Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: October 2017

The Little Hours (2017)

Let loose of Christianity. And your pants.

It’s the Middle-Ages and, as expected, basically everything, everywhere, is run by religion. And in these times, nuns Alessandra (Alison Brie), Fernanda (Aubrey Plaza), and Ginevra (Kate Micucci) lead a simple, albeit sex-free life in their convent. Their days are spent chafing at monastic routine, spying on one another, and berating the estate’s day laborer, who Fernanda, being the paranoid that she is, constantly thinks of him as being as a Jew. After a particularly vicious insult session drives the peasant away, Father Tommasso (John C. Reilly), who’s harboring some dark and dirty secret of his own, brings on newly hired hand named Massetto (Dave Franco), a young servant forced into hiding by his angry lord (Nick Offerman), who caught him sleeping with his wife and is currently hunting him down. So, in order to stay safe and sound, and away from his lord, Massetto must stay deaf and dumb, and act as if he has no interest in any sort of proclivities. Even though, he, like everyone else at this convent, does and it eventually comes to front-fold when they all get a nice look at Massetto.

“ARE YOU JAMES?!?!?”

The Little Hours is basically a one-joke movie, in which it’s the Middle-Ages and everyone speaks in a modern-day tone and dialogue, filled with curses, witticisms, sayings, and a lot of dead-pan. And as is the case with most one-joke movies, they can tend to get a little old and repetitive; see, it’s not what the joke is about, as much as it’s what you’re able to do with it, how you’re able to spin it, and make telling it, still seem somewhat fun and fresh. It’s what the Little Hours is able to do for awhile, until it doesn’t.

But man, what a cast.

Seriously.

Writer/director Jeff Baena hasn’t been in the game for too long, but has already somehow been able to get a bunch of famous faces in his various movies, and the Little Hours is no exception. In fact, one of the main reasons why the movie works as well as it does, is because of how dedicated and willing this ensemble is to make this material work and funny. Everyone here is dead-pan and while there are some people that seem to be funnier than others, everyone is in on the joke and it works.

Just a man and his ass. Don’t ask questions.

No one person in particular is funnier than the other, but one who stands-out, in my eyes, is Dave Franco, especially since what a lot of he has to do is physical and simply using his body, rather than saying everything. Franco’s always been funny and a blast to watch on-screen, but here, we see his talent tested to where, instead of saying everything, he has to act it all out, through body-language. It’s a gimmick-role, sort of, but it’s one that’s impressive because Franco seems to excel at this kind of stuff, even when he isn’t talking.

And yeah, everybody else is pretty great, too, but does any of that need to be said?

What Baena does do well, except offer some funny bits and pieces of comedy, is that he does offer-up an interesting look at religion and sex, through the clearly comedic-eyes. Baena doesn’t seem to be making a comment on Christianity, as a whole, and it’s positive, as well as negative effects, on those who support and follow it, but he does seem to be showing that sometimes, age-old stipulations and rules, that take away certain freedoms, are wrong and should be broken. Sure, it’s told to us in such a silly and raunchy manner, but it’s effective and shows that Baena has more on his mind than just a bunch of funny people cursing, getting naked, and having sex.

Although, there’s nothing wrong with that, either.

Consensus: Essentially a one-joke premise, the Little Hours grows to wear thin, but with a smart, funny cast who are all absolutely game, it gets on passable humor.

6 / 10

Let’s just pretend these three aren’t celebrities trying to be normal, everyday nuns.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Advertisements

Ingrid Goes West (2017)

Every generation needs their own Rupert Pupkin.

Ingrid Thorburn (Aubrey Plaza) is a mentally unstable girl who, after a recent stint in a clinic, finally gets out into the real world, only to then fall back into the same spell of obsession that she did before. This time, the object of her affection is social-media influencer Taylor Sloane (Elizabeth Olsen). Her Instagram account is highly-followed, full of bright, shiny pictures, and full of all sorts of daily inspiration that Ingrid seems to need and want. To make it even better, Taylor responds to one of Ingrid’s comments, giving her the idea that it’s time to head out to L.A. and find out if Taylor will be her friend. And with an inheritance of over $600,000, she’s willing to make that dream a reality. The only issue is that Ingrid will have to make something of a persona up, to where she will be seen and accepted by Taylor as a friend, possibly even best-friend – a title that Ingrid has wanted from someone over the course of her life, not just one person in particular.

Who hasn’t done this? It’s so sweet…..I think.

Ingrid Goes West is an interesting movie because it doesn’t necessarily seem to be commenting on social-media, as a whole. It would have been easy for it to fall down the same rabbit-hole of many other countless shows and movies, where the idea of social-media is a harmful, awful place where nothing in this world is private and everyone’s soul can be seen with just a click of a button or two. Is that such an evil thing? Maybe. But what Ingrid Goes West shows us is that it’s honestly how one uses social-media, is what makes it such an evil and despicable platform in the first place.

That said, as goofy and as crazy Ingrid Goes West gets, it still feels firmly placed in reality, where these archetypal characters all feel real, honest, and humane, even if they are awful pieces of crap. Take, for instance, Taylor Sloane herself – she’s the typical valley girl who has a solid Instagram account, with pictures of the sun, pretty trees, houses, her brunch, oh and of course, Joan Diddion books. She seems harmless and actually, pretty nice, but what the movie shows us is that there’s more to her than usual, in both good ways and bad. She’s the kind of woman who seems sincere on the surface, but beneath the surface, she’s just as arrogant and as insecure as all of her followers may be, and therefore, in a way, isn’t she manipulating these kinds of feelings for her own betterment?

Ingrid Goes West asks this question, as well as many others, but it works so well is because it all feels so honest and real.

Not once does co-writer/director Matt Spicer seem like he’s not with the times, or doesn’t know what he’s satirizing. Sure, by the time the movie reaches the third-act, thing spiral pretty much out of control and the movie gets a little bit weaker, but even then, it still feels like Spicer is fully wrapped-up in this awfully twisted, sick kind of world where B-level artists, photographers, and performers all hang around one another, act like they’re having a great time, loving each other all, when in reality, they’re just as conceited as the other. So yeah, if there is anything that Spicer is poking fun at here, it’s not social-media, but those who use it to make themselves seem way more talented and much more spiritually woke and inclined than they actually are.

All Gen-Y hipsters love themselves some Joan Diddion. Or so they say.

But still, as much preaching as Spicer may seem to be doing, the movie itself is still funny and a little sad. Once again, that idea of reality shines through each and every scene to where we go from laughing at one of Ingrid’s ridiculous antics and how deep she sinks herself into this lie, but then we come to the realization that it seems all too real. There are many more Ingrid’s out there in the world, and they don’t just have to be beautiful and compelling.

They can just be as depressing as you’d expect someone who falls in love with a social-media personality to be.

That said, Ingrid is probably Aubrey Plaza’s best performance to-date, because she kind of bucks the typical performance we’re used to seeing from her. No matter what, Plaza’s always enjoyable to watch, but she always seems to be playing the same bit role, where she’s always dead-pan, odd, and off-kilter. Here, she digs into something more primal and creepier, making Ingrid a damaged and battered human being that we sympathize with, but also fear for, too. She’s a dangerous beauty, but also a sad one, at that, and it’s Plaza’s role for the taking.

Elisabeth Olsen is also pretty great in a role that, in other hands, in another movie, probably would have been awfully one-note. While we know from the very start that Taylor Sloane is absolutely full of her pretentious bulls**t, it also doesn’t forget to make us see her as humane who, just like you or I, may be wanting something a bit more than she already has. We never come to like her, but she’s still compelling, in that there are literally a million other Instagram profiles just like her, getting away with all the same junk as she does.

What a time to be alive.

Consensus: As weird as it is timely, Ingrid Goes West is an honestly brutal and raw attack on those who use social-media to their benefits, for better and for worse, while also not forgetting to be a funny, incredibly well-acted tragicomedy.

8 / 10

#PeaceLoveandHarmony

Photos Courtesy of: Neon

Thank You for Your Service (2017)

Thanks for defending our country. Now beat it!

Sergeant Adam Schumann (Miles Teller), Specialist Tausolo Aieti (Beulah Kole), and Will Waller (Joe Cole), are all soldiers finally returning home after a year-long stint in the war. It was a rough time for all of them, but now they’re just happy to be home and, hopefully, re-adjust to the lives they left behind. However, that’s not so easy for them, especially considering what each one had to go through while they were over in the battlefield. For Schumann, he doesn’t know how to connect with his wife (Haley Bennett), or the rest of his family; for Aieti, he’s also having issues with his wife (Keisha Castle-Hughes), but also seems to be suffering from incredibly psychological problems, too; and Waller, after returning to an empty and abandoned home, with no wife and kids, struggles to make sense of what his life is. Each of them possibly want to return to the battlefield, but have to be medically-cleared, which is a whole other issue and of itself.

Coming home to Haley Bennett? See, home-life isn’t all that bad!

Thank You for Your Service is a movie that deserves to be seen because it reminds us, as a nation, what the men and women who went over to war, protected our country, in our honor and name, have to go through when they get back home, supposedly safe and sound from anymore of the troubles and evils of the world. Whether or not you agree with the war, almost doesn’t matter; the people getting involved with the war and fighting, deserve our sympathy. Not because they almost died and saw some horrific stuff, but because when they get back home, they’re not necessarily welcomed back with open-arms – it’s mostly a pat-on-the-back and shrug off to the side, without as much as a goodbye-note. It’s saw, awful, and above all else, disturbing and it deserves to be seen from all the world to see.

Does that make it a good movie? Eh. Not really.

That isn’t to say it isn’t well-intentioned, because it is. Writer/director Jason Hall, who wrote the script for American Sniper, seems like he has a good look and feel for getting his point across, without totally hitting us over the head with it all. That these soldiers, when they aren’t on the battlefield and at home, where there is no action whatsoever, seem trapped and confused, already tells us everything that we need to know, without so much as a piece of dialogue. It’s a smart move on Hall’s part because while you could see this direction as workman-like, the fact that he doesn’t get in the way of the real heart and message helps, too.

But then there are bits and pieces where it seems like Hall is getting a little over his head. For instance, a lot of the movie is just sitting around and watching as these guys try to adjust back to the life they once knew and as such, it’s interesting. Seeing how the system turns a blind-eye to them, or how their family-members, try as they might, just don’t seem to “get it”, is already enough action. Meaning, we don’t really need much of a plot, or even over-arching conflict – these guys trying to be normal and everyday like, is more than enough.

But then, like I said, Hall injects too much. There’s a whole subplot concerning Aietit’s character and the darkness he goes through, which not only feels phony, but a little silly. Why would this guy, who clearly seems to be suffering from major-trauma, continue on as something of a drug-peddler, where he’s not really acting violent, or getting all that much money. Also, there’s a lot of hallucinations and moments of pure insanity that, yes, get the point across, but do so in such a ham-fisted way, it feels like a disservice to those real soldiers who have actually been out there, fought, and lost their minds, as a result.

Miles Teller: A true American hero for us all.

It’s as if Hall wants to be as subtle as he can be, trusting the audience to make up their own conclusions, but then turns the other cheek and doesn’t.

It’s messy and shows us that perhaps Hall could have benefited from the help of another director, who may have taken this already-compelling material, and kept it as such, without trying to do too much else. Thankfully, though, what Hall does well is that he gives his cast ample opportunity to make these characters seem like real people, even despite his sometimes odd direction. Miles Teller, for instance, gives another great performance as a young man trying to make ends meet in this world, one week after he already did the same thing in Only the Brave, a much better and more accomplished movie that deals with the same issues of honor, tradition, and brotherly love.

But really, it’s Beulah Kole who’s the stand-out, giving us a performance of incredible subtlety, whenever the movie seems to be doing the opposite. Half of his scenes are just him, sitting there, looking confused, out-of-whack, and having no clue of what the hell’s going on. It’s a brutally sad performance, but it’s a very good one and shows that the best way to get a message across, is by not having to say anything at all.

Once again, show, don’t tell.

Consensus: Despite its good intentions and emotional look at the lives of these soldiers, Thank You for Your Service also suffers from a rather messy direction that does a lot more telling, than showing, when it shouldn’t have.

5.5 / 10

“Bro, this sucks.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Suburbicon (2017)

Racism and bigotry. Only in the late-50’s, right?

It’s the late-50’s and everybody in America seems to be happy. In this particular case, it’s Suburbicon, a small, yet quaint suburb where everyone is joyous, lovely, nice to one another, and oh yeah, very white. So much so that when a black family moves in, all hell breaks loose. But while this is all happening, there’s the Lodge family who, in their own ways, have another tragedy to deal with. Gardner (Matt Damon) has just lost his wife to a duo of robbers and now has to bounce back, as does his son, Nicky (Noah Jupe), who doesn’t quite know how evil and dastardly the world is just yet. However, he soon learns this fact of life when he finds out that not only is his father shacking up with his aunt (Julianne Moore), but that the two are planning on sending Nicky away to a boarding-school of sorts. But why? Nicky doesn’t quite know yet, until those robbers start coming around and expecting more money – something that Gardner doesn’t want to do, but at the same time, doesn’t have much of a choice.

“Clean this up, you animal!”

And oh yeah, there’s a lot of racism on the side, too.

Deep in the center of Suburbicon is a really tight, lean, mean and relatively fun darkly-comedic thriller that feels exactly like a rip-off of the Coen’s. Which is obviously purposeful because, for one, the Coen’s wrote this, but also feel as if they’re treading familiar waters, poking fun at suburbia, the hidden secrets we all tell ourselves, and just how one incident, can snowball into many, many more. It’s typical Coen’s and it works.

But then, there’s all of the racist-stuff to go along with it and yeah, that’s where Suburbicon falls apart. And it isn’t that what director/co-writer George Clooney brings to the table isn’t meaningful; this notion of the 50’s that we all have is sweet and dough-eyed, yet, it was also very troubling, especially in terms of social-issues. Is this an altogether crazy and shocking surprise to anyone that’s ever taken a history course, anywhere, at any time? Not really, and it’s why Suburbicon, while well-intentioned, drops the ball.

Also, Clooney probably isn’t the best director for this kind of tricky material, either.

After all, he’s not the kind of director who’s known for his subtlety, nor for his skill of blending together different genres, tones, and moods. Look at every movie he’s directed, save for Good Night and Good Luck., and you can tell that they’re taking on a lot and honestly, it’s too much for George to chew. He does an admirable, serviceable job on all of those other flicks, but he seems to always get stuck in a hole where he doesn’t know where to go with his movies, nor what he’s actually trying to get across. He’s just a messy director and while I want to give him credit for taking risks, he hardly ever sticks the landings.

And that’s the case with Suburbicon, although, because he’s working with a Coen brother’s script, he’s a lot better off. Whenever the movie isn’t focusing on the social-issues about race and religion, it’s actually kind of fun and a little twisted, but whenever it is, it’s ham-fisted, obvious, and not all that surprising. What’s weirder though, too, is that Clooney and co-writer Grant Heslov seem to be going for some kind of satire that gets so over-blown, so crazy, and so insane, it doesn’t hold-up. It’s as if Clooney didn’t think he was getting his point across enough, so he had to literally bang us over the head with a hammer to make us woke.

Save us, Oscar. Please.

Nobody’s doubting that you’re woke, George. Just shut up about it already and make a good movie.

But at the end of it all, what saves Suburbicon, aside from the Coen’s side of the script, is the cast who all seem to be trying very hard to make this work. Matt Damon has a lot of heavy-lifting to do as Gardner Lodge, the dorky, seemingly square father of the family and has to show a darker, meaner side as the time goes on and it works. In a much tighter, much more focused movie, the performance would be better, but as it stands, it does what it needs to do and Damon’s good. Julianne Moore’s role is fine, too, although her character is a bit more silly and weird, which sort of fits, and sort of doesn’t. Either way, after this and Kingsman, it’s nice to see her playing around with some light and funny roles for a change.

But the real stand-out is probably Noah Jupe who, like with the rest of the cast, given a much more focused movie, could have really made miracles. Still, as the meek, mild and relatively sweet Nicky, who is starting to realize the whole world around him is crumbling, Jupe gets a lot of mileage out of simply standing in a scene and reminding us that he’s a kid, after all. There’s a certain sweetness to him that keeps some heart left in this movie, even when the rest of it seems to be getting wrapped in blood and guts. It’s a role that has me excited for what he next on his plate, so long as hoping it’s in a movie that gives him much more.

Oh, and Oscar Isaac is here for maybe two scenes and easily makes them the best.

Then again, when doesn’t he do that?

Consensus: Try as he might, George Clooney just doesn’t have the strongest chops to make Suburbicon, an already uneven and messy bit of satire, gel perfectly, but still gets by on some cheap thrills and a game cast.

6 / 10

“Honey, I won’t be home for supper tonight.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Happy Death Day (2017)

Just die. Again. And again. And again.

Tree Gelbman (Jessica Rothe) is another college student who, after a rather crazy night of drinking, wakes up in the bed of a guy she doesn’t even know, Carter (Israel Broussard). She takes a Tylenol and gets going to her sorority house, where she has to deal with a great deal of annoying, rather bitchy sisters who get on her, as well as the other sisters, for every little thing. But Tree doesn’t care all that much because she’s got something to celebrate tonight and no, it’s not just a weekend, but in fact, her birthday. Then, it all goes to hell when she’s stabbed-to-death by a masked killer. Bummer, right? Well, turns out that Tree wakes up in Carter’s bed after being stabbed and soon gets the feeling that everything she experienced the day before, isn’t actually the day before, but instead, the same day, over and over again. Why is this happening? How is this happening? Tree doesn’t really know just yet, but what she is going to do is figure out who her killer is and whether or not killing them will actually bring her back to normal, everyday life. And obviously, in the meantime, learn a few lessons about those around her, too.

Suitor #1

I don’t really know if you could call your movie “original”, when all you’re doing is stealing an idea that was already original in the first place (in this case, Groundhog Day) and using it for a different setting and genre. Hell, two other movies did the same thing (YA-weepie Before I Fall, and Marlon Wayans-starring Naked), so once again, is it really original? Especially when you actually mention said movie, where the original idea came from?

Probably not, but hey, Happy Death Day is one of the better PG-13 slasher flicks out there that doesn’t feel like it’s actually catering to just a bunch of bored, ADHD-riddled kids who love MTV. It’s got some thought-process to it, some self-aware, funny writing, and oh yeah, a pretty kick-ass female-lead. It’s totally conventional, formulaic, and predictable to a fault, but it’s also a little fun, so long as you’re willing to look past the fact that there aren’t many surprises along the way, and that the plot’s going to be followed, the exact way you think it would be.

But still, the pace and general mood is fun, so why should I care too much?

Suitor #2

After all, it’s the kind of slasher-flick made for the MTV-crowd, yet also feels like it’s sort of making fun of them, too. For instance, take Tree, a character who, in all honesty, feels a little too smart for this kind of movie and, lord if he was still alive, would sit perfectly in a Wes Craven movie. She’s smart, sassy, a little mean, a little rude, and oh yeah, actually pretty likable. We’re supposed to look at her and think of the way that she’s constantly partying, sexxing, blowing-off her dad, and not really caring what others generally think of her, as something awful about her, but it actually works in her defense. She’s not a scared, little virgin, waiting for the slasher to come and kill her off in the first few seconds, nor is she the conventional skank who typically gets killed-off pretty quickly, too – she’s got a few tricks up her sleeve and it’s because of her, that Happy Death Day is serviceable.

Surprisingly, she keeps it fun and high-brow, even when it’s definitely not. Some of that praise definitely goes towards the script, but also to Jessica Rothe, who does a lot with this thinly-written role. Rothe, despite being literally 30, fits well into this role, because it never seems like she’s trying too hard to be hip, cool, or even relatable – she’s just another college girl, going through some crap, trying to get by, and having as much fun as she can while doing it. Honestly, this is the kind of character I’d like to just see in a coming-of-ager, forget a silly slasher, but hey, can’t always get everything, right?

But hey, if this means that we see more of Rothe, I’m fine with that.

Consensus: Even with the unoriginal gimmick attached, Happy Death Day still gets by, despite offering very few or no surprises, because it’s fun, self-aware feel, as well as a knockout, drag-out performance from Rothe in the lead.

5 / 10

And oh yeah, suitor #3, who is obviously right behind her.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Only Living Boy in New York (2017)

We all long for the New York City of the 50’s!

After graduating from college and moving into an apartment, young Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) doesn’t quite know what he wants to do just yet with his life. He’s at that age where he’s stuck, but also inspired and full of ambition, yet, at the same time, still left sitting down and wondering, “What’s the point?” With the help of his alcoholic neighbor (Jeff Bridges), he hopes to find out what his purpose in life is next, even if that means sleeping with his father’s mistress (Kate Beckinsale). Wait, what? Yep. For some reason, Thomas finds out that his father (Pierce Brosnan) isn’t just sleeping around, but sleeping around on his mother (Cynthia Nixon), who is sick and doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Thomas is sad and confused, but mostly, he just wants to grow-up, even if that means taking up after his dad.

Yeah. Neither of these two are attractive. Like at all.

The good thing about the Only Living Boy in New York is that it’s just a tad bit over 85 minutes, making it a swift, quick, and meaningless little race of punishment. That said, the bad thing about the Only Living Boy is that it’s still painful to get through, regardless of how long or short it is, because as we all know with bad movies, it doesn’t matter how short they actually are, they always seem to go on forever. And ever.

And ever.

And that’s the problem with the Only Living Boy, it just never works. Director Marc Webb and writer Allan Loeb seem to be working on two different platforms in terms of how they want this story to play-out, or even what the hell it is. Webb’s a lot more grounded and subtle, whereas Loeb’s writing, when not overly-talky and silly, feels like a crazy piece of melodrama that loves long-winded monologues about the good old days of New York, love, marriage, and fine pieces of literature. The movie just never comes together in a seamless way and it’s a shame, because although Loeb has proven himself to be an awful writer, Webb’s better than this, as we saw not too long ago with Gifted.

That said, there’s no saving this sort of script. People go on and on, without making any sense, there’s barely any drama, and the characters, as thinly-written as they may be, don’t really register as actual characters, but as types. Callum Turner’s Thomas is a typical frustrated and confused young adult who, underneath the glasses and shaggy hair, is just another male model waiting to crawl out. Jeff Bridges’ alcoholic neighbor is just another one of those typically mysterious strangers, who has all of the answers and almost seems to be imaginary, until it turns out that he isn’t in the most silly fashion imaginable. And yeah, that’s about the same for almost everybody else.

All the ladies love the old Bond charm.

Save Kate Beckinsale’s Johanna who, honestly, both seem to deserve better than this.

For one, Beckinsale is a good actress who deserves better material to work with than whatever Loeb has here, but Johanna does give off some interest and promise every so often. She’s the typical hussy character who sleeps with married-men, doesn’t care, and is happy to just have money, fancy clothes, and a nice loft, but really, there’s a bit more to her. She’s sad, damaged, and in desperate need of some love – it’s not just about sex for her, it’s much more about actual human connection. It makes her surprisingly stronger of a character than you’d expect from something as dumb as this, but as I’ve said, it goes nowhere.

When your movie is so concerned with third-act twists about surrogate fathers and possible life-changers, who cares what’s interesting or not? You just want the movie to end. Which, eventually, the Only Living Boy does.

Not as quick as its run-time would suggest, however.

Consensus: Despite a cast that tries, the Only Living Boy in New York is poorly-written and chock full of melodrama that neither connects, nor ever seems to be an actual story.

3.5 / 10

“Let me tell you a story, about a house of blues.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Creep 2 (2017)

He’s a weirdo.

Sara (Desiree Akhavan) is a vlogger who’s desperate for any sort of fame or fortune. Hell, she’d do anything for more than nine viewers, which is all that it seems like her videos get. Then, she stumbles upon an odd Craigslist ad and all of a sudden, inspiration hits Sara. All she has to do is drive out to see this person, film them for a whole day, and get a grand total of $1,000, and be on her merry-way. Seems simple and cool enough, but once she shows up, Sara realizes that she’s got a little bit more to deal with. For one, the subject, Aaron (Mark Duplass), is a bit of a wack-job. Secondly, he says that he’s a serial-killer who, in all of his 40 years of living, has killed 39 people. So why is he asking for Sara to tape him and tell his whole life story? Sara doesn’t quite know or get it yet, but she’s fascinated, by both Aaron, as well as the story, so she sticks around, shoots, and waits to see what happens. It’s a decision she may soon regret, or love.

Who doesn’t love grainy home-videos?

The original Creep was nothing entirely special, but considering that it was a found-footage flick that didn’t feel like a retread of every other one that came before it, made it worth the watch. And yes, it was also funny, a little weird, tense, and scary, but most of all, it was a found-footage movie and with them, you can only do so much. Director/co-writer Patrick Brice and co-writer Mark Duplass tried their best to go truly above and beyond convention, but in reality, had to stick the landing in there somewhere.

It was a solid diversion, but a diversion nonetheless.

That said, I don’t know how many people were clamoring for another Creep and in the first five-minutes, it becomes abundantly clear why. Aaron shows up, like he did in the first one, terrorizes some dude, kills him, and cackles at the camera. And scene. It’s made for shock-value, but just feels grotesque and a little boring, as if the movie was trying to give us that uneasy feeling right off the bat. Instead, it just feels like a cheap attempt at shock-value and it comes off dumb and ill-conceived.

But thankfully, right after this cold open, Creep changes its tune and becomes, not just a lot smarter, but much more interesting than even the first one. Rather than sticking with this evil maniac Aaron, who spends mostly all of his time, finding people, stalking them, and killing them, we’re introduced to Sara, a character who we think is going to become easy prey to Aaron, like all of the others, but she’s different.

Uh oh. The journalist, is being journal’d.

Much, much different.

It’s hard to really say why, though. What I can say is that Desiree Akhavan is pretty great in this role of Sara because, even though she’s supposed to be our protagonist, we’re never too sure if we can trust her. We get the sense that she’s just playing along with Aaron to get good-footage, but we also get the sense that there’s something darker and more menacing about her that not only makes us want to see more of her interactions with Aaron, but also get an idea of her backstory. It’s a shame that ever since her directorial debut a few years back (Appropriate Behavior), we haven’t seen a lot of Akhavan, but here, she proves why she deserves to be around a whole lot more.

Same goes for Duplass who, once again, gets to have some fun in the role of Aaron. However, my biggest issue with the movie is him and it makes me wonder whether or not this sequel was as well thought-out as it could have been. We do get some more digging-in deep into Aaron’s psyche, as well as his upbringing, but whenever it seems like we’re getting somewhere smart and dramatic, the movie switches gears and decides that it’s time for silly genre-thrills. In the first movie, this worked because it was, well, a found-footage movie and not much else – in this one, it feels like a cheap back-out, as Brice and Duplass didn’t want to get as serious as they could have.

Which isn’t a problem. Especially in a horror flick.

Consensus: Creep 2 works on a much more interesting level than the first did, however, also suffers from some of the same old genre-thrills we’ve seen before, time and time again.

6.5 / 10

He’s still charming as hell, ladies.

Photos Courtesy of: The Orchard

Wheelman (2017)

Just drive. And don’t ever get out.

A getaway driver (Frank Grillo) is hired to do a job that consists of picking up two random criminals, who aren’t the best sort to have around. But the driver doesn’t care about that because he’s just in it for the money, so that he can, hopefully, save his marriage and keep his daughter from getting taken away from him. But as expected, the job that he takes ends up not working out and now, all of a sudden, he’s on-the-run, with the police, as well as these baddies, after him and looking to get rid of him, any way that they can.

And yup. I think that’s about it.

Still should have been the Punisher in my eyes. Oh well.

Wheelman is a lot like Locke, in that it’s all presented in real-time, takes place mostly within the confides of a car, and deals with a lot of talking. Sure, it’s a lot dumber and more action-packed than the later, but what the former gets correct is that it knows how to keep the tension going, without ever showing us everything. Most movies, especially action-thrillers, tend to forget that, often times, simply hearing or imagining something happening off-screen is far more compelling and exciting than having to always see it, in all its finest glory.

Granted, that’s not a rule that every film has to follow, but it’s one that Wheelman follows mostly throughout and because of that, it’s a lot smarter than what we’re used to seeing.

It’s still a B-movie, through and through. But a good one, at that. It knows what it is, it doesn’t make amends for itself, and just continues to get going and moving, at a rapid-fire pace, never really settling in on one plot-development too much, and always giving us a great idea of where we’re heading. Sure, it’s about a guy driving around, trying not to get killed by a bunch of faceless, and sometimes, nameless figures, but the movie always keeps us along for the ride. There’s a small sense of dread, but there’s always a breath of fresh air and excitement to be had and that is, above all else, nice.

“Frank Grillo with a gun”, is a lot more scarier than “Frank Grillo without a gun.” But it’s still pretty intimidating either way.

Writer/director Jeremy Rush deserves to be commended for his skills here because he knows what he’s making and gives it to us, without trying too hard to go deeper. Wheelman does eventually attempt to throw Frank Grillo’s family in the mix and while it may feel a tad bit obvious and unneeded, it doesn’t take down the whole movie. If anything, it’s an extra strand of plot that Rush himself probably thought that he needed, but honestly, really didn’t.

All it really needed to do was depend on Grillo, doing what he does best: Acting like a bad-ass.

And considering that the whole 80 minutes of Wheelman are spent with Grillo, it’s great that we get so much time to spend with him and realizing that he is one of the better actors out there today. As we’ve seen before in other movies, or the unfortunately just-ended Kingdom, Grillo plays these rough, gruff, tough, and rather angry guys, but he isn’t also afraid to give them a sense of vulnerability, either. He understands and knows that what makes most of these bad-asses tick and feel real, is that they actually do have a heart, soul, and tender soft-spot in their bodies. They don’t have to be crying at SPCA commercials, but they just need to have a little some form of humanity to make them not only compelling, but at the very least, sympathetic. Grillo does all of that here and we, as well as the movie itself, are much better for it.

We need him in more stuff. Please.

Consensus: Without trying too hard to be something that it isn’t, Wheelman is a fun, fast, and relatively tense B-movie.

7 / 10

“Come sail away! Come sail away with me, lads!”

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

1922 (2017)

Keep an eye on those farms.

Wilfred James (Thomas Jane) is a simple, everyday farmer out in the rural lands of Nebraska. His wife, Arlette (Molly Parker), loves him, even though she doesn’t like how he can be a bit of a dummy, while their son, Henry (Dylan Schmid), looks up to him. It’s a fine, little family that gets by so well because they don’t really have any problems. Then, it all goes to crap when Arlette wants to sell the farm and the land, so that they can make some big money and live her dream of moving to the city. It’s something that she’s always wanted, but Wilfred hasn’t and because of that, he decides that it’s time to get rid of Arlette once and for all. Problem is, when he does just that, more darkness and sinister-intentions begin coming out and it makes Wilfred a scary man, but someone quite dangerous – it’s something that Henry takes note of and is desperately afraid of.

Yeah. Not crazy at all.

1922 is a better movie than Netflix’s last Stephen King adaptation, Gerald’s Game, but it also suffers from some of the same issues that that movie just couldn’t get past. Here, there’s actually something of a story that goes places and does interesting things, but by the same token, also feels like it’s stretched maybe 20-30-minutes beyond what it should have been. What would have been a solid, one-hour special on late-night programming, soon turns into an overlong flick about a guy succumbing to his demons and not really surprising us all that much.

That said, Thomas Jane is pretty great in the lead role and if anything, deserves to have 1922 seen, just for him.

I said the same thing about Carla Gugino in Gerald’s Game, but what’s different here is that Jane really digs deep into this challenging and surprisingly complex character that we’re never sure of if we actually want to like, or not. The movie itself never really makes up its mind, either, which is fine, because it helps the performance all that much more. Even though Jane himself constantly gets crap about being a shoddy-actor, there is a certain amount of fun and charm to him that’s hard to deny him of; Wilfred is, a dark and scary person, but Jane gives him a sort of goofiness that helps make this character seem like so much more than just your typical bumble, who speaks in such broken English, you don’t know whether to laugh, or turn on the subtitles.

She’s just now realizing that she’s made a mistake, marrying the man that she has.

But like I said, 1922 is mostly relying on his performance to save the day, which it does. If anything, writer/director Zak Hilditch does go further and further into more disturbing material than you’d expect, but he can only do so much, for so long. After awhile, it becomes clear where the movie’s going, what it has to say, and that’s about it. It’s pulpy and a little freaky, but at the end of it all, there’s no real shocks, surprises, twists, and/or turns. It’s just a dude turning into a menace, before our very own eyes. And for some reason, that’s not nearly as compelling as you’d hope it would be. Except for that it’s Thomas Jane going nuts before our eyes and yes, he makes it all the better.

He always does, people. Give him more stuff to do.

Consensus: 1922 isn’t the most essential Stephen King adaptation of 2017, but it features some dark thrills, chills, and a solid turn from Jane to help make it better.

5 / 10

Who needs a scarecrow when you can just have this dude out there in the fields?

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Only the Brave (2017)

Shut up, Dennis Leary!

The Granite Mountain Hot Shots were a group of a highly-trained, elite crew of firefighters who, when they weren’t palling around, sippin’ on cold ones, and trying to make ends meet, they were saving cities from wildfires. However, it wasn’t always fun, games, or hell, even all that pretty. For awhile, the guys weren’t certified and doing their best to not just be respected, but actually accepted in a world where firefighters, despite saving lives and, in this case, whole tons, weren’t looked at as “heroes”, or even “saviors”. They were just a bunch of bros, who brought a bunch of water, and put out the fires. But in this case, it was much different. For instance, there’s Eric Marsh (Josh Brolin), or as they call him, “Supe”, who handles everything, when he isn’t handling his marriage-relations. Then, there’s Donut (Miles Teller) a junkie who’s causing all sorts of trouble, until he soon realizes that it’s time to get his act together, just in time for his baby to be born, by an ex that wants absolutely nothing to do with him. Of course, the fellas get certified and while it’s a heroic and momentous landmark for them to achieve, come 2013, it doesn’t quite work out too well.

“You talkin’ bad on the ‘stache, boy?”

Only the Brave is the kind of hokey, silly, and ridiculously entertaining piece of mainstream entertainment that can, at times, feel like a Budweiser commercial. It’s got big trucks, big men, big beers, big parties, big fires, big, loud music, and oh yeah, hot women. All that’s missing are the constant shots of these men’s tight, round-butts in a nice pair of jeans, although, while I think about it, I think there may have been one or two. It’s the kind of movie that praises and sends out a tribute to those old-fashioned, blue-collar lives that, in all honesty, each and everyone of us want and this movie, in all its shining and patriotic glory, doesn’t help to cease.

And you know what? There’s no problem with that.

Sure, Only the Brave could have been the kind of movie that makes each and everyone of these men out to be heroes, through and through, with no issues, or conflicts in life, other than whether or not they’re going to bag the hottest chick at the bar, or if they’re going to be able to stop that fire before everybody else. There’s nothing wrong with that if the movie did do this, because after all, it’s based off of real people and all too-real disastrous event that ended-up taking most of their lives, but Only the Brave is a tad smarter than that. It shows us that, beyond all the machismo and ripped-jeans, they were real people who, like you or me, had issues with money, with relationships, with family, and especially with trying to stay alive for those who depend off of them.

Director Joseph Kosinski and co-writers Ken Nolan and Eric Warren Singer never seem to lose sight of the humans in the center of all the madness and carnage that, even when it does seem to be praising these guys for every little thing they do, it sort of doesn’t matter. The movie’s already done a fine enough job of getting us to fall in love with their simplistic, Americana ways that we already hooked in to whatever happens to them. And because of that, we not only grow to love each and everyone of them, but the atmosphere in which they live and exist, making it seem like all too-ideal of a life to live, but one that looks almost too desirable not to be real.

“Be the young, hunky-lead they want now, kid. Don’t take it for granted.”

And it is. That’s why we love and praise firefighters so much, because deep down inside, we secretly want those jobs.

They’re simple, but not all easy and Only the Brave doesn’t forget about that aspect, either. But because it has such a great ensemble here, with Brolin, Teller, Jennifer Connelly, Jeff Bridges, and surprisingly, Taylor Kitsch, all turning in excellent performances, that we almost forget about the real danger lurking somewhere out there in the distant. It’s a reality that the movie alludes to every now and then, but due to it being involved with these guys’ lives, it we forget about it – it’s definitely done so on-purpose and you’ve got to chalk it up to the film-makers for not relying too much on the fires themselves and much more so on the actual humans in the center.

After all, they’re the hear and soul of this tale, as well as they should be. Cause if it wasn’t the Granite Mountain Hot Shots, it would have been other hopeful, ambitious guys who wanted a better life for themselves, their family, friends, and people they don’t even know. They’re just doing the jobs that most of us will knock off as “too simple”, or “too blue-collar”, but in reality, therein lies the problem.

It’s much more than that and hell, we shouldn’t forget.

Consensus: As cheesy as it can sometimes get, Only the Brave is still an entertaining, thoughtful, and incredibly well-acted tribute to the real lives lost, as well as the countless others who fight to save ours, day in and day out.

8 / 10

Ergh! So manly!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Alps (2011)

We all get the grief we think we deserve.

A bunch of free-spirited and desperate actors get together and form something of an acting coalition. In it, they’ll impersonate dead people, for the living family-member’s who are left to pay for this kind of service. It’s made to help out with the grieving process and for awhile, that’s all it seems to be. It’s a little weird and creepy, but most people seem to be getting stuff out of it, so there’s no problem with that, right? Unfortunately, it all begins to change when even the actors start to lose loved-ones and begin using the same business, to help out their own grieving-process. Others, like a gymnast (Ariane Labed), go so far as to completely inhabit their “roles”, almost to the point of where they can’t really decipher between what their actual lives are, or what are the lives they’re being paid to live and reenact are.

Fix that mascara, girl! Get in the role!

They say that half of comedy, isn’t the joke, or even the meaning, but more of timing. And if that’s the case, then co-writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos has perhaps the most wicked sense of comedic-timing ever seen. Sure, his jokes, what they mean, and what they represent, are dark, messed-up, cruel, and generally upsetting, but the way in which he tells each and every joke, where the jokes are placed, how they come-up, and the general feel of the jokes, are what matters most and where he is at his most effective.

And with Alps, Lanthimos never once forgets to make every joke land and connect. Sure, it’s funny as is, the jokes themselves, but really, it’s his timing that’s a thing of beauty and puts it beyond just normal, everyday humor – it’s much more subversive and, in a way, brilliant. Does that make Alps, as a result, a great movie?

Well, not really.

It’s definitely funny and what Lanthimos is trying to get across with his many jokes, is smart and interesting, but at the end of it all, it is just a one-joke premise and movie. It talks about and even pokes a lot of fun at the grieving-process, the lies we tell ourselves to get over loss, and how it doesn’t really matter whether that person is lost or not, because we’ll always find ways to forget about them, or better yet, replace them, and it’s smart with it. Lanthimos isn’t afraid to mock ordinary life and make us not just laugh at ourselves, but hate ourselves at the same time.

Method?

It’s quite brilliant, like I said before, but really, it’s all that Alps can handle and maintain throughout its very short run-time of 90-minutes. And with those 90 minutes, all we really get is the same joke, over and over again, although, of course, with different iterations each and every time. It still works and oh yes, is very funny, but that’s all it is: Jokes. Again and again.

Is there any heart? Not really and that’s probably where the one issue comes from.

Of course, Lanthimos isn’t setting out to make a heartfelt, or even sweet tale of regret, grief, and loss, but it definitely wouldn’t have hurt, either. To just have your movie being darkness and subversiveness, throughout the whole time, honestly, can only go on for so long. The only idea of a sense of conflict we get is guessing who is paying for this service, who isn’t, and just whether or not what we are seeing is actually a joke, or not. It’s interesting, sure, but if that’s all you’ve got, there needs to be a tad bit more. And it’s not as if I’m the kind of movie-viewer who can’t handle disturbing stuff like this – trust me, I’ve seen far, far worse – but really, there comes a point in the movie where there’s no real plot, no real conflict, or even any real movement.

It’s just one joke, again and again, told in different forms, ways, shapes, or fashions.

It’s a good way to spend a stand-up bit. But for a whole movie? Not really.

Consensus: While poking fun at grief and loss in a very funny, almost too disturbing way and manner, Alps gets by on being original and quite different, but also feels a tad bit too long because of the limitations of the material itself.

7 / 10

Always hug it out. Even if it is with your pretend-relative.

Photos Courtesy of: Haos Film

Marjorie Prime (2017)

By now, this kind of stuff is a documentary.

Marjorie (Lois Smith) is an aging woman who has seen the last few years of his life slip by. Now, as she’s getting older, she’s also starting to forget things. In order to help her out a bit, her daughter (Geena Davis) and son-in-law (Tim Robbins) buy Marjorie a holographic projection known as a Prime, that looks, sounds, and is in the form of her late husband (Jon Hamm), when he was younger and they first met. At first, it’s just Marjorie speaking with it, getting to remember old times, and even reminding herself of who she once was. But because her daughter is still so angry at her for the years and years of animosity, she decides to use the Prime for herself. Then, time goes on and all of a sudden, Marjorie becomes a Prime for her daughter. And so on and so forth.

You get the picture.

“You remind me so much of this ad-executive I knew from the 60’s.”

Anyway, Marjorie Prime‘s a hard movie to really get into because it is so languid, slow, quiet, and even mysterious. It’s as if writer/director Michael Almereyda set out to make something so incredibly weird and brief, that you get the sense that he doesn’t want to tell you what he’s up to next, but you also don’t want to know, either. Just sitting around and waiting for whatever odd transgression he takes next is more than enough for the wait.

That said, Marjorie Prime still feels like a movie that’s much better in thought, than it is on-paper. For instance, the idea of robots walking and talking just like you or I, isn’t all that original in the world of sci-fi, or even in the real world in which we live in, and here it plays out in an interesting manner, until it seems to repeat itself and not really have anything interesting to say. Or, better yet, it does, it’s just that it’s the same point, over and over again, hitting us over the head and not allowing us to forget about it. Almost as if Almereyda didn’t trust his audience enough to really think things all through and get down to the actual meaning of everything.

And it’s not all that hard, either: Marjorie Prime is an honest movie about life, death, and how even though we accept death and the passage of time, we also try our best to find whatever substitute is out there. We do that to make ourselves feel better and we also do it to preserve the legacy of those lost. But we also do it to feel safe and act as if death isn’t just an illusion, but a crazy idea that will never become reality to us. The movie’s a lot darker and sadder than it lets on, which is why despite my general lack of actual enjoyment watching it, I can’t help but feel a great deal of respect for it actually going to some deep and disturbing places that I didn’t expect to come around.

“Stop being so funny.”

It’s also thanks to the pretty wonderful cast on-hand, too.

Lois Smith, for what seems like in forever, is finally given a role that allows her to be more than just the cooky granny, but someone who is more thoughtful and compelling to watch. It’s the kind of older-woman role they’d give to Jane Fonda, or Lily Tomlin, but Smith works perfectly in it because she’s sweet and endearing enough to make her sympathetic enough, but because she’s older and losing her memory, it’s hard to fully trust her. We don’t know if she was a great mom or not; we get the idea that she was a bit forgetful for reasons that become clear to us later, but mostly, we think that she did the best that she could. Like all moms, right?

Geena Davis is also pretty good as the spoiled daughter who, no matter how long life passes her by, can’t seem to get over the past she shares with her mom. It’s a surprisingly annoying and unlikable role from Davis, but she’s more than willing to give it her all. Same goes for Tim Robbins, who plays someone darker than you’d expect. And then, there’s Jon Hamm, who is so perfect as this Prime, you never quite know what he’s thinking at any moment. It’s probably nothing, really, but the idea that he could turn and go bad, is a scary thought and Hamm, in a very stern, serious role, makes you expect the unexpected, just about the whole time.

Consensus: As dark and as weird as it gets, Marjorie Prime is also an interesting, thoughtful, and well-acted meditation on the passage of time, life, death, and the blankets we cover ourselves with to block the inevitable.

6.5 / 10

If all robots look like Jon Hamm in the future, yup, all us human men are screwed.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Landline (2017)

Oh. The 90’s. When screening calls was a huge thing.

It’s the mid-90’s and the Jacobs family is going through a bit of a problem. The mother, Pat (Edie Falco), is having a rough go at work, but is also not really spending much time, paying attention to her husband, Alan (John Turturro). Speaking of which, he’s also a little bored with life and may be having something of an affair. Nothing’s confirmed yet, however, because his youngest daughter, Ali (Abby Quinn), only found out about after seeing a bunch of poems on his floppy-disk. Meanwhile, she’s also worried about what she’s going to do with her life and also with college. Then, there’s her sister, Dana (Jenny Slate), who is having issues with her fiancee (Jay Duplass), but mostly because she doesn’t know if she’s ready to settle down just yet. This leads her to having an affair with an ex (Finn Wittrock), who may or may not be her last chance at some form of freedom and/or happiness. Either way, this family’s going through a lot.

Same hair. Same blood. Same sisters. That’s how that works, right?

Obvious Child was the sweet, small, soulful, and somewhat beautiful little surprise of 2014. It was 82-minutes of pure heart, comedy, and truth that was rarely seen in movies that were either longer, with more stars, or had a bigger-budget. It ranked on my Top 10 that year, showed me that Jenny Slate was an amazing actress, and oh yeah, put writer/director Gillian Robespierre on my watch.

Then Landline happened.

Okay, actually, it’s not all that bad. In terms of sophomore slumps, it’s not that bad, because it shows us that Robespierre still has the knack for writing interesting characters and smart dialogue, but when it comes to the plotting and actual story itself, the movie just has way too much going on, for such a short time, and with no real cohesiveness. It’s as if Robespierre got something of a bigger-budget, had bigger stars, and more time to play around, so she did, but in this case, it actually went against her.

Lock the door!

And of course, it’s not right to compare this to Obvious Child, because they’re two different movies. But with Landline, you can tell that something’s a bit off this time around about Robespierre and what she’s doing. With the talented ensemble, she’s very lucky, as everyone here isn’t just great, but funny and brings a lot to the table. They all feel like a very lived-in family, who not only have gotten used to each other for so long that they don’t even care to put up resistance any longer, but that they also know each other so freakin’ well, it’s almost painful. That’s how real families are, regardless of how close-knit they are and it’s one of the aspects that Landline nails down well.

The only issue is that every so often, the movie will jump from one subplot, to another, and depending on how interesting one is, the movie works, or doesn’t. Landline suffers from a lot going on, with very little time, and not nearly as much concentration as they should have all deserved. You can tell that Robespierre is trying and relatively succeeding, but I don’t know, something’s just missing.

What it is, I may never know.

I’m not taking Robespierre off my watch, but I will hold her next film with at least a little bit of trepidation.

Consensus: Not nearly as focused as it should have been, Landline suffers from having too much going on, with very little time to actually wade through it all, but gets by on a solid cast that’s willing to make this material into something fun and enjoyable.

6 / 10

The guys in the family can’t do this kind of stuff.

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

Brawl in Cell Block 99 (2017)

Bald truly is better.

Bradley Thomas (Vince Vaughn), a former boxer, loses his job as an auto mechanic and his marriage, which was already troubled in the first place, is about to expire. But as much as he wants to stay on straight-and-narrow, he can’t help but be drawn back into the life working as a drug courier. While it brings him all sorts of riches and saves his marriage, it also comes about with some great villains who want nothing more than to get a head up on Bradley and his position. One night, a deal goes bad and he soon finds himself in a gunfight between police officers and his own ruthless allies. When everything’s done, he’s arrested, a few officers are shot and killed, and a few of his supposed fellow drug couriers were killed to. But in this case, it was by him. Those guys were very connected and they hear about this, so while Bradley’s locked in the clink, they extract revenge the only way they can: By kidnapping his pregnant wife (Jennifer Carpenter) and forcing him to knock somebody off while in prison. Problem is, Bradley’s got to do a whole lot in order to make sure that happens.

Uh oh. It’s happening, people.

At two-hours-and-15-minutes, Brawl in Cell Block 99 overstays its welcome a teenie, tiny bit. There’s a great hour or so dedicated to just sitting around, watching, and waiting for this Bradley character to eventually break bad and just let it all go. He does, after about an hour or so and while it’s good that we at least got some of that to build character and give us a reason to care, it still feels like maybe, I don’t know, perhaps, we didn’t need that whole chunk of change in the first place. Maybe about 15 or 20 minutes would have been fine, but once again, I don’t know.

Cause in reality, once we do get to jail and see Bradley imprisoned, it’s an entirely different movie. It’s still slow, it’s still melodic, and it’s still very, very quiet, but it’s also a movie with a motive, and a much harsher, meaner, grittier, dirtier, and uglier tone than ever before. And it’s at this point where it becomes clear why we needed that first hour or so: To make us think that we were in safe hands and not going to be rushed somewhere we didn’t want to be.

After all, we’re in the hands of S. Craig Zahler and it becomes very clear that this man is not to be messed with.

Like, at all.

And with Brawl in Cell Block 99, Zahler proves again why he’s a very good director at taking his time and not really rushing into things because, well, when all you really want to do is throw people for a loop and give them absolutely vicious and disgusting pieces of violence, who cares how much time you have to wait for it? Cause even though it’s long and a little meandering, Brawl in Cell Block 99 also features some of the most gruesome and disturbing acts of violence I have seen committed to film in quite some time, and what’s even nuttier about it all is that it happens so quick, so matter-of-factly, and so disjointedly, that it’s almost like it never happens. There’s no stunt-doubles, no fancy editing, and no real special-effects – it’s just limbs being hacked-off, bones being broken, and dudes being killed.

“You think you’re taller than me. Don’t ya?”

Sounds fun, right?

In a way, it sort of is. Zahler isn’t afraid to drag us through this mud of misery, but at the same time, doesn’t hold back on the darker, more sensational thrills that come with pulpy-flicks just like this. Does he have an agenda? Sort of. It’s interesting that the first prison we see here is actually pretty chill, relaxed, and quiet, until we get to another prison and it literally looks an old, medieval castle, where dark underlings lurk in the shadows. Maybe Zahler has a bone to pick with the justice system and all its corrupt features?

Or maybe he’s just not that deep, doesn’t care, and wants to enjoy someone’s head getting stomped in, almost to the point of where his eyeballs pop-out. Cause yeah, that happens. And yes, it is pretty rad, because mostly, it all feels worth it. The slow plodding and pacing of the movie eventually works out in the movie’s favor, because it sets us up for all the blood, gore and violence of the later-half and it proves that Zahler, while very hard to get into immediately, ultimately gives the goods of what you want and expect.

Does that make him a perfect film-maker? Probably not. But it does make him effective and it makes me excited to see what he’s cooking up next.

Same goes for Vince Vaughn who, after a few years of starting and stopping, seems poised for a dramatic comeback that he hasn’t seen since the mid-to-late-90’s. But what’s odd about Vaughn’s role here as Bradley Thomas, is that he’s still a bit of a smart-ass and domineering – it’s just way more different this time around. Rather than always speaking, ranting, raving, and improving until the cows come home, he’s quiet, still, stern, stiff, and always intimidating. Sure, it helps that just in about every fight he gets into, he can kill every person within an inch of their lives, but it also helps that Vaughn himself creates this character that is not to be toyed with and gets a lot of mileage out of just standing there, looking tough, gruff, and all sorts of pissed-off. It has me hoping that there’s a much brighter-future out there for Vaughn’s career, even if the roles he takes are darker and less filled with goofs, gags, and sadly, Owen Wilson.

Wow.

Consensus: Though it could definitely afford to trim a little fat, Brawl in Cell Block 99 is a relentlessly brutal, bleak, and violent piece of pulp, that also serves as a rejuvenation in Vince Vaughn’s career.

8 / 10

Vincey ain’t happy. Or being funny.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) (2017)

Family’s enough competition as is.

Danny Meyerowitz (Adam Sandler) is going through a bit of a rough-patch in his life. He and his wife are separated, his daughter (Grace Van Patten) is going off to college to hopefully continue the family’s long legacy of being artistically-sound, and he just lost his home, forcing him to have to move back in with his father, renowned sculpture-artist Harold (Dustin Hoffman). And by doing so, he also becomes closer with his sister, Jean (Elizabeth Marvel), and stepmother, Maureen (Emma Thompson). It’s not too happy of a time for Danny and while his father knows this, he doesn’t quite help the situation out much, either. Then enters Danny’s half-brother, Michael (Ben Stiller), who his father loves and adores a lot more and for very obvious reasons – Michael is a lot more successful and Harold happened to marry his mother twice. While the two aren’t really supposed to get along, they eventually try to tie the binds between them and get over the long years of familial strife and continue on the Meyerowitz legacy. Or at least, whatever is left of it.

“No! I’m funnier!”

Is Noah Baumbach a pretentious film-maker? A part of me likes to think that he is, but another part of me likes to think that he isn’t. While there are certain movies of that I don’t care for (Margot at the Wedding, Greenberg), there are others that I do (everything else), and it mostly all comes down to how unfathomable and unlikable his characters are. And in mostly all of Baumbach’s films, that seems to be the case.

It’s pretty interesting, really, that he’s chosen to have his protagonists be challenging, somewhat unsympathetic human beings that, while we dislike the time we spend with them, they’re still human and compelling. After all, the characters are either just like us, or like people we know, and while we may not want to spend two-hours with them, there’s no denying the fact that actually spending time with them is rather refreshing. So yeah. I don’t know if the fact that enjoys having his movies centered around these awful characters makes him pretentious, it just makes him, as well as his movies, a bitter pill to swallow.

But one that you’ll probably be fine with afterwards.

And while in the Meyerowitz Stories, there’s no really awful, unlikable, and reprehensible character here, they’re all kind of annoying and a little deuchy. Then again, that’s sort of the point. Family itself is raised on the notion of competition and who’s more successful than the other, so when these characters all start bragging to one another about their great noble achievements, however small they may be, sure, it may be a little tiresome, but it all comes from a soft spot in their hearts that we can, at the very least, relate to.

Baumbach’s a smart enough writer to at least know and understand that each of these characters all have something going for them, as well as a little something going for them. For instance, while Danny’s made out to be a bit of a loser, he’s also got a stronger connection to his daughter and most other humans than perhaps his half-brother, Michael will ever have with another person. On the flip-side of things though, Michael’s also a lot more successful in his life and probably always will be, whereas Danny seems like he’ll never get up off the couch and do something extraordinary with his life because, well, he’s never had to, so why start now? It’s an interesting contrast that follows just about every character in this movie, and while it may make them a wee bit over-bearing, they’re still honest and raw.

So much sarcasm.

And oh yeah, because of the ensemble, fun to watch, too.

Especially in the case of Danny, who gets a great performance out of Adam Sandler, for once and a blue moon. But what’s interesting about Danny is that he’s basically every other Adam Sandler character the guy’s played in the past two decades or so: He’s a man-child who doesn’t know if he ever wants to grow up, how to do it, and is kind of sad. But in this case, the sad-sack has a lot more to him than just childish hi-jinx, as he’s much more likable and sympathetic, and not just an all around dick. It’s great to see Sandler in this kind of role, where he’s literally forced to act and actually do something, and it shows us all that, yes, he’s still got it, and when the Netflix money runs out, he can always turn back to arthouse, character-driven roles. So long as it’s not something like the Cobbler.

Ben Stiller is, as usual, pretty good, too, playing another sort of dick-head who seems like he’s got his whole life in-check, but really doesn’t. Stiller’s done a great job in his outings with Baumbach and while this isn’t his most challenging, it still shows us that he and Baumbach help each other out in working better for the two. Together, Stiller and Sandler have a sort of anti-chemistry that, even though they’re not supposed to like each other, they sort of do and it’s quite a lovely little sight to see. After all, these are two of comedy’s greats, finally together, once again, but instead of yucking it up for the nosebleeds, they’re actually playing three-dimensional, fully-realized characters.

Wow. Funny how times change. Let’s hope it stays that way.

Consensus: With a talented ensemble and a group of interesting characters, the Meyerowitz Stories is an honest, funny, and sometimes look at family and all of the hostilities that go along with it.

8 / 10

Invite me to that reunion. Oh wait. Maybe not.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman (2017)

Three’s a party.

Professor William Marston (Luke Evans) and his wife, Elizabeth (Rebecca Hall), live a relatively happy and carefree life together. He’s a professor at Harvard and she desperately wants to be, but because this is the 1920’s and she’s a woman, for some reason, that’s not allowed to happen. Anyway, the two have a loving and passionate romance that gets a newfound lease of life when they meet Olivia (Bella Heathcote), a young grad-student who applies to become their assistant. Both are struck by her; he wants her, and so does Elizabeth, but it’s sort of different. But in a way, it’s a little too unconventional and controversial to really go about trying to initiate a poly-amorous relationship, especially back in those days. That’s why no one really makes a move for awhile, until they do and all of a sudden, they’re in a loving, sexy, and great romance together. The only issue is that the outside world doesn’t quite accept them all for what they are and it becomes a much larger issue when Professor Marston decides that he wants to make a comic-book.

And what comic-book would that be? Oh yeah, a little thing called Wonder Woman. Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

“Babe? You want up next?”

What’s so interesting about Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman is that it starts off feeling and looking exactly like one of these charming, relatively entertaining, yet safe biopics that we see too often. There’s soft jokes, a little bit of character-development, a great sense of time and place, and a smidgen of conflict in the air. But nothing too much, really; it’s almost as if writer/director Angela Robinson is doing this on-purpose to put us in the this safe-place where we won’t be expected to really think long and hard about much.

But then, in case you couldn’t tell, it all changes. Olivia walks through the door and into these two character’s lives, and suddenly, there’s sex, nudity, whips, chains, gimps, and a whole lot of kink. But no matter what, it actually still stays interesting and never strays away from being heartfelt and humane, even though, at times, the movie can get a little comical. Then again, it’s also the rare movie about BDSM that doesn’t poke jokes at it, or seem to ever have a laugh about that, either; supposed respectful pieces of art like Fifty Shades of Grey likes to think that they respect and appreciate those who like a little kink in their sex-lives, but really, mocks it in certain ways, too.

Here, there’s a certain deal of love and respect for this kind of sexual-healing and it’s nice to see. For once.

It’s also nice to see Robinson actually focus in on these characters, their relationships with one another, and how they all change, over time, when things begin to get hot-and-heavy. Robinson could have easily made this into a movie about how these characters feel about getting whipped and gagged, and how they try to hide it from the rest of the world, but it’s also about so much more. It’s about love, and how Marston himself uses these two lovely women in his life to make sense of the evil in the world, just when it becomes almost too over-bearing. It’s also a movie about life imitating art, and vice versa, where we see what happens to Marston’s real, personal life, and how that affected a lot of the material as seen in the Wonder Woman comics.

“Don’t speak. I know what you’re thinking.” (Why am I always referencing this damn song?)

It’s not all that ground-breaking in terms of the biopic-genre, but hey, it works. Why fix something that ain’t broke, right?

Anyway, Professor Marston also features one of the first performances, in probably ever, where I actually liked and appreciated Luke Evans’ presence. He’s always been charming, hot, and likable, it’s just that he’s never seemed to have been given the one role to really launch him beyond “hot and sexy British dude”. As Professor Marston, he not only gets to use that charm to the fullest-extent, but show a great deal of heart and humanity, which can sometimes put this character in a negative light. Which is fine, because it’s the kind of biopic that isn’t afraid to ask if this guy was a sleaze-ball, or a genuinely smart and intelligent man who did a lot for the world of comics and women, and who also appreciated a little bit more fun in the sack. Either way, he’s an interesting fella and it’s nice to see Evans get the chance to do some real work, for once.

Same goes for both Rebecca Hall and Bella Heathcote who are both pretty great. Hall’s a strong, commanding force whenever she’ up on-screen, whereas Heathcote feels sweet and shy, but also smart in every which way. Together, they represent a little part of Marston’s life, but they aren’t just there to be the women that he occasionally bangs – they have lives, hopes, dreams, and ambitions too that, hopefully, one day, they’ll be to achieve. There’s a slight feminist-angle which doesn’t seem to get fully explored as well as it probably should have, but it’s there, and it’s telling us that all women deserve an equal-chance at a career and love.

So can we at least progress, people?

Consensus: Smart, tender, and character-based, Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman isn’t as safe of a biopic as it looks, with solid performances and an interesting-angle on sex and humanity, overall.

8 / 10

Always takes three to tango. And three to get ball-gagged and whipped, cause hey, someone’s gotta help.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Florida Project (2017)

Disney’s overrated anyway.

Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is a young girl currently living in a shady, relatively scummy hotel with her young mother Halley (Bria Vinai). Most days, Moonee is spending her time running around with her friends, causing all sorts of havoc, and getting into all sorts of trouble, while her mother is off trying to make money anyway that she feasibly can. Sometimes, this means selling cologne/perfume on the streets, other times, this means a little something more that Moonee doesn’t quite know about, but everyone around her does. Either way, the two try their best to make something of a lovely little life for themselves, given the current situation that they’re in, despite being only a few miles away from the Magic Kingdom itself. And one person who is also doing all that he can is the manager of the hotel, Bobby (Willem Dafoe). He too has been dealt a pretty crummy hand at life and is just doing all that he can to get by and also ensure that his tenants, that he tries not to get too close to, are safe and sound in their own little bundles of trash paradise.

Save the day for once, Willem!

Basically, it’s two-hours of misery and I loved almost every minute of it.

Actually, that’s a lie. The Florida Project isn’t as miserable, or as depressing as I make it sound; Sean Baker is such a talented film-maker that he knows how to keep downbeat, relatively disturbing material like this, not only quick, swift, and entertaining, but also make it all compelling, even when it doesn’t ever seem to have a real story-line or plot to work with. But that kind of works in the movie’s favor; Baker has always moved to the beat of his own drum and here, he gets the opportunity to tell whatever story, however he wants to.

And it’s why the Florida Project is his best movie so far. Sure, it’s a lot like his other movies, in that he focuses on a large part of society that has, unfortunately, been pushed away from the movies, or entirely forgotten about, but this one has so much heart, so much energy, and so much creativity, it’s hard not to get wrapped-up in all of it. Right from the beginning, you have an idea of where it’s going to go and end up, until, about halfway through, it switches itself up, decides to go down another path, and it’s just surprising.

Cause in a way, the Florida Project is a coming-of-age flick, that is very loosely following some form of a plot or story-line. Baker has done this in the past with all of his movies, where he doesn’t really concern himself with much in the way of plot, but instead, just relies on the strong characters and performances to hold things over. Occasionally, he’ll drop in a bit of story here and there, but it’s never anything too crucial to where it ruins the overall improvisational look and feel of the flick.

And it’s what the Florida Project specializes in.

Due to it being a movie about such a downtrodden and depressed group of people, it almost feels like it should be preaching a whole lot more and trying to say something about the way our society is forced to treat these people who we’d rather not admit to being alive, or taking up any space. Baker knows and understands that this is something the common, everyday person thinks and while he, as well as all of us, knows that it’s wrong, he doesn’t let it get in the way of this movie, or getting to actually know these characters. All of them could have easily been pedestals for Baker to jump off of, but he’s a much smarter film-maker than that, to just use compelling characters, for the sake of getting an agenda across – he knows that they are the heart and soul to a good movie and with the characters here, he gets a lot of mileage.

Which is to say that everyone here is great. But what’s really shocking is how very little everyone seems to be working from a script; this is something I thought to myself throughout the whole movie, but it wasn’t until I went home and actually checked-out interviews and realized that a good portion of the movie was improvised and sort of made-up, on the spot, with the actors making their stuff up as they went along. I’d expect this out of a pro like Willem Dafoe (more on him later), but with relative newcomers like Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite, I was especially surprised.

That I never heard of them before now, doesn’t really matter. That they never actually acted before, is all the more shocking.

Damn kids and their ice cream.

In the case of both Prince and Vinaite, these will be star-making roles, and with good reason: Both are great and go well beyond convention. Prince is a smart, sassy, and charming little girl who, just about every second, actually feels like a little kid who may be a little too smart for her own good, but a smart girl nonetheless. Vinaite, despite seeming like the typical cliche of the awful mother who doesn’t really care for her kid and just wants to smoke, drink, and have sex all of the time, eventually, shows us a real heart and humanity within this character. It’s something that you don’t expect with this character – all of the tattoos and piercings, I’ll admit, are more than enough to turn any person off immediately – but that’s sort of the point.

Baker isn’t making a movie full of gorgeously beautiful A-listers, who are risking their lives and careers by slumming it down. In fact, what’s crazy about getting Dafoe here, is that even though he is quite the known-talent, he’s also one of the uglier guys in the business (which I mean, in a good way). So yeah, even though Baker was able to nab a top-tier talent like Dafoe for his small, scummy indie, he was able to get one who fit and looked the part.

That said, Dafoe, like everyone else here, is amazing. He fully understands and sinks into this Bobby character who, you think is going to be a terrible, awful human being who just wants money and lots of it, but shows a true heart after a short while. He actually cares for his tenants and the hotel that he imagines, and while he’s stuck with the hard task of keeping everything all together and in-check, he sort of loves getting the pleasure of keeping this close-knit family, well, together. It’s a wonderful performance filled with subtlety and beauty, sometimes, both at the same time and it makes me happy to not just see Dafoe giving this really small indie a chance, but also working wonders for it, too.

Basically: Give him the damn Oscar already. Same goes for Vinaite. Hell, same goes for the whole movie. Give them everything!

America needs it. We all need it.

Consensus: Scrappy and gritty, the Florida Project realizes the harsh conditions in which it is set, yet, never succumbs to the inherent sadness and is instead, a beautiful, well-told, well-acted, and honest film about growing up, loving those close to you, and making your own little piece of paradise, the only way that you can. It’s sort of sappy, but the best kind.

9 / 10

The American Dream, everybody. Learn it. Love it. Accept it. And shut up.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Starlet (2012)

The bonds that can be forged by simple misunderstandings.

Jane (Dree Hemingway) is an actress down on her luck, short on cash, and in need of a new friend in her life, because her supposed one, Melissa (Stella Maeve), just ain’t cuttin’ it and her boyfriend (James Ransone), isn’t helping matters, either. But one day, Jane gets a surprisingly new lease on life and her apartment when she accidentally stumbles upon a wad of cash hidden inside a thermos purchased from an elderly woman at a yard sale. Conflicted, Jane takes some money for herself, but also makes attempts to befriend the old lady who sold her the thermos in the first place. The old lady turns out to be named Sadie (Besedka Johnson) and although she doesn’t quite know what the hell Jane wants with her, she’s not totally against her wanting to hang around with her day and hearing all of her stories of the good old days. It not only adds a little more hope to Sadie’s later days, but gives Jane a newfound love and appreciation for the sometimes unfortunate, and rather disturbing, life she currently lives.

Put some clothes on, girls! It’s not that hot in L.A.!

Cause who knows? Maybe it will all get better.

Sean Baker does something brilliant here in Starlet, and while it’s no doubt a small aspect of the film, it’s a glaring example of why he’s one of the best writers and directors out there today. At the center of the film, we have Jane, a relatively idiotic woman who doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a job, or even a career; she spends most of her time at home, smoking pot, yelling, listening to trash rap, and caring for her little dog. We get an idea that she’s an actress, but we never actually see her, well, acting.

Until we do. It’s one of the biggest and most well-kept secrets in the whole movie and the ultimate reveal of what Jane does, and how far Baker’s willing to go with it, not only took me by surprise, but had me looking at this character, and the whole movie a whole lot differently. It’s not so much of a twist, as much as it’s just a small, little secret hidden in plain-view – some may have been able to figure it out right away, but for some of us, it wasn’t all that easy. Either way, it’s another sure sign of Baker’s great writing and directing style that, no matter how much he depends on his naturalistic look and feel, the man still has some tricks up his sleeves.

That, and he’s also still a great storyteller, without it ever seeming like he’s trying too hard at all.

And with Starlet, Baker gets a lot of mileage out of just letting the camera sit there and do most of the work for him. He follows these sometimes annoying characters, but Baker never seems like he’s judging any of them for a single second; even Mikey and Melissa, the somewhat evil and conniving couple who live with Jane, just seem ridiculously dumb and not necessarily like they’re out to get any person in particular. Baker is smart in giving us a great idea of who each of these characters are, not just by telling us through a story, but just by their actions, and it’s as much of a testament to the actors, as it is to Baker himself.

That said, the performances here are all pretty great. Dree Hemingway, who’s beauty commands your attention with every frame, seems like a natural for the screen, just as her mother was. But in this case, there’s a much more dangerous and rather dark mystery about her that makes her compelling, as we never full well if we can trust her to have good morals, or if she’s just too dumb to function, too. Regardless, Hemingway is great here and makes Jane a whole lot more interesting, packed with a heart, than she had any right to be.

Mariel?

But the real stand-out here is newcomer Besedka Johnson as Sadie who, unfortunately, gave her first and last performance here.

But it’s a beautiful performance from Johnson, because it never seems like she’s acting. This was probably done so on purpose, hence why she was chosen for the role, but it really works in Starlet‘s favor – there are genuinely moments where it seems like Johnson is just being herself and forgetting that there was a camera, somewhere, out there, filming her every move and action. The chemistry she has with Hemingway is beautiful and while the movie does an awful bit of navel-gazing by the end and almost forgets about plot, them two are so extraordinary to watch, it’s hard to complain too much.

Or at all.

Consensus: With a thoughtful direction and attention to the performances, Starlet is a small, subdued, but surprisingly smart character-study of two women who couldn’t be further different from one another.

8 / 10

“So, uh, what’s your favorite color?”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Prince of Broadway (2008)

Who needs to be the King?

In New York City’s Flatiron District, Lucky (Prince Adu), newly arrived from Ghana, hocks fake designer products out of back rooms with his partner, Levon (Karren Karagulian) and seems to be making something of a living with it. Even though his living-quarters have him spaced to just one tiny room and the business itself can be very dangerous, what with the feds constantly sniffing around, Lucky seems to be doing fine enough as is and not really having to worry about much in his life. But then, it all changes when his toddler son comes to live with him – the same son he had no idea really existed, until a former-flame of his can’t handle the child anymore and basically just drops him off on Lucky’s doorstep. Lucky isn’t ready for this and he doesn’t quite know what to do, and after a few attempts to pawn the child off on somebody else to make their responsibility, Lucky realizes that it’s up to him to take care of the child. He does, however, it all comes at a cost.

Daddy knows best. Especially with the coats.

As usual, Sean Baker takes a look at the small working-class of America and doesn’t ever seem to lose sight of the realism. In Prince of Broadway, what’s so interesting about Baker’s approach to the material is that he could have easily made this into a sort of broad comedy, with wacky hijinx and silliness abound, like how, for instance, Lucky can’t really father this child and doesn’t know much of anything. Actually, you know what? That sort of does happen here.

But it’s done in such a smart way that you almost never know. Baker starts off with a conventional plot-line about a long, lost father trying to take care of his child the best way that he knows how, and while you can tell that it’s going to be all easy yucks and jokes, eventually, it turns into something far more serious and meaningful. Sure, it’s funny to laugh at Lucky for being ill-equipped at this whole father-thing, but it’s also nice to see him grow into something of a loving, caring, adoring, and passionate father who does what he can, for the kid he hardly knows.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg with Prince of Broadway, which is also a bit of a problem.

Can’t even walk? Ugh! Long way to go!

See, so many of Baker’s films are best when he’s sort of just coasting his movies along, not really giving us a plot, nor demanding anything of us, either – he just wants our attention and to never have our eyes wander away from what’s going on. It’s how Baker does best and I think it goes without saying that, often times, it seems like plot may not be his best thing. In the case of Prince of Broadway, this seems especially clear; the whole subplot concerning Lucky and his boss, while well-done, also seem to pad the movie’s run-time a lot longer than it probably needed to. Baker is clearly making a statement about the United States cracking down on the everyday, normal American citizen just trying to make ends meet, by any means, but it seems a tad preachy and a little bit murky, considering we get so much other stuff with Lucky and his kid.

But at the center of all this, is Prince Adu as Lucky who not only gives us a very charismatic performance, but the kind that would make someone a star. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened just yet for Prince Adu, but if that doesn’t ever happen, it’s okay, because his role as Lucky proves that the guy has the chops to be both funny and a little sad, sometimes, in the same scene. Baker doesn’t really demand much of Adu, but he’s willing to give both Baker and the movie, more than they probably bargained for.

Damn. I wish this guy did more.

Consensus: Prince of Broadway gets bogged-down a bit in plot, but still benefits from a heartfelt, lovely, and compelling story of a father coming to terms with his life and responsibilities, without ever seeming all that ham-fisted.

7.5 / 10

Man Push Baby Cart.

Photos Courtesy of: Elephant Eye Films

Take Out (2004)

Tip your drivers, people. Please.

Ming Ding (Charles Jang) is an illegal Chinese immigrant working as a deliveryman for a Chinese take-out shop in New York City. On a typical day, Ming puts up with a lot of crap from customers who are either too rude, or too unappreciative of someone of his delivery-skills. But because Ming knows very little English and is just trying to get by, he doesn’t care too much – he just continues to ride on, delivering treats to random New Yorkers, and getting very small tips, whenever they do come around. Problem is, Ming is behind with payments on his huge debt to the smugglers who brought him to the United States and he’s got until the end of the day to deliver the money that is due. After borrowing most of the money from friends and relatives, Ming realizes that the remainder must come from the day’s delivery tips. In order to do so, he must make more than double his average daily income.

“America blows, man. Everyone’s so angry here.”

You’ve got to love co-writer and co-director Sean Baker, who did this movie with Shih-Ching Tsou, for not ever bucking to convention. Mostly all of his movies focus on the outliers of society, the ones we don’t normally see as the main focus in a full-length feature-flick, where they aren’t just given the spotlight, but the ample opportunity to show their side of the story and the argument that sometimes comes with having a story be all about them. It’s also always interesting of Baker to never make it seem like his movie’s following any certain conventional plot, or story – mostly, we’re just plopped-down in the middle of someone’s life, where we are forced to sit there, watch, observe, and take them all in for what they are. Of course, this can be awfully intimate and uncomfortable, but that’s kind of the raw beauty that Baker gets away with in all of his flicks.

And Take Out is no exception. In fact, it’s one of his better ones.

By focusing on the small, meek, mild and awfully quiet Ming, Baker is able to tell us a great deal about this person’s life, without really telling us much of anything at all. He goes about his day, delivering food, getting crappy tips, and constantly wondering if he’s going to have enough cheddar to pay-off his dealers. We of course learn more about his life over the course of the movie, but Baker gives us character-development in smart, small ways that sort of happen without us ever really knowing; just sitting there and watching him gives us a better sense of the rhythm in which his life is lived.

Look at all that effort! Give him a big tip! Come on!

And therefore, we are not only more sympathetic to Ming himself and his situation, but many more out there just like Ming in our country, trying their best to survive, with very little resources. So often we see in today’s day and age the criticism of immigrants coming over to the U.S., soaking up benefits, taking up space, and generally taking away jobs from those natives who deserve it the most (this is all ridiculous and false, mind you), but little do these irate and pissed-off people know and understand that what they are doing, what they are trying to accomplish is, above all else, the American Dream. They, just like you or I, want to get by, be safe, happy, and have a little bit of money in their pockets, in hope of a better future for themselves, or their loved-ones.

It’s the notion of what this country was built on and to rob others of that privilege, is awful.

Take Out is the kind of movie that shows this, but never quite hits us over-the-head with it; Baker’s way too smart to really stand on a soapbox and preach to the rest of the world. Instead, he gives us a small, contained, but always compelling feature about someone doing what they can to survive and make a life, in the Big Apple, and not quite knowing full-well what’s going on around him. He’s just a small fish, in a very large pond and there’s a lot more out there like him.

Consensus: With a naturalistic look and feel, Take Out never feels too stylistically challenging, but is better off for that, giving us a glimpse into the life of an interesting, yet, all too sad individual who is far too similar to others out there in the world.

8.5 / 10

Just another day in Chinatown. With lots and lots of rain.

Photos Courtesy of: Take Out the Movie.com