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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

Girls Trip (2017)

Damn. I miss my girls.

It’s been a very, very long time since best friends Ryan (Regina Hall), Sasha (Queen Latifah), Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish) all got together and just acted wild and crazy. After all, they’re all grown up with Ryan becoming a huge celebrity/author, Lisa becoming a mother and divorcee who doesn’t get out much, Sasha becoming a gossip-blogger, and Dina, well, not really doing much except losing jobs and not really knowing what’s going on around her. That said, it’s about time that they all got together and they do so when they travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival. Of course, they’re there because it’s all on Ryan’s tab, but it’s also because they just miss what they used to have and need to remember what it was like to just have a good time with your girlfriends. But certain issues with their personal lives, how much time has passed, and certain secrets, constantly hold them back from fully loving and exploring the weekend like they should. Eventually, it’s all going to come to a head and, possibly, it may result in this being the last trip these gals ever take together again.

Hopefully not United.

Girls Trip is everything that Rough Night should have been, minus the whole dead-stripper angle. It’s funny, well-written, fun, well-acted, and absolutely feels like you’re involved with the same exact party that these gals are in, committing all sorts of crazy, wild and wacky shenanigans. Of course, it does help that a good portion of the movie, as well as the jokes themselves, are in fact scripted and not just made up on the spot by whoever’s turn it is to speak, but still, that almost doesn’t matter.

The fact is that Girls Trip is funny and deserves to be seen.

It’s the kind of movie that gets off to a slow start because it’s trying to find its groove and has to develop certain things like conflict, characters, etc., but after awhile, gets itself together and all of a sudden, becomes a great time. It’s the kind of studio-comedy that does all the things that are necessary to make a big-budget, studio-comedy work, but so rarely actually do; instead of putting together a neat premise, with funny jokes, and even more interesting characters, everything’s just sort of jumbled together and made up, in hopes that the audience doesn’t know or even care.

But with Rough Night and the House, it’s hard not to notice these issues. It’s a sign that more and more studio-comedies need to be heavily scripted and oh yeah, funnier, too. Once again, all of these gals are to be thanked for keeping this movie as funny as it needs to be, but writers Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver deserve a little shout-out, too – not just because they wrote a script with ridiculous situations and funny jokes, but because they actually went the extra mile into having us, believe it or not, care.

So. Much. Gossip.

Girls Trip reminds me a bit of Bridesmaids in that it definitely features gals being just as dirty, just as naughty, and just as raunchy as the guys, but also in that it’s a so-called “chick flick” that feels very honest and rash about women friendships and the certain bond that can be created with them. It doesn’t back away from showing just how these women all connect to one another, why they were friends were in the first place, and why they may all give a hoot about what happens to the other, at the end of the day. They could have all been types, too, but thankfully, the movie actually gives them all personalities and certain tics about them that make them, well, human.

Crazy, right?

But like I said, the cast helps out with this, too. Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith (nice little Set it Off reunion), and the show-stopper, Tiffany Haddish, are all great here and help one another out, whenever it seems like the jokes may be slacking. However, that so rarely happens because there’s just a certain wild and crazy energy to this all that makes you not just feel like you’re apart of all the fun, but that you’re getting to know these gals better, as time goes on, too. Rather than making us feel like we’re hanging out with a bunch of strangers that we could care very little, or less about, we actually get to know, understand, and at the end, come to love them. Sure, they may be problematic and a little flawed, but if anything, that allows them to become more human and understandable, therefore, making the time spent with them (which is a bit long, by the way), all the more enjoyable.

Consensus: Fun, exciting, and oh yeah, pretty darn funny, Girls Trip features women doing their thing, having fun, not making any excuses for it, and oh yeah, reminding Hollywood what can happen when a little more thought is put into crafting an effective studio-comedy.

7.5 / 10

Not raining? Oh wait. Never mind. It’s style.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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Five Minutes of Heaven (2009)

Forgive. Forget. Go a little crazy.

During the 1970s in Northern Ireland, times were tough and they were onlu getting tougher. The IRA was running rampant and people were dropping dead, for no real reasons other than because, well, it was a sign of the times. One such person was Joe Griffin’s older brother gets shot dead by the teenage leader of a UVF. It’s disturbed Joe so much that, all of these years later, now, as an older fella (James Nesbitt), he can’t quite get by in life. He is still haunted by that murder, as well as the memory of it, along with his brother. And it’s why, now nearly thirty years later, Joe is finally ready to meet his brother’s killer, Alistair Little (Liam Neeson), on live TV, with all sorts of producers and agents standing around, expecting some sort of huge emotional breakthrough that only reality television can provide. And well, they’ll most likely get that, except in this case, they won’t be expecting; see, Joe didn’t show up to this meeting for reconciliation, but to extract revenge for all of the pain and anguish that Alistair has caused on his life. It’s just a matter of getting the deed done that matters most.

The most adult game of “hide-n-go-seek” I’ve ever seen.

Five Minutes of Heaven, no matter which way you put it, works best because of the two great performances in the leads, mostly Nesbitt as the strange, deranged and incredibly disturbed Joe. Nesbitt’s a pretty great actor and has been able to play these kind of angry roles before, but never this deranged and crazy, and it’s a nice change-of-pace for him, because while he could have easily gone overboard, he never does. Instead, he plays it short, small, and subtle, making this person’s pain felt the whole time throughout; we know that the man is suffering, but the movie doesn’t have to tell us that at all. Just one look at Nesbitt’s upset face is more than enough to clue us in to what’s really wrong.

And yeah, Liam Neeson is good, too, but he doesn’t show up nearly as much as Nesbitt. That said, he provides a very interesting character who, in any other movie, would have easily been a cold-hearted and evil villain, without any heart, soul, or humanity to be found. But instead, he’s actually a much rather soft and understood man, who has guilt, who feels shame, and wants to be forgiven for all of the awful actions that he’s caused, giving us a chance to see the true human underneath the brooding.

In other words, two great performances in an otherwise fine movie.

Halloween or IRA?

All that said, Five Minutes of Heaven is still a good movie because it asks all sorts of questions about guilt, forgiveness, death, life, and sadness, but also seems interested in actually answering them. We’re told that old wounds can heal with time and separation, but at the same time, we see someone as torn-up and destroyed as Joe, that almost all of that goes out the window. The movie doesn’t always get the chance to answer everything it wants, but the ideas and elements of the story it brings up, guess what? It actually develops and seems to go somewhere with.

Even if the ending is a bit silly. But hey, not all movies have to be absolutely, positively perfect. Sometimes, all they have to do is make you think, watch, and get excited, if only for short, brief instances. Five Minutes of Heaven sort of does that, but also allows for us to feast our eyes on two of the best Irish actors working today.

Aside from the one and only Colin Farrell. I mean, honestly, how charming is that guy!

Consensus: Benefiting from two amazing performances in Nesbitt and Neeson, Five Minutes of Heaven is a smart, challenging thriller that has more on its mind than guns and murder.

7.5 / 10

Some men just want to watch random cars burn.

Photos Courtesy of: Michael McVey, SkiffleboomFlick Diary

Lady Macbeth (2017)

Arranged marriages are all the rage.

In the year 1865 in rural England, a young woman, Katherine (Florence Pugh), is in a loveless marriage to an older man, Alexander (Paul Hilton). She doesn’t care for the man and in fact, he’s quite awful to her, but she puts up with it all because her father couldn’t take care of her any longer and now she’s got plenty of time to just sit around, drink, and eat, while occasionally having to sexually satisfy her hubby who, for some odd reason, doesn’t actually like being physically intimate. Either way, yeah, Katherine’s not happy about the arrangement, which is why she takes full advantage of the freedom she gets when her husband heads out for a business trip and is planning on being gone for quite some time. But her idea of “freedom” gets to be a bit much when she starts something of a relationship with the helper (Cosmo Jarvis), who enjoys having some hot, steamy sex with the lady of the house, but at the same time, also understands the dangers. This is something that Katherine doesn’t fully take into consideration and it all comes back to hit her in the face when people start coming around and sniffing about her place, wondering what’s going on.

Stop smiling!

Lady Macbeth is a pretty bleak film and because of that, it’s actually pretty hard to enjoy. Even in its 89 minutes, it’s quite repetitive and almost feeling like its script was written without any dialogue at all, but instead, just actions and sounds. In that way, it’s a movie that deserves and requires a lot of time, focus and attention, but mostly, it gets by on being a little dark, a little creepy, and a little eerie.

And yeah, that’s about it.

It does deserve to be said that director William Oldroyd approaches the material well; like stated before, there’s a lot of long, silent pauses where you can literally just hear the wind hitting the windows outside. Some may find this “boring”, but it works in this movie’s favor because it helps create an odd sense that something isn’t quite right here, even before bad stuff actually does start happening. And even when the supposed “bad stuff” does begin to happen, the movie thankfully doesn’t delve into any of the melodramatics you’d expect it to – it’s just chilling and creepy and that’s all it needed to be to get the job done.

Oh lord, The dreaded vial!

And yes, Florence Pugh is also pretty great in the lead role as Katherine who, over the hour-and-a-half, does a lot of changing (literally and figuratively), and finds a way to make all of the sides to her, at the very least, believable. That’s hard to do, too, with a character who we initially feel sympathy for, but know very little about, other than that she’s poor, in a crappy situation, and obviously miserable. However, Pugh has a certain look to her that makes any scene she’s in (which is every one), watchable, because she’s always on-edge and seeming like she’s one step ahead of us.

But like I said before, Lady Macbeth works because it is so chilling and, at times, disturbing. But at other times, it can’t help but feel like the same scene, over and over again, only just continuing on and on until it eventually hits the conclusion. Maybe this was intentional to give us a better sense of how empty and lame these character’s lives were, but it also does help but feel like a waste, even when the movie, like stated before, is so short in the first place. It’s one thing to not really have much of a script, but to have one, with, essentially, the same scene happening, over and over again.

It’s just lazy, honestly.

But man oh man. Thank heavens for Florence Pugh. That gal’s going to go some places.

Consensus: As short as it may be, Lady Macbeth still gets by as a chilling and upsetting psychological thriller, anchored by a solid performance from Pugh.

7 / 10

There’s that happiness again!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2017)

Can’t trust anybody. Not even randomly kind Jewish men.

Norman (Richard Gere), a New York fixer, knows the right people and can get things done. He also can tend to be a bit overzealous and, as a result, begin to scare more people away, than actually bring them in and closer. Often too, his tactics can be a little odd and rub certain people the wrong way. But then again, those are the kinds of people Norman doesn’t want to really work with, which is why when an Israeli dignitary named Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) comes to the city, Norman decides to impress the man by buying him some very expensive shoes and seeing if they can build on some sort of friendship. It works and he establishes a strong connection to the man, and it helps him when Eshel becomes Israel prime minister a few years later and, get this, actually remembers Norman and wants him to help out in his office. Norman accepts, but also wishes that he was a lot closer to Eshel and the inner-workings. Eventually, this causes issues for both men and will ultimately prove to be Norman’s unraveling, where his real life, all the secrets and lies that he’s kept throughout the years, finally come to lie.

“Trust me, it’s cold out.”

Norman feels like it’s based on a true story, but it really isn’t. In a way, writer/director Joseph Cedar seems to be basing this story off the numerous individuals who work in the strategy-world portion of politics and he doesn’t seem to be frowning upon them, nor even glamorizing them – in fact, he’s more or less just giving them the fair-shake they probably deserve. Political fixers, so often, are seen as heartless, tactful, and evil-doers who find a way to win and keep at it, no matter what. Why on Earth we look down upon these people as less than human, when in reality, they’re just really good at their jobs. And in Norman, the idea we get about political-fixers, as well as the title-character, is that being good at your job is one thing, but being a good and smart human being is another.

Although, that’s what I think.

See, the small issue with Norman is that the movie never really knows just what proves to be his actual fall-from-grace, because honestly, we never really get to see the rise, either. Of course, the word “Moderate” in the title probably says it all, but honestly, when your movie is built around the fact that your lead character doesn’t really accomplish a whole lot, yet, still falls down dramatically off the social-ladder, it’s hard to really feel any pain or emotion. We may care for this character, or even what he’s doing, but if we really don’t get the sense of what’s being accomplished and lost, then really, what’s the point?

Well, Israel’s got enough problems on its plate, honestly.

If anything, Norman proves to be another solid showcase for Richard Gere who, so late in his life, almost doesn’t care how big the movies he’s doing are. By now, he’s so happy to be able to work with these three-dimensional, interesting characters, that he’ll take the budget on, regardless. And as the title-character, Gere’s quite good here; he has every opportunity to play it silly and cartoonish, but thankfully, he strays away from that. In fact, what we see with Gere’s portrayal is a small, rather smart man who also just wants to be recognized, praised, and above all else, loved.

In a way, if you look closer and closer into Norman, the movie does show itself as an intimate character-study of this one relatively troubled man who, despite seeming to have it all, still wants a little more. Cedar is a smart director to know when to get in the way of his ensemble, but because he doesn’t and they’re all good, we see more sides to these characters than ever expected, especially Gere’s Norman. He begins to show his true shadows and signs that, once broken down, unveil a very unexcited and disappointing man. The movie doesn’t really hit as hard, or as heavy as it should, but considering there’s Gere here, it’s safe to say that he’s still an interesting enough character to watch wheel-and-deal for over two-hours.

Anybody else, anywhere else, probably would have been a pain.

Consensus: Though it never really delivers going any deeper than it should have, Norman still works as a smart, interesting character-study, anchored by an even better Richard Gere performance.

7 / 10

Someone give him a hug already!

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

The Big Sick (2017)

Disease can kill. But also heal. Right? Not sure.

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a Pakistani comic living in the windy city of Chicago and, along with his fellow comics, is just trying to get by and hopefully, hit the big-time. But his whole life begins to change when he meets an American graduate student named Emily (Zoe Kazan) at one of his stand-up shows and immediately, the two hit it off. The only issue standing in the way of their relationship is that Kumail’s parents want him to get married within his religion. If he doesn’t comply, then guess? He’s practically kicked out of the family and never allowed to contact them ever again. It’s a shame, but it’s something that Kumail, despite his family’s best wishes, has sort of been trying to live against. Which is why Emily doesn’t know how to react to all of this. As a result, they break-up and Kumail is left back to dating women within his religion. But then, suddenly, Emily is in a coma and even worse, her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter), travel all the way up up from North Carolina to see what’s happening with their daughter. It puts Kumail in an awkward situation, but it also makes him want to not just give this family a shot, but possibly even the relationship a shot. When she wakes up, that is.

Is this love? Or just a stand-in?

And here’s the real kicker: It’s all true. Yup. Co-writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon are, get this, a real life married-couple who met exactly like this and because of that, we’re allowed to sit back, watch and enjoy their dark, twisted, sometimes funny, but always sweet romance blossom (?). Which is odd because the Big Sick takes on so many different plot-threads and tones, that it’s a true wonder how any of it comes together in a cohesive manner, or at all.

Director Michael Showlater knows what he’s doing with this kind of material, in that he knows how to play-up the laughs, but also the sadness and sometimes weightiness of it, too. It’s a slippery-slope that Showlater balances around and while he doesn’t always make it work perfectly, the balancing act is way more skillful, the more you think about it and realize that he’s taking somebody’s else’s own material/life, and doing it all justice. It’s nothing flashy, it’s nothing spectacular, and it sure as hell isn’t anything surprising – it’s just sweet and rather good-natured.

Basically like nothing else the guy has ever done before, which is all the more surprising.

But still, it deserves to be noted that another famous figure had a hand in this pie, and it was Judd Apatow. And yes, you feel every bit of it. See, the Big Sick is one of those comedies that deals with a blog plot, but also likes to get side-tracked every so often by random subplots, characters, and jokes that, sometimes work, and other times, don’t. In this movie’s case, it’s hard not to imagine this movie slicing out at least ten-to-15-minutes worth of footage, because after the two-hour mark, it can feel a bit straining.

That look when you can’t decide whether to head for the hills or not.

And it’s not as if the material isn’t funny, or interesting enough – it’s just that it’s all so predictable that, after awhile, you just want it to get over with. We know that Emily survives, we know that she wakes up to smell the cauliflower (or in this case, Kumail), and we know that the two eventually fall in love and get married. So, honestly, why is it taking so long to get there? And better yet, where’s the rest of the story in the film? We get all of this talk about arraigned-marriages and the sort of controversy surrounding Kumail’s companionship to a white woman, but when it comes time to tell that part of the story, the movie sort of lingers over it.

It’s as if, oh no, it wasn’t a problem in the first place.

Either way, I’m clearly taking away a lot from the Big Sick and I shouldn’t; it’s a funny, heartfelt, and well-acted movie that doesn’t live up to all of the insane praise it’s been getting from every person and their grand-mother, but it’s still a nice, small, and sweet diversion from all of the loudness of the summer blockbusters. It’s the kind of movie that people can go into, expecting a romantic-comedy, getting one, but also being a little happy that there was a little more going on than just two attractive and talented people finding one another, falling in love, and yeah, getting married. It’s also a movie about culture, about family, and no matter how insane they both may all drive us, they are, after all, what makes us, us.

So it’s best to just appreciate it all for what it is and shut the hell up!

Consensus: Despite being overly long and uneven, the Big Sick still works because it’s funny, heartfelt, and an interesting rom-com that goes beyond the usual conventions of the formula.

7 / 10

See? They’re all fine!

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Alright. No more reboots!

After being recruited by the one and only Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and kicking all sorts of ass in the so-called “Civil War”, 15-year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland), when he isn’t in school, cutting class, or crushing hard on his fellow classmate (Laura Harrier), he’s throwing on his red and blue jumpsuit, shootin’ webs, and yes, stoppin’ crime. The only issue is that he was given specific instructions not to act out in this manner, or else, he wouldn’t be allowed in the Avengers, something Peter has wanted since day one. But Peter thinks that he can keep a low-profile, until real bad stuff starts happening, like when a low-level arms-dealer (Michael Keaton), begins selling highly illegal and dangerous weapons to all sorts of criminals on the streets. Sure, he was supposed to stay cool and calm, but after awhile, Peter just can’t stand by and let this happen, which means that it’s time for him to get involved and kick some butt. The only issue is that he’s got so much pressure, both at home and at school, that he doesn’t quite know how to juggle everything with his personal life and still, at the end of the day, save the world.

Just your friendly dorky neighborhood Peter Parker, everyone!

Such is a daily dilemma for all superheros, I presume.

So yeah, first things first: Spider-Man: Homecoming is, get this, not necessarily an origin story. Believe it or not, what we got to see of Spidey in Civil War was basically all we needed to know about him; he’s fun, goofy, quick-witted, and oh yeah, brash. That’s basically. Co-writer/director Jon Watts, as well as the five other writers here (Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers) are all smart enough to know that by now, we’ve seen and understood all that there is to know and understood about Peter Parker, his upbringing, where he came from, and all of the backstory that usually plagues another origin-story such as this.

Instead of showing us his first steps, or better yet, the first time he learned how to swing a web, we actually get character-development for Peter, as well as all of those that surround him. Sure, there’s plot about growing up, this baddie lurking somewhere in the distance, and of course, all of the tie-ins to previous Marvel stuff, but really, the movie is all about the characters, how they work with one another, and how exactly they work in this universe. It’s the small things that make these mega-budget, loud, and bombastic summer blockbusters so worth while and it’s why Marvel’s got a solid formula to keep on working with.

Which means that, yes, Homecoming is a swing and a hit. It’s not a home-run, but it’s definitely a solid piece of Marvel entertainment that feels like it’s not just giving us a nice peak inside this already large universe, but also allowing us to get used to these characters for future installments to come. For someone such as myself, who grew up on and adored the Sam Raimi Spider-Man flicks, it’s a little difficult to fully take in this new band of trustees, but after this first showing, they could grow on me. They’re easy-to-like, charming and yes, different enough from the original to where it doesn’t feel like we have to sit down, compare and contrast the two products the whole time.

Wait. Batman? Birdman? Some dude called “Vulture”? What’s going on?!?

Instead, it’s just nice to sit down and appreciate a popcorn superhero flick for being, well, exactly what it sets out to be: Fun.

End of story.

And if we are going to compare, then yes, it’s safe to say that Tom Holland more than fits into the role of Peter Parker because he’s not playing a total and complete dweeb. Sure, Maguire’s take is still heartfelt enough, but really, Holland’s Parker is portrayed more as of a bit of a smart-ass, who also happens to be incredibly smart. Holland’s fun to watch as Parker, but it also helps that he feels and looks like an actual kid; Maguire and Andrew Garfield were both nearly 30-years-old, playing a high-school-aged Parker, seeming like they were just doing dress up for October the 31st. With Holland in the role, he seems like an actual high-school kid, stuck in this sort of situation and because of that, it helps to relate to the kid a bit more.

And really, with our superhero flicks, isn’t that all we want? Someone we can root for, sympathize with, and even identify with? Probably not, but hey, it works for me.

Consensus: Fun, quick, and pretty smart for a superhero flick, Homecoming proves that Spider-Man doesn’t need another damn origin-story, but does need/get/deserve a solid bit of players to look forward to seeing in the near-future.

7.5 / 10

Brought to you by Jansport.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Cartel Land (2015)

Drugs and guns, yes, are bad.

It’s a well-known fact that the Mexican Drug War is a pretty awful one and it only seems to get worse as the years go by, with more laws being passed, and criminal acts being pushed away to the side. But what makes these Wars so awful is the fact that the  cartels that run so rampant in/around Mexico, seem to be getting away with it all. After all, they’ve got so many connections in government that they are, essentially, protected and free to do whatever they want. Cries from fellow citizens who have fallen prey, or victim to the cartel and their vicious ways, continue to go unheard from everyone involved with the Mexican government, as well as to the American government who, oddly enough, always make it a point to set out and take down drugs, whenever the world is watching and the cameras are set on them. It’s almost as if these cartels need to be stopped, but if not by the government, then by who? Enter Dr. José Mireles, a Michoacán-based physician who is a man of the people, for the people, and is essentially deciding that it’s time to arm fellow citizens who want to stop these cartels’ evil reign, thus creating the Autodefensas. This is an account of the non-stop battle and just how far and wide it’s willing to go.

Yep. Sorry, pal. No one really cares about you and your “American” ways.

Above all else, director Matthew Heineman deserves a huge amount of credit for, literally, putting his life on the line here, getting down, dirty, and not shying away from showing the absolute nit, grit and sometimes disturbing parts of this world. Not to mention that, yeah, the guy easily puts himself in some pretty dangerous situations where even he himself could have been killed and left without a film to finish. But because he was so willing to take the risk, he got some truly eye-opening footage that only news-outlets like CNN, or FOX, only dream that they could get and talk about.

And for that alone, Cartel Land is well worth the watch.

It provides a bird’s-eye view of what’s really happening in this awful and downright sadistic drug-war, without ever batting an eye away from the truly disgusting nature of it all. While it’s easy to assume that Heineman himself has an agenda here of showing the good guys taking down the bad guys, one by one, little by little, it soon becomes clear that in this war, nothing is ever black and white, therefore, nor should the documentary. It’s safe to say that Heineman, whether intentionally or not, got a lot of footage that should seem sneaky and awfully scary, but it also seems like these cartels and Autodefensas truly liked him around – it’s like they say, “no exposure, is bad exposure”.

But what works best in Cartel Land‘s favor is that, even though Heineman is able to get a lot of great, absolutely stunning footage, he’s also able to show that there’s more going on beneath the surface of this war. The idea that the Autodefensas who so clearly want to take down the cartel, sooner than later, end up adapting to the same tactics and maneuvers as them, is an obvious road the movie takes, but it also deserves to be seen. It calls into question just what constitutes a certain level of death and violence, but also what really matters: Human lives, or dignity?

See? This is what us Americans really want!

In Cartel Land, there’s no easy answers and it’s why the movie’s hard to shake off.

The only aspect of it that is easy to shake off and, honestly, a downside to an otherwise compelling flick is the B-story Heineman takes it upon himself to constantly fall back on. Every so often, whenever the film is focusing on the Autodefensa and Mireles, it’s focusing on a man named Tim “Nailer” Foley, the leader of Arizona Border Recon, who is fighting the battle on the front-lines of the Border. It should be interesting stuff, but honestly, feels a little misplaced; Heineman seems to be showing this man’s adventure and dangerous journey to help make better sense of what’s going on down deep inside of Mexico, but it doesn’t quite resonate. If anything, it just takes away from any of the intensity made from everything involved with the actual cartels.

Not that this material wouldn’t already be interesting elsewhere, it’s just that everything else Heineman seems to be getting and doing with the cartels, is already plenty enough, so why pack on anymore?

Consensus: With a stunning and shocking amount of footage taken at such close-lengths to everything, Cartel Land is pretty exciting and eye-opening, as well as a thoughtful and interesting look at the current war on drugs and why, unfortunately, it’s basically a lost cause for all involved.

7.5 / 10 

It’s not legal, but hey, I’d take him as our President. Hell, I’d take anyone at this point.

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

Get Me Roger Stone (2017)

I don’t want me Roger Stone, but I want me a Roger Stone-type, if there’s such a distinction.

You may have heard the name before, but you sure as hell don’t know the face, or the actual accomplishments. To put it as simple as this: Roger Stone is the main reason why there’s been so many Republicans in office these past many decades. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have had Nixon, Reagen, Bush, and sure as hell not Trump, in office. But how? Better yet, why? Well, those are two very hard questions to answer, but through as much detail and insider-information as he can possibly give us, Roger Stone will fill us in on a few of his little secrets, and why the hell he’s stuck around so many of these conservatives in the first place.

Monopoly guy?

Or better yet, why he’s still sticking around Trump, despite the guy apparently not having anymore use for him.

Get Me Roger Stone comes ridiculously, almost dangerously close to seeming like a puff-piece for someone who, no doubt about it, is great at their job, but is also a bit of a dick. But how much of a dick is he, really? Or hell, the better question would be just how much of him is actually a dick, and how much of it is a put-on for the rest of the world of media? In all honesty, Get Me Roger Stone never comes up with the answer to that burning question, but it still remains an entertaining portrait of a man you didn’t think you wanted to know anything about in the first place.

Like at all.

Because see, what Get Me Roger Stone does, and does well, is that despite giving us a solid portrait of this challenging, arrogant man, it also makes us realize the obvious truth that, yeah, those people on the other side of the political-spectrum, despite believing in asinine, outdated and prejudicial ideas about society, are still human beings. Get Me Roger Stone is a smart movie in that it shows why Roger Stone, as a voice for all the Republicans and Conservatives out there in the world, still deserves to be hear and, at the very least, understood; we don’t have to agree with the guy, but like you or I, he’s got thoughts and opinions and yeah, they ought to be heard.

Oh, now Tricky Dick? Get me the actual Roger Stone!

Then again, the movie is smart enough in that it doesn’t make any apologies for the guys actions, either. More often than not, Stone will reveal something almost shocking to the camera about his dirty tricks, and sure, while it may seem like he’s a bad person for doing the sort of stuff he essentially brags about, the movie also makes us realize that, hey, it’s his job to be this dirty. And better yet, he’s also doing his job; almost every politician that he’s helped back up has become President, when it seemed like they didn’t have a prayer of ever getting into office.

Sure, he’s a dick. No doubt about it. But man, he sure knows politics.

And that’s all Get Me Roger Stone comes down to. By the end it starts to get serious and discuss Trump, but really, it’s a light, entertaining and sometimes hilarious look at the backstabbing, the gossip, and playtime that is politics. It’s a movie that’s as in love with the idea of politics, as much as it is with Roger Stone, or people just like him, but it also can’t forget that there is something fascinating about this guy, the way he carries himself, and just why he’s been so under-the-radar. After all, with a winning-record like his, maybe he should have been President, rather than Code Orange?

Actually, then again, nope. I’m fine. Let’s just get someone else and quick.

Consensus: Maybe not the deepest, most thought-provoking documentary about the blue politicians out there in the world, Get Me Roger Stone is still a fun, entertaining and insightful look at this one man, his career, as well as the rough, tough, but impressive job he has to do in order to win.

7 / 10

Oh, and second though, never mind. This one’s already tainted. Get me another one.

Photos Courtesy of: ViceNational ReviewRoger Ebert

The Beguiled (2017)

Racism wasn’t the only thing fought in the Civil War, it seems.

Out somewhere in the deep South, during the Civil War, lies a school for girls where, for the most part, the word of the gospel is spoken about. Managed by Martha Farnsworth (Nicole Kidman), the girls all stick together, depending on each other to not just get by in a rough time like this, but remember that at the end of this dreadful war, there will be a life to continue on living. But being tucked away from the rest of the world and society, even during a time like this, can be awfully dangerous. And it all comes to head when an injured soldier by the name of John McBurney (Colin Farrell) is found by the girls and eventually, taken in. He has an injured leg and rather than going right back out there into the battlefield, the ladies all decide to help him out, feeding him, bathing him, clothing him, and yes, allowing him to eventually heal up to near-perfection, so that he can be back on fighting the good fight. But McBurney’s got a little something more on his mind and considering that there’s about five or six women, all alone, in a house with him, he decides to take total advantage of the situation at hand.

Someone better pass her the damn salt, already!

So yeah, I bet you see what I did there. If not, I took the same plot-synposis I put for the review of the original Beguiled, here, and just took out some of the old names, and put in the new ones. Does it make a lick of a difference? Nope, not really, and that’s sort of the point.

In a sense, the Beguiled is kind of an unnecessary remake; it’s not as if the original needed much of a re-working, or update, nor was it like the world was clamoring to hear this story of sexual-politics play-out all over again, but this time, with different people involved. It’s odd, actually, because these kinds of remakes are the ones that folks like myself rag and tag on Hollywood for constantly making; the kind of remakes where it doesn’t seem like anyone should care about why it exists, or better yet, what it means for the rest of the world of film. But yeah, at the same time, I sort of don’t care because the Beguiled, as a remake and sort of update, it works.

Granted, it’s still unnecessary and only a slight bit better than the original, so take it all with a grain of salt.

But that said, writer/director Sofia Coppola does a solid job of down-playing everything this time around. Whereas with the original, everything was literally spelled-out to us in an narration, Coppola takes the smart move in allowing for the actors to tell us what to think, feel, and understand. Coppola hasn’t always made the best movies around, but she sure as hell knows how to handle actors and when it comes to getting a dirty, deep, and rather scary story off the ground, she’s effective; she keeps things just subtle enough to the point of where we don’t really know what’s next to expect, even if, yeah, we already saw the original.

So Irish. So charming. So dangerous.

And even all that aside, the Beguiled is still a solid, little thriller. It’s not the kind of movie that will win awards or break box-office records (then again, would it even want to?), but it provides a nice bit of steamy, sweaty, and gritty entertainment for 90 or so minutes, with some of the best actors in the biz, and Coppola showing a sure hand, once again, at directing. Also, it’s just nice to see Coppola trying something new and not trying to discuss the sadness and disparity in the lives of celebrities – a theme that, yeah, we already knew and understood over a decade ago with Lost in Translation.

But yeah, everyone here is good.

It’s hard to compare the performances of the original, to those of this remake, because like the movies themselves, they’re still pretty different in their small, subtle ways. For instance, Nicole Kidman’s Martha Farnsworth, while still commandeering and stern like Geraldine Page’s from the original, also has a darker side to her that’s only somewhat hinted at in the first. Same goes with Farrell’s McBurney who, despite not quite reaching the same heights Eastwood did in the original, still shows that there’s possibly a meaner, uglier side to this man and all of his charms. It’s actually an interesting performance that, quite frankly, I wish was given more of an opportunity to flesh itself out more and more. At the same time, though, less time for Farrell, meant more time for actual women on the screen like Kidman, Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Oona Laurence, Angourie Rice, and Addison Riecke, so yeah, it’s a little hard to complain.

I guess I should just be pretty thankful we have a movie, for once, with a big-budget, where women take over the solid majority of the cast. Let’s hope it’s a sign of more things to come, that honestly, should have already been coming already, dammit!

Ugh. Hollywood.

Consensus: Darker, meaner and way more subtle, this remake of the Beguiled improves slightly on the original, but also offers a great cast and solid return-to-form for Sofia Coppola.

7.5 / 10

Everyone’s waiting, John. So hurry your ass up.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Graduation (Bacalaureat) (2017)

As if school wasn’t rough enough. Thanks, Dad!

With his daughter’s high school graduation coming up, Romeo (Adrian Titieni) couldn’t be more than excited for both himself, as well as her. For him, it’s a sign that all of the years of hard-work and ensuring that his daughter got the education and treatment she deserved, have finally paid off, and for Eliza (Maria Dragus), it’s a sign that it’s time to grow up and move along with life. After all, her father has her locked, loaded and ready to ship out to a fancy school in England where, if she gets passing-grades on her finals, she’ll be spending the next few years of her life and, hopefully, out of a rugged, gritty, and dirty place like where they’re living in in Romania. But of course, it all begins to fall apart when, on the way to school one day, Eliza is attacked by a random person and possibly even raped. Now, with the finals coming up swiftly, Romeo uses every advantage in his power to make sure that his daughter not only takes the final exam, but passes and can move away, as soon as possible. But with everything going on in his life, added on with plenty more now, it seems like Romeo’s dreams may not at all come true.

Yeah, every teenager loves being surrounded by the cops and their dads.

Graduation is the kind of movie where it seems like nothing is happening, but if you really look deep in and hard enough, chances are, you’ll realize that almost everything is happening. It’s a story about one girl’s graduation and a father’s acceptance of her growing up and moving away, of course, but it’s also about so much more; it’s also about one man, at odds with the world around him, trying to make sense of an ugly place that, in all honesty, he partakes in. After all, we get to know more and more about this daughter, the father, and hell, even the mother, so much to the point where we realize that it’s more than just a slice-of-life tale, but a dark, understated look at these relationships and how they’ve constantly been getting worse and worse as the years have gone by.

You know, like is the case with all families, hate to say it.

But writer/director Cristian Mungiu is a much smarter film-maker than to just let this all be known to us, right off the bat. Nope. Instead, Mungiu takes his time, letting us know small, certain details about these characters, their lives, their histories, and well, where they want to go next. He’s a smart enough film-maker to know that it’s best to let everything breathe all by itself, which is why Graduation, at a little over two hours, and feeling every bit of it, can tend to be a bit straining; there’s so many subplots, with so many different meanings and threads, that after awhile, it makes you wonder what the real story actually is.

Hm, noticing a pattern there?

But he puts it all back together in a solid little character-study that has more to do with the father in this situation, than the actual daughter. Even though her characterization goes far and beyond being just another spoiled, little brat who doesn’t know or understand the world around her, just yet, it’s really the father who gets the most shadings, in which we see a truly detested and hated human being who, by the same token, also happens to be a very good father. If anything, he just wants what’s best for his daughter and in by doing so, takes some pretty chaotic, downright idiotic steps, but it all comes from a soft, sweet spot in his heart.

Sure, it may be problematic, but hey, it’s what dads do best.

And as the father, Adrian Titeni is quite great, showing us sides to this character that we never thought we’d see. Cause once we first meet him and see him as just another average, ordinary, everyday father who loves his wife, his daughter, and, at times, his job, we don’t really think that there’s much to know. But as the film goes on and the plot thickens, we see that there’s a truly messed-up and sad individual somewhere underneath and it’s hard to keep your eyes off of him. He may not look like a bastard, but he totally is, but he’s the kind who’s troubled and interesting enough that he’s compelling to watch and Titeni, through every chance he gets, allows this character’s depravity to sink further and further into troubling.

Sort of like, you guessed it, real dads. What they do for us is both a blessing, as well as a curse. It’s belated, but hey, Happy Father’s Day, dads.

Consensus: Even if it is a bit long and slow, Graduation still offers up a nice character-study on a few who are interesting, if also well-acted.

7.5 / 10

Ugh. Angst!

Photos Courtesy of: The Hollywood ReporterBFIThe Playlist

The Beguiled (1971)

Ladies just can’t help themselves around the Clint-man.

Out somewhere in the deep South, during the Civil War, lies a school for girls where, for the most part, the word of the gospel is spoken about. Managed by Martha Farnsworth (Geraldine Page), the girls all stick together, depending on each other to not just get by in a rough time like this, but remember that at the end of this dreadful war, there will be a life to continue on living. But being tucked away from the rest of the world and society, even during a time like this, can be awfully dangerous. And it all comes to head when an injured soldier by the name of John McBurney (Clint Eastwood) is found by the girls and eventually, taken in. He has an injured leg and rather than going right back out there into the battlefield, the ladies all decide to help him out, feeding him, bathing him, clothing him, and yes, allowing him to eventually heal up to near-perfection, so that he can be back on fighting the good fight. But McBurney’s got a little something more on his mind and considering that there’s about five or six women, all alone, in a house with him, he decides to take total advantage of the situation at hand.

Every guy has that look when they realize that they’re going to be trapped in a house full of horny schoolgirls, too.

The original Beguiled will probably always and forever be known as the first instance in which we got to see a new side to the ultimate bad-ass of bad-asses, Clint Eastwood. See, before the Beguiled, it was all tall, lean, mean, soft-spoken icons in Westerns for Clint and while he owned them like anyone’s business, they were also the kind of roles that would have had people turn on him for not really trying anything new and, well, getting pigeonholed. It could have happened to John Wayne who, unsurprisingly, started messing around with other genres here and there, while still staying true to his old nature that everyone knew and loved him for, but it didn’t. And it could have happened to Clint Eastwood, but thankfully, it didn’t.

And a part of me thinks why Eastwood is so good here isn’t just because he’s given something new to try on for size, but for once, he’s actually playing someone who could closely resemble a villain, so to speak. Granted, he was always perfect at playing the anti-heroes before this, but as John McBurney, Eastwood gets to shine a darker light on his good looks and charming ways, proving there’s something deeper and sinister going on than ever before. In a way, when McBurney is messing with these characters, Eastwood is messing with us, having us think and believe in him as the main hero, who’s going to come in and save the day, but it turns out, that’s not true at all.

In fact, he’s the sinister one this time.

See? All worth it!

But director Don Siegel, a constant companion to Eastwood and some of his truly good films, knows better than to lead with that. Instead, he keeps the simmering tension moving and constantly building, even when it seems like he can’t help himself from getting all worked up and snickering at the idea of sex, or better yet, nudity. You can call it childish if you want, but the Beguiled can be a pretty intriguing movie with how it depicts the battle of the sexes and, well, sex itself. There’s a far smarter movie stuck somewhere in here, but of course, it never comes out.

And that’s just because the movie’s also too busy being a little fun, which isn’t such a bad thing after all. Cause on the opposite side of Eastwood, there’s Geraldine Page’s Martha, who feels like the perfect counterpart to this sly devil of a man. While everything about this Martha makes it seem like she’s a totally stuck-up, boring pain, she finds ways to surprise us; she can be just as dark as McBurney and, in ways, even more sexual, too. Page is great in this role, as she often was in every role, because she not only shows how a woman can play a man’s game, but also do so, while still remaining to her true values and ideas.

Once again, the movie’s trying to say something. But it’s also enjoying it’s time on Eastwood’s perfectly-shaven body, so okay, whatever.

Consensus: Undeniably silly, the Beguiled is also a steamy, fun little erotic-thriller featuring a good performance from Page and a nice change-of-pace for the always exciting Eastwood who, even early in his career, was trying to figure out how to shock audiences.

7 / 10

Then again, maybe not.

Photos Courtesy of: Overdue Review | Better Late.

Donald Cried (2017)

Home. It’s always there for you. Even if you don’t want it to be.

After the tragic death of his grandmother, Peter Latang (Jesse Wakeman) has to do something he hasn’t been wanting to do for quite some time: Return home. While he wants it to be a quick, painless and relatively carefree visit, where he can hopefully gather up all of this things and move on, it turns out that he lost his wallet, and therefore, doesn’t have any money to do, well, anything. Nor does he have his ID. So yeah, basically, he’s stranded and lost in his hometown and wants to desperately get out, as soon as possible. The only way he can do that, however, is reconnecting with long lost friends, including his oldest, Donald Treebeck (Kris Avedisian). And although Peter just wants a ride from Donald, so that he can be back on his merry way, Donald can’t get enough of seeing his old pal and uses this as the sole opportunity for them to hang out like old bros again and reconnect as if the old days never went away. Problem is, they did; Peter knows this, but Donald, doesn’t.

Why not brawl it out? Who needs to talk?!?

We’ve seen a lot of movies like Donald Cried, where an uptight, almost straight-laced character returns to their old hometown that they’ve grown to hate and detest, sees their old friends, families, and remember why they loved it so much in the first place. And hell, if that’s not familiar enough for ya, then the one character’s old pal is also the most conventional, “hasn’t-grown-since-high-school-character” ever, with the title-Donald being, for lack of a better word, almost a cartoon. He’s got awful hair, wide-rimmed glasses, scruffy facial-hair, an annoying Boston-accent, silly tattoos, horrible clothes, and oh yeah, still lives with his parents. Not to mention the dude talks about the old days ad nauseam, whenever he’s not drinking, smoking, or getting into random fights.

So yeah, he’s basically a cartoon, but he’s one that each and every one of us have in our lives.

And that’s why Donald Cried is actually a bit of a surprise – it deals with the formula, the conventions, and the types of this kind of story, with these kinds of characters, finds some honesty, finds some heart, and yeah, even finds some laughs among all of the sadness and nostalgia. It’s the kind of movie that you’ve seen done a million times before and will continue to get, but for some reason, it’s still so relatable and heart-breaking that, hey, it kind of works. It’s not going to change your life, by any means, but offers a small, relatively sweet look at everyday, normal lives.

As silly as those lives can be.

Ugh. Just too much life for me.

But it’s writer/director Kris Avedisian’s talent that makes Donald Cried so good, because just when we think the story is going to go somewhere we’ve seen before, he finds a way to turn it around and show us something new. Take, for example, Donald himself; he’s loud, rude, and totally stupid, and exactly the kind of character you’d expect Danny McBride to play and pull-off so well. And while there’s a great deal of him that feels obvious and formulaic, Avedisian writes him in such a manner that shows him as a bit of an embarrassment, but also as a guy who just wants to relive the glory days and be somewhat happy, once again, especially with his good buddy.

See, there’s not just heart there, but also a rash bit of honesty that makes him connect so much more. And yeah, Avedisian is pretty great in the role, too, finding enough pathos to get past the inherent goofiness that can sometimes plague these characters from keeping themselves fresh and fun. It also helps that he’s got solid chemistry with Jesse Wakeman who, as Peter, could have been a boring stiff, but actually shows some light as a guy who may not miss his childhood, or those involved with it, but doesn’t mind having some fun in it, for the time being. Together, they feel like good buddies who have a lot of memories and know that time has passed both of them by and while one of them accepts it, and the other doesn’t, they can both accept the fact that, yes, they’ll always be childhood friends.

And honestly, what’s more important?

Consensus: Even if it is still a conventional tale of nostalgia and coming-of-age, so to speak, Donald Cried still has honest bits of heart, humor and pathos to make it all fresh enough to work and slightly different.

7.5 / 10

“Drink some Old E’s with me, bro!” Do it!”

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWireTwitterCritics Round Up

The Mother (2003)

How grandma got her groove back.

After her husband of many, many years tragically passes, May (Anne Reid) finds a new lease on life. Now, rather than hanging around her husband, doing whatever he does, and well, just being there, she has all the time in the world to do all that she wants. That means she can re-connect with her kids, grand-kids, read, drink, write, and hell, if the time comes around to it, possibly even date. But she isn’t rushing herself; after all, it’s been quite some time since she had enough time to do everything and anything that she wanted, let alone actually go out on a date. But her whole life begins to change a bit when she meets Darren (Daniel Craig), her one daughter’s boyfriend, who also happens to be the handyman for the family. While May is initially sickened by him, she soon grows fond and curious of him – some of that has to do with the idea of having sexual relations again, but some of that also has to do with the fact that she likes this Darren guy, someone who is far too made fun of by everyone in her family. Of course, though, this spells possible trouble for almost everyone in the family, most especially May herself.

Alright, who’s next for May to gobble up?

The Mother is an interesting movie, as well as a rare one, because we so hardly see movies about 60-year-old-plus women having a sexual blossoming so late in their lives. And hell, if we do, it’s all played for yucks, chuckles, and jokes, as if an older-woman having sex, getting naked, and being all romantic, deserves to be a punchline of sorts. But the Mother is different in that it doesn’t approach its premise as a comedy, nor does it hide away from the actual grit and honesty a premise like this promises.

Meaning, yes, we get a lot of nudity, a lot of sex, and even some naughty-talk, courtesy of a much-older woman.

But hey, there’s something kind of joyous in that, especially since we get so few of these kinds of flicks, where an older-woman’s sexuality and love-life is actually explored with honesty, intelligence, and well, honesty. Director Roger Michell likes to jump from genre-to-genre, which makes him way more interesting of a talent than I think people give him credit for, and he doesn’t pull-back on letting us see and get to know everything there is to know about May. Of course, the Mother is most definitely a character-study, where May is literally the stand-in for most other women her age, experiencing love, sex and life, all over again, as if it was the first time.

Writer Hanif Kureishi (who’s probably most known for his various team-ups with Stephen Frears) also doesn’t hold back from exploring the true lengths to May’s exploration, while also not forgetting to remind us that, yeah, the rest of the world around her may look at it as some sort of sin. For May, as we’re told and rather shown, life is this new thing for her to try and understand, and fully live, and while sex definitely comes into the forefront, as it does with everyone’s life, it could have easily been anything else in life. May doesn’t just have to be obsessed with sexuality and passion once she has it, but she does and well, that’s okay.

Bond? Undercover? Please be undercover and have a valid excuse.

It’s honest, as it ought to be.

And yes, Anne Reid is quite great in the lead role as May, not holding back when it comes to showing us everything that there is to show about May, in both the literal and hypothetical sense. There’s a certain sweetness to her that makes it easy to rule her out of most what she gets up to in this film, but once we begin to see May’s true darkness show, Reid gets better, making us understand a woman who, for many years, was supposed to play the mother and stay somewhere in the background. But now, it’s her time to live and shine, and while she’s still the same old sweet and mild-mannered granny, guess what? She also likes to have a little bit of sex, too.

And that sex, yes, also happens to be with Daniel Craig, pre-Bond. I point that out because, honestly, watching Craig pre-Casino Royale, sort of makes me sad; while the dude was always charming, cunning and handsome-as-hell, he could also sink his teeth deep into role, almost transforming himself, in terms of his looks, as well as his personality. And as the dirty, shaggy and almost embarrassing Darren, Craig shows us a sad, almost depressed man who, in any other movie, wouldn’t have believable doing the things he ends up doing with May, but the two actually do connect in complex, interesting ways, that it’s almost believable once they start shagging. Not to mention that Craig and Reid have a nice little chemistry that’s able to get pass the obvious age-gap even if, yeah, it can be a bit creepy.

But hey, no one’s judging!

Consensus: Even while it can tend to lean more towards the dramatic-side of its plot, the Mother still treats it subject, as well as its material with absolute respect, making it already better and smarter than most other movies approaching the same material.

7 / 10

Move over old man! James is cutting on in!

Photos Courtesy of: Películas Online

The Good Girl (2002)

Catcher in the Rye makes everything better. Except life.

Justine (Jennifer Aniston) lives a pretty uneventful and boring life. She’s 30, working at a convenience-store, doesn’t have many friends, hobbies, and can’t seem to get pregnant with her husband (John C. Reilly) who, for the most part, seems to spend most of his time on the couch, smoking pot with his good buddy (Tim Blake Nelson). However, her life gets a little bit of excitement one day when, all of a sudden, she meets Holden (Jake Gyllenhaal), a young, misanthropic, somewhat depressed, and altogether interesting teen that not only takes a liking to her, but shows her that there’s more to the world than boring suburbia. Eventually, the two strike up a relationship that goes beyond hanging out and reading Catcher in the Rye, but something far more passionate and serious, which leads to problems for both of their lives, although, mostly hers.

Yeah, Wal-Mart may have been a better fit.

The Good Girl will probably always be notable for it showing the whole world that, yes, Jennifer Aniston can indeed act. While she was good before in small, almost virtually unseen movies before this, and yes, even after this, this stood as the shining-spot on her filmography that not only showed she had some indie-cred, but could help us all get past seeing her as Rachel and, well, embracing her as a down and dirty actress.

And yeah, Aniston’s pretty great here. Her Justine is a rather sad and depressed figure, that is, of course, beautiful, but also has some small charms about her that shows just how lovely of a presence Aniston is when she’s on the screen. It does also help that she gets a chance to grow and show her true colors over time, making us see her for a sad figure we can, at the very least, sympathize with, but also realize has some issues that she sort of brings on herself. But of course, all the way through, Aniston shows she can be believable in all sides to this character and it made everyone hopeful that perhaps, just maybe, she’d continue down this path of taking on smart, interesting, and rather challenging film-roles.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

But still, this isn’t to take much away from the rest of the Good Girl. Writer Mike White and director Miguel Arterta, of course, work well with one another, in that they both capture the small town boredom and malaise, while also not forgetting to make us feel a little bit closer to these goofy characters over time. And it also deserves to be sad that while Aniston herself is very good, it’s everyone else around her who assist her, too, putting in just as much great work as her.

Pictured: The perfect life

And like before with White’s writing, every character seems like a type, at first, only to then show their true selves over time. John C. Reilly’s Phil, for a good while, is nothing more than a lazy, weed-smoking, idiotic bum who doesn’t really have much going for him and because of that, we sort of sympathize with Aniston’s Justine in cheating on him. However, as the film goes on, we start to see a more human side to the guy that not only makes us understand his behavior a bit, but oh wait, also sort of want to give the guy a hug and tell Justine to stop screwing around.

There’s a lot of characters like that, but his is probably the best example, probably because Reilly himself is so good.

Just like Blake Nelson, Deschanel, John Carroll Lynch, Roxanne Hart, White himself, and yeah, even Jake Gyllenhaal. Although, for Gyllenhaal’s character, it can’t help but feel like he’s working with a boring type we’ve all seen done before, except only this time, he’s supposed to be interesting on purpose and with good reason. Personally, it would have been nice to see Gyllenhaal and Aniston together in another movie, where they weren’t essentially playing types, but hey, they work well together, regardless.

And that’s all about there is to the Good Girl – it’s not White’s best, but everyone works well in it, so why not accept that for what it is? After all, the movie doesn’t set out to change the world, or shake things up, but more or less, tell us a small, somewhat relatable story about an affair, love, and living a happy life, even when that seems downright impossible. Sometimes, that’s all you need from a movie.

Even if, yeah, we expect a smidge bit better and more coming from Mike White.

Consensus: In the lead role, Aniston gives a memorable performance as a rather depressed, but charming cashier living in a small-town, that also helps keeps this somewhat mediocre tale of love and happiness above water.

7 / 10

Just do it already, honey! He’s hot!

Photos Courtesy of: This Distracted Globe

Lovesong (2017)

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

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

Uh oh. There’s that jealousy!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Especially your best friends?

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

7.5 / 10

It’s love, right? So cheer up a bit.

Photos Courtesy of: Strand Releasing

Alien: Covenant (2017)

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

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

Tell me, could you hate a face like that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Lost Highway (1997)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Like, is she even real?

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

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

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

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

7 / 10

Yeah, don’t ask.

Photos Courtesy of: Jay’s Analysis

The Measure of a Man (2016)

Globalization, am I right?

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

He’s sad, but interested.

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

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

See how these things work themselves out sometimes?

Okay, now he’s kind of pleased.

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Nord-Quest Productions

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 (2017)

American

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

They’re Groot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s Groot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

Yup. We’re all Groot.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Before Night Falls (2000)

Us writers, and the wild lives we live.

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

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

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

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

Yup, totally gay.

Talk about style.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, he did not die from hypothermia.

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

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

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

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

7.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Grandview Pictures