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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: August 2017

The Wall (2017)

Trumps worst nightmare.

U.S. soldiers Allan “Ize” Isaac (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Shane Matthews (John Cena) answer a distress call in the desert of postwar Iraq. Out of nowhere, gunshots erupt, leaving Shane badly injured and Allan with a bullet in his leg. Forced to take cover behind a crumbling stone wall, Isaac now finds himself in a fight for survival against an unseen sniper who has all of the advantages.

The Wall is one of those lean, mean, tight, and incredibly small thrillers that don’t get made as much as they probably should. See, most of Hollywood believes that the best way to achieve some chills and thrills, is solely through big, loud, explosions of action, CGI, and exposition that doesn’t really matter. It isn’t always the case, but for the most part, Hollywood has let the American thriller down and it’s up to folks like Dough Liman to try and save it.

Lots of experience from COD.

Unfortunately, the Wall isn’t quite the saving grace you could hope for.

If anything, it’s a very small movie that flirts with the idea of being incredibly compelling and fun but, other than at least 20 or so minutes of actual intensity, the movie sort of just sits there and coasts by. It seems like, at any point, it’s going to take off and go somewhere crazy and relatively fun, but just as soon as that’s promised, for some reason, things slow back down. It’s weird, too, because you can tell that Liman wants it to take off of the ground – it’s just that he either doesn’t know where to go, what to do next, or basically, just didn’t have enough money to do the sorts of things he wanted to do.

After all, Liman shot this whole thing practically on the sly, without anyone really knowing of its existence, nor what it was going to be about, which is a noble decision on the part of Liman’s, but it also may have taken the movie back a bit. The budget is smaller than most thrillers of this nature and because of that, some of the more ambitious things he may have been tempted to do, probably couldn’t have happened. And it’s not like I have issues with small movies such as this, just sitting in one location for the whole run-time, but that’s literally what happens in the Wall for at least half of its hour-20 run-time: Sits.

The only aspect of the movie that makes it all worth saving and sticking around for is Aaron Taylor-Johnson in the lead role.

Wait. Why is there a picture of air?

And I think it should be stated by now, people, that Taylor-Johnson is a pretty great actor. Sure, he’s a hunk, a pretty-boy, and most definitely the crush of every girl out there who has ever laid their eyes on him, but all that aside, the guy can handle any role put at him. His role here finds him doing a lot of heavy-lifting all by himself, without much assistance from those around him, and it deserves to be noted that he makes it all interesting to watch. We don’t get much background about his character, other than the fact that he’s a soldier and loves America, but Taylor-Johnson gives us the promise that there’s something more there, just waiting to be revealed; add that to the fact that he’s a soldier, trapped in a deadly-position, without much of a way out, and yeah, he’s awfully sympathetic.

Which is why the Wall, though it doesn’t really get as deep as it probably should have, definitely seems like the kind of movie that wants to say something about war, the military, or even foreign affairs, but at the same time, sort of only skirts by all of these ideas it probably had brewing in its mind. The Iraqi soldier speaking on the radio the whole movie, constantly reminds us, the audience, about the United States and their constant insistence on getting involved with other country’s business and while it is no doubt a true and honest sentiment, it’s told to us through someone who is, either nonexistent, or basically, just a victim. There’s not much else to him, so because of that, we’re sort of just left with the idea that he’s a sick human being who wants to see soldiers killed, because, well, why not.

May be a case of me nitpicking, but I don’t know. At least some of those mainstream, Hollywood, big-budget thrillers have a little bit more on their mind than just shooting, blood, action, violence, and xenophobia.

Consensus: Even with a solid lead performance from Taylor-Johnson and a few solid thrills, the Wall crumbles under the weight of its own rather small ambitions and, of course, budget.

Hurry, Aaron! Save that air!

5 / 10

Photos Courtesy of: Lionsgate

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Dark Night (2017)

Movies: The ultimate escape from violence.

It’s America and a few individuals are, well, living life. Some are happy, some aren’t, but there’s no denying that they’re all human beings just trying to get by in the world. And of course, all of these human beings lives come together in one fateful night where they decide that it’s time to go and check out the latest superhero flick, but while they’re doing this, they’re also in for an awful surprise. A very, very awful surprise.

It’s very hard to really get down to what Dark Night is about because, after all, it’s based on the Aurora Shootings from 2012. The title’s a dead giveaway of course, but also, the movie, right from the get-go, lets us know that this is going to be a dark, disturbing and rather unexpected tale into a few humans lives who we already know the end for; in a way, it’s even more depressing to watch, because no matter how happy these few lives may be, we all know the painful, tragic ends of them.

Okay, kid. You’re crazy. We get it. Now, shut up!

Does that make the movie better? Not really and it’s sort of an issue that Dark Night runs into throughout its very short and thin hour-and-a-half run-time.

It does deserve to be said that writer/director Tim Sutton has a clear idea for what he wants to do here and because of that, his vision is compelling, if a bit meandering. Rather than displaying a full-set of conventional story-lines, the movie sort of jumps around from story-to-story, at its own pace, by its rules, and without any real rhyme, or reason. And hell, half of the time, the movie isn’t even focusing in on the separate storylines, as much as it’s just focusing in on a single-shot of some inanimate object.

These are all made to have us thinking, like, for instance, what does it all mean? What is Sutton trying to tell us? That all our lives, while precious and full of its own little moments, both good and bad, is ultimately destined for disaster? Probably not, but it definitely feels like that, making the movie feeling, once again, depressing. And that’s sort of the point, too; that each and everyone of these people who were shot and killed in the theater that fateful night, were literally just looking to escape from their real lives and to be transported into a fake, magical and fun one, for two-hours, is even more upsetting.

Yeah. Not suspicious at all.

After all, it’s what the movies were made for. Take that away from us, what good are they?

But still, Sutton’s film is much more of a tone-poem than anything else and it sort of works; it moves and meanders as much as it want and because of that, it can be interesting to see exactly where it goes. But there’s also that feeling that perhaps, just even maybe, Sutton isn’t really doing justice to the real-life victims or the tragedy that inspired it. By just jumping in on these few stories to see what’s up and continuing to move on, makes it not just feel like a missed-opportunity to have us understand more, but to also really dig in deep into some of these character’s lives. While they are no doubt fictional, they are still characters nonetheless and because of that, we’re meant to sit there, watch them, and study them, for all that they are.

Sutton doesn’t really do that and it feels odd. Of course, he is playing by his own rules, so the better for him, but for us, those watching, it can be a bit frustrating. Just when you think Sutton’s going to go somewhere the least bit mildly thrilling, he jumps away and focuses his attention on somewhere, or someone else. It should also be noted that the so-called “killer” in this movie is the one who seems to get the most focus, as we casually see him lose his s**t practically everywhere he goes and seem on the edge of breaking down. Of course, we know the end, but did we need to see the whole build-up to this monster? Sure, it’s disturbing, but what does it really tell us?

Nut-jobs exist?

No s**t.

Consensus: Perhaps not the most conventional of movie-going experiences, Dark Night still aims at portraying the tragedy of the real-life events that inspired it and are somewhat successful.

6 / 10

How we all prepare for another one of Nolan’s masterpieces.

Photos Courtesy of: Aurora Sentinel, IndieWire

It Felt Like Love (2013)

Oh man. Young love. What the hell.

Lila (Gina Piersanti) is a teen from Gravesend who doesn’t have much going on in her life. Her mom’s out of the picture, her dad’s always working, and the few friends that she has are, well, to say the least, unreliable. But she’s growing up now and with that, she’s starting to realize more about her self and her own sexual-being, but most importantly, she’s starting to like boys for once. And then she meets Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein) a local guy who’s a bit of a thug and a bit of a hard-ass who is the complete opposite from the shy, introverted Lila, but for some reason, she wants him. She wants him so bad, that she even concocts a story about the two going out to those around her. Why? Well, no one really knows, but eventually, Sammy finds out about this and begins to even take a liking to Lila, too, although, it’s a much different kind of love or passion that Lila was ever expecting.

Ew. Get a room! When your parents aren’t home, that is.

It Felt Like Love deals with young/first love, meaning, it’s a movie right up my alley. But it’s a much different kind of one that doesn’t just rely on smart, lovely insights about growing up, coming-of-age, or discovering who you are, but more of just putting us in the feeling of being in love. Writer/director Eliza Hittman has a very unique style that’s raw and grainy, wherein times it almost feels like a Cassavetes film, but it also never leaves the view of Lila – it’s her movie, the whole time and because of that, we get the rare glimpse at young, somewhat predatory and confusing love, through the eyes of a young girl.

And it’s honestly something that we don’t often get to see, or at least, not at this deep of a level. With Lila, we see her act out in ways that not only surprise her, but shock those around her who feel as if they’ve known her all of this time; it’s actually interesting to see how Lila acts in certain situations, because while we get a general idea of who she is from the beginning, it’s never made clear just what kind of person she is. She stares into space a lot and rather than having everything to say, she mostly allows her eyes to do the talking for her, making her not just a compelling protagonist, but a very believable one who is, yes, a young and shy girl, discovering the world around her.

Love at first strike.

Which is to say that Gina Piersanti is pretty phenomenal in the role, because she does so much, with so little.

Granted, a lot of it is staring into space and looking as if she’s going to say something, but a lot of that is hard to do and pull-off, without it seeming lazy, or forced. Piersanti was about 14 at the time of filming, too, so it helps give it an even more realistic feel, but even besides that, there’s a certain aura surrounding her that just works and made me want to see more and more of her, just interacting in her day-to-day life. It reminded me a lot of Sandrine Bonnaire’s role in À Nos Amours, in that there’s this youthful, burning passion alive in every scene within this girl, that’s not just waiting to come up, but is ready to explode at any second.

It’s honestly a shame that I haven’t seen anything from Piersanti since. Here’s to hoping that changes very soon.

Consensus: Stylistically speaking, It Felt Like Love is a raw, rather gritty film that looks like it could use a shower, but fits perfectly well with the underlining feeling of obsession, love and passion, anchored all by a great performance from newcomer Piersanti.

8 / 10

Don’t worry, gal. It gets better. Wait. Actually, nope. It doesn’t.

Photos Courtesy of: VHX

The Trip to Spain (2017)

I’d take these guys on a trip to the beach over my family any day.

After their first two trips together, people can’t get enough of Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan together. So, to give the people what they want, they are put together for a third time, to travel a different country, chow down on some of the finest meals, drink some of the best liquor, see all of the sights, meet interesting people, and oh yeah, do all of the impressions that they can think of. And honestly, since their last trip to Italy, things have changed for both guys; Steve was nominated for an Oscar and can’t stop talking about it, meanwhile, Rob’s popularity has only gotten bigger and better, with him starring in various mainstream flicks. The two have a lot alike, but they also have more differences, too, meaning that, at times, their trip can sometimes be light and fun, while other times, can be a little dark and intense. Mostly though, they’re just happy to be together, hanging out and waxing on about life, if only as a way to get away from the mess of their personal lives.

Smile, you’re in good company.

It’s actually interesting that both Rob and Steve continue to do these Trip movies, because as famous as they both each seem to get, they still find ways to sort of blend in with the real world around them. In fact, the more famous they each get, the better these movies get, as it helps us not just understand what the hell they’re talking about more and more, but it gives it this sort of no-holds-barred feeling that these conversations would, and should, take.

And some goes for their ages, because as weird as it may sound, the older they get, the more interesting it is to hear what they’re talking about. They’ve accepted old age, the ideas from society, and certain responsibilities that come along with it, and while they may not be all that happy about it, they’re going to live on and do whatever they want and can. It’s rather nice to see a movie that accepts growing up and aging as an honest fact of life, without embracing it too much to where it’s trying to be silly and cute.

People get old. Case closed. No shut up and move on.

And yes, for the third outing, the Trip to Spain works, even if it does feel a little bit more tired this time around. Then again, that’s probably on-purpose; these guys, as humans, are beginning to slow down. Nowadays, they can’t bother to go on and on with all of the non-stop impersonations of Michael Caine, Richard Burton, John Hurt, Pierce Brosnan, Roger Moore, Sean Connery, and oh yeah, Mick freakin’ Jagger (although the best one is done by Coogan, singing as David Bowie), and they let it be known. Rather than just laughing and going along with it now, they sort of just ignore it and move on. That’s how life is, as a whole, and it’s interesting to see these two guys, who more than likely made the script up as they went along, don’t really hide from that fact.

NO. MORE. IMPERSONATIONS.

And really, the only way to critique this movie is to critique how Rob and Steve are in it, because really, they’re the movie. And yes, they’re fine, funny and always lovely to watch, no matter where it is they are, or what it is that they’re doing in their lives. It’s actually rather sweet to see these guys still palling around, hanging out, and enjoying the good days, even when it seems like they’ve both gone in two different directions with their own respective careers; how close they are in real life is already known, but the movie gives the perception that they never actually see one another, except for only one of these yearly trips. That said, they’re still charming as ever and without one of them, who knows how these movies would do.

Cause honestly, the story’s can get a little odd and melodramatic, especially with Spain‘s. Late in the third act, there’s supposed to be a twist of sorts that doesn’t fully fit together, nor does it really matter – we’re supposed to care about these certain truths being brought to us, but honestly, it doesn’t wholly matter. The last movie actually had a few shocks and twists that worked, this time around, there aren’t many. And when there are some, they don’t quite nail.

We just want to hear the impersonations. That’s all.

Consensus: Like its stars, the Trip to Spain may be showing its age with this being the third outing for both Steve and Rob, but still, they remain as funny and as charming as ever.

7 / 10

Pictured: Leaked set photos from Terry Gilliam’s “Don Quixote”.

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

Logan Lucky (2017)

NASCAR just got actually, well, fun.

West Virginia family man Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) has got a lot of issues right now in his life and money’s just holding him back from everything. He just lost his job, he’s got a bunch of child-support payments to pay, and oh yeah, may lose his house. Basically, he’s in a pinch and the only way he can see of getting out of it is walking in on a large sum of cash. But how? Well, that’s why he decides to team up with his one-armed brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and sister Mellie (Riley Keough) to steal money from the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. Jimmy also recruits demolition expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) to help them break into the track’s underground system. But of course, this takes a lot of planning, not just with Joe Bang being in the slammer and needing to be broken out, but because the heist is supposed to take place during the most popular NASCAR race of the whole year. How the hell can they pull this off? Will the Logan family-curse continue to live on?

It’s all in the facial-hair.

Though he technically hasn’t been out of the game since his so-called retirement after Side Effects in 2013, there’s just something nice and sweet about having Steven Soderbergh back to making movies again. Sure, it helped that Logan Lucky is a solid movie and a return-to-form for Soderbergh, but even if it wasn’t quite the joy it turned out to be, it would still remind us why it’s a good thing to have Soderbergh around in our world, making movies, as opposed to not having him around and making movies. The man is an artistic genius who finds a way to make what he wants, when he wants, however he wants, regardless of fame, fortune, or budget constraints.

Basically, he’s what any aspiring film-maker hopes to be. And Logan Lucky is, like I said before, a solid reminder of that.

And it’s not like Logan Lucky is a perfect flick; the comedy bits can be a bit straining and stupid, the pace meanders for awhile, and the characters, other than the Logan brothers, don’t feel as developed as they should be. But that said, it’s still a fun movie that shows us the lighter-side to Soderbergh that hasn’t been seen in quite some time. No, he knows breaking down genre conventions, or boundaries here, but what he is doing is offering us a good time, no alcohol or illegal substances required, which is a nice thing to have in the late-summer movie season, when it seems like everything’s getting a whole lot dumber and more dull.

Bond who?!?

But nope. Logan Lucky is anything but dull. It shows that Soderbergh isn’t afraid to goof on himself on a bit, while still giving us all of the trademarks we’ve learn to love and expect from him. The score is still jazzy; the pace is still breezy; the camera-work is still tight and efficient; and the performances, while not always working, are still surprising. Sure, Driver, Tatum, and Keough are great as the dynamic trio, but it’s pretty cool to see the likes of Hilary Swank, Katie Holmes, Jim O’Heir, Sebastian Stan, Seth MacFarlane, Katherine Waterston, and most of all, Daniel Craig, show up here and try to bring some light and fun to these proceedings.

Once again, not all of these performances work – Seth MacFarlane’s role as a British manager who loves social media, for some reason, feels incredibly out-of-place – but it’s a nice ensemble that reminds us all what Soderbergh can do when he’s just having fun. It helps that the story plays out in an exciting, thrilling manner, with the heist itself continuing to get more and more compelling to watch, but it’s all about the tone and the mood, and in Logan Lucky, it’s a fun one.

That’s all it needed to be and that’s all it is. Stop asking for anything more, people!

Consensus: Stepping away from his much more serious pieces, Logan Lucky is a solid return-to-form for Soderbergh who shines, utilizing a talented ensemble and having an overall good time.

7.5 / 10

Finally. A bright new future with Stevie back.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Good German (2006)

Who needs Nazis when we can just face ourselves?

Jake Geismar (George Clooney), an Army correspondent, helps his former lover, Lena Brandt (Cate Blanchett), comb post-World War II Berlin for her missing husband, who is wanted by not just the American forces, but the Russian ones as well. However, the plan to find him gets a bit out-of-whack when Jake’s driver, Tully (Tobey Maguire), a soldier with all sorts of connections to the black market decides that he wants to get involved with finding this guy, while also getting some of his own issues solved in the meantime. Still, Jake and Lena want to find their man, so they trust Tully as much as they can, until it becomes an all-out, drag-out battle between good, evil, Nazis, Americans, and Russians. Basically, it’s a good old-fashioned war and it’s up to all the players involved to get out of it, alive and well.

Did men really look that handsome? Probably.

There is no denying that with the Good German, Steven Soderbergh is paying an homage to the noirs of yesteryear. The look, the feel, the sound, hell, even aspect-ratio, feels as if it was transported from the 40’s and brought right to our screens again. It’s a seamless production that obviously cost a lot and it shows – there’s not a single flaw to be found in the way everything looks and just goes to show that Soderbergh, despite how much flack he may receive for it, truly is a neat-freak. He knows what he wants and he gets it.

Shame he just didn’t get his way in the story.

Cause once you get past the glossiness of the production, the Good German just doesn’t work. It’s style works and is neat, but the story, the characters, the conflicts, the twists, the turns, the revelations, the possibility of anything ever making sense, just never fully come together. It feels as if the production itself was rushed, either to get the movie done in time for awards season, or that the production was so dedicated to making the flick looking great, that they forgot to really focus on the sort of stuff that matters.

And with a lot of Soderbergh bombs (which there aren’t many), that seems to be the one issue: The script just isn’t there. A good portion of this has to do with him not always writing his scripts and in the case of the Good German, which was written by Paul Attanasio, this is especially the case. It tries to take on so much, with so very little context, and in a run-time that should feel light and almost breezy (105 minutes, mind you), for some reason, it feels longer. Most of this is due to us not really knowing what’s going on with these characters, this mystery, or even what’s at-stake; the fact that the whole movie begins with us looking for some character’s husband, already shows you that there’s a problem.

No! Do something fun!

Then Tobey Maguire shows up and yeah, it’s hard to really figure everything out.

Which isn’t to say that Maguire is a problem for the movie, because in hindsight, he’s probably the best thing for it. His character is so goofy, wild, and unpredictable, that he feels like he deserves his own movie, where the focus is primarily on him, trying his best to navigate throughout this world that just doesn’t know what to do with him. Maguire’s best in these sort of unhinged performances and his performance as Tully, is up there with one of his best.

But once again, he just doesn’t have a movie to fully service him like he deserves. And because he’s so off-the-wall, it’s easy to see that he doesn’t fully fit in with everything else going on around him. For instance, in the context of what the movie’s trying to do, his out-of-control performance doesn’t really connect and feels like something of its own different creation, one that’s obviously more interesting and fun to watch, than whatever the hell the Good German turns into, with Clooney and Blanchett giving, unfortunately, boring performances. They, like everyone else here, try, but the script’s just not there and when that happens, what’s the point?

Oh wait. That’s right. A paycheck. Never mind.

Consensus: Even with the style down perfectly, the Good German can’t quite get past the “homage” phase, and into becoming something of its own that’s compelling, interesting, and worth watching.

3 / 10

“We huntin’ Nazis.”

Photos Courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures

Erin Brockovich (2000)

Can always count on men to be horny!

Erin Brockovich (Julia Roberts) is a single mother of three who, after losing a personal injury lawsuit, asks her lawyer, Ed Masry (Albert Finney), if he can help her find a job, since she has a pretty rough time holding one down. Because, in all honesty, Erin’s a bit of a problem for most employers out there – she’s brash, loud, and likes to speak her mind. So yeah, she can be a bit of a handful, which is why Ed hesitates to hire her, time and time again. Eventually, he gives her work as a file clerk in his office, and she runs across some information on a little-known case filed against Pacific Gas and Electric. She then begins digging into the particulars of the case, convinced that the facts simply don’t add up, and persuades Ed to allow her to do further research. Somehow, through non-stop research and eyewitness accounts on her own time and dime, Erin discovers not just a cover-up, but a potential health-crisis that has yet to be addressed in the slightest, leaving it up to Erin and Ed to have to band together and stick it against the big-wigs of the corporate world.

All the biker dudes love big boobs!

Steven Soderbergh loves to flirt with the idea of formula and most of all, mainstream film-making. Even if his most mainstream films (the Ocean’s trilogy), honestly feel more like homages and exercises in style, rather than an attempt at selling-out and just collecting a quick, easy paycheck. Granted, Soderbergh likes to have the studio money floating around for whatever weird, small, and unique indie he wants to make after the big, mainstream flick, but still, it’s not like his soul is being sold. His mainstream movies, like Erin Brockovich, still have a heart, a soul, and a passion to them that make them a step above our average, mainstream fare.

Even if it is, at the end of the day, average, mainstream fare.

That said, Soderbergh gets away with a lot in Erin Brockovich; he gets to play around with the idea of a biopic and how to tell a story, without focusing too much on the facts. See, most biopics of this nature get way too bogged-down by what happened, where, why, and the context of it all, which is dumb, because half of the stuff in these movies is just creative licenses after all. While there are still a lot of moments where it feels like we’re checking off certain facts and pieces of Brockovich’s life throughout, Soderbergh does know how to remind us that, underneath the case, is a real human being.

“Hi, I’m Julia Roberts, playing a normal, everyday gal from the South, who also happens to look like Julia Roberts.”

And as a result, it feels much more like a character-study, rather than a by-the-numbers biopic. Sure, having the case in here helps us get a better context of why she matters and why we’re having this story told to us, but Soderbergh also doesn’t forget to develop this character over time, allowing us to see more sides to her compelling, if sometimes flawed, persona. It’s neat that Brockovich was actually so involved and so accepting of this film (she actually shows up as a waitress), because the movie doesn’t always let her down easy – it can sometimes judge her and not let her forgive and forget, but that’s okay. The movie is showing us the true side to a person who, beyond all of the flaws of her character, wanted to do what was right, even if it didn’t totally convenience her.

Oh and it definitely helps that Julia Roberts was portraying her, too.

Yes, even though Roberts can mostly appear to be sleep-walking through almost every role she takes nowadays, there was a time, when the world of pop-culture and tabloids were done fawning over her, when Roberts was considered to be one of the best actresses working in the biz. And yes, even though it’s obvious to point out her Oscar-winning role here as her best ever, there’s no denying the fact that it’s a great role, as is, because it allows her to utilize all of the skills that we came to know and love her for. She’s not just beautiful, but she’s also lovely, funny, charming, and oh yeah, a bit of a hard-ass when push comes to shove and as Brockovich, Roberts gets the chance to let a little loose in a role that gives her not just enough to work with, but even dig in deeper with, too. It’s honestly the kind of role that Roberts has been working for ever since and it’s a shame that we haven’t seen another one from her since.

Steven? Will you come ‘a knockin’?

Consensus: As far as conventional biopics go, Erin Brockovich is one of the better ones out there, with an attentive eye to detail that not only remembers to develop its subject, but also give us a story to care about.

7.5 / 10

Where are these lawyers now! Get to Flint!

Photos Courtesy of: Brockovich

The Limey (1999)

The toughest gangsters around are the ones you mostly can’t understand at all.

Wilson (Terence Stamp), a tough English ex-con travels to Los Angeles to avenge his daughter’s death. Upon arrival, Wilson goes to task battling Valentine (Peter Fonda) and an army of L.A.’s toughest criminals, hoping to find clues and piece together what happened.

With Steven Soderbergh, there’ no such things such as conventions or formula. Take, for example, Haywire; what seems to be a pretty self-explanatory, straight-forward thriller, is played to the tunes of jazz music throughout, features barely any score music at all, and doesn’t cut-away once from the major beat-downs that occur in that film. The same could almost be said for Magic Mike, which was essentially a steamy sex film, that features a cold story and three-dimensional characters. Basically, Soderbergh plays with genre and doesn’t care what sort of rules he’s breaking.

What a view. Damn L.A.

Cause what’s the point of having rules if they aren’t meant to be broken in the first place, eh?

And like with mostly all of his flicks, the Limey isn’t just about switching things up, but being pretty cool while doing so, too. It’s a noir in the sense that it’s a deep, dark, and gritty tale about some mean, ugly people, but it’s also a revenge-tale that doesn’t always give you the most perfect idea of what it’s going to do next. Soderbergh shoots things here in a certain way, whether in an odd camera-angle, or somewhere off-to-the-side like you’ve never seen before, that makes you wonder what he’s going to come up with next. He doesn’t over-do it, either, and it can sometimes feel like he’s meshing what sorts of style bits and pieces he wants to, in order to make a sort of easy story, hit a lot harder.

And deep down inside, it really is a tale about a father trying to ask for forgiveness and wonder about what he missed out on. Speaking of Terence Stamp, this guy absolutely nails it as Wilson, the guy who we never, ever get to really know that well but for some reason, we don’t feel as if we have to, we just got to watch him. Stamp is a guy who always just sits in the background, let everybody else in front of him kick some ass, and then come in out of nowhere, steal a scene or two, and just walk off as if he was the leading man they were waiting for the whole time. The difference here, is that he is the leading man and he shows that he has all the right skills to pull that off as well. Even though he may not physically fit to pull of a scary-ass crook that would kill you the first chance he got, Stamp still makes up for that with the look on his eyes and the steps in his walk. This guy has got a mean-looking face that makes many people shiver in their beds, and when you watch him put those mean, old eyes on somebody here, you know something bad is about to go down.

Somehow, can totally see these two being the best of buddies.

A shame that Stamp doesn’t get anymore starring roles like this, but at least he still shows up from time-to-time and still steals every show.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Peter Fonda as the ex-hippie, record producer, named Valentine who seems like a gentle dude, that just mixed up in all of the wrong things. Fonda doesn’t play this guy like your typical, evil villain that just goes around with an evil ‘stache, twirling it all the time his evil pleasures get fulfilled. No, this guy actually has a certain amount of heart to him that makes you feel a bit bad for the guy, even if he does come off like the type of guy you shouldn’t trust or even like in a film like this. Great to see Fonda give off a wonderful performance and be on the look-out for a nice bit where he talks about motorcycles. Easy Rider reference, anyone?

Also, Luiz Guzman is here. Enough said.

Consensus: The Limey may be a bit too stylized and simple for its own good, but still allows Soderbergh to drench his story in a hard-boiled narrative that gives you some great performances from this cast, as well as some real thrilling moments of violence, that harken back to the golden days of 60’s and 70’s thrillers.

8 / 10

Really? Does it need to be that high?

Photos Courtesy of: Artisan Entertainment

Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

Where’s the sex!?!

Ann Bishop (Andie MacDowell) and John Mullany (Peter Gallagher) are a married couple that may not get it on non-stop, but are relatively fine with it. She doesn’t really think sex is all that big of a deal, and he, well, is getting it anyway by her sister (Laura San Giacomo). However, all of their sexual desires and pleasures come to a-head once John’s old friend, Graham (James Spader), comes back to visit him and reveals a very strange, but interesting pleasure that not only has Ann curious, but her sister as well.

Reviewing movies like this are hard because not only do you have to take into account the fact that it’s a tad old and dated in some ways, but also the fact that creator/writer/director has done some far, far better material over the years and it’s just hard to compare now to then. In this case, yes, Steven Soderbergh has done far, far better ever since his 1989 directorial debut, but you got to hand it to the guy, cause he’s made a splash on cinema ever since.

And hey, it started off pretty well, too.

What’s that crazy contraption she’s holding?

Where Sex, Lies and Videotapes probably surprises people the most is in that it’s much of a character-driven drama, than a sexually erotic thriller, in the same vein as Fatal Attraction. It all sounds like a bore, just listening as people convulse in a bunch of conversations about doing the dirty deed, but Soderbergh writes it in such a way that seems very honest, realistic, and actually understandable. People don’t just do sex to get off, and when they do, it’s usually to just get by something in their life that seems to bother them and whenever it’s to just have sex, usually it’s just because they’re horny at the specific time of day. However, people also act on sex as if it’s not something that’s meaningful, and not something that can wake you up from a lifetime full of slumber and stupidity. These characters all find that out in sometimes the hard way, the easy way, or sometimes the way that just cannot be explained.

It’s a very frank movie and while Soderbergh hasn’t really titillated audiences like this since, he still shows that sometimes, being naked, doesn’t mean having to take all of your clothes off for the world to see. Sometimes, being vulnerable and honesty is more than enough – something that Soderbergh has continued on with for his whole career.

But you can’t help but think that this isn’t Soderbergh’s best work and probably the least-flashy of all of his movies. When you watch a Soderbergh movie nowadays, you know it’s a Soderbergh movie just by the way it looks and feels. This one, not so much. Maybe it was probably because the guy was so darn young (26 at the time) and didn’t really develop a sense of style until the late 90’s, or the fact that he didn’t really want to focus on his look and wanted to focus more on his script, but it feels more like a regular, indie-movie from the 80’s that has a generic look, style, and despite the script-involved, a pretty generic feel to it all in the end as well.

But hey, it was ’89. He was young and just getting ready to shake the world up.

But really, these four in the cast is probably what helped Soderbergh achieve the most success here. Andie MacDowell has probably never been the heavy-hitter of an actress, but her performance here as Ann is probably the best she’s ever done, ever has done, and probably best she ever will have done for the rest of her career. What makes Ann so interesting is that you can sympathize with her because she seems troubled, sad, and in desperate need of a wake-up call that there’s a huge world out there to explore. But as soon as Graham enters the picture, things start to come alive for her and we see how MacDowell makes that pretty clear, but also very mysterious in how you never know if she’s going to go for something new and alive, or stay with something that’s old and boring. It’s the best that MacDowell has ever been and her character, Ann, just felt like somebody that’s easy to care for and want the best for when it was all over.

Assuming she just stubbed her toe.

All of MacDowell’s scenes with James Spader absolutely were the best parts of the movie, because right from the start, you can tell something’s going on between them, without either of them really knowing. They have a spark between them that’s obvious and gets a bit skewered as time goes on, but keeps on coming back and back for more and kept me interested the whole way. Let’s also not forget to mention that James Spader seems to be having the freaking time of his life playing Graham, a character who is a bit strange, but also very real in how he deals with his world and his problems. You never know what’s up with this guy and whether or not he’s going to turn out to be the guy that kills dames in their showers, but you always are enticed by him, almost as much as Ann is and that’s a great-touch of character that Soderbergh allowed Spader to add.

Thank the lord for that, too.

And in all honesty, who better to play Ann’s asshole, slime-ball of a husband than Mr. Eyebrows himself, Peter Gallagher? Gallagher is very good at playing a guy that you don’t like, don’t trust, and have no sympathy for whatsoever, and I think that’s what the point of this character was to begin with. I do wish there was more development to this guy, other than just being a dude that listens to his penis more than his heart and why he’s boning his sister-in-law in the first place, but I guess it doesn’t matter when you have an actor like Gallagher than can make this character work, no matter what. Playing the sister-in-law he’s banging, Laura San Giacomo who is pretty dirty and juicy as the gal that seems to be very comfortable with her sexual-self and it’s a performance that kept me wondering if there was more to her than just a gal that likes to bang. Thankfully, there is and I think it’s something that Giacomo does very well. So at least both gals get development and one of the dudes does.

Guess that’s a victory?

Consensus: Perhaps not measuring up to the masterpieces Soderbergh would soon be making, Sex, Lies and Videotape shows a rather cool, insightful look at the lives of some sad individuals.

8 /10

“So uh, wanna get weird?”

Photos Courtesy of: The Film SpectrumCritical and Creative Arts PublicationFilm Freak Central

The Dark Tower (2017)

Yeah. I don’t know, either.

Jake (Tom Taylor) is a lot like any other young kid. He dreams a lot, has certain issues with growing up, and doesn’t quite understand the world around him, just yet. But unlike most other kids his age, he’s been having constant dreams of sinister, almost evil happenings in the near-future that may or may not be real. Of course, he seeks help for these dreams, but he also doesn’t know if he can trust anyone, making him probably the most paranoid 13-year-old in the world. But eventually, his dreams do come true, and for the worst, when Roland Deschain (Idris Elba), the last Gunslinger, is locked in an eternal battle with the Man in Black (Matthew McConaughey), who has been using children’s minds to make his evil forces even more powerful than ever. Now, it’s up to Jake and the Gunslinger to prevent the Man in Black from toppling the Dark Tower, the key that holds the universe together, creating an even more powerful battle of good and evil.

Good….

The Dark Tower feels like the end-product of at least five or six studio-executives duking it out in a last man standing match. No one really knows who’s going to win, or at the end of the day, what’s going to be accomplished, but they know they want to get their own little two cents in and see what happens with the end result. In other words, there’s so much going on in the Dark Tower, without any rhyme, reason, build-up, cohesion, or hell, explanation, that it is nothing more than a huge mess.

And one of the worst kinds, too.

Cause see, while there are unabashed messes like, I don’t know, say Suicide Squad that may be all crazy and over-the-place, they still find ways to entertain, in even the most warped ways imaginable. Dark Tower is the opposite of Suicide Squad in that sense, where it’s so mashed-together, rushed, and ill-conceived, that it’s downright boring. And for a movie that’s about 90-minutes long, that’s a problem. Sure, it helps that movies of this awful magnitude not be two-hour long opus that make you feel as if your day has totally been wasted, but it also helps even more when these movies, as quick as they may be, at least bring a little something to the interest-table.

And perhaps the only solid factor Dark Tower has going for it is Idris Elba who, in all honesty, seems bored. But because his material at least has a solid wink-and-a-nod to the audience, it works; everybody else here, seems like they’re way too serious and not really taking advantage of their pulpy surroundings. McConaughey, for instance, feels like he’s channeling his car commercials, but isn’t, in any way, shape, or form, having any bit of fun. Sure, it doesn’t help that more than half of his dialogue is dubbed in that awfully noticeable way, but it also doesn’t help that he seems to be putting in no effort whatsoever.

…versus evil.

Basically, these are two of the most charismatic actors we have working today and not even they can save this trainwreck.

And that’s exactly what the Dark Tower is: A trainwreck. People out there may try and stick up for it, saying that it’s fine enough and short as is, but that doesn’t matter, because the movie just doesn’t know what it’s doing in the slightest. If there were no prior reports about issues in the production process, it would be easy to forgive and understand the movie, but considering that there seemed to be so many problems, it’s not a shocker at all. Everything here feels odd and out-of-place, with certain strands of plot literally dangling in the air when all is said and done. Clearly, it’s meant to be explored more in the sequels, but do we really need one?

Probably not.

Wait. No. Absolutely not.

Consensus: Uneven, poorly-written, directed, shot, acted, and well, everything else, the Dark Tower is a major misfire for all parties involved and seems like a waste of solid source material, courtesy of one Stephen King.

2.5 / 10

But uh, yeah, who cares?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Wind River (2017)

Those poor white people. Right?

US Fish and Wildlife Service agent Cory Lambert (Jeremy Renner) is sent to the Wind River Indian Reservation, where he will hopefully be able to track, find, and kill a bunch of mountain lions who have been killing all of the livestock. While searching for them, he stumbles upon the body of a woman, who, from what it seems like, was raped, possibly murdered, and left to freeze in the below-zero snow. After catching wind of this, the FBI sends in rookie agent Jane Banner (Elizabeth Olsen), who seems like she’s not just unprepared for the harsh winter of Wyoming, but for this case in general. Because she doesn’t really know the area that well, how to navigate through it all, and/or whether what the rules are, she depends a lot on Cory, who is also now taking an extra interest in this case, for personal reasons. The two begin to stumble upon a rather dark and vicious secret lying within the mountains and makes them not just question their own humanity, but the United States’ history, altogether.

FBI? Really?

Wind River is the directorial debut of writer/director Taylor Sheridan who, both with Sicario and Hell or High Water, seems to have found his niche. He loves these tales of crime, violence, and darkness that start off slow and melodic, only to then burst into full-fledged blood, guts, bullets, octane, and guns. And it’s interesting because while Wind River feels a lot like those two other movies, something is oddly missing.

Still don’t know what it is, but you can feel it.

Either way, as a director Sheridan is fine; he captures the deadly cold of this winter-y landscape and shows it as a solid backdrop for even more viciousness and deadliness that we eventually start to see. He gets a bit out-of-hand with all of the visual symbolism and expository dialogue, but as a whole, he knows when to shut up, give us action, characters, and a plot that’s interesting to follow along with. And I know that sounds like film-making 101, but you’d be surprised how many movies screw things up for themselves, just by getting a little distracted by other stuff that doesn’t matter.

Wind River, as a whole, is a pretty straightforward tale of humans acting at their worst, but also at their best, and because of that Sheridan does a lot with very little. He’s able to draw us into this setting, understand its history, the characters, and why these characters matter. Renner’s Cory, while feeling like he may have initially been a Native American in the first few drafts, still works as a white guy because he has a certain connection this land, to these people, and to what they represent; it also helps that the movie does sort of call him out for trying to be a white savior, making it seem fine that he’s a white guy, trying to save the day. Sheridan’s writing isn’t very stylish, but he’s got a certain noir-aspect about him that works in making us know everything we need to know about these characters, without getting too carried away.

Eh. Doesn’t look so bad.

It’s constantly moving and that’s why Wind River works.

And as Cory, Renner is quite good; he’s his usual charming-self, although he doesn’t overplay that too much. He’s still a screwed-up guy who has had to deal with a lot in his life and doesn’t allow us to forget about it. His chemistry with Elizabeth Olsen is also pretty good, in that the movie never allows it to get too romanticized or cloying. They’re just both trying to figure out this case, who the baddies are, and do their jobs, like normal, everyday human beings who want to make the world a better place.

Olsen is also very good in this role, despite being very young and seeming in-over-her-head. But then again, that’s sort of the point, so it works out well; Gil Birmingham, who shined last year in Hell or High Water, has a nice few emotional scenes that work well; Graham Greene, as usual, is great, giving us a lot of comedy to go along with a lot of the seriousness; and Jon Bernthal, in a few scenes or so, does a great job, too. However, it’s his role and a few others that I have a problem going on further about because, well, the movie sort of surprises us with these characters randomly by the end.

But hey, just see it and you’ll know what I’m speaking of.

Consensus: Cold, dark and pretty brutal, Wind River may not measure up to Sheridan’s past two movies, but still fits in well with them, providing plenty of solid thrills, to go along with the chills.

7 / 10

Always depend on the whites to come in and save the day.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Glass Castle (2017)

Every family’s a little crazy. Obviously some, more than others.

Though Jeannette Walls (Brie Larson) grew up to be a smart, tough and powerful gal writing for a column, she had quite a rough upbringing. Her parents, for lack of a better word, were hippies in the sense that they didn’t care too much about certain materialistic things. You know, things like a house, or bills, or even school. This led Jeannette and her relatives to having to grow up by themselves and save up money, day in and day out, in hopes that they’ll one day make it out. And the father, Rex (Woody Harrelson), was probably the biggest problem of them all. Not only did he love himself a drink, but he was so controlling, he wouldn’t let anybody out. The mother, Rose Mary (Naomi Watts), was just always there, painting, and trying her hardest to ensure that her family stayed together. Honestly, it was a lost cause which is why, when Jeannette grows up, she doesn’t really want much to do with her parents. But the older she gets, the more she realizes that no matter how hard she tries, her parents and her family’s legacy is something that she can never, ever avoid.

Daddy’s little girl. So long as daddy ain’t drinkin’.

The Glass Castle is an odd movie that felt like it should be a whole hell of a lot darker, meaner and more disturbing, than it actually plays out. It’s literally a story about a drunken-deadbeat of a father who forced his family to stay in poverty, not really depend on anything but him, and as a result, sort of scar them for life. And that story, as is told, kind of works; the Glass Castle has an honest way about telling its story where we get the sense that no matter how many years go by, the scars will still always be there.

But that’s only one aspect of the story. The other aspect is this notion that the movie also wants to praise the drunken-deadbeat father for being charming, thinking for himself, and always being able to provide an argument in a justified manner. It’s almost as if we’re supposed to hate him for all of the awful, almost unforgivable actions that he commits throughout the two hours, but also love him for these faults, too. Once again, it’s odd and it never quite works together, and it’s all the more disappointing considering that this is coming from director Destin Daniel Cretton who, a few years ago, shook the airwaves a few years ago with Short Term 12.

Which also starred Brie Larson who, for some reason, feels wasted here, as does everyone else.

She turned out all right. Right?

The only person in the cast who gets to do the most is Woody Harrelson and oddly enough, even he feels like a problem for the movie. Though it’s not entirely his fault – the writing’s too confusing – it still shows us that no matter how hard he tries, even Woody Harrelson’s charm can’t save a character who is, at the end of the day, an asshole. We get constant flashbacks of him being something of a nice father, who tells his kids to inspire more, but we soon find out that he only says that because he can’t support them in any other way. We also get constant flashbacks of him connecting with Jeannette and we get the sense that they truly did have a loving relationship growing up, and constantly depending on one another, but then we also find out that the father didn’t want her to leave the nest and sabotaged her career, at one point.

It’s really weird, honestly. And it feels like the movie never quite makes up what it wants to be about, or hell, what it even wants to say, about us, about this family, and about family as a whole, in general. The story itself is compelling and, on occasion, we’ll get some small glimmers of material that could have been further explored, in a much darker, much more adult-oriented movie, but the Glass Castle also feels like it’s playing very much for the made-for-TV crowd. It looks and has better acting than one of them, but it’s just as messy and uneven, making it a missed opportunity on all fronts.

Go back to indies, Destin. Please.

Consensus: While the original source-material leaves plenty of room for promise, the adaptation of the Glass Castle is a confused, mish-mash of melodrama, sap, and mixed messages about family, alcoholism, and coming-of-age.

4.5 / 10

“Who needs gas? Or electric? Or water? Or school? Or hell, anything else! We got family!”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Look of Love (2013)

The Look of Love (2013)

At one point in his life, Paul Raymond (Steve Coogan) seemingly had it all. He was a Soho adult magazine publisher and entrepreneur that seemed to have all of the money, all of the drugs, all of the women, and all of the fancy people around him to help him out. However, it wasn’t always like that. In fact, before he got on top, Raymond started with just a few adult burlesque houses, where nudity and sexual innuendo was a constant cause for controversy. Eventually, it all came to work out for him, because not only did people want to see naked women, they also wanted to be in the company of them, as well as Raymond, who was, in all honesty, a charming chap. And while he was closer and closer to becoming one of Britain’s wealthiest men, he had some issues to deal with, mostly those in his personal life with wife Jean (Anna Friel), who he can’t seem to stay faithful to, or his daughter Debbie (Imogen Poots), who seems to be taking all of the drinking, sex, and drugs a little bit to hard and may prove to be her ultimate undoing.

Life is good when you have Anna Friel on your arm.

The Look of Love is one of those glossy, glammy, and glitzy biopics about rich people having all of the fun in the world. It doesn’t really try to inform or educate us, nor does it ever really set out to change the nature of biopics as we know it; it has a subject, it has a story, and it has a sort of hook. That’s all we need.

But for some reason, coming from director Michael Winterbottom, something seems to still be missing. See, it isn’t that the Look of Love can’t be entertaining when its living it up with all of the excess of drugs, sex, booze, and partying, because it does, it’s just that when that is all said and done, it doesn’t have much else to offer. A good portion of this can have to do with the material just not working and Winterbottom’s rather lax-direction, but it may all just come down to the fact that Paul Raymond himself just isn’t all that interesting of a fella to have a whole movie about.

Or at the very least, a movie in which he is shown as a flawed, but mostly lovable human being.

And it’s odd, too, because Raymond definitely gets the whole treatment; everything from his success as a businessman, to his failure as a family man is clearly shown and explored. But for some reason, it still feels like the movie is struggling with what to do, or say about this man. Sure, he brought himself up from nothing, to become more than just someone, or something, but is that about it? What did he do to get to that? Who was he with? What was the rest of the world like? Any sort of conflict?

And above all else, why do we care?

Truth is, we sort of don’t.

It’s even better when you’ve got a fine ‘stache.

That isn’t to say that Winterbottom and Coogan especially, don’t seem to try here, because they do. As Raymond, Coogan gets a chance to be light, funny, and a little dirty, which is something the man has always excelled in. But when it does come to the movie showing us more to Raymond behind the lovable and wacky facade, the movie stumbles a bit and Coogan’s performance can’t really save things in that department, either. We see that he loves his daughter and is fair to his ex-wives and lovers, but does that really give us a total reason to have a whole hour-and-a-half-long movie about his life and successes?

Once again, not really. It helps that Anna Friel and Imogen Poots are good in supporting-roles, but even they feel a bit underwritten. Friel’s ex-wife character is gone for such a long stretch of time that we almost forget about her, until she shows back up, gets naked, gets drunk, and has some fun, and Poots’ daughter character, while initially promising at first, turns into a convention that biopics like these love to utilize. Granted, she was a real person and the movie isn’t taking any narrative short-cuts in this respect, but still, it just doesn’t wholly feel right.

Was there more to her? Or her mother? Or even Raymond? Once again, we may never know.

Consensus: At the very least, the Look of Love is an entertaining, if also by-the-books biopic of a man we probably didn’t really need a whole movie dedicated to in the first place.

5 / 10

And when you’ve got plenty to drink and snort. But that’s obvious by now.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Road To Guantanamo (2006)

War crimes, eh?

Right after 9/11, the whole world was pretty much all shaken up and paranoid. Meaning, anyone who was either Muslim, or looked to be Muslim, were watched, attacked, and in some cases, arrested, interrogated, and tortured, all for the sake of tolerance and peace. Or so they say. And around this time, there was a case in which several British Muslim friends go to Pakistan to attend a wedding. For some odd reason, despite the political climate, they decide to go off and visit Afghanistan, but they find Kandahar under attack and flee to Kabul. Seeing as how their trip has turned to absolute crap, given what’s going on, they try to return to Pakistan but mistakenly end up in a Taliban stronghold. Following their capture, they are sent to a U.S. military base in Cuba, where they endure all sorts of mental and physical pain, anguish, and hurt, all by the hands of soldiers who are red-hot and ready to find terrorist, no matter where they may be. Hell, in some cases, they don’t even care if they’re terrorists or not – they just need someone to interrogate and find more information about. And it all took place in a little place called Guantanamo.

Anyone who shops at the GAP clearly must be a terrorist.

Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Docudramas are really hard to pull-off in a totally and completely satisfying way. Mostly, that has to do with recreations themselves, while maybe meaningful and pertinent to explaining some stories for the camera and the audience at-home, can also feel a little hokey. Sometimes, just hearing a person explain a situation is more than enough, rather than having the actions played-out to us in over-dramatic, possibly theatrical ways, with actors who don’t really seem to fully grasp what they’re doing.

Basically, it reminds people too much of TV documentaries and honestly, some of those can kind of be lame.

But the Road to Guantanamo uses these dramatizations in a manner that doesn’t just aid the story, but makes it feel a lot more like a movie. The movie itself is probably an-hour-and-a-half long, but it zips through everything so damn quickly that, honestly, it feels like an hour less than that. Director Michael Winterbottom has taken on many different faces and beings throughout his career and it’s surprising to see him handle everything here so well, what with the interviews, the dramatizations, and political-messages all coming together in one, seamless package.

Don’t know what scare-tactic is, but yeah, probably not working.

If anything, it’s impressive how well it all comes together, without it ever feeling like the message was lost, in between all of the action and disturbing, sometimes graphic details. Cause at the center of this all, is really a story, or a few, in that sense, about Guantanamo itself and just how far exactly the United States went to ensure that they found terrorists, regardless of if the prisoners were even terrorists in the first place. And being nearly 16 years since the start of the Iraq War, it’s common knowledge that, yes, Guantanamo was an awful place and even worse, did way more harm than good.

If anything, it helped create more terrorists, than actually stop, or find them. It helped usher in an even more negative persona for the United States and the Army, than either already had before. Did it help us get a few people? Quite possibly. The facts still remain to be seen, even until this very day, but what Road to Guantanamo helps us understand a whole lot more, is that in this huge dungeon of doom, there were still human lives at stake here. Most were being destroyed and it’s honestly a tragedy that no one, not even till this very day, has been held accountable for it.

Sure, the movie does leave a lot of questions up to the viewer about why these men were even in Afghanistan in the first place, but really, those sorts of questions aren’t all that pertinent. The fact remains that a little part of each and everyone of them died once they were taken in and tortured and who’s to blame for that? Us, or them?

Honestly, the answer is pretty damn easy.

Consensus: As compelling as it is thoughtful, the Road to Guantanamo is lightning-fast docudrama on a few individuals stories, that not only highlight their own personal journeys through hell, but just what it is that Guantanamo itself stood for then, and until this very day.

8 / 10

See what I mean?

Photos Courtesy of: The New York Times, Bidoun, Ceasefire Magazine

Daddy Longlegs (2009)

Safdie

Lenny (Ronald Bernstein) is really trying to make it work. After his divorce, he was given custody of his children with his ex, but for some reason, he can’t even seem to make that work. He constantly yells, gets frustrated easily, and doesn’t really know how to maintain his time to ensure that he has enough of it for work, for his kids, and for the rest of his personal life, and whatever the hell else that entails. Issue is that it’s all starting to catch up with him now and for some reason, a mental-health disease is back in full-form and keeping him away from being able to grasp with all of these responsibilities even more than before. What’s he to do? Give it his best shot and see what happens? Ask for other people’s help and see if they don’t mind? Or, simply put, just give up on it all and abandon anything that he has left in life.

See? He’s a nice guy!

Daddy Longlegs, like all of the Safdie Brother’s flicks, seems a lot like a Cassavetes clone. Or, I guess in this case, the right term is “wannabe”. See, it’s not that they don’t nail the style, the mood, or even the look of that legend’s films, because they definitely do, and then some. It’s more that they don’t really nail much else, like compelling characters, or even an interesting story worth sitting by and sticking around for, regardless of time, or subject-matter.

And sure, you could even make the argument that a lot of Cassavetes films were like that, where we didn’t really want to sit and spend time with a lot of these awful people, but there was still something about them that made us want to stay glued to our seats and screens. Most of that had to do with in the way of the performers and in Ronald Bernstein, the Safdies are lucky. Bernstein has a ticking time-bomb look to him where we’re never too sure just when, where, or how this guy is going to crack, but we just know that he is, so standing by, watching, and waiting for it all to happen, is a bit of ride in and of itself. The character is thin and a bit conventional, honestly, but Bernstein makes this guy seem a little bit more crazy than we’re used to seeing with this kind of character and makes him watchable.

The rest of Daddy Longlegs is watchable, too, but once again, the Safdies feel like they are getting at something, but only scratching the surface.

Uh oh. Nut’s about to crack.

Cause while the movie wants to sort of sit there and poke fun at Lenny’s crazy actions and his seemingly dysfunctional life, it also wants to focus on how nice of a guy he is, who takes time out of his day to take care of his kids and ensure that they grow up fine. Or, at least that’s what I think. See, this aspect of Daddy Longlegs is a bit confusing and makes the movie a tad bit uneven; it wants to be a dark, somewhat twisted comedy, but also show us a softer side to this nut-ball, too. It never quite chooses which way it wants to go down and because of that, it gets to be a bit frustrating to watch.

It helps that the movie can look a lot like a documentary and that it feels authentic, but they never quite nail down a compelling story to sit by. Cassavetes always seemed to be making things up on the fly, so it didn’t always matter what his story was about, or what the central-conflict would even turn out to be – all that mattered was characters and the relationships they had with themselves and the world around them. The Safdies seem to itch close to achieving the same goals that that wizard did, but unfortunately, come up very, very short.

Thank heavens for Bernstein, though. Guy saves the day.

Consensus: The Safdies are clearly going for a Cassavetes vibe here with Daddy Longlegs, and while they somewhat succeed on a technical level, they don’t have solid writing to back any of it up. Instead, it’s left to Bernstein to sort of save the day, which he does.

5.5 / 10

That’s how all dads treat their children. Correction, only the “best” ones do.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Lenny Cooke (2013)

Don’t put all your hoops into one basket.

Lenny Cooke, at one point in the early-aughts, was considered one of the best, most-sought high school basketball players. He was fast, smart, and incredibly athletic. But the one thing that brought him back was the fact that he didn’t really care much about school. Like, at all. And considering that he grew up in poverty, he didn’t believe that having an education would really amount to much, other than just more annoyances in his daily life. So, rather than spending a year or two at a nice college, getting some form of education, and then heading for the NBA, where he would most likely be a top choice, Cooke decides to just skip college altogether and go straight for the NBA where, he hopes, to be the #1 pick of the NBA. Involved with the same draft were players of names like Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade, among many others, meaning that while it didn’t look totally terrible for Lenny, it also didn’t look too bright, either. Fast-forward nearly a decade later and yeah, Lenny’s life is a lot different than he could have ever imagined.

Who’s that chump?

Lenny Cooke is probably one of the best sports documentaries ever made, but only because it doesn’t forget that in sports, just like in everyday life, there is above all else, failure. Most sports documentaries that we see talked about and constantly praised, have to do with the underdogs facing all the odds and winning the grand prize – or if not the grand-prize, at least something close to it. But in Lenny Cooke, the documentary, it’s less about achieving that grand-prize, or even working towards it, and more about just watching a person do whatever he can to avoid it, for no real reason other than, well, life.

And in that sense, Lenny Cooke can be a little frustrating.

Both the person, as well as the documentary. Then again, however, I feel as if that may be the point. After all, Lenny isn’t an easy guy to totally pin-point; he’s young, a little brash, and so incredibly talented, he almost doesn’t know what to do with himself. It’s actually hard to sit there and watch as he possibly squanders his future away, due to decisions that he’s just not fully equipped to make just yet. It almost makes you want to shake his head and tell him what to do, but it also has us grow a lot closer to him, as an athlete and as a person who could have possibly been one of the best.

But why didn’t Lenny become one of the best? There’s a lot of ideas and questions brought up about this, but really, there’s no clear answer. There’s a few – like how Lenny’s friends may have influenced his final decision – but not a whole lot to really nail down and have as the final say. In this sense, once again, the documentary can be a tad bit frustrating, while also making exact sense as to why it is frustrating.

So interested.

Cause, after all, in life, there are no clear answers, or solutions. Just moments and certain choices that eventually lead to something happening. And such is the tragedy about life.

And a lot of the credit here deserves to go to the Safdie brothers and producer Adam Shopkorn, who gets a huge deal of footage from the early-aughts, when Lenny was the next best thing in basketball. This footage, while remain gritty and in-your-face, also puts us right there with Lenny, watching his life flash before his eyes, allowing us to see his skill, and just exactly who he was off of the court. The movie never tries to paint him as a hero, a saint, or even a terrible kid – mostly, they show that he’s a kid. Insecure and way-in-over-his-head, like all of us when we’re 18 or younger and, essentially, have the world at the base of fingers.

Which is why when the movie does abruptly shift into a final-act where we see Lenny, in present-day, it’s downright shocking. Not only is he bigger, but the life he lives, is pretty depressing. It’s hard to really say why this is, if you haven’t seen it, but what the Safdie’s are able to capture and get in this final-act, without ever passing judgement whatsoever, is a down-and-out tragedy. It shows you that time can pass you by and even the smallest, teeniest, tiniest decision, can affect the rest of your life for good. It doesn’t matter if you’re great at basketball or not, life is unfair and sometimes, it can bite you right back.

You know, general happy feelings that arise with sports.

Consensus: Smart, affecting, and absolutely tragic, Lenny Cooke is one of the rare sports documentaries that views its failure with an unblinking view and never shying away from getting even deeper.

9 / 10

Ugh. Time flies. Savor it, people.

Photos Courtesy of: CBS Local Sports, IndieWire, Worldstarhiphop

Chuck (2017)

Rocky who? Oh yeah, that guy.

Chuck Wepner (Liev Schrieber), for quite some time, had the life that any person would have wanted to live. He was an accomplished boxer, kicked a lot of people’s assess, had a wonderful wife (Elizabeth Moss), good kids, loyal friends and family, respect, a cool nickname (“the Bayonne Bleeder”), and oh yeah, went 15 rounds with Muhammad Ali. In fact, he was so well-known that, believe it or not, Sylvester Stallone actually used his life and career as the inspiration for Rocky – a fact that, for a very long time, Chuck would continue to let everyone know about, regardless of if they asked or not. But after awhile, Chuck began to get too big of britches and, to go along with his insane drug-habit, he couldn’t stop screwing around with all the wrong people, other women included. Eventually, he loses his job, his wife, his legacy, and oh yeah, his family. So where does he go from there?

No really, where does he go from there?

Uh oh. Chucky go some ‘asplainin’ to do!

See, Chuck was advertised heavily as “the story of the guy who inspired the story of Rocky“, as if any of that really matters. It’s like when John Carter came out and the advertisements were all saying, “the story that inspired Star Wars and Avatar“, once again, as if any of that matters. Because even though the story may have inspired another one, that doesn’t take away from the fact that the adaptation of said story, isn’t conventional, or formulaic.

After all, we didn’t get Chuck before Rocky. The other way around, in fact. So because of that, Chuck comes off a bit like a run-of-the-mill, stationary biopic that hits all of the same beats and rhythymns that Rocky hit, but also feels a little overdone. Because instead of feeling like a movie, of its time, like Rocky did, Chuck goes the extra mile to put us in the place of the 70’s, where coke was everywhere, disco was constantly playing, and people dressed-up so super fly.

Does it kind of work?

Yeah.

It’s hard to have an issue with a movie that makes the energy and glitz of the 70’s so fun and infectious; if anything, it’s nice that they were able to get it all down so perfectly, without feeling like they were trying way too hard to recreate a period of time that they obviously didn’t have the budget for. Director Philippe Falardeau, while no doubt a very serious French director, also seems to be enjoying himself here, not allowing for the material to get too dark or serious, but just to the point where it matters. But for the most part, he’s having a good time and relishing in the period-setting and the details that all went along with it.

Does that help take away from the fact that Chuck is a little conventional and, well, as a result, slight? Not really. But it makes what could have been a very boring movie, turn out a lot more fun and entertaining. It’s still a formulaic boxing movie, about an underdog who had his shot at the big time, accomplished it, and then lost it all due to awful life decisions, but it’s an entertaining one, at that. So yeah, it helps.

All about the hair.

And yeah, it also helps that the ensemble is quite good here and clearly able to keep up with the times.

Liev Schreiber is perfect casting as Wepner, because he not just looks the role, but feels it. There’s something lovable about him, but also makes you realize that he’s a bit of flawed asshole who you can’t always trust, especially not with your wallet or wife, but can always still love, when the end of the day comes around. And that’s what matters for a story like this, about a guy like this, who definitely didn’t make perfect decisions, but was a good time to be around. He had his moment in the spotlight, made it last, and did what he could to keep the party going? Granted, he forgot about his wife, kids, bank-account, and plenty other responsibilities, but hey, who am I to judge?

Either way, Schreiber’s great in the role that he was, essentially, born to play. Everyone else is good from Elizabeth Moss as his annoyed, but strong wife, to Jim Gaffigan in a pretty silly role. But everyone’s good here; even the bit role with Naomi Watts, while feeling a little self-serving, still works because, believe it or not, her and Schreiber do have good chemistry.

See, not every couple has to have their own Gigli.

Maybe that’s why they’re broken-up now. Ugh. True love doesn’t last, people. So love the one you’re with and try to make it last.

That’s the moral of Chuck, right?

Consensus: Formulaic and run-of-the-mill, Chuck is a boxing-drama that doesn’t really break any new ground, but is fun, light, and well-acted enough to get by the conventions that usually keep movies down like this.

6.5 / 10

“Guys. Who’s Sly?”

Photos Courtesy of: IFC Films

Fun Mom Dinner (2017)

Moms rule. Dads drool. Right?

Emily (Katie Aselton) is in, essentially, a loveless marriage and needs to have some fun in her life. Her best friend, Kate (Toni Collette), feels the same way and the two decide that it’s finally time to get involved with one of these “fun mom dinners” that they hear so much about. Okay, actually, that’s not how it actually goes down. Emily gets an invite from the two moms holding the dinner, Melanie (Bridget Everett) and Jamie (Molly Shannon), who as a result, also invites Kate who doesn’t actually like either Melanie or Jamie. Why? Simple mom stuff, honestly. And it’s why the dinner starts off a little weird and awkward, until the booze starts flyin’ and the weed starts gettin’ smoked and then, all of a sudden, everyone’s having a good time. And then, Emily starts talking to a cute bartender (Adam Levine), and heads off with him, putting the whole night into one, crazy funk where everyone’s scrambling all over the place, looking for her, while also connecting with one another and realizing that their moms and nights such as this need to happen more often.

This is the part where they sing “99 Luftballoons”. In German. H-I-L-A-R-I-T-Y.

Or yeah, I think that’s what it is.

Actually, for a movie that’s about 80 minutes along, it really pads itself with jokes, random bits of humor, and a plot that’s already thin to begin with. But honestly, that’s the least of Fun Mom Dinner‘s problems, because simply put: It’s just not funny. It tries so hard to be a cross between Bridesmaids and Bad Moms, but isn’t nearly as interesting, deep, or even funny as the two.

In other words, it’s just a bit of a bore, which is a shame because it’s a movie, written and directed by women, starring women, and about women being, well, women. It’s supposed to be a fun time at the movies, regardless of your sex, but for some reason, it just feels like a missed-opportunity for a lot of people who got together, spent some time working on this thing, giving it their all, and eventually, coming up short. It’s didn’t have to be this way, but sadly, it is.

But really, Fun Mom Dinner just doesn’t ring all that true.

These women, while all good in their own little performances, don’t feel believable as pals. Sure, they’re all connected by the fact that their kids all go to the same school, so maybe that’s the point, but still, when they do start to become closer and more acquainted with one another, it just doesn’t connect. It feels like a group of fun-loving gals who wouldn’t actually be fun friends together in real life, and can’t even act like it once they’re paid to do so.

And the part where they reference “Sixteen Candles”. Which they do a thousand times.

Once again, though, that isn’t to take away from any of the respective performances, because they’re all fine on their own. It’s nice to see the always lovely and joyful Katie Aselton get a leading-role, even if her character is chock-full of cliches; Molly Shannon feels wasted, especially after last year’s Other People; Bridget Everett is basically given the loud, obnoxious role that Melissa McCarthy’s usually stuck with, and while she’s still amusing, she feels like a crutch the movie constantly falls back on when it wants to be wacky and silly, for no apparent reason; and Toni Collette, for some reason, just feels bland here, which is weird, because at one point, she was considered one of the most interesting actresses working.

Unfortunately, not anymore.

Now, she’s playing second-fiddle in a movie that doesn’t really know what to do with much of these ladies, other than have them yell and act-out in crazy ways, yet, not really giving anything else behind it. It would all help if the movie was funny, but it’s not and because of that, it’s hard to really recommend the hell out of Fun Mom Dinner. It tries to be the next Bad Moms, but with that movie’s sequel coming out later this year, do we really need a copycat, or should we just wait for a, hopefully, superior second installment?

Probably wait it out. Or see this, too. I did that and it doesn’t really matter.

Consensus: Constantly straining itself to be funny and somewhat insightful, Fun Mom Dinner also feels weak and poorly put-together, despite the insane talent both in front of and behind the camera.

4.5 / 10

And yeah, where they just talk about their lives and stuff. UGH.

Photos Courtesy of: Momentum Pictures

Detroit (2017)

Honestly, has much changed? NOPE.

It’s the summer of 1967 and in Detroit, there’s all sorts of tension boiling up, to go along with the non-stop heat, rioting and civil unrest. It’s starting to tear apart the seat which has every person, white or black, on the edge of their toes, not knowing what to do next, or just how to get out of this awful situation alive. The cops are constantly having to fight huge crowds and yes, the huge crowds themselves, who are predominately black, are tired of being discriminated against and they’re not going to take it anymore. But while this is all happening, somewhere outside of where all the action’s taking lace, there’s a report of gunshots that the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Army National Guard decide to investigate. Eventually, they are drawn to the Algiers Motel, where they search the whole joint, looking for guns, or any sorts of weapons of any kind. Seemingly coming up empty and pissed-off, several policemen start to torture and interrogate the many suspects they have in their possession. In other words, it’s not a nice situation to be in and guess what? It’s not going to get any better.

Uniforms don’t count.

Detroit‘s marketing has smartly been revolving around the fact that it’s about the Detroit Race Riots, all of the shots, explosions, fights, brawls, and havoc that we expect with these kinds of movies. After all, it’s a movie from Kathryn Bigelow who, especially as of late, is known for her super big, bright, loud, and ambitious projects, and hell, it’s even titled “Detroit”, as if it was going to be all about the riot and not much else. And yes, even for awhile, it seems like that; we get to see the beginning of the riots, acquainted with a few characters, and even get a sense of when and where everything is happening. It’s all scattershot and a little meandering, but of course, that’s the point.

Because really, Detroit is about this one horrific moment in the middle of all other horrific moments that, needless to say, would tell us everything about what got people so pissed-off in the first place.

And hell, why they’re still so pissed-off now.

But like I said, once Bigelow gets to this infamous moment, all 55 minutes of it, the movie grabs ahold and does not let go for a single second. It’s brutal, it’s disturbing, it’s uncomfortable, it’s mean, and yeah, it’s all too real to look away from; it’s the kind of unrelenting and gritty sequence we’d get in something like a Michael Haneke film, where it’s so hard-to-watch, we can’t look away. And in Detroit‘s case, that’s a positive – it helps put us right there, with everyone, feeling the same paranoia and anguish that was felt for all parties involved, most importantly, the victims.

It’s also where Bigelow’s directing really works best, as it tells us everything we need to know, but without really hitting us over-the-head. Mark Boal’s screenplay helps us in that regard, too, because he understands that while most people know about race-relations and police-corruption within the United States, he also gets the sense that stories such as this need to be re-told. In a day and age where anyone, literally anyone, can get pulled over by a cop and wind-up dead, for no real reason at all, then yes, movies like Detroit matter and deserve to be made, seen, and spread across all countries, not just America.

Way too many similar images out there.

But by the same token, the movie does run into its fair share of problems.

For instance, when the sequence is over, the movie really doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Of course, it turns into a courtroom drama, where all the surviving parties duke it out in a supposedly fair trial, but honestly, by that point, we’re already so winded, it’s hard to really keep up with everything. We, the viewers, just went through a near-hour of hell and now, we’re expected to sit around and chill out, watching as more injustices get committed and more corruption gets swept under the rug? It’s a lot to ask for and really, it depends on how you’re feeling.

Me, I was fine with it, but for different reasons. By this point, it’s less about the injustices, and more about the physical and mental scares left on these many individuals who were victimized in this one situation. No matter what happens, no matter where they go, no matter what they do, they will always remember this situation, how it turned out so damn awful, and how it never even needed to get to that point, but did, because of racism.

Plain and simple.

And that, to me, is the hardest pill to swallow here and why, despite its faults, Detroit is a compelling watch. It doesn’t get everything right – even some of the performances from a relatively solid ensemble can be a little weak and hammy – but at the end of the day, it’s about a grave injustice that should have never happened in the first place and should have immediately been stopped. Come to think of it, they still could and yet, for some odd reason, they aren’t.

Why, people? Why!

Consensus: Even with the structure-problems, Detroit still works as a hard-hitting and absolutely disturbing take on race-relations, power, corruption, and violence in America that, despite being set 50 years ago, is still awfully relevant today. Go figure.

8 / 10

Seriously. Is this from the movie, or like, two weeks ago? What’s going on!?!?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Weight of Water (2000)

Yeah, or something.

Newspaper photographer Jean Janes (Catherine McCormack) travels to the Isles of Shoals off the New Hampshire coast with her husband Thomas (Sean Penn), an award-winning poet, his brother Rich (Josh Lucas), and Rich’s girlfriend Adaline (Elizabeth Hurley). The reason for this little excursion, other than just some nice time to pass-by between friends and family? Well, she’s actually researching the murders of two immigrant women in the same area that occurred around 1873, and were done by Maren Hontvedt (Sarah Polley). And through flashbacks, we find out more about that story, as well as the story with Jean, on the boat, and how she’s trying to come to terms with her husband and his possibly philandering ways. After all, they haven’t been connecting as of late and it seems like Adaline is bringing out the worst in Thomas and making it seem like he doesn’t need her around anymore. Meanwhile, Maren has her own problems to deal with, which is why she eventually snaps and decides to go off and kill.

Yeah, I’d get on that boat.

The Weight of the Water is a beautiful-looking movie that clearly put all of its time, effort and money into its style. And yes, it pays off. It’s not easy to make a movie about two centuries, taking place in two different locations, and somehow make it all look seamlessly pretty and well put-together, but at the same time, different. Everything that takes place on the boat is light, sunny, and bright, whereas everything that takes place in 1873 is cold, dark, damp, and pretty depressing, both in terms of story, as well as the look. And once again, yeah, that all works.

It’s just a shame that nothing else does.

Because while the Weight of the Water gets by on the look and feel, it can’t quite do the same with its story and the structure. In other words, it just doesn’t work; playing around with two different subplots, with two different time-zones, is a hard trick to pull-off and if neither story is interesting, then it absolutely won’t work. And that’s basically what happens here – it would have helped had one story been, at the very least, compelling to watch, but neither of them.

If anything, they just feel long, overdone, and muddled, almost to the point of where you wonder if director Kathryn Bigelow knew she didn’t have a story to work with, or just didn’t care and decided that it was time to make a movie. After all, this was her first movie after Strange Days and while she may have still been in movie-jail for that movie’s undeserved bombing, she found a chance to make another movie, regardless of whether or not it was already troubled to begin with.

The same face everyone in the 19th Century had. Apparently.

Either way, it’s easily Bigelow’s worst movie and it’s a shame, because not only are her talents wasted, but so are those of the casts.

Or, most importantly, Sean Penn. For some reason, Penn seems bored here. It’s not as if we haven’t seen him like this before, but it’s odd watching him in this role, where his character is supposed to be flawed and conflicted, yet, at the same time, not really giving off any sort of emotions, or feelings to that. It all feels like a lot of it was edited together to make it all work, because Penn, clearly doesn’t seem invested.

And honestly, I don’t blame him. Josh Lucas and Catherine McCormack try, but they too, are dealt the crappy-hand of having crummy characters with zero development. Elizabeth Hurley actually fares better off because she’s playing a sexy and mysterious seductress who may, or may not, have sinister intentions beneath it all – it’s what Hurley’s done all throughout her career, but it’s always worked for her and it’s crazy to say this, but yeah, her performance is the stand-out. Sarah Polley is good in a relatively silent role, but it also feels like her story deserved its own movie, where she didn’t need to get taken down by whatever was going on on the boat.

Cause really, who the hell cares about rich, fancy people and their boats?

Consensus: No doubt a beautifully polished movie, the Weight of the Water is also a poorly-written mix-and-mash that never fully comes together and only wastes the talents of the cast, as well as Bigelow. Oh well, it seems like they all bounced back.

3 / 10

Good thing everybody got the sunglasses memo!

Photos Courtesy of: Dreamland Cafe