Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

Mystery Train (1989)

trainElvis truly was the King, baby.

Memphis, Tennessee is known for a lot of things. Most importantly, the hotbed for a lot of early rock ‘n roll, featuring the one and only Elvis Presley himself. Over the course of one day, a bunch of random people will navigate through the city and do things their own way. There’s the kitsch-obsessed Japanese couple (Masatoshi Nagase, Youki Kudoh), who seem to love one another a whole lot, but the language barrier keeps them away from fully attaching themselves to Memphis fully. Then, there’s a trio of amateur robbers (Joe Strummer, Rick Aviles, Steve Buscemi) who take one night to roam free and act wild, crazy and drunk like they’ve never done before. And an Italian immigrant (Nicoletta Braschi), who has no clue of where she actually is, tries to survive Memphis for this one night only. Meanwhile, there’s a somewhat eccentric and creepy night clerk (Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) at a hotel who seems to have a lot more to do with these folks than you’d think.

Look out, Memphis!

Look out, Memphis!

Writer/director Jim Jarmusch likes to take his time with his movies. That’s a known fact and in certain ways, it can make his movies feel like boring slugs, than actual slam-bang, fun and compelling thrill-rides. Those who expect the later, probably know not to go to a Jarmusch flick, whereas those who expect more time, consideration and care given, know exactly what they’re getting into with Jarmusch and it’s why so many people love and adore him.

That said, Mystery Train definitely shows Jarmusch taking as good a time as ever to tell anything resembling a story that, sometimes picks up its speed, sometimes lingers around, and other times, seems to meander without any sort of sense of direction that you wonder just where the movie’s going, or what the hell it’s even getting at. Yet, that’s also what’s kind of compelling about it – the movie literally could go anywhere, at any time, and while Jarmusch is never known for his shocking bits of violence, the way he makes Memphis out to be here, other than a pretty cool place to live, is that it can be somewhat dangerous and capable of taking down any person, at any time. Of course, Jarmusch wasn’t just focusing on the violence aspect of the whole story, but there’s that sense and feeling that makes however many small, quiet moments, still feel somewhat tense.

At the same time, though, Jarmusch is also taking his time with developing this story, which can sometimes make it an interesting watch, if not always fully satisfying picture altogether.

I'd hang with them for a night. And then some more.

I’d hang with them for a night. And then some more.

If anything, Mystery Train shows that Jarmusch can toy with his audience just as much as the next auteur, but sometimes, it can’t help but feel like he’s taking an odd detour for the sake of doing it. For instance, every chance it seems like he’s going to go somewhere with a clear plot-point, he switches things up, brings something random and cryptic into the picture, has us scratching our heads, and wondering just what it’s all about. It’s the same thing that Haneke does, but whereas his movies have a point for their sometimes sheer randomness and unpredictability, for Jarmusch, it can’t help but feel like he’s bored.

The only bit of this movie that feels like Jarmusch with a clear head on his shoulders, no tricks to be found whatsoever, is the final subplot involving the three buddies who go on something of a drunken crime-spree. Of course, this is the closest resembling Down by Law, so it’s obviously going to work in Jarmusch’s favor, but it also shows Jarmusch not pulling any punches and telling us a clear, concise, and rather straightforward story, with the occasional detour into goofiness.

But the goofiness doesn’t overtake the subplot, which is why it works best.

The rest of Mystery Train, unfortunately, runs into this problem. There’s a lot to like for sure, as the movie’s funny, interesting to see how it all connects, and well-acted by virtually everyone involved, however, it’s not asking all that much to expect a movie to follow some sort of pattern/rhythm, especially when said pattern/rhythm seems to actually be working for itself. Maybe I’m just not nearly as much as an indie-kid as I make myself out to be, but sometimes, I don’t mind convention and formula.

Oh well. Sue me.

Consensus: Even with his usual brand of goofiness and oddball charm, Jarmusch’s Mystery Train can sometimes detour too far into crazy town, losing sight of the sometimes very strong narrative it’s working with.

7 / 10

We've all got that feeling.

We’ve all got that feeling.

Photos Courtesy of:Media Life Crisis

Breakdown (1997)

Truck-drivers act as if they own the road and well, sometimes, they do.

A married-couple, Jeff and Amy Taylor (Kurt Russell and Kathleen Quinlan), are leaving their regular lives from Boston, and moving to San Diego. Why? Well, I guess to get a fresh new start, but that all begins to change when they break down on the side of the road. Thinking that they’re going to be fine as long as Amy goes with a truck-driver (J.T. Walsh) to the local diner where she can call up for help and some movement, Jeff begins to get suspicious when she doesn’t come back for awhile. Now, Jeff who is all alone and without a clue in the world of what to do, decides to go out and look for her, and hopefully uncover clues and hints as to where she might be, and why the hell this kidnapping even occurred in the first place.

Sounds like a pretty standard thriller-plot, doesn’t it? Well, that’s because it is. Nothing really flashy here in terms of writing, directing, or even the plot – just a normal and average thriller that actually happens to be pretty damn tense as well. It starts off with a mystery that we’re totally left in the dark with and for awhile, there’s a lot of questions surrounding what’s going to happen with this plot.

Yeah, it don't look pretty, now does it, Kurt?

Yeah, it don’t look pretty, now does it, Kurt?

Director Jonathan Mastow knows what he’s doing to craft this sometimes very tense thriller, but he puts us in the same exact position as our lead character, Jeff. Everything that Jeff sees, hears, feels, or even thinks, we see, hear, feel, and think along with him. It gives us a better way of feeling for this dude, but also get into his head a bit, as he continues to look down each and every alley-way, river, and desert for Amy, wondering just what the heck truly happened to her. Mastow’s interested more in making us wait, rather than throwing each and every plot twist or reveal at us and making us feel like we know what to expect next. But rather than taking that latter, lower-road, Mastow keeps us confused, puzzled, a bit worried, and altogether, very tense.

However, it works well for about a good hour or so, and then it all begins to fall apart once more and more ideas come to our attention. I don’t know if that’s more of Mastow’s fault, or just our own. Since we know what to expect from thrillers such as these, it becomes pretty clear just where this flick is going to go and how, which sets it more and more out of the realm of actual possibility, unlike the rest of the flick that seemed to make plenty of sense, as if it could happen to either you or me, on a good day at that. Once the plot gets going and we figure out what’s really brewing underneath the surface here, the movie begins to answer questions and show us situations that could only happen in a movie, rather than in real-life.

Gone way too soon. Seriously. There were so many more psychos to be portrayed!

Gone way too soon. Seriously. There were so many more psychos to be portrayed!

Then again, I’m cynical and it’s kind of hard not to be in certain situations such as these.

At least Kurt Russell was around to save the day and keep things more and more interesting, as more and more of his true colors began to come out. Russell is good at playing these bad-ass characters that take no names, no prisoners, and sure as hell do not let-up for anyone, and is still able to show that, even with the yuppie-act he’s given here. It is a tad hard to believe that somebody as rugged and tough-looking as Russell could be this soft, wimp-of-a-man that all of a sudden has a change of heart once the love of his life is captured, but he at least milks it for all that he can, without ever resorting to the usual, snarling one-liners we tend to hear with his characters. He’s less of an action-hero, and more of a regular-dude who’s been pushed a little bit too far off the edge and it’s time for someone to pay.

In one of his last film roles ever, J.T. Walsh shows exactly why he was the go-to guy you needed when you needed somebody to play a evil and psychotic villain here as the truck driver that captures Amy. Walsh is good at the beginning because he gives you this wholesome, likable feel that you could only get with the country buck, but then changes things up once the going gets good and the devil horns begin to grow. The character Walsh plays is very one-note, but at least Walsh keeps him interesting and entertaining to watch, making us expect that he’s going to fully come out of his shell and show off a real person, underneath all of the cheating, lying, murdering, and stealing. However, we don’t get that and at the end of the day, the guy’s just another bad dude, who lives in the middle of nowhere, and does bad things because he can, and I guess that’s scary enough as it is.

But still, I wanted more. Is that so much to ask for?

Consensus: Breakdown starts off with enough juice and gas to keep it moving at a steady-pace for it’s hour-and-a-half run-time, but eventually hits the breaks by the end when it gets too silly, too goofy, and way too conventional for it’s own good.

7 / 10

Is this the part of the movie where they turn around and are absolutely horrified by what's coming at them?

Is this the part of the movie where they turn around and are absolutely horrified by what’s coming at them?

Photos Courtesy of: JMount’s Written in Blood

Tower (2016)

They have guns in Texas?

It was a bright and sunny day on Aug. 1, 1966, at the University of Texas. Plenty of students were all hanging around and about, going to class, cuttin’ class, drinking, eating, talking and just enjoying their lives. And then, people start hearing gun-shots. Then, they start to see people, bleeding and laying down on the ground. Soon, people start to realize that the shots are coming from the huge tower that literally hovers the whole campus and surrounding town. Eventually, more and more people begin to get shot and die, which leads many more people to not just save those who may be on the verge of death, but most importantly, stop the madman up in the tower from shooting/killing anymore people.

A lot like Waltz with Bashir did nearly a decade ago, Tower tells a harrowing, deeply disturbing, bloody and violent tale in the most colorful and bright way imaginable: Animation. It’s an interesting approach to such a deadly event in our nation’s history, mostly because it breaks down any sort of convention or idea that you’ve had about animation in the first place – it’s as if the animation on some of Adult Swim’s weirdest shows got a whole lot darker, forgot they were supposed to be funny, and instead, went right out to shock the hell out of you.

Just another lovely little couple on this fine day.

Just another lovely little couple on this fine day.

But I don’t mean for that to take away from Tower, a truly horrifying and compelling documentary that sets out to tell this story as vividly and as detailed as possible, with whoever was there, is still alive, and is willing to tell the story. Still though, the movie has another trick up its sleeve in that it doesn’t really show us who is talking, or better yet, even give us the idea that these people who are talking and letting us know of what’s happening, second-by-second, are even actually alive and telling us this. The movie gives us the voices of young people and the presentations of these animated characters, as they would have looked at the time and it’s an odd mystery that hits you very, very hard around the time it’s revealed to us what’s really going on.

That said, there’s still some problems with this format and this isn’t the only movie that’s bothered me with this issue.

Due to the movie’s dialogue and lines being literally read to us by a bunch of voice actors, who were hired and paid to say these lines, often times, it can sound grating and clearly rehearsed. Alex Gibney has tooled around with this mechanism a few times in his documentaries and it makes sense to do this; sometimes, you can’t have the actual person talking, have their voices heard, so you have to hire an actor to say these lines as if they were an interview subject. Tower, just like Gibney’s movies, don’t hide this fact that these are actors speaking to us, but it still does take away from the fact that a lot of what we’re hearing, is supposed to be off-the-cuff, shocking and emotional.

That’s the problem Tower seems to sometimes have with itself. A few of the voice-actors are good and clearly seem like they came ready to envision whoever they were speaking for, but other ones seem as if they literally just reading off of a piece of paper and not even attempting to make it sound realistic, as if we are literally listening to them air their feelings out to us in the most raw, gritty manner imaginable. It not just took me out of the movie, but made me sometimes laugh, where certain moments were supposed to be very emotional and just sounded, I hate to say it, a little cheesy.

"Yeah, it's a pretty messed-up situation here. Maybe someone should get involved and kill that shooter. Just a thought. Maybe."

“Yeah, it’s a pretty messed-up situation here. Maybe someone should get involved and kill that shooter. Just a thought. Maybe.”

However, I realize that this is a problem with me, but it’s a problem that perhaps director Keith Maitland could have gotten around, had he paid a little extra attention.

Then again, I get it. You can’t please everyone, especially those cynical and picky a-holes out there like me. Whatever. So be it.

Anyway, none of this is to really take away from the stories we hear because Tower tells its story, without holding back. We hear gun-shots, we see dead people, we see blood and we see people acting out how they normally would in these sorts of situations. Most movies such as this would lionize each and every person involved, because they were, after all, involved in a very traumatic situation, but the subjects themselves don’t hold back from letting us, the audience, know that yeah, they were definitely cowards.

Then again, how could they not? Tower doesn’t try so hard to really reach out to the souls within each and everyone of us, but it still connects on an emotional level. It’s sad to hear so many of these heartbreaking and rough takes on this one story and puts into consideration that while those died lost their lives, those who lived were still impacted and in ways, are still hurting. The real life events were obviously very upsetting, but listening to some of these testimonies, really drives it home. It not only makes you wish that there’d be more gun-reform so that something like this never happens, but that we, as a society, are able to handle it better than some did back in August ’66.

Not trying to point any fingers, but yeah, some things need to change. That’s all I’ve got to say about that.

Consensus: Despite some technical issues, Tower still gets by with a brutally colorful and detailed animation-presentation, to give us an even better understanding on what happened during those ugly, disgusting and downright evil 96 minutes.

7.5 / 10

Yup. Towers would continue to get a pretty terrible reputation.

Yup. Towers would continue to get a pretty terrible reputation.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, PBS, Truth on Cinema 

New York, New York (1977)

Frankie should have sued somebody.

It’s the end of WWII and the nation wants to keep on celebrating like there’s no tomorrow. One person in particular is Jimmy Doyle (Robert De Niro), an aspiring saxophone player, who meets a band singer by the name of Francine Evans (Liza Minnelli) during V-J Day celebrations. While she initially doesn’t appreciate his constant nagging, eventually, she gives in, realizing that the guy may not mean all that much harm and, in the end, may just want to become the greatest musical duo the world has ever seen. And the two do band together, set out on the road and tour with a band, picking up gigs left and right, as well as attention from those who can make both of their careers pretty big. However, what does end up happening, too, is that the two start to fall in love, leaving the important decisions of their careers to become even more serious and passionate than ever before.

Generally, when people think of New York, New York, they either never bring it up, because they don’t know it even exists, or they think of it as a failure because it’s a Martin Scorsese movie that barely anyone talks about, remembers, and absolutely bombed at the box-office when it came out. However, there’s something to be said about a movie that, nearly 40 years later, we as a society, are still trying to make sense of and answer. For one, what was the experiment Scorsese was trying to go with for here? Not to mention, what made him want to tell this story in the first place? Did it have to be a musical? Did it have to be over two-and-a-half-hours (in its original-cut and not the 136-minute version that was re-released into theaters)?

Close, but no Cabaret.

Close, but no Cabaret.

Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be many answers for those questions, but that’s sort of what’s interesting about New York, New York: It’s the kind of movie where you can tell that there’s a lot of inspiration and thought behind it, that even when it doesn’t quite work itself out together perfectly well, there’s still something compelling about. You could almost make that same argument about a lot of Scorsese’s other movies, but for New York, New York feels exactly like a director testing himself and his limits, seeing where he can go next, figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and what could possibly be worked on in the future to-come.

Does that make it a bad movie? Not really, but it can make it sometimes seem like a uneven mess of one.

Or basically, the only kind that Scorsese knows how to make.

For one, what it seems like Scorsese tries to do here is take the bombastic, colorful, glitzy and glamorous musicals of the 40’s and 50’s, and cross them with a down-to-Earth, raw and understated story of two people falling in love through each other’s own creative talents. The later is something we’re used to seeing from Scorsese, but the former isn’t, which makes this experiment all the more interesting to watch and see how it plays out; while a lot of the musical-numbers are fun and exciting, they do come in at random times, when it literally seems like no one’s saying anything and maybe, just maybe, Scorsese himself got bored. And it’s not like Scorsese favors one idea over the other – he genuinely respects the music, as well as the dramatic emotion, but at times, the two do combat one another.

A perfect example of this is the final-act, in which all of a sudden, the movie becomes an absolute, unabashed, without-a-doubt musical, channeling the likes of Singin’ in the Rain and Cabaret, among others. The number goes on for nearly 20 minutes, in which we sit and watch Liza Minnelli change up styles with the drop of a hat, which is all great and exciting to watch, but it feels odd and misplaced. It’s as if Scorsese finally found some time to really let loose on the music and did so, but chose to do so so late in the game that we mostly all forgot this movie was supposed to be a musical in the first place.

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

In fact, the movie would probably be better had it not been classified as that at all. Because with New York, New York, we really get a small, yet lovely love story about two people finding one another at the end of the war, realizing that anything’s possible, and both having a shared affection for music. In a way, it’s probably Scorsese’s most romantic movie, even if it does dive into the predictable areas where violence, drug-abuse and gangsters seem to pop-up, but it still works. If anything, Scorsese seems to be showing us that these beautiful and magical worlds that these musicals paint, don’t quite exist and instead, are a lot harsher than they attend to appear to be.

Or, something like that.

Once again, still not sure I’ve got all the answers here.

Still, if there is one thing I definitely know, it’s that Robert De Niro and Liza Minnelli are quite great here and surprised the heck out of me, what with the chemistry they’ve got going on here. Of course, both are very much playing in their wheelhouse, but together, they bring out the best in one another; De Niro shows a much more softer, more vulnerable side than we’re used to seeing from him, whereas with Minnelli, we see someone who is sweet, but also not going to take any crap, either. Their characters may feel thinly-written, but because the performances are so good, it hardly matters. It makes you wish that the two worked together again, whether in another Scorsese movie, or just in general.

But yeah, definitely a Scorsese movie for sure.

Consensus: Clearly more of an experiment than a full-fledged, thought-out feature-flick, New York, New York finds Scorsese trying to mesh intimate-drama with musical-numbers, and while the results don’t always click, the performances do.

7 / 10

Love? Between these two?

Love? Between these two?

Photos Courtesy of: The Red List

Patriots Day (2016)

We could be heroes, just for a few solid hours.

It’s Monday, April 15, 2013 in Boston and man oh man, what a lovely day. The Boston Marathon is set to happen, with tons and tons of people all involved and excited to run for a good cause. But of course, things don’t go down this way. In the final stretch of the run, bombs start going off, injuring and killing some. This leads the Boston Police Department, as well as the FBI to get involved as best as they can. Eventually, they find out who is responsible and limit their search to two people: Brothers Tamerlan And Dzhokhar Tsarnaev (Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff). Of course, it’s now up to everyone to get together, stand strong and find these guys before they cause even more damage to the city of Boston and put an even greater shadow over what was supposed to be a very lovely, carefree day.

The term “too soon” is normally used with a negative connotation and well, there’s good reason behind it. People, the fragile beings that we are, find it hard to connect or accept tragedy or heartbreak, that talking about it immediately or even a little time after, seems to be too much to handle; nobody can really talk about something sad, because well, that just brings on more sadness. I point this out, not to just ramble on and on for no reason, but to point out why a movie like Patriots Day, while immediate, exciting, tense, and well-done, also feels like it may have been done way too soon.

Marky Mahk thinks he hears something fizzlin'.

Marky Mahk thinks he hears something fizzlin’.

But not in the way you’d expect.

When United 93 came out over a decade ago, it was four years and a few months after the events of 9/11, and considering how emotionally jarring that movie was, it makes sense that people would get up in arms, wondering whether or not this tale needed to be told, so suddenly, so soon, and so in-our-faces. After all, we as a nation still have yet to get over 9/11, 15 years after the fact, so you could only imagine how those in the mid-aughts must have felt when they saw a documentary-like film based on one of the hijacked planes. That said, director Peter Berg approaches the Boston Marathon Bombings with the same sort of tenacity; it’s the kind of movie that takes awhile to get going, but is setting up so many pieces of the story, that just watching and seeing how they connect in the long run is really interesting.

And then the movie does get going and eventually, it becomes something along the lines of a typical action-thriller, except with very real-life circumstances. Just like he showed with Lone Survivor and Deepwater Horizon, Berg has a knack for telling these fact-based stories where we probably know the ending and certain details, but there’s still a thrill and a certain energy behind it that’s hard not to get compelled by. Even when it seems like he’s manipulating certain elements of the story a bit, there’s still a feeling that Berg is giving it all that he’s got to make us feel as if we are there, while the action is all happening, trying our own hardest to put together this sometimes convoluted and crazy pie.

But then again, there’s that issue of being “too soon” and I think that’s where Patriots Day really runs into problems.

For one, it’s been a little over three years since the attack, meaning, that a lot of old wounds still have yet to heal. Due to that, it seems like there’s not enough appropriate room, space, or time to really think about the hard, thought-provoking questions that need to be asked in order for us, a society, to gather a better understanding of what happened. Sure, Berg does a nice job of sticking straight to the facts and giving us what is, essentially, a play-by-play analysis of what’s happenin’ and shakin’, but for a movie such as this to really resonate and hit hard, it also needs to be more than just that.

At its heart, Patriots Day is definitely a tribute to those who lost their lives and those who worked day and night on that one, fateful afternoon, and there’s nothing wrong with that – these are all stories that deserve to be told and given the type of treatment that Berg is more than happy to give them. At the same time though, there’s not enough introspection that makes us think longer and harder about this event – it’s just sort of the standard, bad guys did something bad, now good guys must go and find them. It is, for lack of a better term, a procedural.

An entertaining one at that, but still, a procedural.

"I told ya, it was paked down by da riva."

“I told ya, it was paked down by da riva.”

The bits and pieces of the movie where it seems like Berg really wants to dive in further to this event, is through the portrayals of both Tamerlan And Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Surprisingly, the movie does go the extra mile to try and develop them, show them for what they were, and most importantly, give us a better look into what the hell was going through their heads, which is admirable, on the part of Berg’s. He’s telling the whole story for what it is and considering that a good portion of what happens can only happen from their point-of-view, it makes sense that we get some time spent with them and try whatever we can to understand them for their actions. The movie doesn’t hold back on showing us their terrible actions, but it also doesn’t shy away from showing that, well, they were human beings. As troubled and as ill-conceived as they may be, they are still human beings and sometimes, it’s interesting to see their side of the story, regardless of whether or not you sympathize with them or what they did.

Which is interesting here, because while the movie boasts a big, starry and shiny cast with the likes of Mark Wahlberg, John Goodman, J.K. Simmons, Michelle Monaghan, Kevin Bacon, Rachel Brosnahan, and plenty others, really, the movie’s more concerned with Themo Melikidze and Alex Wolff’s portrayals of the brothers. It shows that Berg was at least trying to go somewhere more interesting with this material, but of course, also realized who he was doing this movie for and didn’t want to offend anyone. There’s nothing wrong with that, either, however, it does leave that feeling of wondering maybe it was too soon and maybe something else will come down the pipeline.

Like, I don’t know, say a movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Tatiana Malsany?

Oh, well there we go.

Consensus: Compelling, thrilling and well-paced, Patriots Day works as an exciting take on the events, as well as a nice tribute to those who lost their lives and responded quickly, even if there’s still some material left to be covered.

7.5 / 10

Marky Mak is da best cop awound dese paks.

Marky Mak is da best cop awound dese paks.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Postcards from the Edge

Life’s pretty bad. And then there’s your mom.

Hollywood actress Suzanne Vale (Meryl Streep) seemed to, at one point in her career, have it all, but now, it seems like she’s about to lose it all. Now that she’s out of rehab and recovering from a very public drug-addiction, she hopes to get better so that she can continue to work and make all sorts of money again like she’s used to doing. But it is recommended by those who know best that she stay with her mother, famed actress Doris Mann (Shirley MacLaine), who has become a somewhat champion drinker herself. Now, more than ever, not only does Suzanne struggle with her sobriety, but she’s also got to struggle with getting along with her mom and accepting her for all the flaws and faults that she is, underneath the whole glitz and glamour of the career she once had and still receives praise for.

So yeah, if you don’t know, Postcards from the Edge is an adaptation of Carrie Fisher’s autobiography, which is about her own battle with drugs, stardom, booze and yes, her famous mother, Debbie Reynolds. Knowing that, the movie definitely takes on a more interesting and darker spin; after all, watching someone famous, play another famous person who is literally telling their heartfelt, mostly true story, seems a little odd. It makes you wonder why they didn’t just hire Fisher and Reynolds in the first place and call the thing a day, right? After all, they seemed to get along so well in the first place, so why wouldn’t they be up to the task to begin with?

I know, moms, right?

I know, moms, right?

Regardless, the movie still works.

Oddly enough, Postcards from the Edge actually works best in the performances, mainly, those of Streep’s and MacLaine’s. Streep is especially great here because you get the sense that she’s not trying to get us to love her, or better yet, sympathize with her – the movie doesn’t ever seem to get as dark, or as mean as it should, but the very few instances of actual rawness comes through Streep’s portrayal of Vale/Fisher. Just by watching how she interacts with those around her and seeing as how she’s practically pushed to the side of everywhere she goes, all because of a troubled and checkered past, well, is pretty sad to watch. Streep plays it well though, never demanding sympathy and makes this person all the more realistic.

And then there’s MacLaine who seems very much in her element here. Playing an aging dame of an actress, MacLaine gets to enjoy herself, occasionally vamping it up, but always coming back down to reality, reminding us that she’s a grade-A actress who can go head-to-head with Streep any day of the week. Together, they’re the perfect mother-daughter combination, and it almost makes you wish the movie was a smaller, much more contained piece and just focused on them, their relationship, and where exactly they’re going to go from here.

Of course, though, we don’t get that movie.

Don't trust Gene.

Don’t trust Gene.

The movie we do get, in fact, seems awfully concerned with so much else. Mike Nichols always seems to have a general idea of what he’s doing with the material he’s working with and you’d expect from him, a much more emotional, rewarding experience, but the movie doesn’t seem to get all that close to the true emotions that an autobiographical story such as this could evoke. Most of this has to do with the fact that the movie seems to take on a whole lot more than it can actually chew, let alone, swallow; there’s Vale’s career, her relationship with her mom, her mom’s career, her experiences on movie-sets, her trying to nail parts in major Hollywood productions, her trying to maintain a steady relationship, her trying to stay sober, her trying to stay alive, etc.

Eventually, you get the picture and unfortunately, that’s why a good portion of Postcards feels muddled. It takes on a lot, seems to have so much to say, but when all is said and done, it’s just too much. The Hollywood stuff is funny, but it’s not really new or groundbreaking; the relationship stuff with the mother gets developed enough; all of Vale’s career plots sort of work; her drug-addiction never gets nearly as descriptive or as eye-opening as it should; and although it’s always great to see Dennis Quaid, you take him out of this movie and guess what? It keeps on going.

Still, though, there’s a part of me that’s glad a movie like Postcards exists, because it does paint a cynical portrait of Hollywood that we do see often, but still need to be reminded of. The idea that Vale’s career was already dying because of her age, and maybe less about her drug/alcohol addiction, is interesting as we still see it in today’s day and age of film. Of course, having Street play the role is interesting, considering the woman probably gets every role she ever shows any interest in, but still, there’s something to be said about a business that openly discriminates, gets away with it, and continues to live long and prosper.

Maybe something needs to change, eh?

Consensus: With two very good performances in the leads, Postcards from the Edge is an interesting tale of family, but never goes any deeper than it probably should have beyond that.

7 / 10

RIP, kind of.

RIP, kind of.

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures, Bobby Rivers TV, Film Experience

The Rundown (2003)

Stay at home. It’s less violent.

Beck (Dwayne Johnson) may be, in certain words, a “retrieval expert”, but really what he is, is a very trained, very specialized and when push comes to shove, very violent assassin who is always and capable of getting the job done without a scratch. However, while these jobs do bring in the dough, what Beck really aspires to be is an owner of his own restaruant, where he can tangle with all sorts of lovely and exotic food, where he doesn’t have to answer to anyone else, except for himself. But until then, Beck’s going to have to put up with a lot of garbage from those he works for, like for instance, his latest mission where he has to go looking for the son (Seann William Scott) of an underworld kingpin, after he disappears in the Amazon looking for a priceless artifact. While Beck does find the guy right away, the two soon realize that they’ll both have to fight their way through the Brazilian jungle, running into all sorts of dangerous characters, one of whom is a wealthy mine owner (Christopher Walken), who doesn’t take kindly to outsiders.

The Rundown looks a lot like every lame action-comedy from the early-aughts that tried so hard to relive the charm and fun of the 90’s and 80’s, but sadly, doesn’t come even close. Heck, it was even one of the first films WWE Studios ever produced, so if that doesn’t already tell you what to expect, then lord knows what will.

Who needs a Rose?

Who needs a Rose?

But surprisingly, it’s a tad bit smarter than what it appears to be and sometimes, that creates the best action and comedy.

For the most part, the Rundown gets by solely on the fact that it never seems to take itself all that seriously. From the very beginning, we get to hear the inner-monologue of Johnson’s character and realize that, “Oh, this is going to be a silly movie.” However, it’s not that kind of faux-silliness we see most of these movies try to get by with, but just seem so phony and fake, it doesn’t quite connect. Peter Berg has definitely made a name for himself taking on hard-hitting, emotionally complex true life events for the big-screen, but back before all of that, he got his start directing a pretty goofy action-comedy that feels like a product of the era it’s trying to emulate, as opposed to the one that it came out of.

Of course, this is something that perhaps only true action-nerds will care about, but it’s what matters most as it gives a little something more to all of the violence, bloodshed, guns, action, explosions, and cursing going on. Not that there’s anything wrong with having all of those elements in the first place, but sometimes, it’s best to have a little something more going on underneath it all to make it seem like you’re not just going for all of the action and intensity, but also trying to tell something of a story, with good characters and a nice, simple message about friends, family, and love.

Or then again, maybe not.

In the case of the Rundown, it doesn’t quite matter, because the movie does get the small things right. Even though the movie itself had to go through some re-edits to secure something of a PG-13 rating, it doesn’t quite show; some blood and gore may have been digitally taken out and oh yeah, cursing has definitely been dubbed over, but regardless, it doesn’t feel like the heart and soul of this movie has been taken from it. It seems like it was always meant to just be a fun movie, regardless of how much viciousness there originally was within it and sometimes, that’s all you need for your action movie to succeed at what it’s doing. It doesn’t matter how formulaic, or silly you can get, but how well you can keep the action moving and sustaining each and every person’s attention-span for the time being.

Which yes, the Rundown does a very fine job with doing, formula and convention aside.

When you've got a Scott? Seann William, to be exact?

When you’ve got a Scott? Seann William, to be exact?

Like I said with Berg, though, can be said about Johnson – while he’s definitely seen as the biggest star in the world we’ve got, there was, at one point in time, when studios were trying their absolute hardest to pass him off as anything but the Rock. In fact, the Rundown feels like a nice little piece of history, seeing how all the charisma and spunk that he shows just about every single second, of every single day, wasn’t quite worked-out just yet; Beck is a sympathetic and silly character, but he’s also got a little bit of a heart to him that Johnson tries to take on, but can’t quite nail. It’s a good performance from Johnson, but as we all know, he would continue to toy away and away at it, eventually nailing that screen-persona we all know and love nowadays.

Same goes with Seann William Scott who has, unfortunately, seems nowhere to be found. Regardless, he’s good here and has a very good chemistry with Johnson, playing off the fact that he’s smaller and less chiseled than his co-star, but without making it seem too gimmick-y. Christopher Walken also shows up and seems to be having a very joyous time playing a bad guy for once and Rosario Dawson’s here, too, who is, unfortunately, not very good. However, it seems to be the case that her character wasn’t quite there to begin with, but because producers probably got worried by the idea of having a whole movie dedicated to two, sweaty and dirty dudes in the jungle together, there needed to be a romantic love-interest thrown in there somewhere for good keeping. Dawson tries with what she’s got, but yeah, the movie may have been able to live on without her.

Sorry, Rose. You still rock.

Consensus: Without taking itself too seriously, the Rundown can be a very fun and charming action-comedy that showcases what was to come of Dwayne Johnson.

7 / 10

Oh yeah, and you've got a Rock, too.

Oh yeah, and you’ve got a Rock, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert, Explosions Are Rad, This or That Edition

Fences (2016)

Man, dads can be a drag.

Troy Maxon (Denzel Washington) could have had it all. He was a great baseball player who could have made it in the pros, but considering he was black and this was America during the 30’s and 40’s, black people just weren’t allowed in professional sports. So of course, he didn’t get to live out his dream and is now working as a trash man in Pittsburgh, with his lovely wife Rose (Viola Davis), his talented son Cory (Jovan Adepo), his freeloading son Lyons (Russell Hornsby), and his special brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson). For Troy, though, everything’s all good – he’s working on putting up a fence around his place and is enjoying time he spends with his wife. However, Troy’s also got a bit of a temper and a bit of a drinking problem, which means that with a combo like that, he tends to get in people’s faces about stuff that he shouldn’t be. But because Troy is very antagonistic, he chooses fights that he sometimes can’t win and due to this, he begins to push those away from him more and more, leaving him to make even worse mistakes.

In case you didn’t know, or better yet, never had to suffer through Intro to Theater, Fences is actually a play by August Wilson. If you didn’t know this and saw the movie version of Fences, you’d probably get the picture real soon and think this immediately. Why?

Uh oh. Denzel mad. Look out.

Uh oh. Denzel mad. Look out.

Because like so many other adaptations of plays before it, Fences feels very stagey.

Which okay, may not be the worst thing, but at times, can still be awfully distracting, especially when the person who is adapting it to the screen, isn’t really trying everything that they can to make it more than just a bunch of people standing in the same room for roughly a half-hour, talking about something that was said nearly ten minutes prior. And Denzel Washington, while a good director, for some reason, doesn’t feel the need to actually get out in the world, live a little, and get this material going elsewhere. Sure, you can call this adaptation “faithful”, but does that mean it was a smart move to be that way?

Probably not and that’s why a good portion of Fences, while compelling, can still feel like it’s stuck inside of itself. It’s the kind of movie where people talk a whole lot and while a lot of it can be interesting to watch and listen to, a lot of it also does feel like filler. Washington, as well as everyone else here, has actually performed this play countless of times, so it makes sense that he would feel such a love and affection for it as to not change a single thing about it, but by the same token, there are bits and pieces that need to be updated.

For instance, there’s a whole other character that we hear so much about and eventually factors into the plot quite a great deal, and yet, we never see said person. Same goes with a few other events that take place off-screen, leaving whatever happened to either never come up again, or come up in conversation in perhaps the most obvious manner imaginable. Once again, it’s understandable that Washington himself would want to be as faithful to this material as humanly possible, but there does come a point when you have to realize that you’re making a film, and because of that, you have to make sure everything works. And also, because you’re making a film, you’re able to do so much more that actually matters.

Uh oh. Viola sad.

Uh oh. Viola sad.

Washington just never seems to realize this and unfortunately, Fences does suffer because of it.

But honestly, a good portion of what I said doesn’t even matter, because what Fences truly is, despite what August Wilson may have originally intended for it to come-off as, is an actor’s workshop and man, they clean house here. Even though his directing skills aren’t quite great here, Washington, the actor, is terrific; he’s able to go big, loud and bombastic, as if he was in the theater, playing to the nosebleeds, but he can also be small, quiet and subtle and makes this challenging Troy fella, all the more complex and interesting to watch. Washington knows what he’s working with here and because of that, his performance comes off strong and it’s hard to take your eyes off of him.

But Washington isn’t stingy and doesn’t forget about everyone else here, either. Everyone here, like Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby, and the always underrated Stephen Henderson are all quite good, but it’s really the one performance that makes this movie shake the most. Viola Davis, as Rose, is very good because she gets to do the same thing that Washington does – she gets to play it big and loud, but also short, sweet and subtle. She’s great at both sides and together, they create quite the couple that actually makes me want to see them do something else, where they aren’t so confined to just one room, or one backyard, or one topic of conversation the whole, entire time.

Still though, as Fences goes on, it eventually comes together and Washington begins to make more and more sense of his material.

There’s a final-act that’s downplayed and quiet, which is definitely different from the rest of the movie, yet, it still works. In fact, it actually feels like a reward to all of those who sat by, watched and listened to all of these characters hooting and hollering at one another. In a way, it’s a lot more melancholy than the rest of the movie, where it seems like everyone has chilled-out, had a few beers and realized that life is beautiful, so why fret so much? Due to this, the movie may just bring a tear to your eye and make you realize that Washington is a good director.

It’s just a shame that he felt so damn confined.

Consensus: Fences feels exactly like a play, with great performances from everyone, but also a very limited scope in which it lives in.

7 / 10

But it's okay, they're both happy. Let's hope it stays.

But it’s okay, they’re both happy. Let’s hope it stays.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Lion (2016)

Wow. Google really does have it all.

When he was just a little boy living in India, Saroo (Sunny Pawar) accidentally got on a train that took him nearly thousands and thousands of kilometers away from his brother and his mother. Without any idea of where he came from, how he got there, and just who to contact to get home, Saroo ends up spending a great deal of his childhood in shady orphanages, all until a rich Australian couple (Nicole Kidman and David Wenham) decide to adopt him. Now, many years later, Saroo (Dev Patel) is a chiseled, handsomely-grown man who wants to study hotel management. While there, he meets a very interesting gal (Rooney Mara), who he takes a liking to immediately. However, one night, while hanging out with friends, people begin to question Saroo about his childhood home, his family, where exactly he came from, and how he got here, leading him to think long and hard about the same things. And then he discovers Google Earth and for years, does whatever he can to not just locate where he came from, but try to get back to his birthplace.

Everything about Lion leads up to the final act. In said final act, there are so many emotions, so much heartbreak, so much joy, and so much swooping music, that it’s hard not to get wrapped-up in it all. If you don’t shed even the tiniest, bittiest tear, you, my friend, may just have a heart of stone, or no heart at all.

Aw, such a cute little boy.

Aw, such a cute little boy.

That said, the movie does feel a tad incomplete.

One reason has to do with director Garth Davis’ way of telling Saroo’s story, but leaving out certain key-elements. For instance, we spend roughly an hour with him as a little kid, when he’s nearly five or so, and it’s quite compelling. The movie sort of feels a lot like bits and pieces of Slumdog Millionaire, but it still works well because Davis knows how to create an aura of sadness just by a single shot and give us an even greater idea of the brutal, harsh realities of being a little boy, alone and without a clue in the world of where you may be. Luke Davies’ script is also smart, too, in that it takes its time in developing just how far Saroo’s story as a child goes, with certain twists and turns coming out of nowhere, yet, still feeling brutally honest and expected.

But then, more than a quarter through the flick, everything changes. We’re introduced to Saroo when he’s an older, hunkier guy, with long, flowing locks and facial-hear to die for and it just feels way too sudden. While we still get to know a little bit more about him, his family, and the struggles they are inducing, just trying to get by, it still feels like we’re missing certain pieces to the puzzle.

Like, for example, why does Saroo want to find out about his birthplace at all?

The movie tries to clarify it with a heartbreaking image of a food-item that I won’t spoil, shows him sad, distracted and obviously out-of-place, but why? Is it because he misses home? Is it because he’s starting to despise his adopted parents and the adopted brother that seems to be a little crazy? Why oh why? I’m sure the real Saroo, of whom this movie is made about, had a great reason justifying it, other than just simply being sad, but I can’t seem to find it here.

That’s why once the movie gets to the final act – of which happens quite quickly – it feels a little rushed. It’s almost as if Davis and Davies knew exactly how they wanted their first and final act to go down, but in by doing so, they forgot to think of a second one, or better yet, a more substantial second one that doesn’t just feel like filler to get to the more emotional moments. Then again, it is refreshing to get a movie that shows us its character’s journey back home in the most simplified, uneventful manner imaginable – after all, it’s the 21st century and if you want to get somewhere in the world, all you have to do is go on your phone and you’ll get where you need most definitely right away.

Wow. That escalated quickly.

Wow. That escalated quickly.

But like I’ve said before, Lion packs a powerful punch and it’s hard not to get wrapped-up in all the swirling emotions by the end. Which is interesting, because it isn’t manipulative; through Saroo’s story and his experiences, we get a sense that this homecoming is a very emotional thing and because of that, it’s hard not to shed a tear. Some of it may be overly sentimental, but hey, it’s the kind of sentimentalism that so rarely works, so I’ll give it credit where credit is due.

And the performances are quite good, too.

In what seems like his best performance since Slumdog a little over eight years ago, Dev Patel finally gets the role worthy of his enigmatic charm. While he’s most definitely grown into a handsome, rather hunky man, he’s also turned into a much better actor that doesn’t get on his boyish charms, but raw emotions where there’s a certain a pain in his eyes. It’s also worth pointing out that the younger-version of Saroo, as played by Sunny Pawar, does a great job even though, yeah a solid portion of the role may just be reaction-shots.

But still, he makes those reaction shots count, man.

David Wenham and Nicole Kidman are also pretty good as Saroo’s adoptive parents, who both seem to understand and sympathize with Saroo’s quest. Kidman’s performance is especially the best, with a few strong, emotional scenes that could have gone incredibly overboard and melodramatic, but somehow, she plays it all so perfectly, like the pro that she is. The only one who feels out of place, in a way, is Rooney Mara. She shows up about halfway through to be a sort of romantic love-interest for Saroo, meant to push him harder and harder into this life-fulfilling adventure of sorts, but she just comes off like a device, as opposed to an actual, real life character in a movie. I’m still not sure if this person exists in real life, but if so, I’d be a little ticked by how dull I was.

That’s just me, though.

Consensus: Though it’s missing a fully-developed structure (something only us annoying critics care about, I know), Lion also packs a very emotional punch, with solid performances and a heartwarming message, even if it does still come off like a Google Earth commercial.

8 / 10

And now he's got a girlfriend? What is happening? Go back to being a kid, Saroo!

And now he’s got a girlfriend? What is happening? Go back to being a kid, Saroo!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Great Debaters (2007)

Yell as loud as you can.

Poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) wants to teach the current youth so that they don’t grow up to be angry, spiteful human beings, despite all of the racial bias and prejudice sent towards their way. That’s why he decides to teach at a predominately black Wiley College in Texas. The year is 1935 and he decides that it’s time to start a debate team, which wasn’t something ever heard of at a relatively black school. While people aren’t initially all for the idea, eventually, people begin to join and Tolson’s got himself a pretty loyal, smart group of youngsters, looking to not just have a good debate, but tell the world of what’s really going on out there. However, it’s Tolson’s own personal politics that end up getting in the way and overshadowing the team and their efforts, leading him to think long and hard about how he wants to stick with this team, or if it’s best to just walk away and let them debate their lives off.

Denzel Washington does something very smart with the Great Debaters – he frames it all not just as a movie about a bunch of people who hoot and holler at each other in long, winding monologues that seem to last for days, but something of a sports movie, where a bunch of rag tag people who have a particular set of significant skill, band together, use their strengths and take on the ultimate opponent. In this case, the ultimate opponent is racism and if there’s a sport, then yeah sure, it’s debating. It may sound incredibly boring, but believe it or not, Denzel is able to make it quite fun and exciting.

So, will it be televised?

So, will it be televised?

Then again, there’s not much debating in the first place.

If there’s an issue to be had here with the Great Debaters is that while there quite a few scenes of actual debating occurring, we never really get to know much more about what goes into debating, or planning an argument, or framing it in a way. Of course, early on, we get the typical training monologue in which the characters use words and get frustrated on how to use them and whatnot, but it doesn’t really feel like we’re actually getting to know how to debate in the process, or better yet, what makes a good debater in the first place; what can be taken away is that whoever yells, hoots, screams and hollers the most and the loudest, seems to actually win. Surely, this isn’t how debating actually works, but a few more scenes dedicated to us understanding just what it is that can help a person become a better debater, would have definitely helped.

Cause instead of getting these scenes, we get a lot more character development, which okay, isn’t always such a bad thing. It does help, however, that Denzel has put together a very good ensemble that knows how to work with this sometimes preachy material and at the very least, keep it grounded and focused. For instance, whenever Denzel himself is on the screen, you can tell that he’s the absolute pro; you feel his presence in every scene he’s in and hell, even the ones he isn’t in. Of course, that’s probably purposeful considering he’s practically behind the camera every scene, directing, but still, it goes to show you just the class-A actor he truly is.

Hell, even the very few scenes he gets with Forest Whitaker, make you clamor for a movie where they just sit in a room together and talk about whatever is on their mind. Honestly, a smaller, much more contained movie like that probably would have been better, because here, while they make the best of what they’re both working with, it still makes you wish for more, more, more.

Debate team, or the rugby team?

Debate team, or the rugby team?

Thankfully, the young talent here is quite good.

Despite all of the controversy surrounding him that seems to probably killed his career, Nate Parker seems to be a perfect acting surrogate for Washington, channeling a lot of the same charisma and energy that the later always showed in his earlier roles. Parker’s Henry Lowe may not always be believable as a character, but Parker’s good enough to where you can see that this brash, sometimes arrogant guy would want to get up on a stage and yell for a few minutes, about all of the injustices he has been of witness to in this world. As his fellow teammates, Denzel Whitaker and Jurnee Smollett-Bell are also quite entertaining, showing different sides to how they feel about debating, and the certain hardships that they too face on a daily basis.

In fact, the movie does get across a very smart and powerful message about race and equality that, yes, may seem conventional, but also doesn’t make it less true. Late in the last-half, the movie brings up certain issues about how the rest of the world, mainly, the Northeast, look at racism a whole lot differently than those in the South; the former is predominately a lot whiter than the later, which also brings more questions into the discussion. The movie shows that people who think differently about racism because of what they’ve been brought up and raised around, aren’t necessarily bad people, just very limited in their viewpoint – sometimes, it’s best to wake up, open your eyes and realize what’s really going on out there in the world. Sure, arguing about it and having a nice little debate is always good, too, but it’s always best to know what’s really wrong with the world, before you go off and start talking about it and all of its changes.

It’s definitely a relevant message that plenty could benefit from today.

Consensus: Entertaining and important, the Great Debaters may be formulaic and conventional, but also packs a hearty punch and shows us that as a director, Denzel’s skills still translate.

7.5 / 10

Please. More. Of. This.

Please. More. Of. This.

Photos Courtesy of: The New York Times, Popcorn Reel

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

We’re like all connected, man.

After her mother is killed and father (Mads Mikkelsen) is taken from here at the age of 16, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has set her sights out on for her whole life to take down the Empire, in whatever way she can. After receiving a random message from him that he has plans on how to destroy the almighty Death Star, Jyn sets out with a group of fellow rebellious souls who, in one way or another, want to hope for a better world and future that isn’t so controlled by the Empire. One such person is Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a Captain who has definitely done a whole lot in his life that he’s not proud of, but knows to push all of that to the side in hopes that he and the rest of these ragtag folks will be able to hurt the Empire where it hurts the most.

Oh yeah, and it’s somehow all connected to A New Hope, which isn’t a spoiler and trust me, you won’t soon forget about, considering that the movie seems to remind us just about every second that it’s all tied together, through some way. Which isn’t all that bad because yes, it is a prequel of some sorts and yes, it is taking place within this universe that we all practically know by heart, so it would make obvious sense that they would try and tie it all in, make constant references, and give greater context to things we’ve been mulling over since the first one was released nearly 40 years ago.

Leia and Han? Kind of. But more British and Hispanic.

Leia and Han? Kind of. But more British and Hispanic.

That said, a movie should stand on its own, prequel or not, and honestly, that’s where Rogue One sort of falls short.

You basically have to know everything that they’re talking about here and if you don’t, well, then you’re going to feel left out. The one good aspect surrounding the fact that the movie hearkens back to the original so much is that director Gareth Edwards films the movie to where it’s kind of goofy and light, but at the same time, still incredibly stylish and polished to where it still feels especially modern. In fact, it’s hard not to look at Rogue One and see not just how much money was put into it, but how much time, effort and care was put into assuring that the movie had the look and feel of the other movies, yet, still sort of its own thing.

Sure, it’s a movie that connects one too many times to the other flicks and has to remind us incessantly about the larger universe that we already definitely know about, but when this baby’s moving and not focusing a whole lot on what it’s plot is going to turn out to be, it’s quick an enjoyable ride. Edwards definitely knows how to film action -whether it’s on the ground, or in space, or between a bunch of foot-soldiers, or androids – and to do so in a manner that’s compelling, as well as comprehensible, is definitely a step-up from the rest of what we get in the world of summer blockbusters and shaky-cam.

Then again, as good as the action may be, there’s still something that Rogue One lacks in and that’s good, substantial and above all else, memorable characters that, in the many, many years to come, we’ll never get out of our heads and/or stop quoting.

Basically, I’m talking about another Darth Vader, or Han Solo, or Yoda, or hell, even Luke, which doesn’t of interest to Rogue One. And okay, yes, that’s fine – I understand that it’s hard to sometimes strike gold twice when it comes to lovely, absolutely memorable characters and of course, they have a high order to work against, but still, anything would have helped here. Not just a certain trait that lasts long in our mind, but anything.

Rogue One seems to know how to bring all of these shady, random characters from all walks of life together, give them a mission to work towards and basically leave it at that. There’s nothing to any of them, with the exception of a particular set of skill that they’re able to utilize in the heat of the battle, which makes it feel like we’re watching a bunch of characters that we’re supposed to like, sympathize with, and root for, all because of what they’re doing, but it’s kind of hard when we don’t really know any of them. We get some small bits and pieces among the whole talented ensemble, but it still feels like perhaps the movie is holding back on something to keep us glued on to me, until it eventually shows its hand and, well, there’s not much there.

Sorry, Darth. Not as vicious anymore.

Sorry, Darth. Not as vicious anymore.

We’re supposed to care and roll with it, because well, it’s fun and it’s Star Wars. So why should we complain?

Well, it’s easy to complain when you have the talented likes of Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Alan Tudyk, and Jiang Wen, all doing material that allows them to have a few lines or so every once and awhile, along with a lot of kicking, punching, shooting and fun stuff like that. And of course, I’m not complaining that the movie takes their fighting habits, over their, I don’t know, real life, human habits, but it definitely doesn’t help that every character feels like sketches of someone/something far more interesting that either wasn’t filmed, or cut-out of the final product entirely.

Yen’s blind jedi-like character is pretty bad-ass and honestly, makes me want to see him more and more, but blindness and ass-kicking is pretty much all he gets; Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO droid is memorable because he’s a lot like C3PO, but much more violent and witty, stealing most of the scenes it’s in; Luna’s character tries a little hard to be Han Solo and mostly just feels like a far distant cousin; Ahmed’s barely here; Mendelsohn and Mikkelsen are pros at trash and can elevate anything that they’re working with; Whitaker is pretty bad here, but it seems like he was left without much to do; Wen is there to aid Yen’s character and gets to partake in some bad-assery, but what purpose her serves is never fully explained; and yes, Jones’ Jyn Erso, while not necessarily the most memorable heroine to exist in sci-fi, she still gets the job done, showing us someone we can trust in, but also want to know more and more about, in between all of the planning, and shooting, and killing.

Maybe I showed up to the wrong movie.

Consensus: Stylish and exciting, Rogue One definitely delivers on the epic, grand-scale action that’s become synonymous with Star Wars by now, but also substitutes most of that for a standalone story, with well-written, memorable characters.

7 / 10

True besties.

True besties.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)

Have a baby by one of them, and you’ll be a millionaire.

At 43, Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) is still up to her old bag of tricks. She’s now got a very nice job at a news station, but spends most of her time still counting her drinks, sleeping with random guys, and living it up like the good old days, not giving a care in the world about what anyone has to say about her, or what it is that she does. However, that all begins to change one day when she realizes that, surprisingly, she’s pregnant. Although, maybe it’s not all that surprising, considering that she not only slept with a random American she met a music festival named Jack (Patrick Dempsey), but also hooked back up with old flame, Mark Darcy (Colin Firth). Now, with the baby soon to be on its way, Bridget has to think and figure out just who the father is, or better yet, who actually wants to stick around with her and father the child, regardless of who’s it actually is.

To be honest, I saw the second Bridget Jones movie, Edge of Reason, and never got around to reviewing it for the sole sake that it was just an awful movie. The first had all sorts of fun, heart and charm to it that made it well worth the watch, regardless of if it was date night or not, but the second movie, if anything, just turned all of that on its head and showed us how an already grating character, can continue to be more and more annoyingly unsympathetic. It’s honestly not a surprise why it took so long for another movie to come out, but you know what?

Happy birthday. But really, who cares?

Happy birthday. But really, who cares?

It is is a surprise that this third, and quite possibly last, movie, is actually pretty good.

For the most part, what made the first such an enjoyable and relatively hilarious movie, is back this time around, as well as plenty of other things. There’s heart, there’s gross-out gags, there’s a lot of hard-thinking British humor, and most of all, there’s characters to actually care about again, or more importantly, Bridget herself. The second movie featured her up to all of her old tricks and whatnot and just didn’t work, but this time around, she’s back at it again, but with a different stance. This time, it seems like the movie is trying to say that at her age, it’s time for Bridget to finally grow up and accept her life for what it is.

Which yeah, of course means having a baby, but that’s why the movie actually works; it’s kind of silly and a little sit-com-y, but we know this character and already kind of love her to begin with, so why not throw a baby in the mix? While she’s been fairly M.I.A. these past couple of years, Bridget Jones’s Baby is the perfect reminder of why Renée Zellweger’s such a charming and radiant actress on the screen, when given the right material to play and joke around with. Sure, she’s not British and her accent is a little faulty at times, but you know what?

She got the role over a decade ago and more than made it her own, so whatever!

Oh yeah, next time, just give her the movie.

Oh yeah, next time, just give her the movie.

Playing the two hunks she has to choose from, Patrick Dempsey and the returning Colin Firth are both actually quite great and not necessarily the kinds of stiffs you’d imagine them as being. Dempsey’s Jack character takes a surprising turn about halfway through where you realize that this guy actually does have a heart and soul and may just stick around, whereas with Firth’s Darcy, he’s still the same old kind of straight-man that we expect to get from him, but with a short burst of energy of spunk to be found somewhere throughout. Both get enough development to show us why they may be the right fit for Bridget, which works because it makes the stakes seem much more important; in a way, it almost doesn’t matter who the actual blood-father is, as much as it matters just who wants to stay with Bridget and possibly raise the kid as their own, with her.

May not seem like it matters much, but in the world of rom-coms, where every plot is taken at such a superficial level, it does and helps make Bridget Jones’s Baby, while exactly what you’d expect having seen the first two, seem a tad more emotional. No, it may not make you sob or break down, but it may just have you happy to see this character and her adventures, once again, choosing between what kind of man she wants in her life, once again, counting the drinks that she has, once again, and yes, still sort of embarrassing herself in front of large crowds, once again.

It’s all familiar, but hey, who says familiarity has to be all that bad?

Consensus: While formulaic, Bridget Jones’s Baby is also a solid return-to-form for the franchise, featuring plenty of laughs and emotion to go along with the charming performances.

7.5 / 10

Oh, wacky pregnant hi-jinx!

Oh, wacky pregnant hi-jinx!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Assholes Watching Movies

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

Haters going to hate. So sing, girl!

It’s the 1940s and New York socialite Florence Foster Jenkins (Meryl Streep) dreams of becoming a great opera singer. Unfortunately for Florence, her voice isn’t all that great and if anything, is actually pretty terrible. Her husband St. Clair Bayfield (Hugh Grant), knows this. The crowds she constantly plays to, knows this. Hell, everyone knows this. The only person who doesn’t seem to really know this in the slightest bit is Florence herself, which is why St. Clair does the best that he can to keep the truth away from her, so that she doesn’t lose all hope and give up her singing career. But it gets to be even more difficult for St. Clair when Florence decides to book a concert for Carnegie Hall, which leaves him clamoring to ensure that people don’t get in Florence’s way, as well as let her know that she’s quite rubbish when it comes to singing, actually. And while this may seem like it’s just a case of St. Clair performing his husband-like duties, it’s actually far more serious than that and brings into question what this performance for Florence means, after all.

Florence Foster Jenkins is perfectly servicable to any and all ages. Does that make it a great movie? No. Does that make it a bad movie? No. Does that make it a movie? Yes, it does.

It's true love, I think.

It’s true love, I think.

If anything, Florence Foster Jenkins is probably the perfect movie to take your parents, grandparents, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew, godson, goddaughter, step-dad, step-mom, step-uncle, step-aunt, step-brother, step-sister, step-cousin, hell, even your freakin’ pet, to. Meaning it’s the kind of movie that doesn’t set-out to harm, kill, or even offend anyone, but it’s also the kind of movie that’s just there to please everyone it sees and if it doesn’t please you, well, then, I’m sorry, but you’re not living.

It’s that simple.

Anyway, what works best about Florence Foster Jenkins is that, yes, it can get a little schmaltzy, a little sentimental, and definitely a little cheesy, but you know what? It still kind of works. Director Stephen Frears seems to have two sides to him: The one side that makes dark, unforgiving and mean flicks (Dangerous Liaisons, the Grifters, Dirty Pretty Things), and another side that likes to make warm, heartfelt, and light flicks that casually bring smiles to people’s faces (High Fidelity, The Snapper, The Queen). Here, he’s clearly working in the later form and it’s quite alright; he tells a lovely little story, the way it deserves to be told; he’s not getting down on Florence, the person, nor is he really getting down on anyone else, for that matter. He’s simply telling the story and you know what? Having a little bit of fun doing so, too.

And he’s not the only one. Unsurprisingly, Meryl Streep is quite good in the title role, playing a character we want to laugh at and make fun of, but over time, we start to learn more about and actually care for. Streep has played a lot of characters over her long and storied career, but a part of me wonders if she’s ever played someone like Florence Foster Jenkins and it makes me happy to see her play around with this role, playing it a little lighter this time around.

"It says here that all you have to do is show up and that's it. You're nominated!"

“It says here that all you have to do is show up and that’s it. You’re nominated!”

Will she get nominated for an Oscar? Probably, but whatever. It’s Meryl Streep. That’s practically a given by now.

Hugh Grant is also great in the role as her husband, the cad-like fellow St. Clair Bayfield. Clearly, this is a perfect match for Grant and the guy has some fun with it, as is to be expected; we start-off kind of despising him for cheating on his sick and dying wife, but through time, we start to see that there’s a little more to him that actually does care and will do whatever he can to make sure that his wife goes out on top. Rebecca Ferguson plays his girlfriend of sorts and is pretty good, even if her role can’t help but seem like an add-on to a heavy list of characters, like Simon Helberg’s, or Nina Arianada’s. While all are fun and charming to watch, sometimes, it can’t help but feel a little over-stacked.

Still though, like I said, everyone’s having fun here and it’s not hard to have the same feeling when watching Florence Foster Jenkins. It never tries for hard, emotionally gripping drama, but it doesn’t try to be incredibly silly, either – it’s just the right amount of humor and heart that only someone like Frears could deliver on. It makes me happy to know that he’s still contiuing to make movies just about every year or so, even if, yeah, of course, there’s still a stinker to be found somewhere.

Looking at you, Tamara Drewe.

Consensus: Charming and sweet, Florence Foster Jenkins doesn’t aim for the stars, but doesn’t have to, either, with its good cast and smart direction.

7 / 10

"Come on, honey! Off we go to the Oscars, again!"

“Come on, honey! Off we go to the Oscars, again!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Life is depressing, then you die. It’s that simple.

Despite the big house and even bigger bank account, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is still incredibly sad about something. Her second husband (Armie Hammer) constantly leaves for business trips, when in reality, he’s just having sex with other women; she doesn’t keep in-touch with her teenage daughter; and she’s still feeling some sort of guilt from having cheated on her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). But for one reason or another, he sends her a transcript of his latest novel and it absolutely haunts Susan’s life – in her dreams, at work, at her house, seemingly everywhere. And why is that? Well, it just so happens to be a random tale about a husband (also Jake Gyllenhaal), a wife (Isla Fisher), and a daughter (Ellie Bamber) who get ran-off the road by a bunch of mean, dirty and foul Southerners. What does this novel have to do with Susan’s life? Well, she doesn’t quite know, but the more she continues to read, the more she starts to think about her own life and all of the countless decisions she should have, or shouldn’t have, made.

It’s been nearly seven years later since famed fashion-designer Tom Ford’s A Single Man and well, he’s been sorely missed. While that movie not just proved to be a great acting showcase for the always underrated Colin Firth, it also proved to the world that Ford was more than just one of the biggest, most notorious names in the fashion-world. His aspirations and ambitions with his career went further beyond designing pretty clothes and making a heap-tons of money – he had a skill for directing movies and guess what? It all showed.

I don't know, so don't ask.

I don’t know, so don’t ask.

But what’s so interesting about A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals, his latest, is that Ford shows he doesn’t just have a knack for crafting beautiful visuals, but also knows how to make, well, a movie, with a good story, good acting, and most importantly, emotion. This time around, however, Ford’s creative-skills are put to the test in that he takes on what is, essentially, two movies into one; there’s the dark, depressing character-drama about sad and lonely rich people, and then, there’s the even darker, but far more grueling and violent Southern-revenge thriller. What do the two have to do with one another?

Well, I’m still trying to figure that all out.

However, there’s no denying that Ford crafts a very interesting, if at times, hard-to-watch movie. While it’s easy to give him credit for making the one story about the sad and lonely rich people and making it somehow work, it’s not as easy to give him credit for the Southern-fried revenge-thriller. The two are very hard movies to make, side-by-side, but somehow, he pulls it all off; both stories and compelling and also seem like they could have been their own movies.

Which is also the very same issue with Nocturnal Animals, in and of itself. For one, it takes a lot on, and handles it well, but also runs into the problem of having one story-line be fare more intriguing than the other. It happens to almost every movie with countless subplots, but here, it feels more disappointing, because they’re both very interesting to watch; it’s just that one clearly has more juice than the other.

Shave up, Jake. And possibly shower.

Shave up, Jake. And possibly shower.

And yes, I am talking about the Southern-fried revenge-thriller, although, it doesn’t make me happy to say that.

See, with that story, Ford is able to transport himself into far more deadly material, where anything can happen, at any given time. Just the introduction into this story, with the couple getting pulled-off to the side of the road and essentially terrorized over the course of ten minutes straight, still plays in my head, just by how truly disturbing it is. But it continues to get better and better, asking harder questions and not giving all that many answers, either.

But then, there’s the other-half of Nocturnal Animals and it’s still good, yet, also very different. It’s slower, more melodic and and far more interested in building its characters. And is it successful? Yes, but it just so happens to be placed-up, side-by-side with this other movie and it makes you wonder whether or not they should have been put that way in the first place? The book in which Tom Ford is adapting does, but I don’t know if it transitions well to the screen, where we literally have two entirely stories being told to us, with two very different styles.

So yeah, as you can tell, I’m still racking my brain around Nocturnal Animals.

If there’s anything I’m for sure certain about, it’s that Tom Ford is no fluke of a director and has, once again, put together a pretty great cast. Amy Adams gets a lot to do with very little, as the very cold and mean Susan Morrow who, through certain flashbacks, we do see develop over time and become more human to us; Jake Gyllenhaal plays her ex-husband as well as the daddy in the book very well, even if they are, two different performances, both seeming to be emotionally draining; Aaron Taylor-Johnson has always been fine in everything he’s done so far in his young career, but here, is absolutely bone-chilling and scary as the one psychopath from the story; Michael Shannon pops up as the Texas Ranger from that story and is clearly having a ball, yet also, showing off a great deal of heart and humanity in a story that, quite frankly, could have used more; and others seem to pop-up, like Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Isla Fisher, Michael Sheen, and Andrea Riseborough, and do whatever they can, but sometimes, have such limited screen-time that it’s a bit of a shame.

But hey, maybe that’s just me being extra needy.

Consensus: By working with two movies at once, Tom Ford expertly crafts Nocturnal Animals into being a dark, dramatic and sometimes disturbing emotional-thriller that may not fit perfectly together, but does offer up some really great performances.

7.5 / 10

It's love. Or is it?

It’s love. Or is it?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Indiewire

Allied (2016)

WWII looked like it was a pretty wild time.

It’s WWII and intelligence officer Max Vatan (Brad Pitt) literally gets dropped in North Africa where he is stationed for his next mission. Working alongside French Resistance fighter Marianne Beausejour (Marion Cotillard), Max tries to finish this deadly mission behind enemy lines still alive, which also means that he’ll have to fend-off any sort of sexual feelings for his fellow spy. However, that doesn’t quite happen; somehow, the two end up getting together, sharing relations and now, a whole lot more serious than either of them ever expected in the first place. Now, reunited in London, their relationship is put to the ultimate test when it comes out that Max may not know everything there is to know about Marianne and is pressured to choose love, or his country.

Believe it or not, Allied is directed by Robert Zemeckis and written by Stephen Knight. I say, “believe it or not”, because it’s simply an odd combination; Knight is known for his dark, sometimes heavy tales of violence and betrayal, where Zemeckis, well, isn’t. Hell, if anything, he’s been more well-known as of late for letting CGI and today’s technology get the best of him a tad too much. Sure, for a director who has been working for as long as he has, to dabble so much with CGI, special effects, and motion-capture, is admirable, but it doesn’t always mean that his movies, in and of themselves, are all that terrific.

Who said gals can't shoot?

Who said gals can’t shoot?

Which is why Allied still isn’t terrific, but also may be the right step in the direction for Zemeckis to come back down to Earth and to make solid, well-told and simple human tales, without so much computer-magic being used.

What works best about Allied is that Zemeckis approaches the material in a very slow, but melodic and dialed-down manner that helps allow for the story to develop over time, without just jumping to conclusions, or twists, or turns automatically. It’s actually a very simple and straightforward plot, and because of that, the movie doesn’t necessarily aim for the stars and try to be anything it’s not; it’s an old school, old-fashioned and above all else, relatively easygoing spy flick taking place in London during WWII. Knight deserves credit, too, for not making his story seem more important or overblown than it actually is – it’s literally a tale of two spies, falling in love, doing spy-stuff and possibly coming apart at the seams. What else is there to know?

That’s why Allied, above all else, is a refresher, especially in today’s Oscar-bait world we are currently going to be living in for the next month or so. It may flirt with the idea of being a really heavy, powerfully emotional tale about love, sex, betrayal, war, violence and death, but really, is just another spy movie in which someone has to be killed, or not. Zemeckis does clearly want for the story to be a romantic-tale, but none of that quite registers; Pitt and Cotillard have good chemistry, but the movie needed to focus more on them actually falling head-over-heels for one another, then just showing them having hot, sometimes sweaty sex and automatically assuming that that means they’re “in love”. It doesn’t quite work that way in real life, nor does it work here, which is why Zemeckis and Knight’s small, but noticeable attempts to try and make it at that, don’t really register.

Okay, maybe there's some CGI here.

Okay, maybe there’s some CGI here.

If anything, we really just want to see spies be spies, in WWII, of all times and places.

And that aspect of the movie definitely works. Allied has a slightly different take on WWII in that it wasn’t just a terrible time to live in, what with the constant death and heartbreak occurring almost everywhere you looked, but also a time in which people just had to live through. Because of this, we get a small, but interesting look at the lives that these characters create for themselves during this time, where it isn’t just sadness, tears and constant depression, but some small, fleeting moments of happiness. We see people have sex, drink, have picnics, go to bars, do cocaine, and yes, have even more sex. Why does any of this matter? I’m not quite sure, honestly, but it shows that maybe that there was more to the times of WWII than most of us care to know or focus on.

Still though, at Allied‘s heart, it’s a tale of two spies, falling in and out of love, over a certain amount of time. And because the movie can be so intimate and focused, the performances can also seem so raw and gritty, which helps because Pitt and Cotillard are two of our finest actors working today and give it their all. Pitt gets the most spotlight and focus out of the two, with his character having to grappled with a lot of upsetting, conflicting emotions over a period of time and making us feel more for this person. We don’t really get to know much more about him other than that he’s a spy, is from Canada, and can speak French, but that’s sort of fine – the fact that he has no life, other than his spy one, actually makes his tale a whole lot sadder.

Same goes for Cotillard’s Marianne, who is a lot more mysterious and interesting to watch, only because the point of the movie is that we don’t know each and everything there is to know about her. Cotillard has a lot of fun here as the sexy and seductive spy that may be up to no good, but may also just be playing a role to get the mission done – we never know each and everything there is to know about her, and because of this, it’s hard to not want to see more of her. Had the movie been a lot less focused on its plot and a whole lot more attentive to its character, we probably would have gotten more of Cotillard, doing what she does best, but I guess this is what we get.

It’s not bad, just could have been a whole lot better, obviously.

Consensus: With enough focus placed on its two great leads, Allied gets by on being a compelling spy tale that could have been far better, but keeps its aim so low that it’s fine enough as is.

7 / 10

Can't see why Angie was so threatened.

Can’t see why Angie was so threatened.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Dick Tracy (1990)

What a Dick that guy is.

Dick Tracy (Warren Beatty) is the type of detective all men of the law aspire to be. He’s charming, smart, inspired, always on the good side, gets whatever lady he wants, and always finds a way to catch the baddies before they cause anymore harm in the world. But he might just have met his match with “Big Boy” Caprice (Al Pacino). Caprice has practically taken over the crime world by himself, and made almost every sort of illegal activity occur. With Tracy on his tale, though, times may change for Caprice.

I’ve never fully understood why this thing didn’t become a series of movies rather than just a movie that seemed to promise one. Apparently, Beatty has been hyping one up for a long time and is still fighting producers and creators as to whether or not he still owns the name/title Dick Tracy. Who knows? Maybe 26 years later ain’t too late?

Regardless, Dick Tracy came to us back in the day when comic book movies used to not be so serious and dark, and instead were just goofy, campy, and over-the-top. However, they were also knowing about it so it wasn’t just a strange movie from start-to-finish, it had reasoning for being so silly. That’s the smart approach Beatty thankfully takes here and is one of the key aspects to Dick Tracy being more than just another conventional comic book flick.

"Go fish."

“Go fish.”

Cause we’ve got way too much of that now.

It all starts as soon as we’re introduced to the character of Tracy, what he does, how he does it, and where he does it. He gets a call on his watch about somebody missing, leaves the play he is at with his gal, comes back five minutes later after scoping the scene out, and acts all natural and cool. If that doesn’t at least have you chuckle, then don’t even bother with this movie because that’s all there is here. Just goofiness, through and through, and that’s what keeps it relatively fun.

The only time the movie does seem to lose its sense of “fun”, is when it decides to focus its story on so many other elements that weren’t needed. Throughout the whole movie, we get to see Tracy’s miniature-sized side-kick, “The Kid”, pal around, hang out, and help Tracy solve crimes. The only problem is that he’s an orphan and orphans are supposed to be thrown into the orphanage as if they were garbage. Most of the movie concerns whether or not Tracy will end up falling for the tricks and keeping Kid, or getting rid of him and doing what the law says. It’s a dilemma that we’re supposed to care about, but just don’t. Kid is actually sort of annoying because all he does is yell, scream, and shout that there is some crime needing to be stopped. He’s a joyful, little lad, but it got annoying, real quick. And yes, is having “the Kid” loyal to the comics? Of course, but sometimes, it just doesn’t work.

But as the film goes on, it continues to entertain but bore at the same time. It’s very confusing actually because you never know what type of film Beatty is trying to go for. You know he’s trying to make a wacky, wild romp that’s based on some nutty source-material, but he never quite goes all out. Certain parts of Dick Tracy are really silly and weird and seem like the perfect fit for the kind of over-the-top, wild romp that comic books seem to promise. But then, there’s a bunch of subplots that continue to complicate the story and make it seem like we’re supposed to be caring about this more than we actually are.

After all, what everyone comes to Dick Tracy for, in the first place, is to have a little bit of fun. Take that away and what the hell is the point?

The ladies love Dick.

The ladies love Dick.

Thankfully, the cast always keeps things together. Despite being nearly 53 at the time and initially seeming like an odd fit, Beatty works well as Dick Tracy. There’s always been something about Beatty’s cool, calm and breezy charm, that makes you trust and like the guy, but also never feels like he’s macho-posing for the hell of it. It works for the character and makes Tracy seem like a good guy. Granted, in a time where superheros reign supreme and show up almost every, single summer, it’s a bit unexciting to get a superhero that just shoots a Tommy Gun and figures out predicaments pretty easily, but it’s simple. You don’t need a superhero that has some sort of inner-problems going on with his life, or something taking away what he can and cannot do with his special talents. You just need a guy that does right for the world he loves, does whatever he can, continues to fight until no more, and leave it at that.

Simplicity at its finest, folks.

But really, it’s Al Pacino who walks away with this all here. As “Big Boy” Caprice, Pacino spends literally each and every scene yelling and acting way over-the-top. But, it works. Pacino loves to scream and shout himself through a role, but while that can sometimes feel unnecessary in mostly everything he does, here, it works for the whole movie. The tone, whenever it’s focusing on him, is played for laughs, so we never need to take him seriously. Pacino’s in this crazy, little pulpy world that doesn’t care how much he screams, or how loud it is – it just cares how much fun he’s having.

Everybody else in this movie deserves a pat on the back for the same thing as well, even if they only show up for a good couple of minutes. James Caan is here for five seconds to look cool, mobster-ish, and intimidating, only to walk off and get blown-up by a secret car bomb; Paul Sorvino shows up in tons and tons of make-up, only to be betrayed and thrown in a tub of concrete underneath the ground; the late, great Charles Durning is playing a cop that Tracy can trust no matter what; and last, but sure as hell not least is Dustin Hoffman as Mumbles, who does exactly that. It’s funny to see, especially because you know Hoffman is enjoying himself while doing so. Oh and Madonna is quite the sexy, fiery presence that the movie oh so promised on in all of its advertisements, proving that she could definitely act, given the right material to play around with.

Consensus: Beatty’s direction may be too all-over-the-place for such goofy material as Dick Tracy to make it work wonders, but it always stays fun, light, goofy, and knowingly over-the-top, without ever making apologies for being so. It’s just pure, unadulterated fun.

7 / 10

All these gangsters and no pasta?!? What the hell?!?

All these gangsters and no pasta?!? What the hell?!?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Den of Geek

The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

Growing up blows. But hey, drinking in bars is pretty cool, right?

Growing up, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld) didn’t always have the best time. She was a casually awkward girl, who couldn’t quite make friends, hit puberty at a weird time in her life, and most importantly, lost her beloved father while she was in the car with him. Now, at 17, Nadine has hit peak awkwardness when her older brother Darian (Blake Jenner) starts dating her best friend Krista (Haley Lu Richardson). It’s obviously a weird and downright terrible situation for Nadine, who has gotten so comfortable just hanging around with Krista. Now, she feels alone and in desperate need to find some way to take up her time; she tries to get in with Darian and Krista’s friends, but just can’t talk or relate to any of them. Most of her time, to be honest, is spent bothering and ranting to her English teacher (Woody Harrelson), who clearly has a lot better things to do then just sit around and listen to a teenager whine about how life gets her down. But now Nadine thinks she may have found an outlet for her sadness through thoughtful teen Erwin Kim (Hayden Szeto), who not only gives her a glimmer of hope with her dating life, but also shows that she’s not the most awkward teen in the area.

Come on. Who hasn't tried to look like Pedro at least once in their life?

Come on. Who hasn’t tried to look like Pedro at least once in their life?

The Edge of Seventeen, on paper and through all of the countless ads, trailers and posters, seems like nothing more than your average, run-of-the-mill, downright nauseating teen-comedy that goes for the raunchy laughs and false modesty that could have only been written by a bunch of people who never knew what it was like to grow up in high school, or be socially awkward, and are trying so desperately hard to connect with “the kids”. And no, after having seen the movie, I can’t say that I’m far off from my expectations, either. Except yes, I totally am.

See, the Edge of Seventeen is a pretty run-of-the-mill, conventional teen-comedy, but there’s more to it than that. For one, it’s written and directed by Kelly Fremon Craig who is, for one, a woman, and a very talented writer, at that. She seems to know just how it is that kids talk and get along with one another; they’re awkward, weird, sometimes funny, and always trying to impress one another. Watching a casual conversation between two characters in the Edge of Seventeen is not only sweetly nostalgic, but downright cringe-inducing because, well, this is what it’s like to grow up.

While Craig has created this character of Nadine to help channel out all of the angst and embarrassment from her younger years, the feelings of coming-of-age and growing up are universal; that point you get at in your life and in high school when you don’t quite know what you want to do yet, who your friends are, or even who the heck you really are. So instead of sitting down and taking a long, hard thinking-session about it, you just decide to play video-games, watch TV, or go on the internet. It’s typical kids stuff that, while watching the Edge of Seventeen, I myself couldn’t help but relate to.

But of course, there is something of a story to the Edge of Seventeen and while it’s not perfect, it still feels honest and raw, something that’s missing from a lot of other teen-comedies.

In a way, it’s refreshing to hear teenagers cuss and talk about sex without a single care in the world. But it’s also more refreshing to hear actors that know how to deliver it all. As Nadine, Hailee Steinfeld has a lot to do and comes out on top; her character doesn’t always make the best decisions, say the smartest things, or even act rationally, but there’s always this sense that, yes, she is a kid and yes, she may eventually figure it all out. Either way, we see a lot to her character that makes her sweet and bubbly, yet at the same time, raw and vulnerable. It’s the kind of performance we don’t see in teen-comedies and it’s also a greater example of why Steinfeld’s one of our best young actresses out there working today.

Tuesdays with Woody.

Tuesdays with Woody.

She’s not the only one who gets away with the whole movie, however. Blake Jenner is good as her older brother, who shows that there’s a little more heart and compassion to his jock-y ways; Haley Lu Richardson plays her sketchy bestie-turned-mortal-enemy and tries to remain sympathetic, even if it’s hard not to hate her character; Kyra Sedgwick may not get a whole lot to do with the mom role, but makes the best of what she can; Hayden Szeto, despite being nearly eleven years older than Steinfeld, still has great chemistry with her and feels believable as a fellow awkward kid who has a better head on his shoulders, but still doesn’t quite got it all figured out yet; and Woody Harrelson, in what could have been a very thankless role as the sometimes inspirational teacher, brings heart, warmth, and humor, sometimes coming close to stealing the show.

But where the Edge of Seventeen ends is that it does have a tad too much of a happy/sappy ending that, unfortunately, doesn’t quite ring true.

Without saying too much, there’s this feeling that we’re supposed to be left with of having this idea that life is going to get better. However, a part of me is curious just how this is? Life, for Nadine at least, will continue to get more and more awkward, with sex coming into the picture, more drinking, and possibly drugs. Oh and yeah, what about her brother and her best friend shacking up? The movie seems to bring all this up, only to then try and tie it all up in a neat, little bow by the end of the hour-and-a-half and sure, it’s an enjoyable ride, but for some reason, it feels like there’s a much bleaker, much more realistic ending waiting somewhere out in the distance.

Who knows, maybe I’ll just have to wait for the Edge of Twenty-One.

Now that’s going to be awkward.

Consensus: Funny, touching and well-acted, the Edge of Seventeen may cop-out by the end, but altogether, still feels like a raw, sometimes painful-to-watch teen-comedy that has bite and something to say.

7 / 10

I know, right? Awkward!

I know, right? Awkward!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Black Book (2006)

Lord. The Holocaust was messed-up.

After just barely escaping her death, young Rachel Rosenthal (Carice van Houten) goes on the run from the Nazis during WWII and soon realizes that it’s a whole heck of a lot harder to stay alive when literally everyone you know is either dead, or missing. That’s why Rachel decides that it’s best on her to become a part of the Jewish resistance and going undercover, assuming the name Ellis de Vries. One of her first and perhaps, most important mission, is to seduce a Gestapo officer named Ludwig (Sebastian Koch), someone who is dangerous and possibly maniacal, as most Nazis at that time were. While Rachel/Ellis is perfectly fine with carrying out the mission, taking down the Nazis and assuring that no more Jews are wrongfully killed, she also can’t help but bring herself to feel a little something for Ludwig who, over time, turns out to be a whole lot sweeter and kinder than she ever expected. Now, Rachel/Ellis is left to think fast about what she wants to do: Either accept the Nazi and not kill him, therefore, risking the Resistance’s plan, or taking him out and achieving what she and the Resistance wanted?

Tell those Nazis, gals!

Tell those Nazis, gals!

Everyone knows by now that when you get a Paul Verhoeven movie, you’ve got to expect the trashiest, craziest and wildest movie around. It doesn’t mean that the movie itself has to be good (see Showgirls), but what it does mean is that you’re going to get a movie that knows what it is, doesn’t make excuses for itself, and may, or may not, possibly offend you. If it doesn’t, then there’s surely something wrong with you.

That’s why a tale about the Holocaust, coming directly from the likes of Paul Verhoeven, already calls on controversy before the first scene is even shot. And honestly, that’s where some of the genius comes from with Verhoeven – he isn’t afraid to do what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants, regardless of what those around him may feel, or think is “politically correct”. It also helps that Black Book, for better or for worse, is a pretty fun and wacky Holocaust tale that probably didn’t even have to take place during WWII, or deal with Nazis and Jews; it could have literally been a movie about gangsters or cowboys for all we know.

However, Verhoeven sticks with the WWII-setting and well, it works.

Verhoeven doesn’t settle down one bit with this material and that’s where some of the real fun and joy with Black Book comes from. While movies like Basic Instinct and Showgirls love to take their time and harp on the fact that there’s some sort of story being told and built-up to, when in reality, they’re really not, Black Book shows Verhoeven at his absolute peak – never slowing down, pinpointing every plot development, and just always moving. In a way, it’s very fun to watch, but it can also be a bit tiresome; so much moving and running about, for nearly two-and-a-half-hours can really wear a person down, regardless of how many energy drinks are involved.

That said, I’ll take a quick and fun movie, over a slow, brooding and boring one, which is why Black Book works. Verhoeven doesn’t feel the need to settle, or appease anyone, but instead, just tell this movie with as many twists and turns as humanly imaginable. Sure, there’s probably a few too many, but the movie doesn’t really seem to rely too much on whether or not you believe in them – it more or less depends on being able to follow along with the constant action, lies, deception, and lies that take up the whole, entire movie. If you’re able to do that, then yeah, Black Book is a good time.

Cheer up, Nazis. There's more to life than exterminating Jews!

Cheer up, Nazis. There’s more to life than exterminating Jews!

And if not, then well, I don’t know what to tell you. Watch something else.

Where Verhoeven gets most of his criticism from is how he handles his female characters and the actresses in said roles. For one, he isn’t particularly nice to them; every time it seems like he’s got another lethal, smart and conniving femme fatale, he’s always got another dumb female character, making silly mistakes and always letting her emotions get the best of her. With Carice van Houten’s Rachel/Ellis, I’m torn – on one hand, I believe that she’s the heart and soul of the movie, but at the same time, Verhoeven does sort of treat her like garbage. She’s constantly yelling, running about and making silly mistakes, but at other times, she’s doing quite the opposite.

It’s a weird mish-mash of aspects to her character that don’t always gel together well, which makes van Houten’s performance all the better; she’s more than willing to stand up to Verhoeven’s sometimes crazy style and go with whatever pace he needs her to. Same goes for just about everyone else around her. Sebastain Koch is good in a role that, unsurprisingly, caused a lot of controversy for playing a Nazi with a heart of gold, which is odd, but hey, it actually works for a Verhoeven movie.

Consensus: For all of its twists, turns and craziness, Black Book is quite fun and exciting, even if, at times, it can feel like too many wheels are spinning at one time.

7 / 10

Even Nazis need a little sing-a-long.

Even Nazis need a little sing-a-long.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Bleecker Street

Loving (2016)

Love the one you’re with. Screw the haters.

It’s 1958 in Central Point, Virginia and Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga) fall in love with one another, are having a child together and you know what? They decide that they want to get married. However, because she’s black and he’s white, they’re not allowed to get married in their own home state, so they decide to drive all the way to Washington and get hitched the right way. When they get back to their hometown, not only do they realize that almost everyone in the town knows about their marriage, but they’re not quite happy about it, either. Most importantly, though, it’s law enforcement who wants both of them out of their town and somehow, find a way to make that happen. So now, Mildred and Richard are forced to move to Washington, D.C., away from the rest of their family and feeling more ostracized than ever before, until they realize that what’s happened to them, above all else, isn’t right and sure as hell isn’t legal. So they band together, pick up a lawyer (Nick Kroll) and decide to take their case to the Supreme Court, against all odds and with some sort of sliver of hope that they’ll be able to stay married and get back to their families, once and for all, like they have the right to.

Love is someone you can literally lean on.

Love is someone you can literally lean on.

Although he’s one of the far more interesting and compelling voices in film today, writer/director Jeff Nichols still found a way to disappoint the hell out of me with Midnight Special. Sure, it was an ambitious change for him and to be fair, the first two-thirds of it are probably great, but man oh man, that final-act and twist? Yeah, just didn’t work for me and felt like maybe, just possibly maybe, Nichols got a bit too ahead of himself and stretched out further than he could go.

But now, over eight months later, and Nichols has got another movie, which in ways, is still a bit of a change for him – a true, fact-based tale about Mildred and Richard Loving. It’s a tale that deserves to be told with absolute tender, love, care and integrity, which is everything that Nichols brings to the material; he’s very much in his wheelhouse of giving us small details about these characters and their lives, without ever seeming like he’s overdoing it or trying to get at something. If anything, he’s just telling a story of two people, who fell in love, got married and for some reason or another, weren’t allowed to.

In a way, it’s a change for Nichols, but it’s also very much what we’ve seen from him before.

And because of that, Loving works in small, glorious ways. Nichols is a smart writer and director in that he knows how these “based on a true story” movies can go – over-the-top, melodramatic, corny – and opts out for the exact opposite. Instead of going overboard with the raw and powerful emotions, he downplays everything, as if we aren’t just watching a movie happen in front of our very own eyes, but life itself. It works, in that it makes us feel closer to the Loving’s than ever before and also helps make us feel more and more for their situation, as if that wasn’t hard to do in the first place.

It also helps that both Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are quite great in their roles, showing off a great deal of sincerity, even when they’re trying so hard to bottle-up all of their feelings and emotions. It’s interesting that the movie paints the them as two separate people who feel differently about the situation that they’ve unfortunately been thrown into; she’s all about the spotlight and believes that the more eyes on the case, the better, while he just wants to be left alone, stay quiet, and sit in the corner, unseen or unheard. It’s an interesting contrast that does wonders for their performances, especially Negga who’s smile and pure beauty lights up any room that she pops up in here.

Love is someone you can get locked-up with.

Love is someone you can get locked-up with.

Then again though, the movie does drop the ball on actually making us feel something for their love and their passion, which was, above all else, the most important aspect. Due to Nichols having to focus on so many other aspects of the story (the court case, the racial prejudices, the other family-members drama), it’s hard not to realize that the Loving’s themselves sort of get shoved away to the side, in that we never quite feel their love, their passion, or their fight for one another. They sort of just dance a little bit, kiss a lot, have babies, hold hands, and yeah, that’s about it.

If that’s true, inspired love, then hey, maybe I’m missing something. But either way, if you’re going to make a movie about a married-couple who love one another so damn much, that they’re willing to beat the odds and take on the man, to ensure that they have those God-given rights, then why not allow for us to feel that said romance?

Either way, Edgerton and Negga always stay good and compelling, regardless of the shortcomings of the script.

Same goes for the supporting cast who are all fine, with the exception of maybe one. It’s hard not to mention Nick Kroll when you’re speaking about Loving, because, as much as I hate to say it, he does stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a bit of inspired casting to have Kroll play the Civil Rights lawyer who does eventually pick up the Loving’s case, but it also doesn’t help that Kroll, for some reason or another, decided to play this character as a fun-loving, somewhat chirpy dude from the 50’s who talks as if he was a deleted scene from Fargo. It’s weird, too, because I’ve seen Kroll really do some great work with dramatic-material, but here, he just doesn’t fit in, especially when you have the likes of Bill Camp, Michael Shannon, and Martin Csokas, and others, showing up and putting in great work.

Consensus: While imperfect, Loving is still a sign that Jeff Nichols is back on the track to telling small, character-driven stories about love, romance and happiness, even without ever seeming preachy or melodramatic, given the true story-aspect.

7.5 / 10

Love is someone who, once again, you can actually lean on. Man, be independent!

Love is someone who, once again, you can actually lean on. Man, be independent!

Photos Courtesy of:Indiewire

Lust, Caution (2007)

Love works in mysterious, dastardly ways.

During World War II, Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei) is just another young, ambitious and politically-aware college grad looking to make something of her smart mind. Eventually, through meeting up with old friends, she becomes something of a secret agent who is planning to take down the government, or in some ways, just rebel and get her causes voice out there, heard loud and clear for the rest of the world. One of her first and perhaps, most important missions of them all, is to seduce and even assassinate an corrupt political official Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), who also works for the Japanese puppet government in Shanghai. While Wong is initially thrown off by the mission and thinking that she’s not quite capable of getting the job done, she sticks with it, believing that it must be done. However, as time goes on, she starts to find herself falling for the sometimes sad Mr. Yee – a move that may cost her, as well as her fellow rebels, their lives.

This could be us, but we watch Ang Lee movies.

This could be us, but we watch Ang Lee movies.

Lust, Caution is perhaps most notorious and controversial for its explicit sex scenes that, unsurprisingly, led to the MPAA giving it the dreaded NC-17 rating. And to speak of those sex scenes, well, yeah, they’re quite explicit, but most importantly, they matter. In a story chock full of lies, deceit, death, violence, and corruption, the one aspect that really speaks volumes is the actual sex itself; it’s graphic, in-your-face and barely leaves anything to the imagine, but it’s also kind of beautiful, too.

In fact, “beauty” could definitely be said for the movie as a whole.

Surely, this isn’t much of a surprise coming from Lee, who’s definitely been known for his movies to have an eye for the exquisite details in the certain ways his movies look. And it helps – the movie literally transports us all the way to Japanese-occupied Shanghai during World War II, and never seems phony, fake, or as if any of it took place on a major, Hollywood studio. There’s an air of authenticity that works for the movie and also makes us feel like we’re watching more than just another sick and twisted tale of love and murder, but more or less, a sincere look at a love story in the first place.

Lee is no slouch when it comes to the look of his movies, but at the same time, he also doesn’t back down from giving his characters the best work to deal with and because of that, the two leading performances from Tang Wei and Tony Leung are quite great. Wei’s especially great as she starts off as this young, naive and rather silly college school girl, who is still trying to make sense of her life and what she wants to do with it, yet, gets wrapped up in a situation where she has to act and be an adult, real quick, or else. It’s a transformative performance that shows her range and helps makes us feel more and more for her character, as we always know that she’s doing the right thing, but also question her motives, or better yet, how far and willing she is able to keep up with this mission, even when she knows that it can’t end on any sort of good note.

Yeah, I bet we can all predict what's happening here. Scandalous!

Yeah, I bet we can all predict what’s happening here. Scandalous!

Tony Leung is also quite great in the lead role as Mr. Yee, because he never seems like a true-and-tried villain. Sure, he’s definitely got despicable qualities to him, but the movie doesn’t just make him this one-note villain, who can’t wait to kill or screw anything that walks in his way; believe it or not, he actually is a human being, who has feelings, thoughts and ideas, which in ways, makes him all the more terrifying to watch. The movie may want him to be a villain, but Leung can’t help from making this man somewhat sympathetic, even in the slightest regards.

The only aspect about Lust, Caution that truly keeps it away from being another Ang Lee classic, is its length.

At a little over two-and-a-half hours, the movie more than wears out its welcome, as it is, yes, a little slow and even, at times, meandering. As hard as Lee may try to spice things up with sex, violence and lies, there’s still this never ending feeling that the movie is going to continue to go on and on, even when it should be wrapping itself up. And this isn’t to say that there isn’t anything wrong with long movies, so long as they give us a reason to understand why they’re so long in the first place – Kenneth Branagh’s four-hour version of Hamlet comes to mind, as it’s perhaps the most condensed version of that play and still feels necessary – but for some reason, Lust, Caution never makes a reason for it. Sure, there’s a lot of killing, sex, twists, turns and nudity to be had, but for how long and why?

The movie does eventually give us that answer, but unfortunately, it takes maybe way too long to get to it.

Consensus: With a certain eye for beauty, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution is a sensual, well-acted, and rather tense thriller that may also be too long for its own good.

7.5 / 10

Love is so suffocating sometimes.

Love is so suffocating sometimes.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert, Focus Features, Drama Fever