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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 2010s

It Felt Like Love (2013)

Oh man. Young love. What the hell.

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

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

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

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

Love at first strike.

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: VHX

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The Trip to Spain (2017)

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

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

Smile, you’re in good company.

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

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

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

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

NO. MORE. IMPERSONATIONS.

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

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

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

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

7 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

Logan Lucky (2017)

NASCAR just got actually, well, fun.

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

It’s all in the facial-hair.

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

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

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

Bond who?!?

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

Finally. A bright new future with Stevie back.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Dark Tower (2017)

Yeah. I don’t know, either.

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

Good….

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

And one of the worst kinds, too.

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

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

…versus evil.

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

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

Probably not.

Wait. No. Absolutely not.

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

2.5 / 10

But uh, yeah, who cares?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Wind River (2017)

Those poor white people. Right?

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

FBI? Really?

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

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

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

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

Eh. Doesn’t look so bad.

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Glass Castle (2017)

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

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

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

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

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

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

She turned out all right. Right?

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

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

Go back to indies, Destin. Please.

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

4.5 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Look of Love (2013)

The Look of Love (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

And above all else, why do we care?

Truth is, we sort of don’t.

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

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

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

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

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

5 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Daddy Longlegs (2009)

Safdie

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

See? He’s a nice guy!

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

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

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

Uh oh. Nut’s about to crack.

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

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

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

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

5.5 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Lenny Cooke (2013)

Don’t put all your hoops into one basket.

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

Who’s that chump?

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

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

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

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

So interested.

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

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

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

You know, general happy feelings that arise with sports.

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

9 / 10

Ugh. Time flies. Savor it, people.

Photos Courtesy of: CBS Local Sports, IndieWire, Worldstarhiphop

Chuck (2017)

Rocky who? Oh yeah, that guy.

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

No really, where does he go from there?

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

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

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

Does it kind of work?

Yeah.

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

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

All about the hair.

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the moral of Chuck, right?

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

6.5 / 10

“Guys. Who’s Sly?”

Photos Courtesy of: IFC Films

Fun Mom Dinner (2017)

Moms rule. Dads drool. Right?

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

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

Or yeah, I think that’s what it is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unfortunately, not anymore.

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

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

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

4.5 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Momentum Pictures

Detroit (2017)

Honestly, has much changed? NOPE.

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

Uniforms don’t count.

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

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

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

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

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

Way too many similar images out there.

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

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

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

Plain and simple.

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

Why, people? Why!

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

8 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Hurt Locker (2009)

War is a drug. Use it wisely.

Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are members of a bomb-disposal unit in Baghdad and currently, they’re reeling after the death of one of their fellow soldiers (Guy Pearce). But there’s not much time to sit around and mope, and before long, in struts Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), who by his own count has disarmed 873 bombs and is a bit of a daredevil. It’s something that Sanborn and Eldridge aren’t quite ready to get used to, especially after having just suffered a serious loss, but they decide to stick with it, for as long as the missions are set. But as the missions continue to get deadlier and deadlier, the more and more Sanborn and Eldridge begin to clash with James – he doesn’t quite care, however. He’s too busy diffusing bombs and throwing all sorts of protocols out the window with reckless abandon. It’s something that may not only prove to be his undoing, not just as a soldier, but as a human, and it’s why Sanborn and Eldridge are absolutely terrified of what’s to come next. You know, as if the Iraq War itself wasn’t already scary enough.

Cool, calm, collected, and a total deuche.

Surprisingly enough, throughout its two-hour-and-ten-minute run-time, the Hurt Locker never seems to make one single political statement. It would be easy, too, considering that it was a war with more than a few sketchy reasons for existing, starting, and continuing on to take on greater new heights, but director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal are much smarter than to get too bogged down in that kind of stuff. After all, when everyone out there in the mainstream media is doing it, then really, what’s the point of beating a dead horse?

Instead, the Hurt Locker stays absolutely closed-in and focused on the soldiers, what hell they go through, how they survive, what gets them through each and every day, and just why the hell they need this war in the first place. Some do it for the sole sake of fighting for their country, meanwhile, others do it for the sole sake that they have nothing else better to do at home, so why not pick up some guns and shoot down baddies, eh? Once again, these aren’t necessarily ground-breaking statements being made on the parts of Bigelow, or Boal, but they do help us grow closer and closer to this movie as it goes on, continues to get more dangerous, and yes, depict that war is hell, no matter where it’s fought.

Case closed.

And as far as the war itself, the Hurt Locker is a total thrill-ride. Having already seen it three times, I can easily say that the movie doesn’t lose its tension, or even its element of surprise, because Bigelow just knows how to film this sort of action. While there’s a lot of shaky-cam, and chopping, and cutting, and editing, and fidgeting, it still feels reasonable – it puts us in the mind and state of these soldiers while they too are in this battlefield and it helps us get a better sense of just what sort of electricity may be running through the air. It’s basically a docudrama, but with really good performances and action that somehow, still continues to shock us, the more brutal it can get.

So many careers before Marvel came around and snatched them all up.

Which is to say that, of course, the Hurt Locker is an anti-war flick. But then again, it’s also not really making a statement, either. Through these soldiers, like James, like Sanborn, like Eldridge, Bigelow and Boal are trying to get down deep into the root of the war and what the real costs are. We see so much of the big-wig politicians on TV speaking about the war and how the enemy needs to be taken down, but is they who are in the battlefield? Is it they who sign up? Or if not them, what about their fellow family-members who may meet the criteria for being soldiers in the Army?

Once again, nothing new here, but it still deserves to be said and noted, especially in a war-thriller that has way more on its mind than just thrills, chills, bangs, booms, and shots fired.

Because it really is, surprisingly, a character-study of these three soldiers who, over time, get to know and trust one another, a little more. They may not love each other, but that’s sort of the point, it seems; Sanborn and James go throughout the whole movie holding a sort of disdain for one another, but when push comes to shove and their lives are in-stake, they come together and yes, kick some ass. It’s what soldiers do best and it’s nice to see them get the salute they so obviously deserve, having to pick up the pieces and the dirt from what the politicians leave for them.

It’s a shame, but yep, it’s reality. When will it end?

Consensus: Hard-hitting, brutal, thrilling, and above all else, thoughtful in its large presentation, the Hurt Locker is a much smarter Iraqi War film that honors those who fight, day in and day out, with all sorts of danger surrounding them.

9 / 10

Can’t be too hot, right?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

My Scientology Movie (2017)

Just watch EWTN. Much better and less controversial, honestly.

Scientology has been as controversial for as long as it’s been around. And as it begins to grow and grow, more members do find themselves leaving. But why? Or better yet, just what the hell is Scientology all about? What does a Scientologist believe in? And are all the myths about it true? All of those questions and more get answered here, courtesy of Louis Theroux, a British journalist who takes a huge interest in Scientology and decides to stage his own film-version of first-hand accounts of what goes on in Scientology. Mark Rathbun, a fellow Scientologist, helps Louis out in figuring out more and more about the so-called “religion”, but in doing so, also raises alarms for those involved with Scientology and don’t take too kindly to others making movies about their well-being.

“Anything you can do, I can do better.”

After the comprehensive job Going Clear did, it’d be hard to really tackle the subject of Scientology again. Cause obviously, yes, we get it: It’s not a real religion, it’s filled with evil, disillusioned people, and yeah, it’s just bad news all around. As the years have gone by and more people have been leaving it, the more access we get to figuring out just what the hell it’s all about, as well as why people are still drawn to it, even despite all of these obvious issues being out there in the press, for the whole world to see and take notice of.

And that’s why My Scientology Movie, while sometimes funny and admirable, also feels a little unnecessary. While Louis Theroux makes it a point not to necessarily make this a behind-the-scenes, eye-opening account of Scientology, as a whole, he still doesn’t bring much of anything new to the discussion, either. If anything, My Scientology Movie shows that even those, like Mark Rathburn, who get kicked-out of Scientology, may still be hard-firmed believers – they just don’t have the whole sponsorship to go along with it.

So aside from that, yeah, My Scientology Movie is a pretty standard documentary that doesn’t go too deep, but also doesn’t really act like it wants to do that, either.

It’s sort of what is and that’s fine. Theroux himself does help the movie out because, even when push comes to shove, and the Scientology people are getting so in his face, he still stays cool, calm, collected, and pretty funny. It helps that he’s a bit out-of-place, being this tall, lean, relatively dorky Brit in the hot, steamy sun of L.A., but it’s nice to see a documentarian who doesn’t find it necessary to constantly get by on crazy stunts, or by constantly being the center of attention. And even though this is an obvious dig at Michael Moore, honestly, his presence is sometimes needed for the material he develops; Theroux doesn’t really need to be there, except to help give us a conduit to everything and as that, he’s fine.

Take ’em down, Louis!

Although when it comes to the recreation of Scientology and Theroux making his own “movie”, My Scientology Movie sort of falls flat. It’s a neat idea, for sure, but it never really goes anywhere; once again, if anything, this portion of the movie just makes you sit and wonder about how desperate some of these actors are, that they don’t even know what they’re getting themselves into, or are even portraying. It seems like a lot of Theroux’s intended motives here, didn’t quite work out, but instead, pivoted on a better, much more interesting idea.

But like I said, there’s just not that much development.

We know Scientology is awful and we know that the people involved with it, no matter what their status as a celebrity may be, are also a little nutty. We’ve seen this before, we see it here, and yeah, it’s nothing new. It’s still entertaining and relatively shocking to see, but it’s old fruit that constantly keeps getting bitten into. Is there more out there about this “religion” to find out about and investigate? Sure, but perhaps My Scientology Movie isn’t that step.

At least not right now.

Consensus: Despite a clear attempt to really get down and deep into the religion, My Scientology Movie also doesn’t have anything new to say, but is entertaining enough because who doesn’t enjoy poking fun at Scientology?

6 / 10

We are all Scientologists, essentially. Right?

Photos Courtesy of: The AV ClubFlickering MythIndieWire

The Incredible Jessica James (2017)

Always fall in love with an Irishman. It works everything out.

While supremely talented, Jessica James (Jessica Williams) is also a very frustrated playwright currently trying to live and survive in the Big Apple. After a recent break-up and a few job opportunities that fell through, she doesn’t quite know what she wants to do with her life, nor does she really expect all that anything great to come of it; she’s sort of just coasting by, hoping for that big break that all us young folks hope and pray for. But in the meantime, she begins to date Boom (Chris O’Dowd), an older dude who is also getting over a recent divorce and doesn’t quite know what he wants to do, either. Together, the two create something of a nice little relationship that isn’t too serious, or meaningful just yet, until well, it gets to be that. Then, the two are left wondering what’s next, not just with themselves, but with each other.

It’s all about the style.

The Incredible Jessica James is another entry into the long list of small, character-based movies that Netflix, finds, picks up, and actually does a nice little favor for. After all, it’s the kind of movie that won’t win any awards, won’t change the world we live in, nor will it ever shake up the foundation of the future of movies to come. It’s just fine, simple, and easygoing enough to work, which is why it’s a nice, pleasant watch.

Now, is that so bad?

Writer/director James C. Strouse is good with these kinds of movies because, even while he likes to get a little head of himself with the sometimes zany comedy, he also doesn’t forget that what makes movies like this worth watching and compelling, is because of the interesting, relatively likable characters worth sitting around for. They don’t have to be perfect, nor do they have to be total and complete a-holes – they just have to be people that we want to sit around and watch for an-hour-and-a-half. And he’s lucky that he’s got someone as solid as Jessica Williams who seems like she’s on the brink of stardom by now and her next step will surely be watched.

Which is a good thing, because Williams is a likable personality on the screen. She’s funny, smart, but also not a little afraid to be vulnerable throughout this movie when it helps us understand more about her. It’s conventional to have her constantly dream of her boyfriend and not totally be able to get over him, but Williams is smart enough not to just make her play that whole aspect, the whole time. There’s more to her, like the fact that she’s actually trying to make a name for herself, is ambitious, and yes, also wants to figure her shit out, way before it’s too late.

Eh. Give ’em five months and see where they stand.

In other words, she’s just like any other young person.

And as her possible love-interest, Chris O’Dowd is good, mostly because he’s doing everything he does: Be Chris O’Dowd. And honestly, that’s fine; the guy is so charming and fun to watch, that even a scene where he’s just standing there, is more than enough pleasure. It does help that he and Williams have a solid bit of chemistry, too, where they not only seem good for each other, but are also different in certain ways that perhaps make them more compatible. Sure, the movie wants us to believe it’s true love, but it’s also not a bit afraid to show us why they may have certain small issues down the road.

Once again, it’s just smart writing, plain and simple. It’s not a perfect movie at all, but it does what it needs to do and that’s give us a normal, everyday person, the spotlight, if only for a bit. The movie doesn’t try to make any point about race, or even gender, which is fine because it’s not that kind of a movie. It’s just a sweet, little indie. Plain and simple.

Now, leave me alone.

Consensus: With a charming pair of leads, the Incredible Jessica James gets by on its sweet likability and everyday appeal.

6.5 / 10

Be ready, world. She sure is.

Photos Courtesy of: Okayplayer, IndieWire, Collider

To the Bone (2017)

Thanks, supermodels! What influences you all are!

Ellen (Lily Collins) is an unruly 20-year-old anorexic girl who spent the better part of her teenage years being shepherded through various recovery programs, only to find herself several pounds lighter every time. There’s no real rhyme or reason or why she’s stopped eating and allow for her body to get so frail – it’s just something that happened and has forced everyone around her to take notice and wonder what they did wrong. It’s even gone on to influence Ellen’s art which, as a result, even influenced a fellow girl her age, to kill herself. Once again, why? No one really knows, so Ellen gets sent away to find some sort of a solution to a group home for youths, led by a non-traditional doctor (Keanu Reeves), who believes much more in talking and getting to the root of the problem, rather than diagnosing it and expecting all sorts of issues just to go away. Through this home and the people she meets, Ellen begins to grow up a bit and start think about the life she has and why it’s actually worth living. And also, why it’s best to just chew down, as opposed to not at all.

Handshake, or pound it? Make up your mind, kids!

To the Bone is a step above the usual, cookie-cutter movie-of-the-week junk we get on TV nowadays. But it’s still a small step that features cursing, sex talk, drug use, and some other disturbing material that also makes it seem like it’s trying a bit hard, but at the same time, not, because it’s actually giving us real teens, with real issues, talking the way that real teens talk. Does that make it great? Nope, not really. But if anything, that makes it more noble than anything that Lifetime can offer you.

And if that’s the standard, then really, what’s the point, right?

Anyway, To the Bone mostly gets by on Lily Collins performance in which, not only does she totally dress herself down in an unhealthy and scary way, but also allows for her character to grow over time. It helps that Ellen is more than another angsty teen who has family-problems and doesn’t really know how to express herself, as she’s much more of a teen who just doesn’t know what to do with her life; the fact that she was mostly pushed to the edge of her life through someone else’s suicide, already makes her a tad different than other protagonists like her, in other movies. And yes, Collins is quite good, too, showing a great deal of sadness, as well as fun and light in a character that, honestly, should have just had a whole movie dedicated to her and to her alone.

Because it’s in the supporting characters that the movie sort of plays its hand a bit too much and, dare I say it, get a bit annoying. For instance, Alex Sharp’s romantic love-interest character, while well-intentioned, comes off a bit goofy and pretentious. It’s as if he jumped right out of the Fault in our Stars and decided to give this movie a bunch of annoying comedy that, quite frankly, it didn’t really need. We get it, he’s different and a bit light on his feet, but does that really mean every line he has, has to be some sort of lame joke that sounds like it came from your weird uncle?

You’ll get there. Have a steak.

Probably not and it’s why To the Bone struggles to figure out just what it’s about.

Either it’s about anorexia and what draws a person to this way? Or, it’s about this one girl, trying to live, trying to survive, trying to find happiness, and just trying to be herself, even when she doesn’t know how to be? The movie flirts with both angles and after awhile, it makes you wonder where it wants to go, what it wants to say, or what it even what it wants to be about. Both stories are interesting and could work, but side-by-side, they don’t and it ends up making the movie feel like a bit of a mess, even if yes, it’s one step above something from Lifetime.

But then again, is that really the peak?

Consensus: Though it flirts with some interesting ideas about anorexia, depression, and coming-of-age, ultimately, To the Bone feels a little melodramatic and light to really dig deep into what it wants to develop.

5 / 10

“Like, uh, woah.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Atomic Blonde (2017)

Were the 80’s really all that cool?

Agent Lorraine Broughton (Charlize Theron) can take care of herself, regardless of if she’s on a mission or not. She kicks ass, takes names, and doesn’t really give a flyin’ hoot about authority, or who exactly she’s pissing off – in other words, she’s the total bad-ass. And she’s got a new mission somewhere in Berlin, where she’ll be sent alone to retrieve a priceless dossier from within the city, that is already going through its own changes, what with the Berlin Wall being prepared to being taken down and ripped apart. While there, she partners with station chief David Percival (James McAvoy), to help get her up and around Berlin, as well as clue her into who is to trust, and who isn’t. However, it becomes very clear to Lorraine that it doesn’t matter who you think you can trust, because you can’t trust a single person. Not even a fellow agent from Paris (Sofia Boutella), who may mean well, but also may have some dirty little secrets that she’s hiding from Lorraine, for the sake of her own agenda. Basically, it a cold, rough game of spies-versus-spies and we’re all just sitting by and watching it.

Uh, yeah. I’m going to leave this one alone and let it speak for itself.

Atomic Blonde absolutely wreaks and oozes with so much style, that it works despite itself. It’s the kind of movie that definitely tries so very hard to be “hip and cool”, but in a retro, 80’s-glam kind of way that eventually, you just sort of have to understand that that’s what it’s going for, accept it for what it is, and actually enjoy it. After all, it’s a movie set in the 80’s and feels like it could have been made in that decade, what with the glitzy, bright, flashy colors, talk of spies, Communists, and oh yeah, the New Wave tunes.

Oh man, the New Wave tunes. How could one forget?

Anyway, director David Leitch keeps with the spirit of the graphic novels here and it’s a smart move on his take, because Atomic Blonde, for all its plot issues, never takes itself too seriously. It’s a cold, dark, menacing, and sometimes brutally violent movie, but its tongue is placed firmly in its cheek and it never seems to forget that fact; the fact that we actually have a movie as violent as this, that’s also still able to crack jokes, is a surprise, considering the market for these kinds of movies seems to have been cornered by Tarantino. But nope, thankfully Leitch doesn’t forget where the story and style came from and yes, it helps this sometimes bitter pill go down easily.

Oh and of course, the action. Man, oh man, the action. Leitch is a smart director of action because he knows that in order for the violence/action to be grueling and compelling, well, we actually have to see it. All of the constant craziness of the shaky-cam doesn’t do anything else but cause constant headaches and confusion – sometimes, seeing someone get shot in the face, or kicked in the balls, without any jumping or crazy editing, makes a movie all the more fun. And with Atomic Blonde, there’s plenty of shooting, punching, kicking, bleeding, falling, and death, but because we can see it all, it’s a lot more fun and actually makes you feel it.

And yes, we can easily talk about the 8-minute or so sequence in which Charlize Theron literally goes around a stair-well, kicking a bunch of dudes asses in what appears to be a single-shot sequence. It’s clearly edited in a way to make you think that, but that’s besides the point: The point is that the action works and that’s all it needed to.

Clearly shot around the same time as Split. And yes, someone forgot to tell McAvoy.

And because of the action, the movie’s better off, because the story isn’t quite helping.

Of course, these kinds of spy-thrillers are best known for their MacGuffin premises, where an agent has to get something, from someone dangerous, in an even far more dangerous place, but that’s why the simplicity works so well. We’re used to it and not asked to care all that much about everything else. Atomic Blonde, in a way, sort of gets this wrong and sort of can’t seem to come up with a solid plot-line, mission, or even characters to fully help it out. Theron is a total and absolute bad-ass as Lorraine, but even she feels a little short-sighted; it’s as if the character was only given bullet-points of development on purpose for the sole sake of getting a sequel.

Still, Theron’s good at what she does here and one of the better actresses today who can make a lot of the silly dialogue, work. Other actors like James McAvoy and Sofia Boutella, while definitely talented, also feel like they don’t get a whole lot of time to fully develop, or go beyond the surface. Even Toby Jones and John Goodman, who spend most of the movie sitting at a desk and just spouting exposition, still feel a little more developed in their laid-back, grizzled ways – the others, not so much and it’s a shame. Perhaps, if the sequels do come around, we’ll get more.

Until then, who knows. Just watch and enjoy the ass-kickery.

Consensus: With so much style and action on frequent-display, Atomic Blonde is fun and consistently entertaining, even if it definitely needed some help on its script.

7 / 10

Do your thing, Charlize!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Wakefield (2017)

Sometimes, you just need to get away. But not all that far.

From the outside, Howard Wakefield (Bryan Cranston) seemingly has it all. Two lovely kids, a lovely wife (Jennifer Garner), a solid job in the city, and a cushy, easygoing household out in the New York suburbs. It’s what every man at his age and of his stature would want, but for some reason, Howard doesn’t want it. Like any of it. In fact, he hates his wife, hates his job, hates his house, hates the people he’s surrounded by, and while he doesn’t hate the kids, he comes close. So, when he’s stuck outside in the shed for a short amount of time, he gets the grand idea of staying up there, without being seen or spotted, and just watch his family all from afar. At first, it’s an entertaining diversion from the real world, with real responsibilities and all of that, but eventually, it becomes almost far too serious in nature. After a short while, it isn’t long before Howard gets the grand idea of just staying in that shed, with no plans of ever being found, or letting anyone know just where the hell he’s at, what he’s doing, and what his plans are, once all of this gets far too serious. Issue is, that it eventually does get too serious, but Howard can’t seem to want to leave that damn shed.

That’s the look every person gets when it’s time to break free. If only just a slight bit.

Wakefield‘s premise is so wacky and rather silly, that it honestly depends on if you’re absolutely, undeniably willing to go along with it. If you don’t, then the movie’s just not going to work. But if you do, it’s a fun, sometimes hilarious ride that tells us a little bit about all of these characters and most importantly, allows us to peer into the lives of some normal, everyday individuals who we would have never thought we’d want to see a movie about.

But of course, the movie does help itself by not ever taking itself all that seriously which, when your premise is basically about a dude, up in a shed, watching everything going on in his house from afar, while narrating everything, and essentially, getting crazier, dirtier, and smellier, means a whole heck of a lot. In fact, Wakefield itself could have easily gotten old and tiring after the first half-hour, where it became all too clear just what this movie was going to be about, how it was going to spend its time, and what it was going to be doing, time and time again. But for some reason, writer/director Robin Swicord doesn’t allow for it to ever get that way.

If anything, she allows the material to pop-off the screen and be more, well, fun than it ever had any right to be.

The fact that we actually get to know more about Howard, if only through him and his narration, helps us out entirely. Of course, the movie’s narrative-device is always a little bit tricky, because everything we’re being told through him, is never made clear enough to where we can fully trust what he’s saying, or not. It’s not hard to imagine watching this movie again for the small, itty, bitty clues about what Howard’s telling the truth about, and what he isn’t, but because he’s possibly an unreliable narrator, everything we’re told is a lot more compelling, than if he was just to sit us down by the campfire and tell us folk-tales of yesteryear.

Leaving Jennifer Garner? Don’t know how on-board I am with that, pal.

Granted, hearing said tales from Bryan Cranston wouldn’t have been all that bad, but what I’m trying to say is this: Wakefield could have easily been a useless bore, but it wasn’t. We find out about this guy, his life, and get to enjoy the time we spend with him even if, at times, it can tend to get a little claustrophobic. Then again, that’s probably the point; the more uncomfortable he feels and the crazier he gets, the more we feel the same way because, after all, we’re trapped with the guy. The movie does attempt to try and be this survival-thriller on the side of its character-building, but in reality, doesn’t get too bothered and remembers that it’s all about Cranston reminiscing on his life.

And man, what reminiscences they are.

It’s interesting to see Cranston in a role like this, because it’s not all that far detached from Walter White; like him, Howard Wakefield is a normal, suburban, middle-class father who wants to break away from the chains of society and figure out what it’s like to live a little dangerously. Granted, how deep he gets is a little goofier this time around, but still, Cranston remains compelling through it all. It’s fun to just sit there and listen to what he has to say, even if mostly all of it could be bull-shit; there’s a certain degree of anger and rage simmering from within that’s easy to feel and because of that, it’s neat to see when and where he pops off.

Cause who doesn’t appreciate a solid Cranston freak-out?

Exactly.

Consensus: Even with the odd premise, Wakefield works because it’s smart, funny, and incredibly well-acted from Cranston, who anchors the whole movie throughout.

7.5 / 10

Ew.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Lovers (2017)

Love the one you’re with. And the others on the side.

Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) have been married for quite some time and as is usually the case with aging couples, things have gotten a little sour, a little boring, and most of all, a little dull. And because of that, they’ve both taken up with significant others to keep their lives happy, exciting, and above all else, worth going on for. Mary has Robert (Aidan Gillen), while Michael has Lucy (Melora Walters), and while both relationships can be definitely classified as “affairs”, they’re beginning to take on new lives as something far more serious and possibly even permanent. But here’s the thing: Mary and Michael are still together and don’t really know how to approach the issue of breaking up. And now with their son (Tyler Ross) coming home from college for a short bit, they especially don’t know what to do now. Should they break-up and move on, like they really want to? Or stick around and stay together, for a short time? Then again, they’re a married-couple so, who knows, old passions may come back.

Ew. Get a room!

The whole central joke surrounding the Lovers is this: Although the movie is about this couple who have been married for quite some time, we’re still seeing them as anything but. They don’t screw one another, barely even talk to one another, and hell, are rarely even in the same room together. This is deliberate on the part of writer/director Azael Jacobs’ part and it’s a smart take on what could have been a very preachy, very annoying, and relatively very conventional story. We’ve all seen spouses cheating on spouses, have gotten those sob stories, and see how they have all played-out, but the Lovers, with its interesting angle is, at the very least, different.

Does that make it any better? Not necessarily and that’s sort of the problem.

See, Jacobs’ take on making this marriage seem very fake works for awhile, until the other cheek is turned, and oh man, they’re all of a sudden screwing, and kissing, and talking, and gasp, in the same rooms together. It’s a nice little change-of-pace, but it also feels like the movie’s still trying to make jokes, without ever really trying its hardest to get down deep into what really makes a marriage, well, a marriage. The Lovers does seem interested in trying to figure out what constitutes love, marriage, and why people stay together for so long, even if the spark isn’t there. And hell, when the spark isn’t there, what’s the best way to go about getting it all back? Continue to try to screw each other, or set one’s sights elsewhere?

And it’s not like these are all points I wanted to see addressed here, it’s more that the film does seem like it brings them up, but backs away as soon as an idea is about to be developed. Jacobs seems like he knows how to create smart and interesting situations, with even smarter, interesting pieces of dialogue, but the end result is odd, as if he’s more confused at the end, than before he even started. It’s odd and definitely hard to explain, but it’s one of the main reasons why throughout the Lovers, I couldn’t help but be frustrated.

The only true element saving me here were the great performances by all involved, save by one Tyler Ross.

Oh, wait. Never mind. Don’t.

And no, it’s not like I’m going to crash on him because he’s young and playing a weak character in the first place, but because he just does not sit right at all with the rest of the movie. For some reason, Jacobs has written him to be this angst-fueled, angry, pissed-off, and irritated kid who seems to hate his parents, whether together or not, and can’t, not for a single second, let things go as they appear to be. Every scene he’s either picking a fight, or looking like he’s about to explode, and eventually does and it seems so random, so crazy, and so over-the-top, it made me wonder if I accidentally sat on the remote and came upon the Lifetime channel. It sound dramatic, but that’s because it is and it’s so weird.

Thankfully, like I said, the other performances are all great, with Letts and Winger making the most out of their scenes together. Winger’s especially impressive because she shows some sad, yet honest emotions in a character who feels like she could have easily been slut-shamed, but surprisingly, she wasn’t. She’s just an older women, looking for a second chance at love, and possibly finding it – just not in her husband. It’s nice to see Winger around again and it makes me hope that she sticks around for some more roles, regardless of if she’s still a pain to get along with.

Consensus: With two great performances in the leads, the Lovers gets by as a mildly interesting and entertaining take on married-couples, yet, also feels like it has a lot to say, without ever fully getting to a point.

6.5 / 10

It’s okay. Just hit up those side-pieces and all will be fine.

Photos Courtesy of: Variety, The New York Times, The Bajan Reporter

Sleight (2017)

Is this what Criss Angel is up to nowadays?

Bo (Jacob Latimore) is a young guy living on the rough and tough streets of L.A., trying to get by and make a living for him and his little sister. But instead of doing what most of his friends are doing, like hustling, committing crimes, and selling drugs, Bo is keeping himself straight by performing magic on the streets. But honestly, after the death of his parents, it’s getting harder and harder for Bo to keep a roof over his head, so eventually, he turns to this life of crime where he falls under the tutelage of the local drug dealer (Dule Hill), who does not take kindly to people messing around with his stuff. But while all of this is happening, Bo meets Holly (Seychelle Gabriel) who, despite having a college education and plenty of other dreams in life, instantly falls for him. Now, Bo has more of a reason to live, survive and have all the things that he should want, but for some reason, the drug world just isn’t all that forgiving and it’s up to Bo to figure out just how the heck to get by it all. Then, something mysterious appears on his arm and things get odd.

Like really, really odd.

Eh. I’ve had more.

I have to give Sleight the benefit of the doubt in that it’s a low-budget film, with an incredibly diverse cast and relatively original premise. And yes, even a part of me is willing to forgive and get by all of the issues and problems had with this thing, just based solely on the fact that it’s so low-budget and got a lot working against it. But still, for some reason, I can’t get past the fact that Sleight, despite showing plenty of promise, never fully comes together.

In a way, it’s as if the budget needed to be bigger in order for director/co-writer J.D. Dillard to fully complete his vision. Clearly, some things got lost in the shuffle and it shows; there are far too many long-winding scenes where two characters are just sitting in a room, sort of talking, and seeming as if they’re going to never stop. In other words, yes, it’s called “character-development”, but it feels different here in Sleight – it’s as if Dillard had all of these scenes put in, because he didn’t have enough money to do other things.

Maybe this is just me talking, but either way, it slows the movie down to a halt.

And it doesn’t help that these characters aren’t the least bit interesting. Latimore is an interesting, bright, young talent who is surely going to go on and do great things, but his role here as Bo, when it’s not hitting every convention to be expected with a young whippersnapper growing up on the streets of L.A. (minus the whole magician angle), feels weak and almost underwritten. We’re supposed to see all of these different sides to him, but really, it’s just one where he always looks like a patron saint, taking care of all those around him, no matter what, and against all odds.

Giving David Blaine a run for his money. That guy’s still alive, right?

Dillard tries to even make his situation more interesting and therefore, compelling, but even that feels like it can get lost. A late-minute twist comes literally out of nowhere and while definitely cool, almost feels like it was thrown in there because Dillard got an extra check thrown his way from WWE Studios (who also helped distribute it). And I know a lot of what I’m complaining about is how it has a small-budget and clearly shows, but that’s not all it – it’s more that it’s a movie with a solid premise, yet, doesn’t take full advantage of it, mostly because it wants to play all of these different sides.

Dillard seems like he wants it to be a honest, raw, and gritty tale about growing up on the streets of L.A., but also wants it to be a sweet, youthful and lovely look at young love. Dillard also seems like he wants it to be a stone-cold drama about drugs, crime, and bad people, but also wants it to be about a kid possibly developing superpowers, or something of that nature. Honestly, it’s a mixed-bag overall, because it offers so many different sides and angles, yet, never fully comes together on one.

Just one. That’s all it needed. But nope. Couldn’t do that.

Consensus: Budget constraints aside, Sleight is a messy movie that’s filled with ideas and possibilities, but ultimately, never comes together perfectly. Oh, and yeah, its budget holds it back.

4.5 / 10

Wish the force was strong enough to get more “0’s” on them checks.

Photos Courtesy of:Indiewire