Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

Lucky (2017)

Realism truly is “a thing”.

Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) is 90 years old and believe it or not, feels fine. He can’t move his body like he used to and sure, it’s a little creaky every so often, but for the most part, he’s getting by just fine. He spends most of his days doing the same things, like waking up and getting a coffee. Then, he watches game shows on TV and tests his knowledge. And then, lastly, he ends up at the local bar, where he wants to smoke, but doesn’t. Instead, he sits around and waits for someone to have a stimulating conversation with him, whatever it may be, or about whatever.

Lucky doesn’t have much of a plot and that’s actually fine. All it really needs is a solid bit of characters, good performances, and a sweet sense of time and place and it gets by just fine. Making his directorial debut, legendary character actor John Carroll Lynch seems to know how to let a story like this play itself out; he takes his time enough to where some could say it’s “boring” and “slow”, but really, it’s just languid and it fits with everyone and everything else here.


Especially the one, the only and the late Harry Dean Stanton himself.

And yes, it’s pretty crazy to watch this movie and realize that this would end up becoming Stanton’s swan song, but it feels so incredibly fitting. Stanton himself has never really gotten the chance to have a movie all to himself and it seems like, even at age 90, he was due; the role doesn’t really challenge him, or stretch the talents we know him for, but it doesn’t necessarily have to, either. All it has to do is offer us another great glimpse of the never-ending and charming talents of Stanton, why he was great, why it was always nice to have him around, and why, above all else, he will be missed.

And yes, like I said, Stanton’s pretty great here. He’s charming, wise, and seems like he’s years above everyone else that he meets. But the movie is smart in that it isn’t just about Lucky and his life, as it’s also about the people he runs into on a daily-basis, most of whom put up with him and have been doing so for quite some time. Some will be happy to see David Lynch show up in a cooky-role as a guy looking for his tortoise, others will be happy to see Ron Livingston show up as a life-insurer with a huge mustache, and others, like myself, will be happy to see a nice little Alien reunion between Stanton and Tom Skerritt, in one of the movie’s sweeter scenes.

Seriously, why’s that ‘stache so huge?

But the movie isn’t just about one character over the rest – it’s about all of them and it’s why it’s so sweet.

Carroll Lynch and co-writers Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks seem to understand how to get the heart of this tale, but never playing their hand too much. Some may not see this as having much of a point, or better yet, not really being about much other than just a bunch of old people talking and yammering on about things that can kind of seem random, but it really isn’t. It’s about watching life pass you by, understanding that reality, moving on, and doing whatever the hell you can to make the best of it while you have it. It sounds cheesy, in retrospect, but Lucky, the movie, as well as the character, aren’t and it’s why it’s a small joy of a movie.

And it’s why we’ll forever miss the talents of Harry Dean Stanton.

Consensus: Sweet and sultry, Lucky is the kind of small and oddly charming movie that works best because of its time, attention, care, and solid performances, especially from the late, great Harry Dean Stanton.

7.5 / 10

Goodbye legend. You will surely be missed.

Photos Courtesy of: Magnolia Pictures


The Light of the Moon (2017)

Seems pretty relevant in today’s times.

Bonnie (Stephanie Beatriz) seems to be living the good life. She’s young, has a nice job in New York City as an architect, a good group of friends, and even better, a loving and supporting boyfriend (Michael Stahl-David), who may not be perfect, but does what a good boyfriend should do. However, her wonderful and nice life changes when late one night, after a heavy night of drinking and partying with co-workers, she is taken into an abandoned alleyway and raped by a total and complete stranger. Obviously, Bonnie goes through the system of testing and finding out who her perpetrator was, but it’s the long and winding affects of the rape itself that continue to stick with Bonnie and not just haunt her life, but those around her, as well.

“Yeah, bro. Not today.”

The Light of the Moon could have easily been another TV-movie-of-the-week that, while it approached its subject with honesty and humanity, could have also been melodramatic and silly. Especially when you have a movie that deals with rape and its after-effects, it’s either that the creators behind it don’t want to go too far into the description, so as not to offend anyone, or they’ll scratch the surface, just to a certain degree. Writer/director/producer Jessica M. Thompson isn’t afraid to go deeper and further into these issues, discuss them, and approach them head-on to where it’s almost uncomfortable to watch sometimes.

But you know what? Rape itself is uncomfortable and it should be discussed in the same manner. Thompson knows this and understands this, which is why the Light of the Moon hits hard than most “message-movies” of its nature; it’s not discussing how rape happens in the first place, or how awful the system can be (even though, of course, we know that). More or less, it’s discussing the kind of affects it can have on a person, small or tall, and why it’s not always easy to diagnose as a problem, until it’s taken over your whole life for good.

It’s also why Stephanie Beatriz’s performance is something of a quiet, desperate, and upsetting revelation.

Creeps go creep in the night.

It’s the kind of role that gets passed-up on come awards-season because, let’s face it, the movie is small and has a very limited-distribution plan, but Beatriz, for all of the effort she puts in her, but without ever showing it, deserves some attention. It’s a small, subtle role that doesn’t always ask or demand of her to yell, scream, and holler of her plans, but instead, sit there, look upset, boil in her own misery, and cry for love and help, but without ever actually crying. It’s not an easy role to pull-off without looking like you’re trying too hard, but Beatriz is more than up to the occasion and it’s a shocker that she gets away with so many raw and heartfelt emotions, by doing so very little.

It’s also crazy how much of this role paints her in such an unlikable and, at times, unflattering light, but that’s also the point. That Bonnie begins to alienate all of those around her after the rape, isn’t meant to be a character-flaw, as much as it’s a psychological-issue that most victims of violence go through; they don’t want people loving them, or treating them better than they did before, but at the same time, they sort of do. Once again, it’s a rough role that takes a lot of looking after and studying, but it’s also why Beatriz’s performance is so great and makes you wonder what she’s got next up her sleeve, when she isn’t stealing scenes on Brooklyn Nine-Nine.

Yes, the same comedy show on Fox starring Andy Samberg. I know.

Consensus: By approaching its rough and raw material in a subtle, but upfront manner, the Light of the Moon remains a sad and unsettling look at rape, especially with an amazing performance from Stephanie Beatriz in the lead role.

7 / 10

A boyfriend’s love can be so suffocating. Like ugh!

Photos Courtesy of: Imagination Worldwide/The Film Collaborative

Mr. Roosevelt (2017)

Felines have a way of bringing friends and family together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Uh like hella ‘kward.

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

“Cheers to underachieving!”

Photos Courtesy of: Paladin Films

Molly’s Game (2017)

Win or lose, it’s always a good time.

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

That’s the kicker: She won’t tell.

“Seriously, that much f****n’ money?”

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

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

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

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

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

Like really a lot.

A Molly in a man’s world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: STXfilms

The Post (2017)

What’s a newspaper?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shocker, right?

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

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


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

7.5 / 10

“Well, print it.”

Photos Courtesy of: 20th Century Fox

Kedi (2017)

Cat’s are still evil, though.

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

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

Sure. Have it. Brat.

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

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


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

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

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

Whether we want to admit it or not.

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

7.5 / 10

Cuteness overload! Aaah!

Photos Courtesy of: Oscilloscope Laboratories

Stronger (2017)

Boston Strang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like all men, really.

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

7.5 / 10

Fight for Bahhstaaaan.

Photos Courtesy of: Lionsgate and Roadside Attractions

Darkest Hour (2017)

More Churchill? More Dunkirk? Come on!

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

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

“Lean on me, bub.”

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

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

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

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

“Dear John Lithgow,
I’m better.”

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10

“Deuces.” – Winston Churchill

Photos Courtesy of: Focus Features

The Girl With All the Gifts (2017)

2017 proves that we may just need an apocalypse.

In the future, a strange fungus has changed nearly everyone into a thoughtless, flesh-eating monster. When a scientist (Glenn Close) and a teacher (Gemma Arterton) find a girl named Melanie (Sennia Nanua) who seems to be immune to the fungus, they all begin a journey to save humanity. Problem is, the outside world is quite dangerous and always ready to chow down on human-flesh.

With all of the zombies shows and movies out there, you’d think that we wouldn’t really need something like the Girl With All the Gifts. After all, it’s a lot like the Last of Us and already doesn’t feel like it’s going to go beyond just being about a bunch of unlikable people trying to survive in a post-apacolyptic world, where everyone and everything are flesh-eating zombies. It sounds conventional, formulaic, and downright cliche, but the way it all plays out, surprisingly, proves otherwise.

Who says teachers can’t change the world?

In fact, it almost comes close to greatness. Very close, indeed.

But still, it’s a movie that deserves to be seen above all of the other zombie offerings because it doesn’t ever seem to forget to be, first and foremost, scary. What the Walking Dead, Z Nation, and all those other zombie bits of pop-culture seem to miss out on is that they aren’t really scary; they focus more on characters and hope that their lives hanging in the balance will be enough. They don’t really work on mood, or actually having you fearful of what’s going to come out at us, as well as the characters, next.

Director Colm McCarthy’s style works on that and puts us right into a dark, twisted, scary, and absolutely depressing world, highly reminiscent of the same post-apocalypse pictured in 28 Days Later. There’s zombies roaming everywhere, they’re fast, they’re angry, they’re hungry, and oh yeah, they’re scary. McCarthy always puts us in the dark of where the plot may go next, so that even if we don’t entirely care for these characters, we’re still interested in seeing where we are taken, what other mysteries of this disease are going to be unlocked, and whether anybody’s going to make it out of this thing alive.

Aw. Such a sweet little girl.

That said, the characters themselves, as limited as they may be, are interesting enough to where they do warrant enough attention to them. Gemma Arterton’s Helen is sweet and sympathetic, but you never know whether to fully trust her to do the right thing or not; same goes for Paddy Considine’s Eddie, who we actually start to hate, but soon understand and sympathize with because, well, he’s been through a whole lot; Glenn Close plays the Dr. Caldwell who cares a lot about her research, but also doesn’t fall into the convention of being the scientist who loses her head when the going gets dangerous; and Sennia Nanua, as Melanie, is perfect here. She’s both cute and sweet, but also incredibly dangerous, too and it’s hard to ever fully get close to this character, which is on-purpose. She is, after all, still a girl, but she does have a undying passion and love for the taste of human-flesh and it’s always easy to forget, especially when she’s going on and on about fairy-tales and bed-time stories.

It’s perfect casting and hopefully, a sure sign that Nanua will be going on to bigger and better things.

That said, as solid as the movie is for the first hour or so, it does kind of blow off the rails by the last-act, which is easy to see coming, but still feels a tad disappointing. It seems like with most zombie-flicks of this nature, it’s hard to stay so subtle and repressed that you can’t help yourselves but to let a little loose with all of the blood, the gore, the violence, the twists, and the turns by the end, but so be it. Maybe times will change. Maybe not.

Oh well.

Consensus: With plenty of shocks, scares, blood, guts, gore, and great performances, the Girl With All the Gifts helps freshen-up the zombie sub-genre a bit, but also falls short of being a brand new classic. Darn.

7.5 / 10

Oh, uh, damn. Never mind. Monster, I tell ya!

Photos Courtesy of: Saban Films

The Disaster Artist (2017)

Good story, Mark!

Greg Sestero (Dave Franco) is just another young kid looking to become an actor. His dreams seem as if they’re finally going to be fulfilled too, when he meets the strange, mysterious, and downright weird Tommy Wiseau (James Franco). While the two are no doubt opposites, they hit it off because of their willingness to chase the American Dream of Hollywood, fame and fortune. It also helps that Wiseau has a place he calls home in L.A., so they move there and start trying to do what they can to break in the biz. For Greg, because he’s so young, fresh and good-looking, he gets small bits and roles in stuff, whereas Tommy doesn’t. He’s too weird and crazy to really work for most casting-agents and it’s why he decides to just say screw it all and make a movie himself. This then creates the Room, one of the most beloved and strange cult flicks that’s so bad, so ridiculous, and so out-of-this-world, guess what? It’s actually good. However, behind-the-scenes, nobody knew what the hell was going on, where Tommy was getting all of this money, why he was acting like such a freak, where he came from, and oh yeah, how the hell old he was, too. Basically, it all just revolved around Tommy being Tommy.

“I did naaaht.”

The Disaster Artist is one of those breezy, light-as-a-feather biopics that doesn’t get as deep as it should, but still works. Why? All about the source-material, baby! If you’ve ever seen the Room, know who Greg Sestero or Tommy Wiseau are, then yes, this will most likely all work for you. The movie, as directed by James Franco and written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber, is meant to please those undying and adoring fans of the cult-classic, while also attempting to bring possible interested-parties to just who the hell these people are, what the movie they’re making is, and/or better yet, why so many people love it.

In fact, the Disaster Artist itself doesn’t set out to answer all of the questions it raises and in a way, it’s better than most biopics because of that. It doesn’t feel the need to harp on something, or try to jam it all in – it gives us the characters, their backstories, their plot, their conflicts, and basically just runs with it all. Sure, the real lives of Sestero and Wiseau may be way more intriguing and odd than what we get here, but the movie doesn’t feel as if it has to be over two-hours to really get its job done.

Just a little over an-hour-and-a-half, honestly, is fine enough.

And it’s why, as a director and actor, James Franco does a pretty great job here. Despite him having made nearly six or seven movies in the past few years, none of them have really been all that good; they’re slow, meandering, pretentious and, despite the star-quality attached, a waste of some prime talent who are clearly just doing favors for a seemingly good guy. Here though, it seems like Franco’s at least somewhat poised to avenge himself as both an actor and director, because he doesn’t harp too much on the material – he gives us the funny stuff, the drama, and the characters that matter.

Bros love throwing that pig-skin.

And oh yeah, he also does a pretty great Wiseau which, all things considering, is pretty hard to pull-off, especially for someone as good-looking, tall, and recognizable as Franco. But Franco gets the cadences down perfectly, from the randomly slurred-speech, to the odd laughing and giggling in-between clever-phrases, that make this guy a delight to watch. He also doesn’t forget to show us the true dark and odd nature behind this guy, like where all of his money comes from, why he’s such a control-freak, and the idea that he may be a bit of a sexist asshole who, like most frat-boys, just wants to see boobs and be able to touch them. Once again, the movie doesn’t go nearly as deep as it probably should have into Wiseau, but Franco scratches enough of the surface to where it’s all fine and dandy.

After all, the movie’s so damn entertaining, you’ll soon forget about all of that stuff and it’s kind of the point.

The Disaster Artist makes it clear very early-on that no matter how awful the end-result turned out to be, the Room was absolutely what Wiseau and those involved wanted it to be: A stepping-stone to some sort of infamy. It’s what Sestero and Wiseau themselves have absolutely wanted and while what they really did, in certain situations portrayed throughout the movie, can be held-up to scrutiny, there’s no denying the fact that the movie they made, together, or apart, turned out to be something quite legendary. And the movie of its inception and ultimate creation, while not nearly as legendary, is still entertaining enough to remind us of the fun and the appeal.

If that’s even the right word.

Consensus: With a fun, light, and breezy direction, the Disaster Artist proves to be an entertaining and somewhat insightful look into the life of Tommy Wiseau, and a solid reminder that Franco’s got the goods to pull double-duty as actor and director, in an effective manner.

7 / 10

Gotta get the right shot for whatever the hell they’re doing.

Photos Courtesy of: A24

Jim & Andy: The Great Beyond – With a Very Special, Contractually Obligated Mention of Tony Clifton (2017)

Oh yeah. That movie named after that R.E.M. song.

In one of the biggest roles of his already amazing career, Jim Carrey was set to portray one of the oddest comedians of our day: Andy Kaufman. But because Carrey wanted to do the role justice and honor the legacy of his late hero, he went full-on method throughout the role, literally speaking and acting like Kaufman, regardless of whether or not the cameras were actually rolling. The footage itself has been locked away in a vault for nearly 20 years, but now it’s out and we get to see the true mayhem and craziness that took place, both on and off the set of Man on the Moon.

Jim & Andy will probably give people much more admiration for Jim Carrey, the actor, as opposed to the persona that he constantly plays out there in public. As of late, Carrey seems to have had a screw-loose and with the personal tragedies that he’s hit, it’s no surprise. It’s sad and awful, but it also calls into question why he’s acting the way he is: Was he always this crazy and we just didn’t care? Or, is he genuinely having a nervous-breakdown, but nobody knows whether or not to take it as serious because it’s one of the world’s most known funny-men, Jim Carrey?

Can’t tell who’s playing who here.

Either way, Jim & Andy will remind you that, first and foremost, Jim Carrey is a great actor. He may not always show it and may not always care, but when given the opportunity to, he can work wonders and have us forget about Fire Marshall Bill for a few hours. You could chalk Jim & Andy up to being a puff-piece for Carrey and to show the great workman that he is, or you could chalk it up to being an honest, behind-the-scenes look at Carrey, in character, for a movie that, honestly, hasn’t really stayed around as much as people would like.

But still, that aside, Jim & Andy is a solid piece of work that gives us complete access to the sheer craziness that was the production of Man on the Moon and it works mostly because director Chris Smith was able to track down this footage, get the “okay” from the studio, from Carrey, and just let us soak it all in. It makes sense why the studio wanted to hold on to this footage for as long as they did; Carrey does look like an asshole, but it also makes the rest of the production highly unprofessional and a little amateurish.

Yeah, I don’t know what he’s been smoking, either. Hopefully he stops?

But that’s also what makes Jim & Andy so much fun to watch.

We get to see a Jim Carrey like never before and because he’s the only interview here, hear him like never before, either. Sure, he, as well as the movie itself, get a bit too carried away with all of the philosophizing about life, comedy, entertainment, and the meaning of the universe, but when it’s just focusing on Carrey in-characetr, practically egging on everyone around him, it’s truly astonishing. We sit there wondering how long or far this could go on for, and whether or not Carrey himself ever regrets it.

In all honesty, the answers aren’t all that easy to come by, which makes Jim & Andy something of a mystery. It’s not as particularly as deep of a documentary as it hopes it is, or wants itself to be, but it is a solid documentary that pulls back the curtain, shows us the man beyond the laughter, the funny-faces, and the general goofiness, and reveals a hard-worker who did anything and everything to make the role work to perfection. Even if that meant literally making a joke out of one of the greatest directors ever (Miloš Forman), or making a mortal enemy out of Jerry Lawler, it was all for the tribute.

Even if, yeah, the end-result was something magical, within something that was a tad mediocre.

Consensus: Raw, funny, entertaining, and surprisingly chaotic, Jim & Andy is the kind of interesting documentary that doubles as a look at the life of Jim Carrey, but also doesn’t reach the ambitions it sets for itself.

7 / 10

“That means that Mighty Mouse, is on his way!”

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Coco (2017)

It’s basically Day of the Dead. Without Romero. Or political allegories.

Despite his family’s generations-old ban on music, young Miguel (Anthony Gonzales) dreams of one day becoming an accomplished musician like his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Somehow, because he want so desperately to prove the talent that he has, Miguel ends up in the Land of the Dead, where he’s stuck there with all of his dead-relatives, as well as the dead-relatives of practically everybody else on the face of the planet. There, Miguel meets Hector (Gael García Bernal), who concocts a plan with him: He’ll help Miguel get to Ernesto, if Miguel helps Hector be remembered by his family left on Earth. See, the one rule of the Land of the Dead is that if nobody on Earth remembers you, then you automatically go away forever and it’s a fear that’s about to become very real for Hector. And as for Miguel, he has to find a way to become human, once again, before he is stuck in the Land of the Dead for the rest of his life – something that sounds a lot cooler than it actually is.

Get ready for every human-dog duo’s costume next Halloween.

Pixar is at the point in their existence where they’ll continue to crank-out hits, no matter what. They could be originals or five sequels to Cars; they could be good, or bad; or hell, they could be literally about anyone, or anything. As long as the ideas themselves are well thought-out, fun, and most of all, family-friendly, then who the hell cares what they are?

And it’s why Coco, Pixar’s first original flick since the meh Good Dinosaur, feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s idea is weird for sure, but it’s actually fun and well thought-out, almost to the point of where you never want to leave this world that they are in, nor do you ever want to stop learning more and new interesting things about it. Co-directors and co-writers Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina seem to really appreciate this wacky, wild and colorful world and while they definitely do leave the rules of this universe up to scrutiny, they also realize that it’s not necessarily the point.

Just enjoying the picture show in front of you is all that matters and it’s why Pixar, while not always perfect, at least makes a solid dent in the ball.

*record scratch
“Hi, I’m Miguel. You’re probably wondering how I got here.”

It’s also great to see Pixar, for what seems like the first time in general, or in forever, give us a lead character of color and drop us into a world chock full of diversity and hell, without a single white person. You can even call some of the jokes and witticisms that the movie makes at the Mexican heritage a little too “on-the-nose” and “stereotypical”, but it also seems like Unkrich and Molina playing around with these same said stereotypes and turning them on their heads. There’s actual heart and levity behind them and it helps make the movie seem less like an offensive-sketch, and more like an ode to a heritage that still believes in an afterlife that isn’t so dependent on God, or constantly praying to the Lord above.

If anything, it’s more of a movie about family, the stories we tell, and how our legacy is constantly changing with the future generations to come. It’s nothing new or ground-breaking, especially in the world of Pixar, but it’s so sweet, so well-handled, and so honest, that it works. It jerks for the tears, but when they do come (and oh trust me, they will come), they feel earned and worth it, rather than just forced out of us like we’ve come to know and expect with most other animated-flicks like Coco.

Or at least, not with Pixar. They’re on a roll again and it’s getting crazy scary.

Everybody else, look out.

Consensus: The story and themes are a tad familiar, but the bright, colorful and lovely world created within Coco isn’t and it makes for another winner courtesy of Pixar.

7.5 / 10

Free Bird!

Photos Courtesy of: Disney

Last Flag Flying (2017)

Can’t get old. Just can’t.

Thirty years after serving together in the Vietnam War, Larry “Doc” Shepherd (Steve Carell), Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and the Rev. Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne) reunite to help bury Doc’s son, a young Marine killed in Iraq. Even though it’s typically routine in these kinds of cases, Doc doesn’t want his son’s body buried at Arlington National Cemetery, so the three decide to take a trip back to his hometown of New Hampshire. It’s a road-trip, in the sense that they do a lot of travelling, whether it be by train, bus, or car, and that all three chew the fat and realizing how different each of their lives have been since they last all served and saw each other. But no matter what, no matter how old they get, how grey their hair turns, or how much they change in general, they will always be members of the Army and that is something that they wear with absolute and total pride.

Somebody didn’t come dressed.

A lot of people will hate Last Flag Flying because it’s literally just all talking, it’s slow, and it’s barely concerning itself with a central-conflict. It’s literally about three old war buddies, getting back together after all of these years, hanging out, drinking, smoking, eating, talking about the good old days, the not so good days, and oh yeah, driving to a destination that keeps changing somehow. It’s not the kind of movie you see on a Friday night, before you head-off to the clubs, nor the kind of movie you go to after a few drinks – it’s the kind of movie you see if you want chill-out, hang for a little bit, enjoy yourself, and who knows, maybe even tear-up a bit.

Some will say that’s lame and boring. But I came pretty close to loving it.

Also, it’s a movie directed and co-written by Richard Linklater, so what the hell do you expect? It’s not a movie that entirely cares about getting on with plot and trying to throw us twists and turns to keep us alive and awake; in fact, the few times that the movie does attempt to do this, it’s a little weird and clumsy. But when the movie is just the guys hanging out, talking, it’s probably more compelling than any set-in-stone plot could have taken care of.

Most movies nowadays think that just having a bunch of good actors, playing well-written characters, and working with a smart script, doesn’t really do the ticket. In a way, that can be true; it can sometimes be boring, slow, and pretentious, to a fault. But it can also benefit your movie, depending on how it’s all paced.

Linklater, as he does with all of his movies, doesn’t seem to be in any kind of a rush with Last Flag Flying, which is why it’s sort of like spending a weekend with your grandpa or uncle. Fun times will be had, beers will be drank, cigars will be smoked, and nostalgia will overtake, but it’s so easygoing and peaceful, that it’s almost like it never happened in the first place. I know that makes it sound like Last Flag Flying is just a senseless, forgetful bit of drama, but it really isn’t.

It has a heart, a soul, and a great trio of actors showing up and putting in some great work.

Hey, when Jackie don’t feel like acting anymore, might as well call up Bry. That’s what they call him in the biz, right?

As expected though, right?

Oddly enough, Last Flag Flying is a quasi-sequel to Hal Ashby’s the Last Detail, in the sense that the setting and plots are different, but the characters are still the same. It’s pretty odd and a bit distracting; you can tell that Cranston is doing the loud, obnoxious Jack Nicholson role, whereas Steve Carrel is doing the silent, stern, and demanding Randy Quaid role. But really, it doesn’t matter because the three are so good here, you forget about those movie-legends and remember that these three are even better.

Carrel’s silence is deafening throughout the whole movie, because he’s arguably the biggest star out of the three here, yet, doesn’t have much to do or say. He’s sort of like a macguffin in that the movie needs him to keep moving, but he literally never has anything to say, so it’s almost like he isn’t here. Laurence Fishburne’s role, while initially seeming like it’s going to be cliche, turns into something sweeter and darker, even if there feels like there’s more about him to be developed. Then again, that’s kind of the point; he’s closed-off such a large part of his life already, so why wouldn’t he close off much more portions of his life?

Then, there’s the aforementioned Cranston who, in the Nicholson role, is pretty great.

Sure, it’s loud, showy, and a tad annoying, but that’s truly the point of his existence. Also, Cranston himself is so endearing and charming, you grow to just love and accept the guy for who he is, what he represents, and why there are so many more men and women out there, just like him, doing the best that they to get by for a country they put their lives on the line for, and didn’t get all that much in return. It’s a shame, but it’s why we still have movies like this made.

Consensus: Despite being incredibly talky and meandering, Last Flag Flying also features smart, funny writing, with three great performers in the leads, that makes it go by so much quicker.

8 / 10

Hold those hands, Bry! Come on!

Photos Courtesy of: Amazon Studios

The Transfiguration (2017)

An actual vampire in Brooklyn.

Milo (Eric Ruffin) is a troubled young teen living in Brooklyn. After he walked in on his mother’s dead body, he and his brother (Aaron Clifton Moten) are doing their best to get by. Milo spends most of his time reading, watching movies, and planning stuff in his countless notebooks, whereas as his brother, absolutely depressed, can’t seem to get off the couch for anything. Milo’s life is changed, however, when he meets a fellow troubled teen by the name of Sophie (Chloe Levine), who just moved in a few floors up with her grandmother. She’s already pretty messed-up, but the two find solace in their own little screwed-up lives, where they sit around, occasionally talking, drinking, reading, going to the beach, the amusement park, or just being in one another’s company. It’s actually very sweet, despite the fact that Milo also happens to be a vampire and needs to feast almost every other Wednesday, or else he’ll, as expected, die. Which may sound easy to find and do when you live in the hood, but believe it or not, it really isn’t.

Eat your heart out, Edward Cullen.

Writer/director Michael O’Shea pulls something off incredibly interesting here in that he combines elements of a hood movie, with a vampire-tale. And it’s kind of weird because even without all of the horror-stuff of Milo having to trap people, to find blood, and start chowing down, the movie’s already pretty scary and dangerous; just watching Milo get picked-on and teased by the local gangs is more than enough to create an air of tension. But nope, O’Shea doubles down and at times, it can almost be too much.

But when you’re doing a horror movie, isn’t that kind of the point?

Hell, isn’t that the point when you’re trying to make any sort of movie?

And with the Transfiguration, it’s a job well-done on O’Shea’s part because when he isn’t focusing on the hood, or horror elements, he’s focusing on these two, sad, lonely, and utterly depressed teens who couldn’t be any more adorable in their own misery. O’Shea isn’t afraid to keep things slow and mannered, giving us all we need to get to know and understand where these two kids come from, why they would ever become friends in the first place, and it grows us even closer to them. Cause we know that no matter how much fun they may have, falling in love and becoming the best of friends, we know that there’s always a world of violence, hurt, anger, depression, and oh yeah, vampires.

So young. So sad. So in love.

Like I said, it’s a bit too much and it can get a tad bit jumbled. But like I said, too, O’Shea doesn’t forget about the characters here and they’re the main reason why the Transfiguration works so well: They actually matter. Eric Ruffin is stunning as Milo, because he seems so creepy, so out-of-place, and so aloof, you couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. He’s a cute kid who you desperately want to love and adore, but there’s also a great deal of danger and weirdness to him that’s hard to look away from, or deny, and it takes over the role. Ruffin himself, as a young talent, does a lot with very little and it’s a solid showing on his part, never allowing us to fully trust or love this character, because we never fully know when the other shoe will drop and the fangs begin to show.

Chloe Levine is also equally as charming and lovable as Sophie, mostly because the movie never dumbs her down for our own sake. She’s screwed-up, a little crazy, and altogether twisted, but she’s also just in desperate need of a friend and her scenes with Ruffin never ring a false note. They have a sweet little bit of chemistry that feels honest and beautiful, which is a nice diversion to get away from the pain and destruction that takes over the rest of the movie.

But hey, it goes to show you that the best horror, whether all that scary or not, always works best when there’s actual emotion behind it all.

Consensus: Though it jumbles a bit much, the Transfiguration is an interesting, compelling, well-acted, and altogether upsetting piece of horror that also doubles as an effective coming-of-ager, set in the harshest and most unforgiving of lands.

7.5 / 10

Yup. Not weird at all.

Photos Courtesy of: Transfiguration Prods.

Mayhem (2017)

The higher-ups just need to know what they’re dealing with.

Derek Cho (Steven Yeun) is having a pretty crappy day. After being unjustly fired from his job, he discovers that the law firm’s building is under quarantine for a mysterious and dangerous virus, in which people start acting out in violent ways and killing one another, but for some reason, no cause for punishment is to be found. So Derek, who now has the virus, begins to act out too, taking down people who have done him wrong and have pissed him off to the high heavens, with the FBI outside, trying their best to contain the violence to this one firm’s building. And along with co-worker Melanie (Samara Weaving), Derek plans on attacking and taking down the executives, once and for all. Issue is, they’re on the top floor and it’s going to take a whole lot of violence to wade through, just to get to one of them, let alone all of them.

Level up. Get ready…

Mayhem is a crazy movie, but it’s also actually grounded enough in reality to where it works better than you might expect. Director Joe Lynch seems to take this idea of absolute and total carnage, but rather than just trying to one-up himself, each and every chance he gets, he actually gives us a story, with characters, and a real sense of tension in the air. It’s not just sick, disgusting, and sometimes disturbing violence, for the sake of shock-value, but sick, disgusting and disturbing violence, with a reason and a cause.

Which is, yes, to disgust us. But it works.

Lynch and co-writer Matias Caruso also do something else smart with Mayhem in that they set all of the carnage and brutality in a world that isn’t too unlike ours. While the mayhem-inducing virus itself, may be a bit silly, the movie uses it as a way to act out all of its craziest, most violent fantasies of taking down the higher-ups within a corporation, who don’t care one bit about the bottom or those below them – instead, they’re just more concerned with more money, more power, and more control, regardless of who they stop on, or kill, when they’re up to the top. In the context of what Mayhem is doing, this is actually taking literally and because of that, the movie feels a lot more honest and realistic than you’d expect.

It’s still over-the-top and crazy, but it is, once again, grounded to give it a sense of time and place. Also, not to mention that the violence is pretty crazy and fun, making Mayhem a nutty movie that has some social-context, but also doesn’t spend too much time preaching, but instead, just chopping all sorts of limbs off. It’s not afraid to get weirder, deeper, and darker, and it’s a brave take on this kind of a movie that we’ve seen many times before, but in this case, doesn’t feel like a drab.

Take. Them. Down.

Not unlike the Belko Experiment, which was already way too depressing for its own good.

It’s also nice to see Steven Yeun get a leading-role like this immediately after his stint on the Walking Dead. As a Korean-American actor working in Hollywood, it will be interesting to see where Yeun’s career goes; he fits perfectly both as a supporting-player, but also, as we see here, a rather rough and tough leading-man who has charm and bravado, sometimes in the same scene. There’s some depth to this character, but Yeun generally seems to be embrace this character’s more sinister-themes lying underneath everything else.

Same goes for Samara Weaving who, from what I’ve seen so far, is becoming more and more of a powerful and likable presence on the screen. She’s absolutely beautiful, but she’s also the kind of beauty that isn’t afraid to dirty herself up, play around with her image, and get down in the mud, to roll around a bit. Here, she has to play something of a stickler that begins to lose her uptightness and just let loose, and it works – she’s lovely, charming, sweet, but also a little scary.

In other words, a dangerous beauty. So look out, people.

Consensus: While it is no doubt a nutty movie, Mayhem also brings in some social-context to go hand-in-hand with all of the violence and over-the-top features.

7 / 10

What happens when you literally mean “unpaid intern.”

Photos Courtesy of: RLJE Films

Beach Rats (2017)

Some places are still behind with the times.

Frankie (Harris Dickinson) is just another young teenager, living in Brooklyn, with his mom, his sister, and his dying father, aimlessly getting by another summer. He spends most of his time with his friends, drinking, smoking, running around, playing hand-ball, and generally just doing whatever it is young guys do nowadays. Frankie also has something of a girlfriend (Madeline Weinstein), who he doesn’t quite know if he wants to make into something more seriously, or just keep doing whatever it is that he’s doing. Cause whenever no one is looking and he’s all by himself, Frankie also likes to go on men-only chat-rooms, find men, talk to them, meet up with them, and oh yeah, hook up. It’s something that Frankie is still confused about, but it’s also something that he’s doing his best to keep to himself, particularly because his friends would probably hate him and his girlfriend would break up with him. But honestly, Frankie doesn’t know what he wants yet.

Boo ya sell-out!

As she did with her first movie (It Felt Like Love), Eliza Hittman perfectly captures the teenager’s gaze, where everything surrounding you is big, bright, beautiful, shocking, and surprising. While her direction is definitely aimless and in ways, a little meandering, it’s worked for her so far because she’s getting us inside the heads of these young characters, who don’t really know or understand the world quite around them just yet, but look and listen to everything with amateurish eyes and ears. It’s a brave directorial-style to work with, but especially so since this is her second flick so far and shows that she’s got a niche and going to stick to it.

Does it help that her story is a little wonky?

Probably not, but Hittman’s able to get past that, cause Beach Rats is less about the story, the twists, and the turns, as much as it’s about the mood, the look, and the overall feel. The constant images flowing past our eyes, while carefully crafted and put together, also feel a little random, but work; putting is closer in the mind-set of it being summer, where anything and everything is possible. It’s a moody flick, for sure, but it’s the kind of mood that has you longing for youth, while also hating youth, too.

So yeah, it works like that.

It’s okay. Make-out with that dude. Please.

But no matter what happens with the story, Harris Dickinson is pretty great and it’s through him that Hittman is able to get the most mileage out of this movie. Dickinson, despite being British, fits into this role perfectly; he’s hunky, chiseled, handsome, and ridiculously masculine, just like the guys around him. But he’s also rather sweet and sensitive, and Dickinson shows us a real raw and sympathetic edge to a character who could have easily been conventional and boring. Rather than just turning out to being the self-loathing guy gay who acts out violently because he doesn’t want to like what he likes, he turns into a much more sad character who doesn’t know what he wants to be and is constantly being told to look, or be in one way that he can’t quite relate to just yet.

It’s a smart direction from Hittman, but an even smarter performance from Dickinson, because they both cancel each other out. We never know exactly what he’s thinking, or what’s going through his head, but his body-language shows it all. Hittman seems to love and respect this character, warts and all, and it helps us see him for just another lonely, confused, and rather depressed kid who’s constantly having to hang out with all of these rough, tough dudes, when in reality, he just wants to be himself.

Damn. Growing up sucks. But being young is even worse. Glad I’m past that.

Consensus: Not much of a real story, Beach Rats plays out more like a compelling mood-piece, capturing youth, angst, and self-identity, with a great performance from Harris Dickinson in the lead.

7 / 10

Put a shirt on dammit! Making us all look bad!

Photos Courtesy of: NEON

Novitiate (2017)

Trust in God. Not the nuns. They’re a little mean.

Once she turns 17, Cathleen (Margaret Qualley) decides that it’s time to leave her old life behind and join the Catholic Church to become a nun. It’s a decision that her mother (Julianne Nicholson), who is agnostic, doesn’t quite understand or fully support, but she doesn’t have much of a say in the matter – Cathleen believes that she’s had a calling from Jesus and has fallen in love with him. Cathleen enters a Catholic convent as a postulant under the tutelage of the Reverend Mother (Melissa Leo), who is known for her passion and grace in the world of religion. While there, Cathleen meets fellow nuns who are doing their best to stick with it, even if the responsibilities and rules are quite demanding and not all that understandable. But specifically at this point in time, during the early-60’s, the Catholic Church itself was going through a bit of a change, what with the planned reforms of the Second Vatican Council, in which the Church would show a much more open and accepting image to all those who wanted to have faith in God. Most within the Church got behind these rules right away, whereas Reverend Mother doesn’t, fearing that it may change the community forever and for the worst.

Still looks like Andie Macdowell, in a nun outfit.

Novitiate doesn’t necessarily come off as a scathing indictment on the Catholic Church, or even faith in general, and it’s much better off for that. Writer/director Maggie Betts, making her directorial debut, seems to understand and respect those who actually fall in love with God, or whoever they praise, are willing to throw their whole lives completely away, and devote everything to prayer, abstinence, and spreading the good word of the Lord. While it may sound like a boring life to a normal layman, to those who are involved with the Church, it’s the greatest honor they can bestow and Betts doesn’t seem to be making fun of these people, as much as she easily could have.

Instead, she shows a certain sweetness to these people who devote their lives to God. But then again, she also realizes that there are a few bad apples who either, misinterpret the word of God and act out in heinous ways, or can’t keep up with their sacred notions and never seem to give up. Betts seems to be saying that while having God in your life can be a good thing, having it run your each and everyday life, isn’t, and it can drive people to pure insanity.

And as we all know, living in the world that we live in, this isn’t much of a stretch for Betts to make.

That said, Novitiate is an overall smart movie that doesn’t necessarily have an agenda, but shows us the Catholic Church during a transnational period, that they don’t even know or understand is quite as severe as it’s going to be. It’s not necessarily a stylish, or fully exciting movie – there’s a lot of walking, praying, sitting in silence, crying, and hushed-tones – but the movie creates a certain uneasiness just by doing this, that it’s easy to get compelled by. The movie is deathly serious and understated, therefore, never quite goes overboard or as insane as you’d expect it to be with some of these religious types, and it feels a lot more realistic for that. It’s less of a sympathetic-portrait of the Catholic Church, and much more of a humane one, where we see all the good, as well as the bad, within it.

Uh oh. Someone’s talking during prayers.

The only pure instances in which the movie goes slightly a bit overboard is with Melissa Leo’s performance as Reverend Mother, but it still works. Leo’s presence here is a little shocking because you can always tell that she’s about to crack loose, but because she’s a nun and has to set a good example for the fellow nuns out there, she has to stay cool, calm, and collected. There are instances in which we see Leo lose all control and it’s scary, but not in the horror movie kind-of-way – it just seems like a person slowly losing grips with her own form of reality, and coming to terms with the all-too real one.

It’s a scary and powerful performance, and from Leo, I wouldn’t expect much different.

Everybody else is quite good in this supporting-cast, but really, it’s Margaret Qualley who remains the heart and soul of the whole project. As Cathleen, Qualley gives us a sad, somewhat scared character who keeps to herself, but is so in love with God and the Jesus, she can’t hold it all in. Through Cathleen, we see just how one can misinterpret The Word and it’s Qualley that keeps us on-edge, not knowing whether she’s going to crack and lose all control, or if she’s going to stay her meek and mild self. Through it all, we still sympathize with her; we know that she means well and even if she is throwing her life away, it’s her life to throw away. We just want her to realize that there’s more to life than the Church and to stand outside, in the real world, if only for a bit.

Consensus: Slow and a little languid, Novitiate surely follows its own pace, but is also a well-acted and compelling look at the Catholic Church, that’s neither judging, nor entirely sympathetic. Just honest and realistic.

7.5 / 10

“God? You spoke to Madonna. Why can’t you speak to me?”

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures Classic

Brigsby Bear (2017)

Some shows we just never want to end. Looking at you, Freaks & Geeks.

For as long as he can remember, James Pope (Kyle Mooney)’s life has been run on “Brigsby Bear Adventures”, a children’s program that teaches James about recycling and not masturbating more than twice a day. Weird stuff like that, but hey, James loves it so much that he doesn’t care or even see the weird message. Then, the series abruptly ends and James doesn’t know what to do with himself. And to make matters even worse, he’s moved into a new house, with a new family, and doesn’t quite know how to fit in with the rest of the world around him. Still though, everybody pretty much already accepts him for what he is and they decide that it’s time to help James finish up Brigsby’s final adventure. James hopes it will bring him some closure on the TV series, whereas everybody else hopes that it will allow him to move on and come to terms with the real world.

Blow it up, Brigs!

So yeah, I’m being a little coy about Brigsby Bear because there are some parts of the plot that are kept secret and with good reason: It’s dark. But in a way, it’s shocking and it works; it gives you the idea that this movie’s going to go far and beyond just being another silly, over-the-top indie-comedy about a childish man-baby trying to finish off the final episode to a cult-followed TV show.

It also helps allow for there to be real some tension in the air, even when in reality, there isn’t. There aren’t bad people, or insanely good people in Brigsby Bear and it’s kind of sweet. It’s the kind of movie that cares much more about characters, their relationships to one another, and how they treat the outside world, as opposed to just being all about the plot and riffing on everyday life. Had this movie been taken in the hands of someone like Will Ferrell or Steve Carrel, who knows how centered and focused it would have been.

But without them, and instead, with Kyle Mooney, it’s much far better off.

Never break character.

And that’s why Brigsby Bear, while it could have easily just been a spin-off of Mooney doing goofy and crazy things, like he does on SNL, it’s much different. He has this character that, despite having the general facade of being a weirdo, is actually kind, earnest, and so innocent, he could literally kill a cat and you wouldn’t be upset with him. He’s just getting used to a new world and it’s Mooney’s performance that really works wonders, enthusing a great air of mystery of this character, but also a great deal of sympathy too.

And of course, the same sentiments transcend to the rest of the characters, too. Matt Walsh is funny as the dorky dad who tries to relate to James; Michaela Watkins does the same; Claire Danes, playing probably anything resembling a villain here, is fun to watch; Greg Kinnear’s nice cop role gets better once we discover he’s got a bit of the acting bug; Ryan Simpkins plays James’ sister who seems like she’s going to be an embarrassed pain in the rear-end, but eventually lightens up; Jorge Lendeborg Jr. plays one of James’ friends who seems lik he’s going to be a deuche, only to then not be and probably be the best character in it all; and Mark Hamill and Jane Adams, well, the less said about them, perhaps the better.

Either way, just know that they’re all good, because they’re given characters to work with and not just the sitcom-y kind, either.

Real people, who also seem to be kind of funny to watch.

Consensus: A little odd, but overall, Brigsby Bear is a very funny, sweet, and well-acted comedy that actually takes its time to work.

7 / 10

Brigsby’s mid-life existence.

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures Classics

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Who gave Kevin Feige acid?

The God of Thunder, also known as Thor (Chris Hemsworth), after finding out that he and his evil adopted-brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), have an evil older sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett) that they never knew a thing about, is sent away to an awful planet where all of the universe’s trash and undesirables are dropped off and sometimes, even sold. Thor becomes one of those items and is forced to face-off against an old pal of his, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who, after leaving the rest of the Avengers to fend for themselves over two years ago, has been hulking out, beating the crap out of all sorts of foes. But Thor thinks that he can get through to Hulk and, hopefully, bring him back to Asgard, so that they can take down Hela, as powerful as she may be. Of course, though, Thor’s going to need some more help than just a Hulk. This leads him to Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson), a bad-ass bounty hunter who gives a Thor a run for his money, in terms of fighting and drinking, but also in the ways of the heart.

Brotherly love.

Ragnarok is probably one of the weirder Marvel movies out there, which I don’t say lightly. The first Guardians of the Galaxy and even to a certain extent, the sequel, were both so incredibly odd and crazy, that they almost didn’t feel like products of a huge corporation, made for the sole sake of mass-consumption. In ways, they were original and electrifying enough to stand on their own terms and not just be another installment to the already-expanded Marvel Universe that we hear way too much of.

But yes, Ragnarok comes pretty close to being even weirder and it’s both great, as well as a little disappointing. It’s great because it shows that even with a character like Thor who, in all respects, may be the least interesting Avenger of the bunch, can actually have his story told and go to crazy lengths that we don’t expect. Due to Ragnarok being set in the galaxy, where everything is already nutty and wild, director Taika Waititi, who is already an inspired-choice, gets the opportunity to go as far and as deep into this insanity as he wants.

Which is great and all because the movie’s funny.

Like, really funny.

“Uh, yeah. Like, Thor, uh, you’re a uh, you know, pretty crazy guy.”

And it’s why the one-half of Ragnarok works so well; it’s not afraid to be silly, weird and meandering, even when we know that there’s a story to be told and a much bigger-universe out there. Most of the humor and fun of the movie comes from just making fun of these characters, their characteristics, and how exactly they’re all just a bunch of comic-book characters, literally made to function as fully-dimensional human beings. It’s a joke in the sense that it’s not really a joke, because it’s all taken seriously and still gives us glimpses of actual character-development, but man, it can be so funny to watch.

But then, the other-half of Ragnarok, the one that takes primarily on Ragnarok, is a bit of a bummer. And it’s not like bits and pieces of this half aren’t interesting and/or fun to watch – watching Cate Blanchett vamp and go way over-the-top is more than worth the price of admission – but it’s so slow and expository, it just feels like a bit of a drag. All we really want to do is get back to Thor, Hulk, and whatever the hell Jeff Goldbum is, because they’re where the real party is at.

However, you also can’t fault the movie all that much because they sort of get this idea real quick and decide to keep things with Thor for a good portion. It makes sense why we have all of this villain-building, but it could have done better. That, and also, the Thor-stuff is just so much fun that we almost never want to leave it.

It’s just a weird and crazily fun time. Something I don’t say too often when it comes to Marvel movies.

Consensus: Not afraid to get a little weird and silly, Ragnarok proves why we deserve to see Thor’s story again, with a great bit of fun, exciting supporting-players to keep things always entertaining.

7.5 / 10


Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

City of Ghosts (2017)

We. Need. Journalists.

A bunch of Syrian rebels who call themselves “Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently” risk their lives to document the atrocities committed by ISIS in their homeland. And what happens next is that not only do their guerrilla-style journalistic-ways get the rest of the world to notice just what the hell is going, what ISIS is all about, and what’s to come of many more cities/countries to come, is that their lives are put in-danger. After all, ISIS’ big support is social-media and the persona that they have created heaven on Earth – distort that in any way, or basically, tell the truth, then they will find you, hunt you down, and kill you. It’s why the original-members/editor-in-chiefs of RBSS have to be constantly aware of their surroundings, at all times, and not necessarily sure of what’s to come next with their lives. But at the end of the day, it’s all for a good-cause, but at a cost.

“Can you cut-off another limb, please? Didn’t get a good shot of it the first time around. Thanks.”

I’m a little torn by City of Ghosts because while I’m happy that director Matthew Heineman was able to make a movie about citizen-journalists, doing their jobs, but also doing it for the better of the world to come, it also feels a tad bit messy. It’s the kind of movie that wants to make a statement about how awful and evil ISIS is and, if we don’t wake up sooner or later, then they may become more of a threat than we could have ever imagine, but at the same time, also talk about these journalists and their lives. Neither viewpoint is wrong to be focused on, but in the same movie?

It kind of doesn’t work.

And it’s why City of Ghosts, while I appreciate the story it is highlighting, the subjects, and its cause, as one whole production, it can’t help but feel like it’s attempting to do a few things at once. There’s no denying that Heineman himself keeps things moving, interesting, informative, and most importantly, compelling, but even he struggles a bit with what, or whom, to focus on. The editor-in-chiefs of RBSS are worth spending a whole movie about, which is what Heineman does; he sees these people as nearly flawless, yet fragile human beings who are willing to risk it all, for the sole sake of informing the world. They deserve our tribute and Heineman, while not one for shying away from the ugly details of their sacrifices, also can’t help but paint these fellas as true angels of the world.

Just an everyday guy here, people. Nothing to see.

That’s okay, though, because they deserve it. What they probably don’t deserve is a movie that seems to want to also talk a whole lot more about ISIS, too, but just doesn’t know how to do so in a cohesive manner. And I get that it’s a rough trick to pull-off; being a history-lesson about ISIS, their origins, and just what the hell they are, is a whole lot more extensive, than just focusing on a news organization and its members. But like I said before, together, it just doesn’t quite work out.

Still, it deserves to be seen. Not because it’s a movie about the evil sadists that are ISIS, but because it’s a movie about good journalists, doing good work, reporting on news, sharing everything to the whole world, and oh yeah, not being made-out to be liars or “fake news”.

And this is all in 2017, people. Just take note of that.

Consensus: The two story-strands of City of Ghosts doesn’t fully come together, but as a look at journalism done right, in today’s day and age, it deserves to be seen.

7 / 10

But seriously: F**k ISIS.

Photos Courtesy of: Amazon Studios