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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 7-7.5/10

Lovesong (2017)

You don’t know who your real besties are until you, well, bang ’em.

Sarah (Riley Keough) takes an impromptu road trip with her toddler daughter and her best friend Mindy (Jena Malone). After all, she and her husband haven’t been together for quite some time and not only does she feel a bit lonely and in desperate need of some companionship, but also to remember the good old days she had with Mindy. And for Mindy, it seems to be the same. However, the trip ends rather odd; there’s kissing, touching, hugging, and possibly even love-making. But for some odd reason, it’s hardly ever spoken of afterwards. Mindy leaves Sarah, takes the bus and is, essentially, off to live the rest of her life. Three years later, Mindy invites Sarah to be apart of her bridesmaids for her wedding. While Sarah is shocked she never heard much about the guy she’s marrying in the first place, she’s just happy to be remembered and part of this moment in Mindy’s life, even if there is still obviously some unspoken-stuff going on between them.

Uh oh. There’s that jealousy!

Lovesong is probably the kind of movie that pisses a lot of people off, especially those who already have a problem with indie/arthouse flicks. See, it’s not that it’s necessarily a very plot-heavy movie, that even features all that much direction; for the longest time, it literally seems like we’re just following these characters, without much of a rhyme, or reason why. Hell, there’s even long stretches of total and absolute silence, where the two characters are literally just staring at each other, or at somewhere into space and it makes you think if anyone’s going to say something, or even do anything.

But you know what? There’s something compelling in that and it’s why Lovesong is a nice little indie/arthouse flick, yes, made specifically with that audience in-mind, but is also a solid tale for the common, everyday movie-goer, too. Especially if those common, everyday movie-goers actually appreciate a movie that doesn’t spell each and everything out, nor does it seem to follow any sort of conventional/formulaic plot.

In a way, Lovesong moves the way it pleases and for that, it’s interesting to watch.

Co-writer/director So Yong Kim is smart in that she allows the story to play-out, without much of a push on her part, but by just solely depending on the writing and acting to all come together. It does, and it’s quite nice to see, what with the bulk of the movie being Jena Malone and Riley Keough, two of our finest actresses working today, clearly choking on words and biting their tongues, looking for certain things to say. What they want to say, what’s on their mind, and better yet, what they expect to come of all these words, honestly, is all up in the air. It’s sort of like real life: You don’t know what a person is going to say, or do, by something you do, or say, so sometimes, you have to just go out there and give it a shot, see what happens next. Or, yeah, just sit around, stare into that person’s eyes, and basically torture them to start speaking first.

Oh man. That awkward feeling of having to be friends with your friends’ friends who you don’t actually know.

Either way, Lovesong works both as a tale of friendship that may be a bit more than just two gals palling around, but also as a tale of two actual friends who, after all of this lost time, get back together and realize that maybe they’re closer than ever before. Whichever you choose to view the movie, Lovesong still works; in a way, it’s a universal tale, told very well, that can work for both gay, as well as straight audiences, and doesn’t feel like a certain group is excluded out of the feelings.

In other words, it’s a sweet and sad movie, but it may be able to make anyone cry. It doesn’t matter.

And yes, Keough and Malone are to be applauded for that because they’re both amazing here, showing off a more sensitive side to their appearances. Keough is especially impressive, playing this rather depressed girl who doesn’t quite know what she wants in terms of a sexual partner, but knows that she just wants to be happy and appreciate some form of life. It’s a subtle performance from an actress who has shown some very dark and scary edges to her as of late and it’s a true sign that she’s the real deal. Malone is also great, giving us a character that may seem a tad unsympathetic, due to the actions she commits throughout, but hey, don’t all humans screw up?

Especially your best friends?

Consensus: Sweet, small, and rather melancholy, Lovesong is a heartfelt tale of actual love and possible romance, but also allows for Malone and Keough to rise above the already-solid material.

7.5 / 10

It’s love, right? So cheer up a bit.

Photos Courtesy of: Strand Releasing

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Alien: Covenant (2017)

It’s basically Jason X, but in space. Oh, wait. Jason X was in space. Never mind. So basically, it’s Jason X.

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy so that they can continue on with the human race, but this time, elsewhere, members aboard of the colony ship, Covenant, seem to be going just fine. However, disaster strikes when they’re ship is hit, killing the Captain (James Franco), leaving a new one to take his place (Billy Crudup). The odd thing about this Captain, however, is that he believes a little too much in faith, which makes him a bit detested by the rest of the crew, which would be fine and all normally, but makes their situation all the more heated when they discover a new planet. Rather than just continuing on with their journey, they decide to check out what this new planet is all about and believe it or not, it’s not exactly what they expected. Instead, it’s the planet where the dreaded Prometheus expedition crash-landed all of those years ago, and still harbors David (Michael Fassbender), the scariest robot around who is still, somehow, on and being creepy.

Tell me, could you hate a face like that?

The fact that Covenant is better than Prometheus, may not be saying much. The later is a flawed movie that, yes, while brimming with all sorts of ambitious ideas and themes about life, faith and science, also didn’t have much a plot, and even worse, lame characters. It was a sight to see on the big screen, but also felt like a hollow experience, made all the more disappointing by the fact that it was done by Ridley Scott, aka, the dude who kick-started the whole Alien franchise in the first place.

But now, Scott seems to be back in his comfort-zone with Covenant, the kind of Alien movie you’d expect an Alien movie to be. It’s tense, exciting, silly, scary, gory, and at times, pretty wild, but at the same time, also feels like every other horror movie we’ve ever seen done before, where instead of Freddy, or Jason, or hell, Leatherface, we’ve got a bunch of aliens, running around and taking people that we don’t care about, off one-by-one. Now, is that disappointing, too? Or, is it just something to expect?

Either way, Covenant can be a good movie to watch, for quite some time, because like Prometheus, it’s clear that a lot of attention and detail was put into how slick and cool the movie looked. But unlike Prometheus, it has some characters to care about (sort of), and most of all, a plot that’s easy to fall in-line with. Sure, it’s formulaic and a little conventional, with all sorts of exposition flying left-and-right, but it’s less of a metaphysical experiment than Prometheus was so, once again, it’s better.

But still, a tad bit disappointing. I don’t know why, either.

Not Ripley, but still has an odd hair-do. For some reason.

Because honestly, Scott does a solid job here. He knows how to racket up the tension, he knows how to take advantage of an A-list cast, and most importantly, he knows how to still shock and surprise us, but still, there’s a feeling had with the movie that’s all the same beats hit, again and again, time after time, and now, it seems like it’s just running out of ideas. Then again, maybe it’s not; Covenant does set itself up as a sequel, but also shows us that there’s a much larger, much grander universe out there, just waiting to be explored with more and more movies to follow.

So in a way, Covenant is like a refresher-course for those who were worried of the Alien franchise blowing and not having any reason for its return. Scott seems to have a genuine interest in where these stories can go and eventually, lead to, even if it seems like he’s taking his good old time, taking an opportunity to give us another trapped-in-space-by-aliens-tale, rather than, you know, exploring more and more.

Then again, it’s entertaining. it’s hard to have an issue with a movie when it’s doing that.

Even though, yes, it is a bit frustrating to watch such a talented and awesome ensemble, essentially, be left to just spout out a bunch of sci-fi gibberish, when they aren’t giving us frightened and freaked-out reaction-shots, but hey, it’s nice to have them around, right? The one who gets away the most is Michael Fassbender playing, get this, dual roles as one robot, and another one. But there’s a key difference in the way the two are – David is a cool, sophisticated robot with personality, whereas the new one, Walter, is much more advanced in that he doesn’t think for himself and is, basically, as dull as a doorknob. It works for Fassbender who has fun, both as a the square-edged dork, as well as the charmingly freaky David, and makes his scenes, genuinely intriguing, because you never know where they’re going to go, or lead to.

Something this movie needed more of, but once again, was still entertaining.

Consensus: While not necessarily a game-changer for the franchise, Covenant is still a fun, intense and rather exciting entry that showcases Scott doing what he does best, even if there is some disappointment in him not trying a bit more of something, well, new.

7.5 / 10

Everyone’s waiting, Ridley. Now kill ’em!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Lost Highway (1997)

Sometimes, you’ve just got to get off the road. Like, way off the road.

Cool and happenin’ jazz musician Fred (Bill Pullman) lives a pretty fine life with his lovely wife (Patricia Arquette). But for some reason, he constantly keeps on thinking that she’s having an affair, driving him to go a little bit nuts in the head. However, he is shocked when he discovers that she’s dead and is being framed for it all, without he himself knowing whether or not he actually did it. Meanwhile, I think, there’s a young mechanic named Pete (Balthazar Getty) who is suddenly drawn into a web of deceit by a temptress (Patricia Arquette) who is cheating on her gangster boyfriend (Robert Loggia). Are these two tales linked? And if so, by what?

Uh. I’ll take my chances at a Motel 6.

Lost Highway is, no surprise, another one of David Lynch’s mind-benders that probably takes more time to watch and decipher it, again and again, than is probably necessary. However, there’s also some fun to be had in that, what with the movie not forgetting to constantly throw small hints, clues and little bits and pieces at us that may or may not tell us the whole story, or may just lead us down a path towards more darkness and confusion than ever before. Then again, there’s some fun to be had in that, especially when Lynch himself seems to know of the maze he’s taking us on, rather making stuff as he goes along, as he can often sometimes seem to do.

And in Lost Highway, there’s some fun to be had, but also some annoyance, too. In a way, it’s hard to really pin-point what it is about this movie works and what doesn’t, as much as it’s easy to say what’s hitting its mark the way it’s intended to, and what isn’t. For Lynch here, it seems like he’s got the mood down perfectly; there’s a creepy air of neo-noir mystery, coldness, and darkness that actually makes it more interesting to watch, despite the slow pace and sometimes meandering story. But Lynch clearly put a lot of effort into the way the movie look, felt and sounded, with all aspects being top-notch and creating a very paranoid, sometimes eerie aura of danger lurking somewhere underneath, and it pays off.

Then, you get to the story and well, there’s a lot to be desired.

It’s not that Lynch made a mistake in telling these two different stories and demanding that we make the connection in our times, by ourselves, it’s just that they aren’t all that interesting to watch. Bill Pullman’s story has some interest-factor because of it seeming like an attack on the male-psyche, whereas Balthazar Getty’s seems to sort of go nowhere. It’s as if Lynch was so enchanted with Arquette in the first place, that he didn’t really care how much mileage he could get out of her – so long as she was willing to act in two, somewhat different roles, then so be it.

Like, is she even real?

And well, there’s not a problem with that, either, because Arquette is quite good in both roles, playing up her beauty and sweetness, as well as her possible viciousness and danger, too. Arquette’s dual roles, while showing her off as being both sleek and sexy, also give her a chance to fool around with the audience, not allowing us to know whether or not she’s a good person, a bad one, or even a person at all. After all, she could just be a figment of these two guys’ imaginations, as well as our owns. The movie doesn’t always make that clear and while it’s a solid job on Lynch’s part for keeping that guess up and about, it’s also a solid job on Arquette’s too for never losing our attention.

But it does deserve to be noted that Lost Highway, by a certain point, at least, does seem to have painted itself into a corner that it can’t get out of and when it’s all done, there’s a big question-mark left. While you can say that about practically every other Lynch flick, it feels more frustrating here, where it’s as if Lynch himself didn’t have the answers or conclusions, but instead, just wanted to take his good old time, going wherever he oh so pleased. Sure, that’s fine, mostly because it’s an entertaining and compelling watch, but sometimes, a little help here and there could definitely help.

Actually, I know they do. But hey, that’s why I am me and David Lynch is, thank heavens, David Lynch.

Consensus: Odd, creepy and downright freaky, Lost Highway highlights Lynch at his most subversive, but also shows that his knack for storytelling doesn’t always pan-out as well as he may intend.

7 / 10

Yeah, don’t ask.

Photos Courtesy of: Jay’s Analysis

The Measure of a Man (2016)

Globalization, am I right?

Thierry Taugourdeau (Vincent Lindon) is a 50-something Frenchman who, after many, many years, gets laid-off from his job. Now, not having many skills in the world and a family to provide for, he’s finding it harder and harder to get his foot in a door, let alone, actually get hired. After all, when you’re his age, without much of a school career, or experience in a certain type of specific field, then sorry, it doesn’t look too bright. Thankfully, many months go by and Thierry finally gets a job, but it’s as a security-guard for some supermarket. While it’s fine because it allows him to have some money in his pocket, it also puts him in some uncomfortable positions where he has to stop people from robbing the system – aka, the same system that’s been laying people off like him for the past few years or so and won’t stop. Eventually, he’s got to give up and realize that the system is crooked, right? Or should he just stand by, collect the dough, and run on home?

He’s sad, but interested.

The Measure of a Man is a smart movie in that it could have been a very preachy and agonizing movie about the slowly but surely depleting middle-class, the recession, the workforce, and most of all, how the government is constantly screwing over those who work their hardest, only to be replaced by someone younger and probably, far more inexperienced, but it’s not. Instead, it’s a very small, very short, and very slight little movie about one man trying to make a living in a world that is constantly moving and going into certain places that he doesn’t know if he can keep up with. It’s very simple stuff, of course, but co-writer and director Stephane Brize does a solid job of keeping us watching and waiting for this man’s life to unravel, because of all the tension he’s facing.

But once again, the movie’s much smarter than that – it doesn’t play by a sort of conventional formula, nor does it ever really seem to even have a plot. Mostly, we just sit around and watch as this guy gets fired, tries to get a job, go to class, get denied, get a job, and yeah, eventually, work it. But while that all may sound boring, it’s surprising how much of it isn’t; it’s like watching an all-too real and painful documentary that may help you realize that your upper-class, suburban life isn’t so bad after all.

See how these things work themselves out sometimes?

Okay, now he’s kind of pleased.

But really, it’s Vincent Lindon’s performance that remains the sole reason to see this movie and it’s the main reason why the Measure of a Man constantly stays interesting, even when it seems like it’s not going anywhere. Though he’s got plenty of say and is in every scene, it’s actually surprising how little Lindon actually speaks as Thierry. Most of his scenes either involve him staring off into space, looking sad, mad, or just thinking of something. Sure, he talks and yells, at one point, but for the most part, it’s a very quiet, subdued and subtle performance that remains interesting because there are so many different angles to this guy that it makes us want to watch him do more stuff, no matter what it is.

Sure, he’s the main character and perhaps, in a way, the only one that’s really worth remembering, but still, it’s a great performance nonetheless. The movie is definitely his for the taking, mostly because the plot is nonexistent, but that’s all fine, because Lindon knows how to make a scene of absolute silence, somewhat intense and off-putting.

Would it have been nice for the movie to get deeper and dirtier into what it really wanted to say about the business world? Of course, but when your lead actor’s this good, who cares?

Consensus: Even though there’s not much of a plot to follow, the Measure of a Man is a small, but interesting flick, anchored by a very good performance from Vincent Lindon.

7.5 / 10

And oh darn, he’s back to being sad again. Come on, Vincent!

Photos Courtesy of: Nord-Quest Productions

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

American

After the events of the original brought them all together, the Guardians of the Galaxy are back to doing what they do best: Ehrm, guard the, uhm, galaxy. Right? Anyway, things aren’t so different this time around with everyone – Quill (Chris Pratt) still loves himself and thinks everyone else does too; Gamora (Zoe Saldana) still can’t stand him, even though, deep down inside, she wants to maul him like a bear; Drax (Dave Bautista) is still saying uncomfortable things; Baby Groot (Vin Diesel) is, well, still being Groot, but just a baby; and Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), when he isn’t getting on everyone’s nerves, seems to be trying his hardest to prove himself as the best of the group. Basically, they’re still a rag-tag group of n’er do’wells who understand what they were put together to do, and while they don’t always get along, they like causing all sorts of havoc. And they get to do that, again, when they come face-to-face with a mysterious man named Ego (Kurt Russell) who, better yet, also happens to be Quill’s daddy. But yeah, there’s something off about him that just doesn’t sit right with the group and threatens to ruin them, as well as the galaxy, forever.

They’re Groot.

The first Guardians of the Galaxy was, honestly, one of the better Marvel movies to have come out in some time, for many reasons. One, it was just weird and so different, that yeah, it worked. It wasn’t trying to be like all of the other Marvel movies, it wasn’t trying to tie-in to anything, or anyone else, and it sure as hell wasn’t setting itself aside to make you feel pleased and as if you are a part of the joke. It was its own beast that, despite actually being a product of a huge, overly-budgeted conglomerate, felt like a bad-ass, smart, witty, and self-aware monster that wasn’t afraid to tell you where to shove it.

And some of that, unfortunately, seems to be gone with Vol. 2, however, it’s not nearly as soulless as you may think.

But such is the case with most big-budget, blockbuster sequels, everything that worked so well and felt fresh in the first, sadly, gets overdone here a bit too much. The humor, while still definitely funny, also feels like it hits some lame notes and is just forced for the sake of being humor; the character-stuff, while appreciated, often times feels meandering and as if it’s not deep enough as it likes to be; the plot, while simple and understandable in the first, sort of seems to be overly complicated and covered in exposition that, once again, doesn’t seem to go anywhere, or do much of anything; and oh yeah, the run-time. At a little under two-and-a-half-hours, Vol. 2 does feel long and it shouldn’t – it’s the kind of movie that should constantly zing and zag along, proving to be the most perfect diversion for anyone looking for some sort of action-adventure, pseudo-superhero fun.

And while it sort of is, the movie’s also very long and feels like there’s almost too much going on, without a clear end in sight. James Gunn is no doubt, a very talented writer and director, and is perfect for this material, but even he gets a tad bit carried away; the fact that there is literally five mid-credits sequences should already tell you enough about the length to which this movie goes on till and puts into itself. But then again, when you have a good product, is it a problem to go a little overboard?

In some cases, yes. And Vol. 2 is, as much as it pains me to say, one of those cases.

Then again, the movie’s still a good time, all things considered. It could have definitely done with some trimming in both the writing, the filming, and the editing department, but overall, it feels like a solid piece of its own pie that also, somehow, still exists in the Marvel universe. It still isn’t playing by any sort of pre-conceived rules and it still isn’t trying to please everyone, and for that, it deserves a whole heap of respect. That it’s also a very popular franchise in the first place and a clear money-maker for the already very wealthy Marvel, just goes to show you that there are people out there who will accept and reward creativity, even when that creativity is made for the billions and billions of people out there in the world to buy a ticket and see.

So yeah, Communism rules at the end of the day, right?

He’s Groot.

Anyway, Vol. 2 works well because, by now, we’ve gotten the origin-story out of the way and we can finally, thankfully, get to know who these characters are a bit more and dig in deep. While there’s some questionable character bits and pieces throughout, the bulk of them all work in helping us understand who these colorful cartoons actually are, identify with them a bit, sympathize with them, grow close to them, and oh yeah, also get a little worried and sad when their lives seem to be in danger.

Take, for instance, Michael Rooker’s Vondu who, in the first movie, was a stereotypical villain, with terrible-looking teeth, a mean, grizzled Southern accent, and oh yeah, Michael Rooker playing him. He seemed like a one-and-done kind of character, that would be easy window-dressing for the second, but somehow, he comes close to being the star of the show and with good reason; not only does he have something to offer, in terms of his meaning to the overall story, but he’s actually got a bigger heart and soul than you’d expect. I don’t just chalk this up to Gunn’s solid writing for him, but also Rooker playing to his strengths as an actor, where he’s able to be mean and dirty, but also kind of a softy once you get to know him.

Then again, what can’t Michael Rooker do nowadays? Seriously?

And he’s not just the only character who gets the spotlight a bit and watch it all pay-off. Everyone else from the first, as well as a few new inclusions, all get their time in the sun, and while it may originally seem like overkill, the final-act puts it all into perspective and makes us realize, oh wait, this is about everyone here. Not just Quill; not just Rocket; not just Baby Groot; not just Gamora; not just Drax; and definitely not just the Avengers – but everyone. Needless to say, there’s a final-act here that absolutely worked, as it not only brought tears to this cynical viewer’s eyes, but made me want to watch these characters more and not leave their sides.

They’re just too fun to be away from for so long.

Consensus: While the writing isn’t always there, Vol. 2 still works because of its fun, well-written and exciting characters, to go along with the beauty and excitement of the visuals and action.

7.5 / 10

Yup. We’re all Groot.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Before Night Falls (2000)

Us writers, and the wild lives we live.

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

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

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

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

Yup, totally gay.

Talk about style.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, he did not die from hypothermia.

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Grandview Pictures

Basquiat (1996)

Just cause you don’t get it, doesn’t mean it’s not “hip”.

Despite living a life of extreme poverty in Brooklyn, graffiti artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (Jeffrey Wright) ended up becoming one of the biggest and brightest names in art, during the 70’s and 80’s. He became the poster-boy for what would essentially be known as “neo-Expressionism” earning all types of praise, as well as money from those who wanted a little piece of his pie. It also helped him gain something of a wonderful and lovely friendship between him and Andy Warhol (David Bowie), who, at the end of his life, was looking to hang out with the hot young thing in the art world. However, Basquiat’s personal demons continued to haunt him throughout his whole life, whether it was his battle with racism, drug addiction, or staying loyal to his girlfriend (Claire Forlani), the art was always there to aid him. But was it ever enough? Judging by how his story ends, probably not.

There’s Courtney Love ruining another artist’s life.

Basquiat is a an interesting biopic because it isn’t what you’d expect a movie about an artist, directed by an artist, actually be like. Writer/director Julian Schnabel could have easily decked-out every inch of Basquiat with all sorts of watch-me, pretentious style-points and he probably would have been able to get away with it, too; artist biopics are probably the easiest where a director’s own creativity has no limits and allow for them to go as overboard as they want. Of course, there are the exceptions to the rule like Pollock and Basquiat, which makes them both very compelling to watch, if only because neither one loses sight of what the real story is about and, yes, that’s the artist themselves.

And in this case, Basquiat deals with a very sad and interesting figure that, for a solid portion of the movie, hardly does, or says anything – for a good portion of the running-time, Basquiat is seen being told what to do and going from one character to the next, occasionally having conversation, although mostly, just standing around and mumbling to himself. Sounds boring and like a true waste of having someone like Basquiat at your disposal, but it actually works in the movie’s favor – it gives us a better idea for who this person was, why his art mattered so much, and why the art-world, at the time and in the present day, isn’t all the love and hype it’s made out to be. It’s a pretty soulless and annoying world, where people constantly try to piggy-back off of the latest and greatest thing, even if they don’t really know what it all means.

So long as they have enough money to buy it, then who cares, right?

Clearly thinking about his future character-roles.

Although, that’s where Basquiat, the movie, does fumble a tad bit. It doesn’t quite know if it wants to be a small, understated character-study, a satire on the art-world, or this ensemble piece about said art-world, with all sorts of colorful and wild characters popping in and out. In a way, I sort of like all three of those movies, but together, they don’t always gel; the movie will actually forget about Basquiat at certain times, making it hard to wonder just who’s story this actually is.

It’s nice though to get the ensemble piece, because it allows for us to get a treat of the lovely and awesome ensemble here, what with some of the finest character actors of the day having an absolute ball. The likes of Gary Oldman, Dennis Hopper, Parker Posey, Benicio Del Toro, Claire Forlani, Courtney Love, and a stand-out Michael Wincott all get plenty of ample opportunities to bring something to the story and Basquiat’s life, but it’s really David Bowie who steals the whole show as an aging, late-in-life Andy Warhol. What’s interesting about this portrayal is that Bowie never overdoes the mannerisms that we all knew Warhol for; he’s soft-spoken and whiny, but never feels like he’s acting. In other words, Bowie inhabits every bit of Warhol and allows for us to see not just someone who’s still very funny, but also a little bit sad, trying to grab onto any sign of fame and fortune that he has left.

Once again, it just proves the kind of talent Bowie was.

And this isn’t to take anything away from Jeffrey Wright, either, as he does a fine job in the lead role. But like I said before, the movie does often get distracted by all of these colorfully wild and entertaining bit-players, most of whom steal the spotlight from Wright in the first place. There’s still a sweet, soft and hurt soul within Wright’s performance that makes it compelling, but you’d think that in a much more focused movie, he would have been able to do so much more. Still though, it did put Wright on the map and man, oh man, the guy has gone on to do some great stuff, so hey, can’t be all that upset about it.

Consensus: Well-acted and intimate, Basquiat is an interesting, heartfelt look at the life of the infamous artist, but also loses focus every so often, and makes us wonder what could have happened with a smaller cast.

7 / 10

I’d pay to watch a conversation between these two.

Photos Courtesy of: Alt Screen

Personal Shopper (2017)

Who ya gonna call? K-Stew? Really?

Maureen (Kristen Stewart) is a young twenty-something who’s still trying to find her place in the world, as well as stay healthy and above all else, wealthy. In Paris, she works as a personal shopper for a big-time celebrity, where she goes out and buys extravagant clothes, and often times, even getting the chance to try them on. Maureen loves it as it gives her a reason to escape from her real life, where she’s not only bored and a little frustrated, but still grieving. After all, her twin brother just recently died from the same genetic heart condition that she has, meaning that she may be joining him at any time, any place, for whatever reason. It’s definitely not the best thought to have in the back of her head while trying to navigate throughout the world, but it gets even worse when she starts to think that she’s seeing, hearing, and communicating with her dead brother. After all, she’s a medium and can apparently communicate with those in the afterlife, making her a reliable source, even if, at times, she herself doesn’t even know what’s real, what’s in her head, and what’s just a ghost playing tricks on her.

Aside from just shopping, K-Stew’s stylin’…..

Writer/director Olivier Assayas pulls off something very tricky here in that he gives us a genuinely scary and rather tense ghost story, that also doubles as a smart, sometimes meaningful look at the afterlife and life as a whole. Do the two combined gel perfectly? Not really, but it’s very interesting to watch because we know that he’s trying something neat here and is going to work with it for as long as he humanly can, until he just about gives up and has to call it a day, much like all of us.

Also, it’s way better than Clouds of Sils Maria a movie that, to this day, I’ll still never fully get and/or understand all of the praise for.

But what’s odd about that movie and Personal Shopper is that, along with Kristen Stewart, they both feature the same look, feel and style; it’s a very hushed movie that sort of moves to the beat of its drum, which means that it’s not following conventional, or formula, nor is it really setting out to tell its story in the most original manner, either. You almost get the sense that Assayas, while not making it up as he rolls along, is still thinking of certain plot-points that could work, and possibly couldn’t. It’s why certain subplots involving a possible murder and a creepy suspect, sort of, in a way, fall flat – there’s a bit too much going on, without all that much rhyme or reason behind it all.

That said, the strength of Personal Shopper is that it allows us, the audience, to think way beyond what is your typical ghost story in which a soul caught in the afterlife, screws around with the only loved one alive who still remembers and loves them. Early on, it appears that the bulk of Personal Shopper is going to be all about said ghost – what with an absolutely cheesy and awful-looking CGI ghost running around the screen – but after awhile, Assayas seems to only hint at it later on. The only real jumps, thrills, and chills, seem to come from us not knowing what’s really going on, or leaving certain stuff to our imagination.

Ridin’……

Take, for instance, a whole intense sequence involving, get this, texting.

And that’s it. For about ten minutes straight, it’s just Kristen Stewart having a conversation through text, with someone she doesn’t know, have an idea about, yet, can’t seem to stop talking to. It’s a pretty exciting sequence that’s shot, paced, and edited in such a way that it makes you feel like it’s going on forever, when in reality, it’s not anywhere near to taking up the balk of the movie. It’s a true sign that Assayas, even when he seems to be losing some sense of control, still knows ways to hone it all back in.

And also, the sequence itself, as well as the rest of the film, is much better off with the presence of Kristen Stewart who, with each and every role, seems to be getting better and better. Granted, she’s always been a solid actress, but I guess it takes Stewart to take small roles in indies like this, to not just remind people she can work well when the material’s there, but also make it seem like she’s not acting, either. Maureen, her character, is a very complex one that gets by on a lot without saying too much, which is why a good portion of her scenes, where she’s literally not talking, but instead, reacting, make it very compelling to watch.

Kristen Stewart, people. She’s the real deal. Even in movies that aren’t, but hey, still come sort of close.

Consensus: While not an altogether successful meld of horror and drama, Personal Shopper is still interesting and well-acted enough to get by on its slight originality.

7 / 10

And okay, yeah, still shoppin’.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Cheap Thrills (2013)

Why can’t truth or dare with my buddies ever be this fun?

Craig (Pat Healy) has just become a new father, which means that there’s a lot more responsibilities on his plate, and in fact, they’re probably more than he can handle. He doesn’t have enough money to pay the bills, for his kid, the gas for his car, and he doesn’t even have a job anymore. Basically, his life blows, but when he meets back up with old pal Vince (Ethan Embry), all of a sudden, his problems seem to go away. Sure, he’s still kind of a loser with no job or money to show for anything, but he’s hanging with a buddy who’s life is almost worse, so yeah, it makes him feel a little bit better. Then, the two meet-up with Colin (David Koechner), a very rich random dude who, along with his wife (Sarah Paxton) are celebrating their anniversary with a night on the town. They invite both Craig and Vince out to join them, to go to various places and eventually, back to the mansion, where they’ll spend the rest of the evening playing a downright brutal and sometimes vicious game of truth or dare. Except, in this case, the reward is much greater, as well as the risk.

What happens when teen-idols start doing way too many drugs.

You’d think that with a title like Cheap Thrills, a small budget, a first-name director, a group of core characters rounded-out by character actors, and of course, a premise like that, that this would be nothing more than just a straight-to-VOD crap-fest, where the only ones who bother to check it out, are the people who didn’t have anything better to do with their time, nor actually know what good movies are. But for some reason, Cheap Thrills is surprisingly much more than that; yeah, it’s scummy, dirty, disgusting, and raw, but it’s also got a little more on its plate than being just one gross-out-gag-after-another. It’s got something to possibly say about classicism and the way our economy has made normal, everyday citizens out to do the worst possible things imaginable, just so that they can stay alive and well in a world that’s constantly changing and making it harder for a normal person to just survive.

You know, in between all of the feces, hacked-off limbs, blood, gore and nudity, but still, at least there’s something there.

Director E.L. Katz and writers Trent Haaga and David Chirchirill know that they’re working with some slimy material, and because of that, they don’t try to hide it. Sure, the themes about the modern-day society are there, but only if you decide to really look deep into it all; mostly, Cheap Thrills just wants to be a down-and-out, dirty and rather shocking movie that takes a fairly simple, and almost silly premise, and go into uncharted territory with it. Think watching a bunch of grown-ass adults actually playing a game of truth or dare would be stupid and a waste of time? Think again.

Cheap Thrills is the kind of movie that probably won’t work for a lot of people, but Katz, Haaga, and Chirchirill take this material into some crazy, unpredictable areas that are hard to see coming, only because we’re so used to movies having risks and limits, all to make sure that they’re sticking by a certain set of rules and standards that are made so that movies can appeal to anyone out there. Cheap Thrills isn’t that movie and is much better off for it, as it doesn’t try to be nice, or sweet, or appeal to anyone out there – it’s its own damn beast and while I wouldn’t normally applaud that pretentious bravery, it works here, so it’s okay. The fact that Cheap Thrills doesn’t want to be the perfect portrait of what people expect to get with a movie, makes it all the more likable and, dare I say it, charming.

“Whammy!”

Of course, it is low-budget and does look like it was made on the cheap, but sometimes, that’s actually fine.

Cheap Thrills doesn’t need to be a movie that big-budgets, or studios need to get their hands on; it’s the kind of movie that’s made by people who have a sort of love and passion for these sick, twisted and almost sadistic stories. It helps, too, that those acting in it, aren’t really big names and, at the very least, seem like real people. Sure, you’ve seen Pat Healy, David Koechner, Sara Paxton, and Ethan Embry in many places before, but here, they feel like raw, real people that just so happen to be in a very crazy movie; Embry is especially realistic playing a total loser who, over the course of the movie, you just want to give a hug, even when he does and acts in despicable ways. Still, you’ve got to give credit to Katz for casting these folks, all of whom show that they may be better than the material they’re playing with, but at the same time, aren’t sneering their noses at it – they’re enjoying their time slumming and getting all down and dirty. There’s something appealing in that, and it’s why Cheap Thrills doesn’t just work for them, but for those who actually take the time to see it.

Then again, depends on what you want.

Consensus: Rough, raw, and gritty, but also surprisingly fun, unpredictable, and smarter than you’d expect, Cheap Thrills benefits from its small, but welcome surprises, as well as giving us something more to look for beyond the B-movie thrills and premise.

7.5 / 10

True pals.

Photos Courtesy of: And So it Begins Films

Free Fire (2017)

Did someone say “bang bang”?

Two different groups of thugs get together to finish up the deal on a bunch of guns. Seem simple enough, eh? Well, unfortunately, that doesn’t quite go as planned when the groups begin to feud for some odd reasons and then, eventually, and seemingly out of nowhere, begin shooting at one another. But why? And better yet, who is to be blamed for all of this craziness and havoc?

Co-writer/director Ben Wheatley thinks he’s definitely a lot smarter and humoruous than he actually is, which is why his movies, for the most part, have left me feeling a tad bit dry. Sure, they’ve got inspiration and definitely some creativity, but they mostly feel like mixed-bags where Wheatley tries a lot of different things at once and doesn’t quite come out on top, looking as clean and as smart as he thinks.

Still so cool.

It’s nothing against him, as a person, because I’m sure he’s a cheeky and lovely fella to be around, but it also seems like he’s a lot wittier than he may be. Does he take extra steps to put himself into a corner with the kinds of movies he takes on? Oh yes. Does he at least show a surprising amount of ambition? Definitely. Does he always seem to know what he’s doing? Not quite, and that’s why Free Fire, while still something of a slightly mixed-bag, also works a lot better than his other flicks because, well, it is actually as witty and humorous as it think it is.

Which is definitely saying something.

Cause honestly, the premise is basically one overlong gun-battle and while it can get to be a little tiring after hearing gun-shot-after-gun-shot, it also sinks so much into your brain that it works. Eventually, the sound just becomes background noise to these characters constantly plotting, yelling, and figuring out ways how to get out of this situation alive, get off with all the guns, and also, get rid of the ones shooting at them. Sure, is it maybe too simple for its own good? Most definitely, but it still works because Wheatley and co-writer Amy Jump seem to know what it is that they’re dealing with here and it works.

In other words, it’s a fun movie. It’s actually kind of funny, but also pretty barbaric and disturbing when it needs to be, and it draws us even closer into the twisted, sick and warped mind of Wheatley. Could he have possibly have toned-down all of the constant shooting and instead, I don’t know, given us something along the lines of a one-on-one battle? Probably, but still, it’s hard to complain about a movie that doesn’t seem to be doing a whole lot, yet, still entertaining. It so rarely happens to me with a movie, so it’s great when it does.

Somehow, they have time for laughs?

And yes, the awesome ensemble is to be thanked for that, too.

Because everyone’s got their own one little trait, it works in the long-run. Cillian Murphy and Michael Smiley are the bad-ass Irishmen; Brie Larson is the woman who constantly keeps on getting underestimated, but always proving herself; Jack Reynor and Noah Taylor are scummy dudes; Sharlto Copley, in one of his best performances to-date, is the stylish, yet annoying South African who takes things too seriously; Babou Ceesay is his very hard-to-understand partner; Jack Reynor is pugnacious and always looking for a brawl; and in probably the best performance, Armie Hammer stays cool and stylish, even with all of the killing and violence surrounding him.

With a great cast such as this, would you expect a bit more than just quips and shots fired? Probably, but once again, it still kind of works. Wheatley knows how to shoot this action to where we can tell what’s happening, even when it’s sometimes not all that clear, but he also knows how to draw us in on the tension, by upping the stakes and keeping surprises up his sleeve. It can be viewed as pretentious, but compared to his other movies, it’s probably the least stylish and obvious he’s ever been, which means yes, it’s good.

Pretty damn good, to be honest.

Consensus: As simple as it may be, Free Fire still gets by on its fun, humor, and perfectly put together cast who work well in this crazy atmosphere.

7.5 / 10

Don’t take her Oscar away just yet.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Down Terrace (2009)

Keep it all in the family. No literally, everything.

Bill (Robert Hill) and his son, Karl (Robin Hill), have been working together for so long and even though it just so happens to be organized crime, they’ve gotten by for the longest time in it, so they don’t get caught up in all the details. But that all begins to change when, after spending a few days in jail, they return home and realize they may have a rat in their midst. This is clearly not something they want to put up with, which is why they try to get down to the nitty gritty of it all and figure out just who the rat in the whole gang may be, or if there isn’t one, who’s the first who could rat on them in the first place. As they try to pick out the informant from a group that includes a corrupt politician (Mark Kempner), an unpredictable hit man (Michael Smiley), and yes, even the annoyed and pissed-off matriarch, Maggie (Julia Deakin), Karl learns his girlfriend (Kerry Peacock) is pregnant and doesn’t quite know what to do with that, or how the hell his family is even going to react. Needless to say, it’s not pretty.

Oops. Out come the guns.

Down Terrace has essentially one-joke going for itself throughout the whole hour-and-a-half, but it’s such a good joke that co-writer/director Ben Wheatley finds himself constantly playing around and toying with the whole time: It’s that everyone is suspected of being a rat and because of that, they’ve got to meet their maker. Of course, the movie may play-off like a very serious and tense episode of the Sopranos, but what’s interesting about Down Terrace is that, besides it being incredibly dark and morbid at times, it’s also quite funny.

Cause of course, British gangsters can’t be too serious the whole time, right?

And that’s why Down Terrace, while not an altogether perfectly put together movie, is still entertaining and interesting enough to watch, because it’s trying something new and bold. Inside of it, is a combination of the kitchen-sink drama, the suburban crime flick, and of course, the black-as-hell comedy, and while it’s definitely obvious when the movie changes into one mood, it still kind of works. Wheatley knows how to film each and every aspect of this story into a manner where we don’t know what to expect, or know exactly where it’s going to lead into, and just watching him give it a try is where most of the fun is to be had.

This is the part of the movie where the subtitles definitely need to be put on.

He and fellow writer Robin Hill don’t forget to give audiences a little bit of everything, but they truly know how to make their comedy crack and their violence, well, disturb. In fact, it’s maybe a bit too disturbing at times; characters that we come to know, love, and grow very intimate with over a very short amount of time, are all of a sudden killed-off in very heinous, in-your-face ways the next second. It’s as if no one’s safe and those that definitely aren’t, are going to meet a very gruesome end. Which once again, is pretty brave, despite it not always working.

But hey, in the film-world, bravery has to count for something.

And that’s basically where Down Terrace works in the end; it’s probably Wheatley’s most cohesive and simple-to-read picture, but in that, also isn’t his dullest, either. You can tell that he’s working out some of the kinks into how to make this kind of material to work, but when you have a first-timer making so much noise, by combining all of these different subgenres, and making something still work, then yeah, it’s definitely worth the watch. If only to see just where Wheatley himself has come, gone, and where he’s going to be heading-off towards in the very near-future.

Let’s just hope he sticks with more movies such as this, and more away from High-Rise. Sheesh.

Consensus: With a crazy combination of different tones and styles, Ben Wheatley definitely takes a lot on his plate, but handles it well with a very funny, surprising, and altogether interesting hybrid with Down Terrace.

7.5 / 10

Cheers, mates. Get ready to die.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Stand By for Mind Control, New York Times

The Italian Job (2003)

If you’re going to pull-off a cool heist, your whole gang’s gotta be cool, too. It’s a known fact.

After a super, duper tricky heist in Venice, Steve (Edward Norton) turns on his partners in crime, and ends up killing skilled and legendary safecracker John Bridger (Donald Sutherland). Why? Well, Steve got greed and just wanted to keep all the gold for himself, and not try to cut in anyone else. The rest of the team that Steve ripped-off included leader Charlie Croker (Mark Wahlberg), driver Handsome Rob (Jason Statham), explosives man Left Ear (Mos Def), and tech geek Lyle (Seth Green), or, as he likes to be called “Napster”, now all vow revenge. But in order to totally get back at Steve and ensure that their heist goes down without a hitch, they enlist the help of Bridger’s daughter, Stella (Charlize Theron), so that they can get an inside-view into Steve, his life, and just where exactly he’s hiding all of that damn gold. But it’s known that Steve’s a tricky dude to mess with, and it’s why the gang’s really going to have to get their act together, in order for them to not just pull this all off and get the gold, but ensure that everyone’s alive by the end of it.

“Ayo Marky Mark, check this out. I’ll say hello to my motha for me, too.”

The Italian Job is a typical remake that’s modern, which means that it’s “hip”, “cool”, and totally unnecessary. But still, it’s also a bit of fun and when it comes to remakes of old-school classics, having a bit of fun means a lot, because most of the time, they’re just soulless, annoying and nauseating cash-ins. The Italian Job is different in that it doesn’t seem a whole lot of it was made solely for the money, but that it’s still got the same kind of look, tone and feel of all the other “gang-heists” movies.

Basically, think of it a more adult, somewhat smarter version of the Fast and Furious movies.

Which isn’t to say that the Italian Job is all that dumb of a movie, it’s just silly. But in that silliness, there’s a great deal of enjoyment to be had, mostly because F. Gary Gray knows that the best way to keep this material interesting, even when it’s silly, is to always be moving, never stopping and never focusing too hard on one aspect of element too much. We have a heist, we have a cast of characters, we have a baddie, we have a conflict, we have a plan, and that’s really all we need; Gray doesn’t get too bogged down in too many senseless subplots to where it feels like extra padding for a movie that does come a tad close to two hours.

But it’s a solid two hours that keeps up its energy throughout, so much so that you also realize that some of the key issues with the movie, like character-development, are left by the waist-side. Now, there’s a part of me that’s fine with the fact that each character sort of has their one characteristic/personality-trait and there’s not much else to them, but for some reason, it’s hard not to expect something a little more, especially from this well put-together cast. For instance, Statham’s Handsome Rob is pure Statham – silent, but scary, and that’s about all there is to him. Same goes for Seth Green’s “Napster”, who is just the goofy tech-y and yep, that’s it. Mos Def is also sort of like the comedic-support with Left Ear, but he’s got such stiff-competition from Green in that department, that often times, it feels like a lot of his stuff was cut.

And then, there’s the core trio of Wahlberg, Theron, and Norton who all, in any other movie, probably would have put on acting-class beyond our beliefs. But sadly, they’re stuck in a silly actioner that doesn’t quite care about how good of actors they are. As long as they are hot enough and can read lines, than it’s all that matters, right?

Honestly, public-transportation has been worse.

Well, yeah, I guess.

In 2003, it’s hard to believe that Wahlberg was still finding his inner-leading man, which is why his performance as Charlie Croker, while not bad, isn’t necessarily the strongest, either. Same goes for Theron’s Stella, who is basically there to be the hot romantic love-interest for Charlie to eventually learn feelings from. Theron was also in a weird spot in Hollywood where they knew she could act, but she was too busy getting these roles where she was just window-dressing because of her absolutely gorgeous-looks. Not that I’m complaining, but it’s obvious she was made for much, much more.

And of course, the same is clearly said for Norton who, even as the villain here, doesn’t get a whole lot to do. Still, Norton tries in what is, essentially, a paycheck gig that allow for him to take more risks with the smaller indie-flicks that he had always became so known and adored for. Even in the moments where we’re supposed to feel like this guy is a total and complete asshole, Norton’s not fully there and it’s weird, because it’s like we almost don’t care and just remember how effective he was in another good heist film, the Score.

But still, all of this talk about performances and characters, guess what? It doesn’t matter. The Italian Job gets the job done it set out to do, right. It doesn’t slow itself down and it sure as hell doesn’t try to appear as anything more than it already is – it’s just a fun, sometimes way too silly flick, with hot, talented people, being hot and cool.

And in that sense, yeah, it’s fine.

I just like to complain.

Consensus: Though it’s disappointing to see such a waste of a good ensemble, the Italian Job still delivers the right amount of fun, thrills and humor to have anyone happy.

7 / 10

As usual, the bro’s don’t know what to do when a tall, beautiful and smart woman comes around. Except Marky. He knows everything.

Photos Courtesy of: Cineplex.com

Win It All (2017)

A better Gambler, than the actual remake of Gambler.

Eddie (Jake Johnson) doesn’t quite have the best life. He makes a living directing traffic, parking cars, and doing the odd job every now and then. But rather than saving it all so that one day, he can eventually make something of his life, he spends it all on late-night poker games where he mostly ends up losing, without any cash in his hand, or pocket. However, when Eddie thinks he’s dead and totally broke, he looks inside of an old acquaintance’s duffel bag, and in it, just so happens to buckets of cash. Seeing this as a new lease on life, Eddie intends to change his ways and not gamble anymore. He strikes up a relationship with a sweet single-mother (Aislinn Derbez), starts to work for his brother (Joe Lo Truglio), as a landscaper, and begins to attend recovery meetings more frequently, and keep up with his sponsor (Keegan-Michael Key), on a much more regular basis. But still, Eddie can’t help but gamble a little bit of the money away, which wouldn’t be so bad, until he finds out his old acquaintance is getting out of jail soon and is expecting all of his money to be there waiting for him.

As long as there’s free coffee and donuts, I’ll always go and admit a problem.

People like Joe Swanberg make me so happy that indie-movies still exist, and it’s movies like Win it All that make me so happy streaming devices/studios like Netflix still exist. For one, they’re studios that allow for these smaller, more low-budget movies, not just see the light of day, but grab an audience who, otherwise, wouldn’t have heard a single thing about it. For awhile now, that’s how mostly all of Swanberg’s movies have been; while he’s been getting bigger names involved, his movies still go mostly unnoticed and automatically ready for a VOD release, where only cool, happenin’ kids who are curious will stumble upon it.

But for others, such as myself, who love and adore everything Swanberg does and stands for, it’s nice to just see a movie like Win it All, get a bigger release. But it’s also nice to see this happen because, well, the movie’s quite good; it’s typical Swanberg in that there’s a lot of improvisation and scenes of people talking, but there’s a little bit more to it this time around. If anything, Win it All shows Swanberg at least extending his arms out a bit at trying some sort of genre-fare, what with the gambling subgenre of flicks, but it’s much more like the criminally underrated Mississippi Grind, than Mark Wahlberg’s ill-conceived the Gambler.

It’s weird, though, because the movie isn’t all about gambling, or even the rush, the thrill, and the excitement about it all – it’s much more about this guy, Eddie, and how he doesn’t seem to quite get a grasp on life and accept that the way he’s living, just isn’t ideal. If anything, Win it All is actually a character-study about this guy, who he is, why he does what he does, what’s there to love about him, and what’s there to get mad at him for.

And oh yeah, Jake Johnson is pretty great in the role, too.

So sad, yet, still so cool. How does he do it?

Johnson’s honestly a pretty commanding force in these low-key indies, because we get to see all that he does on New Girl, in that he plays a bit of a silly goof-ball, but instead with that show, there’s a rawer feel to it all. Rather than laughing along with him, we’re actually laughing at him and looking at him in a sad way, not knowing how far his lovable grin is going to take him from scene to scene. And sure, while a good portion of Win it All is improvised, meaning that we don’t always get to know each and every single little thing about Eddie that we should know, what Johnson helps to do is create a portrait of a sad, but still likable guy, who we’d much rather give a hug, than a punch to the face.

As his brother, Joe Lo Truglio is quite surprising, too, especially by how good he is without ever trying too hard to make us laugh. It’s the one role where we get to see someone who is usually known for being a scene-stealing cook-ball, actually show his dramatic-side and it works out well, creating a lovely, heartwarming bit of chemistry between him and Johnson. Derbez is also sweet and charming as Eddie’s eventual girlfriend, and Keegan-Michael Key, showing a more dramatic-side here, too, gets a chance to be both funny and serious, while always providing a nice glimmer of light every time he shows up.

And because these performances and these characters are so strong, it’s easy to get past the fact that, yeah, the story’s a bit weak and conventional, but honestly, it’s really not all about that. Swanberg knows that and as an audience, we know that, too – it’s about these characters, their relationships, and exactly how they all relate to this Eddie fella. It’s a true character-study, just with some gambling on the side.

Like life.

Consensus: With a terrific lead performance from Johnson, Win it All works as a smart, interesting character-study that, unfortunately, doesn’t care a whole lot about the plot.

7 / 10

It’s love at first sight. Until she realizes he loves playing Go Fish a bit too much.

Photos Courtesy of: Time OutTeaser TrailerThe AV Club

Colossal (2017)

Sometimes, you don’t need to go home. Or anywhere.

After losing her job, as well as her boyfriend (Dan Stevens) in New York City, Gloria (Anne Hathaway) decides that it’s time to head on back to where she grew up in upstate New York, where she can hopefully find some time to get her life back in order and figure everything out. While there, she meets back up with an old friend from school, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who instantly remembers her and is so happy to have her back into his life. Gloria doesn’t know what she did to make him so happy, but for some reason, she’s willing to go along with whatever Oscar throws at her, like always drinking and even working at his local bar. For awhile, Gloria seems to be so very happy, but then, this weird thing begins happening: Somewhere out in Tokyo, a huge monster is destroying everything and everyone in its path. And the news in the U.S. is constantly covering this, with people either in total shock and horror, or just absolutely happy that it’s not them. Gloria doesn’t know what to think, except until she finds out that it may be her causing all of this death and destruction, somehow.

“Agent? Yeah, more stuff like this.”

When I first heard of Colossal, I remember it being pitched as a mixture between Lost in Translation and Godzilla. Interesting for sure, but could it work? Honestly, I wasn’t sure, but it was a bold, brave enough idea to take on and considering the current-day, big budget monster movies we seem to get, it would definitely offer a nice breath-of-fresh-air.

Which is exactly what Colossal is, although of course, it runs into its problem.

Most of the problems with the movie come from the fact that the idea, while interesting and definitely neat, also leaves a lot of questions when all is said and done. It all comes down to certain questions about sci-fi, how things would work, and what would happen, if say something such as this happened. It’s the kind of general questions that plague sci-fi and it’s honestly what bugged me for quite some time during Colossal; it wasn’t that I couldn’t give in to the idea and just run with it, it’s that it seemed to make itself more complicated as it went along, but without ever answering the questions it presented.

Still, for a movie about a bunch of hipsters and monsters, it still sort of works. Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo knows that he’s playing around with genres and tones here, but doesn’t ever make it seem too flashy; he knows he’s got something interesting on his plate, so rather than taking away from it, he gives us more to watch and be curious about. Sure, it’s interesting just how all of these monster shenanigans go down and play out, but Vigalondo’s also smart enough to know that having compelling characters make the monsters all the more compelling, too.

And with these characters, Colossal seems to be more interested in them, rather than the monsters, which is, once again, another smart move.

“Wanna PBR?”

Like, for instance, Gloria does, initially seem like a bit of a pain, but as time goes on, we begin to see that there’s more to her and her troubled-past. It also helps that Hathaway is pretty great in the role, allowing for us to Gloria as a bit self-destructive, yet also, at the same time, a smart and relatively independent gal who is capable of making her own decisions, as dim-witted as they can often times be. It’s a low-key and not all that showy role for Hathaway, but it’s the right kind of role for her and it shows why she can be so charming.

Sudeikis is also quite good in the role of Oscar, who seems like a very charming and sweet guy, but slowly begins to unravel into these sad, lonely and angry individual. His actions later on in the movie are questionable and make you wonder if it’s necessarily the right direction for him to go in, but there’s no denying that Sudeikis is actually quite surprising in the role. We grow to love him, but at the same time, pity him. He and Hathaway have a nice bit of chemistry, too, to where you can tell that they probably enjoyed working with one another, as it shows in their smaller, much more intimate moments.

You know, without all of the cool and kick-ass monster fighting, which, for a small, low-budget indie, is pretty good.

Makes you wonder why Hollywood tends to get it so wrong, sometimes.

Consensus: With an interesting idea to work with and a very good cast, Colossal is smart, even if it doesn’t answer all of the questions it lays down by the end.

7.5 / 10

There’s Anne, guys. Always charming and lovely, but for some reason, ya’ll hate her. Get over it!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Gifted (2017)

Math is hard. But man, it sure can bring families together.

Frank Adler (Chris Evans) is a single man raising a child prodigy named Mary (Mckenna Grace), who also happens to be his niece. His sister/Mary’s mother, unfortunately, killed herself due to issues with the family and it’s because of this that Frank has taken it upon himself to ensure that Mary doesn’t turn out to have too much pressure put on her. However, she’s incredibly brilliant, is very good at math, and doesn’t just know it, but also allows for everyone around her to know it, too. It’s both a blessing, as well as a curse – a blessing because she’s smart and will always be successful, but a curse because going to the public school that she’s at, doesn’t really challenge her. Like, at all. Eventually, people around Mary begin to take notice and worry that she’s not being challenged as much as she should. Enter Frank’s mother Evelyn (Lindsay Duncan), who sees it as her task to help get Mary the right treatment she deserves for her genius brain and ensure that her career is an accomplished and masterful one, much like hers was.

You can find out what the square-root of 3,005 is, but you still can’t read? What child prodigy you are!

Everything about the way Gifted looks, feels, hell, even sounds, just brings gags to my throat. It’s not that I don’t mind these schmaltzy tales of hot, attractive people battling happiness and love, but it’s that so often, they aren’t done correctly. Of course, Nicholas Sparks is definitely to be blamed for that, but it goes one step further than that – it almost feels like these kinds of movies are bound to fail, right from the instance that they are announced, filmed, and released to the wide public. The only kind of schmaltz that seems to work nowadays is the pure Oscar-bait that cares about as tears, as much as they care about votes, which means that they want people to cry, by any means necessary.

And then, like I’ve said before, there’s Gifted, a movie that should have absolutely despised and hated, yet, somehow, came away thinking, “Man, why can’t all these kinds of movies be like this?”

Which is to say that, yes, Gifted works. Is it a perfect movie? Nope. Is it an original one? Not really. Is it still kind of schmaltzy and manipulative? Sort of, yes. But everything about it still kind of works in the way that you wouldn’t expect it to. For one, it actually has a heart and soul that you can feel, not just because it’s telling you to feel it, but because the characters are so lovely, the relationships are so well-drawn, and yes, the actual story is worth getting wrapped-up in.

It’s not a very complex tale, but it didn’t need to be; Sparks’ movies are always so bogged down in silly twists, like alcoholic, abusive ex-husbands, or plot-contrived cancer-scares, that after awhile, it’s nice to get a movie that gives us characters, a conflict, and allows it all to play out, without trying too hard to add too much into the rest of the mix. Director Marc Webb and screenwriter Nick Flynn know what they’re working with here and because of that, it doesn’t feel like they’re taking any cheap shots.

Essentially, what we see is what we get.

Don’t worry, everyone: Octavia is just the sassy black neighbor. Not the sassy black nanny. For once.

Of course, that sounds so easy when put like that, but honestly, it’s just nice to get one of these movies. Flynn’s screenplay is solid in that every character has at least one funny-quip to use at their disposal, but everyone still feels like well-rounded, three-dimensional characters, not made out to be god-like creatures, of fire-breathing devil-worshipers – everyone here is a human being, and in that sense, they’re all complicated. Flynn doesn’t forget to overdue the cute nature of his story, but hey, it’s not cloying, which is all that matters.

And Webb, while no doubt trying to get back in his good graces after the two Spider-Man movies, finds himself giving us a smart, humane tale about humans again. Sure, it’s nowhere near (500) Days of Summer, but then again, not many movies are; it’s just nice to have him back, directing original flicks for a change. Hopefully, he’s here to stay and not ready to get sucked up by the machine that is known as Hollywood.

Because what better way to stick it to the man than have your movie star Captain America himself, Chris Evans?

No, I kid. Regardless, Evans is good here in that he’s his usual charming, snappy-self, but there’s also more to him than meets the surface; the relaxed, chill nature he gives off, eventually starts to show signs of sadness that’s deeper than you’d think. Evans has been looking for a hit outside of the Marvel universe for quite some time and it’s nice to see him finally get it here. Of course, though, the movie is definitely Mckenna Grace’s for the taking and as Mary, she’s quite great. Sure, the character is a type, in that she’s precocious as hell and seems like a 30-year-old trapped inside of a 7-year-old’s body, but it works because you believe in her as this character. If she ever is annoying, or a bit of a pain, it’s because she’s meant to be and not because the movie thinks that she’s just way too cute for our own good.

She is, surprisingly enough, like a real kid. And we get so very few of them in movies nowadays.

Consensus: As schmaltzy and sappy as it can sometimes get, Gifted also works because it has a heart, well-written script, and most of all, solid ensemble of characters who all feel realized and interesting, despite the eventual conventions of the plot.

7 / 10

Like uncle, like niece. Right?

Photos Courtesy of: SlashfilmThrifty Jinxy, Indiewire

Extreme Prejudice (1987)

It’s the small towns you’ve got to worry about the most.

Jack Benteen (Nick Nolte) is a Texas Ranger who has taken a very different path than his childhood buddy, Cash Bailey (Powers Boothe), a ruthless drug lord, who stumbles back into town, looking to cause all sorts of havoc in the area and most importantly, for Jack himself. Though both men are very different in terms of their careers, their lives, and what sides of the law they each stand on, they do have one aspect in common: They’re both in love with Sarita Cisneros (Maria Conchita Alonso), who has been involved with both men, but chooses to stay with Jack, even though they constantly seem to fight all of the time. The tension between these two begins to escalate over the next few days, and to make matters worse, there’s a group of rag-tag veterans who are staging some sort of mission. But what is it? What is there purpose for being in this small town? And hell, are they dangerous?

“You….”

Extreme Prejudice is clearly Walter Hill’s ode/homage to the Dirty Dozen that it almost goes without saying. It’s a western, without seeming like an old-school western that relies on the same old tropes, but instead, uses some neat tricks with its story to make it seem way more modern. Cause after all, Hill already made a out-and-true western with the Long Riders, so it’s basically like he doesn’t have much else to prove in that genre, except to show that he can use it as a stepping-stone for going out into his usual crazy barrage of guns, violence, blood, and oh yeah, a whole lot of cursing.

But for a Walter Hill movie, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

It helps that Hill knows what he’s doing, when the material’s there to work with and have fun with. Both Deric Washburn and Fred Rexer wrote the screenplay and know not to make this story too difficult, or even all that meaningful – just give us a few bad guys, a good guy, some conflict, and lots and lots of guns. The rest, in Hill’s hands, is history.

Which is why the final-act of Extreme Prejudice, as well as the few other action set-pieces spread-out across, are all exciting, fun, and downright electric. They feel perfectly thought-out and constantly keep on surprising, what with where the violence goes and how. Hill isn’t considered a master at his craft by any means and he sure as hell will never be called an “artist”, but the man knows how to craft a solid, compelling, and fun action-scene, which in today’s day, that means a whole lot.

Basically, we could use a whole lot more of Walter Hill in our life and while we do still get his movies, they just aren’t the same anymore.

Shame, too.

“Me….”

But anyway, the reason why I’m going on and on about the action so much is because, well, there’s a bit of a problem with the story, in that there may be a little too much. Or, at least, let me put it this way: There’s essentially two different plots going on here, with both being mildly interesting, but also pretty different from one another. For instance, there’s Nolte’s Jack who is feuding with Powers Boothe’s Cash, which doesn’t start cooking-up until the end and seems like a lot of talking and not much else, whereas the other plot, involving Michael Ironside’s group of bad-ass veterans, is fast-paced, interesting and, well, unique. It’s as if Washburn wrote one part of the movie, Rexer wrote the other, and they tried to combine it all together in one, seamless package.

But that’s what’s odd, because it doesn’t quite fully come together in that sense. Jack’s tale is far more dramatic and, as a result, slower, whereas Ironside’s is quicker and a whole lot more exciting to watch, even if we know it seems to be happening in almost entirely different movie. Hill works well with both stories, however, which is why the movie isn’t totally destroyed by this uneven thread, but still, it’s a bit choppy, to say the least.

And yes, it also helps that Ironside’s performance is pretty great here where he, once again, gets to play a bit of a nutty psycho who, somehow, has everything ready to go according to plan. In fact, almost everyone here is playing very much with their type; Nolte is stern and serious, Boothe is cold and dark, Rip Torn is fun and light, William Forsythe is crazy, and Alonso is, well, very attractive, but unfortunately, doesn’t get to be much else. Hill knows how to let his actors let loose when they need to and because of that, it helps a lot of the boring characters, work a bit better.

If only for the company they keep.

Consensus: While uneven, Extreme Prejudice is still a solid bit of action-thriller from the reliable hands of Walter Hill, who’s clearly enjoying what he’s doing here.

7 / 10

“Let’s tango.”

Photos Courtesy of: Radiator Heaven

My Date with Drew (2004)

A date with anyone? Where does one begin?

Aspiring filmmaker Brian Herzlinger has been in love with Drew Barrymore since he was a young boy. So in love that he even joined her fan club at a very young age, receiving all sorts of letters and pictures that drew him even closer and closer to his Hollywood crush. After buying a video camera from Circuit City, Herzingler and his crew have 30 days to find Barrymore, date her and return the camera for a full refund. Unfortunately, Barrymore is Hollywood royalty, and Herzlinger is just a guy from New Jersey. It will take every ounce of charm Herzlinger can muster to make his way through the minefield of agents, publicists and bouncers to reach his prize. But to make it even worse, Herzingler is constantly finding himself running into roadblocks, whether they be people who aren’t willing to help him out, or the simple fact and reality that he doesn’t have a job, needs money, and can’t do anything else involving this project without it. Needless to say, it’s an impossible mission, but it’s one that Herzlinger won’t stop trying to complete.

Uhm, why?

My Date with Drew isn’t necessarily the kind of hard-hitting, thought-provoking that it sometimes intends to be. You’d think that a movie about a guy trying his absolute hardest to get a date with his Hollywood crush, while not just creepy, would have a little something to say about the Hollywood culture, the stalker culture, and the relationships celebrities hold with their fans, and how far they can go, but nope, not really. It’s literally just a documentary of watching, waiting and wondering when, or even if, this dude is ever going to get a chance to date Drew Barrymore.

And is that okay? Yeah, sure.

Would it have helped to been about something deeper, or better yet, try to make this situation more interesting? Yeah, possibly, but even without any of that here, My Date with Drew still works because it’s entertaining and never seems to slow down. In fact, the idea that it doesn’t try too hard to harp on the hard-hitting, possibly serious issues a situation like this could bring up, actually helps it out in not taking away from the action, or what actually matters: Finding and dating Drew Barrymore.

Considering that the movie was made for a little over $1,000, it’s interesting to see how all of that money is spent, what it goes towards, and just how easy it can be to shoot a documentary on the cheap, even with such a subject as this. It’s an ambitious mission for sure, but it helps that the camera is there literally every step of the way, giving us a better idea of how one outsider could possibly get a date with Drew Barrymore (in the early-aughts, that is, times have definitely changed), and also never forgetting that the sole focal point of this project isn’t just Barrymore herself, or the movies she’s made, but Herzlinger himself.

But even with him, I’m still a little bit put-off.

Not because what he sets out to do is creepy, or even downright weird, because in a way, I kind of respect the guy – he knows that he’s being weird for having this crush and knows that going about this idea is even weirder, but still, he chugs along, trying his absolute hardest, leaving nothing off-screen. The camera is always there and Herzlinger wants it that way, so of course, we get to see a whole lot of him, hear him talk, and try to keep his cool persona, even when it seems like he’s creeping every person out around him. He’s a likable presence, too, which makes it all the easier to watch him in interviews, even when, once again, he’s literally asking random people within Hollywood about Drew Barrymore, and even they know it’s a little weird, but aren’t sure if they want to, or know how to say it.

Once again, why? You’re fine! She was married to Tom Green, after all!

But then there’s this other part of Herzlinger’s that’s odd and nothing to due with the whole Barrymore-aspect – it’s the persona he actually puts-off to the camera. There’s plenty of real, raw and rather genuine moments that Herzlinger shares for the camera, but then there are these other, like when he’s showing his body off to people, working out, having random conversations with needy exes, that it feels like he may be putting on a bit of an act. Or, if he isn’t, then it’s a wonder why he includes any of this stuff in this first place; the work-out/grooming scenes are tedious, and the whole ex-sequence within the film could have been taken out and not have at all changed the film, considering how random it is.

I’m not saying that the Herzlinger we get in the movie isn’t the real guy, but a part of me feels like, possibly, he’s acting a little bit.

Just a little bit.

Then again, maybe that was intended; maybe he wanted it to appear like he was this way-more charming guy than he actually was in real life and maybe, he was just doing it all for the sake of the movie and in hopes that he wouldn’t scare Barrymore away, had he actually gotten a date with her. Makes sense and okay, whatever, I’ll accept it. But still, there’s some weird stuff about him that goes beyond the Barrymore stuff that yeah, threw me for a loop, if only a bit. And then I realized that, “Oh wait, it’s about him, but also this date. So who cares?”

And it all got better from there.

Consensus: My Date with Drew isn’t particularly deep, but then again, doesn’t need to be with its entertaining idea, and likable, if flawed subject in Herzlinger.

7 / 10

My Date with Eric? Make it happen, Hollywood.

Photos Courtesy of: Rotten Tomatoes

Life (2017)

Choose life. No seriously. Choose it.

A group of diverse, incredibly intelligent astronauts aboard the International Space Station are dealing with one of their most ambitious an daring missions to date: Finding another cell out there in space that can kill all bad cells. Or something like that. Mostly, not everyone aboard really knows and instead of trying to figure it all out, they’re spending most of their time tracking down this cell, working with it, and figuring out just what it is. Eventually, they do find out and it leads to some disastrous, downright chaotic results, where everyone aboard not only has to fear for their life, but also for the lives of those on planet Earth. However, the astronauts know that if they band together and think long and hard about what they have to do, they can achieve anything. Even if it is killing a monster that they don’t really know a single thing about, other than what they are slowly gathering over time.

“God?”

A lot of people have been getting on Life‘s case for being, in other words, an Alien rip-off, which okay, sure, it sort of is, but not really. See, it’s really hard to do a creature feature taking place somewhere in the middle of space, among a very selected few of astronauts without drawing comparisons to that classic, but it’s also hard to do one that’s quite good. Life is the kind of movie that, on paper, sounds so rote, so conventional, and so predictable, that it’s almost not worth bothering about, but once you actually see it all play out, and realize all of the effort put into it, well, somehow, it all comes together.

In a way, you almost forget about the Alien movies altogether and only then remember that, yeah, they’re still doing them.

Either way, Life works when it probably shouldn’t. Most of that definitely comes down to the fact that director Daniel Espinosa is taking this material, from Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick, know what to expect with a genre movie of this nature and rather than trying to avoid everything and act all sly and cool, as if they’re way too hip for convention, instead, actually sort of embrace it all, realize that these are the kinds of conventions that work for movies such as these, and keep on going. After the initial 20 minutes, where it seems like time is just being killed for the sake of it, Life gets its act together and never seems to slow down; there are times when it pauses, for sure, but for the most part, it’s always moving, always thrilling, and yeah, always entertaining.

Deadpool…..in space.

Which honestly, isn’t something you always expect from something that seems as predictable as this, but it all works. Espinosa knows that in order to keep material like this fresh and compelling, is to always keep moving, never slowing, and always making sure that we can figure out just what’s happening, where, why and to whom. And honestly, that’s what matters a whole lot – movies such as these can often forget about continuity and being able to figure out what everyone is doing, at any given time, which is why when it happens, it helps out a great deal. It makes us not just feel closer to the characters themselves, but the action altogether.

That said, could there have been more character development? Most definitely.

But there’s something to be said for a movie that features Ryan Reynolds, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Rebecca Ferguson, among others, that doesn’t feel like it’s totally robbing them of their supreme talents. Sure, could we have done with more character-stuff that helps us feel one step closer to these people? Oh yes, but what we’re given, for the most part, helps out a bunch and makes the following proceedings, for the most part, fun. They can be heinous, surprising, and sometimes, disturbing, but they’re effective, and for a sci-fi movie, that’s all that matters.

Be as silly as you want, but deliver the genre thrills and yeah, it’s all good.

Consensus: Life may not be the most original sci-fi tale out there, but it also possesses some truly great action, excitement and fun for those looking for solid genre thrills.

7 / 10

Quick! Get to Mars! Matty Damon’s there!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

T2 Trainspotting (2017)

Choose nostalgia.

20 years ago, heroin junkie Mark Renton (Ewan McGregor) skipped out on all of his pals with a huge bag of cash, leaving fellow junkies Sick Boy (Jonny Lee Miller) and Begbie (Robert Carlyle) high and dry, and Spud (Ewen Bremner) with a little something left in a locker nearby. After a near-death experience, Renton feels as if it’s finally time to head on home, all things considered, check up on his old pals, and see if, possibly, they’ll take him back and forgive him for the selfishly cruel act that he committed all those years ago. After all, they’re all nearly 50, so obviously, they can’t still be holding grudges from when they were in their mid-20’s, right? Well, wrong. In fact, mostly everyone still holds something against Renton, leaving him to have to really try hard and work for these guys’ affections. For his old pal Sick Boy, the two team-up on making a bar into a brothel, Spud is busy trying to stay off smack, but also writing a book about all of their stories, and well, for Begbie, who just escaped jail, he’s keen on extracting revenge for something that he’ll never, ever be able to forgive.

Nowhere to go, but down. Get it?

Trainspotting is such a near-perfect movie, that you’d think even the slightest idea of doing a sequel to it would be absolute, total blasphemy. It’s the kind of movie that worked so well for what it was, when it was made, what it represented, and the neat little bow it tied itself up with at the end, that it seemed like it wrote its own gritty, but beautiful demise. And honestly, a part of me was fine with that; everyone apart of has gone on to do amazing things with their careers and the characters themselves, while memorable and all lovable, still feel as if they’re the “one-and-done” kind where enough of them can go a long, long way.

But here we are, a little over 20 years later with T2 Trainspotting (an awful title, by the way).

And it’s odd because T2 is the kind of movie you’d expect to get from a bunch of people who made a big hit early on in their careers, never got the chance to capitalize on said hit and all of a sudden, feel the urgent need and desire to circle back to what made them names in the first place. But like I said before, everyone who was involved with the first Trainspotting, have either gone on to do a whole bunch of work and stay relevant, or have done, in ways, better stuff. For director Danny Boyle, that’s exactly the case, as he’s not only shown that he’s capable of bouncing from genre-to-genre without a single sign of wear-and-tear, but he’s also become one of the best directors working today – just the idea of him signing onto a project automatically causes people to shimmer and shake with joy and excitement.

Which is why T2, isn’t all that bad of an idea. The whole gang is basically back, everyone’s clearly in the mood to tell these character’s stories again, and yeah, they’re more than happy to revel in the grit and debauchery that the first movie loved so much. In that sense, the movie still kind of works; sure, everyone is older and far more silly than before, but there’s still something sweet and earnest about watching a gang of old pals getting back together, smoking, drinking, snorting, shooting, and committing all sorts of shenanigans just like they used to.

Is it sort of sad, too? Actually yeah.

But that’s actually the point of T2 – it’s one of the rare sequels that admits its existence is solely for nostalgia’s sake, but at the same time, doesn’t stay away from that, either. The constant references, visual cues, and yes, actual clips from the original itself, can get to be a bit old and grating, but it actually does help the movie work in a much different manner than said first; due to the characters being older, slower, and not quite what they used to be, it makes sense that the movie’s style is a bit less frantic, hectic and crazy than the first and in a way, more melancholy and mannered. It’s a shock, I know, but it actually works, all things considered. Maybe Boyle could have stayed away from all the constant pointing and shoving, but I think at this point in his career, he’s allowed to – after all, the original is a near-masterpiece, so if he wants to go back to those old days, sip a little wine, and reminisce with his buddies, then so be it.

GET IT?!?!?

He’s deserved it, they deserved it, and if it’s good enough to watch, then yeah, we deserve it, too.

The only aspect of T2 that we don’t deserve is the story itself. See, there actually already is a sequel to Trainspotting, in written-form from Irvine Welsh, entitled Porno, which thankfully, isn’t fully adapted here. The movie still takes a lot from that book with characters and certain sequences, but for the most part, a good portion of it is made-up and you can sort of tell; Begbie’s whole subplot about him wanting to kill Renton is about 20 minutes too long, unnecessary, and just feels like extra energy that could have been put towards elsewhere. Same goes for Spud’s “book” that, about halfway through, he starts writing – it’s an obvious trope we’ve seen a hundred times before and yeah, it’s not necessarily a fresh, or inventive device.

The real meat and heart of the story comes from Renton and Sick Boy’s relationship, what they do together, and how they relate after all of these years. It helps that McGregor and Miller seem like true pals here, but it also helps that the movie approaches their friendship with a sense of humanity and love that was never quite seen in the first. It’s as if the movie is slowly leaning towards something far more gay and hot and sexy, but instead, throws us a curveball with Sick Boy’s girlfriend (Anjela Nedyalkova, a true find), who has to ruin it all. Still, had the movie stuck with this, it probably would have been way better off.

But as is, it remains a solid so long, farewell to these characters.

Until 2038, possibly.

Consensus: Despite it’s never ending reliance on nostalgia, T2 still works as an entertaining, rather sweet look at aging and friendship, amidst all of the boobs, sex, drugs, and Iggy Pop.

7.5 / 10

The gang’s back and man, time did not work out well for them. Oh well. Let’s do some H-bombs.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Crossing Guard (1995)

Grief makes you crazy. Literally.

After his daughter is killed in a hit-and-run accident, Freddy Gale (Jack Nicholson) is left, unsurprisingly, heartbroken. He drinks a lot, goes berserk, and yeah, patiently waits the day that the driver John Booth (David Morse) is out of jail. It’s something that no one around Freddy can support – not even his ex-wife (Anjelica Huston) – but Freddy doesn’t need their support. He’s grieving and he is in desperate need of said grief to go away, so that when the day comes around to taking care of business, he can do so with a happy mind. Eventually, Booth does get out of prison and he’s come to terms with his accident; he’s apologetic and regretful, and honestly, just wants to move on. He gets a job, starts going to meetings, stays away from bad stuff, and oh yeah, he’s even got himself a girlfriend (Robin Wright). Still though, Freddy doesn’t care. The past six years have been nothing but hell for him and he’s going to let John know it, by any means necessary.

“Yeah, agent? Get me a much louder role next time.”

The Crossing Guard is a tad bit different from Sean Penn’s the Indian Runner, in that it does have a slower, more melodic story to work with again, but this time around, he’s actually developing something about it. As opposed to just giving us something resembling a story, things resembling characters, and issues resembling conflicts, everything matters and is exactly what it seems. There’s conflict, there’s development, there’s characters, and above all else, there’s a drive.

Where that drive ends up may be problematic, but hey, at least it’s going somewhere in the first place.

Where Penn gets the most mileage here is out of the cast, all of whom are terrific. Nicholson’s Freddy is one of the most dramatic and dressed-down performances the man has ever given and it’s a surprise how well he pulls it off, without much of any of the usual gimmicks to be found. His dark persona does work for this character, as we know that there’s something truly upsetting and mean about this character, but there’s also a lot more sadness to him than anything. We see it come out in honest, shocking ways, that show Nicholson can work well, even if he is sort of playing a bit against-type.

Then again, with Nicholson, was he ever a “type”?

It’s a Sean Penn movie from the mid-90’s, so of course Robin will be around, half-naked.

Anyway, Huston gets some solid moments, too, as the ex-wife who, essentially, just yells and hollers a lot. But hey, she does it like a pro. David Morse’s John is also more sympathetic than he would have been in other movies, but it still works to Morse’s skill-set, as we get to see a heart and soul behind the sadness and darkness. We never fully get to know the demons lying inside of this guy, but the ones that we do see and identify, are still interesting. Robin Wright is also fine as his supposed love-interest, who may mean more to the overall story, but mostly, just seems like someone to be there for Morse’s character when all is said and done.

As for the rest of the movie itself, it’s still pretty good, but we also get the sense that Penn himself is constantly growing and learning as a writer/director. Here, with the Crossing Guard, he gets the idea of grief down perfectly and realizes that it’s not us ourselves who make us the most sad in these troubling times, but those around them. Penn doesn’t hide away from the fact that what this Freddy guy is dealing with is some pretty brutal stuff, and rather than trying to sugar-coat as a Lifetime after-school special, he films it in all of its raw, unabashed irony. It’s quite a surprise to get in a movie such as this, and shows that Penn, when he’s not telling a meaningful story, is also not backing down from approaching his story in a much harder manner.

The issues is that by the final act, things get a little screwy. It’s hard to say how, or why, for any of these matters, but just know that the Crossing Guard does eventually dive into thriller-territory and it feels odd. It’s as if Penn himself was so enamored with the character-drama, that he also sort of felt obligated to deliver on the action and supposed violence that a tale like this would promise. It’s a shame, too, because the message it delivers at the end is a smart and meaningful one.

It’s just a shame it had to go through that last act to get there.

Consensus: With pitch perfect performances across the board, the Crossing Guard works as a smart, disturbing look at grief and depression, but also botches its final act.

7.5 / 10

He doesn’t look so bad for a child killer.

Photos Courtesy of: HotFlick.net, Pop Matters