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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Monthly Archives: December 2017

200 Cigarettes (1999)

Ring in the New Year, but without these people.

It’s New Year’s Eve 1981 and everyone’s out there lookin’ to find that special someone, or to get drunk, or to score some drugs, or to get laid, or hell, all of the above. None of these people really care, because they just want to get over the crap year that they’ve already had, get whacked out of their minds, join a party or two, and move on with their lives. Even if that means bedding some rando for a little bit, then so be it. For instance, there’s a young couple (Jay Mohr and Kate Hudson), who get together, only to then realize that one was a virgin and wants something more out of the relationship. There’s one story involving two besties (Paul Rudd and Courtney Love), who want to get over their ex’s and will do whatever they can to find that special someone when the clock strikes at 12. Then, there’s two young girls (Gaby Hoffmann and Christina Ricci), who are out on the town and roaming for whatever parties they can find. And then, finally, there’s another upper-class girl (Martha Plimpton) planning a stacked and studded New Years party, but for some reason, nobody’s coming. Like, at all.

“Hey, wanna get out of here and fire our agents?”

Oh, and Dave Chappelle plays a cab driver that keeps conspicuously showing up whenever the movie needs some laughs.

Why didn’t 200 Cigarettes work? Some chalk it up to the fact that it was released in February, therefore, not really serving as the movie you need to see before the holiday was around. Others chalk it up to the fact that it was produced heavily by MTV, despite it being about a generation that the MTV crowd would have little to nothing to relate to. And others mostly just say that it was that there was no real driving-force behind the movie, despite the non-stop barrage of names in the ensemble, as nobody here was really all that huge or as established as they would be in another year or so.

But another reason, and here’s my crazy theory, is that it just sucked.

Plain and simple.

And yes, 200 Cigarettes sucks. It’s the kind of movie that should have been a fine and fun time, with charming people, a charming holiday to revolve around, and an even more so charming soundtrack of pure disco and new wave hits. But instead, it becomes this annoying, unfunny, and terrible waste of a movie that has no clue what it wants to do with everyone who’s in it, nor does it ever really seem to make much sense of itself. It wants to be a raunchy, dirty and over-the-top R-rated comedy about a bunch of young hooligans doing what they can to find that special someone, but also wants to be a sweet, sentimental, and nostalgic R-rated comedy about the same thing. It’s going for that American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused vibe, but instead, feels like an overly-plotted, over-written, and over-acted Robert Altman movie, done for the MTV crowd.

Must have saw the final-product.

Sure, that sounds interesting, on paper, but as it plays out, on film, it doesn’t work. It’s just dull and nothing much else to it. It’s not funny in the slightest and even when you think that the movie’s given up on trying to make us laugh, it brings another random cast-member in and, guess what? Does what it can to reel the laughs right out of us.

But it doesn’t work. Like, at all.

And what makes it even worse is that, again, the cast is so stacked and impressive, it’s hard not to take notice. But with a movie like 200 Cigarettes, you have talented people like Dave Chappelle, Courtney Love, Elvis Costello, Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, Martha Plimpton, Paul Rudd, Janeane Garofalo, Christina Ricci, Jay Mohr, Kate Hudson, Gaby Hoffman, David Johansen and Caleb Carr, to name a few, and none of them are given anything hilarious or fun to do. Some, like Chappelle and Rudd, overcome the material because they seem to be giving it their all and seeing whatever sticks, but everybody else here is just stuck being caricatures of people who are supposed to be funnier and a whole lot more interesting, but nope, they’re not. They’re just annoying and as phony as you can get.

It’s weird too, because, like I said, everyone here went on to do much better, much more interesting, and oh yeah, way more interesting things with their careers. In a way, 200 Cigarettes can work as a bittersweet bit of nostalgia, because it features literally everyone before they grew up, got smart, possibly fired their agents, and started doing much more interesting things with their careers. Sure, people like David Johansen, Angela Featherstone, and Caleb Carr, sort of fell-off the map, never to be heard from again, but maybe they saw this and thought, “Maybe it’s time to take a break and pick things up later.”

Thankfully, nobody else her got that memo, even though we wouldn’t blame them for having done so.

Consensus: Even with a crazy talented ensemble, 200 Cigarettes is purely unfunny and dull, stretching itself far and wide beyond its promising premise of everything happening in one, crazy, eventful night.

2 / 10

My feelings exactly.

Photos Courtesy of: Paramount Pictures

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I, Tonya (2017)

Goodfellas on ice.

In the early-90’s, Tonya Harding (Margot Robbie) was one of the premier figure-skaters in the country, let alone, the world. She was popular, talented, driven, and oh yeah, a lot different from the prissy, overly-attractive skaters out there. It’s why the judges didn’t love her so much and felt as if she wasn’t the face of the figure-skating world, despite her being the best in the game and clearly deserving of a spot on the Olympics team. It’s also what Tonya’s husband, Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), thought too, and it’s why he decided to take matters into his own hands, therefore tarnishing Tonya’s good name and professional career forever. But in a way, it was destined to always be this way, according to her mother (Allison Janney), who never let up on her for a single second, no matter how young and/or inexperienced she may have been.

Uh oh. Look out, girl! Here comes the swing!

One of the most important takeaways from I, Tonya is that, above all else, it makes you look at and view Tonya Harding in a different light than I think has ever been done so before. For almost two decades now, Harding’s name has been used as a punchline for something, in all honesty, she never did or even had a hand in; she’s always claimed innocence, but honestly, no one ever wanted to listen. Most people thought she truly was a jealous, evil and maniacle woman who saw what she wanted, saw that she wasn’t going to get it, and decided to do what she could to take away from said person who was going to take it away from her.

I, Tonya, in a way, proves differently. It shows us that Harding had nothing to do with it and even if she did, was she a tad bit justified? Director Craig Gillespie and writer Steven Rogers come together in a very interesting way, in that they don’t ever argue the authenticity of this tale, but argue whether it’s sad and depressing, or over-the-top and hilarious. Or, in a way, is it a little bit of both? Can it be a little bit of both?

In other words, I, Tonya is a tragic-tale that often times, can get played for laughs a little too often, but it’s never, ever boring.

One main reason for that is because the movie never seems to ever settle down, no matter what. Gillespie’s direction is pure-Scorsese in that it’s quick, fast-on-its-feet, and always giving us something new to chew on, at least every five seconds or so. Even the plot-device of having the story told to us by a few different interviews and viewpoints, makes the movie all the more exciting as we’re getting to know the full story of what happened, who did what, who’s to blame, and hell, why any of it matters. I, Tonya is the kind of biopic that could have easily been boring and a little too long for someone like Harding, but as Gillespie and Rogers show, we realize that there’s much more to this story and how it still relates to our world today.

See, one of the main discussion-points behind I, Tonya isn’t whether or not Tonya did it; we already know that she didn’t and we’ve all moved on. What the movie shows us is that the way Tonya’s life was lived, both on and off the rink, mattered a whole lot more to the judges than what she could actually pull-off. She was, as they say, one of the best figure-skaters in the world at one point, however, the judges didn’t like the way she looked, acted, or who she went to bed with and while her life and actions weren’t perfect, the movie argues that none of that should have mattered. Her personal life may have been an absolute wreck and in-shambles from day one, but it didn’t take away from her ability to skate the hell out of her opponents, so why should anybody else care but herself?

Would you really expect a woman with that hair to be a nice, generally-pleasant member of society?

It’s an interesting argument that, unfortunately, gets muddled underneath all of the wacky and crazy hijinx that ensue everywhere you look.

And it’s why I, Tonya, despite being an altogether entertaining and compelling look at Harding’s life, also feels a little off, tonally speaking. Scenes of Harding getting her teeth kicked-in by her husband, while awfully disturbing in nature, are played for chucks here when they shouldn’t; even the times when it seems like her mother’s going too over-the-top with her intimidation, the movie decides to play up an obvious song-cue from whatever retro-playlist it can find. I admire the direction Gillespie takes, in that he makes material like this, literally pop off the screen, but it comes at a price and it’s that it sometimes feels like we’re not fully getting the story of Tonya Harding that we, as well as her, should be treated to.

That said, Margot Robbie is absolutely amazing in this lead role, so that has to at least accounting for something, right? And yes, it does. Robbie’s becoming more and more of an interesting actress as she’s not only taking on roles that take away from her sheer stunning beauty, but that also challenge her more emotionally as an actress; she did it last year in Suicide Squad as the downright insane, but bubbly Harley Quinn, and she does it so here, with equally as much power. As Tonya Harding, we see a sad, tortured soul who just wanted love, acceptance, and to be considered one of the best in the world, but because of mediating circumstances surrounding her life, she just never got what she wanted. Robbie’s plays up this sadness and this desperation so well, that by the end of the movie, when everything has settled and the tone is cooled-off, we truly do see a battered, beaten, and broken-down human being. We feel for her and although we don’t love her, we sure as hell root for her.

And it’s easy to when you’re played by Margot Robbie, someone who is closely becoming one of our best actresses around.

Same goes for Allison Janney who, for what seems like the first time in forever, is given a role in a movie that’s up-to-par with the constant skills she shows on TV. As Tonya’s mother, Janney steals every scene as this mean, cruel, and downright nasty woman who always challenges her daughter to do better, isn’t afraid to say what’s on her mind, and push all those around her. It seems phony and like a made-up character, but by the end, we realize that this woman’s real and it makes Janney’s performance all that more impressive. Same goes for Sebastian Stan as Jeff Gillooly, an idiot who we learn to grow some sympathy and heart for over the film even if he is, in the end, just another man who took the main-prize from Tonya Harding’s life.

Like all men do to the successful women around them. Nice going, fellas. Way to make us all look bad.

Consensus: The tone is a bit wobbly and all-over-the-place, but I, Tonya benefits from some great performances, and an electrifying pace that hardly ever slows down.

8 / 10

That’s how it starts. And unfortunately, ends.

Photos Courtesy of: NEON

Call Me By Your Name (2017)

Oh and I will.

It’s the summer of 1983, and precocious 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is spending the days with his family at their 17th-century villa in Lombardy, Italy. Most of the time, he spends his days reading, bathing in the oh hot sun, taking a trip around the city, and meeting all sorts of colorful and cool people. One such person he meets is Oliver (Armie Hammer), a handsome doctoral student who’s working as an intern for Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg). Immediately, Elio is attracted to Oliver, but he doesn’t know why, or how the hell it even happened. For all that he knows, he likes girls and even has a girlfriend who may, or may not, be totally in the picture. Either way, Elio tries to do whatever he can to reach out to Oliver, get his attention and hopefully, get him to fall for him right back. Elio possibly gets what he wants, but at the same time, also gets a lot more than he bargained for.

That’s how the lovin’ starts. It always does.

Call Me By Your Name is perhaps the most subtle movie I’ve seen in quite some time and I mean that as a total compliment. Director Luca Guadagnino and writer James Ivory seem to come together and compliment each other’s styles in that one knows how to tell the visual side of the story, whereas the other knows how to actually tell the story, but not too much. In other words, we get a lot of moments of pure, absolute silence, where instead of listening to characters jabber on and on, we actually just watch as they bike through a field, or walk side-by-side, or hell, even just a rare glimpse at the beautiful nature that surrounds these characters.

And you know what? These scenes speak louder than words themselves and it’s why Call Me By Your Name is a silent, but deadly revelation. It’s a slow-burn for sure that, on the surface, may seem like a conventional coming-of-ager about a boy growing up, realizing who he is, what he wants, and answering the age old question of what love feels like, but it’s also about so much more. It’s about family, history, architecture, and how all can come together in random ways to give us a clue of who the hell we are, why we are here, what our purpose is, and what’s next to come.

Sounds like a bit of a stretch, I know, but to watch how it all plays out, trust me, it somehow works like gangbusters.

And it’s why it’s hard to watch Call Me By Your Name and not get wrapped-up in all of the raw, heavy and honest emotions that the movie isn’t afraid to embrace. It’s a love story for sure, but it’s one of first love and how, often times, it’s the messiest, most awkward, and weirdest times in our lives; we don’t know what we’re doing, what we’re saying, or how we’re going to act next. But in a way, it’s a truly beautiful time that makes us feel even more human than ever before and we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Just turn around. Please.

But it’s why Guadagnino’s direction and Ivory’s script balance each other out so well – they both know what works in a small, yet powerful character-drama, and to have it speak volumes to all who see it. Some will obviously be turned-off, like certain celebrities, of how it’s a gay romance, featuring a 17-year-old-boy, but the movie breezes by that notion reminding you that, yes, it’s consensual, and also, in Italy, it’s legal. That’s neither here nor there, though, because the movie isn’t about what’s in good, or poor taste, as much as it’s about two men, finding one another, understanding each other, and above all else, falling in love, even if they sometimes have an awfully hard time of admitting it.

Oh, and the performances are pitch perfect, too.

For one, it’s great to finally see, after all of these years of me championing him as the “possibly next Johnny Depp”, Armie Hammer gets the role that’s most deserving of his charm, good-looks, chiseled-body, and overall atmosphere of general coolness. As Oliver, Hammer’s this tall hunk of a man that literally swarms over the movie, even when he’s not around; Elio is always thinking about him, his body, and his unabashed charisma and we can totally see why. Hammer’s not afraid to make this character a bit of a dork, but we sort of love him for that and we start to realize that no matter how much of a hard-front this character may put on, it’s all going to come crashing through sooner or later. And when it does, it’s a beautiful sight to witness, as it not only shows us that there’s more to this character than just good looks and a winning-personality, but a whole lot more range to Hammer himself.

But even better is Timothée Chalamet as Elio, one of the best coming-of-age performances in quite some time because, if anything, it just feels all too genuine. Though Chalamet is at least 21 or so in real-life, he feels like such a real kid that it’s not hard to despise him at first; he’s so insecure, so awkward, and so full-of-himself, it’s hard not to want to smack him in the face. Then, it’s easy to realize that he’s also a kid, trying to make sense of himself, and at that age, I think it’s safe to say that we were all like him, in one way or another. Regardless, Chalamet’s progression from being awkward and a little deuchy, to absolutely starstruck, head-over-heels, and at a total loss for words, is not only believable, but amazing to watch.

And together, there’s absolute fireworks between the two. There’s a real and true love between them both that goes from lust and admiration, to full-on, hot, sweaty, and emotional passion. It’s both sensual and beautiful and oh yeah, it makes it one of the best movies of the year. If not the best.

But hey, we’ll wait for that list until later.

Consensus: Both emotionally overbearing and powerfully subtle at the same time, Call Me By Your Name is the rare achievement in storytelling that transcends coming-of-age tropes with a genuine heart, emotion, and two of the finest performances of the year.

9 / 10

Do it! Come on, guys!

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures Classics

Wormwood (2017)

The government lies? Say no more!

It was a cold, winter night in 1953 and Frank Olson, an American biological warfare scientist and CIA employee, was found dead on the sidewalk, just below his hotel window. The idea was that he through himself, due to paranoid visions, depression, and a general sense of craziness somewhere in his mind. However, as the years have gone by, and more information has come out, there’s been more mystery surrounding the death of this man. Now, many decades later, his son, Eric, is telling the story the way he sees it, with all sorts of shady characters coming in and out, information being swept under the rug, conspiracy theories, and oh yeah, lots and lots of LSD.

PIGS!!

Wormwood is typical-form for Errol Morris, one of the greatest living documentarians we have around. At first, Wormwood seems like a simple case of a man, pushed to the edge of his own mind, having to kill himself and get rid of all the pain, anguish, and general craziness that overtook his mind. But as time goes on, and the story continues to develop, we realize that there’s something much more complex, more dangerous, more scary, and more upsetting than that. If anything, it’s a case of another man wrongly killed for the sole sake of the government possibly protecting its ass and making sure that there are no loose-ends.

Then again, maybe not.

The real genius surrounding Wormwood is how it never seems to really center in on one theory, idea, or theme about where it’s headed, what it’s story’s about, and just exactly we’re supposed to learn from this whole story being told to us. Morris is such a smart director that he allows for Eric to tell the story, the way he sees fit, and sort of allows us to draw our own conclusions about this man, his father, what happened, and who exactly to trust. It’s a smart choice on Morris’ part, as this could have easily been a generic-affair, where it was clear where the story was headed, what surprises we were going to get, and especially, all told by a guy we didn’t care about.

But that’s the thing: Eric Olson is actually a pretty interesting guy, in such an odd way. He’s clearly dorky and a little weird, but like his father was before his untimely death, he’s not crazy. Sure, he’s got conspiracy-theories rolling all over his head and he’s sure as hell willing to talk about each and every single one that he sees fit, but he also knows and understands that even he can get a little far-fetched with his theories, too; one theme surrounding Wormwood is how Eric, after decades and decades of not letting this go and searching far and wide for the truth, somehow needs to just let it go.

“Dear Diary. S**t’s ‘effed-up.”

He knows this, but he just can’t stop and absolutely won’t stop. Why? He believes an injustice has been done and so does Morris.

And it’s why Wormwood, despite its long running-time, and often times, annoying reenactments done by a great ensemble, it’s worth the ride. So much information gets tossed at us, but Morris knows how to settle it all down to where we can keep up, join this so-called “adventure”, and come to our own conclusions of what really happened, what didn’t, and what we are, or not, being told from daddy government. It’s just solid investigative journalism and in a day and age where all of that is being threatened by scared politicians, it’s a nice reminder that it still exists in a world such as this.

Let’s just hope it sticks around and especially, with Morris leading the charge.

Consensus: Even with it being nearly four-hours or so, Wormwood is a spell-binding, thrilling, and rather complex tale of intrigue, family-relations, and government-conspiracy that seems to get more and more interesting, the more we learn and think about it.

8 / 10

It’ll be okay, Frank. I think.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Mr. Roosevelt (2017)

Felines have a way of bringing friends and family together.

Emily (Noël Wells) is a comedian who’s trying to make it big in L.A., but in all honesty, it’s just not totally working out. The gigs aren’t really coming through and the ones that do, well, let’s just say that they’re not the best to put on a reel. And to make matters worse for Emily, she receives a call that her cat, Mr. Roosevelt, is ill and dying, back at home, in Texas, with her ex-boyfriend (Nick Thune), and his current girlfriend (Britt Lower). Immediately, Emily gets on the next flight home and realizes that she doesn’t really want to go back to L.A. just yet; instead, she’d much rather find herself again, even if that also means having to live in the same house as her ex-boyfriend and his girlfriend. Not the best situation by any means, but they all try to make it work, even if Emily can’t get past being stuck in life and not really understanding just where the hell to go, or how to get there.

Basically, it’s another coming-of-ager about a person, in their 30’s, trying to figure out what the hell they want to do.

Don’t be so confused, gal. You’ve only got a few more years to get your s**t fully complete together.

And so yeah, we’ve got a lot of Mr. Roosevelt over the past few years, but there’s an authenticity, heart, emotion, and above all else, a sense of humor that makes it a step above some of the other more annoying, millennial entries. Writer/director/star Noël Wells seems like she’s coming from the heart here and really has us understand just who this person is, right from the very second we get to meet here; while we don’t really know too much about her other than that she’s young, stuck, and a tad confused, it’s not that hard to sympathize with her, either. Wells herself is also so lovely and charming that really, making this character unlikable would have been incredibly hard to do.

After all, it’s Wells’ film both behind and in front of the camera, and it shows. Mr. Roosevelt feels like a labor-of-love from everyone involved, with the budget not seeming all that high, the script not being all that ambitious, and perhaps the only real technical-feat of all is that it was shot on 16 mm film. But still, somehow it feels a slight step above what we’re used to seeing with these kinds of dramedies and for that, it not only stands as an impressive debut, but a solid character-study of a woman who is a lot like all of us.

We’re just not as likable as Wells, obviously.

Uh like hella ‘kward.

But this isn’t just Wells film, first and foremost, and she shows that, as a director, she isn’t afraid to let the camera focus on someone else. Nick Thune plays her ex-boyfriend who seems like a bit of an unlikable wimp, who then proves to be much more interesting as the film progresses; Britt Lower, as usual, is likable and charming, even though she’s playing this somewhat unlikable character; Daniella Pineda plays Emily’s newfound-friend from home that is basically the comedic sidekick, but with a little more to her; and yeah, there’s so many other lovely characters, it’s hard to really list them all down.

Just know that Mr. Roosevelt is a good time, with good people, and a good message about finding yourself, not trying too hard to do just that, and not really getting all worked up about it not coming to you right away. It may not be a game-changer in the slightest, but for Wells’ career behind the camera, it’s a sure sign of things to come. Even if the more she directs, means the more she stays away from Master of None, sadly.

Oh well. Can’t have all the pleasures of the world, I guess.

Consensus: Mr. Roosevelt is, yet again, another coming-of-age dramedy about a 30-year-old realizing their full-potential, but with a solid amount of heart, humor, and charming performances, it works a lot more than some of those nauseating experiences.

7.5 / 10

“Cheers to underachieving!”

Photos Courtesy of: Paladin Films

Bright (2017)

Shine bright, shine far.

In an alternate present day, humans, orcs, elves and fairies have been coexisting since the beginning of time. And existing amongst all of this craziness are two cops, who do their best to get along and work side-by-side, despite all sorts of prevalent issues in society. There’s Scott (Will Smith), a human who doesn’t trust anything, or anyone that doesn’t look like him and there’s Nick (Joel Edgerton), an orc who is singled-out for what he looks like, despite him wanting to do some real good for this world. During a routine-stop, they find an elf-woman (Lucy Fry), who seems to be on the run and in some great danger. What happens next not only spoil these guys’ days, but their lives as well and has them thinking long and hard about whether they want to stick together as partners, or not.

Who needs Bad Boys 3 now?

Bright is a pretty big disappointment, because regardless of how stupid and over-the-top it looks, it could have at least been ridiculously stupid and fun, just as in the way Suicide Squad was. But for some reason, director David Ayer gets stuck with Max Landis’ script that seems to scratch some fun surfaces, but ultimately, doesn’t always know what to do with itself. It’s the kind of script that sets out to be a cross between Bad Boys and Zelda, then change things halfway through to being a movie about how we should all get along, love one another, and oh yeah, get rid of the bad guys in the world.

Not bad sentiments, but considering they’re stuck inside something like this, it just doesn’t work.

If anything, Bright‘s the kind of movie that feels like a rough combination of a solid director, with a pretty lame screenwriter and together, they can’t seem to make much sense of where they want to go. Cause for all the crap some of his movies get, there’s no denying that Ayer knows what he’s doing when it comes to rough, tough and pretty fun action and we get a bunch of that in Bright. Believe it or not, it’s a movie where the shaky-cam doesn’t show up every five seconds or so, and we actually get to see what’s happening on the screen and get an idea of where everyone is, when all the action’s going down. Sounds so simple, I know, but it matters in a movie like this.

Wake up, Edgar!

But when the action isn’t, the clunky dialogue is and it is, once again, where Bright falters. Some of it can be funny and the world created here is definitely interesting, but there’s too many genres and subplots being tossed around here, that it never comes together. It’s as if Landis kept adding on things to the script as the movie was being shot, and rather than telling him, “no”, Ayer just allowed it all to come in.

Big mistake. Always tell Max Landis no.

Regardless, Bright gets by mostly with the charm of the cast, all of whom feel a tad bit bore and with good reason. Will Smith is doing his usual Will Smith-y thing and is fine most of the time, but yeah, we’ve seen this character a hundred times before; Joel Edgerton is wasted in a role that hides him underneath tons and tons of make-up, not to mention he already looks goofy enough as is, that it’s hard to ever take the character seriously; Noomi Rapace shows up as the bad-ass villain and is just that, and it’s fun; and Edgar Ramirez, in what seems to be the 8th role in-a-row, shows up, reads his lines, looks bored, and disappoints me even more. Why has Hollywood failed this guy so badly? Seriously, guys.

Consensus: Bright is big and stupid, and at times, can be a little bit of fun for that, but the messy and bloated script can also get in the way of what should have just been a silly time at home, Netflix and chillin’.

5 / 10

Go orc yourself, bro.

Photos Consensus: Netflix

Molly’s Game (2017)

Win or lose, it’s always a good time.

Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) was on-track to become one of the best skier in the Olympics when a tragic incident ended her career in one fell swoop. Young, talented, smart, and without any sense of what to do with the rest of her life, Molly moves to L.A. where she begins working for some awful talent-agent (Jeremy Strong), who demands a lot of her, but also allows her to help out with his high-stakes poker games that he uses to hop-knob with all of the Hollywood Elites. Eventually, Molly starts becoming more and more of a regular at these games, learning the people, getting to know them, their skills, the tricks, the trades, the rules, and most of all, the lay of the land and how to run your own successful poker-table. It’s what gives Molly the grand idea: Start her own. And it works. She soon becomes so recognized for these games that, after awhile, the FBI catches on and it’s now up to her lawyer (Idris Elba) to come in and hopefully save the day. But the issue is: Just who are these Hollywood Elites that Molly got to know so damn well?

That’s the kicker: She won’t tell.

“Seriously, that much f****n’ money?”

It’s odd that it took Aaron Sorkin this long to direct one of his own scripts and well, Molly’s Game shows us why. Sure, it’s got everything that you could possibly want and need from a Sorkin movie – snappy dialogue, humor, drama, cheesiness, solid performances, and a zippy pace. But it’s also 140 minutes, which makes it total and complete overkill of what we know and are able to handle from a Sorkin production.

Sometimes, especially in the case here, we just need that middleman to help the audience handle what Sorkin’s putting to the paper, and it’s why all of his previous movies, are so damn good. Whichever director was handling it (whether it was David Fincher, Rob Reiner, or hell, even Bennett Miller), they knew what they were working with, what worked, what didn’t, what needed to be cut-down, and what made sense in the long-run. Those directors helped give us some of Sorkin’s best bits of writing because, well, they were tight and constrained.

In Molly’s Game, there is no constraint, and that’s both amazing and annoying.

It’s amazing because a lot of what’s in Molly’s Game isn’t just enjoyable, but it’s downright exciting. As a directorial-debut, Sorkin shows a great pizzazz when it comes to keeping this movie ever so quick, almost to the point of where it seems like he’s skimming the surface. But he really isn’t – he’s informing us of what matters in these games, what the stakes are, who the characters are that matter, why they matter, what their backgrounds are, etc. It’s a lot to take in and the movie could have easily been a lot, lot longer, but thankfully, it isn’t and even at 140 minutes, it can zip by and entertain.

That said, there is still so much here that feels and seems like overkill that it, yes, could have easily been cut down to size and yes, actually helped the movie out. But because it’s Sorkin directing his own script, he has no constraint and is practically pleasing himself. There are bits and pieces where you can tell that some stuff should have been cut-out, and other cases where you’re almost too entertained to care, but more than not, it’s just a lot.

Like really a lot.

A Molly in a man’s world.

But still, inside of the movie, lies a couple of great performances that help keep this movie interesting and most of all, watchable. And it helps because with Sorkin’s dialogue, you need actors that can handle it all; one of the main reasons why the Newsroom didn’t always work was because some actors knew what they were doing, and others, didn’t. In Molly’s Game case, everyone shows up to the table, ready to play and can handle themselves.

Most especially, Jessica Chastain herself as Molly Bloom, a person who’s perfect to be subject of a Sorkin film. Why? She loves excess, she loves living a fast-style, and most importantly, she has a billion-and-a-half flaws, yet, hides them so well with the snap of her tongue, you won’t ever notice. In this role as the sassy, but smart woman, Chastian gives a ferocious performance that reminded me a lot of her performance from last year’s Miss Sloane, but here, there’s more to her than just pure nastiness and cynicism. Once you get to the core of this character, you realize that she’s just a sad, rather lonely girl who wanted all sorts of fame, fortune, and a pat on her back from her daddy and she got it all, but it came at a price.

It’s a great performance that feels like another amazing showing for Chastain.

It’s also great to see others work well with Sorkin’s writing, that you probably wouldn’t expect. Idris Elba is quite solid in the role as Molly’s conflicted lawyer who doesn’t really want to represent her, but also can’t help; Kevin Costner shows up every once and awhile as her demanding and rather strict-father, but has a nice couple of scenes where he chills out with her and shows his true heart; Chris O’Dowd’s shady character shows up halfway through and, unfortunately, feels like filler; Bill Camp’s little bit by the end of the first-act, shows us everything that the man does so well; and Michael Cera, as “Player X”, proves that he can be an a-hole, but a rather intimidating one, despite looking and sounding like he’s 12-years-old,

Sort of like the person his character is meant to be portraying. And I’ll leave it at that.

Consensus: Quick, snappy, well-acted, and more entertaining than it has any right to be, Molly’s Game is an impressive showing for Sorkin, who’s pulling double-duty, but at 140 minutes, also feels like all filler, but no real killer.

7 / 10

Hero? Or heroine? Or a little bit of both? Who knows!

Photos Courtesy of: STXfilms

The Post (2017)

What’s a newspaper?

After her husband kills herself, Katharine Graham (Meryl Streep) becomes the first female publisher of a major American newspaper with the Washington Post. And for awhile, under her tutelage and before, it was a relatively cozy, carefree newspaper that was fine as it was, but never really pushed the envelope, so to speak. But in the early-70’s, the times were about to change with help from editor Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks), who wants for the paper to be more than it is. That’s why when he finds about Dan Ellsberg (Matthew Rhys) and his report about the war in Vietnam, he races right for it, even when the New York Times had the same story, same person, and same source, yet, because of outside government interference, weren’t allowed to roll with it. Which begs the question: If it’s that jaw-dropping and controversial, why should the Post put it out? Better yet, should they be allowed to? This is what ultimately comes between Bradlee and Graham, as the two not only ruffle each other’s feathers, but practically the whole world’s, too.

On the edge of history and they couldn’t be anymore chill about it.

The Post feels so very much of the time in which we’re currently living, that it makes me happy that it’s out now, as opposed to a whole year or so later. For one, the political-climate, hopefully, will be much different, but also, who knows what’s to come of modern-day journalism as we know it? President Trump, his administration, and all sorts of rich right-wing Republicans have made it known that they do not like the way journalism is in today’s day and age and with every outlet we see swallowed-up, comes another notion that the world of journalism may be changing to becoming less and less based on actual fact, and more biased, depending on who’s paying the bills.

It’s scary and downright terrifying, especially for a journalist like myself, and it’s why the Post works as well as it does. It deals with these issues of journalism that feel very of the time, despite the movie being set in the early-70’s, but it also doesn’t forget to tell a story, with compelling characters, and make sense of why it’s so damn relevant and above all else, matters. The Pentagon Papers’ publishing changed the way journalism is read and seen and it’s why the Post, despite not quite reaching the same heights it sets out to hit, still gets the job done in reminding us why it all matters.

It also does a solid job of reminding us that Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest journeymen directors of our time and that will never change, regardless of age, time, or hell, subject-material.

Ah, the good old days of when you could smoke everywhere and anywhere! BRING. THEM. BACK.

Even at the ripe age of 71, Spielberg may not find ways to surprise us, but he finds himself tackling something surprisingly a little more taut, small, and contained, that it’s exciting when the movie finally takes off. Sure, the first-half is meant to help introduce us to these characters, the setting, and the climate, but once we get past all of that, it’s balls to the walls and rather exciting, in only the way Spielberg can do. It’s cheesy and there’s still no doubt in my mind that Spielberg is definitely playing within his wheelhouse again, but what a wheelhouse it is.

It’s also great because Spielberg is working with such a solid ensemble here, that almost every second of it is ripe with a great deal of enjoyment. Hanks is perfect as Bradlee, totally dialing in on this man’s brash, raw, and rough attitude that made him one of the best writers/editors of our times, whereas Streep dials it all back, yet, is still equally as effective as Katharine Graham, the sole woman in a man’s world/game. In fact, her story/performance is the true heart and soul of the Post, as we get to know and understand why the breaking of this story matters, and why, her being the owner of the paper itself, matters. She’s a woman, doing her best to stick with a job and a social-environment that would be much happier seeing her in the kitchen, getting dinner ready; the Graham we get here, wouldn’t be caught dead near a oven and it’s another sign that Streep, believe it or not, is one of the greatest actresses of all-time.

Shocker, right?

The one issue that keeps me away from absolutely loving and adoring the Post, like I probably should, is that it all leads up to this one moment that we know is coming and when it does come, like true Spielberg-fashion, it doesn’t know how to end. It harmonizes and goes on, and on, and on, making it seem like Spielberg, and co-writers Josh Singer and Elizabeth Hannah are just going to make their points known about every little issue that they possibly can and it becomes a little bit too much. There comes a moment when the movie needs to end, but it doesn’t and it instead, goes on longer than it needs to, almost to the point of self-importance. A part of me thinks that this has to do with it being pure Oscar-bait, but another part of me feels like these people just have a soapbox to stand on and they aren’t getting off of it.

And while I’m always fine with that, especially when I agree with the preaching, sometimes, enough is enough. Point taken. Move on.

Fin.

Consensus: Like you’d expect from Spielberg, the Post is entertaining, well-acted, and smart, that it culminates in a timely, somewhat important history-lesson, doubling itself as a crowd-pleaser, too.

7.5 / 10

“Well, print it.”

Photos Courtesy of: 20th Century Fox

Downsizing (2017)

Go small, or go home.

It’s the near-future, and Norwegian scientists may have finally cracked the code to solving all of the world’s problems like overpopulation, running out of resources, and global warming: Being able to make people 5 inches (13 cm) tall. Meaning, they’re small. Why does it matter? Well, at first, no one really knows and after awhile, a lot of people’s curiosities get peaked that a good portion of the Earth’s population is so intrigued, they can’t help but get with the program. One such person is Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) an Omaha Steaks physical-therapist who lives an ordinary life, with his ordinary wife (Kristen Wiig), in their ordinary house, and oh yeah, a whole bunch of debt. In fact, it’s so much debt that when they find out a bunch of their friends are now downsizing, they decide that their time is now and they’re ready to take the plunge. The only issue is that she doesn’t and he does, leaving Paul in this world full of miniature-sized people, places, and things and without a clue in the world of what to do.

What a perfect usage for an empty box of pretzels.

Downsizing is a very large, ambitious step in an interesting directing from co-writer/director Alexander Payne who, in the past two decades, hasn’t found himself dealing with small, subtle, character-driven dramedies that are either funny, sad, dramatic, or all of the above. In a way, he’s been on a roll and while I don’t think every film of his is perfect, there’s no doubt denying the fact that the man has a way with movies and it’s shocking to see him take a huge leap towards something bigger, and it’s an even bigger shock to not see it work out all that well.

That said, an mess from Alexander Payne, is still a hell of a lot more interesting than most other messes out there. Still, it doesn’t get past the fact that Downsizing, for all of its ambitions and attempts at being about something far greater and bigger than it is, doesn’t quite reach its full potential. And it’s a shame because in the first hour or so, the movie is every bit as funny as Payne’s other flicks, but with a bit of a different edge to it all: Promise. Rather than just being a small, yet smart movie about everyday humans, in everyday situations, Downsizing shows Payne dealing with all sorts of crazy ideas, themes, strands of plot, and satire that we haven’t seen him play with and for awhile, it seems like he’s going to work through it all and give us something quite memorable.

But then, it turns the other cheek, goes down a different road, and loses itself completely.

Is it still interesting to watch? Sure, but it’s a sort-of mixed-bag. It’s the kind of movie that’s so melancholy, it doesn’t know whether it wants to be sad, overly dramatic, or hilarious. In a way, it’s sort of all those things, but ultimately, isn’t any of them; it feels like Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor are all trying their hands at anything they can find and work with, seeing what sticks, and pasting it altogether, and it’s admirable on their parts. But the movie is literally 130 minutes of barely any momentum, drive, or even energetic-pace, it just feels like a slog that doesn’t know where it wants to go, what it wants to say, or even what the ultimate end-game is.

Life’s better when you’re small as f**k.

It’s still, once again, an interesting movie to watch and see play-out because it’s a hell of a lot more mindful and equipped with ideas than most other dramedies out there, but it also feels like a slight disappointment, coming from Payne and co. Most of all though, it’s a slight disappointment for this cast, who are all great, but also feel as if they’re stuck inside a movie that’s still trying to figure itself out. Matt Damon is perfectly cast as the every-man who ends up becoming our conduit into this weird and wacky world, but also gets so pushed aside, it hardly ever matters if he’s even around.

But that also helps us because he’s pushed out of the way for other members of the cast, like Christoph Waltz, Udo Kier, and most of all, Hong Chau.

Yes, a lot of the buzz concerning Downsizing is a lot less concerned with how good or divisive the movie is, but how good Chau is here, giving us a performance that borders on being a Vietnamese-stereotype, but still has enough heart, humor, emotion, and fun to it all, that it ends up saving the movie. With her broken English, demanding personality, and naggy ways, the movie could have easily made her the punchline to her own joke, but both Payne, Taylor, and Chau see some humanity in this character, which helps her go above and beyond a sketch. She’s smart, sassy, but also a human being and watching how she gets along with everyone around her, is one of the real true beauties about Downsizing.

Unfortunately, it’s one of the only ones.

Consensus: Despite a whole heap of promise and solid performances, Downsizing still falls short of its huge ambitions, but also proves to be an interesting mess on behalf of the always watchable Alexander Payne.

6 / 10

Someone squash them already!

Photos Courtesy of: Paramount

Woodshock (2017)

Feed the tree.

After assisting her mother’s death, Theresa (Kirsten Dunst) is haunted by some crazy stuff. Some of that has to do with the obvious-trauma suffered, the fact that her boss (Pilou Asbaek) is a bit of a dick, and/or that her boyfriend (Joe Cole) isn’t doing all that much for her, either. But most of it comes from the fact that she’s been smoking a whole lot of recreational marijuana, which not only has her experiencing all sorts of premonitions, but also possibly drawing her closer and closer to the afterlife. But what is there awaiting her? Better yet, is any of it worth it? And to make matters worse, she keeps on finding herself in the woods, talking to and looking at the trees, which can only mean one thing: She’s clearly possessed.

I think.

Actually, I’m not entirely sure.

Don’t do it? If you’re in this movie, I’m not really sure.

As the writing/directing debut of Kate and Laura Mulleavy, aka the founders of the fashion-label Rodarte, Woodshock spells out a lot of hope and promise for the duo in the near-future. However, that future may only be in the next couple years; in the meantime, we’re stuck with Woodshock, a trippy, stylized, and awfully boring piece of pretentious pseudo-thriller that seems like it has a lot to show us, but really, doesn’t have much else other than that.

In other words, it’s big, bright, beautiful, and a little cool-looking, but when you get right down to it, peel away all of the colors, and really see what’s on underneath the hood, turns out, there’s nothing really. It’s all just shiny, pretty colors and is that much of a surprise coming from the founders of a fashion-label? Not really. However, you would expect that with a good chunk of money behind this, a solid ensemble, and hell, even a slightly promising premise, that something would give.

But nope. It doesn’t.

So, is Jack Kilmer the trees? Or the branches? Or wait, is he the leaves? Oh man. I am so confused.

If anything, Woodshock proves that the Mulleavy’s have a lot of growing to do, in terms of their scripts. Cause it seems like there’s clearly a visual-story going on here and never once does it seem like they’re slacking in that department – it’s just really hard to go much of anywhere else when that’s all you’ve got. Without a story, a compelling script, or hell, even reasonably watchable characters, all of the bright and shiny colors can only go so far. There has to be something more to it all and without it, Woodshock falls apart.

It gets credit for not being a visual-bore and really working in that sense, which is why it’s a hard movie to be totally against. But when you take into consideration how much thought and care was put into the way the thing looks, it’s really hard to forgive it for not really putting much of any thought into its actual story. Which is weird, because the Mulleavy’s seem like they’re trying to give us a bunch of twists and turns that we don’t see coming, or strands of plot that we have to piece together ourselves, but it still somehow doesn’t work.

Their hearts aren’t in that aspect of the film and it’s what keeps Woodshock away from being anything resembling good.

And you have to feel bad for Kirsten Dunst, who truly seems to be trying with her mostly silent, but tense performance as a woman who literally seems on the brink of self-destruction. It’s a solid showing on her part, because it reminds us that she can put in good work, even when there’s nothing to really work from, but after awhile, you do feel bad for. She’s acting so weird, so crazy, so depressing, and so out-of-it, for essentially, nothing. Sure, she may have gotten a paycheck and a chance to work with some possibly interesting directors, but really, the end-result doesn’t show that.

It just shows that these writers and directors have a long, long way to go.

Consensus: Though it’s visually stimulating, deep inside of Woodshock, there isn’t much else with a weak script, hardly any story, and characters that we don’t really care to know or even get the opportunity to know.

4.5 / 10

Ingmar Bergman is turning in his grave somewhere.

Photos Courtesy of: A24

Kedi (2017)

Cat’s are still evil, though.

On the streets of Istanbul, thousands and thousands of stray cats roam and live their daily lives. Whereas with most cities, anywhere practically on the planet, there’s a grand-sweeping of the cats, to hopefully knock down on the population, Istanbul treats their cats with love, adoration, and respect. And somehow, in return, the cats treat these residents the same way. It’s a little love-hate relationship they all have together, and it shows especially through a certain amount of cats whom get to know, understand, and see for what they bring to this community.

And once again, I am talking about cats here, people.

Sure. Have it. Brat.

Only in the year 2017 could a documentary about cats be released and get this: Actually be sort of good. It’s not that the movie is trying to tap into the sort of niche-market that’s out there for cats and cat-videos, but what Kedi is, above all else, trying to do is pay a tribute to those little felines that roam our streets, we take videos of, mock, feed, clean-up after, love with absolute affection, and don’t really know what they’re thinking. In a way, a documentary about dogs wouldn’t do much justice, because there’s not much of a mystery behind dogs and the way they act; normally, they’re just either nice, or not.

With cats, there’s such a mystery and oddness to each and everyone and it’s what Kedi taps into the most. It’s also why whenever the movie seems to switch its mind to another cat, sometimes at random, it works because we’re interested in seeing where this movie takes us, what cat we get to see and know next, and most of all, just what kind of magic can be caught on film next. And director Ceyda Torun does an admirable job of making this movie more than just a joke and a gag the whole way through – it truly treats these cats with love and respect, and because of that, we do the same.

LET. THEM. FIGHT.

Sure, the cats are cute and cuddly, but they’re also just very interesting to watch and learn more about.

There are, of course, at times, when Torun seems to get a little head of herself with Kedi – certain passages about life, love, and how cats can teach us to appreciate both a little bit more, seem like a stretch for sheer self-importance – but really, what the movie does best is capture these cats, in the moments, and make it seem like more than just a bunch of iPhone videos, strung together by a great and stringy score. It’s hard not to get a little misty-eyed by these cats and sort of fall for each one and that’s basically the point: Torun wants us to see these cats for what they are and what they sort of represent. They’re cute, sweet, and sometimes weird, but they’re what help most people live a normal and fulfilling life.

And you don’t just have to be from Istanbul to know, or understand that – just scroll down your Facebook-feed for an hour or so and you’re bound to find at least a dozen or so videos of cats being cats. Sometimes, that’s good, and sometimes, that’s not. And whatever the hell that says about society, doesn’t really matter because cats help us.

Whether we want to admit it or not.

Consensus: Nothing more than what you see, Kedi is absolutely a documentary of its time, but goes beyond being just a gimmick and actually has a heart and feeling to make it an understated testament to all furry felines everywhere.

7.5 / 10

Cuteness overload! Aaah!

Photos Courtesy of: Oscilloscope Laboratories

Whose Streets? (2017)

Sign o’ the times.

After the killing of an unarmed, 18-year-old African-American by the name of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, people were just about ready to explode. Years and years of corruption, racism, unlawful and unjustified killings, cover-ups, and systemic violence, were all beginning to catch up now and it was up to a community to stand up, use their voices, use their phones, use their cameras, use their social-media accounts, and most of all, used their fists, to not just get their points across, but spread the word to the whole world: Black Lives Matter. And thus, a powerful entity was created, bringing along all sorts of different activists from around the world, all together for once and a lifetime, to prove that enough is enough. Even if, unfortunately, their voices may not get them anywhere except to another jail-cell.

Say it loud!

Whose Streets?, despite it being a perfectly solid, compelling, and sometimes shocking first-hand account of the BLM movement and protests, it also can’t help but feel very of the moment and a little incomplete. Then again, I guess that’s a general problem with a lot of these documentaries; they capture a moment, a point in time, and a popular-issue, that feels like it’s still unraveling as we go on. It’s like when Concussion came out a few years ago, focusing on the issues of head-injuries in the NFL and the possible lawsuits that came, but still felt like it was a little too early on the button.

Maybe some time could have been taken to make it more relevant? Or maybe, it’s just too hard to actually do that? Especially when you’re co-directors Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis who seem to knew that they were sitting on some golden-footage, had something of a narrative to worked with, and didn’t really care about timelines, or junk like that. They just wanted their movie out for the whole world to see, understand, and take notice to.

Who says activism can’t be a little fun?

Which is what every person who cares about humans-rights in the world should be doing, but sadly, they don’t.

Because what Whose Streets? does is that it helps inform those idiotic, right-wingers who go on and on about how “BLM is offensive to all lives and blue lives”, when in reality, that’s not true. The movie shows why they aren’t protesting the idea of white lives mattering; the message/idea is that those lives do matter, AS WELL AS black lives. It’s an easy solution and answer to what seems to drive so many stubborn people crazy, when in reality, it shouldn’t and Whose Streets?, with some awfully unsettling, but all too relevant images and videos, reminds us why these issues matter.

But most importantly, it reminds us that these all go beyond just fighting an incredibly corrupt police-force and judicial-system. It’s mostly about coming together, locking arms, standing as one, and not letting those at the top, separating us and making us forget that we are one and the same, regardless of age, race, gender, political-beliefs, or general background. We all bleed red, want our country and our planet to be safe from evil-doers, and most of all, we want people to stop being killed in the streets, without any rhyme, or reason, or even a slap on the wrist for said killer.

Especially if those being killed in the streets are young, unarmed black kids. Get it together, cops. As well as America.

Consensus: Even if it can’t help but feel incomplete, Whose Streets? is still an effective piece of work because it doesn’t forget to inform, but remind us what’s worth fighting for, and not backing away from the honest pains and truths of this kind of great activism.

8 / 10

Yes.

Photos Courtesy of: Magnolia Pictures

The Ballad of Lefty Brown (2017)

Don’t count out Lefty.

In the West, Lefty Brown (Bill Pullman) is generally considered a bit of a goof-ball. No one takes him seriously and because of that, he’s sort of had a reputation for a guy who everybody knows and likes, yet, would never fully trust to get a job done. It’s why he’s palled around with Edward Johnson (Peter Fonda), a rich land-owner, so much, working for him and earning some amount of respect. That all changes when Edward is shot and killed randomly, leaving Lefty out on a journey to track this killer down and avenge his good buddy. But back at home, while Lefty is on this adventure of sorts, Governor Jimmy Bierce (Jim Caviezel) comes into town and decides that he wants to shake things up, leaving the townspeople a little surprised, as well as Edward’s widow (Kathy Baker), who doesn’t seem to know what to make of the Governor’s many attacks on her land. Possibly, just possibly, there’s a cover-up in the works? And possibly, poor little Lefty is stuck to work it all out himself?

“Who’d you call ‘Righty’?”

The Ballad of Lefty Brown is one of those sweet, small, simple, relatively formulaic, and easy-going Westerns that doesn’t ask too much of us, nor does it really want to change the world, or the genre. It’s just an honest good time that reminds how much fun you can have with a Western when you have solid writing, even more solid performances, and oh yeah, a couple of neat twists and turns. Does that make it a perfect movie by any means? Of course not.

But it does make it worth watching, especially because for what seems like the first time in forever, Bill Pullman gets the chance to have a lead role and it’s quite a great time. It’s interesting, too, because Pullman is basically perfect for this role of Lefty Brown; like Pullman, he’s charming and endearing, but also a bit of a goober who people don’t take seriously and don’t really seem to care about. He’s a general misfit who gets by on being simple and easy-going, which is why Pullman’s performance works so well, because we see the charisma and general likability to him, as well as a little bit of darkness, too.

Don’t trust the good looks, people.

It’s also why Jim Caviezel’s performance is pretty great, too, because there’s someone who, on the surface, seems relatively honest, but deep down inside, just wants more land, more money, and more infamy. It’s a role that seems perfect for the earnest-charm of Caviezel, as it shows us that there’s more going on behind the cracks. And yes, everyone else is pretty good too, and it’s why writer/director Jared Moshe deserves some credit: He gives talented actors a chance to do what they do best and it’s why we need smaller, more character-oriented movies such as this.

They don’t need to be Westerns. Or amazing. Or even near-perfect. They just have to be enjoyable and somewhat smart.

And that’s about it, folks.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t necessarily change the book on the Western-genre, the Ballad of Lefty Brown is a fun, enjoyable, and incredibly well-acted little piece.

6.5 / 10

Just a man and his horse. Sometimes, it’s all you need in life.

Photos Courtesy of: A24

The Shape of Water (2017)

Further proof why we need to save our oceans.

Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is a mute, lonely woman who lives by herself and generally has a calm, care-free, and quiet existence. Her best friend is also her neighbor, Giles (Richard Jenkins), who also happens to be gay and wanting desperately to come out of the closet, yet, with this being early-60’s Baltimore, few things like that are ever heard of. Still, Elisa gets by with her job as a cleaning-lady at a top-secret, government-testing facility, where she mops and cleans up mostly everything. But then, one day, her suspicions get the best of her when she notices a strange fish/person/thing (Doug Jones), that the facility has in its own safe keep so that the Russians can’t get it. What they want to do with it, or what’s going to become of it, they don’t really know, but the security-guard keeping watch over it (Michael Shannon), knows that he wants to make its life absolute and total torture. But Elisa doesn’t like this and sees a little bit of herself in this creature, making their relationship stronger and more passionate as the days go by and the danger of their lives near closer.

Good friends live disheveled lives together.

In all honesty, Guillermo del Toro is a writer/director I respect and admire more than I actually like. Mostly all of his movies work for me, they’re beautiful, put-together exceptionally well, and feel like the creative-work of a visionary at his finest, but for some reasons, the emotions are just never there for me. This isn’t to take away from his work as a writer/director, nor is it to say that those who love his work are “wrong” by any means – it’s just a thing with me. I’ve come to accept it, watch his movies, appreciate them, and move on.

And the Shape of Water is another one of those works I respect and appreciate, yet, by the same token, also walk away from a little cold.

Mostly though, it’s shocking how conventional and simplistic the Shape of Water is, considering that del Toro’s films all take on a rather crazy, confusing, and fantastical tone that seem to come from some other dimension. Not that there isn’t any of his usual fantasy-elements here, but mostly, they’re all toned down so that del Toro can get to a more human and understated story about a group of misfits, getting by, finding love, happiness, and meaning to a life that seems to hate them for being who they are. In other words, it’s a beautiful movie in both the way it looks and feels, but at the center, it’s also a lot sweeter than a lot of del Toro’s other more foreboding movies.

Which isn’t to say that del Toro plays it safe here, because that’s not the case. In fact, del Toro still somehow finds a way to keep his voice and vision, even when it seems like he’s making some sacrifices to bring other people to his work; though it’s a creature-feature in some senses, there’s also romance, drama, comedy, and espionage that makes this a movie that has something for everyone, regardless of if they want it or not. And of course, some people may not be willing to stick with this odd movie, the plot, the twists, and turns, but so what?

“Go and get your fish-man, girl.”

They’re not used to something this odd and original, which makes the Shape of Water a treat for us all who want a little something more out of cinema.

No matter how large or small.

We also appreciate a movie that has these somewhat colorful and comical characters, yet, also gives them enough heart and humanity to make them seem somewhat humane. Sally Hawkins, in what is practically a silent performance, does a lot with very little; she’s sweet and soulful, yet, doesn’t have the opportunity to ever make us feel that with her words. It’s just the way she carries herself and looks, and it works. Richard Jenkins is even better as her gay neighbor who, with almost every line, steals every scene. He’s funny, heartfelt, smart, witty, and oh yeah, a little sad. Basically, he’s a perfect character for Richard Jenkins to play and he makes every second work.

There’s also Octavia Spencer as Hawkins’ funny, smart and sassy co-worker who, with just about every line, also has something funny to say. In fact, other than the Hellboy movies, the Shape of Water may be del Toro’s funniest movie, because while it embraces its darker, more sinister undertones, it always has a funny snap or two immediately after, that knows how to be self-aware, but never too cloying or over-the-top. It’s just the right amount of light and darkness, and it’s why the whole cast, does a great job. Michael Shannon plays the villain here who is so distasteful and evil, it’s hard to really watch him, but once again, it works.

It all works. It just didn’t, once again, grab me the way it probably has to everyone else. And that’s just my cross to bear.

Consensus: Ambitious, smart, funny, humane, heartfelt, and well-acted, the Shape of Water proves to be del Toro’s mos accessible movie, but also doesn’t let go of his ever creative-vision.

8 / 10

Under the sea. Under the sea.

Photos Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017)

Love to see these little indies around the holidays.

Rey (Daisy Ridley) develops her newly discovered abilities with the guidance of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), who is unsettled by the strength of her powers. Meanwhile, the Resistance prepares to do battle with the First Order.

First things first, reviewing Star Wars is a lot like reviewing the air, or water: It doesn’t really matter, because people already love it and everyone has a thousand opinions on it. That’s why, with the Force Awakens, I sort of stayed back, gave it a week, put my review out and watched as the haters came out to hate, the lovers came out to love, and the moderates just stay put. Why? Because it’s Star Wars – some people love it, some people hate it, and some, such as myself, like it when the movies are good.

And with the Last Jedi, trust me, it’s good, hence why my review is out today and not just another week from now.

So emo.

Why? Because there’s actually something to really go on and on about and that’s the Last Jedi is the best in a long while and feels like the opportunity where the die-hards either put-up, or shut-up. It’s one of the rare studio-flicks of a blockbuster, billion-dollar hit that not only feels accessible to everyone, but also tests what some people love about the franchise in the first place. Meaning, it’s a little dark, a little light, a little weird, a little scary, a little action-packed, a little steeped-in its own world, and it’s also a little nuts.

But most of all, it’s fun, exciting, thrilling, and honestly, I never use this term, but “epic”.

And why? Because the powers that be at Disney decided to take a chance on one of our most promising and interesting sci-fi directors with Rian Johnson, who not just wrote the script, directed it, but also fought long and hard for his vision. And it clearly shows; almost every frame has a certain bit of beauty to it that it’s as if every shot could be an iconic image, plastered on fanboy’s walls by the summer, or in the next decade. Johnson himself seems like a fanboy, but doesn’t just rely on cheap tricks, like call-backs, Easter-eggs, references, or even in-jokes that sometimes, make most franchises a little too winky and meta; trust me, they’re all there, but they don’t over-power the material.

Spin-off? Maybe? Please? Pretty please? Make the world a better, happier place?

And it’s why the Last Jedi is as incredibly compelling as it is – it deals with everything we know, love, appreciate, and sometimes get annoyed by with Star Wars, but sort of turns it on its head. Whereas the Force Awakens was a bit of a refresher and reminder that people can have faith in this franchise once more, the Last Jedi proves that you should most definitely have faith in this franchise, love it, hold it tight, and never let it go. It’s the right kind of mainstream-entertainment that feels like it was made with a lot of people’s pockets in mind, but also feels a little dangerous, because it isn’t afraid to take certain steps that most franchises at this point in time, would back away from, or not even think about.

Once again, sounds a little vague, but that’s only because the more surprised you are by what happens, the better.

Then again, the movie doesn’t get by on shocks, twists, turns and surprises, but mostly, entertainment in the purest sense. It’s big, bright, loud, and expensive-looking, but it’s also sometimes sweet, small, dramatic, and touching. It can also be silly, random, and seemingly throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks, but it also feels perfectly thought-out, smart, and a step above and beyond what we usually get with mainstream-fare. And oh yeah, it’s a love letter to the franchise itself, the characters, the connections, the relationships, the galaxy itself, the history, the exposition, and the craziness of it all, but also, a reminder that this franchise will continue to go on, get better, bring in more interesting characters, better actors, and definitely never, ever forget to remind us to have fun, love it all, and not get too caught-up in what all the naysayers do and, uhm, say.

Once again, I’m talking about Star Wars here, people. And I am definitely happy to say that my cynical, angry and depressed soul is back to loving it all over again. I’m glad to be 24, but I’m also glad to feel like a kid again.

Let’s hope that feeling sticks around and stays. God. This franchise is dangerous.

Consensus: Though it’s steeped in already so much pathos and nostalgia to begin with, the Last Jedi is an exhilarating, action-packed, fun, emotional, and most importantly, epic installment that further makes the case for why we still need Star Wars in our lives.

9 / 10

Spoiler? IT WAS IN THE FREAKIN’ TRAILER

Photos Courtesy of: Walt Disney Pictures

Menashe (2017)

Be nice to your local Hasidic Jew!

Deep in the heart of New York’s notoriously secretive Hasidic Jewish community, Menashe (Menashe Lustig) lives and does what he can to just get by. His wife just recently passed and because of that, a lot has been happening; he’s been slipping as a father, as an employee at the local grocery-store, and mostly, as a member of the community. This is also the same community that feels if Menashe does not fulfill his duties as a spirited and hard-working father, they will take him away, raise him in a better environment, and ensure that said son grows up better than Menashe. It’s something Menashe clearly doesn’t want, but considering that he’s been having so many problems, it may turn into more of a blessing, than an actual curse.

“Don’t be such a dick, kid. Take it from ya poppa.”

With the Hasidic Jewish community slowly becoming the main focus and attention of everyone’s anger fairly soon, Menashe feels like a fresh breath of air that reminds us that, like a lot of troubled groups and cultures, there’s always those good ones trying their best to survive, get by, and most of all, break from tradition. With Menashe, too, it’s not as if the movie is showing us that the Hasidic Jewish community is awful and unpleasant; it shows us that this one man, after having already been through a lot as it is, may want a change of scenery. Some of that has to do with the constant annoyance from those within the community, but it mostly has to do with him just wanting to do something new for a change, and while he still can.

Does that mean that the community depicted here as saints? Not really. In fact, it’s a troubling-image that shows conflicts, age-old issues on women, sex, marriage, and family, and if anything, proves why the Hasidic Jewish community is already under fire. But still, like Menashe himself, they aren’t depicted as awful, inhumane human beings.

Just problematic, is all.

But still, Menashe, at its heart and soul, is a small, contained, sweet, sometimes funny, but also a little depressing character-study of this one man who, in all honesty, we don’t see depicted in film all that much. The last time I can think of a Hasidic Jew getting even the slightest bit of a light-treatment in a film was Fading Gigolo, and even then, it was still sort of too jokey and came off as offensive. Regardless, writer/director Joshua Z. Weinstein (hopefully no relation) does a solid job of keeping things moderate, simple and easy enough to where our focus is always on Menashe and nobody else.

Get this man a towel!

And as Menashe, Menashe Lustig gives a pretty great performance that seems like there was a hell of a lot improvising involved, but it still works. As this big, bearded, somewhat out-of-shape guy, Lustig gives a great performance where he literally seems to be close to passing out in every scene and it works for the character; this man is already so out-of-it with the life he’s had, what’s happened to him, and what obstacles are left on his plate, that we honestly wouldn’t blame him for just dozing off. A lot of what happens to Menashe, or better yet, what he does, can often be comical, but it also still plays off as sad because of this man’s history, his tragedy, and why he’s so disheveled, the way that he is.

And this isn’t just the movie telling us this, either – it mostly comes through Lustig’s subtle, but honest performance.

We feel for this man, we wish the best for him and we want him to get better, but man oh man, it can sometimes be so hard to get behind him. He does and says dumb things, but because we have a context and a sort-of reason, then there is, at the very least, some sympathy. And that’s why Menashe is a true character-study, as it allows for us to sit by and watch this man, as he lives his life, making mistakes and decisions that will ultimately affect him in the long-run. We want him to do better, but we also can’t help but love to watch him fail and it’s what makes him human.

That said, at just 82 minutes, the movie can’t help but feel slight and a little too short. It’s almost as if Weinstein had enough money in the budget for a short, but stretched it as far as he could, without realizing that there needed to be something of an end, that didn’t just, well, end. It sort of just happens, you don’t realize it and it’s a bit of a shame. The movie could have gone on longer and would have probably benefited from it, too.

But hey, maybe that’s why we’re ready for whatever Weinstein’s got next.

Consensus: Though it feels too short, Menashe still works as a small, contained and interesting character-study of a community we don’t too often see portrayed, or at least, not in this humane of a fashion.

6.5 / 10

Probably not the sight you want to wake up to.

Photos Courtesy of: A24 Films

Thelma (2017)

College blows. Especially when you’re a witch. Or something.

Thelma (Eili Harboe) is a college student who comes from a faith-heavy background and doesn’t know what to expect with her new surroundings. Her parents are very happy for her, but are also a little afraid that she will begin to question her faith, lose Jesus in her life, and become a much different person than they raised. But that turns out to be the least of any of their worries when Thelma begins experiencing extreme seizures. She has no idea where they come from, or when they’ll eventually hit her, but whatever it is, it isn’t anything good. That’s why she decides to live in the moment and allow herself to be open to anything that comes her way. Even if that means a relationship with a tall, dark and mysterious girl named Anja (Kaya Wilkins), even if it goes against everything that she was told and taught while growing up.

For awhile, Thelma is a smart, interesting, and complex coming-of-age that deals with heavier, meatier themes, but mostly, comes down to one girl realizing who she is, what she is, and whether or not she can still stick with having God in her life so much. It’s a movie that reminded me a lot of Raw, except in this case, it’s a lot smaller, subtle, and less bloody. But in another way, it’s also weaker.

It’s what love does to us all.

Cause one of the key elements surrounding Thelma is the fact that co-writer/director Joachim Trier (who started his career off making some great movies, only to now lose it a bit), doesn’t handle the horror-elements all that well as you would want, or expect. Where Raw worked as an allegory for this one girl’s coming-of-age, while watching her tastes, functions, and overall personality change, Thelma doesn’t work as an allegory, because the horror-stuff doesn’t really make much sense. It can be about a girl wrestling with her faith and her needs, but it’s really just a chance for Trier to try and do some spooky-stuff, whenever he’s lost focus on the smaller, more intimate stuff with his characters.

Which is a shame because, once again, at the heart, Thelma is solid.

It’s smart and knows that it’s playing around with genre-beats and conventions, but also, knows that it wants to express certain ideas about a girl coming-of-age and finally realizing what she is. It deals with heart and truth, which is why the first hour, when all the supernatural beings are pushed to the side and only slightly hinted at, works and is worth watching. After that, however, it just gets way too insane and crazy, almost to the point of where it seems like Trier himself may have been bored.

Don’t trust the one that sleeps next to you. Especially if they take all the covers.

And it’s a shame, too, because Thelma herself, as well as Eili Harboe, are interesting. Thelma’s a female protagonist that feels like a young girl, seeing and understanding the world for the first time, realizing that her faith-heavy upbringing is a little silly, and also seeing that she wants something in her life that she’s told not to have. Once again, it’s a lot like Raw in that it’s filled with a lot more darker-stuff and is subtle, but it still deals with a young girl, coming to grips with who it is, that she is and for that reason alone, it’s worth watching. We don’t get characters like this much anymore and it’s refreshing when we do.

Then again, it all comes back to the spooky-stuff and for me, it just didn’t work. I know lots and lots of people appreciated that aspect and didn’t mind the movie taking risks, but when your risks take away from what’s already strong and powerful as it is, what’s the risk for? To try something new? To show-off? Or to just not be bored by playing it small and simple?

For me, small and simple is all you need. Therefore, Thelma was more than I needed. Or even what I wanted.

Sorry, not sorry.

Consensus: Though it begins as a thought-provoking and interesting coming-of-ager, Thelma soon delves into horror, supernatural-beings, and all sorts of other crazy junk that takes away from the heart and soul of what’s already there.

5.5 / 10

Love does this, too? I don’t know.

Photos Courtesy of: The Orchard

Princess Cyd (2017)

Growing up blows. That’s why we always have aunts to help us out.

Cyd (Jessie Pinnick) is a 16-year-old girl who comes from a troubled past. Her mother killed herself when she was very young and her father, doing the best that he can, just can’t deal with her at this moment in time. So, he decides to send her away to live with her aunt Miranda (Rebecca Spence) in Chicago for the summer. The two don’t really know each other all that well, other than that they both are related and are women, but both are also different. Miranda is single, a writer, and very much attuned into who she is, or what she wants, whereas Cyd, being so young, doesn’t know what she wants to do with the rest of her life, whom she wants, or even, if she really likes Chicago. Over the course of the summer, both change and learn things about one another that have them grow closer, but also realize a little bit more about their family-history.

Everybody does this kind of stuff with their aunt!

After having seen three of his films so far (the Wise Kids, Henry Gamble’s Birthday Party, this), I can safely that writer/director Stephen Cone is one of the rare film-makers out there who’s movies are literally made for nobody, but everybody. Each one looks like and sort of plays out like an after-school special, dealing with issues of faith, coming-of-age, sex, homosexuality, and family, but are also so sweet and light, they never get quite as dark as they probably should. But then again, they also don’t shy away from dealing with these issues, they discuss them, have cursing, sex, nudity, and oh yeah, even a little bit of drug-use.

This may sound like a bad thing, but I assure you, it isn’t. If anything, it only proves that Cone is that much more of a treasure, who has somehow had a steady-career behind the camera, yet, doesn’t work with any big names, nor do his movies really gain all that much attention. They’re all good, smart, well-written, acted, director and small character-studies that probably everybody should see.

But is “everybody” the audience these movies are intended for?

Once again, not sure. What I am sure of, however, is that Princess Cyd, while not perfect, may be Cone’s best film yet, because he truly digs in deep into his thoughts, ideas, and themes, yet, also doesn’t forget to keep his focus on these characters and what makes them tick. The idea of religion that’s been so persistent in his other flicks, is sort of her, but sort of isn’t; the movie’s really a focus on one girl’s coming-of-age, as well as her aunt’s realization that life is slowly passing her by and she doesn’t have much time to really make a difference anymore. It’s the kind of movie that moves to its own beat and doesn’t really give you an idea of where it’s going, how it’s going to end, or what conflict is even going to arise (if any), and it’s somehow a bit of a beauty because of that.

Okay, I know what you’re thinking and no, this is not a porno. Maybe.

It also helps that Cone was able to get together a pretty good cast of, once again, relatively unknowns who have either been supporters, or somewhere in the background of your favorite films. As Aunt Miranda, Rebecca Spence is surprisingly very good and it mostly comes down to the small bits and pieces of history we get about. She’s single, independent, a writer, and loves the arts, but she also wants something more out of her life. It’s rare to get a movie about a 40-year-old, single, unmarried, and childless woman that doesn’t feel patronizing, or at least, uses that as a crux for a plot, but Princess Cyd and Cone are both a lot smarter than that. Miranda is smart and relatively care-free, but also seems like maybe, just maybe, she wants to settle down.

See, any key element of Cone’s movies is that they are so slight and subtle, you truly do have to pay attention because the smallest nod, or look, or movement, can mean and matter so much. It’s why Miranda, as well as everyone else here, are so interesting – there’s always something deeper within them and beneath the surface, that even the smallest hint of what they’re thinking or feeling, at any given moment, is worth watching and paying attention to. It sounds like nothing, but for those who love, appreciate, and have a constant need for smarter writing and directing in movies, it’s all we need.

In fact, it’s everything. So yeah, more of Princess Cyd please.

Consensus: With a small, attentive eye to detail and characters, Princess Cyd proves that Stephen Cone is one of our more interesting film-makers in the world of indie cinema.

8 / 10

Prince or Princess? You tell me.

Photos Courtesy of: Wolfe Releasing

Stronger (2017)

Boston Strang.

Jeff Bauman (Jake Gyllenhaal) is just any other ordinary guy at the Boston Marathon, waiting at the finish line to surprise his on-off-again girlfriend, Erin (Tatiana Maslany). Then suddenly, a bomb explodes and Jeff is left stunned and shook, but without two of his legs. It’s a lifestyle that he’s going to have get used to, but with his friends, family, and most of all, Erin, by his side, what could go wrong?

On the surface, yes, Stronger is a pretty conventional tale of strength and power overcoming adversity, but it’s also much deeper than that. Actually, not really, but because it’s a true story, because the story itself isn’t even all that hokey, and above all else, the performances are so damn good, it’s hard to really be upset by its TV-movie-of-the-week look and feel. After all, it’s a TV-movie-of-the-week with nudity, cursing, and hacked-off limbs, so it’s not all that safe and sound, right?

Never trust a guy in a cap and dark-ass sunglasses out in the middle of a public-event.

As per usual with director David Gordon Green, he takes on a bit of material that we don’t really expect from him, but somehow, it still works. Green doesn’t have to do a whole lot of flash and bang behind the camera to really make this material pop-off, but by the same token, he can’t help it; there are plenty of scenes that put us inside the dazed and frazzled mind of Bauman that not only have us feel for the guy more than we already do, but also realize that this notion of lionizing someone who literally just lost two of their legs, is almost insane. He represents a sense of hope and heart in this sick, sad, and tragic world, but he’s also just a normal, everyday guy who, if anything, wants to be left alone.

If anything, Stronger tickles with that notion, then unfortunately, falls back.

Why? I’m not sure and it’s a tad disappointing. Green, while he’s known for his slip-ups as of late, can truly get beneath the surface with these heartfelt, simple and rather small character-dramas, but here, he doesn’t go nearly as far down as he should. There’s a sense that he’s digging at something harder and more effective, but ultimately, he just stays put, allowing the actors to do the material and make it work themselves.

Look at those real, down-to-Earth people who also happen to be insanely hot and sexy!

Normally, that would be a problem, but it’s not because Gyllenhaal and Maslany are so good here and really make everything work. Gyllenhaal, as usual, takes a role that could have been simplistic and almost dull, but allows us to understand and truly see this guy for what he is: A normal, everyday guy, trying to get by. There’s a true heart and feeling to this person who, in real life, may be more interesting than he comes off in the film, but Gyllenhaal also allows us to see this guy as something of a sad-sack, just barely getting by in life, and then, miraculously, gets it all together, when he loses both of his legs. It’s an inspirational story in the sense that it’s about overcoming obstacles, but it’s also an ironic tale, too, so once again, there’s something deeper, but not really.

Anyway, Maslany is amazing, too, and even though it’s a little disappointing to see her not play five or six different characters, she’s still amazing as Erin Hurley here. She’s the strong-willed and smart woman who definitely loves Jeff, but also realizes just how much of a pain he can be, and especially in this situation. It’s a role that could have easily been annoying and almost unlikable, but Maslany plays her like a real person, who actually cares and loves her man, while also realizing that he can be a bit of an ass.

Like all men, really.

Consensus: Stronger is a simple and formulaic inspirational tale, but with solid performances and a firm focus on the real-life people themselves, it plays better than it should.

7.5 / 10

Fight for Bahhstaaaan.

Photos Courtesy of: Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

Darkest Hour (2017)

More Churchill? More Dunkirk? Come on!

Right at the beginning of WWII, Great Britain was already going through turmoil. They needed a new Prime Minister, they were losing the war, and their soldiers were stuck, with seemingly nowhere to go, hide, and were basically going to all be killed. Then in walks Winston Churchill (Gary Oldman), a brass and arrogant man who a lot more people disliked than they actually liked, however, lots respected him for getting the job done when push came to shove. But even for someone as fearless as Winston, even he admits that the situation he got tossed into wasn’t all that ideal in the first place. In fact, it was far from ideal – it was downright brutal. But now it’s up to Winston to fight the Nazis and decide whether he wants to continue on with the war and try to do what they can to win, or come to a peace-treaty, cut their losses, and hope for the best from Nazi Germany and one Adolf Hitler. Sounds easy, right?

Darkest Hour seems like typical Oscar-bait, in that it stars a lot of famous people, is long, based on a real-story, has a lot of history behind it, features lots and lots of period-details, make-up, hair, fat-suits, and oh yeah, smoking. Lots and lots of smoking, in fact. But director Joe Wright, for all of his missteps, is better than this material and knows how to bring a great deal of entertainment to what could have easily been an hour-long special on the History Channel.

“Lean on me, bub.”

In fact, it’s just really good-looking, really entertaining Oscar-bait. But hey, at least Gary Oldman’s great, right?

And yes, really, that’s what Darkest Hour is going for the most: Oldman himself, donning a lot of make-up, a bald-head, a fat-suit, and taking on the rough-task of becoming Winston Churchill. What’s the end-game here? Obviously it’s so that Oldman can gain his first Oscar and prove to the world and to the Academy themselves that he’s worth it, even though, if the last 30 or so years weren’t already an indication, he clearly already is.

Sure, Oldman’s great here as Churchill, as he totally sinks into the role, catches all the ticks, mannerisms, and daily-beats of this man, totally allowing us to forget that we’re watching Oldman up on the screen, but it’s also still a performance made solely for the sake of award-nominations and wins. Oldman’s performance itself, no matter how far and wide it can seemingly go, is still limited to a lot of grumpiness, coughing, yelling, stammering, and limping that feels like he’s doing a lot, but at the same time, not doing much at all. Oldman’s a much more interesting actor than what he shows here and although it’s a good performance that will no doubt get him an Oscar, it’s still a sign that he’s capable of way, way more.

Then again, that’s always the case with Oldman, so why am I at all surprised?

“Dear John Lithgow,
I’m better.”

In fact, the true stand-out performance comes from Ben Mendelsohn as King George VI. Mendelsohn is always great in every role he takes, no matter how loud or quiet said role may be, but as King George VI, he shows a great deal of silent humanity that makes this character much more interesting than someone watching from the side-lines. As history would have it, King George VI was much more involved and the movie shows that he’s as much to blame for the eventual victory of Great Britain and the scenes where it’s just him and Oldman, trying not to lose their cool, help ground things in a smart, relatively subtle way. Would I have liked to seen them yell at one another, like each are known to do in movies?

Oh, most definitely. But hey, can’t have it all, right?

But like I said before, Wright works well with the material because he doesn’t forget to keep everything moving. The whole movie is basically one long scene of British people yelling at and arguing with one another in smoke-filled rooms, but they kind of work. There’s a sort of intensity to them that, although we know the overall end-game of what they’re arguing about, there’s still a lot to pay attention to and learn from. It’s a typical history-biopic, but it’s done right and you can’t totally argue against that.

Even if it is your grandfather’s night at the movies, hey, grand-pop can’t always be wrong.

Consensus: Despite it being pure Oscar-bait, Darkest Hour features solid performances, a lightly entertaining direction from Wright, and a solid look at one important part in Great Britain’s history.

7 / 10

“Deuces.” – Winston Churchill

Photos Courtesy of: Focus Features