Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: March 2017

Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Cause we needed an updated version of a buffalo and human falling in love.

Belle (Emma Watson) is a bright, young, and beautiful girl who loves to read, doesn’t have herself a man, and doesn’t really know if she wants to have a family just yet. Due to this, everyone around her treats her like she’s a silly little girl, who doesn’t know much about the real world, except for what she reads in books. Her father (Kevin Kline), however, knows, understands, and loves her no matter what, which is why when he turns out to be captured and held hostage by the Beast in the big castle (Dan Stevens), she saves his life by sacrificing her own. And at first, for Belle, it’s a pretty terrible time – the Beast is mean, grumpy, and not all that fun to be around, and it seems like Belle will probably live the rest of her days miserable and depressed. Sure, there’s the talking objects around her that constantly console her and let her know that it’s all going to be okay, but for some reason, Belle just can’t get past the fact that she’s being held prisoner. Until, of course, her and the Beast begin to actually get to know one another, and then everything changes. For her, for him, and for everyone else surrounding them.

Oh, Belle. So innocent. So sweet. So feminist.

Did we really need a live-action Beauty and the Beast, considering that the original animated flick is downright perfect? Probably not, but hey, it’s Hollywood, so why not get one, eh? And honestly, the live-action update isn’t a soulless, boring and total manipulative cash cow that you’d expect – there’s some fun, some light, and some enjoyment to be had. But for the most part, it feels like the kind of movie that tries so much, for no real reason.

For instance, take the run-time. At just a little over two hours, this live-action update doesn’t just feel overlong, but rather unnecessarily plodding at times. There’s added-on songs, scenes, and even story-bits that, okay, do show some effort, but they really don’t go anywhere; the original movie was barely even 90 minutes and it was perfect for that reason alone. Adding on another 30 minutes doesn’t do much but just add more time for people to get bored and start realize that there’s more problems underneath it all.

Which isn’t to say that this live-action can’t be fun, because it definitely can.

It’s just that for a movie like this, if you’re looking for problems, you’ll find them. There’s a whole gay subtext involving Lefou, as played by Josh Gad, and Gaston, as played by Luke Evans, that just feels shoe-horned in and way too silly for its own good. Sure, I’m fine with gay characters in Disney movies and would definitely love more of them, but in this instance, it just feels forced – it’s almost as if those behind the screen were just deliberately trying to mess with the studio-heads and took the easy way out in doing so. Gad’s fine in the role and can be funny, but Evans, while hunky, charming and can belt them out like no tomorrow, also doesn’t feel right for this role because he’s, well, not necessarily as jacked or as huge as he’s supposed to be.

And that goes for a lot of the other cast-members, too. Everyone playing the objects in the castle are fine, with Ewan McGregor stealing the show as the most Scottish French candlestick ever, but others, like Watson and Stevens, for some reason, just don’t fit. Watson herself seems bland, and Stevens, depending on how much of the movie was him and not just CGI, tries what he can, but overall, it’s a thankless role left to voice-over. Also, their voices do leave a lot to be desired – why we’re not using voice-dubs anymore is totally beyond me and it proves to be a problem for this movie because, a good portion of the people here can’t really sing as much as they should. These songs, while definitely memorable, still need that huge, loud operatic voice that the original had, and with Watson, Stevens, Gad and others, it’s just not there.

Gay or not gay, it don’t matter.

The only heart and soul found here is from Kevin Kline’s Maurice, who gets to be sad and emotional, while also have some fun, too. It’s the true sign that above it all, Kline will always come out on top, because he’s not just a pro who can do it all, but proves why he’s always better than the material that he’s working with.

In other words, they should have just given the movie to him.

And trust me, I know that I’m doing a lot of hating on this flick, but it’s not totally the case. It’s still enjoyable, Bill Condon is a good director who knows how to make material like this click and pop, and the production-design, above everything, is a downright orgy of glitz and glam. It’s just that there are issues, none of which were found in the amazing, still watchable, still great, and always so lovely original.

So yeah Disney, stop trying so hard.

Consensus: Undeniably light, charming and often times, fun, Beauty and the Beast also suffers from being unnecessary and a little too long.

6 / 10

Tale as old as time? Between a buffalo and a human being?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Advertisements

Life (2017)

Choose life. No seriously. Choose it.

A group of diverse, incredibly intelligent astronauts aboard the International Space Station are dealing with one of their most ambitious an daring missions to date: Finding another cell out there in space that can kill all bad cells. Or something like that. Mostly, not everyone aboard really knows and instead of trying to figure it all out, they’re spending most of their time tracking down this cell, working with it, and figuring out just what it is. Eventually, they do find out and it leads to some disastrous, downright chaotic results, where everyone aboard not only has to fear for their life, but also for the lives of those on planet Earth. However, the astronauts know that if they band together and think long and hard about what they have to do, they can achieve anything. Even if it is killing a monster that they don’t really know a single thing about, other than what they are slowly gathering over time.

“God?”

A lot of people have been getting on Life‘s case for being, in other words, an Alien rip-off, which okay, sure, it sort of is, but not really. See, it’s really hard to do a creature feature taking place somewhere in the middle of space, among a very selected few of astronauts without drawing comparisons to that classic, but it’s also hard to do one that’s quite good. Life is the kind of movie that, on paper, sounds so rote, so conventional, and so predictable, that it’s almost not worth bothering about, but once you actually see it all play out, and realize all of the effort put into it, well, somehow, it all comes together.

In a way, you almost forget about the Alien movies altogether and only then remember that, yeah, they’re still doing them.

Either way, Life works when it probably shouldn’t. Most of that definitely comes down to the fact that director Daniel Espinosa is taking this material, from Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, know what to expect with a genre movie of this nature and rather than trying to avoid everything and act all sly and cool, as if they’re way too hip for convention, instead, actually sort of embrace it all, realize that these are the kinds of conventions that work for movies such as these, and keep on going. After the initial 20 minutes, where it seems like time is just being killed for the sake of it, Life gets its act together and never seems to slow down; there are times when it pauses, for sure, but for the most part, it’s always moving, always thrilling, and yeah, always entertaining.

Deadpool…..in space.

Which honestly, isn’t something you always expect from something that seems as predictable as this, but it all works. Espinosa knows that in order to keep material like this fresh and compelling, is to always keep moving, never slowing, and always making sure that we can figure out just what’s happening, where, why and to whom. And honestly, that’s what matters a whole lot – movies such as these can often forget about continuity and being able to figure out what everyone is doing, at any given time, which is why when it happens, it helps out a great deal. It makes us not just feel closer to the characters themselves, but the action altogether.

That said, could there have been more character development? Most definitely.

But there’s something to be said for a movie that features Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Rebecca Ferguson, among others, that doesn’t feel like it’s totally robbing them of their supreme talents. Sure, could we have done with more character-stuff that helps us feel one step closer to these people? Oh yes, but what we’re given, for the most part, helps out a bunch and makes the following proceedings, for the most part, fun. They can be heinous, surprising, and sometimes, disturbing, but they’re effective, and for a sci-fi movie, that’s all that matters.

Be as silly as you want, but deliver the genre thrills and yeah, it’s all good.

Consensus: Life may not be the most original sci-fi tale out there, but it also possesses some truly great action, excitement and fun for those looking for solid genre thrills.

7 / 10

Quick! Get to Mars! Matty Damon’s there!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Choose nostalgia.

20 years ago, heroin junkie Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) skipped out on all of his pals with a huge bag of cash, leaving fellow junkies Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) high and dry, and Spud (Ewen Bremner) with a little something left in a locker nearby. After a near-death experience, Renton feels as if it’s finally time to head on home, all things considered, check up on his old pals, and see if, possibly, they’ll take him back and forgive him for the selfishly cruel act that he committed all those years ago. After all, they’re all nearly 50, so obviously, they can’t still be holding grudges from when they were in their mid-20’s, right? Well, wrong. In fact, mostly everyone still holds something against Renton, leaving him to have to really try hard and work for these guys’ affections. For his old pal Sick Boy, the two team-up on making a bar into a brothel, Spud is busy trying to stay off smack, but also writing a book about all of their stories, and well, for Begbie, who just escaped jail, he’s keen on extracting revenge for something that he’ll never, ever be able to forgive.

Nowhere to go, but down. Get it?

Trainspotting is such a near-perfect movie, that you’d think even the slightest idea of doing a sequel to it would be absolute, total blasphemy. It’s the kind of movie that worked so well for what it was, when it was made, what it represented, and the neat little bow it tied itself up with at the end, that it seemed like it wrote its own gritty, but beautiful demise. And honestly, a part of me was fine with that; everyone apart of has gone on to do amazing things with their careers and the characters themselves, while memorable and all lovable, still feel as if they’re the “one-and-done” kind where enough of them can go a long, long way.

But here we are, a little over 20 years later with T2 Trainspotting (an awful title, by the way).

And it’s odd because T2 is the kind of movie you’d expect to get from a bunch of people who made a big hit early on in their careers, never got the chance to capitalize on said hit and all of a sudden, feel the urgent need and desire to circle back to what made them names in the first place. But like I said before, everyone who was involved with the first Trainspotting, have either gone on to do a whole bunch of work and stay relevant, or have done, in ways, better stuff. For director Danny Boyle, that’s exactly the case, as he’s not only shown that he’s capable of bouncing from genre-to-genre without a single sign of wear-and-tear, but he’s also become one of the best directors working today – just the idea of him signing onto a project automatically causes people to shimmer and shake with joy and excitement.

Which is why T2, isn’t all that bad of an idea. The whole gang is basically back, everyone’s clearly in the mood to tell these character’s stories again, and yeah, they’re more than happy to revel in the grit and debauchery that the first movie loved so much. In that sense, the movie still kind of works; sure, everyone is older and far more silly than before, but there’s still something sweet and earnest about watching a gang of old pals getting back together, smoking, drinking, snorting, shooting, and committing all sorts of shenanigans just like they used to.

Is it sort of sad, too? Actually yeah.

But that’s actually the point of T2 – it’s one of the rare sequels that admits its existence is solely for nostalgia’s sake, but at the same time, doesn’t stay away from that, either. The constant references, visual cues, and yes, actual clips from the original itself, can get to be a bit old and grating, but it actually does help the movie work in a much different manner than said first; due to the characters being older, slower, and not quite what they used to be, it makes sense that the movie’s style is a bit less frantic, hectic and crazy than the first and in a way, more melancholy and mannered. It’s a shock, I know, but it actually works, all things considered. Maybe Boyle could have stayed away from all the constant pointing and shoving, but I think at this point in his career, he’s allowed to – after all, the original is a near-masterpiece, so if he wants to go back to those old days, sip a little wine, and reminisce with his buddies, then so be it.

GET IT?!?!?

He’s deserved it, they deserved it, and if it’s good enough to watch, then yeah, we deserve it, too.

The only aspect of T2 that we don’t deserve is the story itself. See, there actually already is a sequel to Trainspotting, in written-form from Irvine Welsh, entitled Porno, which thankfully, isn’t fully adapted here. The movie still takes a lot from that book with characters and certain sequences, but for the most part, a good portion of it is made-up and you can sort of tell; Begbie’s whole subplot about him wanting to kill Renton is about 20 minutes too long, unnecessary, and just feels like extra energy that could have been put towards elsewhere. Same goes for Spud’s “book” that, about halfway through, he starts writing – it’s an obvious trope we’ve seen a hundred times before and yeah, it’s not necessarily a fresh, or inventive device.

The real meat and heart of the story comes from Renton and Sick Boy’s relationship, what they do together, and how they relate after all of these years. It helps that McGregor and Miller seem like true pals here, but it also helps that the movie approaches their friendship with a sense of humanity and love that was never quite seen in the first. It’s as if the movie is slowly leaning towards something far more gay and hot and sexy, but instead, throws us a curveball with Sick Boy’s girlfriend (Anjela Nedyalkova, a true find), who has to ruin it all. Still, had the movie stuck with this, it probably would have been way better off.

But as is, it remains a solid so long, farewell to these characters.

Until 2038, possibly.

Consensus: Despite it’s never ending reliance on nostalgia, T2 still works as an entertaining, rather sweet look at aging and friendship, amidst all of the boobs, sex, drugs, and Iggy Pop.

7.5 / 10

The gang’s back and man, time did not work out well for them. Oh well. Let’s do some H-bombs.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Into the Wild (2007)

Run away. Far, far away. And piss off everyone you ever knew.

After graduating as a top student at Emory, Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) decides to, essentially, throw any idea of a career away. His very wealthy parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) cannot believe this, but they don’t have enough time to digest it all, what with Christopher literally being out on the road the next day, on his way to the Alaskan wilderness. Christopher doesn’t bring much with him, as he leaves mostly everything back in his house, with the exception of money, his backpack, and oh yeah, most importantly, his notebook. While on the road, Chris meets all sorts of wacky and wonderful characters, all of whom make some sort of a difference on Chris’s life, showing that he may truly have something to live for and above all else, may want to get back into society once he has completed his self-fulfilling mission. But, that may not happen for Chris, as he’s already risking life and death in the first place, while everyone back at home clamors wondering just when he’s going to come home, if ever again.

Be one with birds.

Into the Wild is probably the best film Sean Penn has, or ever will, make in his career. It’s the kind of movie that you don’t expect to work, especially not from an actor-turned-writer/director who has something of a shoddy, relatively fine filmography in the first place. There’s a certain bro-y attitude to Penn, the person, that makes him perfect for this material, but also not; to approach McCandless’ the right way, you sort of have to keep an objective view, never letting your own thoughts or opinions, as a storyteller, shine through.

And of course, it helps that the man himself wrote everything down while he was on this never ending trip of his, therefore, it appears as if we are literally watching him go from one adventure, to another. There’s no clear sign that Penn is trying to say how great it is that he got the chance to just let it all go and soak up the scenery, nor is there a clear sign in him saying that it was a terrible decision for the man to make in the first place, for all of those involved who weren’t him; in a way, Penn leaves it all up to us to decide, while he shows us both sides of the argument. Sure, it was great that he got to see the world and really couldn’t have given a crap about material things in life that waited for him back at home, but at the same time, he really did just get up and leave one day, without ever really telling anyone of where he was headed, when he’d be back, or what his reasons were.

In other words, he’s a bit of an a-hole.

But Into the Wild does work because it doesn’t always portray him as such, or if at all, during certain times. Mostly, McCandless remains something of a blank slate that has enough personality to matter to this story, but it’s really all about those that he meets on this wild and crazy adventure, mostly all of whom are exciting and charming to watch, bringing a little something extra to this journey. Vince Vaughn gets a chance to shed some dramatic-muscles as Wayne, a dude who gives Chris a job for a short time and may have something tricky up his sleeve; Catherine Keener is sweet as an older-gal who’s finding it hard to connect with her husband; Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt, despite playing types, also show some more heart and emotion to said types; Jena Malone plays the sister back at-home who knows and trusts her brother enough to take on this situation with a smile on her face; Kristen Stewart shows up late in the game as a possible love-interest for Chris and shows him that there truly is something beautiful to life; and Hal Hollbrook, in what has to be the most heartbreaking performance I’ve ever seen, plays an older fella who picks up Chris, instantly takes a liking to him, and surprisingly enough, sheds all for him, as well as us. It’s a rich, raw and surprisingly gritty performance from someone who, honestly, we didn’t think needed to prove anything more to us, but here he is, essentially, stealing the show.

Be one with the sky.

Which isn’t to say that all of these people steal the show from Hirsch, either. He’s quite good here, showing that there’s more to this character than just a wannabe-hippy who can’t deal, man. In a way, he’s a lot like most kids who are fresh out of school and desperately need something to do, somewhere to go, and some sort of option/goal in life to have them continue on to live and be happy. Could his decision have gone down better and more thought-out? Sure thing, but it still shows that there’s a reason for what he did, and not just because he wanted to.

Man.

Anyway, Penn deserves the most credit here, taking a very ambitious, long and sprawling tale of one dude discovering himself, as well as the world around him, and never making it seem like it’s wheels are spinning. It’s constantly moving, always touching on interesting characters and points, never harping on any of them too much, and overall, just making us feel closer to this guy and more invested in his journey. We know where he goes, we know how it ends up, and we know how his story ends, but for two-and-a-half hours, Penn allows for us to forget about this all and just revel in the scenery, the people, the vibes, and yeah, of course, the sweet, soulful tunes of Eddie Vedder, in what has to be one of the better soundtracks from a movie in the past decade.

Consensus: While it may not have been easy to take this tale and give it the deserving film treatment, Sean Penn is somehow able to do so with Into the Wild, showing a certain skill for storytelling and character detail that makes this journey all the more compelling and interesting, even if we know just how it all ends up.

9 / 10

And definitely be one with your impeding and foolish death.

Photos Courtesy of: The Mind Reels, Linkedin

The Crossing Guard (1995)

Grief makes you crazy. Literally.

After his daughter is killed in a hit-and-run accident, Freddy Gale (Jack Nicholson) is left, unsurprisingly, heartbroken. He drinks a lot, goes berserk, and yeah, patiently waits the day that the driver John Booth (David Morse) is out of jail. It’s something that no one around Freddy can support – not even his ex-wife (Anjelica Huston) – but Freddy doesn’t need their support. He’s grieving and he is in desperate need of said grief to go away, so that when the day comes around to taking care of business, he can do so with a happy mind. Eventually, Booth does get out of prison and he’s come to terms with his accident; he’s apologetic and regretful, and honestly, just wants to move on. He gets a job, starts going to meetings, stays away from bad stuff, and oh yeah, he’s even got himself a girlfriend (Robin Wright). Still though, Freddy doesn’t care. The past six years have been nothing but hell for him and he’s going to let John know it, by any means necessary.

“Yeah, agent? Get me a much louder role next time.”

The Crossing Guard is a tad bit different from Sean Penn’s the Indian Runner, in that it does have a slower, more melodic story to work with again, but this time around, he’s actually developing something about it. As opposed to just giving us something resembling a story, things resembling characters, and issues resembling conflicts, everything matters and is exactly what it seems. There’s conflict, there’s development, there’s characters, and above all else, there’s a drive.

Where that drive ends up may be problematic, but hey, at least it’s going somewhere in the first place.

Where Penn gets the most mileage here is out of the cast, all of whom are terrific. Nicholson’s Freddy is one of the most dramatic and dressed-down performances the man has ever given and it’s a surprise how well he pulls it off, without much of any of the usual gimmicks to be found. His dark persona does work for this character, as we know that there’s something truly upsetting and mean about this character, but there’s also a lot more sadness to him than anything. We see it come out in honest, shocking ways, that show Nicholson can work well, even if he is sort of playing a bit against-type.

Then again, with Nicholson, was he ever a “type”?

It’s a Sean Penn movie from the mid-90’s, so of course Robin will be around, half-naked.

Anyway, Huston gets some solid moments, too, as the ex-wife who, essentially, just yells and hollers a lot. But hey, she does it like a pro. David Morse’s John is also more sympathetic than he would have been in other movies, but it still works to Morse’s skill-set, as we get to see a heart and soul behind the sadness and darkness. We never fully get to know the demons lying inside of this guy, but the ones that we do see and identify, are still interesting. Robin Wright is also fine as his supposed love-interest, who may mean more to the overall story, but mostly, just seems like someone to be there for Morse’s character when all is said and done.

As for the rest of the movie itself, it’s still pretty good, but we also get the sense that Penn himself is constantly growing and learning as a writer/director. Here, with the Crossing Guard, he gets the idea of grief down perfectly and realizes that it’s not us ourselves who make us the most sad in these troubling times, but those around them. Penn doesn’t hide away from the fact that what this Freddy guy is dealing with is some pretty brutal stuff, and rather than trying to sugar-coat as a Lifetime after-school special, he films it in all of its raw, unabashed irony. It’s quite a surprise to get in a movie such as this, and shows that Penn, when he’s not telling a meaningful story, is also not backing down from approaching his story in a much harder manner.

The issues is that by the final act, things get a little screwy. It’s hard to say how, or why, for any of these matters, but just know that the Crossing Guard does eventually dive into thriller-territory and it feels odd. It’s as if Penn himself was so enamored with the character-drama, that he also sort of felt obligated to deliver on the action and supposed violence that a tale like this would promise. It’s a shame, too, because the message it delivers at the end is a smart and meaningful one.

It’s just a shame it had to go through that last act to get there.

Consensus: With pitch perfect performances across the board, the Crossing Guard works as a smart, disturbing look at grief and depression, but also botches its final act.

7.5 / 10

He doesn’t look so bad for a child killer.

Photos Courtesy of: HotFlick.net, Pop Matters

The Indian Runner (1991)

If you’re based off of a Springsteen track, chances are, you may be a little depressing.

Frank and Joe Roberts (Viggo Mortensen and David Morse) have been loving and dedicated brothers to one another, even if they couldn’t be anymore different. Frank’s a bit of a wild child, always getting into some sort of trouble, and never staying in one place for very long, whereas Joe, likes to abide by the law as a cop, keep his family together, and yeah, not cause many problems. The two do have some issues with each other, but they’re just like any brother-combo, in that they love one another, no matter what. Which is why when Frank starts messing up big time, what with a pregnant girlfriend (Patricia Arquette), and a slowly-going mad mind, Joe feels as if it is up to him to step up and try to save his brother from totally losing his marbles and possibly doing something he will soon one day forget.

It’s been noted that the Indian Runner, Sean Penn’s debut behind the camera, was inspired by Springsteen’s “Highway Patrolman“. It’s a solid song and it’s easy to see where a lot of the inspiration Penn drew from here; he loves these small, subtle tales about normal, everyday, hard-working, blue-collar Americans like you or I, who are trying to make ends meet, but always run into some sort of hardships and have to get over grief. Essentially, the Indian Runner is a two-hour-long Springsteen song, but for some reason, the heart and soul was left in the stereo.

Uh oh. Viggo’s drinking again.

Does anyone even know what a “stereo” is anymore?

Regardless, Penn gets by on keeping his narrative focused and not really trying to complicate things. We get sad people, living in a sad town, not really doing much with their lives other than, of course, being sad. In a way, the Indian Runner works well as a mood-piece that allows for Penn to show us the different layers of this depression and how it can hit each and every character here, but that’s about as far it goes.

See, after awhile, mood-pieces can get to be a bit of a bore, especially once it becomes clear that you don’t really have a story to work with. And with the Indian Runner, that’s exactly the case, with the movie moving along at such a slow pace, you wonder when it’s ever going to get moving, or better yet, what it’s actually going to try to do. It’s interesting that Penn doesn’t really give us much of a plot, filled with an easy conflict seen from a mile away, but he also doesn’t give us much else in place of that. It’s as if he had a whole bunch of ideas about how to build these characters and their relationships with one another, and just thought that somehow, some way, a plot would materialize.

It doesn’t and that’s why the movie suffers.

And normally, this wouldn’t be much of a problem; one of the main reasons why all of those insufferable and nauseating mumblecore movies work well enough is because they can sometimes be so short, you hardly have enough time to be mad. With the Indian Runner, at a little over two hours, it’s easy to get mad, annoyed, and downright frustrated, because you never quite know when anything is going to happen, or even if there will be anything to happen. The general idea is that we’re just going to sit around and watch a bunch of people do things that we probably don’t care about, because well, there’s nothing driving any of them.

What a man.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t character-development to be had here, but it’s a bit thin, at times, bordering on conventional. For instance, take Mortensen’s Frank who is a little crazy, unpredictable and violent – something that Mortensen can play in his sleep. And yeah, he’s good in the role, but there’s never much else to the character other than this, and even the craziness is never fully explained – we assume that some of it may have to do with a childhood trauma, but we’re never quite clear on what that actually is.

Same goes for Morse’s Joe, who seems like he’s just another ordinary, good guy who has to make some tough decisions, but ultimately, gets by in life. Morse is good, as usual, but there’s just not much to this character that makes him all that compelling to watch. Even incredibly brief appearances by the likes of Charles Bronson, Dennis Hopper, Valeria Golino, and Sandy Dennis don’t do much but make us wonder why Penn didn’t put more time and effort into giving these talents more to play around with. The only one who seems to get by well enough here is Arquette, who remains lovely and cheerful in a very depressed movie, but that’s about it.

But hey, at least Penn got better behind the camera.

Consensus: Sean Penn makes his directorial debut with the Indian Runner, and shows that he’s got a lot of promise to work on, but also needs to know how to come up with better writing.

5.5 / 10

They don’t look alike, but hey, it’s the thought that counts.

Photos Courtesy of: Radiator Heaven

True Adolescents (2009)

Grow up, or don’t. Just don’t stop listening to indie.

Sam Bryant (Mark Duplass), for lack of a better term, a bit of a loser. He’s jobless, homeless, and oh yeah, his hopes and dreams of one day breaking it in the music-business seem to be dwindling more and more each day, but for some reason, he just doesn’t seem to know, or understand that just yet. And now that he’s getting up there in his 30’s, it’s time for him to do a bit of growing up, even if he’s too stubborn to ever figure out how. Which is why when he ends up staying at his aunt Sharon (Melissa Leo)’s place, he thinks he’s got it made. He tries to get a job, he tries to clean up after himself, and oh yeah, his younger cousin, Oliver (Brett Loehr), he gets along with quite well, even if there is a bit of an age-barrier and different understanding between what’s “cool”, and what isn’t. Then, they head out on a small hiking trip along with Oliver’s friend Jake (Carr Thompson), who seems to be really close with Oliver, and Sam doesn’t want to get in the way. Until, well, he feels that he has to.

Always stick with the hipster bands.

The “man-child” subgenre of movies, or better yet, indie movies, is a bit old and slowly, but somewhat surely, beginning to die. There is, of course, every few exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, it seems like watching a tale about a mid-30 dude not holding down a job, having a place to sleep, and just never allowing himself to grow up is, well, a tad bit boring. That’s not to say that it isn’t true and isn’t definitely the case with most dudes out there, but as far as indie-movies go, yeah, they can tend to be a bit repetitive.

But True Adolescents is a small and somewhat rare exception to that rule, if only because it seems to have a tad bit more something to say about these man-children; instead of getting down on these people and showing why they’re losers, writer/director Craig Johnson does realize that there’s more to these kinds of people than we initially expect. For one, they’re not all terrible people – immature, sure, but definitely not immoral, evil human beings who have no clear mind about the law, or how to exist in a governing society. If anything, they’re just sort of babies, the kinds that need to be coddled and cared for, as opposed to kicked out and thrown onto the streets.

And in a way, this makes Sam Bryant a tad bit more sympathetic, than we’d normally expect.

It does help that Mark Duplass is great in this role and can practically play this character in his sleep, but it’s interesting to watch someone like Sam develop over time, as we begin to realize more and more that he’s just a total tool, and less of an actual baby. Okay, maybe he’s a huge mixture of both, but still, Duplass never makes him unlikable – he’s always someone we enjoy watching and want to see more over time, whether he’s learning a thing or two about the world, being nicer to those around him, or even getting a job. No matter what this character does, or says, Duplass is always there to pick up the pieces and remind us that, oh yeah, he’s one of the most likable presences on the screen today.

Coolest aunt ever? Probs.

In a pre-Oscar role, Melissa Leo is also quite charming as the smart, understanding, and stern Aunt Sharon who doesn’t really take much of Sam’s crap, but also knows to listen to him more and not judge him for who he is, or what it is that he represents. Even the two kids, played by Brett Loehr and Carr Thompson, are good, too, but their characters is where the movie starts to confuse itself and get a little odd. Without saying too much, there’s a small revelation made about halfway through that doesn’t necessarily come out of nowhere, but also doesn’t seem pertinent to the story and what we’re going for, either. Johnson seems to start True Adolescents out in a familiar way, then puts more of a focus and attention on the characters and their relationships, only to then, halfway through, make it about something else completely.

Which is hard for me to say, without spoiling a whole lot about this movie.

It just seems that Johnson was fond of throwing us for a loop, did just that, but also as a result, forgot to keep his story cohesive. It becomes a whole entirely different beast in general and honestly, lost me a bit, almost as much as it seems to lose itself. That said, a solid first and middle half are fine enough, so whatever.

Consensus: True Adolescents loses itself after the halfway-mark, but still keeps itself interesting with good performances and a smart approach to the whole nauseating “man-child” subgenre of indie flicks.

7 / 10

I’d hike for days with Mark Duplass. Maybe not Jay.

Photos Courtesy of: Now Very Bad…., Filmwax Radio

XX (2017)

Women be shoppin’. Except not really.

A mother (Natalie Brown) has no clue what to do with herself, now that her son refuses to eat anything, no matter what’s put in front of him; another mother (Melanie Lynskey) tries to throw the biggest and best party for her daughter, only to realize that it probably won’t happen due to unforeseeable circumstances; a bunch of young whipper-snappers head out into the mountains, expecting to have some fun and catch up some history, only to discover something horrifying and dark; and lastly, another mother (Christine Kirk), seems to be hiding something from her troubled 18-year-old son, but he, nor anyone else really knows what.

In case you couldn’t tell, XX is an anthology piece, done by four women, with four different stories, focusing on, above all else, women. It’s a nice angle to take on the horror-genre and shows that it still has some growing to do, in terms of its versatility as well as its acceptance. However, it does also show that it has some growing to do in terms of its quality.

Scared

See, one of the main issues with XX, and as is the case with most anthology pieces in its same vein, is that it’s way too brief for its own good. At nearly an-hour-20, each story has at least 20 minutes each to tell its story, characters, and most of all, give us the chills. But there’s something with the horror genre that, in order for the scares to be smart, effective, and most of all, scary, there has to be some sort of build-up to it all, and at nearly 20 minutes each, none of these tales really have that.

In a way, each one of them feel like they’re fully realized and fleshed-out, but are missing a few reels, either at the beginning, at the end, or somewhere in between. A part of me wonders what the exact want and reason for making these stories actually was, considering that it doesn’t seem to be any reason other than, “Oh, well, they’re kind of scary, I guess. Oh, and they star women, written and directed by women.” Once again, nothing with this approach, as it is definitely something that the horror genre as a whole could and definitely should, work on, but perhaps XX isn’t the brightest, most shiny example of why.

If anything, it proves to be an interesting and mildly entertaining diversion from what we’re used to seeing with horror anthologies, but yeah, it’s been done better before.

And to talk about the four pieces of story here, it’s best to go on about each one of them. First off, “the Box”, written and directed by Jovanka Vuckovic, plays with a lot of visual cues, but ultimately, isn’t about much. It’s about this family, going through a rough time when one of the children won’t eat, and has all the makings of a weird, almost surreal dark comedy, but it doesn’t go that way – instead, it plays itself very serious and dark, and sort of just ends on that note. It’s the perfect piece to start out on, because it literally won’t be remembered by the end.

Petrified

St. Vincent’s tale, “the Birthday Party”, works a little bit more because it does take a slightly comedic-edge to its story, but once again, doesn’t feel like it’s really built upon anything. It’s just sort of weird, wacky, and features a random cameo from Joe Swanberg. If anything is to be taken away from this part, it’s that St. Vincent is a competent enough director to show us that she knows what she’s doing behind the camera, so who knows? Maybe it will be nice to see more of her there.

Anyway, then there’s “Don’t Fall”, by Roxanne Benjamin, that started off promising, but ultimately, doesn’t know what to do with itself. Everything happens way too quick, we get the very smallest, slightest bit of character-detail to work with, and yeah, none of it really matters. The gore and the scares work, but they’re done in about five minutes anyway, so does it really matter at all?

And lastly, there’s Karyn Kusama’s “Her Only Living Son”, which may be the only one here that actually feels like a fully realized and written short movie about a mother, coping with whatever mystery is in her life. It helps here that Christina Kirk is a good actress and an inspired bit of casting for this dark role, but Kusama herself also shows some initiative, with enough mystery, development, and oddness to make it all work. The ending is stupid and doesn’t quite make sense, but hey, at least it is attempting at doing something.

Which, after all, is all I needed and/or could have ever wanted.

Consensus: Though not terrible, XX is more of a mixed-bag, showing why there should be more stories about women in horror, but also showing why they should be longer than 20 minutes each.

6 / 10

Numb

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Joblo

Gods and Monsters (1998)

Next time you dress up as Frankenstein this Halloween, think about where the creation came from.

James Whale (Ian McKellen) is one of the most regarded directors of all-time. With such classics under his belt like Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, and Bride of Frankenstein, Whale had all of the fame and fortune that any man could ever afford to settle down and spend their last couple of years in utter and total harmony. However, Whale still pains from what his career could have and should have been, had he not been openly-gay and criticized for it his whole career, and it’s beginning to take more of a toll on him as the days continue to go by and his hair gets whiter. Then walks in his newly-appointed gardener (Brendan Fraser), and all of a sudden, Whale has found a new bit of inspiration in his life, whether or not it may just be sex or art. Either way, the man is happy and spirited again but his long-loving care-taker, Hanna (Lynn Redgrave), doesn’t see it as being so happy or spirited. She senses trouble brewing in the air and she may be right, but James doesn’t care nor take notice to it. He’s just happy being him.

He likes what he sees.

It’s interesting to watch Gods and Monsters because, at first, you have a general idea of just where the story is going. You’d automatically assume that Whale, in his last gasp for life, starts something of a relationship with this hunky groundskeeper, reliving all of the lovely and enjoyable times of his past, while also realizing that life is beautiful, wonderful, and grand, and deserves to be lived, rather than not, only to then pass away right as soon as the going gets good. In a way, that sort of happens, but it sort of doesn’t, and it’s why Gods and Monsters remains a solid look at the life of someone that time may have forgotten about, but the movies he’s made, will continue to stand the test of time.

Which is neat, because after watching Gods and Monsters, you’ll soon realize that a lot of the issues prevalent in Whale’s own life, basically shined through his most famous works. Whale had a love and an affinity for showing the weirdo’s, or better yet, the outcasts, of society to the rest of the world. The movie’s many hints at this can tend to get a bit annoying, but that doesn’t make them any less true; making movies for Whale was less about making millions and millions of dollars, gaining respect, and getting the chance to hob-knob with some of Hollywood’s finest, as much as it was about expressing his true, inner-feelings of loneliness that haunted him his whole life.

Does that mean he didn’t have some fun while doing it all? Of course not, but still, we’re shown and told that there was something more here than just a bunch of fun-to-watch monster flicks. There was a heart, a soul, and an absolutely sad being behind it all.

But the movie doesn’t just harp on this one fact and drive it into the ground, as it’s actually more about this made-up guy known as Clay, as played by Brendan Fraser, and the type of relationship he builds over time with Whale. Like I’ve said before, this aspect of the movie could have easily been the most obvious and conventional one seen coming – man and man fall in love, realize something new about one another, etc. – but it doesn’t quite go that way. In fact, Clay doesn’t even know Whale is gay at first, and even when he does find out, he doesn’t quite care; personally, he just likes to hear the stories this guy has to tell.

Can you blame him?

It’s an interesting dynamic these two create and to watch as their relationship builds to something sweet, is quite nice. It also helps that Fraser and McKellen have great chemistry, seeming as if they truly are getting to know one another and getting along while doing it. Fraser has always gotten a bad-rap for being a bad actor, something that hasn’t always been true; just one look at his performance in Gods and Monsters, you’ll notice that he’s holding his own against McKellen, while also showing some signs of immaturity and growth needed. Basically, it’s what his character was going for and Fraser shows it, proving that when given the right material, he’s actually quite good.

McKellen, on the other hand, well, what can be said that hasn’t already been said before about him?

McKellen is an old pro who knows what he’s doing, which is why watching his performance as Whale can sometimes be a joyous experience, even if it does revolve around a great deal of sadness. McKellen shows us that there’s some true light, happiness and inspiration in Whale that somehow reignites once he meets Clay, but also doesn’t forget to remind us that there’s something truly heartbreaking about this character. We get the flashbacks, the dream-sequences, and of course, the stories, but where we really get the idea of something truly unsettling, is through McKellen himself. He plays Whale as an old man, getting older and more broken down as the days go by, proving to himself, that life can end.

But it’s the movies and the creations you release to the whole world, that really make it all meaningful.

Consensus: With two very solid performances from Fraser and McKellen, Gods and Monsters works as a smart, moving and rather sweet take on life, memories, and an aspect of Hollywood classics that most of us tend to look away from.

8 / 10

Best friends forever.

Photos Courtesy of: Cinema Queer

Burning Sands (2017)

Join a frat, they said. A fun time, they said.

Zurich (Trevor Jackson) is just getting his college career at Frederick Douglas University going when he decides to join up at the most coveted and prestigious black frat there is in the country, Lambda Lambda Pi. And for one whole week, which everyone calls “Hell Week”, Zurich and countless other pledges will all have to endure absolute, undeniable hell, like say, beatings, eating dog food, sleep deprivation, shaving their heads, not being seen on campus, not having sex – all just so that they can be apart of this brotherhood one day and achieve the same dreams that countless generations of their families have done, or have wanted to do, before them. But Zurich doesn’t quite know if this is what he wants; he has a legacy to behold, of course, but he’s also more interested in certain things, like girls, like poetry, and most of all, his health, which seems to be slowly deteriorating ever since receiving some fatal blows to his ribs some weeks ago. But hey, it’s all worth it, right?

“If you do this, maybe you’ll be in an Oscar-winning movie.”

One of the main things said about Burning Sands is how it is, essentially, the black-answer to last year’s Goat, another movie focusing on the hazing, the pledging, and all of the violence that can ensue before joining up with a fraternity. And while to some degree you can see a lot of the comparisons, for the most part, they do seem to be focusing on the object of hazing and the realities as fraternities a tad bit differently – Goat focused more on the psychological and mental anguish and torture such hazing can have a person’s mind, whereas Burning Sands seems to explore the deeper, more passionate connections held between some of these people, during this one specific amount of time.

Does that mean to say that one movie is more on the side of frats, than the other? Honestly, I’m not quite sure; it seems like Burning Sands seems to know and understand that frats can be a meaningful aspect to college life, because they’re fun and they hold some meaning to a lot of those people within them, but possibly, what it takes to become a part of said frat, isn’t always as lovely. In a way, Burning Sands is condemning the people that commit these heinous, almost inhumane acts of senseless, nonsensical violence, but also never quite comes to an understanding of why it’s happening in the first place. There has to be more people to blame here than just the kids themselves, right? Can’t some of the blame also go to the faculty, the staff, and the general atmosphere on college campuses that fraternities are there to help guide young men into being smart, respectful, and common citizens in society, when in reality, they may make someone very far from that?

Always have a mother-figure.

Either way, it’s an interesting question, one that neither Goat, nor Burning Sands seem all that interested to answer.

For Burning Sands, though, it’s really all about what these pledges go through and why most of them, as confident as they may be, really don’t have what it takes. Director Gerard McMurray seems to get the dark and creepy aura of masculinity during a lot of these moments, almost to the point of where some of it borderlines on the verge of being gay; there’s much hugging, loving, holding, and touching of these strong, muscular, and sometimes, half-naked men, that you’ll begin to wonder when the panties are going to drop. It’s an interesting take on the material that seems to go beyond a lot of the other conventional stuff like, say, how shocking it is that these kids are getting beat up and held against their will to do stuff.

In fact, the biggest problem with Burning Sands is that a lot of it does feel like a “been there, done that”, even without Goat in the discussion. See, while that movie focused on the depravity and sheer ugliness of frats, it also approached it all from a different angle – in a way, it was much more detached and sinister, making it way more disturbing and downright creepy. Here, McMurray seems to tackle this hazing with much more direction, but also sort of taking us out of the whole issue, too. It’s almost as if the hazing just happens, we don’t feel anything about it, but somehow, some way, we’re supposed to. In that sense, yeah, it just doesn’t quite work, whereas a movie like Goat, as chilling as it could sometimes get, still resonated.

At the same time, though, the movie’s are still different and as such, should be approached differently, too.

It’s just that in this case, Burning Sands has some issues to wade through. It’s most interesting aspect is that it focuses on Zurich, played very well by Trevor Jackson as someone who, despite the obvious, doesn’t totally seem to want to be in a frat. He’s much more concerned with having sex and trying to pass, just like any other college kid and it’s a nice twist on the whole frat movie subgenre, in which we get a kid who’s only trying to be apart of it, not just to be cool, or hip, or have a bunch of friends, but because he’s basically told to join one, by his friends and peers.

Like I said before, who’s to blame here, folks?

Consensus: As dark as it can sometimes get, what’s holding Burning Sands back from being a far more effective take on underground hazing, is that it never quite becomes more than it should have been.

6 / 10

See? It’s a brotherhood!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Rotten Tomatoes

One False Move (1992)

Small towns always need a little excitement.

Ray (Billy Bob Thornton), an immoral thief who always seems to question everyone and everything around him; Fantasia (Cynda Williams), Ray’s girlfriend who doesn’t always seem to take the violent way out, but more than often, doesn’t know what else to do; and Pluto (Michael Beach), an smart, yet, cold and calculated killer who isn’t afraid anyone, are all criminals who have been on the run for quite some time. Together, they’ve taken out friends of Fantasia’s, either to get money, drugs, or a whatever other valuables they can find, not only leaving a huge and disturbingly long trail of blood behind them, but making them public enemy number one, essentially. Eventually, the LAPD gets more and more involved, the more and more bodies start turning up, leaving them to trigger and target Fantasia herself. On the case are two detectives, Dud Cole (Jim Metzler) and John McFeely (Earl Billings), who both travel out into the middle of nowhere in Star City, Arkansas, because it’s where they believe Fantasia will bring her fellow criminals to. While there, they meet the eccentric and sometimes silly police chief Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton), who has always dreamed of one day becoming a big city cop and seems to finally be getting the chance to do so. However, the case itself may be way too out of his league.

See what I mean?

One False Move starts off with perhaps the most disturbing first 15 minutes of as movie I have seen in quite some time. It’s a family, watching the home videos that they just filmed moments ago on their video-cameras, get a knock at the door, go to see who is at the knock, and slowly, but surely, each member of the family is either stabbed to death or killed, all while these tapes are playing the background. In fact, one person’s lifeless body lies right in front of the TV, while tapes of said person talking about how happy they are continue play. It’s harsh, brutal, unrelenting, and just downright mean, but it’s also the rare case of an indie-thriller really taking itself one step further to get down underneath our skin.

That said, it’s also the darkest and perhaps most ugly One False Move gets, which thankfully, doesn’t keep it away from being a solid flick in its own right. It’s just not nearly as upsetting.

Anyway, director Carl Franklin does a nice job here with the script from Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, by letting and allowing for everything to play out. Rather than trying too hard to focus on certain details of the story, the case, the murders, or even the characters, he sort of sits idly by and let them tell us themselves. And because of that, we get a lot of interesting material that we don’t often see in thrillers of this nature; we get an slew of interesting, three-dimensional characters, we get a plot that could literally go anywhere, at any time, we have a story that has, at the very least, more of a meaning than just “bad people deserved to be locked-up”, and oh yeah, bloody, surprising violence that matters more because, well, all of these things work and they matter.

It’s important to note what works here, because One False Move could have been a very easy movie to figure out, in terms of where it’s going, or what it’s going to be about. Had it been so easy, the movie would have just been another, typical action-thriller with plot twists and turns that don’t actually matter; instead, it’s a movie with some heart, emotion, crime, violence, and oh yeah, tension. It comes together mostly all perfectly well by the end, showing that in order for a crime-thriller such as this to work, all you really need is extra attention paid to the things that matter most.

“Stop thinking about the pony-tail, baby. It’s what’s in.”

Like, once again, characters, all of whom are played exceptionally well by all involved.

As the three criminals, Thornton, Beach and Williams all do good jobs in helping us get inside the mind of these sometimes cruel and unforgiving characters. While they’re never sympathetic or nice, they still at least show some colors you wouldn’t often get in a movie like this. Like, for instance, rather than seeming like a simple peon who is tired of the whole world stepping on him, is actually more of just a sissy who has a gun and some homicidal tendencies, which mostly has to do with the fact that he’s egged on by those around him. Beach is also impressive as Pluto, who is more detestable and downright evil, but shows signs of reasoning for it all. Meanwhile, Williams is effective as Fantasia, showing that there’s some sadness there, which makes her the most sympathetic out of the three, even if we’re never sure we can trust her.

However, the real standout of the movie has to be Bill Paxton, who on pure sheer charm and excitement, basically steals every scene he’s in. Sure, it helps that Paxton’s working with the most well-drawn character of the bunch, but Paxton shows some true heart, soul, and energy here and brings it to a movie that’s so drab and depressing at times, it’s a wonder if it knows what humor it is. Thankfully, it does and Paxton is the one to bring it, showing a real spirited soul within Dale Dixon and makes you not only see him as a good cop, but a good human being in general, who wants to make the world a better place, and intends to do so, all with a smile on his face and a beer in his hand.

Man, Bill. We miss you already.

Consensus: Dark, intense, and unpredictable, One False Move proves to be an effective thriller, but also gives us great performances and characters to help even things out, too.

8.5 / 10

Small-town cops get no respect.

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, The Fanboy’s Perspective, Paperblog

Catfight (2017)

Sometimes, you just need to duke it out with former besties.

Ashley (Anne Heche) is an artist who doesn’t quite have the recognition, nor fortune that she wants. She makes weird, outsider-like paintings that some people enjoy, but others don’t, and nine times out of ten, those happen to be the people who actually buy paintings in the first place. She’s trying to have a baby with her girlfriend (Alicia Silverstone), but of course, the process is a lot more difficult than she’d expect. So, to make ends meet, she works as a caterer and one night, meets an old friend of hers, Veronica (Sandra Oh). Veronica’s got a bit of a messy life, too; her husband resents her, her son doesn’t think she’s cool, and yeah, she drinks way too much. Both of them immediately strike up a conversation at this party, but also realize that they probably don’t like each other much, either. So, as one does, they brawl it out, leading to disastrous consequences for both of them, that will alter the course of their lives.

Somewhere, deep down inside the black hole of Catfight, there’s a joke, but for the life of me, I just can’t seem to figure it out. Is it that all friends hate each other? Is it that comas are funny? Is it that violence is funny? Is it that homophobia is funny? Is it that death is funny? Or art critics? Or artists themselves? Or, I don’t know, just life kind of funny?

Anne’s ready.

Honestly, I still don’t know and that’s sort of the problem with Catfight – it’s the kind of movie that thinks it’s way funnier and clever than it actually is, but never really makes sense of its own hilarity, or cleverness. It sort of presents a few jokes and expects us to take different meanings away from said jokes, when in reality, there’s not much to them. Writer/director Onur Turkel seems to have an interesting mind in how he’s able to craft and balance certain different genres, tones, and moods here, but he doesn’t know how to make sense of them; to go from a dark comedy, to a serious, sad and depressing drama takes a lot of guts and skill to pull-off effectively.

And unfortunately, Turkel seems to only have the guts. The skill may have to come later.

Sandra’s ready.

Regardless, Catfight does have some interesting bits and pieces scattered throughout, but that’s just the problem – they’re too scattered. Originally, it seems like Turkel wants to explore how these two women, while definitely different, are also alike in many other ways, too, showing that they’re both sad, miserable and stuck in ruts that they don’t know if they can get out of. That aspect of the story is a compelling one and it helps that both of the leading-ladies are quite good in the roles, too (more on them in a bit). But then, out of nowhere, the movie decides to shoot for being something sillier, more violent, and above all else, just stranger.

In fact, yes, Catfight can definitely be classified as “strange” – it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be, but tries its hand at so many different things that eventually, it’s just gone way too off-track. The only thing guiding the ship along are Heche and Oh, both of whom have always been, and are here, great. It’s actually kind of great to see them two here, because while time and Hollywood may have forgotten about them, us film-lovers haven’t and it’s nice to see them get two starring-roles once again, because they’ve always been incredibly talented. It does help that they get meaty roles to work with and show off their range, but it also helps that they remind us why they deserve to be in more stuff, regardless of “Who’s Hot”, and “Who’s Not”.

So to speak.

But like I said before, their performances, as good as they are, seem to be stuck in a movie that doesn’t know what it wants to be, what it’s about, or what it’s even trying to say. Attempting to figure this all out on your own, honestly, may be the real entertainment of the movie, but it also makes you wonder what could have happened, had the movie been sharper, more defined, and just clearer with us, and itself. It’s not all that hard to ask of a movie and it should always happen, regardless of how wacky or wild you want your material to be.

Consensus: Even with two solid performances from the always reliable Sandra Oh and Anne Heche, Catfight doesn’t know what kind of a movie it wants to be and ends up taking both of them on a ride that they, or us, probably didn’t ask for.

6 / 10

But oh wait, now Alicia’s ready! Ding-ding!

Photos Courtesy of: The Dullwood ExperimentLongroom

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

If it’s not on Google Maps, chances are, you should stay away from it.

It’s 1973, the Vietnam War is close to an end, and Bill Randa (John Goodman) a senior official in a super secret government organization known as Monarch, finally sees his opportunity to capitalize on achieving one of his biggest missions yet: Going to the mysterious Skull Island and figuring out what sort of threat is out there. After much arm-twisting, the government finally gives Randa the tools and resources he needs to get there, which means that he gets the army, the weapons, as well as the experts to help guide him along on this possibly dangerous island. One person Randa seeks out and pays to help him is world-renowned traveler James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), who doesn’t know what’s there on Skull Island, either, but doesn’t like the sounds of it, which is why he demands for his pay to be doubled. Meanwhile, on the mission, is anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who can’t wait to see what’s out there, and Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a member of the Army who isn’t too happy about what happened with the war and isn’t ready to let that go. Not even a gigantic, monstrous and incredibly violent ape known as Kong.

Kong best look out.

Kong: Skull Island is so entertaining, so quick, so visually impressive, and so fun that, even with all of its flaws, I’m willing and absolutely able to just let bygones be bygones and praise the film as it is. Because even though the script is silly, underwritten, and not at all up to the task of aiding and abetting this talented ensemble, the direction from Jordan Vogt-Roberts is so thrilling, it’s hard to care so much. After all, do you really go to a King Kong movie for the well-written, three-dimensional, and emotionally complex characters? Or, do you go to a King Kong movie for the vividly gigantic monsters beating the absolute hell out of one another and terrorizing any human that tries to stand in their ways?

Honestly, it’s not bad to have a little bit of both, but fine, Kong: Skull Island wants to stick with the later, so whatever.

Either way, Kong: Skull Island is still a very fun movie and a lot of that is credited to Vogt-Roberts because he takes what could have been a very soulless, almost boring job of rebooting the tale of Kong and instead, adds some life, flair (literally), and energy into it. One of the most notable and interesting aspects Vogt-Roberts adds here is that Kong: Skull Island is, on one hand, a monster movie, in which people run away and try to kill a monster, but on the other hand, it’s also a Vietnam War movie, in which some cold cut rock classics from the early-70’s blasts out from the speakers, everyone’s a little scared and paranoid, and yeah, the temperature is hot, sweaty and downright miserable. In a way, Vogt-Roberts wants to make the Apocalypse Now of monster movies and while he doesn’t quite reach those heights, he still shows us all something new and original can be done with the monster movie.

And because of this, there’s an energy to Skull Island that’s hard to resist and shove-off. Even though it’s absolutely clear from the get-go that the script is going to be shoddy, silly and downright stupid, there’s just something about the look and feel of this all that’s easy to ride along with and enjoy. Even those who want to see Kong in all of his finest form, will be pleased to know that he’s seen a whole bunch throughout and doing all the sorts of things that you’d expect him to do in a movie involving him; there’s smashing, crunching, chewing, roaring, pounding, beating, breaking, punching, kicking, throwing, eating, and oh yeah, crying. Kind of.

But not from these fools.

Regardless, those who complained about 2014 Godzilla not having enough of said title character, then sit down, shut up and feast your eyes on the creature that you’ve all been so desperately wanting to see.

That said though, like I’ve said before, the script is just, uhm, how should I say this? Lame. But it’s not terrible in that it’s hard to listen to, ruins the movie, and sucks all of the fun out of it; it’s more that it feels like a leftover script from the 90’s, right around the time Jurassic Park came out and all of a sudden, everyone wanted to make a big-budget, effects-heavy monster movie. Meaning, there’s a lot of cheesy one-liners; a lot of characters who have basically one personality-trait to them and it basically defines them; a lot of contrivances; a lot of scenes that need more explaining; and oh yeah, a lot of random bits of silliness that seem to literally come from out of nowhere.

And it’s weird, too, because the cast here is so well-done and impressive, that it’s a bit of a shame. No one’s bad here, honestly, but because the net has been cast so far and wide, no one true performance really gets to shine above the rest. The only ones I can truly think of doing this are probably John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson, but that’s just because they get maybe two or three more sentences than the rest of the cast to explain themselves and allow us to get to know them a tad bit better. Others like Hiddleston, Larson, Goodman, Whigham, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, and an oddly miscast Thomas Mann, all fall by the waist side and it’s a sign that the movie may have cast a smaller net, or have been longer.

Still though, for a movie that clocks in just under two hours, it makes for a good time. Just don’t try and think too hard, like me.

Basically, don’t be me.

Consensus: Even with an awfully wacky script, Kong: Skull Island gets by solely on the pure energy and fun from its direction, as well as an interesting take on the monster movie genre itself.

7 / 10

Oh wait. Never mind. He can’t be stopped.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

King Kong (2005)

He must protect his house.

Carl Denham (Jack Black) is a filmmaker living in the 1930’s, meaning, he doesn’t have a lot of opportunities. And the ones that he does have, don’t tickle his fancy as much as they used to. That’s why, when he catches wind of a mysterious, huge and odd island out in the middle of nowhere, Denham soon gets the ambition and inspiration all over again. So, he assembles a team full of actors, actresses, crew, and handy-men, who know a thing or two about an adventure and are capable of solving issues, should any of them arise. Aboard the ship is leading-lady Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), who also is in desperate need of a hit and will do anything for the spotlight, just one more time. Screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) feels the same way, but also finds himself falling for Ann, leading him to make some pretty rash decisions along this adventure, all leading up to finally meeting, once and for all, King Kong – the giant gorilla who practically watches over Skull Island and kills any sort of threat that may come its way. In this case, it’s these humans and needless to say, not all of them are equipped to take him down.

Why would you want a human, when you could have a Kong?

After winning practically every Oscar that he could for Return of the King, it made sense that he would be allowed to make virtually any movie that he wanted. Cause it’s a known thing in Hollywood: Make a lot of money, win a lot of awards, earn respect, and guess what? You can make your dream projects a reality. And oddly enough, for Jackson, it was remaking the movie he grew up knowing and loving, King Kong. Oh, and by “remaking”, I mean making two hours longer and adding on more CGI, special-effects, and story than you could ever imagine.

But trust me, this isn’t a stab at Jackson.

If anything, King Kong is Jackson getting the opportunity to play in his sandbox, where the world is his oyster, sky is the limit, there are no rules, and even better, everyone’s watching. A lot of people may have complained about the fact that the movie is over three hours long, takes awhile to actually get to Skull Island, and yeah, features one too many monsters and creatures, aside from the titular Kong, but in a way, that sort of makes the movie more epic; it shows us that Jackson isn’t setting out to make a note-for-note remake, but bask in every single bit of this material and be as excessive as humanly possible.

Is it a little draining? Quite possibly, yes, but at the same time, watching Jackson having the time of his life is, in all honesty, a beauty to behold. There aren’t many directors out there in the world with the impressive and ambitious scope like Jackson’s, so when he’s given carte blanche to do all that he wants and not stop, it’s nothing if not entertaining. Also, when was the last time you saw a three-hour movie that goes by in a flash? King Kong should have been a slog, but it’s not and it’s a true testament to Jackson’s prowess that allows for him to make a three-hour movie about little humans and a big gorilla, feel a lot less than that.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that Jackson directs the hell out of this thing and it makes sense why he wanted to bother with this story in the first place.

And even getting away from the technical side of the movie, and focusing more on the actual things that matter, like story, character development, etc., yeah, it still kind of works. The story isn’t all that different from before, but this time around, Jackson does up the emotion in a way that’s surprising, mostly because while we’re watching Kong up there on the screen, we’re watching something believable and impressively done – almost to the point where instead of being scared by him, we’re actually connected to him. The whole tale about this gorilla falling in love with a short little blonde thing is, of course, silly, but the movie doesn’t forget that sometimes, the seriousness of a tale like this can actually work, so long as you build enough tension and emotion behind it all.

That’s what Jackson does and it helps King Kong move along, even when it gets away from the gorilla beating the hell out of other monsters and dinosaurs. Cause even during those sequences, there’s a fun, crazy and almost hectic energy that’s a lot like the Lord of the Rings movies, but still its own kind of beast. Even when Jackson does dial it down for the characters, the movie’s still at least somewhat interesting, because we’ve spent so much time and energy with them, it’s hard not to understand them, at the very least.

Jack knows what I’m talking about.

Then again, the ensemble involved does help out with that as much as they can.

If there’s one thing that holds King Kong back from being a truly and absolutely great movie that it sometimes comes close to being, it’s that the performances can tend to be a bit bland, which may have more to do with the script and less to do with the actual actors themselves. Like, for instance, Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody are two perfectly good actors who can work well when given the material, but for some reason, they just feel underdeveloped; Watts gets some chances to be bright and shiny, whereas Brody is mostly just serious and not all that right for a movie that’s so concerned with everything else that’s going on around him. Others in the cast fare better, like Kyle Chandler, Jamie Bell, Thomas Kretschmann, and Colin Hanks, mostly because their characters aren’t made out to be the leads and can benefit from some goofiness, but with Watts and Brody, who are supposed to be our emotional anchors throughout this whole thing, it doesn’t fully work.

That said, the movie does benefit from having a very good, very surprising, and very dark performance from Jack Black. Of course, a lot of people will consider Black’s performance to be channeling Orson Welles, but if so, it’s still a good performance, because we see him lay down all of the usual trademarks and conventions that we’re so used to seeing, and hating with the sorts of characters he plays. What we get here, is a person we grow to love to hate and because of Black’s performance gets better, taking on more meaning as the movie develops and we start to see more sides to this twisted, sometimes sad little man.

Which is to say that I’m still waiting for that battle between Black and Kong.

Black Kong. What a name.

Consensus: Ambitious in scope, epic in its look, feel, and overall mood, King Kong is the movie Peter Jackson deserved to make and absolutely revels in the opportunity to do so, for the benefit of us all.

8.5 / 10

See what I mean?

Photos Courtesy of: Fernby Films

The Mothman Prophecies (2002)

Just watch the X-Files.

John Klein (Richard Gere), a respected journalist, loses his wife (Debra Messing) one night, after she takes the wheel of their car and sees a strange figure attack her. Cut to two years later and John has found himself in Point Pleasant, West Virginia, where there has apparently been many sightings/clues of a secret ghost out there, and John thinks he has the answers to all of the clues.

Saying that your movie’s story, no matter how creepy or strange it may be, is a “true story” or “based on a true story”, makes it seem like such a manipulative-way for the filmmakers to have us take the material more seriously. I mean, it did somehow work with movies like the Blair Witch Project and Cannibal Holocaust, but that was all because it looked and felt real, and also, nobody really had any idea whether to prove it false or not. However, stories like these where everything dark in the world seems to come up, doesn’t make it more freaky because it’s “based on a true story,” but instead, how about this, just makes it more dull.

However, don’t go up to director Mark Pellington and tell him that this material is, in fact, “dull”, because he’ll try his hardest to prove you wrong with any trick he can pull out of his director’s hat. Every chance that Pellington gets to make us forget what type of lame story we’re seeing, he capitalizes on it and gives us something to treat our eyes and for the most part, yeah, it actually works. The constant barrage of tricks and effects that Pellington pulls off aren’t all stuff we haven’t seen done before, but at least he makes a conscientious effort to really pull us into this state of paranoia and fear. You can tell that Pellington comes from a long line of directing music-videos, and it works for the overall atmosphere and tone of the movie.

The color blue is always a sign that something bad is 'a brewin'.

The color blue is always a sign that something bad is ‘a brewin’.

But just like most directors who have a music-video background, they just can’t quite get the narrative.

See, with Pellington’s direction,  no matter how hard he tries to keep our minds off of it, he still can’t get past the fact that this story is relatively boring. The pace is always off, with the plot constantly starting-and-stopping, and then never knowing how to pick itself back up again. Pellington knows how to freak us out, but to keep our interest is a whole other issue right then and there, and it’s hard to keep total invested interest.

As for the story, it isn’t terrible; there’s an idea of an mystery and having no idea what’s going to happen next, but it happens in such short spurts that it hardly almost matters. We get way too many scenes where it’s just Gere talking to some weird thing on the phone and says something disastrous is going to happen, it does end-up happening, and Gere runs around looking for an explanation by talking to random people as well as that weird thing. You can only watch Richard Gere run around, looking like a bewildered-fool so many times, and by the 45-minute mark of already seeing this 20 times, it’s hard not to be done here.

And oh yeah, Gere is terribly bland as John Klein and even though it seems like the dude should have more emotions and ideas in his because he for one, went through a terrible life-crisis like losing his lovely wife, somehow doesn’t. Instead, you don’t care about him, the paranoia he’s going through, the sadness he went through with his lost wife, and worst of all, you just don’t feel like the guy’s actually scared. Yeah, Gere puts on that scared-expression plenty of times, but it came to a point of where it seemed like the only skill the guy could pull out of his one-note bag of expressions and it made me realize why I have never cared for Gere in the first place.

Something I sure he’s really broken up about.

Generic Richard Gere look #2

Generic Richard Gere look #2

Laura Linney is pretty dull here, too, as the country bumpkin police officer that made me want to give Frances McDormand a call. Linney’s does what she can, but all she really does is put the same expression on as Gere has, try to look scared the whole time, and in the end, somehow act like she’s the one after his heart and can save him from all of this pain and fear he’s had to deal with throughout the past two years of his life. I’d be able to believe that these two would have some sort of a romance between one another, if the film ever alluded to it throughout the whole two hours, but it rarely ever does and when it seems like Linney goes all goo-goo eyes over Gere at the end, it was just dumb and a contrived way for the movie to bring these two together at the end. An end that was, yes, pretty cool to look at, but also, an end that signified that this long movie was finally over and I could get on with my life, forget about Gere, forget about Linney, and hopefully, watch a better movie before the day was up.

Consensus: Mark Pellington is a fine director that does all that he can to keep us awake throughout the Mothman Prophecies, but the script and story think otherwise, and sort of carry everything down with a dead-weight of total and complete dullness.

3 / 10

What I should have done from this movie.

What I should have done from this movie.

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Imperial Dreams (2017)

Like Poetic Justice, except not at all.

Fresh out of prison for a gun-assault charge, Bambi (John Boyega) is ready to make a change in his life. However, the life that he left behind isn’t willing to let him go. With his son’s mom (Keke Palmer), in prison, there’s no one really to care for him, which leaves Bambi up to the task. But taking care and keeping watch over your son is one thing – keeping a stable roof over him, is a whole other completely. After Bambi refuses to help his cousin go to Portland and beat out an assault charge, his uncle (Glenn Plummer) kicks him out of the house and on the street, where Bambi and his son will have to make due with what they’ve got. In this case, it’s the car, so they begin to start calling that home, while Bambi is out looking for a job. And since Bambi is an accomplished poet, he hopes that he’ll be able to make it big somehow through that. Little does Bambi know that the streets are unforgiving to you, no matter who, or what you are.

What a swimfan.

Imperial Dreams is a movie that’s clearly set in today’s day and age, very relevant, and deals with a lot of important issues of race, gender, class, wealth, and economics, that are very hot-button now, as we speak. So why does it feel like a product of the 90’s? It’s odd, because while the “hood” subgenre of film isn’t necessarily a dated one, but it still feels like something of yesteryear, when G-funk and Dr. Dre was blasted on every car-stereo. But now, many, many years later, Imperial Dreams, while feeling like a movie made, and taking place in, the 90’s, still hits the right emotional spots that it means to, mostly because the world hasn’t changed all that much.

Okay, maybe it has. But not in the important ways it’s supposed to, anyway.

See. with Imperial Dreams, co-writer/director Malik Vitthal gets across the notion that it doesn’t matter if you’ve changed your act and have decided to become a full-fledged, law abiding citizen – if you’re young, black, poor, and ever been convicted of a crime, then guess what? There’s no future for you. Sorry. It’s a shame and it’s a sad world that we live in, but of course, it is the world and it’s one that many young, black, and/or poor ex-felons face.

But it shouldn’t sound like Vitthal is preaching here, because rather than getting on his soapbox and letting the world know his thoughts and feelings on classicism and the way the government continuously lets down its black and impoverished citizens, he tells a story that may seem to descriptive and specific to really connect to anyone, but it still somehow does. Bambi’s story involves a lot of heartbreak, death, sadness and most importantly, anger, but it doesn’t ever seem like it wants to be about any of those things, as much as it wants to be about just not giving up and trying your absolute hardest to fulfill your dreams. Sounds cheesy, I know, but in the context of the movie, it works and it makes you feel more and more for Bambi altogether.

Which is also to say that John Boyega is quite good in the role. While we have yet to fully see his talents on-display yet in a movie dedicated to exposing them, Boyega shows that he’s got a certain presence to him that keeps him interesting, even when it seems like his character could lapse into convention. Through the whole movie, Bambi remains an angry, frustrated and sometimes tortured soul, but he keeps on trying and there’s something about that spirit of his that’s, at the very least, inspirational. But like I said, it’s not as corny as I make it sound and it helps that Boyega is here to help this character out when he needs it the most.

Unfortunately, Bambi’s about the only character here that isn’t a total and absolute cliché and it’s what brings the movie down a whole notch.

Yup. Sons look like fathers. Shocking.

See, while the movie is smart about knowing and understanding these conventions of a hood movie, the characters seem to prove otherwise. For instance, Bambi’s brother is a young kid who’s future’s looking bright and beautiful, with a college scholarship and close relationship to the church. But for some reason, the movie changes its tune about halfway through and decides to make him something of a hard-ass that doesn’t want these things anymore and is, all of a sudden, ready to ruin his life for one stupid act. Doesn’t make much sense and eventually, all of the flip-flopping around gets confusing.

Same goes with Bambi’s uncle, as played by Glenn Plummer (in an obvious nod to South Central), who seems like he was ripped out of Don’t Be a Menace, thrown in here, and never told that what he was working with here was meant to be serious. It helps that Plummer’s a talented actor, but even some of the lines he has to work with, don’t always connect and seem genuine. They just seem like notes and beats these kinds of movies are supposed to touch on and use and well, it’s a bit silly.

Still though, there’s a heart and soul here that, above all other flaws, still gets itself across.

Consensus: With a good performance from Boyega in the lead and a heartfelt message about overcoming all adversity, Imperial Dreams gets by on its heart, as much as it gets taken down by its sometimes conventional and formulaic script.

7 / 10

“Listen to me, son. No spoilers.”

Photos Courtesy of: Collider, High Snobiety, Slash Film

I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore (2017)

largLock the door next time! Come on!

When Ruth (Melanie Lynskey) decides that she’s had enough of it and quits her nursing job, she expects to live out the rest of her life the way she wants to. She can drink, smoke, read, listen to music, and eat ice cream all day, and not have a thing in the world to worry about. That all changes when one day, she comes home to her house burglarized, with some of her most treasured possessions gone, without a clue in the world of where it may have gone to. Though she does call the police, they don’t seem to really care, leaving Ruth to set out and find who robbed her house, by herself. But she soon realizes that it could be a very dangerous job for one woman to do by herself, leading her to invite random neighbor Tony (Elijah Wood) along for this adventure of sorts. Tony’s more than ready to crack down on these two-bit criminals, until the both of them learn that they are dealing with much bigger fish and they aren’t going to fry easily.

Or yeah, something like that.

He was a boy.

He was a boy.

Writer/director Macon Blair is making his directorial debut here and while you may not know the name, you definitely know the face. He’s been in both of Jeremy Saulnier’s movies (Blue Ruin, Green Room), and is slowly, but surely, making a name for himself out there in the indie-world, which is why it’s interesting to see him try his hand at writing and directing movies. Cause if anything, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore feels a lot like a Saulnier movie, but instead of being drop-deadly, bleakly serious, it’s got a bit of a comedic-edge to it.

Initially, the movie seems like any other indie-comedy, with long, silent breaks of weird bits and pieces of comedy followed in, but slowly, and surely, the movie starts to show its true colors. Blair’s writing is, at the very least, interesting here, because he never quite picks a genre that he wants to work with; it’s a dark comedy for sure, but how dark and how funny the movie is going to stay, is never quite sure. We get these brief signs that the story’s going to take a viciously upsetting turn, but when and where is never quite known, and the mystery of it all is quite compelling.

And then, it gets viciously upsetting and all of a sudden, it feels like a whole different movie entirely.

See, as much as I don’t want to do this, Saulnier’s two movies so far, have absolutely benefited from the fact that they’re mean and serious, almost from the very start. They don’t try to crack any jokes, make light of a situation, and they sure as hell don’t loll-gag. They get right to the point and don’t leave us waiting. And that’s why they both work as well as they do – the violence we eventually get in those movies is stark and chilling, but sort of expected and germane, because the mood of the whole piece was already stern in the first place.

She was a girl.

She was a girl.

That’s why Blair’s movie doesn’t quite gel as well as it should. It doesn’t take itself seriously enough to fully work as a deadly serious thriller, nor does it goof around enough to work as a comedy. If anything, it’s a weird, odd, and twisted version of the two and in that sense, it’s definitely worth watching. Blair’s ambition to combine these two genres, so to speak, doesn’t fully come together as well as he may have wanted, but it’s worth noting that he at least tries and is at least semi-successful.

Shouldn’t that account for something?

Where Blair got really lucky was in the casting of both Melanie Lynskey and Elijah Wood as this odd couple of sorts. Lynskey hasn’t always been considered “a scary presence”, but here, she shows that beyond her everyday woman appeal, there’s something meaner lingering. We don’t quite know what it is, or how it’s going to present itself, but we know it’s there and she’s interesting to watch because of that. Wood’s also very good in this role as Tony, a sort-of weirdo who knows karate and has numb-chucks. Normally, this kind of character would be used as a non-stop punch-line and never taken seriously, but Blair’s writing for him and Wood’s portrayal of him, shows that there’s actually a sweet soul stuck deep down inside of this goofy guy. He may think he’s a lot tougher than he is, but then again, who doesn’t? Together, the two have a nice chemistry that gets to play out in small, yet cute ways, showing that perhaps Blair could have just focused on them and left it at that.

Cause when Blair does show the “robbers”, of sorts, like I said, the movie acts very dark and serious. It also doesn’t help that these characters seem as if they’re from another movie entirely; one that’s way more over-the-top than this one here. So yeah, it doesn’t help them anymore and only takes away from Lynskey and Wood’s great moments together.

Consensus: With a darker edge than most comedies, I Don’t Feel at Home in This World Anymore is an interesting watch, but also uneven, taking a more sinister and meaner approach to its material that doesn’t quite gel so well with the funnier, more human bits of itself.

6.5 / 10

Can I make it anymore obvious?

Can I make it anymore obvious?

Photos Courtesy of: Collider

Logan (2017)

Not all superheroes have to be nice.

It’s sometime in the near-future and needless to say, the world is not the best place for mutants. Most of them have either been killed, or are so hidden away from society, you wouldn’t even know where to look for them. However, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is one of them and needless to say, time has not been too kind to him. All those years of violence and havoc, have now taken a toll on his mind and most importantly, his body. Now, it seems like Logan, who was considered to be immortal, may eventually reach his demise. But before that happens, he’s tasked with saving the life of another mutant, a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen). She doesn’t speak much of English, but has something about her that makes those involved with killing mutants, now want her. Logan sees this as something that he has to protect, so along with another aging mutant, Professor X (Patrick Stewart), they set out to take Laura out of harm’s way. But to where? None of them really know, but they’re going to search far and wide, anyway.

Oh. Time has not been kind.

Oh. Time has not been kind.

After seeing Deadpool last year, I came to the conclusion that in order for most of the superhero movies to stay fresh, they have to up the ante a notch or two. Meaning, it’s time to get rid of all the bloodless violence, the soft and sometimes petty smack-talk, and most importantly, enough with the predictability. Say what you will about some of Deadpool‘s flaws (which there aren’t many of), it’s one of the rare superhero movies that feels like it’s doing something new with the genre, while also staying pretty loyal to certain tropes and conventions, too.

The only difference with that movie was that it knew what it was doing and wasn’t afraid to tell you, either.

And with Logan, the same case can be made that, in order for most of these superhero movies to stay fresh and somewhat original, they need to change the way we see them. Rather than getting another run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter superhero flick in which there’s a good guy, a bad guy, a threat, a love-interest, and eventually, a final showdown, we get a superhero movie where there’s a few okay guys, a few evil guys, a terrible and disturbing threat, no love-interest, and eventually, a bloody, gruesome and sometimes mean, final showdown. So okay, yeah, not everything here is changed up and different, but Logan shows small, slight ways that the superhero genre can be helped out a bit.

Which is what also brings me to talk about the R-rating Logan was able to obtain and it’s actually what saves the movie. See, Mangold approaches the material in such a dark, heinous and sometimes gritty way, it seems like R was the only way to go to do the actual story justice. But it’s not the kind of R-rating that’s hammered in because everyone wanted to give it a shot; the action and violence is a lot more brutal and gory than ever before, the cursing comes at the best moments and isn’t shoe-horned in, and just the overall feeling of it feels more adult and mature than any of the other superhero movies floating around out there.

It’s as if the kids were left at home and the parents got a night out at the movies and for a superhero movie, that’s pretty damn surprising.

"You think you're more mutant than me?"

“You think you’re more mutant than me?”

And this is to say that it all works so incredibly well. Mangold ups the emotion, just as much as he does the blood, violence and gore, and for that reason alone, there’s more at-stake with this story – we feel closer to Logan than ever before, feel for him, want him to live on, beat the baddies and most importantly, continue to be the way he is. The movie never takes any shortcuts to giving us a fully-realized and complete story to this character, as well as Xavier, and at times, there’s something sweet about watching about watching these two characters, who we first got to see on the big-screens almost two decades ago, finally show their age and embrace the fact that their time on Earth is, of course, limited.

It’s sad for sure, but the movie never forgets that at its center, is really Logan, the rough heart and soul of this movie, as well as this whole franchise. And in his supposedly-final outing, Hugh Jackman probably gives his best performance as Logan, showing that there’s true heartbreak behind all of the killing and destruction he does. Rather than just being a guy who kills for the greater good of society, he’s really just killing cause he has to and has all of this rage hell-bent inside of him – it’s as if he finally stopped trying to please everyone and just let loose. Jackman’s always been perfect for this role and if this really is his last showing, needless to say, it’s the perfect swan song for him to go out on and shows us that we’ll truly, without a doubt, miss him in this role.

Now good luck finding a replacement!

And not just for Jackman, either, but for Stewart as well who, like the former, gives his best performance as this character, showing deep sadness and frustration within a character that seemed like he always had it all together. Stewart gets a chance to explore Xavier’s nastier, ruder side and it’s a joy to watch; not because we know he can do it (as was the case with Blunt Talk), but because he’s stealing every scene he’s in. The chemistry between he and Jackman also finally comes into play here, where we realize that they’re not just best friends who have literally been through it all together, but that they’re also one of their kind left and they both have a legacy to behold.

It’s sad, but kind of heartwarming and the note Logan ends on, well, needless to say, is perfect. It’s melancholy, depressing, and altogether, perfect. Where they’re going to go with the franchise, is totally beyond me, but I definitely look forward to it.

Consensus: With a harder, darker and rougher edge to it than the others, Logan works perfectly as a more adult-like superhero movie, with plenty of action, blood and cursing for the grown-ups, but a heartfelt, sad, and rather sweet story at the center, proving even more why Jackman is perfect for this title role and why it’s going to be weird without seeing him in it.

9 / 10

Save the girl. Save the world. Live on.

Save the girl. Save the world. Live on.

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Most cold-blooded killers are, after all, misunderstood.

Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) has been on the run, gun slingin’, robbin’, killin’, and committing all sorts of crimes that have him number one on every person’s bounty list. However, Wade is a pretty ruthless man, to where he can get away from anyone looking to reel him in for justice; it also helps that he’s got the helping hand of his band of fellow thugs, especially his go-to-guy, Charlie (Ben Foster). But eventually, Ben gets caught by the local law and ready for the 3:10 train to take him to Yuma. But in order to get him there, he’ll have to be transported among many lines, where everyone is looking to take Ben down and get a little piece of the reward-money pie. However, Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is just looking to do this so that he can get some money, save his farm, and go home to his family, where he can feel like a responsible man again. As expected though, the trip goes through all sorts of bumps, bruises, and plenty of violence, where one thing leads to another, and it’s never very clear if Ben will ever get on that train and behind bars, like he should.

"Hold it! I'm not Batman here, but other places. Kind of."

“Hold it! I’m not Batman here, but other places. Kind of.”

3:10 to Yuma is the rare kind of Western that not only revitalizes the genre, but also proves why it’s so great in the first place. It doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel of the genre, make up new rules, and play by its own game, but instead, take everything that you know and love from all those other classics, bring them together, and let you have a great time. It’s as if it’s own beast, entirely, even if, yeah, it’s actually a remake, too.

Still, even if 3:10 to Yuma isn’t the most original story out there, it more than makes up for it in all the thrilling, exciting and rather unpredictable action-sequences that take place over its two-hours. James Mangold is a perfect fit for this material, because he knows exactly how to make it all crackle and pop, without ever seeming like he’s out of his depth. Even though Mangold sure does love to jump around from genre to genre, with sheer reckless abandon, it seems like the action-genre may be the one he sticks with, not just because he seems to enjoy it the most, but because he actually seems to know what he’s doing with it, as opposed to those like Michael Bay, or McG.

Why on Earth did I just mention McG’s name?

Anyway, moving on. 3:10 to Yuma more than gets by with its action, but at the heart of it all, and perhaps what makes it more than just another fun and exciting romp through the Old West, is that it’s also the tale of two interesting, challenging, and complex men. Both Christian Bale and Russell Crowe put in great work here, going beyond the silly accents, and showing that there’s more to these two guys. Crowe’s Wade may be a ruthless, toothless (not really, he has quite the set of chompers), and almost sadistic killer, but he’s also got a set of morals and he’s quite the charmer. Whereas, on the other side of the coin, Bale’s Dan is a man with plenty of morals, a simpleton, and family man, but at the same time, won’t hesitate to kill, if he ever has to.

Ben Foster. Up to his usual tricks of not taking a shower to prep for a role.

Ben Foster. Up to his usual tricks of not taking a shower to prep for a role.

Both men are different, yes, but they’re also quite alike in many ways, too, and it’s what makes 3:10 to Yuma quite compelling to watch.

Even when the action is gone for a short while and everyone’s sitting around a fire, eating beans, chewing the fat, it’s still entertaining to watch; the cast is so good, the characters so well-defined, and the script is actually polished. And with Bale and Crowe’s performances, we get to see two men who, despite being on opposites of the social spectrum, still respect the other enough to know where they come from, what their ideals are, and why they are, the way they are in the world. It almost comes close to a bromance, except for the fact that they do try and kill each other every so often, but even then, who knows.

Bromances work in mysterious ways, sometimes.

But anyway, aside from both Crowe and Bale, the ensemble’s a pretty good one. A very young Logan Lerman shows that he can hold his own as Dan’s son; Dallas Roberts plays the sheriff who has to take Wade in with Dan and shows that even the scrawniest of men, with a gun, can still kind of be bad-ass; Peter Fonda shows up and brings some class; Kevin Durand is, as expected, pretty crazy; Luke Wilson has a fun cameo; and Ben Foster, as Wade’s right-hand man, is so crazy, so deranged and so evil, that he almost ends up stealing the show. But still, it’s Bale’s and Crowe’s show to the end and when they’re together, their scenes never stop igniting the spark and make you wish that they’d work together more and more. It doesn’t even have to be in Westerns.

Couldn’t hurt, though.

Consensus: Even if it’s still a Western through and through, 3:10 to Yuma is a tense, exciting and incredibly well-acted piece of entertainment.

8 / 10

Look at 'em. Trying so hard not to make-out and measure sizes.

Look at ’em. Trying so hard not to make-out and measure sizes.

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, Rotten Tomatoes 

Heavy (1995)

The more, the merrier.

Victor (Pruitt Taylor Vince) works in a pizza shop and doesn’t really talk to anyone around him. While he gets along with most everyone, it has to do with the fact that he’s so shy and big, nobody really knows how to really talk to him, or what to say. Because for Victor, life is just something to get through on a day-to-day basis and it doesn’t really matter about much of anything else. But his life sort of changes when a new girl, Callie (Liv Tyler), comes into town and begins working at one of the local taverns in the area. Immediately, Callie takes a bit of a liking to Victor – it may not be love, infatuation, or anything sentimental, but it’s enough to give Victor some life and hope. But Callie has some issues going on in her own life, in that she doesn’t really know what she wants to do, either. The two end up forging something of a friendship that helps the two navigate through life and realize that there truly is some sweetness out there in the sometimes dark and brim world.

Writer/director James Mangold has had quite the career, mostly because he’s never really seemed to pin himself to one genre in particular. When he’s not making action-heavy, big-budget spectacles (the Wolverine, Knight & Day), he’s actually out there making subtle, slightly arty dramas (Girl, Interrupted, Walk the Line). And of course, when he’s not making those movies, he’s off trying his hand at other genres, like Westerns (3:10 to Yuma), fantasy rom-coms (Kate & Leopold), and twisty, Hitchcockian-thrillers (Identity).

"Take me away. Far, far away from here, where people don't call me, 'Steve.'"

“Take me away. Far, far away from here, where people don’t call me, ‘Steve.'”

And then, there’s his debut, which is perhaps his most different movie, but unfortunately, probably his weakest.

For one, it shows that Mangold definitely knew how to create a sense of time and place. Heavy is a very sad, depressed and at times, moody flick. Mangold puts us in this small town, where it’s not exactly bright, shiny, or even happy – it’s just a lot of rain, clouds and frowns. There’s hardly any light in the sky, nor is there much of any light in the people’s faces. In a way, they’re all kind of miserable and at a stand-still, not knowing where they want to go, what they want to do, and how to go about the rest of their lives.

Which is fine for a mood-piece, if that is exactly what you’re going for, but at nearly two hours, Heavy wears out its sad and repressed welcome. After all, Mangold presents this small part of the world and doesn’t have much else to offer; the sweeping shots of the forest and mountains underneath dark clouds of rain, while beautiful, are also incredibly repetitive, not adding much to the story except an obvious bit of symbolism. Which isn’t to say that it’s a pretty movie, because it is, but beautiful landscapes can only go so far.

Especially when you don’t have much of a story to actually work with.

And that seems to be what’s happened with Heavy. Mangold has a good idea of how to frame and show a story, but actually telling it and allowing for there to be any sort of drive behind the narrative, he doesn’t quite seem to have the knowledge of here. Cause if anything, Heavy isn’t just a heavy movie, but it’s a slow one, that doesn’t really seem to have much to say, or anything to really show. It’s just a bunch of sad people, being sad and trying their hardest not to be sad anymore.

Or something like that, I’m not quite sure. It’s basically the most picture perfect Sundance movie ever made: Moody, dark, gritty, and basically just depressed. It doesn’t have much of a reason to be, either, but Mangold clearly doesn’t know that and pounds hard on the darkness.

Cheer up, Liv! You're always going to be rich!

Cheer up, Liv! You’re always going to be rich!

If anything, the performances do help this movie out a whole bunch, even when it seems like there’s no real character-development or strong writing to even help them.

Case in point, Pruitt Taylor Vince as Victor. Vince is a pretty accomplished character actor, who shows up every now and then in those sloppy, country bumpkin-ish roles. Here though, he’s actually pretty thoughtful and rather sweet as Victor, never going too far to say much of anything, but always getting something across by just the look on his face, or the slight-movement of his brow. It’s actually the perfect kind of small, subtle performance, for this small, rather subtle movie, the only problem is that the rest of the movie doesn’t quite know what to do with itself, so of course, it’s a great performance put to waste.

Same goes for Liv Tyler as the object of Victor’s affection. At this stage early on in her career, Tyler was more of a cute mystery – we didn’t quite know if we could trust the characters she portrayed, nor did it seem like she did. And here, she’s quite good in a role that doesn’t quite measure up to much, except being pretty, moody, and nice to almost everyone around her. Pros of the big-screen like Shelley Winters, who plays Victor’s sometimes controlling mother, and Debbie Harry, as the co-worker who’s a bit of a problem to everyone, work out well here, but they, too, like the rest of the movie, just seem underdeveloped.

Oh well. At least Mangold would eventually get his act together.

Consensus: Even with the beautiful cinematography, Heavy just never fully comes together as both a visually and emotionally satisfying movie, but instead, only resulting in the former.

5 / 10

Kiss her, bro. Do it. Why not?

Kiss her, bro. Do it. Why not?

Photos Courtesy of: Derek Winnert