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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 8-8.5/10

Gods and Monsters (1998)

Next time you dress up as Frankenstein this Halloween, think about where the creation came from.

James Whale (Ian McKellen) is one of the most regarded directors of all-time. With such classics under his belt like Frankenstein, The Old Dark House, The Invisible Man, and Bride of Frankenstein, Whale had all of the fame and fortune that any man could ever afford to settle down and spend their last couple of years in utter and total harmony. However, Whale still pains from what his career could have and should have been, had he not been openly-gay and criticized for it his whole career, and it’s beginning to take more of a toll on him as the days continue to go by and his hair gets whiter. Then walks in his newly-appointed gardener (Brendan Fraser), and all of a sudden, Whale has found a new bit of inspiration in his life, whether or not it may just be sex or art. Either way, the man is happy and spirited again but his long-loving care-taker, Hanna (Lynn Redgrave), doesn’t see it as being so happy or spirited. She senses trouble brewing in the air and she may be right, but James doesn’t care nor take notice to it. He’s just happy being him.

He likes what he sees.

It’s interesting to watch Gods and Monsters because, at first, you have a general idea of just where the story is going. You’d automatically assume that Whale, in his last gasp for life, starts something of a relationship with this hunky groundskeeper, reliving all of the lovely and enjoyable times of his past, while also realizing that life is beautiful, wonderful, and grand, and deserves to be lived, rather than not, only to then pass away right as soon as the going gets good. In a way, that sort of happens, but it sort of doesn’t, and it’s why Gods and Monsters remains a solid look at the life of someone that time may have forgotten about, but the movies he’s made, will continue to stand the test of time.

Which is neat, because after watching Gods and Monsters, you’ll soon realize that a lot of the issues prevalent in Whale’s own life, basically shined through his most famous works. Whale had a love and an affinity for showing the weirdo’s, or better yet, the outcasts, of society to the rest of the world. The movie’s many hints at this can tend to get a bit annoying, but that doesn’t make them any less true; making movies for Whale was less about making millions and millions of dollars, gaining respect, and getting the chance to hob-knob with some of Hollywood’s finest, as much as it was about expressing his true, inner-feelings of loneliness that haunted him his whole life.

Does that mean he didn’t have some fun while doing it all? Of course not, but still, we’re shown and told that there was something more here than just a bunch of fun-to-watch monster flicks. There was a heart, a soul, and an absolutely sad being behind it all.

But the movie doesn’t just harp on this one fact and drive it into the ground, as it’s actually more about this made-up guy known as Clay, as played by Brendan Fraser, and the type of relationship he builds over time with Whale. Like I’ve said before, this aspect of the movie could have easily been the most obvious and conventional one seen coming – man and man fall in love, realize something new about one another, etc. – but it doesn’t quite go that way. In fact, Clay doesn’t even know Whale is gay at first, and even when he does find out, he doesn’t quite care; personally, he just likes to hear the stories this guy has to tell.

Can you blame him?

It’s an interesting dynamic these two create and to watch as their relationship builds to something sweet, is quite nice. It also helps that Fraser and McKellen have great chemistry, seeming as if they truly are getting to know one another and getting along while doing it. Fraser has always gotten a bad-rap for being a bad actor, something that hasn’t always been true; just one look at his performance in Gods and Monsters, you’ll notice that he’s holding his own against McKellen, while also showing some signs of immaturity and growth needed. Basically, it’s what his character was going for and Fraser shows it, proving that when given the right material, he’s actually quite good.

McKellen, on the other hand, well, what can be said that hasn’t already been said before about him?

McKellen is an old pro who knows what he’s doing, which is why watching his performance as Whale can sometimes be a joyous experience, even if it does revolve around a great deal of sadness. McKellen shows us that there’s some true light, happiness and inspiration in Whale that somehow reignites once he meets Clay, but also doesn’t forget to remind us that there’s something truly heartbreaking about this character. We get the flashbacks, the dream-sequences, and of course, the stories, but where we really get the idea of something truly unsettling, is through McKellen himself. He plays Whale as an old man, getting older and more broken down as the days go by, proving to himself, that life can end.

But it’s the movies and the creations you release to the whole world, that really make it all meaningful.

Consensus: With two very solid performances from Fraser and McKellen, Gods and Monsters works as a smart, moving and rather sweet take on life, memories, and an aspect of Hollywood classics that most of us tend to look away from.

8 / 10

Best friends forever.

Photos Courtesy of: Cinema Queer

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One False Move (1992)

Small towns always need a little excitement.

Ray (Billy Bob Thornton), an immoral thief who always seems to question everyone and everything around him; Fantasia (Cynda Williams), Ray’s girlfriend who doesn’t always seem to take the violent way out, but more than often, doesn’t know what else to do; and Pluto (Michael Beach), an smart, yet, cold and calculated killer who isn’t afraid anyone, are all criminals who have been on the run for quite some time. Together, they’ve taken out friends of Fantasia’s, either to get money, drugs, or a whatever other valuables they can find, not only leaving a huge and disturbingly long trail of blood behind them, but making them public enemy number one, essentially. Eventually, the LAPD gets more and more involved, the more and more bodies start turning up, leaving them to trigger and target Fantasia herself. On the case are two detectives, Dud Cole (Jim Metzler) and John McFeely (Earl Billings), who both travel out into the middle of nowhere in Star City, Arkansas, because it’s where they believe Fantasia will bring her fellow criminals to. While there, they meet the eccentric and sometimes silly police chief Dale “Hurricane” Dixon (Bill Paxton), who has always dreamed of one day becoming a big city cop and seems to finally be getting the chance to do so. However, the case itself may be way too out of his league.

See what I mean?

One False Move starts off with perhaps the most disturbing first 15 minutes of as movie I have seen in quite some time. It’s a family, watching the home videos that they just filmed moments ago on their video-cameras, get a knock at the door, go to see who is at the knock, and slowly, but surely, each member of the family is either stabbed to death or killed, all while these tapes are playing the background. In fact, one person’s lifeless body lies right in front of the TV, while tapes of said person talking about how happy they are continue play. It’s harsh, brutal, unrelenting, and just downright mean, but it’s also the rare case of an indie-thriller really taking itself one step further to get down underneath our skin.

That said, it’s also the darkest and perhaps most ugly One False Move gets, which thankfully, doesn’t keep it away from being a solid flick in its own right. It’s just not nearly as upsetting.

Anyway, director Carl Franklin does a nice job here with the script from Billy Bob Thornton and Tom Epperson, by letting and allowing for everything to play out. Rather than trying too hard to focus on certain details of the story, the case, the murders, or even the characters, he sort of sits idly by and let them tell us themselves. And because of that, we get a lot of interesting material that we don’t often see in thrillers of this nature; we get an slew of interesting, three-dimensional characters, we get a plot that could literally go anywhere, at any time, we have a story that has, at the very least, more of a meaning than just “bad people deserved to be locked-up”, and oh yeah, bloody, surprising violence that matters more because, well, all of these things work and they matter.

It’s important to note what works here, because One False Move could have been a very easy movie to figure out, in terms of where it’s going, or what it’s going to be about. Had it been so easy, the movie would have just been another, typical action-thriller with plot twists and turns that don’t actually matter; instead, it’s a movie with some heart, emotion, crime, violence, and oh yeah, tension. It comes together mostly all perfectly well by the end, showing that in order for a crime-thriller such as this to work, all you really need is extra attention paid to the things that matter most.

“Stop thinking about the pony-tail, baby. It’s what’s in.”

Like, once again, characters, all of whom are played exceptionally well by all involved.

As the three criminals, Thornton, Beach and Williams all do good jobs in helping us get inside the mind of these sometimes cruel and unforgiving characters. While they’re never sympathetic or nice, they still at least show some colors you wouldn’t often get in a movie like this. Like, for instance, rather than seeming like a simple peon who is tired of the whole world stepping on him, is actually more of just a sissy who has a gun and some homicidal tendencies, which mostly has to do with the fact that he’s egged on by those around him. Beach is also impressive as Pluto, who is more detestable and downright evil, but shows signs of reasoning for it all. Meanwhile, Williams is effective as Fantasia, showing that there’s some sadness there, which makes her the most sympathetic out of the three, even if we’re never sure we can trust her.

However, the real standout of the movie has to be Bill Paxton, who on pure sheer charm and excitement, basically steals every scene he’s in. Sure, it helps that Paxton’s working with the most well-drawn character of the bunch, but Paxton shows some true heart, soul, and energy here and brings it to a movie that’s so drab and depressing at times, it’s a wonder if it knows what humor it is. Thankfully, it does and Paxton is the one to bring it, showing a real spirited soul within Dale Dixon and makes you not only see him as a good cop, but a good human being in general, who wants to make the world a better place, and intends to do so, all with a smile on his face and a beer in his hand.

Man, Bill. We miss you already.

Consensus: Dark, intense, and unpredictable, One False Move proves to be an effective thriller, but also gives us great performances and characters to help even things out, too.

8.5 / 10

Small-town cops get no respect.

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, The Fanboy’s Perspective, Paperblog

King Kong (2005)

He must protect his house.

Carl Denham (Jack Black) is a filmmaker living in the 1930’s, meaning, he doesn’t have a lot of opportunities. And the ones that he does have, don’t tickle his fancy as much as they used to. That’s why, when he catches wind of a mysterious, huge and odd island out in the middle of nowhere, Denham soon gets the ambition and inspiration all over again. So, he assembles a team full of actors, actresses, crew, and handy-men, who know a thing or two about an adventure and are capable of solving issues, should any of them arise. Aboard the ship is leading-lady Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), who also is in desperate need of a hit and will do anything for the spotlight, just one more time. Screenwriter Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) feels the same way, but also finds himself falling for Ann, leading him to make some pretty rash decisions along this adventure, all leading up to finally meeting, once and for all, King Kong – the giant gorilla who practically watches over Skull Island and kills any sort of threat that may come its way. In this case, it’s these humans and needless to say, not all of them are equipped to take him down.

Why would you want a human, when you could have a Kong?

After winning practically every Oscar that he could for Return of the King, it made sense that he would be allowed to make virtually any movie that he wanted. Cause it’s a known thing in Hollywood: Make a lot of money, win a lot of awards, earn respect, and guess what? You can make your dream projects a reality. And oddly enough, for Jackson, it was remaking the movie he grew up knowing and loving, King Kong. Oh, and by “remaking”, I mean making two hours longer and adding on more CGI, special-effects, and story than you could ever imagine.

But trust me, this isn’t a stab at Jackson.

If anything, King Kong is Jackson getting the opportunity to play in his sandbox, where the world is his oyster, sky is the limit, there are no rules, and even better, everyone’s watching. A lot of people may have complained about the fact that the movie is over three hours long, takes awhile to actually get to Skull Island, and yeah, features one too many monsters and creatures, aside from the titular Kong, but in a way, that sort of makes the movie more epic; it shows us that Jackson isn’t setting out to make a note-for-note remake, but bask in every single bit of this material and be as excessive as humanly possible.

Is it a little draining? Quite possibly, yes, but at the same time, watching Jackson having the time of his life is, in all honesty, a beauty to behold. There aren’t many directors out there in the world with the impressive and ambitious scope like Jackson’s, so when he’s given carte blanche to do all that he wants and not stop, it’s nothing if not entertaining. Also, when was the last time you saw a three-hour movie that goes by in a flash? King Kong should have been a slog, but it’s not and it’s a true testament to Jackson’s prowess that allows for him to make a three-hour movie about little humans and a big gorilla, feel a lot less than that.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is that Jackson directs the hell out of this thing and it makes sense why he wanted to bother with this story in the first place.

And even getting away from the technical side of the movie, and focusing more on the actual things that matter, like story, character development, etc., yeah, it still kind of works. The story isn’t all that different from before, but this time around, Jackson does up the emotion in a way that’s surprising, mostly because while we’re watching Kong up there on the screen, we’re watching something believable and impressively done – almost to the point where instead of being scared by him, we’re actually connected to him. The whole tale about this gorilla falling in love with a short little blonde thing is, of course, silly, but the movie doesn’t forget that sometimes, the seriousness of a tale like this can actually work, so long as you build enough tension and emotion behind it all.

That’s what Jackson does and it helps King Kong move along, even when it gets away from the gorilla beating the hell out of other monsters and dinosaurs. Cause even during those sequences, there’s a fun, crazy and almost hectic energy that’s a lot like the Lord of the Rings movies, but still its own kind of beast. Even when Jackson does dial it down for the characters, the movie’s still at least somewhat interesting, because we’ve spent so much time and energy with them, it’s hard not to understand them, at the very least.

Jack knows what I’m talking about.

Then again, the ensemble involved does help out with that as much as they can.

If there’s one thing that holds King Kong back from being a truly and absolutely great movie that it sometimes comes close to being, it’s that the performances can tend to be a bit bland, which may have more to do with the script and less to do with the actual actors themselves. Like, for instance, Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody are two perfectly good actors who can work well when given the material, but for some reason, they just feel underdeveloped; Watts gets some chances to be bright and shiny, whereas Brody is mostly just serious and not all that right for a movie that’s so concerned with everything else that’s going on around him. Others in the cast fare better, like Kyle Chandler, Jamie Bell, Thomas Kretschmann, and Colin Hanks, mostly because their characters aren’t made out to be the leads and can benefit from some goofiness, but with Watts and Brody, who are supposed to be our emotional anchors throughout this whole thing, it doesn’t fully work.

That said, the movie does benefit from having a very good, very surprising, and very dark performance from Jack Black. Of course, a lot of people will consider Black’s performance to be channeling Orson Welles, but if so, it’s still a good performance, because we see him lay down all of the usual trademarks and conventions that we’re so used to seeing, and hating with the sorts of characters he plays. What we get here, is a person we grow to love to hate and because of Black’s performance gets better, taking on more meaning as the movie develops and we start to see more sides to this twisted, sometimes sad little man.

Which is to say that I’m still waiting for that battle between Black and Kong.

Black Kong. What a name.

Consensus: Ambitious in scope, epic in its look, feel, and overall mood, King Kong is the movie Peter Jackson deserved to make and absolutely revels in the opportunity to do so, for the benefit of us all.

8.5 / 10

See what I mean?

Photos Courtesy of: Fernby Films

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Most cold-blooded killers are, after all, misunderstood.

Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) has been on the run, gun slingin’, robbin’, killin’, and committing all sorts of crimes that have him number one on every person’s bounty list. However, Wade is a pretty ruthless man, to where he can get away from anyone looking to reel him in for justice; it also helps that he’s got the helping hand of his band of fellow thugs, especially his go-to-guy, Charlie (Ben Foster). But eventually, Ben gets caught by the local law and ready for the 3:10 train to take him to Yuma. But in order to get him there, he’ll have to be transported among many lines, where everyone is looking to take Ben down and get a little piece of the reward-money pie. However, Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is just looking to do this so that he can get some money, save his farm, and go home to his family, where he can feel like a responsible man again. As expected though, the trip goes through all sorts of bumps, bruises, and plenty of violence, where one thing leads to another, and it’s never very clear if Ben will ever get on that train and behind bars, like he should.

"Hold it! I'm not Batman here, but other places. Kind of."

“Hold it! I’m not Batman here, but other places. Kind of.”

3:10 to Yuma is the rare kind of Western that not only revitalizes the genre, but also proves why it’s so great in the first place. It doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel of the genre, make up new rules, and play by its own game, but instead, take everything that you know and love from all those other classics, bring them together, and let you have a great time. It’s as if it’s own beast, entirely, even if, yeah, it’s actually a remake, too.

Still, even if 3:10 to Yuma isn’t the most original story out there, it more than makes up for it in all the thrilling, exciting and rather unpredictable action-sequences that take place over its two-hours. James Mangold is a perfect fit for this material, because he knows exactly how to make it all crackle and pop, without ever seeming like he’s out of his depth. Even though Mangold sure does love to jump around from genre to genre, with sheer reckless abandon, it seems like the action-genre may be the one he sticks with, not just because he seems to enjoy it the most, but because he actually seems to know what he’s doing with it, as opposed to those like Michael Bay, or McG.

Why on Earth did I just mention McG’s name?

Anyway, moving on. 3:10 to Yuma more than gets by with its action, but at the heart of it all, and perhaps what makes it more than just another fun and exciting romp through the Old West, is that it’s also the tale of two interesting, challenging, and complex men. Both Christian Bale and Russell Crowe put in great work here, going beyond the silly accents, and showing that there’s more to these two guys. Crowe’s Wade may be a ruthless, toothless (not really, he has quite the set of chompers), and almost sadistic killer, but he’s also got a set of morals and he’s quite the charmer. Whereas, on the other side of the coin, Bale’s Dan is a man with plenty of morals, a simpleton, and family man, but at the same time, won’t hesitate to kill, if he ever has to.

Ben Foster. Up to his usual tricks of not taking a shower to prep for a role.

Ben Foster. Up to his usual tricks of not taking a shower to prep for a role.

Both men are different, yes, but they’re also quite alike in many ways, too, and it’s what makes 3:10 to Yuma quite compelling to watch.

Even when the action is gone for a short while and everyone’s sitting around a fire, eating beans, chewing the fat, it’s still entertaining to watch; the cast is so good, the characters so well-defined, and the script is actually polished. And with Bale and Crowe’s performances, we get to see two men who, despite being on opposites of the social spectrum, still respect the other enough to know where they come from, what their ideals are, and why they are, the way they are in the world. It almost comes close to a bromance, except for the fact that they do try and kill each other every so often, but even then, who knows.

Bromances work in mysterious ways, sometimes.

But anyway, aside from both Crowe and Bale, the ensemble’s a pretty good one. A very young Logan Lerman shows that he can hold his own as Dan’s son; Dallas Roberts plays the sheriff who has to take Wade in with Dan and shows that even the scrawniest of men, with a gun, can still kind of be bad-ass; Peter Fonda shows up and brings some class; Kevin Durand is, as expected, pretty crazy; Luke Wilson has a fun cameo; and Ben Foster, as Wade’s right-hand man, is so crazy, so deranged and so evil, that he almost ends up stealing the show. But still, it’s Bale’s and Crowe’s show to the end and when they’re together, their scenes never stop igniting the spark and make you wish that they’d work together more and more. It doesn’t even have to be in Westerns.

Couldn’t hurt, though.

Consensus: Even if it’s still a Western through and through, 3:10 to Yuma is a tense, exciting and incredibly well-acted piece of entertainment.

8 / 10

Look at 'em. Trying so hard not to make-out and measure sizes.

Look at ’em. Trying so hard not to make-out and measure sizes.

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, Rotten Tomatoes 

Spellbound (2002)

 

If you don’t know the place of origin, just consider yourself dead and gone.

After being sponsored by their hometown newspapers, eight young, bright and ambitious kids travel with their families to Washington, D.C., where they will compete in the 1999 Scripps National Spelling Bee. Each of these kids excel at spelling and have a feeling that they’ll be able to put up quite the fight, however, with the national spotlight heavy pressure to perform from parents, teachers and their audience, the children struggle to advance toward the championship, as well as everything else that they can get like the accompanying scholarships and cash prizes. Each kid enters the tournament, not knowing what’s going to happen next, or who is going to win, but they do know that if they try hard enough, they may be able to pull it all off and bring home the prize. However, not everyone can win and unfortunately, a lot of hearts and souls will be crushed when it’s all over.

Spellbound takes a very simple approach and doesn’t really try to complicate anything by any means whatsoever. However, by doing that, director Jeffrey Blitz also gives us a sweet, delicate and rather insightful look inside the lives of numerous kids – all of whom, are different from the other in many ways – without ever resorting to cheap, unnecessary tricks. Simply. Blitz puts the camera and the lens on these kids, their families, their lives, and lets the drama all unfold.

"Eeeeeeeeeeeee."

“Eeeeeeeeeeeee.”

And yeah, in a way, Spellbound is pretty exciting and tense, especially if you don’t know the outcome of this tournament. Considering that it took place nearly two decades ago, it’s highly unlikely that you would know, but regardless, it still works. Blitz uses the championship to show how these kids, so young, so innocent, and so sweet, really do battle it out, lose their minds, and put everything on the line for this one honor.

And with it, we do get some truly great subjects.

What’s probably the most astounding element behind Spellbound is that Blitz never makes it clear who he likes the most, who he wants to win, or better yet, made it appear in such a way where we’d know exactly who won right from the very beginning of the flick. No one gets more attention than the rest, and no one really seems to be the heart and soul of what this movie’s all about or trying to say – basically, everyone is a main character.

And this allows for the actual tournament to have a little bit of heart involved with it, too. Rather than just watching a bunch of smart kids get up on stage and spell-out words that most of us don’t even know and not really caring, the movie demands our attention. We care for these kids and the outcome of their stories, because there’s more at-stake than just a competition – their livelihoods and bits of happiness are, too. Sure, this may not sound like much, but we’re talking about kids all under the age of 12, most of whom have been practicing and waiting for this moment their whole life. It may not totally matter to us and be everything in our lives, but for these kids, such is the case and it works in the movie’s favor.

"Hmmmmmmmmm."

“Hmmmmmmmmm.”

Where Spellbound does lose some muster is in the whole controversy that surrounded it and unfortunately, seem to be a little understandable.

For one, a lot of people saw Spellbound as, for the most part, a little phony. While the competition was no doubt real, critics felt as if there was a whole lot of acting and incessant dramatization over everything, from the kids, to the families, to the small conflicts that eventually ensue. And yeah, in a way, I can sort of see that; some families are way too goofy and over-the-top, while other character’s interactions with one another seem more staged for the sake of the movie and less like a germane thing that would have happened.

In this sense, then yes, Spellbound loses some points. After all, it’s a documentary that’s supposed to be documenting real life in front of our own very eyes, so for Blitz to take some cheap alleyways and short-cuts along the way, don’t really help. They take away from what is already a very entertaining and sometimes heart-warming flick about kids trying to spell really, really hard words.

That’s all he had to do.

Consensus: With a heavy heart inside of itself, Spellbound is more than just a documentation of the spelling bee and the contestants, but the hopes and dreams of young, ambitious kids who want to do something great with the world. But they’re just not old enough, though.

8 / 10

That's the look of a daddy who's going to have to do some major ass-whooping tonight.

That’s the look of a daddy who’s going to have to do some major ass-whooping tonight.

Photos Courtesy of: True Films

The Cable Guy (1996)

What’s a “Cable Guy”? Better yet, what’s “cable”? Is it like Netflix?

Matthew Broderick plays Steven, a dude who just got out of a relationship and needs someone to fix his cable one day. He calls up the cable guy (Jim Carrey) and he’s a bit weird, but he gets the job done. However, the cable guy wants more than just the job, he wants a buddy and that’s something Steven isn’t quite up for just yet.

The Cable Guy is often forgotten about in today’s world of media, whenever it comes to the conversations of the careers of both Jim Carrey and Ben Stiller. See, while they are both two of the most recognizable names in comedy, at one time, they actually got together and tried to make something that, well, wasn’t quite a comedy. If anything, it’s a lot darker and weirder than anyone had ever expected, which is probably why it’s hardly ever heard from and basically bombed when it was first released.

But did it deserve all that?

It's Jim Carrey being wacky! What could go wrong?!?

It’s Jim Carrey being wacky! What could go wrong?!?

Not really.

 

The Cable Guy is a strange movie, for sure, but definitely more of a comedy, than an actual drama. There’s lots to laugh at, but there’s also plenty more to cringe and be surprised by, too; there’s no real distinction between genres here and Stiller does a solid enough job as writer and director, never letting us in on the lines. We think we know what should be laugh-out-loud hilarious because of other comedies and what they constitute as hilarity, but with the Cable Guy, it’s far different and it’s why the movie, while not always successful, is an interesting watch.

And at the center, yes, it does have a little something to say about the culture of television and how, in ways, it can shelter us off from the rest of the world, and have us feel as if we are in our own, little bubble – the same kind of bubble where you are always loved, accepted and taken in, for who you are, not what you should be. Sure, it’s obvious and been said many times before, but the Cable Guy tells it again, but in a much smarter, heartfelt way, especially with Carrey’s portrayal of the title character who, surprisingly enough, is never given a name.

See! He's not so bad!

See! He’s not so bad!

How fitting.

Which isn’t all to say that the movie’s a down-and-out drama, because it’s actually pretty funny when it wants to be. Of course, though, it brings on problems with tone, where it seems like the movie may have bitten-off more than it can chew and handle all at once, but still, there’s something refreshing about watching a major-studio comedy flick give it the professional try. It may swing and barely hit, but at least it’s trying in the first place, so sometimes, a pat on the fanny is all that matters.

Right? Eh. Whatever.

Anyway, Carrey is the real reason why the movie works as well as it does, because he, like the movie’s tone, constantly has us guessing. We never know what he’s going to say, do, or try next and because of that, we don’t know whether to love, like, or be terrified of him. There’s this slight sense of danger to him, but also a bit of fun, too. Then, there’s also this sad aspect to him that may make you want to give him a hug. It’s a rich character that could have probably done wonders in a far darker, more dramatic movie, but as is, Carrey’s terrific in the role that, unsurprisingly enough, audiences just weren’t ready to accept just yet. It would take some time, obviously, but man, if only they had caught on sooner, rather than later.

On the opposing side of Carrey is Matthew Broderick, who’s fine as the usual straight-man he’s so used to playing by now, but his character has some issues. For one, he’s a bit of an a-hole; he’s constantly a Debbie-downer, never having anything nice or pleasant to say, and yeah, just not bringing much to the movie as a whole. Like I said, Broderick tries, but it seems like the script wasn’t there for him; instead of developing another compelling and well-rounded character, the movie just made him something of a blank slate, with little-to-no personality and allow for the Cable Guy to get all the work. It’s not like it doesn’t work, but hey, it would have definitely helped if we had a little more to work with.

Consensus: It’s obvious what the Cable Guy is trying to say, but it’s less about the message, and more about the funny, sometimes darkly odd premise, bolstered by an unforgettably crazy and all-star performance from Carrey.

8 / 10

Oh, uhm. Ha-ha?

Oh, uhm. Ha-ha?

Photos Courtesy of: Monkeys Fighting Robots

Toni Erdmann (2016)

Even if they’re a little goofy, they’re still your family.

Winfried (Peter Simonischek) is an old goof-ball, who gets by on teaching music at a local high school and generally playing pranks on all of those around him, one especially involving a pair of fake-teeth that he casually brings around in his pocket and puts on from time-to-time. Why? Well, no one really knows – they all just sort of take it as a thing that he does and they leave it at that. His estranged daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), returns home from wherever she’s been, and gets his hopes up for them catching up and spending some time together. All his hopes and dreams are dashed once she informs him that she has to head out for Bucharest in the morning, where her firm is currently making all sorts of moves to help better improve the work-area there. Seeing as an opportunity for them to fully hang out together, Winifried surprises Ines, but not being himself – instead, he’s playing “Toni Erdmann”, the German Ambassador, who has fake-teeth and Tommy Wiseau-like hair. Initially, this bothers the hell out of Ines because it may ruin all of the business she has to do, but eventually, she kind of gives in and sees just how far her dad can keep this joke up.

Belt it, girl. But not too loud, or else the suits may hear ya.

Belt it, girl. But not too loud, or else the suits may hear ya.

Not too long, I was talking about Blood In Blood Out and how it’s near three-hour run-time wasn’t all that justified. Sure, there was some good stuff in it that could have definitely made it into a feature-flick, but not nearly enough to pad-out a whole three-hour flick. At first, I had the same feeling with Toni Erdmann; while it is a shorter movie by about thirty-minutes, it’s still a two-and-a-half-hour long comedy about, of all things, fathers, daughters, family and yeah, globalization.

Sounds like something you’d want to spend two-and-a-half-hours watching, right?

Well, here’s the funny thing: I felt the same way. For the longest time, Toni Erdmann just felt too slow, too meandering, and too formulaic to really work; that first hour has some bright and promising ideas, but it also seemed like writer/director Maren Ade also wanted to take way too much of her time developing them, even if they don’t really go anywhere. It sort of made me think of all the mumblecore flicks of yesteryear, but instead of blabbering teenagers, here, we just got a bunch of Germans going on and on about business and not giving us any context to it all.

But then, about halfway through, it all clicks. The plot does eventually come in, the characters start to become interesting, and oh yeah, all of that business-jumble begins to make some sense and at least matter to the overall plot. See, what’s interesting about Toni Erdmann and Ade’s writing, is that there’s always a build-up. What that is, is never exactly clear, but slowly and surely, we start to get an idea of where the movie’s going, only to then have it pulled from underneath us, time and time again.

In a way, Toni Erdmann is a dark comedy about family and love and all of that sentimental junk, but the movie doesn’t really play that hand too often; it could have easily gone in deep with the father-daughter relationship and had us be a witness to a lot of shouting matches, but nope, that doesn’t happen. Ade seems much smarter than that, in that she knows that sometimes, the best way to build tension, even in the smallest breaths imaginable, is to not really try hard to build-up anything at all – it’s better to just let it simmer.

Which may sound boring, I know, but it works.

Toni Erdmann is the rare movie in which a great deal of the comedy is so subtle, you may have to check once or twice to see if you forgot anything, until at the very end, all of the big laughs come in with reckless abandon. Take, for instance, a near-20 minute sequence that starts off weird and continues to get more and more ridiculous as it goes along, staying hilarious, until the very end of it and all of a sudden, there’s something sweet and heartwarming to it all. There’s a few other scenes like this, which is surprising, because you’d think that a trick like that would only work once, but time and time again, Ade finds ways to surprise and go against convention.

Daddy may have just seen the Room.

Daddy may have just seen the Room.

Without her around, man, this remake better be good.

Speaking of that supposed-remake, as great and as talented as Jack Nicholson and Kristen Wiig are, it’s going to be a little hard to see Winifried and Ines, respectively, played differently than by Peter Simonischek and Sandra Hüller. Both are so perfectly fit for these well-drawn and three-dimensional characters, that you almost wonder if they were written for each one of them in mind. Simonischek is bright, charming and likable, even when it seems like he’s sort of making stuff up on the spot, whereas Hüller has to play it straight and narrow, but gets some opportunities to shine and show some personality and she works quite well with it.

Together, the two create a perfect chemistry that constantly keeps this movie exciting. You know that there’s something sad between them two, but rather than it being some long lost secret of heartbreak and hurt, it’s more that they just both outgrew one another; you still get a sense of the great history they spent together, which makes some of their more melancholy and quiet scenes, pretty damn sad. But Ade keeps it smart in that she gives us a father-daughter relationship that isn’t too obvious, has enough mystery going for it, and doesn’t really try to say who the worst person between the two is.

After all, they could both be horrible. Who knows?

Consensus: Even with the long run-time, Toni Erdmann sorts itself out as a solid mixture of comedy, drama, and character-stuff that makes it well worth the sit-down.

8 / 10

See it. You'll understand soon enough.

See it. You’ll understand soon enough.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Fatal Attraction (1987)

Stay married and happy, men. You never know what’s out there.

Dan Gallagher (Michael Douglas) is a successful business man who has a nice job, lovely wife (Anne Archer), cute kid, and quaint little house in the suburbs. However, that all starts to change once he gets involved with Alex (Glenn Close), another successful business woman who falls head over heels for the guy. And for awhile, he thinks the same. Until he doesn’t and that’s when it all gets a little crazy.

Fatal Attraction calls for the kind of crazy and wacky treatment that director Adrian Lyne so deservedly gives it. It’s clear he’s having a lot of fun, knows that this material can sometimes be so ridiculous, but also does approach it with a certain bit of seriousness, as well, not forgetting that at the heart of this story, real issues and problems are being addressed. For one, it’s not a horror movie – or at least, not in the expected sense.

Yup. Totally normal.

Yup. Totally normal.

While Lyne loves playing around with those certain conventions, as if we were watching a horror movie, instead, what we’re watching a real life horror flick, with real life people, making real, incredibly terrible choices. It’s the kind of movie that studios prefer to stay away from, but Lyne does a solid job of reminding us that, at some points, this material can be pretty crazy, but when you get right down to it, isn’t much of a laughing-matter, either. Sure, it helps that he films each and every of the sex scenes with a foggy bit of eyes, but it also helps that he doesn’t forget what’s really going on underneath all of the hot, sweaty, steamy and naked sex.

Or, at least I assumed they’d be naked, right?

But by the same token, it’s sort of hard to really care for Michael Douglas at all here. Just to clarify some things so that we’re all on the same page: The guy is human, the guy is married, and he wants to have a little bit of playtime when his wife is away. Makes sense. But then, when his wife comes back and he’s back in the swing of things, we’re supposed to act like that never happened and even worse, we’re supposed to actually care about him and all of the stuff that he goes through when he just decides to throw this girl away like garbage? It’s hard to care what really happens to this guy, because as much as he may want to forgive and forget, it’s hard for us to do the same.

Nothing wrong with a little slam-bang action in dirty hallways.

Nothing wrong with a little slam-bang action in dirty hallways.

But maybe that’s the point? I don’t know.

Douglas is good here because he doesn’t ham the role up in the slightest, but it also makes him feel a tad bit more dull than he probably should. Anne Archer plays his wife and she’s got a few nice moments, to show not why she would love someone like him, but why he’d be making such a bad decision in the first place. It’s not a very showy role, but it’s a nice one that reminds us what she can do.

But really, it’s Glenn Close who, as you may have heard by now, absolutely steals the show as Alex Forrest, or basically, every married-man’s worst nightmare. Close is so amazing here as Forrest not only because she can play normal and switch it off into full-on crazy mode so well, but because there’s just something about her that you sympathize with from the very start, regardless of how sadistic or creepy she gets. A good portion of this credit goes to Lyne for not painting her as a total villain, but as a sad, lonely and rather kooky lady woman who had a brief spat with love and affection, couldn’t get enough of it, and then, all of a sudden, had to put up with the fact that it was going to be gone from her life, just like that.

Now, who’s the one we sympathize with more, I ask? Regardless, Close is great in this role, never letting us forget that she lingers in every scene – even those that she’s not in – and also has us questioning what her next move or motive’s going to be. After all, the movie never makes it totally clear just what she’s up to, or why she is the way she is, making her dangerous, scary and yes, so very, very compelling. In a way, she makes Fatal Attraction a better movie by just owning the screen every chance she gets, but yeah.

She does.

Consensus: Fatal Attraction runs into the usual problems that come with a wild plot like this, but due to an amazing performance from Close and a smart, relatively sensitive direction from Lyne, it works better than it should.

8 / 10

Yeah, we've all been in this situation once or twice. Or never.

Yeah, we’ve all been in this situation once or twice. Or never.

Photos Courtesy of: Old Films and Me

John Wick: Chapter 2 (2017)

This Wick guy can’t catch a break.

After having to eliminate all of those who killed his precious dog some years ago, John Wick (Keanu Reeves) is now enjoying his life of luxury, at-home and not having a single worry in the world. However, it all changes when a former associate of his, Santino (Riccardo Scamarcio) shows up at his door-step, asking him to take someone out. While Wick doesn’t really want to, he basically has to, because Santino is part of the “organization” that Wick and many other lethal and powerful people are apart of. So Wick does his job and takes out the target, however, little does he know that Santino wants to tie-up loose ends and get rid of Wick, putting a seven million dollar bounty on Wick, for anyone who is capable of taking him down. Is this a battle Wick can fight, hell, even win? Probably, but it’s going to be a hell of a ride, taking down every skilled mercenary that’s out to make a quick dollar off of the head of Wick.

One of the key complaints people seem to have with video-game movies is that they don’t feel like you yourself, are actually playing a video-game. Instead, it feels like you’re watching someone else play a video-game, not ever handing over the control, and not doing anything right – they’re constantly doing the wrong things, dying over and over again, and not even bothering to put in cheats. Video-game movies can be frustrating for this sole reason and it’s why most of them don’t work and are better off staying as video-games, where anyone can play them and do what they want.

Don't mess with a man who has a beard like that.

Wes Bentley gonna sue somebody!

Which is why John Wick: Chapter 2 is probably the best video-game movie, that’s not actually adapted from a video-game.

With most sequels, the ones behind them know that whatever worked in the first, should be done in the second, but with even more aggression and repetitiveness. Often times, this can make the sequels feel boring and dull, as if there’s no heart or emotion to them, but just studio-mandated sequences. Chapter 2 is the rare sequel in which the excursiveness of itself, actually helps the movie out in the long run; the first movie was crazy and chaotic, too, but Chapter 2 takes it to the next level.

In a way, Chapter 2 is a better movie, all around, than the first John Wick. There’s more creativity here, more excitement, and yes, a little bit more of a story. But Chapter 2 is smart in that it doesn’t try anything terribly new or different that could potentially push fans of the original away; there’s still tons of action, blood, bullets, guns, knives, and blown-off faces. In other words, it’s a grand old time, but it’s never cheap about it.

Director Chad Stahelski and writer Derek Kolstad seem as if they know how to make this pulpy material work, without trying too hard; Kolstad seems to just write one dumb monologue after another, whereas Stahelski shoots every action-sequence in the most simplest way imaginable, without all of the unnecessary cuts, CGI, and finickiness that can sometimes make most action-thrillers a chore to sit through. Here, you can see just about everything going on with this action and because of that, it’s more compelling to watch.

That, and because well, it seems like Keanu Reeves himself is doing a lot of his own stunts.

Oh yeah, get on with the shooting.

Oh yeah, get on with the shooting.

Which, yes, may not sound like much, but trust me, it does. Reeves has been well-known as an actor who uses a stunt-double for his action-sequences, but doesn’t solely rely on them for each and every scene known to man – Tom Cruise is a lot like this, but he’s also far more showier about it than Reeves. And in Chapter 2, you can tell that a lot of is Keanu, which is pretty impressive, considering that he’s nearly 53-years-old and can be seen here jumping, kicking, punch, falling, rolling, and most of all, running. Age doesn’t matter for Reeves and it’s a great thing, because he seems to absolutely love these kinds of roles and they fit him like a glove, so it all works for everyone in the end.

Of course, Chapter 2 gets by on its wild ensemble, most of whom are leftovers from the original. If there’s one issue to be had with Chapter 2, it’s that the movie does have the ability to stop itself rather abruptly, just so that a character can sit around and whisper something somewhat meaningful, or menacing, but doesn’t really amount to much. While it’s neat to get an action movie that does this, it also breaks up the tension and makes us just want to see these characters beat the hell out of one another. Sure, it helps that you’ve got pros like Ian McShane, Lance Reddick, Peter Stormare, John Leguizamo, and Laurence Fishburne working with this material, but yeah, sometimes, enough is enough and it’s time to just get on with the ass-kicking.

But hey, a movie that can give us a bad-ass Common, then, deserves a whole lot of credit.

Consensus: More action-packed and crazier than the original, Chapter 2 is the rare instance in which a sequel is better than its original, based solely on the fact that it constantly packs more on as it goes along.

8 / 10

He's got a new dog. Don't. Touch. It.

He’s got a new dog. Don’t. Touch. It.

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

jonathan

Sell, or die.

Four salesmen get the wake-up call of their lives when corporate decides to wake them up with the highest seller in the company (Alec Baldwin), over to their dingy office to not just motivate them, but also warn them: If they do not sell the right amount real estate that’s necessary, well, then they’re fired. This shocks everyone to the core and leaves each salesman left to fend for themselves, by any means necessary. There’s George (Alan Arkin) and Dave (Ed Harris), two guys who seem to have each other’s backs, even in all of the thick of this; there’s Ricky Roma (Al Pacino), who can hang with the best of them and get any person to buy, just based solely on his charm alone; there’s old-timer Shelley “the Machine” (Jack Lemmon), who’s been in this business long enough to know just how to sell, but has been having a rough go as of late; and then, finally, there’s John (Kevin Spacey), who is, essentially, their boss, but is mostly there to just go back to corporate and tell them all what these guys are doing, who’s providing the best results, and most importantly, who gets to stay, and who gets to go.

I'd love to have a drink anywhere near these two. Seriously.

I’d love to have a drink anywhere near these two. Seriously.

Glengarry Glen Ross is great for many reasons, the main being David Mamet and his way with words. Sure, it’s no surprise to anyone who has ever seen a Mamet movie that the guy knows how to script smart, somewhat tough-guy dialogue for people you wouldn’t expect to saying it, but watching and especially, listening, to each and every person talk in Glengarry Glen Ross, is truly a joyful experience. It’s like listening to an old pro, just go on and on about his experiences and life lessons, without it ever seeming hacky, or annoying – you want to hear gramps go on and on, so long as there’s more coffee being provided.

In Glengarry Glen Ross, you don’t need the coffee. All you really need is the great ensemble assembled here, all of whom, honestly, are pretty great. And this deserves to be pointed out, too, because in a lot of Mamet’s movies, you can tell when there are those people who can do his dialogue justice, and others who just can’t seem to get it. Due to his dialogue being so mannered and stern, sure, some actors come off as if they’re trying too hard, or not getting the point, but when you have those actors who do know what they’re doing and know how to handle the material, then it’s an absolute delight to listen to.

Which is why, I reiterate again, there’s no bad performance to be found anywhere here.

Everyone’s perfect for their role and it’s the rare gamble wherein a bunch of big names took on Mamet’s material, and they were all pretty great, without a single weak one anywhere in sight. Al Pacino does a superb job as the slimy, but smarmy and charming Ricky Roma; Alan Arkin is interesting to watch as the sort of meek and mild salesman, who seems as if his fighting days are long over; Ed Harris plays a rather sensitive role as the one salesman who is trying his best to stay afloat, but also seems to realize that his career has gone down the crapper; Kevin Spacey is good in a rare against-type role as a rather cowardly boss who has to do a lot of heavy-lifting for his job, doesn’t like it, but hey, has to get paid somehow; and of course, yeah, Alec Baldwin’s cameo is pretty amazing and legendary, but there’s no reason to go on about it. You’ve seen it, you’ve loved it, and you’ve probably quoted it a hundred times before, so there’s no reason to beat that horse.

We got it. Sell.

We got it. Sell.

But really, the stand-out for me, and the one who should have gotten more attention, was Jack Lemmon and his performance as Shelley, or as some call him, “the Machine”. Later-day Lemmon wasn’t filled with all that many bright spots, where he saw himself in more old grandpa roles, rather than the kind that challenged him more and showed that even in his old age, he could still hang with the big boys. And in Glengarry Glen Ross, he got to show that; the character of “the Machine” is a rich one in the first place, but Lemmon dives deep into him, with all that he’s got. “The Machine” is a sad, unfortunate man who sees his life and his career slowly running away from him, but he doesn’t sit around, he doesn’t pout, and he doesn’t ask for any sympathy – he goes out there and tries to sell, dammit. Lemmon makes us see the unbearably sad limits this character will go to, not just to stay successful, but somewhat relevant, as if his name will forever be remembered in the world of salesman.

It’s sad to think that such a thing exists.

The only thing that keeps Glengarry Glen Ross away from being the perfect piece of film making that it sometimes flirts with the idea of being, is that it’s pacing is a bit off. Director James Foley does a nice job of giving us a dark, eerie and noir-ish tone to the whole movie, without ever taking his attention away from the actors and their craft, but sometimes, it feels like it’s less of a play, and more of just a bunch of conversations happening, that we get to hear somehow. Not much of a story and when they do try to give us something of that, it doesn’t quite register. All we want to do is hear and watch these guys try to sell real estate, as well as their lives.

Sometimes, that’s all we need to be happy in a world like this.

Consensus: With amazing performances all around and an absolutely biting script from Mamet, Glengarry Glen Ross works as one of the better stage-to-film adaptations that has some ripples, but overall, transitions quite well.

8.5 / 10

Oh and yeah, you need those things, too.

Oh and yeah, you need those things, too.

Photos Courtesy of: LIDA’S FILM BLOG

Christine (2016)

Hate to say it, but journalism hasn’t gotten much better.

Christine Chubbuck (Rebecca Hill) is not all that happy with her life. While she’s got a reporting job at a local news station, the stories that she seems to want to really dive into and make her name on, unfortunately, don’t seem to get much attention or done at all. The station is changing, just like the rest of the journalism world itself is, too. That’s why Christine sticks to her guns no matter what and tries to get the juiciest, meatiest stories she can find. However, there’s a lot more going on in Christine’s life than just her job; she’s also trying to find that one, special someone so that she can get married, have kids and do everything that she was brought up to do. She thinks she has that opportunity with the star reporter at the station (Michael C. Hall), but she’s so closed-off and awkward, she doesn’t know how to go about initiating anything resembling a conversation, let alone, a date. Meanwhile, her mother (J. Smith-Cameron) is now living with her, making her more and more frustrated about life, leading her to act out in some despicable, shocking ways.

Wrong channel?

Wrong channel?

The story of Christine Chubbuck is, needless to say, a very sad one. While there’s a good part of this movie that was most definitely made-up for the sake of having an actual movie, the idea that someone who just wanted to make something of a difference in this world, tell interesting stories, find love, get married, have kids and just be happy, if anything else, is relatable to life in general. And knowing the real story behind the subject, as well as director Antonio Campos’ past two flicks (Afterschool, Simon Killer), it’s hard not to expect Christine, the movie, to be an absolute dark and deep breath of depression.

But it’s actually kind of not. In ways, it can actually be pretty funny, in that it makes fun of certain characters, while also, by the same token, embraces them for who they are, especially Christine herself. But no matter how funny the movie can get, there’s always this underlining air of sadness that’s mostly always felt, even in some of the more compelling scenes; one in particular, where we hear of all of Christine’s problems in a very straightforward, manner-of-fact way, starts off one way, and ends a totally different way then you’d ever expect.

But it still works.

It’s definitely a credit to Campos and writer Craig Shilowich for coming together and figuring out how to make this forgotten figure in our pop-culture’s history, story, still relevant and heart-wrenching. Why should we care about this girl, other than the fact that she killed herself on live television? Well, the movie tells us why, not forgetting about her flaws, while at the same time, not forgetting that she was a human being who wanted just the same as you or I.

But as much as Campos and Shilowich deserve the credit here for telling Christine’s story to the best of their ability, it’s also a lot of credit to Rebecca Hall, giving it her all and then some, in a role that finds her really stretching her acting-muscles and it all coming off so perfectly. A lot of people went crazy this awards season about Natalie Portman’s portrayal of Jackie Kennedy and how she nailed down the voice, but also made us see beneath the fine dresses and speech – Hall does that with Chubbuck, but I think, almost does a better job.

Yeah, don't be on the opposite end of Letts' wrath.

Yeah, don’t be on the opposite end of Letts’ wrath.

For one, it’s definitely a little hard to get used to Chubbuck’s manner of speaking and the way she carries herself in just about every conversation she has, but Hall works with it and shows us that there’s more to her than just an awkward-presence, and instead, a person who solely wants to be seen, loved, and cared for, regardless of who said person may be. It’s actually quite heart-breaking to watch, as even though Chubbuck may think she’s the smartest person in the room, the movie still shows us that nobody’s paying attention to her and because of it, she’s driven deeper and deeper into her depression. Christine may not place itself as a sort of cautionary tale, or even a cry for help, for those who can’t cry for themselves, but at the end of the picture, it definitely seems like that.

And the rest of the cast is quite good, too, showing us how each and everyone interacts with Chubbuck, as hard as it sometimes may be. Michael C. Hall plays the one reporter she falls for and while he may seem like the typical d-bag, there’s actually more to him as the movie progresses; J. Smith-Cameron is a very good actress, but unfortunately, her role here does seem very stuffed-in, as if the character may have not been all that much of a presence in real life, but the movie felt like it needed her around; Maria Drizzia plays Christine’s co-worker who actually listens to her and, in other ways, looks up to her; and Tracy Letts plays her boss who always yells, drinks, and smokes, and he’s pretty great at it.

Like I said, no one here is a bad person, or a good one – they’re all just people.

Like Christine Chubbuck.

Consensus: Well-acted and insightful, Christine is an interesting look at one of TV’s more forgotten-figures, showing us a sad, but always compelling look into a life full of depression and some hopes.

8 / 10

Very, very lonely there in the journalism world.

Very, very lonely there in the journalism world.

Photos Courtesy of: HeyUGuys

Split (2017)

One crazy just isn’t enough.

After a birthday party at the mall, three teenagers, Claire (Haley Lu Richardson), Marcia (Jessica Sula) and outsider Casey (Anya Taylor-Joy), are randomly kidnapped by a man named Dennis (James McAvoy). They have no clue why, or what his intentions are, but now, they’re stuck in his underground lair, of sorts, where he will do whatever he wants with them. However, there’s something relatively off about Dennis that the girls know right from the start; he’s constantly switching in and out of different personalities. Sometimes, he’s acting like a woman, sometimes, he’s acting like a hard-ass, and other times, he’s acting like a nine-year-old child. Eventually, the girls catch wind of this and realize that they could possibly use this to their advantages and manipulate him. But the more personalities that Dennis switches to, the more violent and angry they get, making the situation all the more dangerous and scary, even if, on the outside, there may be some hope, what with Dennis’ therapist (Betty Buckley), thinking more and more about Dennis’ issues and wanting to see just what he’s really got going on in that twisted, wild and out-of-control head of his.

Grumpy

Grumpy

Very early on in his career, when hopes were high and the sky was basically the limit, a lot of people were championing M. Night Shyamalan as “the next Spielberg”, or more radically, “the next Hitchcock.” And for awhile, it’s not hard to see why people bought this; his early movies, while definitely odd, were still ambitious, thrilling and well-done, showing a writer/director who wasn’t afraid to get us on the edge of our seats a little bit, but also tell a solid story in the mean time. It’s why a movie like the Sixth Sense, despite the pop-culture obsession surrounding it, is actually better than people give it credit for – in fact, it’s why a lot of his movies are better than people give them credit for. But then, of course, it all went haywire for M. Night’s career, and slowly but surely, his random plot twists became so ridiculous, so expected and so damn predictable, he essentially became a parody of himself.

It’s odd, though, because ever since After Earth, there’s been some sure signs that M. Night may soon make it back to our hearts, minds and souls again; the Visit, well definitely a silly movie, was still fun enough that it worked enough as a solid reminder that when he wants and isn’t distracted, M. Night can deliver on the genre-thrills. And they keep on coming with Split, M. Night’s latest that shows us what can happen when he isn’t given a whole bunch of stuff to work with. Sure, it’s his script and all, but the movie’s budget is smaller, the names in the cast aren’t as big as he’s used to working with, and guess what? The plot is actually so simple and straightforward that it gives him just enough of an opportunity to play around a little bit and have some fun.

Which is exactly what Split is, but it’s also a little bit more than just that.

Split finds M. Night meaner and darker than ever before, and for me, that really worked; taking the kidnapping plot out of the equation, this is a story about mental disorders, repressed homosexuality, pedophilia, incest, and oh yeah, cannibalism. It’s a very freaky and off-putting movie, but in that way, it actually works perfectly. M. Night knows just the right buttons to push, when to push them, and how to make them count; there’s a couple of silly moments here that are quite reminiscent of some of his lowest-peaks, but there’s something surrounding them that make the silliness, still kind of work.

This time, M. Night isn’t worried about tooting his own horn here, nor is he all that worried about trying to prove something to everyone that he deserves love and admiration from movie fans all over the world – this time, he just wants to give us a tense, shocking, and surprisingly unpredictable pulp-thriller. There are even moments where the film seems as if it’s going to go into places you expect it to, but then, it turns the other cheek and surprises; M. Night hasn’t been this smart in the longest time and it’s nice to see him back, working his tail off to provide some rough and tough stuff.

Bashful

Bashful

Still, rough and tough is what we need from M. Night and less of whatever the hell else he’s been doing for the past decade or so.

But M. Night isn’t the only star here and thankfully, he gets out of the way a lot and lets James McAvoy shine as “Dennis”. McAvoy has always been an exceptional talent to watch, but here, he really challenges himself, going deeper and darker into the depravity and sure craziness of this character. Sure, it can sometimes be really funny and weird, but it actually works in the movie’s favor, because there’s always a deep underlining of sadness felt throughout it all. It comes through the direction, of course, but most definitely through McAvoy’s performance, where he has to inhabit all of these different characters, personalities and mannerisms, handling them all very well, without seeming like he’s hamming it up too much.

Okay, maybe he does a little, but hey, he’s allowed to this time around.

Haley Lu Richardson, Jessica Sula, and Anya Taylor-Joy also put in good work as the three teens who have to figure their way out of this situation, with Taylor-Joy’s being the most handy. Although M. Night made her something of a laughing-stock in the Happening, Betty Buckley gives a good performance as Dennis’ therapist, who wants what’s best for him and stop bad things from happening, but also wants to push her own career a little bit, too. The movie constantly switches in-and-out between her and his story, which can sometimes get in the way the pacing, but for the most part, they’re both so good at what they do, it almost doesn’t matter.

Oh and that ending. Well, without saying too much, there is a twist and well, I’m still not sure what I have to say about it. I’ll just leave it at that and see where my thoughts take me over the next few weeks or so.

Consensus: With a smarter head on his shoulders this time around, Split finds M. Night in a playful, yet scary mood, adding tension, excitement and craziness to a pretty dreadful and dark story, giving us something that not many Hollywood companies would sign off on.

8 / 10

Happy

Happy

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

My Life as a Dog (1985)

For Laika, obviously.

It’s the late 50’s in Sweden and well, 12 year-old Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius) isn’t having the best time of his life. He and his brother are constantly fighting, his mother is slowly, but most surely dying of a terminal disease, and it seems like no one really cares if he’s around, except for his lovely little dog that accompanies just about everywhere he goes. Eventually, after much tension and turmoil, Ingemar’s mom sends him and his brother away; the later to the grand-parents, the former, to the aunt and uncle. And while Ingemar is against leaving his mother, brother and most importantly, dog, he ends up settling in quite nice with his aunt and uncle; they respect as him as a little kid, let him have a certain amount of freedom, and also allow him to have fun, just as a 12-year-old his age should be doing. But after awhile, Ingemar starts to grow more and more attached to the people living around him and finds himself happy to be with them, but also sad about his mom, his brother, and like I said before, his dog, who he thinks is still alive, well, and waiting for him back home in some lovely, spacious kennel, when in reality, that’s probably not at all near the truth. Poor Ingemar’s going to have to grow up some time soon and unfortunately, it’s going to hurt pretty hard.

Yep, being 12 and starting to sort of, kind of, maybe actually liking girls.

Yep, being 12 and starting to sort of, kind of, maybe actually liking girls.

It’s interesting to watch My Life as a Dog and compare it to the other flicks that director/co-writer Lasse Hallström would approach – while mostly all of his films following are safe, sometimes conventional, but always syrupy, saccharine pieces of melodrama that aren’t always perfect, My Life as a Dog is anything but. If anything, it’s a pretty down-to-Earth, honest and raw look at growing up, coming-of-age, and realizing that, yeah, death sucks, but you know what’s worse than death? Not realizing it’s a fact of life and moving on from it.

Okay, maybe not that cynical, but you get my drift. What I’m trying to get across is that the movie’s interesting to look at, many of these years later, if especially because Hallström himself seemed to “sell-out”, so to speak, and forget about his indie, artistic-ambitions. While his movies would still continue to garner praise from audiences, critics, and major award nominations (like Best Picture for, of all things, Chocolat), My Life as a Dog still hangs around as one of his best, if only because it showed us where he got his start and gave us all some hope, for some amount of time.

And yeah, it’s worthy of all this praise, too, because My Life as a Dog is a smart movie that doesn’t necessarily break down any barriers for the coming-of-age genre, but it doesn’t necessarily make it seem conventional, either.

The best element behind My Life as a Dog that sets it aside from the other crowded bunch of familiar movies is that while it’s nostalgic on looking back at a very precious time in a kid’s life, it is no way, a kids movie. It’s interesting, too, because Ingemar is the kind of kid character you’d expect the Disney-crowd to automatically reach out towards, however, a lot of what he deals with, sees, and has to experience, is pretty damn adult-like, to where it feels like a movie kids themselves probably should see, but at the same time, probably won’t.

It's love, no matter who it's with.

It’s love, no matter who it’s with.

Which is to say that the movie doesn’t hold any certain amount of b.s. when it comes to growing up and realizing how much of a pain that can be, when you’re in as a terrible situation as little Ingemar is in here. The movie doesn’t hold back and for that, it’s refreshing – it’s sweet and nice in the right ways, but never reaches over to being sentimental. It’s the kind of movie that any adult could get a little something out of, if only because it reminds them of the time they were growing up, with all the same feelings felt.

It may be a little embarrassing, but hey, the truth itself can sometimes be awfully so.

But it’s nice that the movie does try and make Ingemar more than just our mannequin for whom we express our own feelings, thoughts and memories through – there’s something to him that makes him still feel like a real, complex kid, just learning how to develop and grow in a crazy, sometimes cruel world. While it’s unfortunate that it doesn’t seem like the rest of his career has turned out to be much, Anton Glanzelius still puts in a very good performance here, even so at such a young age. He feels like a kid in that he isn’t precocious, or way too big for his own britches – he’s a kid who thinks he knows a lot about the world, but really doesn’t, and instead, much more wants to spend time imagining things about the outside world around him, or what’s going on up there in space. And yes, these are all thoughts we hear from him, but believe it or not, they all work and are pretty interesting, always feeling as if they are coming from a sweet, delicate 12-year-old who knows a little thing or two.

You know, like we all thought we were at 12 years old.

Come on, admit it.

Consensus: Without pulling any silly punches, My Life as a Dog works as a smart, yet sweet and tender piece of coming-of-age drama that showed us the promise that Hallström and unfortunately, didn’t do much with.

8 / 10

Cheer up, Ingemar. You can always get another pooch.

Cheer up, Ingemar. You can always get another pooch.

Photos Courtesy of: Perspective of a Writer, A Film Log, LARK

The Founder (2017)

Yeah, still eating at McDonald’s. Sorry, guys.

Ray Kroc (Michael Keaton) is just another salesman trying to get by in the world so that he can come home to his wife (Laura Dern), and have something to show for it. While on his travels one day, Ray stumbles upon this new fast-food restaurant in Illinois called McDonald’s. While there’s not much to them at first glance, the fact that they actually have only a few items on the menu and are so quick, automatically strike Ray as something that he needs to work with. So, he hatches a plan with the owners, brothers Mac (John Carroll Lynch) and Dick (Nick Offerman), in that he’ll help them expand and bring McDonald’s to the rest of the world. But eventually, as time rolls on, he starts to realize that there’s more money to be made in this food-joint, but the only way to do so is in having to back-stab and get rid of everyone in his life, who has loved and supported him all of these years. Also, he’ll have to get rid of Mac and Dick, leading to an all-out legal-battle that will continue to haunt the McDonald’s name until the end of time.

Okay, probably not, but still.

Yeah, this convo's about to get real weird.

Yeah, this convo’s about to get real weird.

The Founder is actually a pretty misleading title, but it works perfectly with what the rest of the movie is trying to get across. This idea that a person who thought of an idea, as smart as it may be, entitles them to some sort of power, fame and fortune, is an interesting one, especially when said person didn’t actually do anything with the idea. In the Founder, we get this sort of conflict – Ray Kroc may forever and ever be known as the one who got McDonald’s name out there to the rest of the entire world, but he didn’t find, or better yet, even invent the place, the art, the craft, and originality that went into it all in the first place.

Which begs the question: Who’s worthy of being considered “the founder”? The guys who made the place, or the guy who brought the place to where it is today?

It’s a bunch of interesting questions that, thankfully, get brought up many of times throughout the always entertaining, compelling and rather insightful tale about McDonald’s, how it got started, and how it got to be the fast-food juggernaut that it currently is today. Say what you will about McDonald’s, their crappy, fast and easy food, and even the people who work there, but it’s a place that is everywhere you look and will probably stay that way until the person is left breathing. So yes, it’s very interesting to see where it all came from and how it came to be, especially since there’s darker-beings at play surrounding this tale.

For one, director John Lee Hancock approaches Robert D. Siegel’s script in a smart way; he never allows for us to think that this is going to be some quick, fast-paced and glossy biopic about this one smart businessman who hatched this plan to become one of the richest men in the world. There’s always this idea of a darker, more sinister undercurrent here, which makes all of the ups and constantly colorful montages, in a way, seem eerie; we know that Kroc is going to eventually turn the other cheek, lose that winning-smile of his, and start to, as they love to say in the entertainment world, “break bad”, but when, where, and how it all goes down is always left in the air, making this tale a rather unpredictable one at times.

Then again, it’s also a smart and honest tale about what can happen when one person sees money-bags in their eyes and doesn’t really care about the people around them. The Founder makes us wonder whether it was all worth it for Kroc and everyone else involved with the restaurant; can you be a rich, successful and live a rather comfortable life by sticking to your principles and not letting your image get away from you? Or, do you have to get a little down in the dirt at times, hitting elbows and yeah, making some uncomfortable compromises? The Founder asks these questions, never quite comes up with a clear-cut, obvious answer and for that and that alone, it’s a very good movie.

It doesn’t ask whether or not you should go out there and support McDonald’s (which yeah, you probably shouldn’t), but it does ask whether or not someone can stay true to themselves when they want to make some money for themselves.

Sorry, guys. Should have stuck with Burger King.

Sorry, guys. Should have stuck with Burger King.

That, to me, has stayed in my head ever since.

Regardless, as Kroc, Michael Keaton gives us an amazing performance because Keaton, like the man he’s playing, always seems to have something brewing underneath the surface. On the surface, Kroc seems like a rather nice, almost squeaky-clean guy, but the more and more time we get to spend with him, the more realize that there may just be a small screw loose in his head that has him ticking like a bomb, ready to explode and lose all control. Keaton constantly has us guessing just where he’s going to go next with this person and constantly surprises us with his portrayal; while this is no doubt a person we’re supposed to have hard feelings towards, it’s kind of hard because Keaton is just so damn charming. The movie doesn’t let Kroc off the hook, though, and in today’s day and age, that’s something definitely needed.

Everyone else is pretty great, too. Laura Dern doesn’t get a whole lot to do as Kroc’s first wife, but she brings enough warmth and sympathy when is necessary; John Carroll Lynch and Nick Offerman are perfectly as the two brothers who came up with McDonald’s and are slowly, but surely, starting to see that dream slip away from them; Linda Cardellini shows up in a under-written role as Kroc’s second wife, but tries; B.J. Novak is perfectly slimy as the one who hits Kroc’s head the hardest with opportunities and business ideas; and Patrick Wilson, as brief as he’s here, does a solid job at seeming like a guy who may be a little smarmy, but also may just be something of a good guy, trying to make a quick buck, and oh yeah, loses his wife for it.

Chew on that, people.

Consensus: With an absolutely terrific lead performance from Michael Keaton, the Founder not only makes us question the meaning of its tale, but many others, while still giving us a smart, rather haunting portrait of a business man, with an idea, an agenda, and of course, a shady moral compass.

8.5 / 10

What an empire of morbidly obese customers.

What an empire of soon-to-be morbidly obese customers.

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

Volver (2006)

It’s like Paranormal Activity, but you know, actually good.

Revolving around an eccentric family of women from a wind-swept region south of Madrid, Penélope Cruz plays Raimunda, a working-class woman forced to go to great lengths to protect her 14-year-old daughter Paula (Yohana Cobo). To top off the family crisis, her mother Irene (Carmen Maura) comes back from the dead to tie up loose ends. But is this just Raimunda’s mind going a little out-of-whack, or is her late mother actually alive, well, and not actually dead?

Surely, something that sounds so simple and straightforward cannot be the work of crazy, envelope-pushing director Pedro Almodóvar. Over his long and storied career, he’s tackled subjects like pedophilia, sexual-awakening, incest, crime, murder, homosexuality, and HIV, among many others, so how the hell can a guy who likes to talk about stuff like that, be tackling a flick that seems like it came straight-from-TV? Well, it’s easy, he’s Pedro Almodóvar and he can do whatever he wants and thank the lord that he can.

It's an Almodóvar flick, so of course people have to smoke when they get stressed.

It’s an Almodóvar flick, so of course people have to smoke when they get stressed.

Even though this easy subject may not seem like a piece of Almodóvar’s work, in a way, it still is. The attention to color and detail is absolutely beautiful (as if that poster didn’t already tell you), and his way of capturing the life and beauty throughout the streets of Madrid is eye-catching and makes you feel at home. I heard that Almodóvar decided to film this movie around the area of where he grew up and you can really tell. There’s a sort of love and fondness for this area and it shines through each and every frame.

So yeah, it’s pretty, but there’s also more to it than just that.

Volver is very different though, because it’s not fully entrapped in its own plot conceits, like some of his other work can be/get. Though there’s a few nifty twists here and there, Volver‘s still a pretty straight-forward family-drama that hits the right notes because we spend time with these characters and get to know them. And in doing that, we also get to understand them and see them for all that they are, and who they are. Meaning, not everybody here has a halo around their head, but that’s what makes it more interesting to watch, because they’re real people.

Just a lot whole lot more attractive and emotional, it seems.

It’s also one of those films where everybody talks so interestingly, that you always want to hear them chat about whatever is on their mind. Whether they’re talking about food, family, life, sex, money, death, or ghosts, I was always hooked and listening and payed close enough attention to what they all were saying because they even give us hints about certain plot-points that pop-up later in the movie. Almodóvar’s always done that with his flicks and while it’s definitely a neat little trick of his, it doesn’t, in any way whatsoever, get in the way of his actual movie.

Definitely not ketchup.

Definitely not ketchup.

Another thing that Almodóvar does best, is also be able to assemble an awesome cast and that is exactly what he has done once again here. Penélope Cruz stars Raimunda and is radiant and as believable as she’s ever been seen before. Yes, Cruz is beautiful, gorgeous, sexy, vivacious, and as perfect of a looker as you can get, but beauty aside, she can still act and especially in an Almodóvar flick, someone who seems to know exactly what her strengths are. Anyway, what makes Cruz so great here as Raimunda is that she feels like a real woman that’s going through a lot of problems that gets to her and ends up taking a lot of that anger and frustration out on the others around her, but yet, also has this sweet and kind side to her that shows she cares for the ones around her, even if her character doesn’t always show it. Cruz is a beauty to watch because she commands the screen every single time she shows up, and also shows that she can bring out any emotions in her act and make it all seem believable.

There are others here, too, so I guess I’ll chat about them, too, although it should be stated one more time that Cruz is great here, as she usually is.

It’s been a long, long time since I saw Carmen Maura in anything, let alone a Almodóvar film, and shows that she’s still got the chops and makes her old-lady character a lot more lovable and understandable than you’d expect. Lola Dueñas plays Cruz’s sister and is very funny, but also very realistic in how she seems a bit more grounded in reality and happier with her life than Cruz may be. This provides a great contrast between the two ladies but in the end, you can still that they are sisters that love each other and care for each other no matter what. These three work well together and show that even though they may have some problems here and there, they are still a family and they still love each other no matter what happens to them in their own, respective lives. It’s a nice message to understand and see on-screen, especially when it comes from the guy who’s most known for making a movie about a priest who touches little boys.

Yeah, it’s a bit of a change of pace, I guess you could say.

Consensus: Considering this is Almodóvar’s way of “playing it cool”, Volver definitely does seem a bit held-back from the explosiveness of a story it could have been, but still has enough heart, emotion, beauty, and well-acted performances to make it an easy-going experience that will probably make you want to hug your mommy or sister. As for your brother and daddy? Tell them to hug themselves!

8.5 / 10

"Hello, agent? Yeah, just keep scheduling me in Almodóvar's flicks."

“Hello, agent? Yeah, just keep scheduling me in Almodóvar’s flicks.”

Photos Courtesy of: The Red List

Paterson (2016)

There’s a poet in all of us.

Paterson (Adam Driver) is a hardworking bus driver in Paterson, N.J., who follows probably the same routine each and every day of his life, with the exception of a few changes here and there. He wakes up for work bright and early in the morning, eats his cereal out of a small cup, packs a lunch, goes to work, listens to the people’s conversations, observes the city around him, has lunch in front of a lovely, relatively soothing waterfall, comes home to his somewhat quirky wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), walks his dog Marvin (Minnie), around the town late at night, stops by the local bar, has a beer, talks to people, comes home, goes to sleep in the arms of his wife, and wakes up the next day to do it all again. However, the one thing that Paterson seems to really care most about in his life is his poetry and the hopes of one day making it big, so that the whole world can see what he’s jotting down in that notebook of his.

Paterson is perhaps the most relaxing and calming movie that I’ve ever seen. It barely follows a plot, there doesn’t seem to be much of any development found whatsoever, there’s no conflict, and there’s no real narrative driving the movie from one scene to the next. If anything, the movie just wanders around, following a familiar pattern that we get used to after the first ten minutes or so, taking its time to tell itself, and barely ever cranking up the energy a single bit. Normally, this would piss me off to high heavens, especially for an indie flick, and not to mention, one by Jim Jarmusch.

Public-transportation employees unfortunately don't all look like Adam Driver.

Public-transportation employees unfortunately don’t all look like Adam Driver.

But for some reason, I came close to kind of loving it for that reason alone.

Jarmusch’s movies, despite them not all being great, all clearly come from a very interesting mind who has a knack for telling stories the way he wants to tell them, regardless of if they actually work in the shown final product, or if they even make sense (the Limits of Control). But no matter what, it’s hard not to watch his movies and think long and hard about what must have been going on through his mind during the creative-process’ of making these movies and with Paterson, I’m probably the most interested in, because while most of his movies are slow, meandering pieces about goofy characters, this one’s a slow, meandering piece about relatively normal characters, with the pace feeling more deliberate and mannered, than just, well, boring.

And I think that’s what separates Paterson from a lot of these other slow-as-molasses indie flicks I see nowadays, especially those from Jarmusch – the feeling, the tone and the aspect that sticks inside of this town known as Paterson, is so calmed-down, that it only makes sense a movie about said town would play-out the same way. There are some brief, fleeting moments in which it seems like Jarmusch is going to step things up a bit, but nope, they go away the next second, and the movie moves on to whatever it wants to do next.

And you know what? That’s perfectly fine with me, because it worked here.

Normally, it doesn’t and can just feel like a director trying something new and it not working a bit, having them come-off as pretentious. Jarmusch has had this problem before, but here, it works in his favor, as he never really gets in the way of the characters, the story, or the mood. It’s just simple, non-stylish and show-offy storytelling that, quite frankly, needs to be done more in the world of indies. So often, film makers working in these independent frame of minds, no matter how seasoned or young they may be, often feel the need to show-off all their skills, talents and ideas into one piece, and actually get in the way of what could have been a very effective, smart story. Jarmusch, like I’ve said before, has done this before and may do it again, but he doesn’t with Paterson and that’s why it deserves to be cherished.

And the Oscar goes to..

And the Oscar goes to..

That, and because Adam Driver’s quite great in the lead role, too. Without sounding too much like Buzzfeed here, Driver is definitely having a moment in today’s pop-culture landscape, but you wouldn’t quite know it. He’s been in a lot of movies over the past few years, some big, some small, but regardless of the size of them, he’s always good in them, trying out something new and interesting, each and every time. As Paterson, Driver dials down a lot of that free-wheeling energy we so often know and sometimes adore him for like when he’s on Girls, but it works for the character and for the rest of the movie. Due to Paterson himself being an actual observer of the world around him, it makes sense that he wouldn’t take over every scene he’s in, but instead, allow others to talk, express themselves, and get us, as well as Paterson himself, a better chance to know them.

It’s sort of like a poem, right?

Anyway, as his wife, Golshifteh Farahani is an interesting choice and one that pays off, because not only is she charming as all hell, but she actually makes his scene’s better. Her character treads this very fine line between being annoyingly quirky and charming, but most of the time, it’s hard not to be charmed by her. The movie doesn’t know how to treat her, which is actually okay, because it just gives Farahani more opportunities to light the screen up and show us not just why Paterson loves her the way his eyes show, but us, the audience, as well.

It’s been awhile since my last screen crush has hit me, but I think that may be about to change.

Consensus: Incredibly slow and melodic, Paterson may drive most people away from its downtrodden pace, but will bring in those more thoughtful and attentive viewers, with an eye for clever detail and interesting storytelling, that never once feels showy.

8.5 / 10

Who isn't in need of a good spot to chow down on their bagged-lunch?

Who isn’t in need of a good spot to chow down on their bagged-lunch?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

20th Century Women (2016)

Women rule. Boys don’t drool, but they don’t rule, either.

It’s 1979 and Jamie (Lucas Jade Zumann) is going through some growing pains. Now that he’s growing up more and more, he’s starting to see the world for the sort of ugly, sometimes evil place that it can be, but he’s also realizing some beautiful things about it, too. This is mostly through the women that surround him, day in and day out. His mother, Dorothea (Annette Bening), stands by him every step of the way, smothering and protecting him from the outside world; Abbie (Greta Gerwig), when she isn’t dealing with her own problems, takes him out to rad-as-hell, incredibly violent and crazy punk shows; and Julie (Elle Fanning), while admittedly a friend, also gives him that idea that they could be together, forever, but she’s also a little too busy having sex with random a-holes who don’t care about her nearly as much as Jamie. There’s also William (Billy Crudup), who tries to be something of a father-figure to Jamie, even if he’s got his own problems with growing up, too. Altogether, they create an imperfect, dysfunctional family of sorts that all love and respect one another, but also find it very hard to get by in day-to-day life.

Beach makes everyone better.

Beach makes everything and everyone a little bit better.

20th Century Women is, thankfully, Mike Mills’ least stylish movie. It also happens to be perhaps his most heartfelt, with fully-realized, smart and honest characters that aren’t hiding behind a behind a bunch of twee style-points and narrative-conceits. Due to this, it often feels like the typical indie we’d expect from one Wes Anderson, however, it doesn’t quite reach those great, emotional highs – if anything, it’s a movie that stays so put in the lows of life, that it’s actually more realistic.

And yet, there’s still a style to this that can sometimes actually get in the way of the story itself.

For instance, we never quite know where the story’s going to go, end up, or even what sort of flow it’s going to follow through with for the whole two hours or so. It’s actually somewhat refreshing to get a movie that doesn’t have any need for such silly things like formula, or convention, but like I’ve stated many times with stylish movies, clearly trying to make their mark, they also can come close to ruining any sort of emotional power that they may have otherwise built on. 20th Century Women is an odd movie in that it constantly interrupts its own flow, but in doing that, it’s constantly telling us more about these characters, their lives, their relationships with one another, and just where America was at the time.

In all honesty, it’s hard to really hold much against 20th Century Women, because even when it does come close to being downright irritating, it still gives something else to chew on, so to speak. It’s not a slow movie and it’s definitely taking its time for unknown reasons – it’s just telling a story, the way it can only be told, shedding light on each and every person we see. It not only makes us feel closer to these characters, but makes us gain a sense of emotional attachment to them, as well as their surroundings.

Because if anything, the movie’s plots a little funky and doesn’t really seem to be all that focused, but a part of me thinks that was the point of what Mike Mills was doing. In life, there’s no clear objective, no one set standard or rules, and there’s sure as hell no just one obstacle to overcome and everything in life is all okay. Life is a constant stream of series of events, happenings and moments that you can’t predict and never quite see coming, which is actually the beauty about life in and of itself.

How many decades is Greta going to conquer next?

How many decades is Greta going to conquer next?

The same kind of beauty that, in its brightest, shining moments, 20th Century Women really harps on.

But Mills is a smart director in that he doesn’t always get in front of camera and let everyone know it’s his show and that’s it – he’s got such a good cast that it would almost be sacrilege to get in their way and not allow them to do what they do best. Annette Bening turns in another great performance as a mother-figure, who may not be a total hippie, but also may not be a pushover, either. It’s an interesting narrative that she constantly plays with this character and shows us that Bening can play all sides to a character, no matter how big, or limited her role may be.

Greta Gerwig also shows up and is quite good as the rather punk-ish gal going through all sorts of issues and problems, yet, isn’t a total sap that ruins every scene she’s in; Elle Fanning continues to get better and better and shows it here as the apple of Jamie’s eyes, who may love him like he does, or may be simply just using him as a total friend and that’s about it; Billy Crudup gives one of his better performances in recent-memory as the bro-y super of the building they’re all living in and feels like he could have had his own movie, but because he’s here, he’s just another one of the great, highly interesting stories; and as Jamie, Lucas Jade Zumann, despite having a lot of talent to battle, more than holds his own and makes it very clear that he’s going to have a bright and shining future in movies.

Especially if he can hold his own in a movie filled with as many heavyweights as there are here.

Consensus: 20th Century Women may bounce around a tad too much with its style, but mostly gets by on the sheer strength and warmth of its cast and message.

8 / 10

Nothing like a slightly over-bearing mother's love.

Nothing like a slightly over-bearing mother’s love.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Down by Law (1986)

lawposterSome of your best friend’s are found in prison. Not high school.

Zack (Tom Waits) is driving out late one night on the town when all of a sudden, he gets pulled over by the cops and brought in on a bunch of drugs. They weren’t his, but the cops don’t want to hear it, so they book him and now he’s forced to spend a certain amount of time in the clink. Same goes for Jack (John Lurie), who was also set-up by someone he thought he could trust. Now, he’s sharing a cell with Zack and while it takes some time for them to get used to one another, they eventually become good cell-buddies, joking around, relating and whatnot. Then, in walks foreigner Roberto (Roberto Benigni), who got arrested for a way different charge: Murder. However, Zack and Jack eventually take to Roberto and altogether, they forge a plan to get the hell out of jail and hopefully, on with the rest of their lives. The only issue is that getting out of jail is the easy part – it’s not getting caught and thrown back in the slammer that’s the hardest.

"Sing something."

“Sing something.”

What’s perhaps so interesting about Down by Law is that while it’s definitely a movie about a bunch of inmates, in prison, and trying to escape, the movie is actually not all that about the escape itself. There’s not all that much planning of where someone has to be at an exact point, who’s going to help out on the inside, the outside, and just how every part of the plan is going to go down. Most movies dealing with inmates breaking out detail this at great-length, but for writer/director Jim Jarmusch, it doesn’t really seem to matter.

In fact, it’s the inmates themselves who provide the most interesting story in the first place and it’s through them, that we get to learn a little bit more about the way Jarmusch sees the world. The one thing that there’s no denying about most of Jarmusch’s movies, is that they’re definitely quirky, sometimes, to a fault, but here, he seems to have dumbed that down a bit; Roberto can get a little silly at times, but that’s mostly because Benigni is such a clown, it’s hard not to, at the very least, chuckle at this character. Nope, interestingly enough, Jarmusch gives us a smart, compelling and sensitive character-study about three odd-balls, meeting up in the worst places of them all, and yeah, making something out of it.

In a way, ensuring to us, the rest of the world, that there is some hope for those inmates out there.

Still though, the movie isn’t trying to preach in the slightest; if anything, it’s just giving us a better glimpse into lives of three individuals, who we either don’t always see get their stories told, or when we do, they’re usually filled with drugs, violence and a whole lot of rape. Down by Law is a very different beast in the subgenre of prison movies, but it’s still a compelling one, even if the movie never does take us out of the one single cell that these guys live in. It’s not suffocating, though and it easily could have been – Jarmusch is working with some larger-than-life characters and cast-members that it helps make his movie pop and excite, rather than just drown in its sorrow and misery.

We get it, Roberto. You love your wife.

We get it, Roberto. You love your wife.

Something that Jarmusch will do in the future for sure, but thankfully, not here.

And yes, with Waits, Lurie, and Benigni, Jarmusch showed his knack for assembling a very odd cast, putting them together, and seeing what sort of odd magic happened. Luckily for him, and especially us, the three all have great chemistry and are more than willing to have us believe in some sort of budding relationship between the three of them. Aside from being together, they’re all very good, too – Waits is cool and bluesy, Lurie is a bit brooding, and Benigni’s as vibrant and wacky as you’d expect him to be, but he is still grounded, so that you do believe in him, as a person, not just another one of his characters.

That said, Down by Law does take a sort of different turn in the last-act and it works, and sort of doesn’t. The movie doesn’t go the conventional route out in ending itself, but by doing that, may have been too subtle for its own good. Jarmusch’s films always seem to have this problem, in that he himself seems to afraid to show any real, big emotion with his characters, that when it comes time for the emotional-button pushing, he backs away. He’d much rather take a hand-shake or high-five, than a hug or kiss, and honestly, sometimes we need that hug or kiss.

Only sometimes.

Consensus: With a talented ensemble and some of Jarmusch’s snappiest writing, Down by Law is a smart take on the prison movie subgenre, aiming more for character-development, than plot-mechanics.

8 / 10

Nowhere to go but East. Or East? Or, well, I don't know.

Nowhere to go but East. Or East? Or, well, I don’t know.

Photos Courtesy of: Generation Film!

A Monster Calls (2016)

Hug the trees. Just not too hard.

At his age of 12 years old, Conor (Lewis MacDougall) is dealing with a lot. For one, his mom (Felicity Jones) is sick with cancer and slowly, but surely, dying. His grandmother (Sigourney Weaver), while meaning well, is also a bit of a stuck-up meanie who doesn’t let Conor have any fun, when at his age, that’s all he should be caring about. His dad (Toby Kebbell) is barely in the picture, now living in the States and occasionally coming back across the pond to visit and check-up on things. And oh yeah, there’s that talking tree in his backyard (voiced by Liam Neeson). The Monster may cause a lot of imaginary destruction and chaos, but mostly what he wants to do is tell Conor stories about life, death and love, making him think longer and harder about his own life, his family, and his whole grieving process. Of course, this makes Conor dream more than he should, wondering what’s real and what isn’t.

A Monster Calls is one of those movies that’s so emotionally draining and dour, that after awhile, you start to think whether or not it’s actually a good movie. Because while it’s definitely good at making it so that every person seeing it has at least one tear in their eye during the two-hour run-time, there’s other elements it seems to be lacking in, like an actual plot development, or meaning to it all. And sure, you could say that A Monster Calls is one, long movie about the grieving process and learning that it’s okay to be sad, but still, does that make it a better movie?

"God? Or, tree?"

“God? Or, tree?”

Not really, but I will say that director J.A. Bayona is a very talented fella who knows how to make a story about a woman slowly dying from cancer, pretty compelling.

That said, it is a pretty sad movie and at times, feels like it’s doing incessantly, to the point of where it seems like it’s got no other card to play. The only moments of actual fun and spirit seem to come through the talking-tree bits, but that’s only because listening to Liam Neeson tell folk tales is like a warm cup of coffee on a cold, winters day. Bayona definitely knows how to set a mood, as he’s done with the Orphanage and the Impossible, but he doesn’t quite know how to go from the mood-setting; to just make people feel sad and depressed is one thing, but to actually do something with that sadness and depression is a whole other thing and I’m still not sure Bayona’s been able to work that out perfectly.

However, this may be Bayona’s best movie in that it does move at a solid pace, all things considered. Being a nearly two-hour movie about a woman dying, could have been a total and complete slug of a flick, but Bayona knows that in order for a story like this to work and actually matter, there has to be something driving the movie along. And sure, while he doesn’t always seem to have it going for him in the story-department, he more than makes up for it in his characters.

As Conor, Lewis MacDougall has got a whole lot to do, but he handles it all well; there are times when he seems a bit too smart for his own good, but there are others where it seems like he’s just a kid, who has no clue of what’s really going on in the world out there, and most of all, hasn’t come to terms with the fact that his mom’s about to die and his life as he’s known it, is about to go through a total and complete change. It’s a weighty role and the kind that could definitely make or break a child actor (see Thomas Horn in Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close), but MacDougall’s very good here. He plays a kid very well and when the movie really starts hitting the hard stuff, he’s even more compelling to watch.

"It's okay, son. Life goes on. Just without me in it."

“It’s okay, son. Life goes on. Just without me in it.”

Felicity Jones has impressed me before, but for some reason, she doesn’t quite work here, but it may not be her fault. Due to her character literally dying the whole entire movie, we don’t really get many shades to her and instead, only see her sick and in constant agony. It’s a one-note role and unfortunately, Jones just isn’t able to do much with it. Sigourney Weaver shows up as Conor’s strict grand-mom, who may seem like the typically evil mom-mom, but has certain shadings to her that make her probably the most compelling character in the bunch. Toby Kebbell, despite getting maybe one or two scenes, does a nice job as Conor’s estranged daddy and a longer movie would have probably focused on this relationship more.

But nope, of course, we get a talking-tree and dreams.

Not that I’m complaining, because I cried. Then again, how could you not? A Monster Calls seems to have one sole objective on its mind from the very beginning and it’s hard not to let go and just allow for the movie to rip the tears right out of you. The movie’s not perfect, but hey, at least it gets its job done.

Consensus: Pretty sad and emotional, A Monster Calls is an interesting fantasy flick that deals with grief and death, yet, is still somewhat compelling.

8 / 10

Uh oh. Look out evil-doers.

Uh oh. Look out evil-doers.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Cape Fear (1991)

Criminals never forget.

When attorney Sam Bowden (Nick Nolte) knowingly withholds evidence that would acquit violent sex offender Max Cady (Robert De Niro) of rape charges, Max spends the next 14 years of his life in prison. And of course, while in the clink, Max has been thinking about that decision each and every day of his sentence, while on the other side of the bars, Sam has been living life with his wife (Jessica Lange) and young daughter (Juliette Lewis), who seems to be getting more and more rebellious as the years go by. But now that the 14 years are up, Max is ready to extract some revenge right from the get-go. However, rather than just beating the hell out of, or better yet, killing Sam, what Max does is spend every waking moment of his life and dedicating it all to stalking Sam, his family, and especially his friends. To Max, no one is safe and after awhile, Sam starts to realize that he’s going to have to come to some pretty drastic decisions if he’s going to protect the lives of those that he loves and wants to keep alive.

Bad lawyer.

Bad lawyer.

There’s nothing like watching an insanely talented director have the absolute time of their lives. It’s like watching a little kid in a Toys R Us, but rather that kid being limited to only buying a few items, the kid’s allowed to have the whole store. They can do whatever they want, however they want, and with all of these wonderful, fabulous and great toys.

That’s what it’s like watching Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear; the kind of movie where a master of his craft knows exactly what it is that he’s doing, having a lovely time with it all, and is barely ever going to let-up. And honestly, when you’re doing a remake on an already-great movie, that’s sort of the way you’ve got to go – you can’t follow the same, beat-for-beat, note-for-note, track-for-track, but instead, amp things up a bit differently. You can focus on a different plot-point altogether, bring out more interesting ideas of the story that may not have been discovered originally, and basically do whatever else you want with the story, so long as you stay true to heart and soul of the original. So few remakes actually abide by this rule, but despite the changes in story and style that Scorsese goes through here, he still sticks true to the original with an eerie tone humming all throughout.

But what’s interesting is that it’s different this time around.

Scorsese approaches the material as if it was an over-the-top, wild, wacky, crazy and unpredictable adventure into one man’s psychotic psyche – someone who doesn’t seem to have a moral compass anywhere to be found and because of that, is taking out the nice, somewhat innocent people. The original touched on this idea, obviously, but Scorsese really hammers it in, allowing for the character of Max to be as depraved and as sickening as humanly imaginable. Sure, it’s campy, it’s wildly insane, and it’s really schlocky, but you know what? It actually kind of works.

A good portion of that has to do with Scorsese’s quick pace, but another portion of that definitely has to do with De Niro’s committed-as-ever performance. Of course, working with Scorsese brings out the best in De Niro, but here, it’s unlike how we’ve ever seen him before – he’s definitely flirted with the idea of being a villain in other flicks before and after this, but never to the supreme extent that he goes with Max. The movie does try some avenues to have us, in the very least, sympathize with him and his stance, but for the most part, the movie knows that he is a monster, and so does De Niro, which makes every scene in which he’s just acting like the creepiest, most erratic person around, so damn entertaining.

It almost makes you wonder where all of the inspiration’s gone in the past few or so years.

Bad housewife.

Bad housewife.

Regardless, Scorsese doesn’t shy away from letting the rest of the cast have their moments, too, especially since they also get to have some development and not just become a typical white, suburban, upper-class family who plays golf and tennis. Nolte’s Sam has got some dark issues to work with, Lange’s Leigh seems to be struggling in her own ways, Lewis’ Danielle, while most definitely a teen, is also a little bit smarter than we’re used to seeing with this kind of character, making her one key scene with De Niro all the more creepy, and Illeana Douglas, in a couple or so scenes, shows true fun and spirit for a movie that seems to enjoy her presence, yet, at the same time, remind us that there’s something dark and grueling really behind all of this fun we’re having.

In fact, where Cape Fear works less is probably in the last-half, when Scorsese really loses his cool here. In a way, Scorsese wants us to see Max as a sort of Christ-like figure which, for a short while, is fine and all, but by the end, becomes such a major plot-point, that it’s almost unbearable to sit and listen through. We get the point as soon as it’s mentioned, yet being that this is a Scorsese movie, faith must be driven into the ground and because of that, the final-act of Cape Fear feels more like wild and over-the-top symbolism, on top of symbolism, and less of a thrilling, compelling and wholly satisfying to a wild ride of thrills, shrills, and shocks.

Still though, it’s one of the rare remakes that rivals the original and how many times can you say that?

Consensus: Wild, a little insane, well-acted, and always exciting, Cape Fear is the rare remake that works just as much as its legendary original does, especially what with Scorsese seeming to have the time of his life behind the camera.

8 / 10

Bad criminal. Or is that sort of obvious?

Bad criminal. Or is that sort of obvious?

Photos Courtesy of: the ace black blog