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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2000s

The Good German (2006)

Who needs Nazis when we can just face ourselves?

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

Did men really look that handsome? Probably.

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

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

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

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

No! Do something fun!

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

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

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

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

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

3 / 10

“We huntin’ Nazis.”

Photos Courtesy of: Warner Bros. Pictures

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Erin Brockovich (2000)

Can always count on men to be horny!

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

All the biker dudes love big boobs!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steven? Will you come ‘a knockin’?

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

7.5 / 10

Where are these lawyers now! Get to Flint!

Photos Courtesy of: Brockovich

The Road To Guantanamo (2006)

War crimes, eh?

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

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

Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honestly, the answer is pretty damn easy.

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

8 / 10

See what I mean?

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

The Weight of Water (2000)

Yeah, or something.

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

Yeah, I’d get on that boat.

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

It’s just a shame that nothing else does.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 / 10

Good thing everybody got the sunglasses memo!

Photos Courtesy of: Dreamland Cafe

Roll Bounce (2005)

Is this what the kids nowadays call “blading”……yo?

After the death of his mom, Xavier (Bow Wow) has been having a bit of a rough go. His dad has hit a serious case of depression, his little sister needs someone to look up to, and yeah, he basically just doesn’t know where he wants to go, nor what he actually wants to do with his life. The only thing in his life that he is certain about is roller-skating, but even that’s hit a bit of a rough patch now with his local skate palace being torn down. Now, without one near by, Xavier and his buddies have to travel all the way uptown, where the people are richer, more priveleged, and oh yeah, whiter. Obviously, Xavier and his buddies stick out like sore-thumbs amongst this very rich and preppy crowd, but they make it all work by just being themselves, skating their assess off, and having a good time through it all. But with local skate legend Sweetness (Wesley Jonathan) back in town and looking to maintain his territory, Xavier and his boys are going to have to step up their games.

Both on and off the rink.

Lean with it….

Roll Bounce is pretty conventional and formulaic, but it’s also the kind of movie that gets by solely on the fact that it’s so sweet, so earnest, and so easygoing, that it’s easy to just forget about all of its issues and enjoy the time you have with it. Granted, there are plenty of problems and, if you’re looking very, very close, you can probably see more bad then good, but for me, Roll Bounce feels like the right kind of soft-hearted nostalgia that means well, isn’t trying to change the world, and just have some fun. In other words, it’s what every movie, ever made, should aspire to be.

But once again, there are those problems that keep Roll Bounce away from achieving some actual greatness. For one, its plot is a little flimsy and at times, doesn’t seem to really be making much sense of itself. While it’s not all that hard to do a coming-of-age tale, it’s also a lot harder to sort of screw it up, where your messages about growing up, becoming an adult, and figuring out just who, or what, you are, don’t fully come together. Xavier, on paper, is our traditional protagonist for a story such as this, and while it’s not hard to sympathize for a character who has already endured so much hardship, it’s not hard to sort of not care about any of it all.

Of course, that isn’t to discredit Bow Wow, or anybody else in this cast – the problem is purely a script issue.

….rock with it!

Director Malcolm D. Lee and screenwriter Norman Vance know how to set the mood and the tone for a movie taking place in the dog days of summer, where everything is catching up on itself, memories are being made, and yeah, people are getting a little tired of the damn heat, but when it comes to making a real compelling story out of it all, they sort of drop the ball. It’s just too melodramatic and cheesy at times to fully work; while it may appear to be a sort of sports movie, it is, in actuality, a family-drama that never gets all that interesting. Chi McBride is good as Xavier’s dad who has some real problems of his own, and had he been given his own movie, it probably would have worked, but put up against Xavier, his wacky and wild buddies, and whatever the hell they’re doing at the skating-rink, yeah, it feels odd.

That said, the tone here is quite infectious and it’s hard to really get past that. It’s close to two hours and yeah, it definitely doesn’t need to be; some characters get development and certain shadings that, quite frankly, don’t really matter, or even go anywhere. But the skating stuff, in and of itself, is what saves the movie, because whenever it seems like the story’s getting too far gone in its own head, thankfully, the bright colors, the loud music, the huge afro’s, and the constant rolling, take over and make things better.

If only for a small bit.

Consensus: Clearly an earnest and sweet piece of nostalgia, Roll Bounce gets by solely on its charm, and not anywhere near its story, or its sometimes odd script that doesn’t always have the faintest clue what it wants to be, or do.

6 / 10

Take the skates off and yeah, they’re just a bunch of punks! Get a job, ya damn kids!

Photos Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight

Five Minutes of Heaven (2009)

Forgive. Forget. Go a little crazy.

During the 1970s in Northern Ireland, times were tough and they were onlu getting tougher. The IRA was running rampant and people were dropping dead, for no real reasons other than because, well, it was a sign of the times. One such person was Joe Griffin’s older brother gets shot dead by the teenage leader of a UVF. It’s disturbed Joe so much that, all of these years later, now, as an older fella (James Nesbitt), he can’t quite get by in life. He is still haunted by that murder, as well as the memory of it, along with his brother. And it’s why, now nearly thirty years later, Joe is finally ready to meet his brother’s killer, Alistair Little (Liam Neeson), on live TV, with all sorts of producers and agents standing around, expecting some sort of huge emotional breakthrough that only reality television can provide. And well, they’ll most likely get that, except in this case, they won’t be expecting; see, Joe didn’t show up to this meeting for reconciliation, but to extract revenge for all of the pain and anguish that Alistair has caused on his life. It’s just a matter of getting the deed done that matters most.

The most adult game of “hide-n-go-seek” I’ve ever seen.

Five Minutes of Heaven, no matter which way you put it, works best because of the two great performances in the leads, mostly Nesbitt as the strange, deranged and incredibly disturbed Joe. Nesbitt’s a pretty great actor and has been able to play these kind of angry roles before, but never this deranged and crazy, and it’s a nice change-of-pace for him, because while he could have easily gone overboard, he never does. Instead, he plays it short, small, and subtle, making this person’s pain felt the whole time throughout; we know that the man is suffering, but the movie doesn’t have to tell us that at all. Just one look at Nesbitt’s upset face is more than enough to clue us in to what’s really wrong.

And yeah, Liam Neeson is good, too, but he doesn’t show up nearly as much as Nesbitt. That said, he provides a very interesting character who, in any other movie, would have easily been a cold-hearted and evil villain, without any heart, soul, or humanity to be found. But instead, he’s actually a much rather soft and understood man, who has guilt, who feels shame, and wants to be forgiven for all of the awful actions that he’s caused, giving us a chance to see the true human underneath the brooding.

In other words, two great performances in an otherwise fine movie.

Halloween or IRA?

All that said, Five Minutes of Heaven is still a good movie because it asks all sorts of questions about guilt, forgiveness, death, life, and sadness, but also seems interested in actually answering them. We’re told that old wounds can heal with time and separation, but at the same time, we see someone as torn-up and destroyed as Joe, that almost all of that goes out the window. The movie doesn’t always get the chance to answer everything it wants, but the ideas and elements of the story it brings up, guess what? It actually develops and seems to go somewhere with.

Even if the ending is a bit silly. But hey, not all movies have to be absolutely, positively perfect. Sometimes, all they have to do is make you think, watch, and get excited, if only for short, brief instances. Five Minutes of Heaven sort of does that, but also allows for us to feast our eyes on two of the best Irish actors working today.

Aside from the one and only Colin Farrell. I mean, honestly, how charming is that guy!

Consensus: Benefiting from two amazing performances in Nesbitt and Neeson, Five Minutes of Heaven is a smart, challenging thriller that has more on its mind than guns and murder.

7.5 / 10

Some men just want to watch random cars burn.

Photos Courtesy of: Michael McVey, SkiffleboomFlick Diary

Downfall (2004)

Sometimes, the cowards way is all you’ve got. Actually, no. Not really.

It’s the tail-end of the war and well, things aren’t looking so good for the Nazis. Their constantly getting killed, losing ground, and seeing an end in sight, with them on the losing end. And since he can feel the noose beginning to tighten around his neck, Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz), at the peak of his power, decides that it’s time to get his whole empire together in his underground bunker, where they’ll not only be able to wait out the end of the war, but possibly even have a good time, too. It’s odd, too, because while they’re drinking, playing games, having dinner, and listening to music, the Allied Powers are inching closer and closer towards their bunker; some of those in the bunker know this, but decide not to tell the others. Eventually though, it becomes all too real to hide behind the lie and people begin to panic and wonder, “What’s next?” After all, if these Nazis are quite and tried, what could happen to them? That’s when everyone involved hatches the idea to end their lives, right then and there, before it all gets too scary for them.

A courtesy that, I bet, their victims would have loved to have, too.

Who’s that?

But hey, okay, I’ll stop it there. That’s my last bit of generalizing because a movie like Downfall could easily be held up to scrutiny for telling a tale about the last hours and days in the lives of some evil, inhumane and incredibly flawed human beings, and as a result, could be flawed for that very same reason. It’s the kind of movie you never thought would ever be made, but for some reason, here it is and it’s around for a little over two-and-a-half-hours, reminding you that Nazis, Hitler and many others like him did exist and guess what? They took the easy way out. Case closed. End of story.

But director Oliver Hirschbiegel and writer Bernd Eichinger pull-off something smart here in that they make this tale, while controversial to say the least, every bit as compelling as you wouldn’t expect it to be. For some reason, it’s a movie that doesn’t take a stance on Hitler, the Nazis, or any of the actions that they committed during the war, but more or less, show them in pure desperation, without any roads to turn down, and nowhere else to go. In this sense, then Downfall should please any person who still feels the absolute need and want to watch Hitler and the Nazis cower with fear and depression, expecting their lives to be coming close to an end and having nowhere else to go, but it actually doesn’t come off like this.

If anything, it’s a bit depressing.

But in an interesting way.

The movie never goes so far as to make us ever feel sympathy for these heinous human beings, but the movie doesn’t also forget to remind us that, at the end of the day, they too were people and as such, deserve to be seen and judged for that. They may not have all been perfect and in fact, they were all pretty awful and clearly knew what horrible stuff they were up to, but yes, they were humans – if anything, that may make them even scarier, showing just how deep down and dark someone can and will go for the sole sake of power and respect.

Once again, not generalizing, but just stating cold hard facts.

It’s okay, honey. You’ll be out of here soon. Just shut up.

Anyway, Downfall is an interesting movie and although it is long, it’s hard to get totally bored by what you’re watching. There’s something inherently compelling about sitting around and waiting for a bunch of evil people to meet their maker and come to the acceptance that everything’s all over for them; it’s not as if we want to see this all the time, but for some reason, with these people, it’s a lot more compelling to watch. Even though we do expect everyone to die, the movie still has us sitting around, waiting, and watching, for whatever is to come next. It’s just solid writing and directing, and considering how rough the subject-material may have been to bring to the big screen, it’s even more surprising how much it all works.

And of course, the performances from top to bottom are great because, like the writing and direction, they’re all portraying these human beings as, well, human beings. Bruno Ganz probably deserves the highest praise as Adolf Hitler, because not only do we see the pure rage and anger lying within this very unlikable person, but we also get to see the small, intimate moments with him as well. Like, for instance, the scenes he has with Juliane Köhler’s Eva Braun, in which we see a man genuinely happy and in love, but also realizing that his despicable and because of that, it’s very hard to feel anything for him but just utter and pure contempt. But still, Ganz does a great job of never really falling into a sheer and absolute parody, while also realizing that there were small, certain tics about this man that ought to be studied and looked at.

If only just so that we never have another one of him, ever, ever again.

Fine. There. I’m done now.

Consensus: While no doubt a long trip to take with some awfully despicable and evil people, Downfall also provides plenty of interesting food-for-thought about these people, and also by giving us a glimpse into some place we never expected to find ourselves at.

8.5 / 10

“Boys, we’re screwed.”

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Micah, The Blog of Big Ideas

U-571 (2000)

Male-bonding has never been sweatier.

When a German U-571 submarine with a sophisticated encryption machine on=board is sunk during a World War II battle at sea, the Allies send an American Navy force led by Lieutenant Andrew Tyler (Matthew McConaughey) to retrieve it for study. But in order to board it, they have to concoct a plan that will not only get the soldiers aboard, but also ensure them safety when they are in the water. Issue is, that doesn’t quite happen as their cover as a rescue force is quickly blown, not just putting their mission at risk, but also their lives. So now with this wrench thrown into their plans, the soldiers must now take German hostages and prepare to destroy the German vessel before the Nazis can send naval backup. This is all so complicated considering that, you know, they’re basically in the middle of nowhere, without poor radio-signal and even worse of all, no way of getting out of this situation alive. In other words, it’s a suicide mission, but it’s for the country, so it’s not so bad, right?

“Shark?”

U-571 has, for good reasons, gotten a lot of flack for not exactly being the most faithful adaptation of what really happened, but then again, I don’t think the movie really tries to go for authenticity, either. It’s the kind of movie that takes a real life moment in WWII, purports itself as sheer and absolute propaganda, but at the same time, also uses this all for the sake of entertainment and fun to be had at the movies, even if, yeah, the story’s not all that true.

Then again, can we really trust Hollywood with this sort of stuff? Not really and that’s why U-571, issues with authenticity aside, is still an enjoyable movie. It’s the kind that you could take a war-vet to see and not only would they absolutely love, but go on and on about how they actually experienced something close to that, except, not really at all. Still, it’s the kind of movie that prides itself on being for the troops, while also trying to remind people that war is hell, explosive, a little crazy, and oh yeah, dangerous as hell, but that’s why it’s left for the heroes and not for us layman, right?

Well, sort of. Maybe. I’m not sure.

Either way, I’m getting away from the point of U-571 and the fact that, directed by Jonathan Mostow, there’s a old-school look and feel to this thing that’s not just slick and polished, but also reminiscent of some of the best submarine-thrillers, albeit this time, with a much-bigger budget. But what’s perhaps most interesting about U-571 is how it takes measures with that bigger-budget, and not only gives us a few great, sweeping shots of the sea, but even puts a little bit more effort into how the submarine itself looks, feels, and well, most especially sounds.

“Oh no, oh no, oh no.”

See, U-571 actually got nominated for a few Oscars back in the day, and even winning one. Sure, they were all technical awards and no way were at all for the silly acting, screenplay, or direction, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re impressive, even by today’s standards. It takes a certain kind of skill and talent to make all of the constant crashes, bangs, and booms, seem like something new and exciting, even when they seem to be happening every five seconds or so; it’s like a Michael Bay film, but there’s actually a reason for all of the loud-sounds and explosions here. If anything, U-571 shows what can happen when you pay enough attention to the technical-details, while also not forgetting to make your movie somewhat good, too.

Basically, I’m just coming at Michael Bay.

That said, of course, U-571 has its issues; like I said before, everything aside from the action and technical-stuff is a little, how should I say it, weak. However, I don’t think it really pulls the movie away from being anymore fun than it already is – it starts off by setting itself off as a silly, stupid, pulpy action-thriller and because of that, the movie never really loses its sense of style, if there is any to be found. It could have been a soulless and totally boring piece of phony propaganda, but it’s fun and sometimes, that’s all you need.

Good story, acting and screenplay be damned!

Consensus: Stupid and loud, but also kind of fun, U-571 runs the risk of being a whole lot, for a very long period of time, but ends up being an entertaining submarine-thriller, that doesn’t really want us to ask questions, but enjoy ourselves with the loud sounds.

6 / 10

Bad-ass soldier-bros. Don’t mess. Especially with Bon Jovi.

Photos Courtesy of: barneyspender, Mutant ReviewersFernby Films

The Mother (2003)

How grandma got her groove back.

After her husband of many, many years tragically passes, May (Anne Reid) finds a new lease on life. Now, rather than hanging around her husband, doing whatever he does, and well, just being there, she has all the time in the world to do all that she wants. That means she can re-connect with her kids, grand-kids, read, drink, write, and hell, if the time comes around to it, possibly even date. But she isn’t rushing herself; after all, it’s been quite some time since she had enough time to do everything and anything that she wanted, let alone actually go out on a date. But her whole life begins to change a bit when she meets Darren (Daniel Craig), her one daughter’s boyfriend, who also happens to be the handyman for the family. While May is initially sickened by him, she soon grows fond and curious of him – some of that has to do with the idea of having sexual relations again, but some of that also has to do with the fact that she likes this Darren guy, someone who is far too made fun of by everyone in her family. Of course, though, this spells possible trouble for almost everyone in the family, most especially May herself.

Alright, who’s next for May to gobble up?

The Mother is an interesting movie, as well as a rare one, because we so hardly see movies about 60-year-old-plus women having a sexual blossoming so late in their lives. And hell, if we do, it’s all played for yucks, chuckles, and jokes, as if an older-woman having sex, getting naked, and being all romantic, deserves to be a punchline of sorts. But the Mother is different in that it doesn’t approach its premise as a comedy, nor does it hide away from the actual grit and honesty a premise like this promises.

Meaning, yes, we get a lot of nudity, a lot of sex, and even some naughty-talk, courtesy of a much-older woman.

But hey, there’s something kind of joyous in that, especially since we get so few of these kinds of flicks, where an older-woman’s sexuality and love-life is actually explored with honesty, intelligence, and well, honesty. Director Roger Michell likes to jump from genre-to-genre, which makes him way more interesting of a talent than I think people give him credit for, and he doesn’t pull-back on letting us see and get to know everything there is to know about May. Of course, the Mother is most definitely a character-study, where May is literally the stand-in for most other women her age, experiencing love, sex and life, all over again, as if it was the first time.

Writer Hanif Kureishi (who’s probably most known for his various team-ups with Stephen Frears) also doesn’t hold back from exploring the true lengths to May’s exploration, while also not forgetting to remind us that, yeah, the rest of the world around her may look at it as some sort of sin. For May, as we’re told and rather shown, life is this new thing for her to try and understand, and fully live, and while sex definitely comes into the forefront, as it does with everyone’s life, it could have easily been anything else in life. May doesn’t just have to be obsessed with sexuality and passion once she has it, but she does and well, that’s okay.

Bond? Undercover? Please be undercover and have a valid excuse.

It’s honest, as it ought to be.

And yes, Anne Reid is quite great in the lead role as May, not holding back when it comes to showing us everything that there is to show about May, in both the literal and hypothetical sense. There’s a certain sweetness to her that makes it easy to rule her out of most what she gets up to in this film, but once we begin to see May’s true darkness show, Reid gets better, making us understand a woman who, for many years, was supposed to play the mother and stay somewhere in the background. But now, it’s her time to live and shine, and while she’s still the same old sweet and mild-mannered granny, guess what? She also likes to have a little bit of sex, too.

And that sex, yes, also happens to be with Daniel Craig, pre-Bond. I point that out because, honestly, watching Craig pre-Casino Royale, sort of makes me sad; while the dude was always charming, cunning and handsome-as-hell, he could also sink his teeth deep into role, almost transforming himself, in terms of his looks, as well as his personality. And as the dirty, shaggy and almost embarrassing Darren, Craig shows us a sad, almost depressed man who, in any other movie, wouldn’t have believable doing the things he ends up doing with May, but the two actually do connect in complex, interesting ways, that it’s almost believable once they start shagging. Not to mention that Craig and Reid have a nice little chemistry that’s able to get pass the obvious age-gap even if, yeah, it can be a bit creepy.

But hey, no one’s judging!

Consensus: Even while it can tend to lean more towards the dramatic-side of its plot, the Mother still treats it subject, as well as its material with absolute respect, making it already better and smarter than most other movies approaching the same material.

7 / 10

Move over old man! James is cutting on in!

Photos Courtesy of: Películas Online

The Good Girl (2002)

Catcher in the Rye makes everything better. Except life.

Justine (Jennifer Aniston) lives a pretty uneventful and boring life. She’s 30, working at a convenience-store, doesn’t have many friends, hobbies, and can’t seem to get pregnant with her husband (John C. Reilly) who, for the most part, seems to spend most of his time on the couch, smoking pot with his good buddy (Tim Blake Nelson). However, her life gets a little bit of excitement one day when, all of a sudden, she meets Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), a young, misanthropic, somewhat depressed, and altogether interesting teen that not only takes a liking to her, but shows her that there’s more to the world than boring suburbia. Eventually, the two strike up a relationship that goes beyond hanging out and reading Catcher in the Rye, but something far more passionate and serious, which leads to problems for both of their lives, although, mostly hers.

Yeah, Wal-Mart may have been a better fit.

The Good Girl will probably always be notable for it showing the whole world that, yes, Jennifer Aniston can indeed act. While she was good before in small, almost virtually unseen movies before this, and yes, even after this, this stood as the shining-spot on her filmography that not only showed she had some indie-cred, but could help us all get past seeing her as Rachel and, well, embracing her as a down and dirty actress.

And yeah, Aniston’s pretty great here. Her Justine is a rather sad and depressed figure, that is, of course, beautiful, but also has some small charms about her that shows just how lovely of a presence Aniston is when she’s on the screen. It does also help that she gets a chance to grow and show her true colors over time, making us see her for a sad figure we can, at the very least, sympathize with, but also realize has some issues that she sort of brings on herself. But of course, all the way through, Aniston shows she can be believable in all sides to this character and it made everyone hopeful that perhaps, just maybe, she’d continue down this path of taking on smart, interesting, and rather challenging film-roles.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

But still, this isn’t to take much away from the rest of the Good Girl. Writer Mike White and director Miguel Arterta, of course, work well with one another, in that they both capture the small town boredom and malaise, while also not forgetting to make us feel a little bit closer to these goofy characters over time. And it also deserves to be sad that while Aniston herself is very good, it’s everyone else around her who assist her, too, putting in just as much great work as her.

Pictured: The perfect life

And like before with White’s writing, every character seems like a type, at first, only to then show their true selves over time. John C. Reilly’s Phil, for a good while, is nothing more than a lazy, weed-smoking, idiotic bum who doesn’t really have much going for him and because of that, we sort of sympathize with Aniston’s Justine in cheating on him. However, as the film goes on, we start to see a more human side to the guy that not only makes us understand his behavior a bit, but oh wait, also sort of want to give the guy a hug and tell Justine to stop screwing around.

There’s a lot of characters like that, but his is probably the best example, probably because Reilly himself is so good.

Just like Blake Nelson, Deschanel, John Carroll Lynch, Roxanne Hart, White himself, and yeah, even Jake Gyllenhaal. Although, for Gyllenhaal’s character, it can’t help but feel like he’s working with a boring type we’ve all seen done before, except only this time, he’s supposed to be interesting on purpose and with good reason. Personally, it would have been nice to see Gyllenhaal and Aniston together in another movie, where they weren’t essentially playing types, but hey, they work well together, regardless.

And that’s all about there is to the Good Girl – it’s not White’s best, but everyone works well in it, so why not accept that for what it is? After all, the movie doesn’t set out to change the world, or shake things up, but more or less, tell us a small, somewhat relatable story about an affair, love, and living a happy life, even when that seems downright impossible. Sometimes, that’s all you need from a movie.

Even if, yeah, we expect a smidge bit better and more coming from Mike White.

Consensus: In the lead role, Aniston gives a memorable performance as a rather depressed, but charming cashier living in a small-town, that also helps keeps this somewhat mediocre tale of love and happiness above water.

7 / 10

Just do it already, honey! He’s hot!

Photos Courtesy of: This Distracted Globe

Chuck & Buck (2000)

Names that sound-alike? Sign of true love.

When they were kids, Chuck (Chris Weitz) and Buck (Mike White) were actually pretty good friends. But now, all of these years later, they barely even know one another, or better yet, even talk. It’s like they’re two strangers, living in a world, where they both have memories of hanging out in their adolescence, but don’t really talk about it. Or, at least Chuck doesn’t, because after Buck reaches out to him, the two strike back up something of a friendship that calls back to their childhood. But for some reason, Chuck feels awkward and nervous about it; he knows that Buck is a weird fella, and though he accepts him for it, there’s still something keeping him away from fully delving into their history together. After all, he’s engaged now, so what’s wrong with catching up on his former-life, before his new one begins? Well, he’s about to get a huge dose of memories when it turns out that Buck is holding his own autobiographical play locally in town and, well, it has a lot to do with their past friendship.

Something Chuck doesn’t really want to embrace.

Go for it, Buck. He’s not so bad.

Chuck & Buck is an odd movie for quite some time. In fact, it’s so odd, awkward, and just weird, that it’s almost irritating; it feels like writer Mike White just wanted to be cooky for no good reason and director Miguel Arterta didn’t know how to tone all of that down. The two work well together, obviously, but for the first half or so of Chuck & Buck, it feels as if they’re trying a little too hard to weird, to be funny, and basically, to try and be like so many other indie flicks out there.

But then, just about halfway through, it all of a sudden changes. See, Chuck & Buck does have something resembling a heart, but it doesn’t sow itself straight away. In some ways, White’s a smarter writer than he lets on, showing an interesting amount of tact in making us believe that Chuck & Buck is going to be just another silly, off-the-wall indie-comedy about two friends catching up, with one being a weirdo, and the other, well, not being one. But eventually, the tide turns and we start to realize that there isn’t just more to these two characters, their lives, and where they are headed, but their actual relationship.

See, without saying too much, there’s some dirty, dark and odd secrets that Chuck & Buck keeps to itself and it’s worth waiting around for. Once again, White’s writing may take a little while to get used to – he doesn’t really write jokes, as much as he just sets things up to work later on, somewhere along the film – but once he gets into his groove, there’s no one better. He makes the material funny, while still retaining that odd sensibility, but also showing us more into these character’s lives and making us see just who they are, therefore, heightening the comedy, as well as the drama, that eventually takes center stage by the last-act.

Cheer up, Mike. HBO will eventually give you your own show (until they unfortunately cancel it like the evil souls that they are!)

Basically, it’s just smart writing. A bit annoying, but sometimes, you have to bother people, in order to surprise them.

And yes, it deserves to be said that White, while not just a solid writer, is also a pretty good actor here, too. Granted, it is his script he’s working with, so it’s not like he’s exactly stretching himself very far, but as Buck, he shows a hurt, rather tragic soul. Sure, the goofy act, at first, can be a bit bothersome, but it starts to show its shades and angles that not only make us understand why he is the way he is, but also grow a bit closer to him, as a result. There’s something sad just about the way White looks, but he writes Buck in such a way, that it makes us sympathize with him, even if, yeah, he is a bit of an odd duckling.

Chris Weitz, who is also a pretty solid writer/director in his own right, is also quite good here, making Chuck feel more like a human being, rather than just a boring, lame and straight-edged square. Like with Buck, his character feels one-dimensional and boring, at first, but over time, we see that there’s more to him and how Weitz acts in these small, subtle moments with White, truly are surprising and well-done. Beth Colt plays his fiancee and while it seems like she hasn’t done anything since, it deserves to be said that she’s very good here in a role that, yet again, seems too simple and boring from the beginning, but eventually shows itself over time. And the late, wonderful Lupe Ontiveros plays Beverly, the theater owner who has one of the oddest, but surprisingly most touching friendships with Buck that, like before, seems boring, but grows over time.

Notice a bit of a trend here?

Consensus: While initially seeming like every other annoying indie-dramedy ever made, Chuck & Buck begins to show its true colors and turn out to be a smart, funny, and surprisingly moving flick about love, friendship, and how we move on with our lives.

8.5 / 10

Did anyone cut a hole at the bottom of the popcorn?

Photos Courtesy of: CinemaQueer

Somersault (2004)

Growing up just got a lot harder.

Australian teenager Heidi (Abbie Cornish) is left with little choice but to leave home after she’s caught red-handed with her mother’s boyfriend. Without anyone in her life willing to help her out, or even talk to her, Heidi heads to Jindabyne, a tourist community where a lot of people are, yet, for some reason, Heidi still can’t seem to strike up a deal with anyone. No jobs, no places to sleep, nada. But then she meets Joe (Sam Worthington), a farmer who’s dealing with all sorts of personal problems at home and is more than happy to look for some sort of distraction in his life, even if it is in the form of Heidi. And yeah, the two get along real well, hell, even coming close to loving one another. But there’s some issues in Heidi’s life that constantly seem to come between her and happiness, as well as between her and Joe.

Just kiss and stop pretending to be happy!

Somersault is probably the dirtiest, grittiest, and naughtiest Lifetime movie ever made. It looks and sounds like one, yet, there’s people screwing, people getting naked, and people doing all sorts of drugs, to the point of where it feels like Lifetime After Dark, where the kids have all been tucked away and now it’s time for mom, dad and possibly, even the teenagers, to have a little bit of fun. This isn’t to say that the movie’s bad, by any means, but it is to say that it’s obvious there’s a market for these kinds of stories, and while most of them do deserve the big-screen treatment, some of them were probably better left off on the smaller-one.

Just like Somersault, unfortunately.

And this isn’t to say that there isn’t anything good with Somersault to be had, or better yet, seen. The lead performances from both Abbie Cornish and Sam Worthington are, well, great. There’s a reason why both have taken a stab at starring in Hollywood flicks, to certain degrees of success, because here, they both exude a certain amount of charm, amidst all of the sadness and pain they may be feeling. Cornish’s Heidi is a self-destructive being who seems like she’s about to fall apart in every scene, whereas Worthington’s Joe is a chill and collected lad who may also be pretty damn depressed. Together, they create a nice little relationship that is cute because they’re both so young and clearly have no idea just how dark, cruel, and unrelenting the world can get, but also because they have nice chemistry. Sure, Worthington has become a bit of a dull-presence on the screen, but believe it or not, at one time, he was the real deal and Joe’s a perfect performance to show that.

But despite these two being as good as they are, the movie always seems to fall back on soapy, melodramatic convention that, honestly, seems to betray said good performances. Writer/director Cate Shortland clearly deserves credit for telling a story that so many people would stick away from digging deep into, but she does and never goes back. Somersault is a sad, somewhat depressing tale about even more sad and depressed people just trying to navigate through life and understand what it is that can make them happy.

See? That’s more like it!

Or, at least, that’s what I think the movie’s about.

Honestly, after awhile, it seems like Shortland sort of loses focus on what she was setting out to do, or even tell, and just wanted to see how far she could go, getting people to partake in a whole bunch of nudity and awkward sex. Sometimes, there’s something quite compelling about watching all of that, but in Somersault, it feels like a crutch; rather than developing the story even more and really figuring out what’s going on, the movie falls back, gives us sex, nudity, drugs, and doesn’t want us to ask anymore questions.

Once again, it’s really the performances keeping this together, because at the end, Somersault just feels like a Lifetime movie, made with all sorts of dark and heavy emotions that are maybe grittier this time around, but still don’t fully ring true. Why Heidi is the way she is, never makes sense, and just seems like a moody teenager who does too many drugs and alcohol. Whereas with Joe, he’s just a sad fella. Why should we care?

Consensus: Somersault tries to dig in deep, but despite two solid performances from the leads, it mostly falls apart by relying far too much on convention and melodrama, better suited for TV.

5.5 / 10

Put clothes on you crazy Aussies!

Photos Courtesy of: Alchetron

Stevie (2002)

Always be a big brother.

After not seeing his younger friend for several years, documentary director Steve James decides to catch up with the Illinois boy he once mentored through the “Big Brother” system that so many schools adopt, yet, don’t ever seem to fully keep up with. Although, time has changed for both Steve James and Stephen Fielding. Steve is an accomplished, Oscar-nominated director, with a lovely wife and kids, whereas Stephen, at one time, a very dorky kid, is now a damaged adult who has had repeated problems with the law, with one serious charge that he possibly touched a younger relative in an appropriate spot. James knows this about Stephen, but rather than asking him why he did what he may have done, he decides to look back on Stephen’s life leading up to now, and tries to figure out just what went wrong.

Hey, it’s pretty hot out.

You’ve got to give it to Steve James for making a two-and-a-half-hour documentary about someone nobody else knows, but him. In that sense, he’s literally making a movie, for himself, and for his own conscience, so that he can help make sense of his life, his subject’s life, and figure out just what the hell went wrong along the line. Was it him? Was it Stevie? Was it Stevie’s family? Or, basically, was it just the way the world was turning for both parties involved?

In other words, this is basically one, long therapy-session for James, who also just so happened to film it all and release it for the whole world to see. A little pretentious and self-involved? Perhaps. However, Stevie, both the movie, as well as the person himself, are far from pretentious or self-involved, making it a bitterly long pill to swallow, but one that’s worth swallowing in the end.

That makes sense, right?

Either way, Stevie works best because it focuses on Stevie, just as much as it focuses on Steve James. See, the reason why the movie matters and is made in the first place, is because of their friendship and honestly, it’s a touching one. They both seem to genuinely have a love and respect for one another, even if time has passed them both by and they realize that while they were once big parts of each other’s lives at one point, that isn’t such the case any longer. James has gone on to make a name for himself and his family, whereas Stevie is still trying to grow up and keep his head out of trouble. It’s a sad, yet honest tale about how time passes, but somehow, those small relationships we had early on in our lives, still maintain and stay strong all of these years later, regardless of whether those involved with the relationship have changed a whole lot, or not.

In this case, yes, Stevie and Steve changed a whole lot, but they still find ways to connect and love one another, even if they’re still uncertain about where the time has gone for them. It’s an ode to their friendship and long-lasting bond, for sure, but it’s also one to the fact that the people we depend on the least, can sometimes be the ones to trust the most. Who knows if Steve James wanted to gain some fame and love from audience-members for reaching out to an old pal of his, or if he genuinely cared about his friend and wanted to shine a lot on who this special friend of his is?

Good old pals, reconnecting, almost two decades later. So okay, maybe not great pals.

Honestly, it’s hard to fully come to a conclusion of. A part of me feels like James is looking for adoration, but another part of me thinks that he’s genuinely sad and somewhat regretful over the separation he and Stevie have had for all of these years, so he just wanted his friend to have some shine in the spotlight.

Once again, I’m still not sure.

That said, Stevie, as a documentary, is still a smart and understated character-study about its subject, what brought him to become the way he was when the movie was being made, and whether or not he has any hope in this place we call “Earth”. While Stevie has no doubt done some heinous and terrible things, the movie does make the case that perhaps, just perhaps, it’s less of Stevie acting out and more of just the way of him acting the only way he knows how. James focuses on Stevie’s home life, with his family and his incredibly sweet and supportive wife, showing that no matter how hard he tries, there’s always someone, or something, pulling him back to do even more worse in the world. It’s sad to see, time and time again, but James knows this, so he offer small glimmer of hopes, in that we can see that Stevie knows he can do right and make up for his bad mistakes from his past, but when he will, or if he will, remain a whole entirely other question.

Maybe Stevie, 15 years later is coming soon?

Consensus: Though it probably didn’t need to be nearly two-and-a-half-hours, Stevie is still a smart, honest, and rather emotional character-study on its compelling, yet, incredibly flawed-subject, as well as on its director, Steve James himself, who actually offer some interesting spins on this story, too.

8 / 10

Doesn’t that look like someone who is in desperate need of a hug? Or a shave?

Photos Courtesy of: Kartemquin FilmsCritics At Large

Inland Empire (2006)

Wait. What?

Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) is an accomplished actress who, after much time spent waiting and wondering, finally gets the role as the lead in On High in Blue Tomorrows. It’s supposed to be her comeback role, so to speak, so there’s a lot of pressure wearing on it, not to mention, a lot of pressure from her husband not to fall in love with her co-star Devon (Justin Theroux). Sure, it can be done, but the two are playing characters who are having an affair, making it a tad bit harder. However, the director (Jeremy Irons) trusts that both of them will keep it as professional as can be and will make sure that the movie comes out perfectly, because believe it or not, it’s been attempted before, but for some reason, the movie just hasn’t been made. Why, though? Eventually, Nikki and Devon find out and it causes both of them to start imagining weird, rather insane things, that they don’t know if is real, or not.

Wait, what?

Honestly, there’s a lot more to the premise of Inland Empire, in that there’s not just one story, but about three or four more of them, none of which make a single lick of sense, or better yet, ever seem to come together in a way that you’d imagine. Now, if sitting around for three hours and watching as a bunch of random stories get told to you in the most confusing manner imaginable sounds like a good time, then be my guest and enjoy the hell out of Inland Empire.

I, however, didn’t and just couldn’t, no matter how hard I tried. Sure, there were things to admire and of course, this is David Lynch we’re talking about here, so I can’t be all that surprised, but still, it just didn’t quite work for me. There was so much going on, without any rhyme or reason, that after awhile, I had to sort of give up and just accept the fact that the movie’s going way beyond my intelligence and I’m best to just let it do its thing and see if I can make it up in the end.

Spoiler alert: I couldn’t.

Sure, is that more of a problem with me, as opposed to the movie? Definitely, but by the same token, there is something to be said for a three-hour movie that not only feels every bit of it, but never seems to show any signs of actually going anywhere. Lynch is well-known for doing this sort of thing time and time again, and while it’s always had me happy and rather pleased, this go around, it just didn’t work. It seemed like too much meandering and craziness for the sake of being meandering and crazy, as if there wasn’t a whole lot of story, but weird and surreal imagery that Lynch just had to get out of his system.

And okay, it makes sense, because the look and feel of this movie is, above all else, freaky. Then again, how could it not? Filmed on a hand-held digital-camera, the movie is grainy, dirty and downright gritty, but in a way, it’s also more terrifying for that reason alone, often times feeling like a documentary, than another glitsed-up flick. Film itself can do wonders, but digital-video can also do the same, especially when you’re really trying to go for an aura of realism, even if, you know, there’s nothing realistic happening here.

No seriously, what?

And once again, that’s all me. The movie gets away doing its thing, but it’s so frustrating to watch, that no matter what Lynch does behind the camera and how much inspiration may come out of him, it just didn’t connect for me. There’s a lot going on here and a lot that randomly happens, but the only thing I could remember clearly in my head was a very few haunting-images, bunny-rabbits, a dance to “the Locomotion”, and a lot of walking down hallways.

Like, a lot.

But Laura Dern, all issues aside, is great here and gives it everything she’s got. There’s no denying that Dern’s probably perfect for Lynch’s creepy, twisted and warped mind, and it’s why her performance here, with so many shades shown, is something to watch. Even when it seems like the rest of the movie has gone far, far away, she’s always there, working her rump off and making sure that everything sticks together. She allows for it to do so, too, it’s just a shame that it didn’t fully connect at the end.

For me, at least.

Consensus: Absolutely confusing, weird and random, Inland Empire is a hard movie to get into, mostly due to its frustrating plot, but there is some art to be seen here.

5 / 10

See, even Laura doesn’t know.

Photos Courtesy of: Pretty Clever FilmsFour Three Film

On a Clear Day (2005)

Swim upstream. Or down. Depending on your mood.

After losing his job at a Glasgow shipyard that he’s been working at for quite some time, 50-year-old Frank (Peter Mullan) doesn’t really have much going on in his life. While his wife (Brenda Blethyn) is practicing to become a bus-driver and become the soul bread-maker of the family, Frank is looking anywhere he can for a job, that doesn’t just pay, but also get him out of this funk that he’s been in ever since a tragedy hit him and his family many, many years ago. That’s why, even though a casual remark is made by a buddy of his, Frank gets an idea: to swim the English Channel. While it’s rather outlandish and silly, Frank is determined enough to make the dream a reality and with the help of his closest friends and of course, his loving and supportive family, Frank sets forth on a training regimen that will help him achieve his goal. But that goal is a lot harder to achieve when you already have so much baggage on land, in the first place.

Peter Mullan, or David Beckham? Nope, definitely Peter Mullan.

On a Clear Day is such a cute, little adorable movie that it’s hard to really point out any faults about it. Of course, there are quite a few, but at the end of the picture, do any of them really matter? Because while the movie isn’t as deep as it wants to be, nor is it ever really as smart, either, On a Clear Day, when all is said and done, is charming, nice, and rather enjoyable. It’s the kind of movie that’s safe, inoffensive, and essentially, perfect for the whole family, in the same ways that Disney movies are, but instead of talking cartoons, it’s actual, real life human beings.

And instead of singing, everyone’s just yelling in heavy Scottish accents.

But there’s not much of a problem with a heavy accent – in fact, half of the charm of On a Clear Day is from where it takes place and the overall setting. It’s a calm, easy and rather lovely little place where everyone knows each other and is able to lend a helping hand. However, on the other side, it’s also a dark, sometimes muggy town that sees people losing jobs, day in and day out, and more immigration to the big cities, than ever.

So is it really all that happy and lovely? Not really, but that’s one of the many aspects On a Clear Day hints at with itself. It never gets as deep, or as dark, or as depressing as it wants to, which is sometimes okay, but other times, it does feel like it’s keeping itself away from being better and much more thought-provoking. Does that make it a bad movie? Not really, but it makes it one that had plenty of promise to go to some deep, heavy places, but instead, chose the safe way out.

“Oi, ladeys. Who’s swimmin?”

Sometimes, there’s no problem with that. At least most would be pleased.

But then again, it’s hard to be mad at a movie like On a Clear Day when the cast assembled are so wonderful and fun to watch, that at the end of it all, it’s almost like, “Aw, who cares?”. Peter Mullan has been one of the more dependable acts in film today and honestly, it’s no shock; he can play down-and-dirty when he wants, but he can also brighten things up and play charming. Here, he gets to do a little bit of both, although, without ever showing one side too much and it’s actually quite nice. He makes us feel and understand the sadness that exists within Frank’s life, while also showing some glimmers of hope throughout. It’s a slight performance on his radar, for sure, but it’s also a sign that the man knows what he’s doing.

Brenda Blethyn is quite charming, as usual, in the role as his wife. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see a whole lot more of her, other than trying to talk to Frank and, on occasion, getting into arguments with him about his life and their history together. A much smarter movie probably would have focused on how both of their lives are affected, but eh, so be it. Blethyn still gets a couple of opportunities to show why she’s great in these smart, yet very strong women roles and it goes without saying that I wish there was more of her now.

Maybe some day. On a clear day, perhaps?

Consensus: While slight, small and relatively safe, On a Clear Day is also quite a lovely movie that doesn’t go as deep as it should, but does have a charming cast to make up for its issues.

6 / 10

Hey, Michael Phelps had to start somewhere, right?

Photos Courtesy of: Icon Pictures

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Eye for an eye. Literally.

Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), editor-in-chief of French fashion magazine Elle, lived a pretty momentous and happy life until he was 43, where he, all of a sudden, suffered a massive-stroke. But his stroke was perhaps the most unique and rare of all time, as the damage to his brain stem results in locked-in syndrome. Meaning, he was practically a vegetable, left for dead, couldn’t move any part of his body, except for one key part: His left eye. Once again, it was a rare case of a stroke, so obviously, no one really knew what to do – the doctors were constantly studying him and figuring out ways to hold conversations with him, which mostly just led to him blinking a lot and getting frustrated. But through it all, Bauby himself kept something of a journal, detailing his inner-most thoughts, his anger, his rage, and eventually, giving a voice to himself, when he couldn’t even mutter a word.

“Books. Remember?”

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly gets by, for quite some time, on the fact that it’s got this unique and ridiculously odd premise, and works despite itself. Seeing as how the movie is taking place from Bauby’s point-of-view, and considering that this is his story mostly after he suffers the stroke, it only makes sense that the movie take place in his head, where we see everything he sees, hear everything he hears, and, well, not really, but sort of feel what he feels, right?

Well, yeah, kinda. And surprisingly, it works.

Director Julian Schnabel takes a risk here in putting us inside the head and mind of Bauby, where we see just what he sees for at least the first hour or so. It’s actually quite mind-boggling how long Schnabel goes with this gimmick, but surprisingly, it never gets old, or grows tired, like so many other camera-gimmicks of the same nature would have; if anything, it makes us feel closer to this subject and have us grow more sympathetic to him, over time. Sure, it may not have been all that hard to do in the first place, but still, it deserves to be said that the gimmick taken on here, pays-off and honestly, could have gone on the whole time.

Because unfortunately, it doesn’t and eventually, Schnabel, out of fear that the audience may get bored, decides to switch it up to more conventional film-making, where we get everyone else’s stories, start to get flashbacks, and of course, see Bauby, both before and after the stroke. Does it still work? Yeah, it actually kind of does. There’s always something interesting and compelling about these stories in which a person literally has all the time in the world to think about their lives, the mistakes they’ve made, the decisions they should have done, the people they’ve hurt, the ones that they’ve loved, etc., and Bauby’s no exception. It helps that the writing is sharp, too, in that we Bauby himself never loses a comedic-edge to the absolute piece of crap he has been handed, making him, of course, more likable, as the film progresses.

“Papa? We do not look alike at all.”

But does it have the same effect?

Unfortunately, no.

See, there’s only so much you can do with your film when you decide to abandon a gimmick more than half-way through, especially when the gimmick was already working heavily in your favor. An odd example of this happening elsewhere is in REC 3: Génesis, where, like the two movies before it, is filmed in the trademark, found-footage style, and, like in those two other movies, still works and is perhaps even creepier. But then, out of nowhere, it abandons this and becomes a traditionally-shot film that’s like any other horror film. Was it a risky move? Yep. Did it ruin the movie? Not really, because it still stayed tense. But did it have the same chilling effect as the first two movies, or better yet, the first-half?

Nope, not really. And that’s what happens with the Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

The story is still there and compelling, but it also feels like a wasted opportunity to really go deeper and further with this gimmick. Some may have been especially happy that the film switches gears about more than halfway through and started to introduce a more ordinary style of film-making, which is understandable, but to me, it felt like a cheap back-away from really sticking to itself in telling the story, the way it probably should have been told. I can’t speak on Bauby’s behalf whether he’d be happy about it, either, but hey, maybe he would have.

He seemed to have liked the artistic, more creative side of the world before, well, you know.

Consensus: Instantly smart, original, inventive, and altogether, compelling, the Diving Bell and the Butterfly maintains emotion throughout its two hours, even if it does flutter a bit when it surprisingly switches gears some time around the middle.

8.5 / 10

Uh yeah. Just kill me now. Thanks. Bye.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Before Night Falls (2000)

Us writers, and the wild lives we live.

Reinaldo Arenas (Javier Bardem) had a hell of a life that never ceased to be filled with energy, excitement, and altogether, tragedy. It started when he was born fatherless in 1943, and ended with him dying of AIDS in his NYC apartment in 1990. Everything else that happened in between, such as the love affairs, the constant novels being written, and the plenty of arrests in his life, are all apart of his unique story that, once again, was all a tragedy.

It’s hard for a movie to make us feel any type of sympathy for a character, especially when we know what we see is a biopic and it’s supposed to span a long amount of time. Sometimes the directors/writers have to get down and dirty and give us something that’s unique about this person, or the least bit sympathetic for that matter, in order for us to even give a flying fuck about the subject, or the movie itself. It’s very hard to pull off, and pull off well, but sometimes you don’t even need that aspect of your script to make the subject, or the movie work. Sometimes, all you need is a great actor playing the subject to take things over.

And that’s exactly what we have here with Javier Bardem as Reinaldo Arenas.

Honestly, if it weren’t for Bardem’s amazing performance here as Arenas, I don’t think I would have cared for this person, or this movie at all. We all know that Bardem can act his ass off by now, but back in the early days of post-Y2K: People had no freakin’ clue who this guy was and what all of the fuss was all about with him. He had a lot of buzz going on over in his native-land where he was constantly getting nominated and winning awards, but he never quite broke out into the states. That is, until this movie came around and as they say, “The rest is history”.

Yup, totally gay.

Talk about style.

Bardem is given the simple task here of having to look as if he’s feeling pain and on the verge of absolute-depression, every second, of every scene. For some, it may repetitive, but for me, I noticed something really remarkable here. It isn’t that he’s just using the same look and expression on his face the whole time, it’s more that he’s adapting to the story, the same way the real Arenas would have. There’s always a sad, dark grin on his face the whole movie, even when he’s happy and having a good time, but there’s something more underneath it all that you’re able to latch onto right away, not just because you’re able to tell that is a peaceful soul that shouldn’t be hurt because he’s gay, but because Bardem gives him that soul.

As time goes on for Arenas and the story begins to go through its many dramatic shifts, the performance only begins to pick up more and more heart and emotion, and that’s when Bardem really lights the screen on fire with every ounce of gasoline and brimstone he’s got. The guy’s a class-act of an actor because he’s able to take any type of role somebody has to throw at him, and find a way to make it his own, while also giving something resembling a heart and soul. A soul that we may have to search hard to actually spot, but one that you’ll be able to chalk-up to his ability as an actor and always being able to make his presence more than enough. The dude’s been great for awhile and it’s great to see where it all started.

God, I wonder what we’d do without this guy.

However, I did have a reasoning for talking about Bardem so early on and it wasn’t because he was the main attraction of the whole flick, it’s because he’s probably the best thing going for it since the rest of the flick is a bit of a mess in terms of editing and cohesion. For instance, we jump-forward in time on more than a few occasions where it isn’t that we know what Arenas has been up to in the years prior that we probably missed, but more that we are sort of just plopped-down and left to make up the conclusions ourselves. In some films, this can work, but with a biopic that’s asking us to pay attention to this human-being at the center of the story, it just feels distracting. It’s almost as if we’re paying too much close attention to putting the pieces of the puzzle together, and not the subject himself.

One second, he’s in prison, and then the next second, he’s out and has already written ten books. Sometimes, I wouldn’t even know when he was writing a book, or just writing poetry for the hell of it. The movie never makes that clear enough and it seems because it’s more focused and interested on Arenas’ sexual escapades and the constant trysts he had with other dudes. It’s not wrong to be interested, but it takes away from what was already a brutally honest about depression and grief, especially in this one man’s life. Bardem makes him unique, but he does it so effortlessly.

This movie, on the other hand, doesn’t and even worse, fails at doing so.

No, he did not die from hypothermia.

No, he did not die from hypothermia. Although that would have been tragic as hell.

Like I said before, without Bardem, who knows what the hell would have happened with this flick. He holds it altogether like Gorilla Glue and never lets loose of it, even when the fragmented story-structure tries to pull his weight down. And that’s not to discredit the rest of the cast either, because everybody else does fine – it’s just that the movie isn’t all that concerned with them, and only uses them as window-dressing. Like, you know, for show.

Olivier Martinez probably gives his best performance as Arenas’ most beloved lover, Lazaro Gomez Carriles, and shows that he has a soft side to his act that we may not see in the muddled-crap that he does nowadays; Sean Penn shows up in what is basically an unrecognizable performance that didn’t even seem like him when he was on the screen, but had me do a check-up and I realized it totally was him; Michael Wincott was a fresh face to see on the screen as the main artist who stands-up to the government, and roots for his writing buddies; and last, but sure as hell not least is Johnny Depp, playing dual roles, both of which are surprisingly good. The first one is a transvestite who Arenas takes a liking to in the prison and has one of the more bizarre scenes of the whole flick, and the second one is him playing a Cuban officer that’s a bit strange as well, but a tad bit more vicious than what we’re used to seeing from Depp. There’s plenty more names where those came from, but they all are fine for what they have to do, but it’s Bardem who really keeps the show on the road, even when the direction from Julian Schnabel gets in the way.

Consensus: If it weren’t for Javier Bardem’s amazing performance as Reinaldo Arenas, who knows what the hell would have happened to Before Night Falls, but with him in the lead role, the movie is surprisingly engrossing, heartfelt, and all the more tragic because of the life the real-life figure lived and even died from.

7.5 / 10

Don't lie, you'd hit it. Especially if you were stuck in a Cuban prison.

Don’t lie, you’d hit it. Especially if you were stuck in a Cuban prison.

Photos Courtesy of: Grandview Pictures

The Messenger (2009)

Possibly the only instance in which Jehovah’s Witnesses would actually be a welcome presence.

Partnered with fellow officer Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) to bear the bad news to the loved ones of fallen soldiers, Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) faces the challenge of completing his mission while seeking to find comfort and healing back on the home front. Meanwhile though, he strikes up something of a relationship with a widow of a fallen soldier (Samantha Morton), who shows him that there’s truly something to live and be happy about with life.

Co-writer/director Oren Moverman uses the Messenger to get across two points: The pain and grief one feels after the death of a loved-one is greater than any hurt ever felt, and also, that life after the war is incredibly difficult. Are either points being made anything new, or necessarily fresh? Not really, but somehow the Messenger feels like a real, hard, honest, and raw indie that doesn’t back away from getting down to the hard truths of the hard psyche, as well as still attempting to build character along the way. In other words, it’s a movie right up my alley and it’s a perfect example of what can happen to your movie when you don’t have a very high, mighty and flashy script, but plenty of heart and emotion to make up for all of the style and the bang.

When you’re doing the job they do, fishing sounds perfect.

And because people still can’t seem to get enough of watching veterans cope with everyday society.

But is the Messenger an anti-war film? In a way, it is, but in other ways, it isn’t; the movie is never necessarily arguing about the war, why it happened, and what it’s true intentions were, as much as it’s just highlighting the fact that there were many souls lost during it, both home and on the field. Like the Hurt Locker, the Messenger essentially says that come back from the war, can’t escape it, go crazy, and end up losing their minds, only wanting to go back for me. It’s the same old song and dance every single time but this time, somehow, it feels different as Moverman takes a look inside the mindsets of all of these characters and we see sad people that seem to not be able to move on in life, all because they were sincerely crushed by the war. You feel for them, you understand them, and when it’s all said and done, you sort of end up hating the war because of what it’s done to these characters. Moverman never once gets preachy and instead, just lets us look at the view of the war from these character’s sides and make up our own decisions on our own. It’s a smart move on Moverman’s side and it’s great to see an anti-war film, that doesn’t try to spell it’s message out for you on-screen in every single shot, even though, yeah, we know what it’s trying to get across.

And playing these characters are some of the best talents working today. Ben Foster’s pretty solid in his lead role as Will Montgomery, someone who, obviously from the start, has issues. However, the movie, nor Foster ever ask for our sympathies, or our love. We feel for him enough as is and can feel his pain from a mile away – it makes the performance all the more gritty, as well as his character all the more believable.

All a vet needs is some pizza.

And if Foster being a good actor in the first place wasn’t enough, then he’s given two possible love-interests here, both are pretty amazing in their own rights. Samantha Morton is always tremendous and here, she’s even better, playing the widow who may or may not just be lonely and need some human connection, or generally actually like Will. The two have a nice bit of chemistry that does grow gradually over time, without ever making it seem all too clear just where it’s headed. Playing Will’s “other gal” is Jena Malone and while she doesn’t have a whole lot of time here, her presence is felt, just by the very few scenes she and Foster share, bringing more insight into who this guy really is.

But the real stand-out of this whole film and this whole cast, is in fact Woody Harrelson as Tony Stone.

Woody is, no matter what, always great to watch. He can be light and charming one second, but then, out of nowhere, scary and disturbing the next second. Here, he plays a little bit of both, with the later portions shining the most; he plays Tony as a stern, serious and by-the-book guy who seems like he’s never smiled in his life, but can also be quite the charming fella, too. Harrelson’s performance can get so intense sometimes, you never know when the acting begins or ends with him, making each and every one of the scenes he has with Foster, all the more suspenseful and compelling. They’ve worked together since this, so obviously there was no love lost, but come on, you can’t tell me they didn’t give each other a nudge every now and then, eh?

Who knows? We may never find out.

Consensus: Heartfelt and humane, while also never trying too hard to get its anti-war message across, the Messenger is a smart, well-acted, and emotional look at grief, loss, sadness, and of course, PTSD, yet, handled oh so perfectly well.

9 / 10

See? Like they definitely beat the snot out of one another during breaks.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The House of Mirth (2000)

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

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

See? There’s those long walks.

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

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

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

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

Just take him, Lily! Don’t be silly!

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: All About Gillian

Off the Black (2006)

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

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

He still somehow gets the ladies.

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

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

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

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

Grow up, kid. Start hanging with old drunks.

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

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

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

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

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

5 / 10

Yeah, not buying it. Sorry, fellas.

Photos Courtesy of: Rotten Tomatoes