more of a nice and tender friendship, where both people give a little something more than the other.

Consensus: Hello, My Name is Doris may have issues with its tone, it still features a solid performance from the always great Sally Field, while also offering a sweet, sometimes, very funny story about aging and embracing the reality that life may have passed you by, but it hasn’t gone away just yet.

7 / 10

Take your lamp and move on, girl!

Take your lamp and move on, girl!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, We Got This Covered, Tumblr

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

I guess aliens really do like Simon Says.

Somewhere out in the rural lands of Indiana, giant UFOs sweep around and cover the sky, capturing everybody’s attention and imagination. One such person who is most definitely captured the most happens to be Roy Neary (Richard Dreyfuss), a married father-of-three who, after witnessing the unidentified flying object, gets a “sunburn” from its bright lights. From here on out, Roy is hooked and will not listen to a single person who tells him everything he saw was nothing more than his mind playing tricks on him. And because Roy refuses so much, not only does he lose his job, but he also runs the possibility of losing his family, too. Meanwhile, a single mother, Jillian Guiler (Melinda Dillon), is having issues keeping her young son in line and in check, especially now all he seems to do is be chasing after the UFO, and now makes them, or better yet, him, a target for them. All while this is going on, French and American scientists get together to figure out just what it is that these aliens want and most importantly, how to communicate with them in a simple, but peaceful way.

Still have no clue what this is.

Still have no clue what this is.

A part of me really wants to love Close Encounters because of the special place it holds in the history of film. It’s one of the first big-budget, mainstream extravaganzas to deal with aliens, UFOs, and science fiction in a realistic and humane way where we weren’t actually terrified that the aliens were going to take over our planet, kidnap our families, and ruin our lives, but wondering, quite simply, “What?” What do they want? What are they doing? And really, how can we communicate with them to where we can not only just get along, but build for a better future where, possibly, humans and aliens can live alongside one another in perfect peace, love and harmony.

For that, Steven Spielberg deserves a lot of credit.

He also deserves a lot of credit for not backing down when it comes to approaching the hard realities one person can face when they are absolutely, positively so willing to dedicate their lives to some sort of belief, that they grow mad. In the case of Richard Dreyfuss’ everyman, Roy, this happens when he believes that he sees a UFO and that they’re going to set up shop on their planet. However, because nobody around him believes him, he loses his mind and therefore, acts out in so many freakish, nearly insane ways, that you can’t blame anyone for wanting to pack up their stuff and leave as soon as he started making some sort of creation with piled-up mashed potatoes at the dinner table.

Then again, you sort of can. Spielberg is smart enough not to blame any character in particular, or make someone more of a villain than others, but what he does do is show that these characters don’t believe Roy, even if he most definitely is correct. Still, at the same time, none of us actually know what to expect with these aliens, or what their motives may be, so while we’re watching Roy loosen his grip with reality, we’re constantly wondering about the cost of it all and whether or not this is actually for anything. Even amidst of all the crazy, sometimes entrancing spacey sci-fi stuff, Spielberg never forgets that there’s a human heartbeat at the center of the story, no matter how crazy or whacked-out it may be.

And oh yeah, the visuals, even by 1977’s standards, are still pretty solid.

Having watched this on my flat-screen in the year 2016, it’s hard to really judge a movie’s special-effects based solely on what’s out and about in today’s day and age, but really, they still work. Not only does Spielberg seem like he’s having a lot of fun featuring huge, canvas-filling spaceships cover-up a solid majority of the screen, but he also enjoys the sounds, the bloops, the bleeps, and the brangs they make, even when it seems to take over every other sound in the movie. But really, that’s sort of the point; these spaceships are so ginormous, that they block out any sound, loud or not, to the point of where it’s the only thing you’re going to ever hear.

So yeah, the movie definitely deserves my respect, however, there’s a feeling that it maybe goes on way too long.

Uhh, what?

Uhh, what?

Most of this has to do with the fact that the scientist/government stuff, as well as Melinda Dillon’s character, really gets in the way of the meat of the story, which is Roy and his connection to the unidentified flying spaceship. I understand that it’s perhaps necessary and a nice add-on to tell these two subplots, along with Roy’s, but really, they get in the way of the emotion, the tension, and most of all, the impact that the final shot ultimately has. Every chance we get to spend with Roy, his middle-class family, and his slow, but sure descent into insanity, the movie breaks away elsewhere to either the government and Dillon’s character – all of which break the momentum the film’s clearly building on, all up until the final shot.

In fact, I’d say that you could have a very good movie without Dillon’s subplot altogether. Of course, this leaves Spielberg without something of a possible romantic love-interest for Roy by the end, but it wouldn’t matter because it would cut down on some time and not really interrupt the main flow of the movie. Nothing against Dillon, as she’s very good in this somewhat tragic role, but her character doesn’t offer-up much except a bunch of yelling and crying that’s not totally needed.

Same sort of goes for the scientist/government stuff, although not to the same certain extent.

This subplot offers up at least some interesting avenues into the way the movie approaches the idea of the UFO, without ever trying to get too conspirator-y. Of course, because this is a Spielberg film, the government can’t be trusted, which is fine to talk about, but really, this was an idea better explored in E.T. and it doesn’t always hit the kind of strong notes that Spielberg clearly wants them, too. That said, this inclusion is still pertinent to the story and helps with that powerful, but surprisingly majestic ending.

So yeah, hate me now. I guess.

Consensus: Close Encounters of the Third Kind may not be the ultimate Spielberg class it’s made out to be, but still features him in his element of blending eerie, but interesting sci-fi stories, with heartfelt, intimate ones about humanity.

8 / 10

"They're here!" Oh wait, wrong movie.

“They’re here!” Oh wait, wrong movie.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Queen (2006)

God save the queen, indeed.

After the death of Princess Diana, all of London was a public mess. People were crying, leaving beds of flowers, and in a downtrodden depression that hadn’t been since the days of the sudden deaths of John Lennon, or Elvis Presley. However, one person who wasn’t quite as tearful or as upset as the rest of the general public was her former mother-in-law, Queen Elizabeth II (Helen Mirren). Elizabeth, even though she tried to appreciate Diana for what she was, can’t understand why so many people would be in such a fit over somebody who, to be honest, they didn’t know. Surely, Elizabeth doesn’t get the point of this sadness, which is why she seems to live her life as usual, walking around with her beloved Corgis, appreciating her husband (James Cromwell), and doing what she always does. Except, this is probably not the best thing for Elizabeth to do, what with Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) ascending to the office of Prime Minister, creating more tension and hatred for her in the press and among public opinion. Eventually, Elizabeth starts to look at the situation in a different light and realize a little something new about herself, as well as the rest of London.

More skin is always better, Philip.

More leg is always better, Philip.

The Queen is an interesting drama, in that everything about it screams “Oscar-bait”, however, the way in which the movie actually plays out, shows something somewhat different. For one, director Stephen Frears approaches the material, not with an overabundance of metaphors and moments of sheer importance, but with a delicate, attention-paying hand and eye that’s more concerned about these actual few people or so, rather than trying to make some statement about how the Queen’s ideals represent an older way of life, against what Diana represented. Surely, all of this material was probably here for Frears to work with, but because he doesn’t see the need in making his material more heavy-handed than it has any right to be, it plays out a little bit better than it would have, had the Academy been sneering towards his way.

At the same time, however, the Queen is also a movie that doesn’t really do much with itself.

I don’t mean this as a way to say that the movie is boring, as there’s plenty to look at, pay attention to, and think about, even when it seems like there’s hardly anything to look or think about. But what I do mean to say is that the Queen deals with such a small issue, in such a particularly subtle way, that if you aren’t already in love with the Queen, the royal family, or everything that the British Royal stand for the most, then sadly, you’ll be kind of lost. For me, I found it hard to care whether or not Queen Elizabeth actually came to terms with the death and subsequent public outcry of Princess Diana. Most of this has to do with the fact that, well, nothing’s really at-stake here; nobody’s going to be calling for the decapitation of her, there’s not going to be any impeachment, and there will surely be no moment of spiritual awakening.

Everything, as they say, will remain the same. Some things may change, but overall, it will be the same as it always was.

And even though watching as a bunch of British cabinet members run around, talking with one another, and generally looking as serious as can be, may sound like fun to some, it doesn’t always sound as fun to me, especially when there isn’t much to grab at here. Frears does a smart thing in that he doesn’t try to overdo the movie with a heavily-stylized direction, but because of this, the movie can sometimes feel as if it’s just treading along, at its own, meandering pace, where people talk and do things, but really, what does any of it matter? Once again, I know I may be in the minority of saying bad things about this relatively beloved film, but for me, while watching the Queen, it was hard to really get sucked into what was going on, especially when there didn’t seem to be much of anything at-stake, except for people’s own hearts, feelings and self-respect.

"Oh, poof! These bloody wankers!"

“Oh, poof! These bloody wankers!”

To me, that’s only high-stakes drama if we undoubtedly care for the subjects whose hearts, feelings, and self-respect is on the line, and with the Queen, some characters were sympathetic, others were not. Helen Mirren won the Oscar for this here and it makes total sense; not only does she downplay the whole role, but she really gets inside of Queen Elizabeth II’s mind, body and soul, wherein we see here deal with this tragedy in the only way she can – without saying, or doing much at all. And of course, there’s a lot of what Queen Elizabeth II says about the public that’s not only funny, but honest, too, giving us the impression that she’s a lady who doesn’t hold back when expressing her feelings on a certain issue, regardless of whether it’s in-line with public opinion, or not.

This isn’t the kind of performance that tends to win Oscars, which is perhaps why Mirren’s performance is all the more illuminating.

But once again, what’s at stake? According to the movie, it’s everything and anything, but in reality, it doesn’t feel like much. We hear a lot from Michael Sheen’s Tony Blair who, considering that the public loves just about everything he does and says, generally seems to be the voice of reason amidst all of the pain and turmoil, but even he turns into this sappy mess who, seemingly out of nowhere, is breaking into speeches about the Queen, her pride, her courage, and why everybody should stick right up for. Maybe the actual Tony Blair was like this, but it seems to come out of nowhere in a film that paints him in an odd light. Same goes for James Cromwell’s Prince Philip, who seems more concerned about his stag, and less about anything else that’s going on.

Once again, maybe this is how the real people, but it still doesn’t grab me even more and make me actually give a flyin’ hoot.

Consensus: Though the direction and performances are much smaller than you’d expect from the typical, awards-friendly fare that the Queen exists in, there’s still not enough to make someone who generally doesn’t care about subjects such as these, actually start doing that.

6 / 10

"Kiss it. Kiss it harder."

“Kiss it. Kiss it harder.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Identity Theory, Cineplex

Dirty Pretty Things (2003)

If only Trump’s dreams come true.

Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a Nigerian refugee currently living in London, where, as a way to stay alive and prosperous, he works two jobs. One is his job as a cab driver, whereas the other, is a bellman at a hotel where he sees and witnesses all sorts of weird and shady things, but because he’s in the country illegally, he never makes a problem of it. Instead, he just goes about his life in London and act as if he didn’t have a more lovely life in his native land, where he was actually a doctor (a job, in ways, he is still doing, if only to look over men’s penises for gonorrhea). Senay (Audrey Tautou) is a Turkish Muslim who works as a maid at the same hotel that Okwe works at and, though she is in the country legally, she is not allowed to hold down a job, or have anyone living with her. Though Senay doesn’t listen to these orders sent on down to her from the immigration police, she may start to have to, considering that they’re now snooping around left and right. Together, though, Senay and Okwe try to live and maintain something of a respectable lifestyle in London, even if that is a lot easier said then done.

Get this at Motel 6 all the time.

Get this at Motel 6 all the time.

Dirty Pretty Things is an oxymoron of a title, mostly because it is, and of itself, a dirty movie, featuring some very pretty things. The “dirty” stuff in this movie is in fact the setting of where these characters live and navigate their lives, and the “pretty” stuff is actually the actors in these roles. No matter what though, the picture that director Stephen Frears paints of this world is in no way a beautiful, or caring one – instead, it’s the underbelly of London, a place we think we know all about from what movies and TV tell us, but in reality, we really don’t.

And because of this, Dirty Pretty Things can sometimes be almost too gritty for its own good.

The fact that the movie starts off with someone finding a human heart in a toilet, already makes you think that it’s gone too far, way before it even began, and some of that is true. For one, the heart itself serves as a bit of a manipulative McGuffin to not only give our main protagonist, Okwe, more time and energy spent in this dark and dirty underworld of London, but also search for his own soul. Writer Stephen Knight clearly knows what he’s trying to do with this aspect of the story and where he wants to go, which is why it’s kind of a shame to see everything start off so obvious and, dare I say it, silly.

But then, the movie, as well as Knight’s script, gets back in line and reminds us that, yes, this story is about immigration, but not the kind of preachy, overcooked story you’d expect. In fact, it’s a whole lot smaller and smarter than that. For example, the movie isn’t necessarily as much of one about immigration, as much as its about these two characters who, yes, happen to be immigrants, but are also trying their absolute hardest to succeed in life, even if every possible blockade stands in their way. Because of the bleak tone, Dirty Pretty Things never amounts to being an inspirational, or better yet, sappy tale about how these characters give it their all when faced with adversity, which helps the movie when it actually comes to discussing and approaching just how cruel the lives these characters live.

But like I said, Dirty Pretty Things is not as corny as I make it sound.

Most of what works here about the writing is that the two lead characters, Okwe and Senay, are so well-done, developed, and interesting, that the fact that there may be something of a romance between the two is the least bit compelling thing about them. The movie touches on it many of times, and each time, it’s about as effective as the last, but really, the insight we get into these two character’s lives, whether together or not, makes us see these characters for who they are and get something of a full-portrait of them. Okwe, despite clearly not having as lavish of a lifestyle as he did back at home in Nigeria, still believes that, one day, things will get better and he’ll live that dream of his, whereas Senay dreams of living in America, but sadly, is stuck in London, and doesn’t want to just sit around all day, wasting her time and being practically useless. Both of them definitely want to work and amount to something, which is why it’s easy to sympathize with them right from the start.

Amelie? What happened to your smile?

Amelie? What happened to your smile?

And it matters so much that, early on, we sympathize with these characters, because Knight’s script moves on and on, the more and more it becomes to get more cruel and mean. However, this isn’t in a so-bleak-it’s-actually-freakin’-depressing way, but more of in this-is-how-it-actually-is way. The movie doesn’t pull back any punches and reminds you that these characters have it bad, which is why when it seems like it couldn’t get any worse – it in fact does. But still, there’s that slight feeling, no matter how small it may actually be, of hope that keeps them, as well as us, the viewer, going. Just to see a character constantly get crapped on, day in and day out, isn’t compelling – it’s just dull and repetitive.

What Dirty Pretty Things does, is that it shows that these characters are capable of having a better life – they just have to search farther and wider for it. Okwe and Senay, played to perfection by both Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou, are both characters we want to see live a happy life – whether it’s in America, or in London, or together, or not, we want to see them happy and living the life they want to live. Though the movie takes all sorts of opportunities to show us why that can’t happen, the idea that they may be able to, at least at one point in their lives, is what keeps engaging and, surprisingly, heartfelt. These two characters do in fact deserve, well, happiness, and because of that, it’s hard not to root for them, and boo on those that try standing in their way.

Perhaps Okwe’s and Senay’s story is the same as any other immigrant trying to make something of themselves in another country, eh?

Consensus: With a detailed, but smart direction from Stephen Frears, a bleak, but ultimately uplifting screenplay from Stephen Knight, and a surprisingly honest and heartfelt tale about immigration, Dirty Pretty Things becomes a movie that’s so much more than just that, and more about how two humans can connect to wanting the same thing and trying to achieve that dream that they so desperately want, by any means necessary.

8 / 10

A Nigerian bellboy and a Turkish maid meet in a hotel lobby. I don't know where the joke goes from there, but it sounds like the punchline to something.

A Nigerian bellboy and a Turkish maid meet in a hotel lobby. I don’t know where the joke goes from there, but it sounds like the punchline to something.

Photos Courtesy if: Indiewire, Reeling Reviews

2 Days in New York (2012)

Falling in love with Julie Delpy is a lot harder than it actually sounds.

Though Marion (Julie Delpy) and Jack (Adam Goldberg) didn’t end up working out, they still live close enough to one another now where their son can see one another and go back-and-forth. Of course, this also means that now Marion has to live in New York, where she soon starts up a new, relatively serious relationship with radio DJ Mingus (Chris Rock). Mingus has a kid of his own, so they’re able to relate and get along just like normal, simple-minded adults who fall in love generally do. And now with Marion’s latest art gallery about to be open to the public, she decides to invite her family from France, all the way over to the states. While Mingus is open to meeting this wacky family of hers, he has no actual clue what he’s getting himself into when they actually show up and basically run all sorts of havoc in and around his life. Marion’s father (Albert Delpy), can’t help being overly sexual, especially with the recent passing of his wife, whereas as her sister (Alexia Landeau) is now sleeping with her ex-boyfriend (Alexandre Nahon) – two people who also can’t stop smoking pot everywhere they go.

Always depend on Chris Rock to have the Kleenex handy.

Always depend on Chris Rock to have the Kleenex handy.

Though it wasn’t a perfect movie in the least bit, 2 Days in Paris was still, for what it’s worth, a very funny, but insightful look inside a relationship that was, as we could all see, on its last limbs. The movie had a great balance of wacky, somewhat over-the-top humor, but found a way to balance it all out with the smart, but sad details of the central relationship and how both partners can sometimes realize the separation occurring, but are too afraid or too comfortable with one another to do anything about it. What also helped that movie is the fact that it was co-written, directed, and starred the lovely, likable, beautiful and incredibly charming Julie Delpy, in her prime-form.

So rarely do we get a chance to see Delpy in the States, whether it’s in one of the Before movies, or, surprisingly enough, the latest Avengers flick, that when she does show her bright and smiling face in something, it’s an absolute joy. That’s why 2 Days in New York, really does feel like a movie I want to like, more than I actually dislike. Delpy herself clearly loves these characters, as well as the nutty situations they get themselves into just for the sake of it. She definitely takes a lot of her inspiration from the likes of Woody Allen and Billy Wilder, wherein the enjoyment can be had with watching as these colorful characters seem to ruin every aspect of their, or someone else’s life, realizing it and then trying to make amends for it all, while still not ever turning nice or into a different person.

Issue is, 2 Days in New York isn’t as deep as it likes to think it is.

Most of this has to come down to the central tone of the movie. There was a certain feeling of uneasiness in Paris that made it feel like more of a dark comedy, rather than an all out, broad piece of comedy. In New York, all of the subversiveness that made the original movie hit so much harder, is basically gone to the wind, so that Delpy’s goofy French relatives can act out and basically make Mingus’ life a living hell. While it was a lot easier to believe this in Paris (considering that it was Adam Goldberg who was actually visiting), now, the characters seem just like a simple pains in the asses who need to be told to “shut the ‘eff up and leave”.

And what’s worst of all, Delpy’s Marion feels a whole lot more annoying than usual. Rather than her being a sympathetic and sweet character we feel bad for because she’s trying to do the right thing and is instead, getting pulled into her senseless family drama, now, she’s making up all sorts of stories and lies, as well as acting-out in public because, well, that’s just what the situation calls for. There’s a running-joke in which Marion says that she has brain tumors, just so that she can get out of a confrontation with her neighbors, that doesn’t really start anywhere, nor end up anywhere (although it does give us a funny bit from Dylan Baker), and shows that Marion’s actually kind of annoying.

Who'd you take a run at? I'm having trouble deciding.

Who’d you take a run at? I’m having trouble deciding.

Never would I have ever thought I’d be using the word “annoying” in the same sentence when describing a Julie Delpy character, but such is what happens in a movie like 2 Days in New York.

And even though Chris Rock is normally fine and funny, no matter what he does, the fact that he’s playing the straight-man here can get a tad bothersome. Sure, it’s neat to see Rock try something new and interesting for a change, but his Mingus character just comes off as boring and never seems actually engaged with the rest of the movie, or Marion for that matter. It’s almost as if Rock and Delpy had just met moments before the camera’s started rolling and they were told to “act in love”. It never feels real and makes the emotional stakes feel low and less meaningful than they did in the original movie.

But at the end of the day though, I did laugh. Not a whole lot, but just enough to make me feel as if my time hadn’t been wasted and I had been on a small trip of sorts that I maybe wouldn’t want to take again in the future, but I’m glad I got a chance to see once more.

Consensus: Delpy herself clearly has a sort of love for these characters, but 2 Days in New York lacks any sort of emotional weight or hilarity to keep it tonally even and entertaining, despite everyone seeming like they’re having a fun time.

5 / 10 

The family that lives in chaos together, well, sleeps together, too.

The family that lives in chaos together, well, sleeps together, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Remember (2016)

Who ever feels bad for the Nazis? Nobody! That’s who!

Nearly 90 and slowly, but surely, losing his memory to dementia, Holocaust survivor Zev (Christopher Plummer), has clearly been through a lot. That’s why, so late in his life, when a fellow friend, as well as Holocaust survivor, Max (Martin Landau), asks him to do a favor for him, he’s absolutely fine with it, even though he may forget about it some odd minutes later. But regardless of that, what Max calls on his dear friend to do for him is to search far and wide for a Nazi that is, supposedly, responsible for the death of his family, as well as Zev’s. Max gives Zev the name and a note, which he carries with him everywhere (as well as a gun), leaving Zev to head out onto this trip all by his lonesome. While he may forget what he’s doing, or where he’s at, and just act a tad confused, Zev still does not forget what his mission to do is, even as it grows more and more difficult every time he meets a new person who may, or may not be, related to the person he’s looking for and trying to kill.

Don't make him pull it. Cause I think he will. I'm actually not sure.

Don’t make him pull it. Cause I think he will. I’m actually not sure.

Writer/director Atom Egoyan hasn’t made a good film in quite some time, but we still hold out hope for him. Most of that has to do with the fact that, no matter what project he takes on next, he still finds talented people to be in his films and give him their all. Why is this? I still don’t really know, especially since Egoyan himself hasn’t been relevant since the Sweet Hereafter. But regardless, here we are with Remember, a film starring not one, but two very old Oscar-winners, which already puts it above the fray of the rest of Egoyan’s movies. Perhaps this time around, he wants to play it more confined and smaller, rather than go all out on some sort of big, blockbuster route, where we’d get all sorts of big-named actors and such, showing up and making the movie more ambitious, right?

Well, yes and no.

Egoyan does do something somewhat smart with his direction here in that he doesn’t allow for the story to get too over-saturated. Because we’re literally just meeting up with Zev so late in his life, we have to draw up a lot of conclusions of who this character was before he started to get old, and just why he matters to us now. Egoyan never shows us anything through flashbacks, but instead, allows for us to make up our own mind and watch as he travels through this new adventure of his, sometimes struggling to find a meaning, or better yet, purpose in all of it, but mostly, just trying to survive another day on Earth where he can remember what he’s doing, or where he’s at.

And channeling a lot of this sadness is Christopher Plummer in what is, yes, a very good performance from someone we expect them from constantly. Even though, like I said, Zev is an entirely new character to us, Plummer gives him all sorts of shadings, that have him go beyond just being the old, confused man. Yes, it’s very easy to feel bad for him and want to just give him a hug, but at the same time, Plummer shows that there’s at least some ruthlessness to him that may make him somebody other than from what we expected. Of course, this all help to Plummer and just how good of an actor he is – to make someone like this so grounded, even when it seems like he’s totally losing his marbles.

I guess being a Nazi war criminal also means not having the number to a barber.

I guess being a Nazi war criminal also means not having the number to a barber.

But of course, the rest of the movie is a bit of a problem.

Egoyan tries to make something compelling and tense with this script, but mostly, it just feels like a half-baked idea. At nearly an hour-and-a-half, Remember already feels too short and makes it seem like Egoyan didn’t have the time, or courage to really discuss any of these issues that were brought up here. There’s one scene with Bruno Ganz and Plummer that discusses how those involved with Hitler and the Nazis, still believe it to be their right call of passion. This is an obviously a controversial statement, but the movie never seems all that interested in exploring it anymore, and to just move onto the next scene where Plummer will meet up with somebody else, take out his gun and ask a few questions.

And yes, because Remember is a thriller, it doesn’t always work. In a way, it feels a lot better as a dark, but contained drama, if anything. But once Egoyan tries to throw in the guns and violence, it doesn’t quite go anywhere. Instead, it feels like an actor getting restless and worried that his movie may not already be grabbing people’s attention, so he has to create something to make that happen. It doesn’t quite work and makes Remember feel like two completely movies; both of which, Plummer is very good in.

Then again, when is that man not good in something?

Consensus: Despite dealing with some very dark and serious issues, Remember is all too concerned with its blood and violence, rather than actually addressing anything, but always allowing for Christopher Plummer to work his usual magic and keep everything grounded.

6 / 10

"Damn, we're old, man."

“Damn, we’re old, man.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Wait, where’s T.J. Miller at?

While on the run away from a failing marriage, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) all of a sudden gets into a car accident where, moments later, she wakes up having no clue where she is. All that she does know is there her knee is messed-up, she’s locked onto a pipe, and stuck in this room, which also happens to be in the basement. Soon though, in walks Howard (John Goodman) to give her the lowdown on who he is, what happened and why he has her locked in his basement. What Michelle finds out from Howard is that there’s a supposed attack on the United States and almost no one above ground is safe – therefore, them, as well as Howard’s trusted worker, Emmet (John Gallagher, Jr.), are to be stuck down there in this confining, but perfectly prepared and relatively cozy bomb shelter, until they get the “go ahead” to come out into the real world. This means that, until this time comes, they’re going to have to get to know each other a whole lot better, even if that’s a lot easier said then done, when you believe there to be the apocalypse occurring right outside your door.

Don't leave, John! No one ever leaves John!

Don’t leave, John! No one ever leaves John!

Just as Cloverfield did over eight years ago, 10 Cloverfield Lane is building up this tense of suspense and tension, solely through its advertising. While we may have a general idea of what this film’s about judging by the title, the fact that it’s filmed with famous actors, without the hand-held footage aspect, already makes it seem like an entirely different movie altogether. Though, from a business standpoint, having the word “Cloverfield” attached may have been smart, it’s actually the worst decision a movie as meticulously planned and put together as this, could have made.

There’s a certain feeling of disbelief and unknowing that really takes over 10 Cloverfield Lane that makes you wonder just what the hell is going on outside these surrounding walls these characters are confide to. While had this been any other movie, without nearly the savvy and smart advertising as this movie did, and a different name, would have had us thinking the best, but expecting the worst, and generally not knowing what is happening, we kind of already got the idea of what’s going on outside and it’s a huge bummer. With that said, it’s very hard to talk about a movie such as this considering that each and every little thing one can point at, or at least discuss, can be seen as “a spoiler”. And while it’s a lot easier said then done in cases such as this, I will try my absolute hardest not to go into what 10 Cloverfield Lane is about, what transpires and what you can expect going into it.

If there is anything you want to know, though, is that’s it really fun.

Like, really, really fun.

First-time director Dan Trachtenberg may not be J.J. Abrams, but he might as well have been here, considering that a lot of the same stylistic tropes and signatures we’re used to seeing from him, are clearly on-display. This is a great thing, especially if you’re an Abrams fan, because it not only sets us off in an upsetting mood from the beginning, but also allows for us to enjoy the finer, smaller things that this movie has to offer. To call it simply “a horror flick”, isn’t doing 10 Cloverfield Lane much justice; if there is actually anything “horrifying” going on here in the movie, it’s what we think is going to happen. Everything else about the movie is, for the most part, an exciting thriller that blends a great deal of heart, character-drama, tension, and, yes, even comedy.

10 Cloverfield Lane could have easily been a boring, meandering slog of watching famous, good-looking people, cry and complain about the end of the world being nigh, but the team behind the movie are much smarter than that and know the best ways to keep an audience interested, is by giving them something more to chew on. That’s why the characters, as limited as they may be in terms of what we get to see of them, do feel fully-realized enough to where we’re compelled to see what happens next – not just because it’s Earth that’s, supposedly, under attack, but because we actually give a hoot about these characters.

This is all the more important due to the fact that 10 Cloverfield Lane is, essentially, a three-hander featuring the likes of John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and John Gallagher, Jr. I won’t say if somebody else shows up, or is heard, but yeah, for the most part, it’s the Goodman/Winstead/Gallagher show for the longest time and it’s a great one. All three are pros and are able to bring out the smallest, but most meaningful details in their characters that make them all the more humane and compelling, even if we’re still foggy on the details of who the hell they actually are, as opposed to who they say they are.

Well, if the human race is officially wiped out, at least there's still some hope.

Well, if the human race is officially wiped out, at least there’s still some hope.

And this is when 10 Cloverfield Lane starts to run into a slight bit of a problem.

For one, it builds itself so nicely as this small, rather contained chiller-thriller of sorts, that when it decides to turn the other cheek and be something a bit bigger and more explosive, it seems a bit off. Not unwelcome, but odd in the way that it seems like one half of the film was directed by Trachtenberg, and the other half was filmed by someone else, entirely. I won’t say exactly why this is a problem, but just know, it’s a bit of a shame to see 10 Cloverfield Lane go from something so smart and exciting, to something a bit less subtle and more wacky.

Still though, for the longest time, it’s a fun movie that clearly shows why advertising in the movie-business, above all else, pays off in the long run. This may not be good for the future of films, but hey, it’s something that’s going to continue to catch the world by storm.

So freakin’ deal with it!

Consensus: It may get a little wild in its last act, but for the longest time, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a fun, exciting, and well-acted tale that’s been shredded in so much secrecy, it’s hard to picture what’s going to happen next.

8 / 10

"What is it? Godzilla? Or just some monster who kind of, sort of, well, maybe looks and acts like him? Who knows?"

“What is it? Godzilla? Or just some monster who kind of, sort of, well, maybe looks and acts like him? Who knows?”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Knight of Cups (2016)

The life of a Hollywood writer is so tragic.

Rick (Christian Bale) is an acclaimed writer currently spending his life in Hollywood, where he parties, has an awful lot of sex, and mostly, walks around, mumbling his own thoughts to himself. But even though his lifestyle may be a lavish one, he still feels the pain and agony from the many relationships he has. There’s Della (Imogen Poots), a rebellious firecracker who sports a leather jacket; there’s Nancy (Cate Blanchett), his sad ex-wife who doesn’t know what it is that she wants in life; there’s Helen (Freida Pinto), a fancy model he meets at a party who may be out of his league; there’s Karen (Teresa Palmer), a carefree, but fun-loving stripper; there’s Elizabeth (Natalie Portman), a married woman who he carries on a sordid affair with; and then, there’s Isabel (Isabel Lucas), an excited young woman who brings some joy to his already sad life. Through this all, Rick also engages with his brother (Wes Bentley), who may or may not be a junkie, and his old, but dying father (Brian Dennehy), who may or may not have abused them both when they were kids.

Either way, there’s a lot of sulking going on here.

Why so sad? The beach is right behind you!

Why so sad? The beach is right behind you!

Terrence Malick has been all over the place as of late, sometimes, for better, as well as for worse. The Tree of Life was his first movie in nearly five years, but it proved to be something of a surprise, even by Malick’s standards. Sure, it was nearly two-and-a-half hours long and seemed to dive into the cosmos one too many times, but at the same time, it still registered as a heartfelt, intimate and insightful tale into what Malick saw as growing up and becoming a man, when you’re still definitely a child at heart. That movie opened-up a lot of new insights into the kind of director Malick was, how he viewed himself, and just why he still deserves to be a trusted force, even if he is as unpredictable as they can get.

And then To the Wonder came out and sadly, things went back to the old, weird and somewhat boring ways.

Not that there was anything wrong with that movie in terms of its production-design, as everything in it, looked and sounded beautiful. But as a story? The movie was pretty hallow and in desperate need of some sort of heart, or emotion, or insight to really keep it moving. Heck, Ben Affleck’s lead character had barely five lines of dialogue and we were supposed to follow him and be compelled by every choice he made in his love life? Didn’t quite work for me, even if there were aspects of the movie that I did admire.

That’s why something like Knight of Cups, while not totally Malick’s most accessible film, still offers up a little something more than what we’ve been seeing as of late with him. What’s perhaps most interesting about what Malick does here is that he focuses all of his time, attention and beauty on the soulless, cruel and dull world of Hollywood; one in which everybody parties, soaks up the sun, and has sex with one another, yet, nobody really seems to fully enjoy the excess. This isn’t new material being touched on, but considering that it’s Malick, it feels slightly refreshing and more poetic, rather than just seeming like a rich person, going on and on about how rich people, make too much money, have too much fun, and don’t really seem to have many responsibilities at all.

Okay, the cast may make it seem like that, but Malick’s focus is mostly on Christian Bale’s Rick – someone who, like Affleck’s character, doesn’t have much of anything to say. But considering that everything happens around him, it’s interesting to see just how much of Bale’s demeanor doesn’t change, as it seems like he was just directed and told to walk around, observe his surroundings, and just stare at people if they talk to you, or ask you questions. It’s a bit odd at times, but Bale is still a compelling presence here, that even when it’s clear he isn’t the star of the show, he still makes us want to know more about him.

Same goes for all the other characters who show up here, which is why Knight of Cups has a slight bit more character-detail than his latest offerings.

Rather than featuring everyone frolicking and smiling in/around nature, everyone seems to have at least some sort of personality that makes them intriguing to watch, even if Malick himself doesn’t really give them all the attention they need or deserve. Most of the women in Rick’s life show up, do their charming thing, and leave at the drop of a hat, but it’s still enough to leave a lasting impression. Cate Blanchett’s character is perhaps the saddest, most tragic character out of the bunch, with Natalie Portman’s coming up to a close second. Others like Teresa Palmer and Imogen Poots seem as if they showed up to have a blast and because of that, they’re hard not to smile about or love. Sure, we don’t get to know much about them, or why they matter (other than from the fact that they’re banging Rick), but we get just enough that it goes a long way.

Same goes for Wes Bentley’s brother character, as well as Brian Dennehy’s father character. Bentley seems as if he showed-up to the set, high off his rocker, which brings out a lot of intentional, but mostly unintentional, laughs, whereas Dennehy is a stern presence, making a lot of his scenes feel oddly tense. Malick could have definitely dug into this dynamic a whole lot more, rather than just trying to let all of the narration do the talking for him, but what he’s got here, as meager as it may be, is still well worth taking a bite at.

See?!?

See?!?

Still, there is that feeling that even at nearly two hours, there needs to be something more.

Don’t get me wrong, one of the best qualities about Knight of Cups is that Malick gives at least some more attention to the plot and to the characters than he has recently, but like with most of his other films, it’s hard not to wonder where’s the other reels. We know that certain actors like Joel Kinnaman, Thomas Lennon, Nick Kroll, Nick Offerman, Jason Clarke, and Joe Lo Truglio, among others, have all filmed scenes for this and can be seen ever so briefly, so why not include them? If judging just solely by their celebrity status and skill, why not put them in for good measure and allow for them to make their mark? Sure, it would be a crazier, perhaps longer movie if they were in it, but at least there’d be something to enjoy, rather than be utterly confused by.

Same goes for the characters and cast-members Malick already has at his disposal. There’s so many characters and actors here that, at times, I wish there would have been more context. And knowing Malick for Malick, there’s no reason this shouldn’t be at least a three hour opus of sorts. Sure, some would be pissed and not want to bother with it, but his fans, and those who admire him most probably would definitely like to see what Malick had in his goody-bags all this time. After all, nobody ever said “more development” was a bad thing to have, especially not in a Malick movie.

But hey, this all just me.

Consensus: Beautiful, engaging, and as meditative as you can get with a Malick film, Knight of Cups may not be his most accessible film, but it still offers up enough emotion and intrigue that makes it feel less like a slog, and more like a brain-teaser of what else could possibly be out there.

7 / 10

The dude who played Batman for three movies definitely has enough money for a private lap dance and then some.

The dude who played Batman for three movies definitely has enough money for a private lap dance and then some.04

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire