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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: April 2017

The House of Mirth (2000)

The grubbiest paws aren’t always the easiest to bother.

Lily (Gillian Anderson) is a ravishing socialite who takes her charm and beauty for granted. For one, she thinks she’s way better than a lot of those around her and while she’s not necessarily wrong, said beauty and charm does start to bring all sorts of interest her way in the form of men, but it also brings upon jealousy in the form of the fellow women who surround her and can’t stand the fact that she gets so many eyes towards her ways. And just like a lady did back in the day, she seeks a wealthy husband and, in trying to conform to social expectations, she misses her chance for real love with Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz), a man she think she’s better than, even though he thinks that they would be perfect, no matter what. Eventually, her search for a husband takes her to many different men and prospects, none of whom quite work out once Lily is accused of having an affair with a married-man, not just making her bad news, but also an outcast from the rest of the socialites who she used to wine and dine with so often.

See? There’s those long walks.

The best period-pieces are the ones that, no matter how old the tales in them are, or are taking place, still hold some relevancy in today’s day and age and can be looked at through the modern-eye. The House of Mirth is such a period-piece, in which we get a classic tale of a woman trying to find love, be rich, and relaxed for the rest of her life, which isn’t all that relevant nowadays, but sooner or later, eventually does. To say that the House of Mirth takes a turn for pure darkness about halfway through wouldn’t be necessarily such a spoiler, because it’s a story that’s been around for many years and it’s also quite obvious by a certain point just where the story itself is actually headed.

But there’s still something about its deep dive into sadness and darkness that still sticks with me.

And honestly, it’s a true testament to writer/director Terence Davies, who not only has a knack for nailing the period-details to this story down perfectly, but also knows how to make each and every one of these characters, inherently interesting just in the way that they are. Sure, watching a movie where a bunch of rich people bicker, eat, drink, dance, take long walks, and gossip, may not seem like the most entertaining two hours ever put to screen, but somehow, Davies makes it all click and pop off of the screen. He doesn’t take these characters, or this story, as a product of its time, but instead, a product of any time, where rich people sneer at those who they feel are lesser than them, for sometimes awfully silly and ridiculous reasons.

Which is why the House of the Mirth, both the source-material, as well as the movie, still work, way beyond most other period-pieces do. It’s a tale of love, sure, but it’s also a rather chilling, disturbing tale of one person’s descent into sheer madness and depression, and just how that can all happen, solely through people’s words and actions. It follows a very clear path early on and never really strays away from it, but the path is compelling to watch; we know where the story is headed, but to watch it all play out, as sad as it can sometimes get, honestly, is hard to turn away from. It’s like a train-crash you see from a mile away, can’t do anything about, and for some reason, you don’t want to miss the end-result of.

Just take him, Lily! Don’t be silly!

Okay, so that maybe that’s a bit harsh, but you get my point.

And of course, the movie works as well as it does because Davies has assembled a pretty solid ensemble here, what with Gillian Anderson leading the charge as the complex and heartbreaking Lily Bart, a character we get to know, love, and feel so much sympathy for over the two hours. Anderson has always been a very strong actress and it’s interesting to see her here, because she has to show so much emotion, by barely showing much at all; it’s the kind of stuffy, yet, subtle performance so many actresses try to work with and nail, that Anderson does so flawlessly here. Watching her try to navigate through life, as well as all of these various people around her, can truly be hard-to-watch, but she always stays rich, true and honest, and it’s why her character works as well as it does, all issues aside.

Eric Stoltz also has a nice role as the love of Lily’s life who, for some reason, she doesn’t ever come around to loving because she think she’s better than him; Anthony LaPaglia plays another possible suitor for Lily who, may or may not, have the best intentions in mind; Dan Aykroyd gives a truly surprising and shocking performance as a married-man who instantly takes a liking to Lily and wants to help her out in any way that he can, with obvious strings attached; Terry Kinney plays a very similar character; Laura Linney plays a married-woman who doesn’t take so much of a liking to Lily’s naughty ways; and the same goes for Elizabeth McGovern.

Basically, everyone here is evil, sick, or twisted. But hey, they’re rich, so they’re able to get away with.

Consensus: As stuffy and blase as it may start, the House of Mirth soon turns into a sad, shocking and rather upsetting tale of class and gender roles that still feels relevant.

8 / 10

Then again, can you blame all men for practically drooling over this woman?

Photos Courtesy of: All About Gillian

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Off the Black (2006)

The dude’s who always get the wrong calls, guess what? Get it wrong in life, too.

After his baseball team loses a game due to a call by umpire Ray Cook (Nick Nolte), Dave Tibbel (Trevor Morgan) and some friends decide to vandalize Ray’s house. Unfortunately for Dave, he is caught and starts paying off his debt by cleaning up the mess. But something odd begins to happen to Dave once he cleans this guys house up – he actually starts to like this old Ray fella, who seems like he also likes Dave, too. So, rather than just continuing to mess with the guy, he hangs out with him, more and more, getting to know who he is, where he comes from, and just what his whole life has been like. For Dave, it’s a way of coping with his mother’s absence, as well as the fact that his dad (Timothy Hutton), isn’t quite all that there for him, but for Ray, it’s all about getting to remember what it was like to be a kid, and have a family. It’s something that he hasn’t felt in forever and it’s something that Dave feels happy to give him, until it gets all too sad for either to actually be able to handle once the real truths come out.

He still somehow gets the ladies.

Off the Black is probably the most perfect movie to make your small-budget, really low-key, very indie debut with. Not in that it’s a perfect movie and is absolutely the one to show everyone else in the world the true talents you possess, but because it’s so simple, so easygoing, and so non-challenging, that it feels like you’re watching someone get their act together, yet, at the same time, not want to go too far so that they lose themselves. It’s almost as if Off the Black was made with the intention that writer/director James Ponsoldt would follow all sorts of rules and guidelines and only after the movie was finished, edited, and released, then he would get to have some fun with movies for a change.

And judging by what he’s put out since, it’s not hard to imagine this.

See, Off the Black is a perfectly fine little indie that doesn’t set out to offend, change the world, or even shake up the world a little bit. It tells this small, humane tale about two people connecting, getting to know one another, and yeah, eventually bonding over stuff. It’s so safe and comfortable that it’s probably the most perfect movie you could take an aunt, uncle, grand-parent out to see and leave it knowing that you did a great service, because they’ll be pleased with what they saw. Sure, the cursing, drinking, and occasional bit of smoking may get in the way, but overall, it’s a movie that doesn’t go out of its way too much to really stir up any person’s raw feelings and/or emotions.

Which is also probably why, for a good portion at least, it’s so boring. It’s hard to really pin-point what it was about Off the Black that felt like it was just taking way too much of its time and meandered, even with the 90-minute run-time, but it just happened. There was this constant feeling I had while watching the movie knowing that I typically love certain tales of everyday, normal people like this, but for some reason, this one just didn’t grab me. Ponsoldt’s latest films have all done that, and then some, which is probably Off the Black has gone mostly unremembered, even after all of his success as of late.

Grow up, kid. Start hanging with old drunks.

That said, it isn’t a totally terrible movie. Just a monotonous and rather boring one, to say the least.

It helps that, as usual, Nick Nolte is pretty terrific in the lead role playing, guess this, a drunk who has a rough past and even rougher relationships with those from that past. It’s the kind of dirty, beaten-up role Nolte has downright perfected by now, which is why it’s no surprise he handles it oh so well here, bringing out some true heart and emotion in scenes with Trevor Morgan that, honestly, never feel believable. It isn’t that Nolte doesn’t try, it’s that Morgan’s character is so dull and plainly-written that it’s never all that understandable why he wants to be best pals with this old drunk dude in the first place.

The movie does try to make it appear that Morgan’s character’s mommy issues have to do with it, but even still, it doesn’t quite make sense. Timothy Hutton’s dad character brings out the most emotion in his four or five scenes, showing us a truly sad person who, honestly, could have been better friends with Nolte’s. It feels odd, never quite works, and yeah, it doesn’t help that Morgan’s probably not the best actor, either.

That said, Nolte saves the day. What else is new?

Consensus: As conventional as indie-dramas get, Off the Black never gets as dramatic as it wants to be, which keeps itself away from being all that emotional.

5 / 10

Yeah, not buying it. Sorry, fellas.

Photos Courtesy of: Rotten Tomatoes

Cheap Thrills (2013)

Why can’t truth or dare with my buddies ever be this fun?

Craig (Pat Healy) has just become a new father, which means that there’s a lot more responsibilities on his plate, and in fact, they’re probably more than he can handle. He doesn’t have enough money to pay the bills, for his kid, the gas for his car, and he doesn’t even have a job anymore. Basically, his life blows, but when he meets back up with old pal Vince (Ethan Embry), all of a sudden, his problems seem to go away. Sure, he’s still kind of a loser with no job or money to show for anything, but he’s hanging with a buddy who’s life is almost worse, so yeah, it makes him feel a little bit better. Then, the two meet-up with Colin (David Koechner), a very rich random dude who, along with his wife (Sarah Paxton) are celebrating their anniversary with a night on the town. They invite both Craig and Vince out to join them, to go to various places and eventually, back to the mansion, where they’ll spend the rest of the evening playing a downright brutal and sometimes vicious game of truth or dare. Except, in this case, the reward is much greater, as well as the risk.

What happens when teen-idols start doing way too many drugs.

You’d think that with a title like Cheap Thrills, a small budget, a first-name director, a group of core characters rounded-out by character actors, and of course, a premise like that, that this would be nothing more than just a straight-to-VOD crap-fest, where the only ones who bother to check it out, are the people who didn’t have anything better to do with their time, nor actually know what good movies are. But for some reason, Cheap Thrills is surprisingly much more than that; yeah, it’s scummy, dirty, disgusting, and raw, but it’s also got a little more on its plate than being just one gross-out-gag-after-another. It’s got something to possibly say about classicism and the way our economy has made normal, everyday citizens out to do the worst possible things imaginable, just so that they can stay alive and well in a world that’s constantly changing and making it harder for a normal person to just survive.

You know, in between all of the feces, hacked-off limbs, blood, gore and nudity, but still, at least there’s something there.

Director E.L. Katz and writers Trent Haaga and David Chirchirill know that they’re working with some slimy material, and because of that, they don’t try to hide it. Sure, the themes about the modern-day society are there, but only if you decide to really look deep into it all; mostly, Cheap Thrills just wants to be a down-and-out, dirty and rather shocking movie that takes a fairly simple, and almost silly premise, and go into uncharted territory with it. Think watching a bunch of grown-ass adults actually playing a game of truth or dare would be stupid and a waste of time? Think again.

Cheap Thrills is the kind of movie that probably won’t work for a lot of people, but Katz, Haaga, and Chirchirill take this material into some crazy, unpredictable areas that are hard to see coming, only because we’re so used to movies having risks and limits, all to make sure that they’re sticking by a certain set of rules and standards that are made so that movies can appeal to anyone out there. Cheap Thrills isn’t that movie and is much better off for it, as it doesn’t try to be nice, or sweet, or appeal to anyone out there – it’s its own damn beast and while I wouldn’t normally applaud that pretentious bravery, it works here, so it’s okay. The fact that Cheap Thrills doesn’t want to be the perfect portrait of what people expect to get with a movie, makes it all the more likable and, dare I say it, charming.

“Whammy!”

Of course, it is low-budget and does look like it was made on the cheap, but sometimes, that’s actually fine.

Cheap Thrills doesn’t need to be a movie that big-budgets, or studios need to get their hands on; it’s the kind of movie that’s made by people who have a sort of love and passion for these sick, twisted and almost sadistic stories. It helps, too, that those acting in it, aren’t really big names and, at the very least, seem like real people. Sure, you’ve seen Pat Healy, David Koechner, Sara Paxton, and Ethan Embry in many places before, but here, they feel like raw, real people that just so happen to be in a very crazy movie; Embry is especially realistic playing a total loser who, over the course of the movie, you just want to give a hug, even when he does and acts in despicable ways. Still, you’ve got to give credit to Katz for casting these folks, all of whom show that they may be better than the material they’re playing with, but at the same time, aren’t sneering their noses at it – they’re enjoying their time slumming and getting all down and dirty. There’s something appealing in that, and it’s why Cheap Thrills doesn’t just work for them, but for those who actually take the time to see it.

Then again, depends on what you want.

Consensus: Rough, raw, and gritty, but also surprisingly fun, unpredictable, and smarter than you’d expect, Cheap Thrills benefits from its small, but welcome surprises, as well as giving us something more to look for beyond the B-movie thrills and premise.

7.5 / 10

True pals.

Photos Courtesy of: And So it Begins Films

The Lost City of Z (2017)

Just stay home. Much safer.

At the dawn of the 20th century, British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is an extremely talented and well-known soldier who, by the word of some fellow Britishmen, state that he was “unfortunate in the choice of ancestors”. Whatever that means, doesn’t spell out anything good for Percy who, for some reason, always feels like his life is leading towards something wonderful, but what that is, he hasn’t quite faced or figured out yet. So, when the opportunity to journey into the Amazon, where he is assigned to figure out the border between Brazil and Bolivia. It’s not something he planned on wanting to do, but he takes the opportunity and realizes that there’s truly something more to this land than he anticipated. On his journey back home, he lets everyone know about the evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region. However, all those around him shrug him off as a loon and now Percy, along with his wife (Sienna Miller), son (Tom Holland), and fellow journeyman (Robert Pattinson), set out to prove them, as well as the entire world, wrong. It’s the decision that would change his life for good.

All that dirt, yet, still so handsome?

The Lost City of Z is a hard movie to really talk about because my feelings are still kind of mixed. For one, it’s a very well put-together movie; big, bold, beautiful, and sometimes enchanting, it has the look and feel of one of those action and adventure flicks from the 60’s-to-70’s, where the jungle had all sorts of dangerous mysteries for man to discover, and even more possibilities for the men to discover about themselves, too. It’s the kind of movie you sort of just sit back, watch and admire, because there’s so much art and craft put into the way the thing looks, sounds, hell, even the way it’s paced.

And of course, all of the praise deserves to go to James Gray who, after making so many small indie flicks, now seems to be making a giant leap towards bigger-budget fare, although, while still containing the kind of artistry we expect from him. We can tell why he took on this infamous story and better yet, you can tell he really cares; it’s not as if it was some hack studio job he did solely for the sake of money. There’s some real feeling and heart to his storytelling, that feels genuine.

That’s why it’s still hard for me to have problems with this movie, even though I definitely do.

See, it seems the biggest issue with the Lost City of Z is that, even despite it being nearly 140 minutes, it still feels underdeveloped and under-cooked. It’s almost as if it could have been a TV pilot about halfway through, where we get an understanding for the characters, the relationships, and the central conflict, and the rest of the movie could have been further explained and given more time to develop over the next 12 or so episodes. However, there’s just so much going on here, with so little explanation, or time taken to put on it, it honestly feels like a rushed job, as if Gray himself felt like he had to hit all the points to make sure he got what he wanted and didn’t leave anything out.

No problem with that if you’re adapting a non-fiction book, but it’s a problem when it doesn’t feel like all we are watching, are events and simply just that. 12 Years a Slave did the same thing where it felt like one thing happening, after another, but that was more meaningful and understood, as that’s probably how it would have been for a slave; a tale as tall and as wide as the Lost City of Z, deserves more momentum building within itself and it just never gets that. Gray tries and tries again, but honestly, there’s just so much on his plate here from Fawcett’s first trip, to his second, to WWI, to his kids being born, to his discovery of the possible “savages” and realizing that they aren’t “savages”, and etc., that it’s just so much, with so little background.

Watch out, Twi-hards.

It’s a PowerPoint presentation, but without any facts or other bullet-points, it’s just the titles and that’s about it.

Then again, it’s still a hard movie to take your eyes off of, no matter how slow or meandering it can get. It also helps that the cast is pretty solid, too, albeit, save for Charlie Hunnam, which I find myself having a hard time to type, because I do truly feel like he’s a good actor. However, with Sons of Anarchy and a few of his latest film-roles since he started work on that show, I’m not quite sure what it is about him that’s not quite connecting with me. He was great when he was younger, in much more comedy-based stuff like Queer as Folk, Undeclared, and even Nicholas Nickleby, but I don’t know, for some reason, there’s just no real conviction to him here, as there may have been in the old days. He tries, but yeah, it just didn’t connect.

Thankfully, it left room for others to work well, like especially, Sienna Miller in one of her best roles yet, as Percy’s wife, Nina, who is so much more than just a stay-at-home, put-upon wife. She’s smart, brave and actually wanting to travel and discover this world with Percy, and the scenes she has with him, honestly, feel as real and as raw as anything else. Robert Pattinson is also quite good because he basically downplays his role and does the best Keith Richards impression ever, whereas Tom Holland is good as the son who rightfully despises his father for leaving him and his family for all those years, away in the sunny-side of England, but for some reason, instantly forgives him and is on the next trip with him.

Yeah, needed more clarification. Or better yet, a longer running-time altogether.

Consensus: Even with the pure ambition put on by James Gray, the Lost City of Z still feels like an under-cooked tale that has so much going on, but without much behind all of the big events.

6 / 10

Dirty, but once again, still so handsome. How do they do it?!?!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Free Fire (2017)

Did someone say “bang bang”?

Two different groups of thugs get together to finish up the deal on a bunch of guns. Seem simple enough, eh? Well, unfortunately, that doesn’t quite go as planned when the groups begin to feud for some odd reasons and then, eventually, and seemingly out of nowhere, begin shooting at one another. But why? And better yet, who is to be blamed for all of this craziness and havoc?

Co-writer/director Ben Wheatley thinks he’s definitely a lot smarter and humoruous than he actually is, which is why his movies, for the most part, have left me feeling a tad bit dry. Sure, they’ve got inspiration and definitely some creativity, but they mostly feel like mixed-bags where Wheatley tries a lot of different things at once and doesn’t quite come out on top, looking as clean and as smart as he thinks.

Still so cool.

It’s nothing against him, as a person, because I’m sure he’s a cheeky and lovely fella to be around, but it also seems like he’s a lot wittier than he may be. Does he take extra steps to put himself into a corner with the kinds of movies he takes on? Oh yes. Does he at least show a surprising amount of ambition? Definitely. Does he always seem to know what he’s doing? Not quite, and that’s why Free Fire, while still something of a slightly mixed-bag, also works a lot better than his other flicks because, well, it is actually as witty and humorous as it think it is.

Which is definitely saying something.

Cause honestly, the premise is basically one overlong gun-battle and while it can get to be a little tiring after hearing gun-shot-after-gun-shot, it also sinks so much into your brain that it works. Eventually, the sound just becomes background noise to these characters constantly plotting, yelling, and figuring out ways how to get out of this situation alive, get off with all the guns, and also, get rid of the ones shooting at them. Sure, is it maybe too simple for its own good? Most definitely, but it still works because Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump seem to know what it is that they’re dealing with here and it works.

In other words, it’s a fun movie. It’s actually kind of funny, but also pretty barbaric and disturbing when it needs to be, and it draws us even closer into the twisted, sick and warped mind of Wheatley. Could he have possibly have toned-down all of the constant shooting and instead, I don’t know, given us something along the lines of a one-on-one battle? Probably, but still, it’s hard to complain about a movie that doesn’t seem to be doing a whole lot, yet, still entertaining. It so rarely happens to me with a movie, so it’s great when it does.

Somehow, they have time for laughs?

And yes, the awesome ensemble is to be thanked for that, too.

Because everyone’s got their own one little trait, it works in the long-run. Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley are the bad-ass Irishmen; Brie Larson is the woman who constantly keeps on getting underestimated, but always proving herself; Jack Reynor and Noah Taylor are scummy dudes; Sharlto Copley, in one of his best performances to-date, is the stylish, yet annoying South African who takes things too seriously; Babou Ceesay is his very hard-to-understand partner; Jack Reynor is pugnacious and always looking for a brawl; and in probably the best performance, Armie Hammer stays cool and stylish, even with all of the killing and violence surrounding him.

With a great cast such as this, would you expect a bit more than just quips and shots fired? Probably, but once again, it still kind of works. Wheatley knows how to shoot this action to where we can tell what’s happening, even when it’s sometimes not all that clear, but he also knows how to draw us in on the tension, by upping the stakes and keeping surprises up his sleeve. It can be viewed as pretentious, but compared to his other movies, it’s probably the least stylish and obvious he’s ever been, which means yes, it’s good.

Pretty damn good, to be honest.

Consensus: As simple as it may be, Free Fire still gets by on its fun, humor, and perfectly put together cast who work well in this crazy atmosphere.

7.5 / 10

Don’t take her Oscar away just yet.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Marley (2012)

No way in hell this dude smoked pot.

Most of you out there may know him as Bob Marley, but you don’t know half the story of the man who’s real name was Nesta Robert Marley, and was also of mixed-races. That’s right, his father was white, and rarely ever saw him which lead to Bob finding one escape from this harsh-reality that he could: music. Oh, and weed too, but being from Jamaica, that pretty goes without saying. Anyway, this movie traces Marley’s existence from his birth in 1945, to his sudden death of cancer at the age of 36. It was a short life, but what a life it truly was.

 

Thus, the beginning of the weed-smoking days.

Thus, the beginning of the weed-smoking days.

So often now, whenever we see a story about an inspirational musician, we get their backstory about how their lives growing-up blew, their mommies and daddies were killed, they had no real family, they were orphans, they were sad, they had drug problems, etc., but rarely do we ever get to see the story of the person who grew up reasonably well, was happy with his family for the most part, and surprisingly, didn’t have many problems with his self-image. Sure, the man was sometimes made a fool because his parents were of different races, but the way the movie approaches this very real fact, it’s almost like an afterthought.

Until, we see just how his life would be sculpted out of this one aspect of his life.

But still, for the most part, life for Bob Marley was a relatively pleasant one that was filled with joy, happiness, thoughts, and plenty of weed. However, things weren’t always so bright and shiny for the world around him, which is why Bob decided to take that sweet, everlasting voice of his, get a guitar, find a microphone, and express what he felt and saw from day-to-day, all through the power of music. Music is one of the best ways you can learn anything about anyone, and with Bob Marley, there was no exception because the man was never afraid to let you know what he felt in a song, how he felt it, and what the ultimate conclusion to his thoughts were supposed to be.

See what I mean?

Many people heard these thoughts and conclusions and, believe it or not, were changed, right then and there. Bob Marley not only influenced people within the reggae/ska genre, but even went so far as to influence countries in a way that was never, ever seen before, not even by musicians. The man knew this too, and never, not for a second, used it to harm’s will. He was always there for the people who loved him the most, the country that supported his ass throughout all of the growth-years, and most surprisingly of all, gave free concerts to regions that were filled with so many poor people, that even asking a dollar for a ticket would have been too pricey (in today’s day and age, a free concert is a sign of a saint).

But the question begs: Why did this man do all of this? Well, it was all because he had a voice, he had dreams, he had hopes, and he had a voice, and everybody wanted to hear it. And hell, he was not afraid to share it with anybody either.

However, Marley doesn’t set out to totally lionize the subject, either. Issues about his own family, feelings, political stances, all that, are touched on here. No stone is left unturned and it’s why, at nearly three hours, the movie can feel a bit excessive, but by the same token, it’s also giving us the full picture of this man we all think we know, yet, don’t actually know nearly as much as we think we do. That’s how the best documentaries work and it’s why Marley works best.

It gives us all that we need to, should, and better know, whether we knew we wanted it or not.

But nonetheless, director Kevin Macdonald still gives us the look at Marley, his life, and everything that he did with it, in a way that not only shines respect for the iconic-artist, but shows how his voice still holds up today, and is a true testament to just how far and wide one is able to go with their documentary’s subject, no matter how iconic or famous they may already be.

 

Consensus: Marley is longer than most documentaries that have to deal with musicians, but when your subject is Bob Marley, and you speak with everybody that knew him the closest, you have plenty of time, plenty of rhymes, and plenty of…well..material to work with. Sorry, couldn’t keep it going all the way.

8.5 / 10

"This next track is for all of the white kids that can't handle chores and being it at 11. Mon."

“This next track is for all of the white kids that can’t handle chores and being in at 11. ‘Mon.”

Photos Courtesy of: Magnolia Pictures

Down Terrace (2009)

Keep it all in the family. No literally, everything.

Bill (Robert Hill) and his son, Karl (Robin Hill), have been working together for so long and even though it just so happens to be organized crime, they’ve gotten by for the longest time in it, so they don’t get caught up in all the details. But that all begins to change when, after spending a few days in jail, they return home and realize they may have a rat in their midst. This is clearly not something they want to put up with, which is why they try to get down to the nitty gritty of it all and figure out just who the rat in the whole gang may be, or if there isn’t one, who’s the first who could rat on them in the first place. As they try to pick out the informant from a group that includes a corrupt politician (Mark Kempner), an unpredictable hit man (Michael Smiley), and yes, even the annoyed and pissed-off matriarch, Maggie (Julia Deakin), Karl learns his girlfriend (Kerry Peacock) is pregnant and doesn’t quite know what to do with that, or how the hell his family is even going to react. Needless to say, it’s not pretty.

Oops. Out come the guns.

Down Terrace has essentially one-joke going for itself throughout the whole hour-and-a-half, but it’s such a good joke that co-writer/director Ben Wheatley finds himself constantly playing around and toying with the whole time: It’s that everyone is suspected of being a rat and because of that, they’ve got to meet their maker. Of course, the movie may play-off like a very serious and tense episode of the Sopranos, but what’s interesting about Down Terrace is that, besides it being incredibly dark and morbid at times, it’s also quite funny.

Cause of course, British gangsters can’t be too serious the whole time, right?

And that’s why Down Terrace, while not an altogether perfectly put together movie, is still entertaining and interesting enough to watch, because it’s trying something new and bold. Inside of it, is a combination of the kitchen-sink drama, the suburban crime flick, and of course, the black-as-hell comedy, and while it’s definitely obvious when the movie changes into one mood, it still kind of works. Wheatley knows how to film each and every aspect of this story into a manner where we don’t know what to expect, or know exactly where it’s going to lead into, and just watching him give it a try is where most of the fun is to be had.

This is the part of the movie where the subtitles definitely need to be put on.

He and fellow writer Robin Hill don’t forget to give audiences a little bit of everything, but they truly know how to make their comedy crack and their violence, well, disturb. In fact, it’s maybe a bit too disturbing at times; characters that we come to know, love, and grow very intimate with over a very short amount of time, are all of a sudden killed-off in very heinous, in-your-face ways the next second. It’s as if no one’s safe and those that definitely aren’t, are going to meet a very gruesome end. Which once again, is pretty brave, despite it not always working.

But hey, in the film-world, bravery has to count for something.

And that’s basically where Down Terrace works in the end; it’s probably Wheatley’s most cohesive and simple-to-read picture, but in that, also isn’t his dullest, either. You can tell that he’s working out some of the kinks into how to make this kind of material to work, but when you have a first-timer making so much noise, by combining all of these different subgenres, and making something still work, then yeah, it’s definitely worth the watch. If only to see just where Wheatley himself has come, gone, and where he’s going to be heading-off towards in the very near-future.

Let’s just hope he sticks with more movies such as this, and more away from High-Rise. Sheesh.

Consensus: With a crazy combination of different tones and styles, Ben Wheatley definitely takes a lot on his plate, but handles it well with a very funny, surprising, and altogether interesting hybrid with Down Terrace.

7.5 / 10

Cheers, mates. Get ready to die.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Stand By for Mind Control, New York Times

Two Lovers (2008)

It all comes down to choices. Really, really hot choices.

After his broken engagement left him cold, crazy, and very disoriented, photographer Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) moves in with his parents in Brighton Beach, where he spends most of his days working for his parent’s dry-cleaning service and trying to drown himself in lakes. Both of his parents know that he’s still going through a rough time, so they don’t want to push him too hard, but they also want him to be happy and feel loved, which is why they set him up with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), a sweet Jewish girl who also happens to Leonard’s father’s co-worker. They appear to be a fine match, even if Leonard himself is so closed-off, but then he meets his neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), who absolutely takes his world by storm. But by becoming involved with her, Leonard also realizes that she’s got a lot of baggage to her, too, and Leonard’s not sure whether he wants to stick with that and risk all of the luxury in the world, or play it safe and appease his parents with Sandra.

Baby Goop?

Choosing between Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, man, what a terrible predicament, right?

Obviously, I kid, but seriously, just looking at this plot from afar, it’s hard to care at all; the three involved in this love-triangle of sorts are all hot, attractive people, who don’t know who they want to marry and spend the rest of their lives with. It sounds so terribly boring and nauseating, but writer/director James Gray knows how to frame this story in a way to where it’s not only interesting to watch play-out, but after awhile, we start to feel the same sort of love-torn and sad emotions that everyone else here practically feels. It’s no surprise, either, because mostly all of Gray’s movies work well as mood-pieces, but Two Lovers may be his most impressive, where he takes a relatively simple tale of two possible love-stories and finds a way to make them both sweet, heartfelt, and awfully depressing.

But still, somehow, Gray finds a way to make it all work. All the movies leading up to Two Lovers, for Gray, happened to be packed with action, violence, incest, and Shakespearean-twists out the wazoo, which is probably why something like this was such a breath of fresh air, as stern and as serious as it may be. Still, it’s interesting to see a lot of what Gray does well in all of his other movies, still works well in Two Lovers – it’s just that everything and everyone is so muted, you hardly even notice anything’s actually happening.

And yeah, it’s kind of beautiful.

Or, Vinnie Shaw? (I don’t think she has a sort of nickname so let’s just roll with that, shall we?)

In a way, Two Lovers is a lot like watching real-life happen before our very own eyes, where we see two love stories unfold, as well as the people themselves. Gray never gets in the way of the material and always allows for the actors to speak for themselves and help develop the characters over time, which is why a good portion of the movie feels like a really small, intimate and cuddly stage-play, where people are going to express their feelings for the whole world to see. But it’s not nearly as melodramatic as that, which helps the movie in the long-run; it always feels honest, raw, gritty, and believable, no matter where the story sometimes leads.

And of course, the performances are pretty great, too. It’s wonderful to see Joaquin Phoenix in such a solid role, where he not only gets to play someone resembling a normal dude – with obvious weird quirks here and there – but also a charming dude all the same, too. So often when we see Phoenix now, we know, love and expect him as the wild and insane guy who will literally go anywhere and do anything for a role, but believe it or not, when he wants to be, he can be quite a likable presence on the screen and have us feel some sort of love for him, too. It helps that this Leonard fella is already a strong character to begin with, but Phoenix finds smart, surprising ways to flesh him out to where he’s more than just a confused sad-sack, but a confused thirty-something trying to get on with his life, but just doesn’t know how.

Meaning, he’s like you or I, so it’s way more interesting.

The two ladies that Phoenix has to choose between, Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, are both pretty good, too, giving us reasons why he should choose one over the other. But honestly, the movie isn’t really about “will he, won’t he” – it’s more about him finding a way to make himself happy and get past this deep bit of sadness in his life. The movie never tries to make one lady seem better than the other, nor does it have to; Paltrow is lovely to watch, as well as is Shaw, and both have great chemistry with Phoenix that I could have watched for days-on-end. But the movie isn’t all about who he goes home with at the end of the day and even when we do get to that point, it’s surprising and a little sad, but totally and rightfully earned.

Man. Why can’t more romance-flicks be like this?

Consensus: With three stellar performances and an interesting eye to romance, Two Lovers is more than just a conventional tale of two girls battling for the love of one man, and more about a man trying to figure himself out, and the ladies who just so happen to be near-by when it’s all happening.

8.5 / 10

Cheers to the winner!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Reservation Road (2007)

Still though, those little bastards gotta hurry their asses up off those buses!

Ethan and Grace Lerner (Joaquin Phoenix and Jennifer Connelly) are more than happy with the way things have been going for their lives, but all of that happiness ends when their son gets killed in a hit-and-run accident. Even worse, the person in the car (Mark Ruffalo) who caused it, knows who they are, is still stuck with the guilt, and has yet to fess-up to what he’s done. That’s when Ethan decides to take matters into his own hands and figure out just who the hell is responsible for all of this pain and misery that has been inflicted on him and his family.

Even though the idea of watching a bunch of people go through grief and suffer through pain and agony doesn’t sound like the most exciting bit of an-hour-and-a-half I’d like to spend, you can never, ever go wrong with a cast like this. People know Phoenix to be the type of guy who takes rich and hearty-material that challenges himself, Ruffalo is always a guy that’s capable of taking anything the world throws at him and make it totally and completely work in his favor, and having Sorvino and Connelly round things out ain’t so shabby, either. So, the big question on your mind may be, “How the hell did all of this go wrong?”

My answer? “Script, man. Script.”

The main problem with this script is that even though it does pay attention to the problems its characters face on a day-to-day basis when it comes to dealing with their own levels of grief, the movie still feels the need to rush things up and make this almost like a type of thriller. That sounds all fine and dandy for people who want more than just a character-based story and want some action and excitement to go along with their tears and heavy-grieving, but for a movie like this where we essentially know what happened, who did what, and what the only way to end this could be, it’s a little silly and not all that thrilling. We know who killed the kid, who’s responsible, where this could go, and that this can only end in two ways, either death or imprisonment  so what the hell is all of the tension supposed to be there for?

Pictured: A guy who just got done thinking.

“Damn. Paparazzi.”

And it’s odd, because the tension in this movie is supposed to lie in the fact that everything this driver goes through in life, always has him ending up in one way or another, connecting with the kid’s family. For example, his ex-wife just so happens to be the kid’s sister’s music teacher that is totally superfluous to the plot, except to only include the always wonderful Mira Sorvino (more on her in a bit). Then, it gets even worse when Ethan decides to take the investigation into his own hands and get lawyers involved and in case you couldn’t tell where this is going, get ready, because guess what? The man who killed Ethan’s son, just so happens to be that lawyer he asks for help.

Shocked yet?

Anyway yeah, this movie is just chock full of coincidence-after-coincidence and they don’t seem to serve any other purpose to this story, other than to keep the audiences minds awake for when the flick decides to actually focus in on its characters. You could also argue that the flick only added in those thriller-elements to appeal to a larger-audience that wouldn’t really feel the need to venture out to some movie about a bunch of people crying and being sad all of the time, and if that is the case, well then that’s a damn shame because there is a lot of promise for this type of material to work, regardless of if it’s a mainstream, or indie production.

But regardless, it almost shouldn’t matter when you have a cast like this, because they’re supposed to be able to do no wrong. And that sort of happens, but not really. Joaquin Phoenix may seem a tad miscast at first as the grieving simpleton father of a suburban-family, but shows us differently when he unleashes those raw and honest emotions we always see in each and every one of his performances. You feel bad for the guy and you just want to give him a hug and tap on the back, whispering into his ear that “everything’s going to be alright.” It’s not Phoenix’s most daring role, but it was a true sign that he could play a normal, everyday dude.

Pictured: Sad actors

Pictured: Sad Actors

The same can definitely be said for Mark Ruffalo who never seems to phone-in a performance, no matter how crappy the movie may be, which is what happens here. Ruffalo is great as the driver that kills this boy and runs away without getting caught, because he makes you feel something for the guy, even though he is totally in the wrong, through-and-through. You can sort of see why a guy like him would run away from the punishment of being arrested, but after awhile, it does start to get a bit ridiculous that it hides this all for so long, and for all of the reasons that he apparently has to himself, as well. Still, Ruffalo prevails and shows why you can give him anything, and he can make it work.

Jennifer Connelly is simply used here to be another grieving character of the whole movie and does that very well. Connelly is always good in what she does and that’s why it’s so weird to barely see her around anymore, but it should always be noted that she’s a good actress, when the material is there. It’s sort of here for her, and sort of not, so it’s hard to fully judge her.

Oh and yeah, I previously mentioned Mira Sorvino and it isn’t because she does anything simply out-of-this-world with this movie (mainly because she isn’t given much to work with in the first place), but, without any type of spoilers or giving-away major plot-points (like it really matters), there’s this one scene with her and Ruffalo that is probably the most endearing and emotionally-truthful out of the whole movie, and it really took me by surprise. Rarely does this movie ever talk about how Sorvino’s and Ruffalo’s character used to be married and a loving-couple with one another, other than when they yell, fight, and argue with one other, but that one scene, that one moment between these two, not only made this movie just a tad better, but made me feel like there could have been so much more had they just dropped the whole death-of-the-kid angle and even went so far as to focus on Ruffalo’s character trying to actually get through the divorce and make ends meet. Sure, it’s not the movie we got, but man, I imagine wonders could have been made going down this road, especially with the always dependable Sorvino who, like Connelly, needs to be in more.

Much, much more. Come on, Hollywood!

Consensus: Even with a solid cast on-deck, Reservation Road can’t get its head together quick enough to where it fully works as a small drama about sadness and grief, or as a nail-biting thriller.

5 / 10

I guess he's going to start taking after his kid. Hayyoh! Okay, I'm done.

I guess he’s going to start taking after his kid now. Hayyoh! Okay, I’m done.

Photos Courtesy of: Focus Features

Trespass Against Us (2017)

So many daddy issues. Just hug it out. Or, have a beer.

Chad Cutler (Michael Fassbender) lives with his wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal) and kids in a trailer somewhere on a Gypsy-mountain along with fellow family-members and friends. Needless to say, the rest of society down below the hill they all live on, don’t quite like or care for them, so Chad, his wife, his kids and his father Colby (Brendan Gleeson), have all had to make ends meet for themselves and survive the only way they know how. This usually leads to a lot of crime and robbery, most of which Chad handles on his own, so that he can continue to provide for he and his family. But all of the crime, the arrests, and constant trouble from the law eventually not just take a toll on Chad, his father, and his wife, but his kids, and it’s up to Chad to figure out when enough is enough and prove to be something of an admirable father-figure for his kids. But at the same time, giving up the life of crime is a lot harder, especially when you have all sorts of responsibilities to fulfill, and a father who doesn’t approve of his one son trying to get on the straight and narrow.

Bad dad.

Trespass Against Us is an odd movie, in that it tries to jumble around a lot of ideas, tones, and plot-threads, but for some reason, never draws any of them out enough to where they’re actually interesting enough to survive on their own. Director Adam Smith seems like he’s dealing with a lot of issues about family, love, devotion, and faith, but at the end of the day, mostly just finds himself portraying a movie about dirty, smelly people, trying to remain dirty and smelly, but also be a little bit nicer. In that sense, it doesn’t quite work, because there’s just so much else going on and coming at us, that after awhile, it’s hard to really figure out just what the hell the movie is about.

If anything, it’s about how good of an actor Michael Fassbender can be, even when working with junk-material.

And unfortunately, that is the case with his role here as Chad, a put-upon father who doesn’t quite know what to do, or where to go with his life, nor how to actually grow up and start providing the smart, responsible way. But the problem with this character is that there’s so much surrounding him that doesn’t make sense – for instance, he’s old enough to break away from his controlling father, so why doesn’t he? Why is he stuck staying by him, committing crimes, and constantly hurting his family? It doesn’t make much sense and although Fassbender tries, the character just isn’t totally there for us to ever fully sympathize with him, or better yet, even care.

Still bad.

Same goes for Gleeson’s character who seems like a Jerry Jones-type, with a very thick Irish accent who, in all honesty, you can’t understand half of the time. In fact, that goes for a lot of the other characters surrounding Chad; they’re all supposed to be these dirty, scummy and idiot-like people who don’t know how to speak, or control themselves like normal, everyday citizens,. I didn’t have a problem with this aspect of them, I just had an issue that the movie didn’t do much to further develop them, or explore why they are the way they are. Often times, we’ll focus on this for about a minute or two, and then drop into another character, or another plot, and try to explore that.

After awhile, it just becomes an annoyance.

And that’s a shame, too, because Trespass Against Us had promise within its many plots, but it just never comes together in a smart way. It all feels like the movie wants to focus on the difference these Irish Gypsies face with the rest of society around them (which is probably the most interesting thread of story that the movie has to offer), but doesn’t; instead, it just discusses Chad, his family, and how he’s trying to grow up. But once again, it’s still just not developed.

Ugh.

Consensus: Despite good performances, Trespass Against Us is many different things all at once, yet, for some reason, it just never comes together in an interesting, compelling way.

4 / 10

Gee. Where have I seen this pic before?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Keeping it Real

Their Finest (2017)

Now I definitely don’t need to see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

It’s Britain, 1940, and needless to say, the war is hitting them pretty hard. Men are being shipped-out randomly, bombs are dropping everywhere, resources are drying up, families are being torn apart, and it just doesn’t seem like the good old days any longer. It seems like everyone is sad, depressed and absolutely unsure of what to do with their lives, which is why the British Ministry of Information decides to step on in and change all that up the only reliable way they know how: Making movies. And one such movie they commission is a supposed true story of heroism and bravery that occurred in Dunkirk, France. Of course, the movie-version of these said events get all wrapped-up and twisted around, to the point of where the original story isn’t even found anywhere, but the message of the tale is simple: Greater and better times are ahead and can still be found now. And crafting that film is writer Catrin (Gemma Arterton) who finds herself constantly battling it out with fellow writers, like Tom (Sam Claflin), actors, like Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), and fellow women in the office, like Phyl (Rachael Stirling) who give her crap for her gender and how she handles herself. But all she’s trying to do is make the best, most inspirational movie she can make, no matter what.

How could you not fall for the chum?

Their Finest is one of the most charming movies I have seen in quite some time and it doesn’t even seem like it’s trying. Okay, that’s a bit of a lie; it’s so smug, likable and sweet, that it’s almost begging for our adoration before the opening-credits roll onto the screen. But for the most part, it’s the time, the place, and the nostalgic message that makes it feel like Their Finest doesn’t have to even try – it’s homework of charming and pleasing the pants off of the audience is already done for itself.

That said, it’s still a wildly lovely movie that even without the time, the place, the nostalgic message, it would still work. Sure, those things certainly help, but mostly, Their Finest works because it’s a movie that has a heart as big the bombs that are constantly being dropped out throughout. Director Lone Scherfig and writer Gaby Chiappe come together in an interesting way that doesn’t shy away from the dark, brutal, and grueling reality that the war presented for everyone involved, but it also doesn’t shy away from the fact that there was some happiness and light to be found through it all.

It’s like an overlong episode of Boardwalk Empire, except the polar opposite – everyone around the main characters are sad, but the main characters themselves, somehow, through some way, are happy.

It all works, though, and never appears too cloying, or overly cutesy; it all feels earned and just earnest enough that it knows it’s harsh reality, without ever trying too revel in it, either. The movie is, plain and simple, just sweet and lovely – like a Pastri that you know you shouldn’t have, but also can’t keep yourself away from, either. That may not be the best way to describe Their Finest, but trust me, just know this: It’ll be hard not to smile the whole way through. Even when the movie’s sad (which it can be on countless occasions), it’s still kind of cheerful.

And it mostly all comes down to the characters and what they represent. In what has to be her best role to-date, Gemma Arterton finally gets a chance to prove that she can be awfully sweet and charming, when given the right material to work with. As Catrin Cole, we see a character that’s still figuring herself out, trying to make some sort of a mark in the world and above all else, trying to remain happy, hopeful and optimistic towards a brighter, better future. It’s a role that could have been easily grating and annoying in anyone’s hands, but it’s one that Arterton works so well with, that you immediately fall in love with her and her infectious spirit.

Gemma, have you ever seen Atonement? Get out of the subway!

And it’s also easy to see why everyone in the film does, too.

Sam Claflin, once again, proves that he’s quite possibly the most charming and handsome British guy working today, aside from Henry Cavill, as Tom, and shows quite a nice little chemistry between he and Arterton. The relationship may go into obvious places, but because they’re so good and cute together, it doesn’t matter – we want them together, no matter what. Bill Nighy is also the stand-out as the one actor in this whole production who can’t seem to know or realize that he’s a little too old to be quite the superstar he once was. The character could have easily been a cartoonish buffoon, but there’s a lot of heart and warmth in Nighy’s portrayal, that it works. Same goes for everyone else who shows up here, adding a little bit more personality and light to the whole proceedings.

But if anything about Their Finest really works for me, it’s the message that, no matter what happens to you, the outside world around you, or anybody, anywhere else in the world, the movies will always be there for you. Sure, it’s a sentiment that’s not as relevant as it may have been in the early-1940’s, when practically everyone and their grandmother needed a little cheering up, but it’s still the same kind of sentiment that resonates for any film-lover. Movies have always been made, and will always continue to be made, to take people away from their real lives, and place them somewhere lovely and magical, and provide the perfect distraction. Sure, there are movies that are made not to do such a thing (aka, documentaries), but the ones that really take you out of the real world and give you hope and ambition, well, then those are the ones that deserve to be seen, no matter what’s going on around you.

It’s what movies were put on this Earth to do in the first place and it’s why they will always hold a special place in each and every living person’s life.

Consensus: Sweet, endearing and ridiculously nostalgic, Their Finest wears its heart and humor on its sleeve, with even better performances to show for it.

8.5 / 10

Making movies have never been so, ehrm, British.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Fate of the Furious (2017)

Can automobiles be family?

Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) has been living the good life since the events of the last film. He’s practically on vacation and thinking about starting up a family with Letty (Michelle Rodriguez). But somehow, he turns to the dark side after an evil, somewhat vicious criminal mastermind named Cipher (Charlize Theron) shows up and demands him to do all sorts of crimes for him. Obviously, it isn’t just Letty who feels betrayed, but also Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson), Roman (Tyrese), Tej (Ludacris), and the rest of the gang. So, in order to stop Dominic from going any further into the dark, seedy world of crime and murder, they team back up with the government and try to stop him all at once. But this time, they’re going to get a little assistance from someone they haven’t been too fond of in the past: Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham), the man who hasn’t yet forgiven the family for what they had done to his own brother, but is willing to let bygones be bygones for the time being, just so that he can take down Cipher.

Uh oh. There must be a jabroni somewhere close by.

The last three Fast and Furious movies have been some of the best action movies in the past decade or so. They’ve upped the ante by becoming more and more ridiculous by the installment, while also never forgetting that what makes them so much in the first place is that they don’t ever try too hard to take themselves too seriously – the last movie definitely verged on getting way too dramatic for its own sake, but that was only because it was put in an awkward position of having to pay tribute to its star, Paul Walker. And from what it seems, the franchise will only continue to get more and more successful, the more and more insane it pushes itself to be.

Which is why the latest, Fate of the Furious, is a bit of a mixed-bag.

Don’t get me wrong, the action, the ridiculousness, and the sheer stupidity of it all is still here and in full-form, but at the same time, there’s something else keeping it away from being quite on-par with the past three installments and that all comes down to story. For one, no one goes to these movies for their well thought-out, interesting, and complex plots – they come for the action, the silliness, and most of all, the cars. People don’t care about who’s betraying who, for what reasons, and what sort of lessons can be learned from it all.

Of course, this being a Fast and Furious, it makes sense that we get a lot of lectures and discussions about family and what it means to stand by one another, but that’s to be expected and that’s not he problem. The real problem is that the movie takes way too long to get going, and when it does, it constantly starts and stops without ever knowing why. At nearly two-hours-and-16-minutes, Fate may be the longest installment so far (although, it could have been over two-and-a-half-hours, as previously reported), and at times, it feels like that; there’s so much downtime spent on plot and poorly-written sketches of characters, that it’s almost unnecessary. Having something resembling a plot is fine, because it’s what the past three have done, but Fate takes it up a notch in that it tries hard to give us a plot that’s harder to pin-down and far more detailed.

What a power-couple. Make it happen, real life.

But it didn’t have to be. We know it’s stupid and all filler, and so do they. So why are we getting all of this?

A good portion of that probably has to due to the fact that in lead-villain role, Charlize Theron gets to have a little bit of fun as Cipher, even if her character is so odd and random at times, it almost feels like anyone could have taken on the role. She’s your stereotypical villain in that she does bad stuff, for no exact reason, other than she’s a bad lady and can’t messed with. Once again, I’m not expecting anything more in a Fast and Furious movie, but the movie spends so much time on her, as she plays these silly mind games with Dominic and the gang, that it’s almost like director F. Gary Gray and writer Chris Morgan themselves don’t even know the material they’re playing with.

Same goes for the rest of the ensemble who are, as expected, just a bunch of punchlines and a few paragraphs of things resembling characters. But hey, it’s fine, because they all work well with the goofy material and make us realize that it doesn’t matter. Is it odd watching without Paul Walker? Most definitely, but the gang more than makes up for the absence, by doubling down on the charm and excitement, with even Statham himself proving to be having the biggest ball of everyone.

Oh and yeah, the action’s still pretty great, when it happens.

Everything before and in between, honestly, is a bit boring, because it’s all a build-up, but when it does actually get there, it’s still wild, insane, and highly unrealistic, but who cares? Almost all action movies, in some way, shape, or form, take place in some fake, mythological world where real-life issues and consequences don’t matter, and nor should they. These are the Fast and Furious movies, not Shakespeare.

I just wish somebody told everyone else that.

Consensus: A little long and slow, Fate of the Furious still gets by on its crazy, hectic action, as well as its talented ensemble who prove to be perfectly equipped with this goofy material, no matter how far-fetched it all gets.

6.5 / 10

News team, assemble!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Going in Style (2017)

Get some life into ya.

Lifelong buddies Willie (Morgan Freeman), Joe (Michael Caine) and Albert (Alan Arkin) all decide that it’s finally time to take some time back and retire, once and for all. However, once they do that, they don’t know what sorts of annoyances await them. For one, the factory that they slaved away for all of those years, aren’t going to be giving them pensions. And if that wasn’t so bad, they’re so broke that they may not be able to keep their own roofs over their heads. It’s so bad that even a piece of pie at a diner is a constant cause for argument. But then, Joe gets the idea: Why not rob a bank? Better yet, why not rob the bank that is, get this, robbing him blind in the first place? It’s a crazy idea and one met with disdain from the two other guys, but as time goes on, they start to come around to the idea. Eventually, the three hatch out a plan for what to do, but considering that they’re three old dudes, it may be a lot harder than it seems.

Do they qualify for the license to carry? Let alone, see?

Going in Style is probably an unnecessary remake, but it’s also different from the 1979 version. While that movie was a mostly dramatic, melancholy look at aging, life, and death, with some comedy splashed in there for good measure, the remake is a lot more fun, humorous, and less about being too dramatic. In a way, it’s as director Zach Braff and the studios thought that having a movie in which a bunch of old dudes try to re-ignite sparks in their lives, only to realize that they haven’t got much time left on Earth, was all too serious and real, so therefore, they added a bunch of jokes about prostates, pie, Alzheimer’s, and oh yes, the Bachelor.

Did I mention that this is Zach Braff we’re talking about here? Sure, I Wish I Was Here was a problem, but surely the same guy who made the near-classic over a decade ago (in Garden State), doesn’t feel the need for these sorts of paycheck gigs, does he? Well, in a way, it sort of seems like it, but it’s not like the movie’s the most manipulative piece of money-making machine ever made.

If anything, it’s just enjoyable and pleasing enough to literally not offend a single person.

Is that we should expect from these actors, as well as Braff? Hopefully not.

But for now, it’s fine, because Going in Style proves that the age old formula of “old dudes getting to have some fun one more time”, still kind of works. The only difference here is that the tone is a lot lighter and playful than you’d expect, which makes all of the crazy plot contrivances, twists, and turns, seem fine. Are they unbelievable and absolutely ridiculous? Absolutely, but for the longest time, the movie doesn’t do much but go about its day, with a smile on its face, and a pleasant mood on its mind.

Ride or die, boys.

And for that, it’s fine. It doesn’t ask for the heavy questions, with the heavier answers, about life, death, love, or immortality, or any of that fun stuff, nor does it really ask you to fully get too invested in its heist at the center of the film; it’s all being used to just get by and allow us to have some fun with these characters, in this place in time.

And once again, that’s fine.

It helps that Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman, and Alan Arkin, no matter how old they get, still seem like total pros and can do practically no wrong. Sure, a lot of the stuff that they’re saying and yammering on about isn’t all that funny, but the three are so charming and lovely, does it really matter? Yes, it sort of does, but in this case, not really; it’s annoying to constantly see older actors get the short-shift in which they have to play these old dudes and that’s about it, but if that’s the way the world works, then so be it. It seems like Caine, Freeman, and Arkin themselves are so fine with it that it doesn’t really matter.

So long as they keep on doing what they’re doing, until the expected end of their careers, well then, no argument from me.

Keep doing what you’re doing, fellas.

Consensus: Pleasing and enjoyable enough, mostly by the talented trio of leads, Going in Style doesn’t set out to offend anyone, or change anyone’s life, and in this case, that’s all that is needed.

6 / 10

[Insert boner joke here]

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)

High school sucks so much that, honestly, sometimes you just have to make your own excitement.

Accomplished high school student Ben (Parry Shen) seems to excel at almost everything and it’s absolutely boring him to death. When your Asian, living in the suburbs of California, and doing so well in school, honestly, nothing else really excites you anymore. But you know what does? Not being able to actually win something over, or, in Ben’s case, not being able to win over his dream girl, Stephanie (Karin Anna Cheung). It’s all Ben can ever think about, so eventually, he decides to strike up an unlikely friendship with trouble-seeking tough guy Daric (Roger Fan), where he starts doing all sorts of bad and illegal stuff, along with various other members of the so-called “gang”. Eventually, these illegal ventures start setting their sights toward Stephanie, and her rich boyfriend Steve (John Cho), who has a proposition for these guys that, if they’re able to succeed with the plan, may make them all rich. But for some reason, it may not go as planned, being that Steve and Ben don’t necessarily get along in the first place.

Yeah, fairs can kind of suck.

Better Luck Tomorrow is a surprising film for many reasons. One, first and foremost, because it presents a different, intelligent view of Asian Americans that we don’t ever actually get to see in American movies, or better yet, in American high school movies. See, a lot of the times, the constant cliche with Asians in films such as these is that they’re so book-smart, can’t speak a lick of English, and are mostly used as funny, side-characters to help guide us through this adventure of watching a white protagonist, struggle and get through high school. Of course, this is just a rough generalization of what we’re used to seeing, but if any John Hughes movie is proof, then yeah, Asians have it bad when it comes to high school movies.

And that’s why Better Luck Tomorrow is so interesting, because it turns that whole viewpoint on the side and for once, shows us Asian Americans who are just like the white protagonists in all of those other movies, except in this case, they’re far more real and raw. These kids here don’t just curse, but they drink, they smoke, they have sex, they get naked, they commit crimes, and hell, they could even care less about their grades. Co-writer/director Justin Lin has made quite the career for himself taking on the Fast and Furious franchise, but if anything, he shows us that he has a unique and smart voice that isn’t just something we’ve seen, or heard before.

Or even if we have, it’s way different than ever before.

Choose Harold. Especially if he has a sick-ass moped. 

And in that sense, yes, Better Luck Tomorrow is a smart film that, honestly, doesn’t get made as much as it should. But then, there’s this other side of the movie that’s actually more about the tone, the feel and the actual plot itself which, believe it or not, still works. Better Luck Tomorrow starts out as your typical coming-of-ager where the guy dreams of getting the girl, but slowly and surely, starts to show its true colors; things get dark, real quick, but you actually believe them. The movie could have easily fallen apart trying to take itself more seriously, but Lin keeps it altogether, showing us that sometimes, when you’re young and feel as if you have nothing left to lose, chances are, you’re going to make some pretty awful, life-altering decisions.

The movie isn’t as hokey as I make it sound, though. Lin knows better then to dive into sentimentality, or to get all caught up in the usual cheesiness that comes with coming-of-age high school tales. There’s a certain feel and look for realism that not only makes the movie oddly relatable, but in a way, rather sweet. We get to see and understand these characters for all that they are, not just who, or what they represent, and it makes us easier to identify with them as troubled, confused and bored kids, as opposed to a bunch of types.

Still, the moral of the story? Well, I’m not so sure and that’s probably the movie’s biggest issue.

It’s hard to figure out just why the ending left a sick taste in my mouth, but it probably has to do with the fact that it just sort of ends, and that’s it. Yes, it’s neat that no real lessons are learned, or even, thankfully, taught to us, but there’s still an odd feeling of something missing. It’s as if the story itself wasn’t over, but just that Lin either ran out of money, or lost some footage, somewhere out there in the world. Either way, it makes Better Luck Tomorrow, what is otherwise a very fun, insightful and rather interesting coming-of-ager, feel weird – as if there was more to be had, but we just didn’t get it.

Consensus: By putting its focus on characters we don’t get to see in the spotlight so much, Better Luck Tomorrow opens itself up to a whole new, interesting world and promises of ideas, but also shows us that oddly fun and compelling tales like these are universal, regardless of race.

8 / 10

Guess what? These kids could probably kick your ass. You just didn’t know it.

Photos Courtesy of: Entertainment Weekly, Decider, Tropics of Meta

The Italian Job (2003)

If you’re going to pull-off a cool heist, your whole gang’s gotta be cool, too. It’s a known fact.

After a super, duper tricky heist in Venice, Steve (Edward Norton) turns on his partners in crime, and ends up killing skilled and legendary safecracker John Bridger (Donald Sutherland). Why? Well, Steve got greed and just wanted to keep all the gold for himself, and not try to cut in anyone else. The rest of the team that Steve ripped-off included leader Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg), driver Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), explosives man Left Ear (Mos Def), and tech geek Lyle (Seth Green), or, as he likes to be called “Napster”, now all vow revenge. But in order to totally get back at Steve and ensure that their heist goes down without a hitch, they enlist the help of Bridger’s daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron), so that they can get an inside-view into Steve, his life, and just where exactly he’s hiding all of that damn gold. But it’s known that Steve’s a tricky dude to mess with, and it’s why the gang’s really going to have to get their act together, in order for them to not just pull this all off and get the gold, but ensure that everyone’s alive by the end of it.

“Ayo Marky Mark, check this out. I’ll say hello to my motha for me, too.”

The Italian Job is a typical remake that’s modern, which means that it’s “hip”, “cool”, and totally unnecessary. But still, it’s also a bit of fun and when it comes to remakes of old-school classics, having a bit of fun means a lot, because most of the time, they’re just soulless, annoying and nauseating cash-ins. The Italian Job is different in that it doesn’t seem a whole lot of it was made solely for the money, but that it’s still got the same kind of look, tone and feel of all the other “gang-heists” movies.

Basically, think of it a more adult, somewhat smarter version of the Fast and Furious movies.

Which isn’t to say that the Italian Job is all that dumb of a movie, it’s just silly. But in that silliness, there’s a great deal of enjoyment to be had, mostly because F. Gary Gray knows that the best way to keep this material interesting, even when it’s silly, is to always be moving, never stopping and never focusing too hard on one aspect of element too much. We have a heist, we have a cast of characters, we have a baddie, we have a conflict, we have a plan, and that’s really all we need; Gray doesn’t get too bogged down in too many senseless subplots to where it feels like extra padding for a movie that does come a tad close to two hours.

But it’s a solid two hours that keeps up its energy throughout, so much so that you also realize that some of the key issues with the movie, like character-development, are left by the waist-side. Now, there’s a part of me that’s fine with the fact that each character sort of has their one characteristic/personality-trait and there’s not much else to them, but for some reason, it’s hard not to expect something a little more, especially from this well put-together cast. For instance, Statham’s Handsome Rob is pure Statham – silent, but scary, and that’s about all there is to him. Same goes for Seth Green’s “Napster”, who is just the goofy tech-y and yep, that’s it. Mos Def is also sort of like the comedic-support with Left Ear, but he’s got such stiff-competition from Green in that department, that often times, it feels like a lot of his stuff was cut.

And then, there’s the core trio of Wahlberg, Theron, and Norton who all, in any other movie, probably would have put on acting-class beyond our beliefs. But sadly, they’re stuck in a silly actioner that doesn’t quite care about how good of actors they are. As long as they are hot enough and can read lines, than it’s all that matters, right?

Honestly, public-transportation has been worse.

Well, yeah, I guess.

In 2003, it’s hard to believe that Wahlberg was still finding his inner-leading man, which is why his performance as Charlie Croker, while not bad, isn’t necessarily the strongest, either. Same goes for Theron’s Stella, who is basically there to be the hot romantic love-interest for Charlie to eventually learn feelings from. Theron was also in a weird spot in Hollywood where they knew she could act, but she was too busy getting these roles where she was just window-dressing because of her absolutely gorgeous-looks. Not that I’m complaining, but it’s obvious she was made for much, much more.

And of course, the same is clearly said for Norton who, even as the villain here, doesn’t get a whole lot to do. Still, Norton tries in what is, essentially, a paycheck gig that allow for him to take more risks with the smaller indie-flicks that he had always became so known and adored for. Even in the moments where we’re supposed to feel like this guy is a total and complete asshole, Norton’s not fully there and it’s weird, because it’s like we almost don’t care and just remember how effective he was in another good heist film, the Score.

But still, all of this talk about performances and characters, guess what? It doesn’t matter. The Italian Job gets the job done it set out to do, right. It doesn’t slow itself down and it sure as hell doesn’t try to appear as anything more than it already is – it’s just a fun, sometimes way too silly flick, with hot, talented people, being hot and cool.

And in that sense, yeah, it’s fine.

I just like to complain.

Consensus: Though it’s disappointing to see such a waste of a good ensemble, the Italian Job still delivers the right amount of fun, thrills and humor to have anyone happy.

7 / 10

As usual, the bro’s don’t know what to do when a tall, beautiful and smart woman comes around. Except Marky. He knows everything.

Photos Courtesy of: Cineplex.com

Friday (1995)

I guess the hood ain’t such a bad place to live after all.

Craig (Ice Cube) spends most of his days doing nothing, staying unemployed, and just trying to get by in life, constantly chilling with his boy Smokey (Chris Tucker). However, the day that comes between Thursday and Saturday hits and for some reason, there’s something different about the day that isn’t like every other one.

By the mid-90’s, the hood subgenre of film became a bit of a joke. The themes, the violence, the stereotypes, etc., had all been played-out so much so that by a point, there was even a Wayans spoof on it all. What once had been a reliably sad and effective genre of film-making, soon became a bit of a stale product, that only seemed to get worse with each and every attempt at creating something close to resembling Boyz N the Hood.

Every neighborhood’s got a dude like this.

Which is why, at the time, and of course, now Friday is such a breath of fresh air.

Sure, is it a “hood film”? Yeah, it is, but it’s a different kind of one. It doesn’t really try to lay down some life-altering message about getting out of the hood and making a better future for yourself, nor does it ever seem to try and ever take itself too seriously. If anything, it’s just a smooth, relaxed, and downright silly comedy about one day in the hood, where some good stuff, some bad stuff, and some wacky stuff happens in, of all places, the hood.

And yes, Friday works because of that; it’s a very chilled-out kind of movie that doesn’t rush itself, doesn’t have too much of a plot to really get going with, and it sure as heck isn’t running too long with its barely 90-minute run-time. And none of this is a bad thing, either – most comedies, like John Waters always says, should barely be 90 minutes and Friday works well for that reason. A lot of the gags are so quick and random, that they somehow just work and come together, because the movie doesn’t harp on them too much, just like it doesn’t slow itself down with jokes, either. And it all matters, too, because, well, the jokes are actually pretty funny in and of themselves.

Which is why it’s hard to go on and on about Friday without talking about the one and the only, Chris Tucker.

Gotta get down on….

I think it goes without saying that Tucker makes Friday as funny as it can get. He’s often the scene-stealer, using his high-pitched squeal and delivery to make any joke land, as well as seeming like the funniest guy in the room, amongst a pretty funny crowd. It’s not really known how many of his lines were scripted, or how much everyone involved just trusted him to do his thing, but whatever it was, it works and it’s because of Tucker that even when Friday seems to meander a bit too far away from itself (which it often does), it still comes together in the end.

Which isn’t meant to take away from everyone else here, but yeah, when compared to Tucker, it’s hard not to notice. For instance, Ice Cube plays the straight-man, and seems to be having fun, even though often times, his role seems to just be used as the protagonist we see everything through. John Witherspoon is also a lot of fun as his daddy and kept me laughing every single time he showed up but also provided a lot of insight into how daddy’s usually are with their older, bum-like children. Nia Long is also nice as, once again, the romantic love-interest in a hood flick, while such comedic-greats like Michael Clarke Duncan, Faizon Love, and Tiny Lister, and oh, of course, Bernie Mac, all show up, do their things and remind us why they’re so funny in the first place.

But where Friday doesn’t hold up for me (and granted, I have seen this movie about four-to-five times now), is that it’s direction is a bit sloppy, however, with good reason. At barely 25 years of age, F. Gary Gray took over Friday and seemed like he didn’t have to do all that much, but somehow, the movie is still a bit messy. The best aspect of the movie is how, for the longest time, there’s really no plot and nothing needing to drive it by, but by the end, all of a sudden, there’s a plot, there’s a serious conflict, and there’s a, unfortunately, message that we’re all supposed to learn from. If anything, it feels lame, tired and annoying, and it seemed to only happen because Gray was just getting started and needed to get his foot in somewhere.

Thankfully, he did.

Consensus: Even with a slightly amateurish direction, Friday still works because of its odd gags, relaxed, yet pleasing tone, and of course, the exciting cast, led by a stand-out performance from Tucker.

8.5 / 10

Damn, indeed.

Photos Courtesy of: Filmaholic Reviews

Win It All (2017)

A better Gambler, than the actual remake of Gambler.

Eddie (Jake Johnson) doesn’t quite have the best life. He makes a living directing traffic, parking cars, and doing the odd job every now and then. But rather than saving it all so that one day, he can eventually make something of his life, he spends it all on late-night poker games where he mostly ends up losing, without any cash in his hand, or pocket. However, when Eddie thinks he’s dead and totally broke, he looks inside of an old acquaintance’s duffel bag, and in it, just so happens to buckets of cash. Seeing this as a new lease on life, Eddie intends to change his ways and not gamble anymore. He strikes up a relationship with a sweet single-mother (Aislinn Derbez), starts to work for his brother (Joe Lo Truglio), as a landscaper, and begins to attend recovery meetings more frequently, and keep up with his sponsor (Keegan-Michael Key), on a much more regular basis. But still, Eddie can’t help but gamble a little bit of the money away, which wouldn’t be so bad, until he finds out his old acquaintance is getting out of jail soon and is expecting all of his money to be there waiting for him.

As long as there’s free coffee and donuts, I’ll always go and admit a problem.

People like Joe Swanberg make me so happy that indie-movies still exist, and it’s movies like Win it All that make me so happy streaming devices/studios like Netflix still exist. For one, they’re studios that allow for these smaller, more low-budget movies, not just see the light of day, but grab an audience who, otherwise, wouldn’t have heard a single thing about it. For awhile now, that’s how mostly all of Swanberg’s movies have been; while he’s been getting bigger names involved, his movies still go mostly unnoticed and automatically ready for a VOD release, where only cool, happenin’ kids who are curious will stumble upon it.

But for others, such as myself, who love and adore everything Swanberg does and stands for, it’s nice to just see a movie like Win it All, get a bigger release. But it’s also nice to see this happen because, well, the movie’s quite good; it’s typical Swanberg in that there’s a lot of improvisation and scenes of people talking, but there’s a little bit more to it this time around. If anything, Win it All shows Swanberg at least extending his arms out a bit at trying some sort of genre-fare, what with the gambling subgenre of flicks, but it’s much more like the criminally underrated Mississippi Grind, than Mark Wahlberg’s ill-conceived the Gambler.

It’s weird, though, because the movie isn’t all about gambling, or even the rush, the thrill, and the excitement about it all – it’s much more about this guy, Eddie, and how he doesn’t seem to quite get a grasp on life and accept that the way he’s living, just isn’t ideal. If anything, Win it All is actually a character-study about this guy, who he is, why he does what he does, what’s there to love about him, and what’s there to get mad at him for.

And oh yeah, Jake Johnson is pretty great in the role, too.

So sad, yet, still so cool. How does he do it?

Johnson’s honestly a pretty commanding force in these low-key indies, because we get to see all that he does on New Girl, in that he plays a bit of a silly goof-ball, but instead with that show, there’s a rawer feel to it all. Rather than laughing along with him, we’re actually laughing at him and looking at him in a sad way, not knowing how far his lovable grin is going to take him from scene to scene. And sure, while a good portion of Win it All is improvised, meaning that we don’t always get to know each and every single little thing about Eddie that we should know, what Johnson helps to do is create a portrait of a sad, but still likable guy, who we’d much rather give a hug, than a punch to the face.

As his brother, Joe Lo Truglio is quite surprising, too, especially by how good he is without ever trying too hard to make us laugh. It’s the one role where we get to see someone who is usually known for being a scene-stealing cook-ball, actually show his dramatic-side and it works out well, creating a lovely, heartwarming bit of chemistry between him and Johnson. Derbez is also sweet and charming as Eddie’s eventual girlfriend, and Keegan-Michael Key, showing a more dramatic-side here, too, gets a chance to be both funny and serious, while always providing a nice glimmer of light every time he shows up.

And because these performances and these characters are so strong, it’s easy to get past the fact that, yeah, the story’s a bit weak and conventional, but honestly, it’s really not all about that. Swanberg knows that and as an audience, we know that, too – it’s about these characters, their relationships, and exactly how they all relate to this Eddie fella. It’s a true character-study, just with some gambling on the side.

Like life.

Consensus: With a terrific lead performance from Johnson, Win it All works as a smart, interesting character-study that, unfortunately, doesn’t care a whole lot about the plot.

7 / 10

It’s love at first sight. Until she realizes he loves playing Go Fish a bit too much.

Photos Courtesy of: Time OutTeaser TrailerThe AV Club

Colossal (2017)

Sometimes, you don’t need to go home. Or anywhere.

After losing her job, as well as her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) in New York City, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) decides that it’s time to head on back to where she grew up in upstate New York, where she can hopefully find some time to get her life back in order and figure everything out. While there, she meets back up with an old friend from school, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who instantly remembers her and is so happy to have her back into his life. Gloria doesn’t know what she did to make him so happy, but for some reason, she’s willing to go along with whatever Oscar throws at her, like always drinking and even working at his local bar. For awhile, Gloria seems to be so very happy, but then, this weird thing begins happening: Somewhere out in Tokyo, a huge monster is destroying everything and everyone in its path. And the news in the U.S. is constantly covering this, with people either in total shock and horror, or just absolutely happy that it’s not them. Gloria doesn’t know what to think, except until she finds out that it may be her causing all of this death and destruction, somehow.

“Agent? Yeah, more stuff like this.”

When I first heard of Colossal, I remember it being pitched as a mixture between Lost in Translation and Godzilla. Interesting for sure, but could it work? Honestly, I wasn’t sure, but it was a bold, brave enough idea to take on and considering the current-day, big budget monster movies we seem to get, it would definitely offer a nice breath-of-fresh-air.

Which is exactly what Colossal is, although of course, it runs into its problem.

Most of the problems with the movie come from the fact that the idea, while interesting and definitely neat, also leaves a lot of questions when all is said and done. It all comes down to certain questions about sci-fi, how things would work, and what would happen, if say something such as this happened. It’s the kind of general questions that plague sci-fi and it’s honestly what bugged me for quite some time during Colossal; it wasn’t that I couldn’t give in to the idea and just run with it, it’s that it seemed to make itself more complicated as it went along, but without ever answering the questions it presented.

Still, for a movie about a bunch of hipsters and monsters, it still sort of works. Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo knows that he’s playing around with genres and tones here, but doesn’t ever make it seem too flashy; he knows he’s got something interesting on his plate, so rather than taking away from it, he gives us more to watch and be curious about. Sure, it’s interesting just how all of these monster shenanigans go down and play out, but Vigalondo’s also smart enough to know that having compelling characters make the monsters all the more compelling, too.

And with these characters, Colossal seems to be more interested in them, rather than the monsters, which is, once again, another smart move.

“Wanna PBR?”

Like, for instance, Gloria does, initially seem like a bit of a pain, but as time goes on, we begin to see that there’s more to her and her troubled-past. It also helps that Hathaway is pretty great in the role, allowing for us to Gloria as a bit self-destructive, yet also, at the same time, a smart and relatively independent gal who is capable of making her own decisions, as dim-witted as they can often times be. It’s a low-key and not all that showy role for Hathaway, but it’s the right kind of role for her and it shows why she can be so charming.

Sudeikis is also quite good in the role of Oscar, who seems like a very charming and sweet guy, but slowly begins to unravel into these sad, lonely and angry individual. His actions later on in the movie are questionable and make you wonder if it’s necessarily the right direction for him to go in, but there’s no denying that Sudeikis is actually quite surprising in the role. We grow to love him, but at the same time, pity him. He and Hathaway have a nice bit of chemistry, too, to where you can tell that they probably enjoyed working with one another, as it shows in their smaller, much more intimate moments.

You know, without all of the cool and kick-ass monster fighting, which, for a small, low-budget indie, is pretty good.

Makes you wonder why Hollywood tends to get it so wrong, sometimes.

Consensus: With an interesting idea to work with and a very good cast, Colossal is smart, even if it doesn’t answer all of the questions it lays down by the end.

7.5 / 10

There’s Anne, guys. Always charming and lovely, but for some reason, ya’ll hate her. Get over it!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Gifted (2017)

Math is hard. But man, it sure can bring families together.

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a single man raising a child prodigy named Mary (Mckenna Grace), who also happens to be his niece. His sister/Mary’s mother, unfortunately, killed herself due to issues with the family and it’s because of this that Frank has taken it upon himself to ensure that Mary doesn’t turn out to have too much pressure put on her. However, she’s incredibly brilliant, is very good at math, and doesn’t just know it, but also allows for everyone around her to know it, too. It’s both a blessing, as well as a curse – a blessing because she’s smart and will always be successful, but a curse because going to the public school that she’s at, doesn’t really challenge her. Like, at all. Eventually, people around Mary begin to take notice and worry that she’s not being challenged as much as she should. Enter Frank’s mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who sees it as her task to help get Mary the right treatment she deserves for her genius brain and ensure that her career is an accomplished and masterful one, much like hers was.

You can find out what the square-root of 3,005 is, but you still can’t read? What child prodigy you are!

Everything about the way Gifted looks, feels, hell, even sounds, just brings gags to my throat. It’s not that I don’t mind these schmaltzy tales of hot, attractive people battling happiness and love, but it’s that so often, they aren’t done correctly. Of course, Nicholas Sparks is definitely to be blamed for that, but it goes one step further than that – it almost feels like these kinds of movies are bound to fail, right from the instance that they are announced, filmed, and released to the wide public. The only kind of schmaltz that seems to work nowadays is the pure Oscar-bait that cares about as tears, as much as they care about votes, which means that they want people to cry, by any means necessary.

And then, like I’ve said before, there’s Gifted, a movie that should have absolutely despised and hated, yet, somehow, came away thinking, “Man, why can’t all these kinds of movies be like this?”

Which is to say that, yes, Gifted works. Is it a perfect movie? Nope. Is it an original one? Not really. Is it still kind of schmaltzy and manipulative? Sort of, yes. But everything about it still kind of works in the way that you wouldn’t expect it to. For one, it actually has a heart and soul that you can feel, not just because it’s telling you to feel it, but because the characters are so lovely, the relationships are so well-drawn, and yes, the actual story is worth getting wrapped-up in.

It’s not a very complex tale, but it didn’t need to be; Sparks’ movies are always so bogged down in silly twists, like alcoholic, abusive ex-husbands, or plot-contrived cancer-scares, that after awhile, it’s nice to get a movie that gives us characters, a conflict, and allows it all to play out, without trying too hard to add too much into the rest of the mix. Director Marc Webb and screenwriter Nick Flynn know what they’re working with here and because of that, it doesn’t feel like they’re taking any cheap shots.

Essentially, what we see is what we get.

Don’t worry, everyone: Octavia is just the sassy black neighbor. Not the sassy black nanny. For once.

Of course, that sounds so easy when put like that, but honestly, it’s just nice to get one of these movies. Flynn’s screenplay is solid in that every character has at least one funny-quip to use at their disposal, but everyone still feels like well-rounded, three-dimensional characters, not made out to be god-like creatures, of fire-breathing devil-worshipers – everyone here is a human being, and in that sense, they’re all complicated. Flynn doesn’t forget to overdue the cute nature of his story, but hey, it’s not cloying, which is all that matters.

And Webb, while no doubt trying to get back in his good graces after the two Spider-Man movies, finds himself giving us a smart, humane tale about humans again. Sure, it’s nowhere near (500) Days of Summer, but then again, not many movies are; it’s just nice to have him back, directing original flicks for a change. Hopefully, he’s here to stay and not ready to get sucked up by the machine that is known as Hollywood.

Because what better way to stick it to the man than have your movie star Captain America himself, Chris Evans?

No, I kid. Regardless, Evans is good here in that he’s his usual charming, snappy-self, but there’s also more to him than meets the surface; the relaxed, chill nature he gives off, eventually starts to show signs of sadness that’s deeper than you’d think. Evans has been looking for a hit outside of the Marvel universe for quite some time and it’s nice to see him finally get it here. Of course, though, the movie is definitely Mckenna Grace’s for the taking and as Mary, she’s quite great. Sure, the character is a type, in that she’s precocious as hell and seems like a 30-year-old trapped inside of a 7-year-old’s body, but it works because you believe in her as this character. If she ever is annoying, or a bit of a pain, it’s because she’s meant to be and not because the movie thinks that she’s just way too cute for our own good.

She is, surprisingly enough, like a real kid. And we get so very few of them in movies nowadays.

Consensus: As schmaltzy and sappy as it can sometimes get, Gifted also works because it has a heart, well-written script, and most of all, solid ensemble of characters who all feel realized and interesting, despite the eventual conventions of the plot.

7 / 10

Like uncle, like niece. Right?

Photos Courtesy of: SlashfilmThrifty Jinxy, Indiewire

Johnny Handsome (1989)

It kills to look so good.

Due to a disfigured face, John (Mickey Rourke) has spent most of his life either being ridiculed, or never understood. The only thing that he really knows to do in life is set up heists and have them to according to plan. And for his latest one, everything works out perfectly, with all of the money being taken, and very little casualties, until, well, he gets double-crossed and left to be arrested by the cops. John is soon taken into custody where a doctor who specializes in facial-reconstruction surgery (Forest Whitaker) wants to test something out on John and see, if at all possible, he can get him to look like a normal person. It works, but of course, John himself has a lot to get used to, with people not staring at him any longer. And then, sooner than later, John’s out of jail, back on the streets, and ready to be an everyday, law abiding citizen. But before he does any of that, he wants to get revenge on the two criminals, Sunny Boyd (Ellen Barkin) and Rafe Garrett (Lance Henriksen), who screwed him over in the first place.

Eric Stoltz?

Johnny Handsome is an odd movie because, as is the case with most of Hill’s movies, it seems like it wants to be two different one simultaneously. There’s one aspect that wants to be this goofy, high-concept heist-thriller with guns, action, violence, drugs, booze, and cursing, but then there’s this other, that wants to be a thoughtful, quiet and small character-study about this guy Johnny and how he learns to get along with life after finding a new lease on it. By no means has Hill ever been considered the most perfect director for heart-warming tales of humanity, so obviously, the later story doesn’t quite work out for him.

But at least the former does.

And yes, that’s exactly where Johnny Handsome works, in the grit and the action of the tale. As is usually the case, Hill knows how to craft a solid action-sequence, whether it’s a heist scene, or a brawl between two characters, and it just goes to show you what the guy can do, when the material is there for him to play around with. Sure, has he had better action movies on his plate than this one here? Sure, but it also helps that Hill gets a chance to revel in the sleeze that this tale sometimes promises getting to the nitty gritty of. Of course, it doesn’t quite go as far as it should with that, but it gets close enough to make it feel like a worthwhile effort, on the part of Hill’s.

It’s just that, once again, the movie also wants to be something of a stern, serious character-study that, at the center, does have something interesting to say about Johnny himself. But of course, it’s trapped in this wild and rather wacky B-movie that knows what it is, when it’s doing its thing, but when it’s getting away from that, it feels weird. It’s as if Hill knew that there was some true dramatic promise with this premise and did want to develop it a tad bit more, but also didn’t want to scare too many others away from how melodramatic he was able and willing to get.

It’s an odd mix-and-match Hill has to work with here and honestly, in the hands of a much better director, it probably would have worked. Not to say that Hill isn’t a good director, but you can tell his specialties do heavily lie on action, not drama.

I’d hang with them. Maybe not rob a bank, but definitely hang.

But hey, at least the cast is pretty great.

Mickey Rourke, in what would probably be one of the last performances for awhile where he actually seemed to give a crap, does a solid job as Johnny, even though, like I’ve said before, he may be in a tad bit of a different movie. He’s doing his usual cool, calm and collected brooding thing we’ve seen from him before, which may seem a tad dull, but makes sense in the general sense of the story and just who this character is. It would have been nice to see him play this character in a less messier movie, but hey, at least Rourke’s good here.

The real fun from the cast comes from the supporting side. Lance Henriksen is evil and detestable as one of the baddies who rip-off Johnny; Morgan Freeman plays a cop who is on Johnny’s ass from the get-go and seems to push him way too far at times; Elizabeth McGovern is very much playing it serious like Rourke, but is interesting enough to watch; Forest Whitaker plays his doctor character a little creepy, which works; and Ellen Barkin, well, steals the show as Sunny Boyd. As Boyd, Barkin gets to let loose, showing that she can be beautiful, sexy, and a little bit dangerous, never allowing you to fully trust her, but also kind of love her, too. She clearly came ready to play and it’s why her performance is the one worth remembering when all is said and done.

Consensus: Even despite the mess it eventually becomes, Johnny Handsome still gets by on its thrills and excitement given by its talented ensemble.

6 / 10

Oh, there’s the Mickey we all know, love and recognize. Basically, right before he started boxing, for some reason.

Photos Courtesy of: The Film Connoisseur