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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

Towelhead (2008)

Don’t you just love your neighbors.

Jasira (Summer Bishil) is a 13-year-old Arab-American girl navigating through the confusing and frightening path of adolescence and her own sexual awakening. When Jasira’s mother sends her to Houston to live with her strict Lebanese father (Peter Macdissi), she quickly learns that her new neighbors find her and her father a curiosity, something that has some positive, as well as dangerously negative effects on them, and everyone around them.

It’s hard to watch Towelhead and not at all try and compare it to writer/director Alan Ball’s other work. For one, American Beauty and Six Feet Under are absolute masterpieces, showing off Ball’s great sense of heart, humor, satire, and thoughtfulness beyond it all. In a way, True Blood took him away from what we all know and love, which is why it’s so good to see something like Towelhead, as mixed as it may be, still at least hit the same notes we expect from Ball.

Like father....

Like father….

But at the same time time, when you’re up against American Beauty and Six Feet Under, it’s a really hard battle to win, which ultimately becomes Towelhead‘s one factor holding it all back.

Ball isn’t really diving into a subject he hasn’t tried before (suburbia), but at least he still makes it feel fresh and inventive just by how hard he pushes this story. A lot of the subject material, as you would suspect, is very controversial, but Ball isn’t afraid to dig in deep. Jasira’s story starts off bad and then gets worse and worse and worse, and it only has some bright spots here and there, but not enough to fully make us feel as if we can put a smile on our faces when it’s over. It’s a ride of torment that Ball involves us in, and if you can handle it and watch, then you may actually come away liking this flick.

Now, if menstrual blood, tampons, underage sex, masturbation, bloody tampons, and dead kittens aren’t your cup of tea, then yeah, Towelhead may grossly disturb you. But then again, it’s sort of the point; Ball is showing that growing up, going through puberty, and eventually, having a sexual awakening, isn’t a very pretty thing. It’s sometimes scary, random, and yes, a little disgusting. But it’s a fact and way of life and it’s kind of great how Ball doesn’t approach any of this in a back-offish way, but instead, showing it all in its gritty glory.

Something he’s done before, of course, but man, he does push some buttons here.

Problem is, something feels missing. Normally, this wouldn’t always bother me, had I not been familiar with the director’s work prior, but with Ball, I love and appreciate his work so much, it’s hard for me not to watch Towelhead and wonder what was here and what was missing. Ball seems to be reaching a bit here, in that there’s a lot he wants to say about racism, about sex, about gender, about puberty, about religion, about family, and about so much other stuff, that he could do to the absolute fulfillment in the whole five seasons of Six Feet Under, but in Towelhead, he has to find a way to cram it all in under two-hours somehow, and it can’t help but seem a little messy. It’s as if Ball himself knew he had a lot to work with, gave it the Freshman try, saw what stuck, what didn’t, and just leave it all there, in one, messy, and rather unfocused piece.

But then again, I’d much rather have a messy, unfocused piece from Alan Ball, than from a lot of other people out there, so it does help.

Like mother...

Like mother…

Really though, where Towelhead does seem to lose a bit of intelligence is in the way Ball himself writes everyone who isn’t Jasira. Either they’re all sickening, mean, or absolutely rude, and it makes you wonder: Is it the point? One adult character in particular is Maria Bello as Jasira’s mother. Bello is great, as usual, but her character is just so selfish, so mean, and so callous the whole time she’s on the screen, that it made me wonder just how the hell anybody would want to stay at her place over a long Summer. Also, Jasira’s dad and her mother seem like total opposites that would never, ever come together in real life, let alone be married for six years and have a kid.

On the flip-side of the equation, there’s Aaron Eckhart as the terrifyingly creepy next-door neighbor that takes a liking to Jasira right from the start. We already know that Eckhart can play sleazy very well, but this is a different kind of sleazy right here. This guy is dirty, uncomfortable to be around, inappropriate, nasty, cruel, and any other bad word that I can come up with now, but would just so repetitive. Eckhart takes control of the screen every time he’s in front of it and the scenes he has with Jasira, just make this film even more tense and bizarre than it already was in the first place. There’s only about two or three scenes where his character feels fleshed out, but Eckhart never forgets to remind us that this guy is a predator, and predator’s are always lurking around every corner.

So yeah, some of the characterization works and some of it doesn’t.

As Jasira, Summer Bishil is pretty great, in that she doesn’t feel like the typical teen you’d get in a movie such as this. She’s smarter, a little bit wiser, and yes, even aware of her surroundings. Still, at the same time, she is a bit naive and silly about the world around her and it’s interesting to see her learn, adapt and grow over the course of the movie, even when it seems like the movie’s pushing her arch so ridiculously far, it’s a wonder how she stays believable and understated through it all. But she does, so good for her.

Consensus: Towelhead is another one of Alan Ball’s take-downs of middle-class suburbia, with some biting, lovely writing, but also an unfocused direction that leaves a lot of loose strands by the end.

7.5 / 10

Oh, and definitely like neighbor.....

Oh, and definitely like neighbor.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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A Man Called Ove (2016)

People like a grump.

59-year-old Ove (Rolf Lassgård) is his little townhouse’s sullen old guy. He is recently widowed and suicidal from the impact. One day, Parvaneh (Bahar Pars) and her family move into the house across the street. When they later knock down Ove’s mailbox with their car, this becomes the prelude to an unexpected friendship and a turnaround in the world-weary man’s life. But this new outlook on life also brings back fond, as well as sad memories, of his past in which he had to face all sorts of hardships and somehow come out on top. Now though, Ove is just looking to live another day and not let people take advantage of him, or think of him as anything less, due to this age.

We’ve all seen this story before. The old, grumpy curmudgeon yells and offends people, until after a short while, he starts to get along with a select-few and eventually, comes around. He’s not as mean, he’s not as nasty, he’s not as cruel, and he’s sure as hell not all that angry anymore – now, he’s a happy old fella, who has some unlikable tendencies and aspects, but eventually, everyone around him has learned to accept him for who he is, that it doesn’t matter.

Many years before the grumbling took over his life. Man, look how happy.

Many years before the grumbling took over his life. Man, look how happy.

In other words, yes, A Man Called Ove is predictable and conventional, to a fault, but it’s also got a humongous heart at the center which more than makes up for this being something of a cross between St. Vincent and Gran Torino. In a way, where the former failed, Ove works in that it creates this character we want to know more about and understand why he is, the way he is; to just pass this Ove guy off as a grumpy old fella because of his age, would surely be weak and not all that interesting. Eventually, we do start to see more about the life he’s lived and as time progresses, his interaction with those around him.

But the movie still remains smart.

It doesn’t paint Ove out to be this later-day saint, waiting somewhere in the shadows, hoping that someone will notice his good-deeds, but more of an old guy who can give a little more to those around him, make them feel a tad bit happier about their lives, and oh yeah, stop complaining so much. It’s a simple formula, for sure, but it works so well because we want to see Ove interact with everyone around him, and by the same token, know anything more about him, too. Sometimes, that’s all you need with a movie, regardless of how predictable your story can be.

Also, it helps that Rolf Lassgård is pretty amazing in the lead role as Ove. Lassgård may not be a household name to those in the States, but for any of us who saw After the Wedding (like me), know one thing: The man can act. And also, he’s got a voice that would scare dinosaurs away. He’s this big, rough and loud bear of a man that commands every scene he’s in, but also isn’t afraid to pull back, either. With Ove, we get to see someone who truly has a lot more going on than just snappy remarks against those surrounding him – there’s someone who is sad, lonely, and yeah, maybe even a bit regretful. Lassgård allows us to see this man for the commanding presence that he is, but also doesn’t forget that he’s working with an interesting character, too.

And yep, years go by and that's him alright.

And yep, years go by and that’s him alright.

Bahar Pars also plays Ove’s new neighbor who takes an immediate liking to him and basically doesn’t pay attention to all of the mean and nasty things he says. The two have a great little rapport going on between them because they both balance each other out in smart, interesting ways; whenever he’s grumpy and yelling, she sits back and basically tells him to, “shut up”, and whenever she’s freaking out over something, he reminds her that no obstacle is too impossible to reach, that she hasn’t already touched in the first place. It’s a very sweet little friendship that, once again, makes Ove a little smarter than what we’re used to getting with these kinds of stories.

Until, of course, the final-act, when things change and yeah, then we’ve all of a sudden got a plot to work with.

Of course, it’s hard for me to get mad at a movie for snapping itself awake and giving us a story, but with Ove, it almost feels like there doesn’t need to be one. Spending the near-two hours, just watching as Ove went around town, yelled at people, complained, tried to fix things, etc., would have been fine. But nope, we get more of something else and yeah, it doesn’t quite electrify. It’s fine to have, but meh, we could have been fine without it all, to be honest.

Consensus: Working with a familiar premise, A Man Called Ove still works as a sweet, sometimes funny look at a troubled and mad old man, perfectly played by Lassgård.

7 / 10

But hey, at least kids brighten the old codger's day.

But hey, at least kids brighten the old codger’s day.

Photos Courtesy of: Music Box Films

The LEGO Batman Movie (2017)

Sorry, Batfleck. Better luck next time.

When something goes awry in Gotham City, who do they immediately call? Well, for one, they do try the police, but when that doesn’t pan-out, they give a call to Batman (Will Arnett). And yes, he does deliver. Batman has, on many occasions, saved Gotham City from absolute and total destruction, putting some of the most insane and violent criminals away for good. However, underneath the mask, the body-armor and the whole facade, therein likes Bruce Wayne, someone who lives on his own island, all by himself, with the assistance of his butler Alfred (Ralph Fiennes) and is, essentially, longing for something of a family. He eventually gets it in orphan Dick Grayson (Michael Cera), who basically gets himself adopted by Wayne and spends almost all of his time with him, even when Wayne doesn’t want anything to do with Grayson. Then again, he doesn’t want anything to do with anyone, so it makes sense. But now that Batman’s most notorious villain, the Joker (Zach Galifianakis) has turned up, causing all sorts of trouble, well, it’s time for Batman to put his skills to the test, but this time, with someone named Robin by his side.

Harvard police department!

Harvard police department!

Those expecting the LEGO Movie, again, may be a tad bit disappointed by the LEGO Batman Movie. For one, it doesn’t quite reach for the cinematic ambitions that the former reached for and actually got, but at the same time, it’s also quite a joy to watch, just as the former was. See, this time around, Phil Lord and Christopher Miller have taken the day off, allowing for the latest installment of this franchise to be done by Chris McKay, someone who, if you don’t know, is actually associated with Robot Chicken.

And yeah, the LEGO Batman Movie feels exactly like an longer, much more family-friendly episode of that show. Which isn’t to take away from this product, or that product, because both are very funny; they’re clearly both done with some love and affection for the material that they’re spoofing and yeah, meta as hell. But what works best about the LEGO Batman Movie is that it is a movie, it has a plot, it has structure, and yeah, it does have some emotion thrown in there for good measure.

In other words, it’s a movie. Plain and simple.

That may sound stupid to say, but it matters for a huge animated movie like this – the jokes, as funny as they may be, often times do need something to work around and with, and not just thrown together all haphazardly. In the LEGO Batman Movie, we get a plot that essentially shows us a sad Batman, who is lonely, longs for a family unit, and yeah, is a bit of a dick. The movie does take it one step further, though, in actually developing him as it goes along, not forgetting about the mythology of this character, but also not forgetting to show us why most of all do love and adore him for what he is, what he symbolized, and why it’s so cool to see him take down evil-doers.

No Heath or Jack, but hey, he'll do.

No Heath or Jack, but hey, he’ll do.

I know this sounds a little cheesy and odd, considering that I’m talking about the LEGO Batman Movie, but when we just had Batman V. Superman come out and totally forget the appeal of Batman, well, it’s sort of like something needs to be said. And while I didn’t quite hate that movie as a lot of people did, the LEGO Batman Movie is definitely a better take on that character’s story and movie all around.

Still, though, they’re obviously two different movies and with good reason.

The LEGO Batman Movie is funny, cheerful, and at times, even hilarious. It goes the extra mile to poke jokes at the expense of Batman, his story, and all that, but also skewer everything else about these superheros that we know and after awhile, it gets to become almost too good to be true. If you’re a fan of this kind of comic-book culture, then yeah, the LEGO Batman Movie will do everything in its power to make sure that there’s more than a few in-jokes for you, which works and helps keep it moving, even when it does seem like there may be a bit of a slow down in the pace.

And it also helps that we’ve got such a great and talented ensemble here, too. Will Arnett is great at his gravelly-voiced Batman, showing some layers to the character; Michael Cera is a perfect pick as the always sunny and happy Robin; Rosario Dawson is solid as Barbara Gordon, even if she is, essentially, the straight-woman in this whole predicament; Ralph Fiennes is a perfect fit as Alfred and yeah, could totally see him doing this role in real life, without all of the animation; and Zach Galifianakis is also quite a bunch of fun as the Joker, showing us shades of depth to him, as well, but also maintaining some manic fun, too. There’s more in this cast, too, but just know this: They’re all funny and they’re all fun to hear from.

Consensus: While not nearly as ambitious as the LEGO Movie, the LEGO Batman Movie still gets by on its charm, witty in-jokes, and overall fun and love for its source material.

7.5 / 10

Robin and Bat forever and ever.

Robin and Bat forever and ever.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

After Dark, My Sweet (1990)

dark

Small towns will be the death of ya.

After having quite an illustrious career in boxing, Kevin “the Kid” Collins (Jason Patric) loses it all in one fell swoop, when he loses his cool in the ring and damn near kills his fellow opponent, way after the bell was rung. This leaves Kevin on his own, on the run from the law, essentially, and now drifting all around the country. For what reason? Or better yet, what is he trying to reach/achieve? Well, Kevin himself doesn’t quite know, until he meets the sweet, sexy and illustrious Fay (Rachel Ward), who takes him in to her abandoned home right away. Why, though? She isn’t offering him sex, and she sure as hell isn’t all that nice to him, so why would someone like Fay allow a total and absolute stranger like Kevin into her home? Well, once Kevin meets Uncle Garrett (Bruce Dern), he soon begins to realize what his purpose in the house is and it may lead to some dangerous, violent situations for all three involved.

Yep. not crazy.

Yep, not crazy.

After Dark, My Sweet is the kind of noir that you have to take your time with. I’ll admit it, the first time I saw it, I wasn’t quite ready; for some odd reason, I had the feeling that I was going to be getting a sexy, exciting, and rather tense crime-thriller, with hot people acting all dangerous and secretive, but instead, I got something much, much slower and more detailed. Back in those days, I couldn’t appreciate the movie for what it was, but the times have changed and well, so have I.

I’m still an a-hole regardless, but a better movie-viewer.

And that’s why After Dark, My Sweet, worked better for me this go around; it’s not that I knew what to expect in terms of the plot (much of which I actually forgot), but knew what to expect and look for in terms of its tone and pacing. Director James Foley has a knack for telling these rather dark and dreary tales of sad, lonely people, trying to make sense of the world that they live in, and he does a solid job here – the movie can get a little meandering at points, never knowing what it wants to be about, but the meandering actually kind of works in the movie’s favor. We don’t quite know where this story is going and the movie’s better off for it.

Foley knows that telling a story like this, you need to keep your audience in the dark, every step of the way. Eventually, the movie starts to figure itself out, make sense of itself, and tell us what it’s going to be and from then on, it does actually get rather tense and exciting, but like I said before, not in the ways that you’d expect. There’s not a whole lot of violence, there’s not a whole lot of blood, and there sure as hell isn’t a whole lot of guns, but sometimes, you don’t need all of that to make a movie exciting and tense – sometimes, all you need is good characters, a compelling plot, and oh yeah, a solid cast.

Look out when Bruce gives you that look!

Look out when Bruce gives you that look!

Which After Dark, My Sweet, definitely has.

Jason Patric is especially the stand-out here, as Kevin Collins, an odd, weird and definitely mysterious person we think we have a good idea about early on, but over time, throughout, we start to see new shadings, too. Patric deserves a lot of credit for this, too, because a character like this could have easily been annoying and dull – the sheer fact we don’t know much about him, besides what we tell him, is already a bit of a stretch – bit Patric makes this character interesting. We don’t know if he’s a good guy, a bad one, or just someone doing things because, well, he’s bored and he’s got nothing else to do. Or, is he a total loon who needs to be locked away from the rest of society? We never quite know and that’s why Patric’s performance is mostly special.

That, and well, he’s always been one of my favorites actors around, so yeah, maybe that’s got something to do with it.

Bruce Dern also shows up as Uncle Garrett, another shady, mysterious figure who doesn’t give us his full intentions right away, but over time, starts to peel away certain layers to his skin. Dern’s great at these kinds of characters and yeah, he’s clearly in his element here, although you do feel a whole lot more sad for this character. The only one who seems to be a bit out of her depth, for some odd reason, is Rachel Ward, however, I don’t know how much of that is her problem. The character of Fay is, essentially, a type – she’s the femme fatale, but a lot more naive and vulnerable. The movie doesn’t know what to say about her, though, either; she’s less of a mystery to us than the other two and because of that, we never know if she really counts to the overall story. Ward tries, and she’s definitely stunning, but her character just seems like more of a type, than well, an actual human being.

Something movies like these survive off of from dorks like me.

Consensus: Sexy and compelling, After Dark, My Sweet takes its time to get going, but is still deserving of a watch with the solid cast.

7.5 / 10

Oh so sexy and well, kind of sad.

Oh so sexy and well, kind of sad.

Photos Courtesy of: Twenty Four Frames

Gold (2017)

Greed is sort of good, so long as your ugly, bald and fat.

After his father dies, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is left without much to do in his life. He was so successful for so very long, but now, without the inspiration of his dear old daddy to help him out, he’s basically hitting rock bottom, drinking, smoking and eating a whole lot more than he used to. Even though his wife (Bryce Dallas Howard) is there to cheer him on every step of the way, there’s still something just dragging Kenny down and not making him able to catch that big break just yet. Then, out of nowhere, it hits him: Set out on an adventure to the uncharted jungles of Indonesia and look for gold. Kenny feels that this idea is great enough that he could get funding from just about any person with half a brain – unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. Instead, Kenny has to reach out to a local businessman, Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), to help him on this adventure and see just what kind of gold mine they’re actually working with here. Turns out, there’s a whole lot of it hidden, and now, it’s up to Kenny and Michael to get it all out, make a whole lot of money, and not get dragged down by other various greedy sons-of-bitches.

"Trust me, bro. I can smell the gold. Or it could be my liver rotting away."

“Trust me, bro. I can smell the gold. Or it could be my liver rotting away.”

It’s interesting to compare Gold and director Stephen Gaghan’s last movie, Syriana, to one another because while they definitely have a lot in common, they’re also quite different in many ways, too. For one, they’re both movies that preach about billionaires, greedy businessman, and the whole mentality of making more money, by any means, at whatever costs. However, while the later was far more ambitious, taking on what were basically four different subplots all at once, it also happens to be the far more boring of the two.

Gold, on the other hand, is quite a wild ride.

The only issue is that it does take some time to get going. For at least the first hour or so, it seems like the movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be; does it want to poke fun at this overweight, balding businessman who can’t seem to get the idea that he’s just lost “it”, or, does it want to celebrate him for the courage, the drive and bravura that it takes for him to get up, each and every day, expecting to make millions and millions of dollars? Gaghan, for the longest time, seems like he doesn’t quite know and it’s why the first-half of Gold is probably going to start people off on the wrong foot.

Because after said first-half, things are a whole lot better, in that they’re quicker, more interesting and most of all, just fun. After a short while of not knowing what it wants to say or do, Gold eventually figures out that making there’s some true joy and loveliness to be had in making all of this money; it seems as if it’s never going to end and basically, the world is your oyster. Gaghan cranks up the pace and all of a sudden, rather than having a dark, dramatic and rather slow piece about businessmen doing whatever they can to stay afloat, we get a dark, yet, slightly comedic, and rather exciting piece about businessmen making all sorts of money and having a great time doing it.

What? You're telling me you wouldn't trust this guy with your livelihood?

What? You’re telling me you wouldn’t trust this guy with your livelihood?

It’s not hard to get swept up in all of this fun and excitement, either, which is why Gaghan deserves praise for knowing just how to tell this story, the right way. Because even while it’s all fun and games, the movie still does have a little something to say about the ridiculousness and cut-throat world that all of these men seem to inhabit and it turns the movie on its head a bit. Of course, the Founder explores the same ideas and probably does a better job, but the fact that Gold does, at the very least, try and discuss these very real issues, is smart and makes it feel like something far more different than one would expect from the first-half.

And yes, it also gives McConaughey to have a great time with this role, too.

Of course, Gold will probably be best remembered for the absolute dressing-down and uglying-up of McConaughey in a role that gives him weird teeth, a potbelly, and a balding hair-piece. While it may seem like a showy-stunt to show us all just what lengths McConaughey will go to, it still works for the character; this Kenny Wells can be so vile and disgusting at times, it’s hard not to feel irked by him, if only by his appearance alone. That said, McConaughey is more than capable of showing the dark sides of this character and it’s hard to take your eyes off of him, even when it seems like the movie’s getting a whole lot more nuts and convoluted.

And yeah, the rest of the ensemble is pretty amazing, too. Édgar Ramírez has a nice chemistry with McConaughey, making it seem like the two could be more than just business-partners, but actual buddies; Bryce Dallas Howard doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but does have a few moments to shine; Corey Stoll and Bill Camp show up as vindictive and toothless Wall Street dudes and are perfect at it; Bruce Greenwood has an odd British accent, for some reason; Toby Kebbell puts on a weird American accent, for some reason; and yeah, there’s more.

Just know this: Gold is fun. End of story.

Consensus: Despite starting off relatively weak, Gold gets going and shows us that greed isn’t good, but with a great cast and lively pace, it’s hard not to enjoy.

7 / 10

See! Making money is fun! Now shut up!

See! Making money is fun! Now shut up!

Photos Courtesy of: Hollywood Reporter, Indiewire

The Hoax (2006)

It’s always best to get in the fake company of known-crazies.

Author Clifford Irving (Richard Gere) is finding it hard to stay afloat. His latest book was just passed-on, making him feel as if he’s nothing and probably going to be forgotten about some time soon. However, when he catches wind that famed billionaire Howard Hughes is as crazy as can be and barely anyone knows anything about him, well, Clifford concocts the perfect book. In it, he’ll be interviewing Hughes about his life, his business expenditures and most importantly, get all of the latest dish on his deepest, darkest and dirtiest secrets. Clifford feels like he can really get down to the bottom of what makes Hughes clicks and why he is the way he is, something that the publishers absolutely love and go haywire for. The only issue is that Clifford has never met Hughes and probably never will; the security is so air-tight on that man, that not even his closest, best friends can get anywhere near him. But that’s not going to keep Clifford away from getting the book he wants, he’ll just have to talk to everyone but Howard and try to do what he can to get the best story out of imaginable. Even if, you know, there are some lines to be blurred between “fact” and “fiction”.

"Look at me, Hope. Could you hate this face?"

“Look at me, Hope. Could you hate this face?”

It’s hard to do a bad, uninteresting movie about con-men. Whether the tales themselves are real, or fake, it doesn’t quite matter; it’s so entertaining to watch a bunch of sly, smart people act their ways through life, with all the right lies and moves. There’s something truly exciting about watching this, because deep down inside each and everyone of us, there’s that feeling that we wish we were that smart, that brave, and that damn slimy to do the same as they are, get away with it, and walk away from it all with a smile on our faces.

And that’s why the Hoax, despite seeming like it can border on the verge of ringing false, is still entertaining to watch.

Even though it is, oddly enough, directed by Lasse Hallström, of all people. However, what Hallström does best here is that he doesn’t get in the way of the material, or try to force anything down our throats; regardless of what the true stories behind most of these situations may have been, the movie moves at such a quick, efficient pace that it’s hard to really pin point the issues with the facts. The movie may seem ridiculous at points, but at the same time, it’s hard not to have a little fun, watching as this little weasel of a man tries his best to wig and worm his way out of every tense situation possible.

But beneath all of the facades, gags, lies, deception, and most of all, cons, there’s something to be learned here. There’s this idea running throughout the Hoax that is interesting, because it tries to make sense out of this whole situation in the first place. The fact that someone like Irving was so easily capable of fooling just about everyone around him, for so very long, for all of the wrong reasons, really makes you think – is there such a problem with his lies? After all, the lies and deceptions he was making, were all to really just get himself some money and a little bit of fame – he wasn’t trying to hurt anyone, start any wars, and he sure as hell wasn’t hurting Hughes’ feelings.

Wait, who's Leonardo DiCaprio?

Wait, who’s Leonardo DiCaprio?

There are bits and pieces of the Hoax that show that maybe, just maybe, Irving’s little escapades had more of an effect than he, or anyone else had ever expected, but mostly, the movie realizes that this is best left to our interpretation. The movie doesn’t make us think that Irving is a great man for getting away with everything that he was able to get away with (although, he’s definitely ballsy, for sure), but show that even someone like him, can get away with so very much. And when all is said and done, for what reasons?

Well, fame and fortune and for most, anything can happen.

As Irving, the man, the myth, the legend, so to speak, Richard Gere does a solid job because he’s playing very much against-type. Sure, he’s still charming, handsome and yes, the ladies love him, but there’s also something more dastardly about him that makes his performance here the more bearable than some of his others, where we’re literally begged to fall in love with him and adore his beautiful, well-constructed face, chin and hair. Even though Irving isn’t made out to be a perfect human being here, there’s still something sympathetic about him that makes you hope he gets away with all of his lies, even though, yeah, it probably won’t happen.

While Gere’s Irving is mostly front-and-center for a good portion of the movie, there’s others who all show up on the side and remind us why they deserve to be noticed. Alfred Molina plays Irving’s sidekick, so to speak, and has some truly great moments, never letting you know exactly when the man is going to crack under all of the pressure; Marcia Gay Harden plays Irving’s wife, and despite an odd Swedish accent, she’s still charming; Stanley Tucci has a few great scenes that make you wish he was in the whole thing, as is the case with Hope Davis and Julie Delpy. They all add a little bit of fun and excitement to a story that certainly didn’t need their help, but hey, at least they were here to add something.

Consensus: While a good portion of it seems made-up (wouldn’t that be great?), the Hoax still gets by on the charm of its cast, and quick, swift and exciting pace.

7 / 10

Yuck it up, fellas!

Yuck it up, fellas! No seriously, please do. It’s a lot of fun to watch.

Photos Courtesy of: PopMatters

Mystery Train (1989)

trainElvis truly was the King, baby.

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

Look out, Memphis!

Look out, Memphis!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh well. Sue me.

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

7 / 10

We've all got that feeling.

We’ve all got that feeling.

Photos Courtesy of:Media Life Crisis

Breakdown (1997)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: JMount’s Written in Blood

Tower (2016)

They have guns in Texas?

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

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

Just another lovely little couple on this fine day.

Just another lovely little couple on this fine day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, PBS, Truth on Cinema 

New York, New York (1977)

Frankie should have sued somebody.

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

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

Close, but no Cabaret.

Close, but no Cabaret.

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

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

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

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

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

Smoke 'em if you got 'em.

Smoke ’em if you got ’em.

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

Or, something like that.

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

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

But yeah, definitely a Scorsese movie for sure.

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

7 / 10

Love? Between these two?

Love? Between these two?

Photos Courtesy of: The Red List

Patriots Day (2016)

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

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

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

Marky Mahk thinks he hears something fizzlin'.

Marky Mahk thinks he hears something fizzlin’.

But not in the way you’d expect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, well there we go.

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

7.5 / 10

Marky Mak is da best cop awound dese paks.

Marky Mak is da best cop awound dese paks.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Postcards from the Edge

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

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

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

I know, moms, right?

I know, moms, right?

Regardless, the movie still works.

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

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

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

Don't trust Gene.

Don’t trust Gene.

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

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

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

Maybe something needs to change, eh?

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

7 / 10

RIP, kind of.

RIP, kind of.

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

The Rundown (2003)

Stay at home. It’s less violent.

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

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

Who needs a Rose?

Who needs a Rose?

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

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

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

Or then again, maybe not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, Rose. You still rock.

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

7 / 10

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

Oh yeah, and you’ve got a Rock, too.

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

Fences (2016)

Man, dads can be a drag.

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

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

Uh oh. Denzel mad. Look out.

Uh oh. Denzel mad. Look out.

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

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

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

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

Uh oh. Viola sad.

Uh oh. Viola sad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Lion (2016)

Wow. Google really does have it all.

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

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

Aw, such a cute little boy.

Aw, such a cute little boy.

That said, the movie does feel a tad incomplete.

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

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

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

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

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

Wow. That escalated quickly.

Wow. That escalated quickly.

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

And the performances are quite good, too.

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

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

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

That’s just me, though.

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Great Debaters (2007)

Yell as loud as you can.

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

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

So, will it be televised?

So, will it be televised?

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

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

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

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

Debate team, or the rugby team?

Debate team, or the rugby team?

Thankfully, the young talent here is quite good.

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

Please. More. Of. This.

Please. More. Of. This.

Photos Courtesy of: The New York Times, Popcorn Reel

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

We’re like all connected, man.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorry, Darth. Not as vicious anymore.

Sorry, Darth. Not as vicious anymore.

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

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

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

Maybe I showed up to the wrong movie.

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

7 / 10

True besties.

True besties.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Bridget Jones’s Baby (2016)

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

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

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

Happy birthday. But really, who cares?

Happy birthday. But really, who cares?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

Oh, wacky pregnant hi-jinx!

Oh, wacky pregnant hi-jinx!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Assholes Watching Movies

Florence Foster Jenkins (2016)

Haters going to hate. So sing, girl!

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

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

It's true love, I think.

It’s true love, I think.

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

It’s that simple.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking at you, Tamara Drewe.

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

7 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Nocturnal Animals (2016)

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

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

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

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

I don’t know, so don’t ask.

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

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

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

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

Shave up, Jake. And possibly shower.

Shave up, Jake. And possibly shower.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

It's love. Or is it?

It’s love. Or is it?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Indiewire