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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: January 2017

Proof of Life (2000)

Americans, stay home.

Alice and Peter Bowman (Meg Ryan and David Morse), are a loving couple who are now stationed in a nice little house somewhere in South America. Why? Well, because where Peter’s energy company is overseeing construction of a dam, something that is obviously benefiting them, but no one else who actually lives there and has to put up with all of the destruction, construction and rampage. While Peter is out and about doing his job, Alice is at home, getting more and more frustrated and unhappy about their marriage, what she wants to do with her life, and wondering whether or not she actually wants to start a family with Peter, or leave him altogether. Well, Alice is in for a shock when she finds out that Peter has been taken hostage by a bunch of terrorists, looking for more money from Alice and seeing how long they can keep her on the hook, while he’s still alive. Alice, without a clue in the world of what to do, decides that the best way to handle this situation is call up a professional: Enter Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe), a professional negotiator who has a strict moral code when it comes to hot and heavy situations like these, and won’t put up with any silly shenanigans, especially since he’s kind of becoming a little attracted to Alice and her plight, all things considered.

"Yeah, let's go yell and shoot things."

“Yeah, let’s go yell and shoot things.”

Most of the heat surrounding Proof of Life around the time of its release wasn’t how “good”, or “bad” it actually was, but because of how both co-stars, Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan, got together, shacked-up and inevitably, ended the later’s years-long marriage to Dennis Quiad. Does any of that really matter? No, not really, but it definitely does help to make sure that a movie, whether it’s bad or not, is talked about in the mouths of many people who probably have no reason to see it in the first place.

They just want the gossip and that’s about it.

That said, Proof of Life is a better movie than the controversy surrounding it, mostly because it’s about something slightly more than you’d expect with thrillers of these natures. Director Taylor Hackford is definitely hit-or-miss, but what he does well here, is that he does find smart, interesting ways to keep the tension moving, even when it seems obviously and abundantly clear just where the story is going, at almost every moment. Writer Tony Gilroy also deserves some credit for trying to make this ordinary thriller about more than just a husband being kidnapped, and more about the issues of big, corporate America coming in and taking over foreign countries for land, oil and money, but a part of me feels like there was a far more detailed script, that went into this a whole lot more and more.

Instead, Proof of Life mostly concerns itself with the fact that Morse’s character may have been up to no good and probably deserves some bad stuff to happen to him, but to die for it all? Well, probably not. And that’s fine; Hackford and Gilroy do come together enough in a way that makes us care about Morse’s character while he’s on this seemingly never ending journey to nowhere, as well as making us care about the characters at home, sitting around, waiting for something, hell, anything to happen. In fact, there’s more character stuff going on here than I see with most other thrillers of the same kind, making it worthy of getting invested in.

Wait, which one's David Morse?

Wait, which one’s David Morse?

And yes, that does mean that Crowe and Ryan are good, however, both seeming to be in different movies.

Proof of Life is by no means whatsoever, a smart, sophisticated film made for the far more prestige-crowd out there, but at the same time, it’s no silly, slam-bang action-thriller, either. It’s just serious enough to be dark, but also fast-paced enough not to be slow. That’s why it’s odd by how cartoonish Crowe is here, showing up into every scene, only to drop some witty line, kick somebody’s ass, or stare long and hard at Meg Ryan. Don’t get me wrong, Crowe is fine with that and can be fun to watch, but when you take into consideration the rest of the movie surrounding him, it seems a little off. Same goes for David Caruso, who is so loud, obnoxious and foul-mouthed, you wonder if he was expecting this to be some sort of Die Hard spin-off.

But on the other hand, Morse and Ryan are both quite great here, showing that this kind of material can work, so long as you underplay as much as you can. Sure, often times, Morse laps into the loud craziness that contains both of Crowe’s and Caruso’s performance, but there’s also these small, human moments that make his character tick a whole lot more and it’s interesting to see what sort of lessons he learns and how he handles said situation. Ryan’s good as his wife, because her character’s also a little complicated, too; she’s the wife who actually got into a dispute with her hubby, didn’t know whether or not she wanted to stay with him and now, all of a sudden, has to really care about him and his well-being, all of a sudden. It’s a difficult role to make sympathetic, but Ryan does and it’s a shame that she never seemed to get enough credit for her against-type roles, because she truly did challenge herself, when push came to shove.

Unfortunately, not so much anymore, but here’s to hoping for a possible return of Meg Ryan.

Even as unrecognizable as she may be.

Consensus: While definitely an odd mixture between being too serious and sometimes silly, Proof of Life is an interesting thriller that tries to be about something, but overall, just ends up being a tense thriller.

6 / 10

"Come with me, Meg. Marriage is so silly, anyway."

“Come with me, Meg. Marriage is so silly, anyway.”

Photos Courtesy of: Rave Pad, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB

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The Mighty (1998)

David and Goliath could have always been pals. But society, man.

Maxwell Kane (Elden Henson) is having a pretty rough time growing up. His mom’s died, his father (James Gandolfini) is in jail, he’s living with his grand-parents (Harry Dean Stanton and Gena Rowlands), and his big, sort of dumb, and easy to pick on. He’s trying to better himself and in a way, make the situation that he’s in, better as a result, but because of all these bullies and the fact that he has yet to pass the seventh grade, really does hinder from accomplishing some of the achievements he sets out for himself. However, there is some hope for Maxwell, but oddly enough, it comes in the form of his next-door neighbor Kevin (Kiernan Culkin), who happens to have been born with a bad spine, forcing him to hobble around on crutches for what may seem like the rest of his short existence. With Kevin, Maxwell not only learns how to read better and pass the seventh grade, but in return, he puts Kevin up on his shoulders and takes him everywhere that he wants to go. And because Kevin has such an ambitious head on his shoulders, this normally leads the two to some pretty crazy and wild adventures, with a few of them leading to some pretty dark and scary places.

Round one, fight!

Round one, fight!

I’m torn about the Mighty for a lot of odd reasons. It’s not because I can’t decide whether the movie is “good”, or “bad”; it’s definitely “fine”, and probably nothing more. No, what I’m really torn about is whether or not I should have liked it more, because of what it did with the sub-genre of kids movies. The Mighty, on the outside and sort of in, seems like a traditional kids movie, in which it deals with some sad themes, like death, jail, and bullying, but uplifting ones, too, like family, love, respect and inspiration.

But it’s never really a total kids movie, or at least, not the kind I’m used to seeing. What the Mighty teaches, is that being the best to your ability is always a good way to get by in life, but also keeping yourself smart, by reading, challenging yourself, and constantly exploring the world, will also make a you better person in the long run. It also takes about the reality of death, what it does, how it can affect you, and how just to get by it all; very rarely do kids movies touch on death, for the sake of not scaring too many parents/kids away from seeing, but the Mighty isn’t scared of doing that. In fact, it embraces the reality of life and knows that it’s better to talk about it, rather than just shove it to the side and forgetting about its existence.

But at the same time, the movie’s still not as good as it should be.

One reason is because while it can be sentimental, it’s also very cheesy, seeming like a movie made in the early 70’s, as opposed to a movie made in the late-90’s. For instance, there’s a bunch of bullies who run rampant around Chicago, picking on Maxwell, Kevin, and oddly enough, random adults who sort of just take it and accept it as is. Needless to say, these are kids who are probably around 15-16, running around a city like Chicago, getting away with robbery and random bits of assault, all forgetting that it’s Chicago and yeah, they don’t put up with a lot of crap, let alone a pack of young white kids, snatches up purses and picking off wallets.

That, to me, is just relatively laughable, but okay, I’m willing to get past it for the sole fact that it’s basically a kids movie and sure, some fantasy is allowed. But then the movie, for some reason or another, decides that it needs more to its plot than just Kevin and Maxwell getting to know one another better, and making each other better people. Therefore, we get a random, wholly unnecessary subplot involving Maxwell’s long lost criminal daddy, that comes in and out of the story for a total of fifteen minutes, wastes the sheer talent of Gandolfini, and oh yeah, is settled in about two seconds.

I'd eat at that table. The kiddies would have to shut it though.

I’d eat at that table. The kiddies would have to shut it and let the grown ups speak, though.

It’s silly and breaks up any energy that the movie had going for it.

Because when it’s about Maxwell and Kevin, well, it kind of works. Once again, it’s one of these kids movies where the kids talk and act a lot smarter than you’d typically expect, which can get to be a bit tiresome, after about the fourth or fifth soliloquy. It does help that two very young guys like Elden Henson and Kiernan Culkin are working with this dialogue, but sometimes, even they fall prey to its forced-quirkiness, with Culkin’s character hardly ever saying anything in a serious manner – older Culkin is a different story, but when he was about 12 or so, yeah, it just didn’t quite work.

Honestly though, it’s a real shame that so many people in this great cast got wasted. Gena Rowlands and Harry Dean Stanton are basically here to just be the grand-parents, who don’t really do or say much of anything at all; Sharon Stone tries what she can with such an under-written role as Kevin’s mom; Gillian Anderson’s character is another bit of pure waste, even though she’s charming as hell; and even Meat Loaf shows up, not really doing much. The Mighty is definitely a kids movie, which makes sense that it would put such a huge emphasis on the kids and forget about the adults, but come on, when you have a cast full of so many heavy-hitters, it’s an absolute shame not to use them.

Then again, if the kiddies are happy, who cares, right?

Consensus: Corny, overly sentimental, and surprisingly over-plotted, the Mighty does deal with some very important aspects about growing up and living up to your full potential, but ultimately, doesn’t live up to its own.

5 / 10

Life is better when you tower over everyone. Trust me.

Life is better when you tower over everyone. Trust me.

Photos Courtesy of: Cineplex, Mubi

Christine (2016)

Hate to say it, but journalism hasn’t gotten much better.

Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hill) is not all that happy with her life. While she’s got a reporting job at a local news station, the stories that she seems to want to really dive into and make her name on, unfortunately, don’t seem to get much attention or done at all. The station is changing, just like the rest of the journalism world itself is, too. That’s why Christine sticks to her guns no matter what and tries to get the juiciest, meatiest stories she can find. However, there’s a lot more going on in Christine’s life than just her job; she’s also trying to find that one, special someone so that she can get married, have kids and do everything that she was brought up to do. She thinks she has that opportunity with the star reporter at the station (Michael C. Hall), but she’s so closed-off and awkward, she doesn’t know how to go about initiating anything resembling a conversation, let alone, a date. Meanwhile, her mother (J. Smith-Cameron) is now living with her, making her more and more frustrated about life, leading her to act out in some despicable, shocking ways.

Wrong channel?

Wrong channel?

The story of Christine Chubbuck is, needless to say, a very sad one. While there’s a good part of this movie that was most definitely made-up for the sake of having an actual movie, the idea that someone who just wanted to make something of a difference in this world, tell interesting stories, find love, get married, have kids and just be happy, if anything else, is relatable to life in general. And knowing the real story behind the subject, as well as director Antonio Campos’ past two flicks (Afterschool, Simon Killer), it’s hard not to expect Christine, the movie, to be an absolute dark and deep breath of depression.

But it’s actually kind of not. In ways, it can actually be pretty funny, in that it makes fun of certain characters, while also, by the same token, embraces them for who they are, especially Christine herself. But no matter how funny the movie can get, there’s always this underlining air of sadness that’s mostly always felt, even in some of the more compelling scenes; one in particular, where we hear of all of Christine’s problems in a very straightforward, manner-of-fact way, starts off one way, and ends a totally different way then you’d ever expect.

But it still works.

It’s definitely a credit to Campos and writer Craig Shilowich for coming together and figuring out how to make this forgotten figure in our pop-culture’s history, story, still relevant and heart-wrenching. Why should we care about this girl, other than the fact that she killed herself on live television? Well, the movie tells us why, not forgetting about her flaws, while at the same time, not forgetting that she was a human being who wanted just the same as you or I.

But as much as Campos and Shilowich deserve the credit here for telling Christine’s story to the best of their ability, it’s also a lot of credit to Rebecca Hall, giving it her all and then some, in a role that finds her really stretching her acting-muscles and it all coming off so perfectly. A lot of people went crazy this awards season about Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Kennedy and how she nailed down the voice, but also made us see beneath the fine dresses and speech – Hall does that with Chubbuck, but I think, almost does a better job.

Yeah, don't be on the opposite end of Letts' wrath.

Yeah, don’t be on the opposite end of Letts’ wrath.

For one, it’s definitely a little hard to get used to Chubbuck’s manner of speaking and the way she carries herself in just about every conversation she has, but Hall works with it and shows us that there’s more to her than just an awkward-presence, and instead, a person who solely wants to be seen, loved, and cared for, regardless of who said person may be. It’s actually quite heart-breaking to watch, as even though Chubbuck may think she’s the smartest person in the room, the movie still shows us that nobody’s paying attention to her and because of it, she’s driven deeper and deeper into her depression. Christine may not place itself as a sort of cautionary tale, or even a cry for help, for those who can’t cry for themselves, but at the end of the picture, it definitely seems like that.

And the rest of the cast is quite good, too, showing us how each and everyone interacts with Chubbuck, as hard as it sometimes may be. Michael C. Hall plays the one reporter she falls for and while he may seem like the typical d-bag, there’s actually more to him as the movie progresses; J. Smith-Cameron is a very good actress, but unfortunately, her role here does seem very stuffed-in, as if the character may have not been all that much of a presence in real life, but the movie felt like it needed her around; Maria Drizzia plays Christine’s co-worker who actually listens to her and, in other ways, looks up to her; and Tracy Letts plays her boss who always yells, drinks, and smokes, and he’s pretty great at it.

Like I said, no one here is a bad person, or a good one – they’re all just people.

Like Christine Chubbuck.

Consensus: Well-acted and insightful, Christine is an interesting look at one of TV’s more forgotten-figures, showing us a sad, but always compelling look into a life full of depression and some hopes.

8 / 10

Very, very lonely there in the journalism world.

Very, very lonely there in the journalism world.

Photos Courtesy of: HeyUGuys

Split (2017)

One crazy just isn’t enough.

After a birthday party at the mall, three teenagers, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), are randomly kidnapped by a man named Dennis (James McAvoy). They have no clue why, or what his intentions are, but now, they’re stuck in his underground lair, of sorts, where he will do whatever he wants with them. However, there’s something relatively off about Dennis that the girls know right from the start; he’s constantly switching in and out of different personalities. Sometimes, he’s acting like a woman, sometimes, he’s acting like a hard-ass, and other times, he’s acting like a nine-year-old child. Eventually, the girls catch wind of this and realize that they could possibly use this to their advantages and manipulate him. But the more personalities that Dennis switches to, the more violent and angry they get, making the situation all the more dangerous and scary, even if, on the outside, there may be some hope, what with Dennis’ therapist (Betty Buckley), thinking more and more about Dennis’ issues and wanting to see just what he’s really got going on in that twisted, wild and out-of-control head of his.

Grumpy

Grumpy

Very early on in his career, when hopes were high and the sky was basically the limit, a lot of people were championing M. Night Shyamalan as “the next Spielberg”, or more radically, “the next Hitchcock.” And for awhile, it’s not hard to see why people bought this; his early movies, while definitely odd, were still ambitious, thrilling and well-done, showing a writer/director who wasn’t afraid to get us on the edge of our seats a little bit, but also tell a solid story in the mean time. It’s why a movie like the Sixth Sense, despite the pop-culture obsession surrounding it, is actually better than people give it credit for – in fact, it’s why a lot of his movies are better than people give them credit for. But then, of course, it all went haywire for M. Night’s career, and slowly but surely, his random plot twists became so ridiculous, so expected and so damn predictable, he essentially became a parody of himself.

It’s odd, though, because ever since After Earth, there’s been some sure signs that M. Night may soon make it back to our hearts, minds and souls again; the Visit, well definitely a silly movie, was still fun enough that it worked enough as a solid reminder that when he wants and isn’t distracted, M. Night can deliver on the genre-thrills. And they keep on coming with Split, M. Night’s latest that shows us what can happen when he isn’t given a whole bunch of stuff to work with. Sure, it’s his script and all, but the movie’s budget is smaller, the names in the cast aren’t as big as he’s used to working with, and guess what? The plot is actually so simple and straightforward that it gives him just enough of an opportunity to play around a little bit and have some fun.

Which is exactly what Split is, but it’s also a little bit more than just that.

Split finds M. Night meaner and darker than ever before, and for me, that really worked; taking the kidnapping plot out of the equation, this is a story about mental disorders, repressed homosexuality, pedophilia, incest, and oh yeah, cannibalism. It’s a very freaky and off-putting movie, but in that way, it actually works perfectly. M. Night knows just the right buttons to push, when to push them, and how to make them count; there’s a couple of silly moments here that are quite reminiscent of some of his lowest-peaks, but there’s something surrounding them that make the silliness, still kind of work.

This time, M. Night isn’t worried about tooting his own horn here, nor is he all that worried about trying to prove something to everyone that he deserves love and admiration from movie fans all over the world – this time, he just wants to give us a tense, shocking, and surprisingly unpredictable pulp-thriller. There are even moments where the film seems as if it’s going to go into places you expect it to, but then, it turns the other cheek and surprises; M. Night hasn’t been this smart in the longest time and it’s nice to see him back, working his tail off to provide some rough and tough stuff.

Bashful

Bashful

Still, rough and tough is what we need from M. Night and less of whatever the hell else he’s been doing for the past decade or so.

But M. Night isn’t the only star here and thankfully, he gets out of the way a lot and lets James McAvoy shine as “Dennis”. McAvoy has always been an exceptional talent to watch, but here, he really challenges himself, going deeper and darker into the depravity and sure craziness of this character. Sure, it can sometimes be really funny and weird, but it actually works in the movie’s favor, because there’s always a deep underlining of sadness felt throughout it all. It comes through the direction, of course, but most definitely through McAvoy’s performance, where he has to inhabit all of these different characters, personalities and mannerisms, handling them all very well, without seeming like he’s hamming it up too much.

Okay, maybe he does a little, but hey, he’s allowed to this time around.

Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, and Anya Taylor-Joy also put in good work as the three teens who have to figure their way out of this situation, with Taylor-Joy’s being the most handy. Although M. Night made her something of a laughing-stock in the Happening, Betty Buckley gives a good performance as Dennis’ therapist, who wants what’s best for him and stop bad things from happening, but also wants to push her own career a little bit, too. The movie constantly switches in-and-out between her and his story, which can sometimes get in the way the pacing, but for the most part, they’re both so good at what they do, it almost doesn’t matter.

Oh and that ending. Well, without saying too much, there is a twist and well, I’m still not sure what I have to say about it. I’ll just leave it at that and see where my thoughts take me over the next few weeks or so.

Consensus: With a smarter head on his shoulders this time around, Split finds M. Night in a playful, yet scary mood, adding tension, excitement and craziness to a pretty dreadful and dark story, giving us something that not many Hollywood companies would sign off on.

8 / 10

Happy

Happy

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Gold (2017)

Greed is sort of good, so long as your ugly, bald and fat.

After his father dies, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is left without much to do in his life. He was so successful for so very long, but now, without the inspiration of his dear old daddy to help him out, he’s basically hitting rock bottom, drinking, smoking and eating a whole lot more than he used to. Even though his wife (Bryce Dallas Howard) is there to cheer him on every step of the way, there’s still something just dragging Kenny down and not making him able to catch that big break just yet. Then, out of nowhere, it hits him: Set out on an adventure to the uncharted jungles of Indonesia and look for gold. Kenny feels that this idea is great enough that he could get funding from just about any person with half a brain – unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. Instead, Kenny has to reach out to a local businessman, Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), to help him on this adventure and see just what kind of gold mine they’re actually working with here. Turns out, there’s a whole lot of it hidden, and now, it’s up to Kenny and Michael to get it all out, make a whole lot of money, and not get dragged down by other various greedy sons-of-bitches.

"Trust me, bro. I can smell the gold. Or it could be my liver rotting away."

“Trust me, bro. I can smell the gold. Or it could be my liver rotting away.”

It’s interesting to compare Gold and director Stephen Gaghan’s last movie, Syriana, to one another because while they definitely have a lot in common, they’re also quite different in many ways, too. For one, they’re both movies that preach about billionaires, greedy businessman, and the whole mentality of making more money, by any means, at whatever costs. However, while the later was far more ambitious, taking on what were basically four different subplots all at once, it also happens to be the far more boring of the two.

Gold, on the other hand, is quite a wild ride.

The only issue is that it does take some time to get going. For at least the first hour or so, it seems like the movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be; does it want to poke fun at this overweight, balding businessman who can’t seem to get the idea that he’s just lost “it”, or, does it want to celebrate him for the courage, the drive and bravura that it takes for him to get up, each and every day, expecting to make millions and millions of dollars? Gaghan, for the longest time, seems like he doesn’t quite know and it’s why the first-half of Gold is probably going to start people off on the wrong foot.

Because after said first-half, things are a whole lot better, in that they’re quicker, more interesting and most of all, just fun. After a short while of not knowing what it wants to say or do, Gold eventually figures out that making there’s some true joy and loveliness to be had in making all of this money; it seems as if it’s never going to end and basically, the world is your oyster. Gaghan cranks up the pace and all of a sudden, rather than having a dark, dramatic and rather slow piece about businessmen doing whatever they can to stay afloat, we get a dark, yet, slightly comedic, and rather exciting piece about businessmen making all sorts of money and having a great time doing it.

What? You're telling me you wouldn't trust this guy with your livelihood?

What? You’re telling me you wouldn’t trust this guy with your livelihood?

It’s not hard to get swept up in all of this fun and excitement, either, which is why Gaghan deserves praise for knowing just how to tell this story, the right way. Because even while it’s all fun and games, the movie still does have a little something to say about the ridiculousness and cut-throat world that all of these men seem to inhabit and it turns the movie on its head a bit. Of course, the Founder explores the same ideas and probably does a better job, but the fact that Gold does, at the very least, try and discuss these very real issues, is smart and makes it feel like something far more different than one would expect from the first-half.

And yes, it also gives McConaughey to have a great time with this role, too.

Of course, Gold will probably be best remembered for the absolute dressing-down and uglying-up of McConaughey in a role that gives him weird teeth, a potbelly, and a balding hair-piece. While it may seem like a showy-stunt to show us all just what lengths McConaughey will go to, it still works for the character; this Kenny Wells can be so vile and disgusting at times, it’s hard not to feel irked by him, if only by his appearance alone. That said, McConaughey is more than capable of showing the dark sides of this character and it’s hard to take your eyes off of him, even when it seems like the movie’s getting a whole lot more nuts and convoluted.

And yeah, the rest of the ensemble is pretty amazing, too. Édgar Ramírez has a nice chemistry with McConaughey, making it seem like the two could be more than just business-partners, but actual buddies; Bryce Dallas Howard doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but does have a few moments to shine; Corey Stoll and Bill Camp show up as vindictive and toothless Wall Street dudes and are perfect at it; Bruce Greenwood has an odd British accent, for some reason; Toby Kebbell puts on a weird American accent, for some reason; and yeah, there’s more.

Just know this: Gold is fun. End of story.

Consensus: Despite starting off relatively weak, Gold gets going and shows us that greed isn’t good, but with a great cast and lively pace, it’s hard not to enjoy.

7 / 10

See! Making money is fun! Now shut up!

See! Making money is fun! Now shut up!

Photos Courtesy of: Hollywood Reporter, Indiewire

The Hundred-Foot Journey (2014)

So. Much. Food.

Hassan Kadam (Manish Dayal) is an extraordinarily talented and largely self-taught culinary novice who has taken something that he loves so much, and tried whatever he can to make a living out of it. When he and his family are displaced from their native India and settle in some random, yet lovely little French village, they decide to open an Indian eatery, where all French citizens can get a taste of what they like to call “home”. Unfortunately for all of them, however, Madame Mallory (Helen Mirren), the proprietress of an acclaimed restaurant is literally right across the street with her fancy and well-established restaurant that doesn’t seem like it’s going to be slowing down any time soon. However, Hasson and his father (Om Puri), won’t be taken down by Madame Mallory and decide to band together. But Hassan’s motives begin to change when he realizes that there’s truly something special to the way Mallory cooks, making him decide by who he sticks by in this ongoing battle of the finest cuisine.

Uh oh. Dame's back.

Uh oh. Dame’s back. Look busy.

The Hundred-Foot Journey is food porn to the ultimate maximum. This is neither a good thing, nor a bad thing, because food is good and if you’re able to film it in the right way, then it can practically become the main selling-point of a flick, even stealing the show from the actual living, breathing, human characters making said food. And it’s probably no surprise that the same director who made us all fall in love with chocolate with Chocolat, is making us fall in love with all sorts of food again.

However, maybe not so much as with the characters, sadly.

See, what Lasse Hallström gets right in the look and feel of the movie, he forgets all about in the story-department which can’t help but sometimes feel like an afterthought. Sure, no one is going to mistaken the Hundred-Foot Journey for an exciting, suspenseful thrill-ride, with twists, turns and red herrings galore, but by the same token, that doesn’t mean it has to be a total and complete bore. Or better at that, a two-hour long bore.

And okay, I get it, there is definitely an audience out there who will love and adore this movie, all faults aside, but sometimes, it’s a little hard to get past when you realize that there’s barely any tension here, little to no actual drama, and yeah, a whole bunch of sappiness. Once again, it’s no surprise that we’re getting all of this from Hallström, but it still makes you wish that somewhere deep down within this man’s soul that he would just push himself, as well as the movies he takes on, just a little further. The Hundred-Foot Journey didn’t have to be an overlong slog, but it moves with barely any efficiency that it makes you wonder if it’s going anywhere, or ever going to end.

But I didn’t hate the movie.

If anything, it’s just middling. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t set out to ruin any person’s mood, or lives in the process, but instead, tell a simple, rather sweet story about a bunch simple, rather sweet people, making all sorts of lovely little pieces of food that you’ll want to grab off of the screen. There’s honestly nothing like that, but sometimes, a movie such as this doesn’t have to be over two hours – sometimes, just being an hour-and-a-half is more than enough and gets the point across pretty much perfectly.

New school, meet, well old school? I think?

New school, meet, well old school? I think?

But it is good to have such a talented ensemble here to, thankfully, make things work when they most definitely need to. Helen Mirren tries on this French-accent and it works; while she’s playing a shrew of a woman, she still lets out some bits and pieces of charm every so often that not only reminds us of what a class-act she is, but how she truly can make any scene she shows up in, well, better. Manish Dayal and Charlotte Le Bon both play the two young chefs who learn to cook better with one another, while also making sweet, sexy, yet cute love on the side and they’re adorable enough as is to really make it work, even if it’s hard to care whether or not these two incredibly attractive people end up together in the end.

After all, they’ll be fine anyway.

The real stand-out here is Om Puri who, unfortunately, passed away not too long ago. Puri has been the sort of go-to guy for tough, strict and rather stubborn Indian fathers in movies such as these and it makes sense, because he plays them perfectly. Don’t believe me? Check out East is East and get back to me. Anyway, Puri does a fantastic job here because it seems like, out of all the characters to choose from, his is the only that develops. Over time, his character realizes that there’s more to life than just family and tradition, sometimes, striking out on one’s own is what really matters. Puri’s character never goes the full 180 and you know what? He’s sort of better off that way.

He’s more human that way, really.

Consensus: Saccharine and trite, the Hundred-Foot Journey aims to please those not looking for much excitement or drama, but for the most part, is pleasant and well-acted enough to work.

5 / 10

Don't ever teach Dame on anything.

Don’t ever teach Dame on anything.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Hoax (2006)

It’s always best to get in the fake company of known-crazies.

Author Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) is finding it hard to stay afloat. His latest book was just passed-on, making him feel as if he’s nothing and probably going to be forgotten about some time soon. However, when he catches wind that famed billionaire Howard Hughes is as crazy as can be and barely anyone knows anything about him, well, Clifford concocts the perfect book. In it, he’ll be interviewing Hughes about his life, his business expenditures and most importantly, get all of the latest dish on his deepest, darkest and dirtiest secrets. Clifford feels like he can really get down to the bottom of what makes Hughes clicks and why he is the way he is, something that the publishers absolutely love and go haywire for. The only issue is that Clifford has never met Hughes and probably never will; the security is so air-tight on that man, that not even his closest, best friends can get anywhere near him. But that’s not going to keep Clifford away from getting the book he wants, he’ll just have to talk to everyone but Howard and try to do what he can to get the best story out of imaginable. Even if, you know, there are some lines to be blurred between “fact” and “fiction”.

"Look at me, Hope. Could you hate this face?"

“Look at me, Hope. Could you hate this face?”

It’s hard to do a bad, uninteresting movie about con-men. Whether the tales themselves are real, or fake, it doesn’t quite matter; it’s so entertaining to watch a bunch of sly, smart people act their ways through life, with all the right lies and moves. There’s something truly exciting about watching this, because deep down inside each and everyone of us, there’s that feeling that we wish we were that smart, that brave, and that damn slimy to do the same as they are, get away with it, and walk away from it all with a smile on our faces.

And that’s why the Hoax, despite seeming like it can border on the verge of ringing false, is still entertaining to watch.

Even though it is, oddly enough, directed by Lasse Hallström, of all people. However, what Hallström does best here is that he doesn’t get in the way of the material, or try to force anything down our throats; regardless of what the true stories behind most of these situations may have been, the movie moves at such a quick, efficient pace that it’s hard to really pin point the issues with the facts. The movie may seem ridiculous at points, but at the same time, it’s hard not to have a little fun, watching as this little weasel of a man tries his best to wig and worm his way out of every tense situation possible.

But beneath all of the facades, gags, lies, deception, and most of all, cons, there’s something to be learned here. There’s this idea running throughout the Hoax that is interesting, because it tries to make sense out of this whole situation in the first place. The fact that someone like Irving was so easily capable of fooling just about everyone around him, for so very long, for all of the wrong reasons, really makes you think – is there such a problem with his lies? After all, the lies and deceptions he was making, were all to really just get himself some money and a little bit of fame – he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, start any wars, and he sure as hell wasn’t hurting Hughes’ feelings.

Wait, who's Leonardo DiCaprio?

Wait, who’s Leonardo DiCaprio?

There are bits and pieces of the Hoax that show that maybe, just maybe, Irving’s little escapades had more of an effect than he, or anyone else had ever expected, but mostly, the movie realizes that this is best left to our interpretation. The movie doesn’t make us think that Irving is a great man for getting away with everything that he was able to get away with (although, he’s definitely ballsy, for sure), but show that even someone like him, can get away with so very much. And when all is said and done, for what reasons?

Well, fame and fortune and for most, anything can happen.

As Irving, the man, the myth, the legend, so to speak, Richard Gere does a solid job because he’s playing very much against-type. Sure, he’s still charming, handsome and yes, the ladies love him, but there’s also something more dastardly about him that makes his performance here the more bearable than some of his others, where we’re literally begged to fall in love with him and adore his beautiful, well-constructed face, chin and hair. Even though Irving isn’t made out to be a perfect human being here, there’s still something sympathetic about him that makes you hope he gets away with all of his lies, even though, yeah, it probably won’t happen.

While Gere’s Irving is mostly front-and-center for a good portion of the movie, there’s others who all show up on the side and remind us why they deserve to be noticed. Alfred Molina plays Irving’s sidekick, so to speak, and has some truly great moments, never letting you know exactly when the man is going to crack under all of the pressure; Marcia Gay Harden plays Irving’s wife, and despite an odd Swedish accent, she’s still charming; Stanley Tucci has a few great scenes that make you wish he was in the whole thing, as is the case with Hope Davis and Julie Delpy. They all add a little bit of fun and excitement to a story that certainly didn’t need their help, but hey, at least they were here to add something.

Consensus: While a good portion of it seems made-up (wouldn’t that be great?), the Hoax still gets by on the charm of its cast, and quick, swift and exciting pace.

7 / 10

Yuck it up, fellas!

Yuck it up, fellas! No seriously, please do. It’s a lot of fun to watch.

Photos Courtesy of: PopMatters

An Unfinished Life (2005)

Bears bring everyone closer together.

After she gets in another fight with her boyfriend (Damian Lewis), Jean (Jennifer Lopez) decides that it’s about that time to get her daughter and get the hell out of dodge. They do, however, without much of a destination in mind at all. This leads Jean to her father-in-law, Einar (Robert Redford), and his huge farm that he shares with his best buddy, Mitch (Morgan Freeman), who is paralyzed from getting mauled by a bear – the same bear who still roams the streets of this small town in Montana that everyone seems to love and adore. While Einar is accepting of Jean and his grand-daughter, eventually, old memories of his long, lost and deceased son begin to come back, making him fight more and more with Jean, and in a way, basically just resenting her. It’s something that Jean doesn’t appreciate, however, Einar’s relationship with her daughter is fine enough, so she decides to get a job in town, get her own place, and allow for Einar and his grand-daughter to catch up. Eventually though, the boyfriend comes back and wants Jean to come back home with him, or else.

I don't know who's more in love: Me, or them two?

I don’t know who’s more in love: Me, or them two?

An Unfinished Life is, essentially, a Hallmark movie-of-the-week, but it’s a good one that looks great, has a very solid cast, and yeah, is a little sweet and tender in the middle. Sure, it’s corny, sentimental, syrupy and as sappy as can be, but it’s the right kind of sap – the kind you put on pancakes if you’re feeling fun, or the kind you put up with because you’re in a good movie. And yes, being in a good movie could definitely help you appreciate An Unfinished Life a tiny bit more, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it has its charms.

Then again, it is a Lasse Hallström movie, so it’s easy to be a little weary of how far the charms go.

But what’s interesting about An Unfinished Life is that a lot of it, for a good portion or so, really seems to be rolling along, without much of a plot in the mix. There’s some talk about this boyfriend coming back, a bear roaming about the city, and heck, even some conflict between the estranged family-members, but that’s about it, really. Hallström approaches this movie, thankfully enough, with his indie-sensibilities, that aren’t too focused on the bigger, more emotional things that happen, and more in-tuned with human characters, their relationships with one another and whether or not we actually care about them when all is said and done.

And with a cast like this, it’s kind of hard not to. Robert Redford is basically doing Clint Eastwood here, growling and scowling every so often, seeming like a general grump, but he’s great at it; he’s such a class-act that the moments where he’s supposed to appear as this sort of cranky dude, don’t really register as such, because we’re too busy loving the hell out of him in the first place. His chemistry with Morgan Freeman, who is also quite great, makes the movie a tad bit more magical, because you can tell that there’s a real love and admiration between the two. Whether or not that’s how it was in real life, I do not know, but it certainly shows here in this movie and gives us probably the best old-guy bromance I’ve seen in quite some time.

That said, there are weak spots to be found and it’s what ultimately does carry An Unfinished Life down when it was constantly going up and up.

"Duuuuuuuuh."

“Duhhhhhhh.”

Oddly enough, Jennifer Lopez doesn’t quite seem like the perfect fit here as Jean; she’s supposed to be this lean, mean, down, out and gritty gal who doesn’t take any crap from anyone and is her own person, but she doesn’t quite work. Lopez is beautiful and it’s hard to really take her as someone that could be misconstrued as a “trailer gal”. Also, before Homeland snatched him up and Hollywood finally decided they knew what to do with him, Damian Lewis is here and shows that his American-accent wasn’t quite there just yet and definitely needed some time to improve, making his scenes here feel odd and out-of-place.

In fact, after about the first hour or so, the movie does start to roll with something resembling a plot and it’s what takes the movie down a whole bunch of notches. What was originally working as a slow, but thoughtful character-study of many different people who all have a little something in common, soon becomes a melodramatic, over-written, and convoluted tale of lies, deception, anger and violence.

In other words, a Hallmark movie-of-the-week.

Dammit.

Consensus: With a solid cast and some thoughtful direction, An Unfinished Life works better than it should, all up until the final-act and it sort of switches gears, losing any sort of steam it had going for itself.

6 / 10

Keep on dreaming of Sundance, Rob.

Keep on dreaming of Sundance, Bob.

Photos Courtesy of: Vinnieh

My Life as a Dog (1985)

For Laika, obviously.

It’s the late 50’s in Sweden and well, 12 year-old Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius) isn’t having the best time of his life. He and his brother are constantly fighting, his mother is slowly, but most surely dying of a terminal disease, and it seems like no one really cares if he’s around, except for his lovely little dog that accompanies just about everywhere he goes. Eventually, after much tension and turmoil, Ingemar’s mom sends him and his brother away; the later to the grand-parents, the former, to the aunt and uncle. And while Ingemar is against leaving his mother, brother and most importantly, dog, he ends up settling in quite nice with his aunt and uncle; they respect as him as a little kid, let him have a certain amount of freedom, and also allow him to have fun, just as a 12-year-old his age should be doing. But after awhile, Ingemar starts to grow more and more attached to the people living around him and finds himself happy to be with them, but also sad about his mom, his brother, and like I said before, his dog, who he thinks is still alive, well, and waiting for him back home in some lovely, spacious kennel, when in reality, that’s probably not at all near the truth. Poor Ingemar’s going to have to grow up some time soon and unfortunately, it’s going to hurt pretty hard.

Yep, being 12 and starting to sort of, kind of, maybe actually liking girls.

Yep, being 12 and starting to sort of, kind of, maybe actually liking girls.

It’s interesting to watch My Life as a Dog and compare it to the other flicks that director/co-writer Lasse Hallström would approach – while mostly all of his films following are safe, sometimes conventional, but always syrupy, saccharine pieces of melodrama that aren’t always perfect, My Life as a Dog is anything but. If anything, it’s a pretty down-to-Earth, honest and raw look at growing up, coming-of-age, and realizing that, yeah, death sucks, but you know what’s worse than death? Not realizing it’s a fact of life and moving on from it.

Okay, maybe not that cynical, but you get my drift. What I’m trying to get across is that the movie’s interesting to look at, many of these years later, if especially because Hallström himself seemed to “sell-out”, so to speak, and forget about his indie, artistic-ambitions. While his movies would still continue to garner praise from audiences, critics, and major award nominations (like Best Picture for, of all things, Chocolat), My Life as a Dog still hangs around as one of his best, if only because it showed us where he got his start and gave us all some hope, for some amount of time.

And yeah, it’s worthy of all this praise, too, because My Life as a Dog is a smart movie that doesn’t necessarily break down any barriers for the coming-of-age genre, but it doesn’t necessarily make it seem conventional, either.

The best element behind My Life as a Dog that sets it aside from the other crowded bunch of familiar movies is that while it’s nostalgic on looking back at a very precious time in a kid’s life, it is no way, a kids movie. It’s interesting, too, because Ingemar is the kind of kid character you’d expect the Disney-crowd to automatically reach out towards, however, a lot of what he deals with, sees, and has to experience, is pretty damn adult-like, to where it feels like a movie kids themselves probably should see, but at the same time, probably won’t.

It's love, no matter who it's with.

It’s love, no matter who it’s with.

Which is to say that the movie doesn’t hold any certain amount of b.s. when it comes to growing up and realizing how much of a pain that can be, when you’re in as a terrible situation as little Ingemar is in here. The movie doesn’t hold back and for that, it’s refreshing – it’s sweet and nice in the right ways, but never reaches over to being sentimental. It’s the kind of movie that any adult could get a little something out of, if only because it reminds them of the time they were growing up, with all the same feelings felt.

It may be a little embarrassing, but hey, the truth itself can sometimes be awfully so.

But it’s nice that the movie does try and make Ingemar more than just our mannequin for whom we express our own feelings, thoughts and memories through – there’s something to him that makes him still feel like a real, complex kid, just learning how to develop and grow in a crazy, sometimes cruel world. While it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t seem like the rest of his career has turned out to be much, Anton Glanzelius still puts in a very good performance here, even so at such a young age. He feels like a kid in that he isn’t precocious, or way too big for his own britches – he’s a kid who thinks he knows a lot about the world, but really doesn’t, and instead, much more wants to spend time imagining things about the outside world around him, or what’s going on up there in space. And yes, these are all thoughts we hear from him, but believe it or not, they all work and are pretty interesting, always feeling as if they are coming from a sweet, delicate 12-year-old who knows a little thing or two.

You know, like we all thought we were at 12 years old.

Come on, admit it.

Consensus: Without pulling any silly punches, My Life as a Dog works as a smart, yet sweet and tender piece of coming-of-age drama that showed us the promise that Hallström and unfortunately, didn’t do much with.

8 / 10

Cheer up, Ingemar. You can always get another pooch.

Cheer up, Ingemar. You can always get another pooch.

Photos Courtesy of: Perspective of a Writer, A Film Log, LARK

Julieta (2016)

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

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

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

“I’m so sad, wanna know why?”

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

It’s just a thing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Founder (2017)

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

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

Okay, probably not, but still.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, guys. Should have stuck with Burger King.

Sorry, guys. Should have stuck with Burger King.

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

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

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

Chew on that, people.

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

8.5 / 10

What an empire of morbidly obese customers.

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

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

All About My Mother (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

9.5 / 10

Mothers never quite leave you alone, do they?

Mothers never quite leave you alone, do they?

Photos Courtesy of: Enter the Movies

I’m So Excited! (2013)

Trains are so much lamer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Reel Talk Online

Volver (2006)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Definitely not ketchup.

Definitely not ketchup.

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: The Red List

Paterson (2016)

There’s a poet in all of us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the Oscar goes to..

And the Oscar goes to..

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

It’s sort of like a poem, right?

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

20th Century Women (2016)

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

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

Beach makes everyone better.

Beach makes everything and everyone a little bit better.

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

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

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

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

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

How many decades is Greta going to conquer next?

How many decades is Greta going to conquer next?

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Live By Night (2016)

Alcohol kills. Literally.

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

Oh, the hot and stirring possibility of chemistry!

Oh, the hot and stirring possibility of chemistry!

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

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

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

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

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

What a preacher's daughter!

What a preacher’s daughter!

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

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

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

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

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

6 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: GQ, Are You Screening, Metro

Mystery Train (1989)

trainElvis truly was the King, baby.

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

Look out, Memphis!

Look out, Memphis!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well. Sue me.

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

7 / 10

We've all got that feeling.

We’ve all got that feeling.

Photos Courtesy of:Media Life Crisis

Down by Law (1986)

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

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

"Sing something."

“Sing something.”

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

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

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

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

We get it, Roberto. You love your wife.

We get it, Roberto. You love your wife.

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

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

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

Only sometimes.

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Generation Film!

Breakdown (1997)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: JMount’s Written in Blood