Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 8-8.5/10

Courage Under Fire (1996)

Who to trust? The hunky guys? Or the gal?

While he was on-duty during the Gulf War, Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) accidentally caused a friendly fire incident and it caused him to rethink his military career, even if his superiors were able to look the other way for it. Now, with the war-effort over, he is assigned to investigate the case of Army Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan), a soldier who was killed in action when her Medevac unit was attempting to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter. And while it seems like a simple case of a solider being killed by enemy-fire, the more and more Serling begins to look, the more he realizes that there’s more to this story than just what’s on the surface. In a way, someone on the U.S.’s side could have killed Walden and if so, for what reasons? By interviewing everyone involved with the incident and who worked closely with Walden on that one specific day, Serling hopes to find it all out and then some.

Meg and Matt? What a dynamic duo!

Meg and Matt? What a dynamic duo!

Courage Under Fire is a lot like A Few Good Men in that, yes, it’s a fairly conventional drama-thriller that deals with the Army and a case that needs to be solved, however, it ends on a far more interesting note than it may have ever set out for. With the later, it’s become infamous for its final showdown between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise and all of the countless conversations to follow, but with Courage Under Fire, that discussion is literally the whole two hours. In a way, Courage Under Fire is a conversation and an argument both for, as well as against the Army and the war-effort during the Gulf War of ’91, that neither pays tribute, nor attacks the soldiers who have, or haven’t participated in it.

Which is to say that it’s a good movie, yes, but it’s also more than just your average war-drama.

Director Edward Zwick knows how to handle a lot of material all at once, but what’s surprising the most here is that he does seem to actually settle things down and focus on the smaller details of the story that make it so dramatic. Sure, whenever he takes a flashback to the actual incident itself, the movie is chock full of action, with bullets flying, people dying, and explosions coming out of nowhere. At first, it may feel a tad uneven, but eventually, the movie, as well as Zwick, begin to find a groove that works in helping for the movie get to its smaller moments, while also giving the action-junkies a little something to taste on.

After all, the movie, from the ads and posters and whatnot, does appear to be promising this slam-bang, action-thriller of a war flick, which is also very far from the truth. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t thrills, chills and action – there is, it’s just not in the forms of any sort of violence. Instead, it all seems to come from learning more and more about what really happened in this incident, realizing the conspiracy theories and cover-ups, and then, also seeing all of the different perspectives and how those characters shape the perspectives themselves. It’s a whole lot like Rashomon, but there’s a whole lot going on that keeps the similarities at bay, and instead, just feels like an interesting way to tell a mystery that could have been dull, boring and, honestly, uninteresting.

It’s also very hard to make a movie as dull and and as uninteresting as the one it could have been, especially what with the great cast on-hand.

"No blinking!"

“No blinking!”

As is usually the case, Denzel Washington is great in this lead role, showing a lot of dramatic-depth and compassion, without hardly saying anything at all. He’s the kind of actor that gets by solely on a look of his face and totally makes the scene his, and even though his role may not have been as fully-written as he’s used to working with, it’s still a role that Washington himself works wonders with, even if he does have to put in a little extra here and there. It’s also nice to see the likes of Lou Diamond Phillips, Seth Gilliam, and a young Matt Damon, as the soldiers involved with the incident, showing us more into their souls and what they saw.

But really, it’s the performance from Meg Ryan that makes the movie so good, as she shows a rough, tough and brave character who, despite what version of her, we hear and/or see, is still an admirable one. Ryan may seem like an odd-choice for this role, but as she proved in the 90’s, she owned almost every role thrown at her, and it was nice to see her do well with a role for someone who was, essentially, shown in just flashbacks. It honestly makes me wish she did more drama and stayed away from all of the non-stop rom-coms, as she clearly had the chops to pull it all off, but yeah, unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

And now, nobody knows quite where she’s gone.

Consensus: With a timely, smart message about war, Courage Under Fire brings a lot of thought and discussion to its sometimes predictable format.

8 / 10

Just one of the guys. Except, a lot prettier. Depending on who you ask.

Just one of the guys. Except, a lot prettier. Depending on who you ask.

Photos Courtesy of: Writer’s Digest, Teach With Movies, Empire

The Accountant (2016)

Math truly can drive people to murder.

Ever since he was a kid, Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) has had issues dealing with the world around him. Now that he’s older and on his own, well, he’s a whole lot wiser, even if his people skills aren’t all that great still. Still, he’s a mathematics savant that helps him get by and make a living, solely freelancing as an accountant for dangerous criminal organizations and other shady businessmen who sometimes like to keep their private information, well, private. However, a certain someone is trying to find out just who this Christian Wolff guy is and what his plan is – and that certain someone is treasury agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons), who recruits a young employee (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to assist him in any way that she can. While they’re are looking into him, Christian takes on a state-of-the-art robotics company as a legitimate client. But once Wolff realizes that there’s more going on underneath the hood of this company, then more and more people start getting killed, which leads Wolff to making some very deadly decisions.

Is this how accountants fall in love?

Is this how accountants fall in love?

A part of me is actually surprised about the Accountant‘s rather lackluster reception among critics. Here is, for the most part, a piece of adult-entertainment, that’s dark, weird, violent, and mysterious. I dare call it “original”, because lord only knows how many movies about murderous-accountants there are actually out there (Google says “none”, but you never know), but still, it has all the qualities of the sort of movie that critics and adult-audiences seem to love and adore.

So why don’t more and more people like it?

Well, for the most part, it is a very odd movie. Despite director Gavin O’Connor having made some normal, relatively simple character-studies with Warrior, Miracle and Tumbleweeds, here, he seems to have gotten brought into the cold, cruel world of Bill Dubuque’s script – one that literally features an accountant with Autism, kicking ass, taking names, and shooting all sorts of people down, whenever he isn’t doing math and charming the pants off of fellow accountants. It sounds so strange and in ways, it actually is, but somehow, Dubuque and O’Connor seem to come together in a way that makes this weird world actually work and take place in some sort of reality to where we care for the characters, their situations and most importantly, what actually happens.

The Accountant is interesting in that it wants to be about Christian Wolff, his issues growing up, and his issues as an older-man trying to wade through the world, but at the same time, still wants to be this violent thriller in which rich people are getting knocked-off one by one. We know there’s a connection along the way, somewhere, however, the movie still plays both sides of the field, making it appear to be two movies, yet, still feeling wholly as one. It’s odd to describe, I know, but the Accountant is the kind of disjointed, uneven movie I would normally despise and be confused by, but that didn’t happen this time – instead, I was actually brought in by the story and most of all, its characters.

And playing against-type, Ben Affleck is, as usual, pretty great. He has a lot of weird tics that he has to go through with Christian Wolff, but mostly, Affleck does it all in an effective way to where this guy’s still a total mystery and we don’t know what he’s going to do next, or to whom, yet, we still like and trust that he’s a good person. Part of that is Affleck’s general likability, but another part of it is that the movie does an effective job of placing flashbacks when they need to be placed, which allows us to know more and more about Wolff’s adolescence and get a better, if more sad, picture of what this dude’s life has been.

Oh, and it also helps us be absolutely shocked when he starts killing people with the simple pull of a trigger.

"Yeah, I know. But the solo Batman movie will be better."

“Yeah, I know. But the solo Batman movie will be better.”

Others in the cast are quite good, too. Anna Kendrick has a silly role as the fellow auditor, but still gets by on being charming; J.K. Simmons has a dumb scene in which his character explains everything that we need to know about Wolff and their history together, but besides that, he still does a solid job playing; Jon Bernthal is cool, but menacing as the one hitman who’s going around and shooting down all of these rich folks; Jon Lithgow has a couple of crazy moments that makes me wish he would take more of these darker flicks; and Jeffrey Tambor, unfortunately, isn’t around a whole lot, but a part of me feels like a lot of his stuff may be somewhere on the cutting-room floor.

Still, what all of these performers do, and do well, is that they all add a little something to a movie that, quite frankly, could have come off way too serious and melodramatic. In a way, they help it all come-off more legitimate, with Bernthal actually getting one or two emotional moments that hit the right notes, even in a movie that wouldn’t seem to know anything about them. This allows for all of the blood and violence that does eventually come around, to hit a whole lot harder and feel like more than just your typical action-thriller – it’s one with more on its mind and more in its heart.

As strange as that heart may be.

Consensus: While not perfect and definitely an odd hybrid, the Accountant gets by on a solid cast, a smart direction that takes itself seriously just enough, and a couple of nice twists and turns that keep this mystery alive.

8 / 10

So. Many. Numbers.

So. Many. Numbers.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Best in Show (2000)

Are people this crazy at cat shows?

Eccentric show dog owners travel to compete at the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. Some are crazy, some are determined, and some, well, nobody really knows. Regardless of what they are, they are all under one roof, going for the number one spot of having the best dog in the show.

Improv comedy is sort of a gamble in that, if you have the right people, it works. For Guest and his usual suspects, it tends to normally go by all fine, but there are the times in which you can tell that he’s just rolling with whatever weird and crazy stuff he can find, even when some of it can be cut. Such is the case when you have a whole cast just ad-libbing whatever comes to their mind naturally, but somehow, Guest can get by fine with it because he’s had enough material to work with and of course, the solid cast and crew to play with, too.

America's favorite ad-lib couple.

America’s favorite ad-lib couple.

And really, that’s the main thing to talk about when discussing Best in Show, as they’re all the reason why the movie does, and honestly, doesn’t work.

Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara probably deserve some of the highest praise out of the whole cast, because not only is their chemistry perfect, but the little running-gag about O’Hara’s character is probably the best in the whole film. The whole gag is about how she was pretty funky and wild when she was younger, and before she met Levy’s character, so therefore, every guy that she sees in person comes up to her, talking about their wild nights together and it just gets even crazier and crazier as you hear more about it. Especially the one scene with Larry Miller who plays an old flame, and just knows how to make everything so terribly uncomfortable for all. Also, Levy is probably the most endearing character out of this whole film since this guy just never seems to cut a break and get away from a guy his wife hasn’t slept with.

There’s also the terribly neurotic, snooty couple, Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock, who both do terrific jobs with their roles as they are the type of people you get with any one of these high-flying competitions where people literally lose their cool over the smallest things out there. All of the fights they have are hilarious and seem so over-the-top, but in all honesty, who the hell cares? Each one is funny and they all have great chemistry together, you know, when they’re just going at it on one another.

We also have the stereotypical gay couple, played by John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean, and have a great chemistry together, very surprisingly, and also have some of the best lines in the whole film. Higgins is always a comedic actor that I have always appreciated when I see him show up in random junk like Fired Up or The Ugly Truth, because he always ends up stealing the show, as he does here. Sure, it’s a stereotype of what we normally see made of gay characters in movies and TV, but it still works and not necessarily made to offend.

After all, like everyone else here, he’s just a character.

The true couple.

The true couple.

Then, there is also the one “couple” that has the dog that’s one two years in a row, played by Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge, and they both play their typical characters that we have seen them both play before. Lynch is probably the better of the two because there’s a deep and dark intensity to her character that I feel like this film could have went into more about, in order to create funnier and more memorable moments, but I guess it was all about going with the flow on this one.

The weakest character out of the whole bunch would probably have to be Guest’s own character he played. It’s not that this character isn’t interesting or funny, he just seems very unoriginal in the fact that he is the usual dumb hillbilly that comes from the roots of the woods, and says things very strangely in his country-bumpkin accent. It’s understood what the one single joke about this character is going to be from the beginning, and rather than trying find variances on it, Guest sort of goes with the same one, over and over again.

Still, the real show is left up to Fred Willard to steal and that, thankfully, he does.

As the head color-commentator, Willard gets to do a whole lot of crazy and random things, by mostly just saying whatever comes to his mind first, even if it has nothing to do with the actual dog show and you know what? It works so perfectly well. Willard has perfect comedic timing and whenever he says something dumb, you don’t care because the guy just continues to roll and roll with it, almost to the point of where you feel bad for the straight-man British actor that calls the show right next to him. It’s one of those moments where it makes me realize that Willard always makes me laugh no matter what it is that he does.

Consensus: Though it’s not always a winner with it’s improvisational jokes, Best in Show is still a very funny comedy mainly because of the talent that’s on-display here, especially Willard who will have you in stitches by the end of it.

8 / 10

Who needs Joe Buck when you have Fred Willard?

Who needs Joe Buck when you have Fred Willard?

Photos Courtesy of: Film Experience Blog

Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Everyone’s got the acting bug. Some more than others, obviously.

The town of Blaine, Mo., approaches its sesquicentennial, there’s only one way to celebrate: A musical revue called “Red, White and Blaine.” And to ensure that everything goes all fine and smoothly with this musical, Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest) is assigned the duties of director, writer, choreography and just overall boss of everything that goes on. Corky tries out a few talents but ends up settling on a bunch of excited but also, unfortunately, untalented locals (Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara). For awhile, everything seems to be going fine – the musical-numbers are performed well and the actors themselves seem competent enough that they’ll be able to remember their lines when it’s showtime. But when Corky and the rest of the cast and crew find out that respected critic, Mort Guffman, is coming to see what the show is all about and how it’s going to go down, then everyone loses their cool and feels as if it’s time to crank the show up to 11.

Everyone needs a Remains of the Day lunchbox.

Everyone needs a Remains of the Day lunchbox.

What’s odd about Waiting for Guffman is that it’s probably Christopher Guest’s less known, or seen feature, yet, it may also be his best. It’s not perfect, but it’s tight, hilarious, and most of all, heartfelt. See, there’s something that seems to be missing from some of Guest’s other flicks and it’s the fact that he actually does love and appreciate these characters for what weird specimens they are; he may crack jokes at their expense and enjoy making them look silly, but he also enjoys their company and loves hanging around them.

And that’s why, Waiting for Guffman, despite featuring Guest’s typical jokes and gags, also seems like a tribute to the kinds of characters he likes to poke fun at and get plenty of laughs from. It’s less of a movie about the theater world and how thespians may, or may not, take their work a little too seriously, as much as it’s about these small-town, seemingly normal folks trying to make a difference in their lives, as well as the numerous lives of other people around them. Guest is a smart writer and director in that he doesn’t try and get sappy, or hammer this point away by any means, but there’s a feeling to these characters and this town that they live in that’s easy to feel a warmness from – something that’s not always so present in Guest’s other work.

However, it’s still the actor’s showcase no matter what and it’s why Guest, as usual, is able to work so many wonders.

Because a good portion of his movies are ad-libbed, Guest can sometimes forget when to cut a scene, or an actor’s antics, but here, he seems as if he knew exactly what to do and when to do it all. Everyone gets their chance to have fun and shine like the bright diamonds that they are, but Guest also doesn’t forget to cut things whenever necessary. Sometimes, it’s not about how much funny material you have, as much as it’s about how much of it works when cut-and-pasted next to one another; having someone go on and on about airline food is one thing, but to have a person make a line about it and keep moving on, especially when your movie is barely even 80 minutes, makes all the difference.

Yep, don't ask.

Yep, don’t ask.

I know this makes it sound like so much more than it actually is, but this kind of stuff and attention matters in comedy and it’s why Waiting for Guffman is one of Guest’s better flicks – a lot of the stuff that he would somehow miss the mark on in the next few films to come, he seemed to have nailed down here, which makes me wonder why mostly all of the ones to follow were, at the very least, disappointing. That said, Guest himself is quite great as Corky, playing up one of the best caricatures he’s ever had to deal with; while most of the jokes thrown around about Corky is his flamboyancy, the movie, nor Guest’s performance, comes off as homophobic. Sure, it’s funny that Corky constantly, day in and day out, still says that he’s straight, but the fact remains that Corky himself is still the brains of the operation here and without him, the play itself doesn’t go too well.

In a way, the same could be said about the movie, too.

Cause honestly, Corky is such a fun and lovable character, it’s hard not to miss him whenever he’s not around. Sure, the usual suspects like Levy, O’Hara, Willard, Posey and Balaban are all here to pick up the slack and still have us enjoy what it is that we’re watching, but Guest’s performance takes over the movie so much that whenever he’s absent, it’s hard not to think of where he’s at, or what he’s doing. Guest is obviously behind the camera, doing what he does best, but what about Corky? Sometimes, it’s best to just give us more of a character who is stealing the show to begin with. Maybe it’s not always the case with every great character, but it seems like it would have been perfectly fine for Corky.

Consensus: Funny, smart, quick, and a little touching, Waiting for Guffman is one of Guest’s better flicks that shows just what he can do when he’s thinking on his feet and is still capable of editing his material to perfection.

8.5 / 10

Somehow, it's not embarrassing. Or at least, not as embarrassing as some high school plays I've seen have been.

Somehow, it’s not embarrassing. Or at least, not as embarrassing as some high school plays I’ve seen have been.

Photos Courtesy of: Theater Mania, The Film Authority, Cinema da Merde

Wuthering Heights (2012)

Is it safe to say not much has changed?

Heathcliff (as the younger version Solomon Glave, and James Howson as the older one) is brought in off the streets from a nice Christian man, who believes that it is his god-given duty to ensure that those who are off far worse than him, should get the same love and respect as he gets. Some in his family don’t see it the same way, with the exception of Catherine (as the younger version Shannon Beer, and Kaya Scodelario as the older one), who instantly takes a liking to Heathcliff. While Heathcliff is supposed to be working on their farm, most of the time, he spends gallivanting through the fields with Catherine, falling more and more in love with her as the days go by. Of course, she may feel the same way, too, but because he’s black and doesn’t come from a very wealthy family, she begins to have second-thoughts about what those around her may start to think. Pissed-off at her, and especially the harsh treatment he suffers from her older brother, Heathcliff runs off into the middle of the night, presumably never to be heard from again. However, many years later, Heathcliff returns, only to find Catherine married to a much wealthier guy.

He's looking for her.

He’s looking for her.

It’s interesting that, for perhaps the 15th time or so, Wuthering Heights has been adapted and believe it or not, the story still rings true. Granted, maybe one or two adaptations is fine enough, but honestly, it doesn’t matter because the source material, no matter how old or stuffy it may be, still somehow resonates. Issues with class, race, and even sex, still stick around in today’s day and age and while Wuthering Heights may take an awful lot of staring and paying attention to grab a hold of these modern-day themes, it’s still a piece of material that works.

And in Andrea Arnold’s hands, it is, surprisingly, the best it may ever be.

Arnold may seem like an odd choice as adapting this source material, but it becomes very clear that, right from the grainy and gritty look of the movie, that she’s going to get along with it just fine. After all, it seems like the setting for Wuthering Heights, fits Arnold’s darker sensibilities the most, in terms of setting especially; she can make any sight beautiful, even when, in a film like this, where there’s hardly a sign of any sort of sunlight to be found. And while it’s definitely a bit distracting at first, the tight aspect-ratio works for the movie, having us focus in on these character’s, their emotions, and most of all, yes, “the action”.

While it’s hard to really say anything that happens here is, in the very least, “action-y”, if you love period-pieces that are ripe and filled to the brim with emotion, than this take on Wuthering Heights has plenty of it. Sure, some may see it suffocating that Arnold has us straight up in these character’s faces a good portion of the time, but it all works because it allows for us to feel the raw, dirty and downright nonglamorous love and emotions that they all feel at one point or another. Arnold’s style may definitely be manipulative, but it’s manipulative in the sense that it allows for you to see a story done so many times before, done a tad bit differently and judging how the results end up being.

She's looking for him.

She’s looking for him.

And with her cast, Arnold really seems to have it all worked out.

Shannon Beer and Solomon Grave are lovely and imaginative as the younger versions of Catherine and Heathcliff, respectively, but it isn’t till their older and more mature where the performances really start to click. As Catherine and Heathcliff, the older years, Kaya Scodelario and James Howson are quite magnificent because they say so much, with so little. The burning, fiery intensity between them two is felt from the very start and it hardly ever ceases, with Howson turning in some truly heartbreaking moments without even uttering a word. It helps that Arnold’s camera is, once again, practially up their noses to capture all of these moments of true, unabashed emotion on screen, but it also is left up to them to be handle this sort of material and put something of a different spin on it.

Of course though, you can only put a spin on an ancient tale so much and so often that, after awhile, there’s no more spins left. A part of me appreciates Arnold for taking this material on and trying something as different as she could think of with it, but there’s still that feeling that she’s tied down because of it. The freedom and the variety that’s been around in so many of her other films seems to have been lost here, if only because she feels as if she has to work for the audience who is actually going to go out and see this, all due to name recognition. Sure, it’s not a bad idea, but it’s also a bummer to watch when you know that someone like Andrea Arnold, can make so many more wonders, when she’s just got a little more freedom on her hands/

That said, it’s still great. So yeah, don’t listen to me, essentially.

Consensus: Dark, gritty and raw, Andrea Arnold’s low-key take on Wuthering Heights works because of its new spin on an age old tale, yet, at the same time, still feels like it’s holding Arnold back a bit.

8.5 / 10

Good thing that they found each other. Shame it seems to be in the wrong year, however.

Good thing that they found each other. Shame it seems to be in the wrong year, however.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Red Road (2006)

I spy with my little eyes, lots and lots of smelly people.

Jackie (Kate Dickie) spends her days monitoring a series of surveillance cameras trained on a rough Glasgow neighborhood. While it’s no stellar job, it’s one that she finds enjoyable enough to where she doesn’t have to do much except keep her eye out on any sort of chicanery or misdoings. And in this neighborhood that she has to constantly check out, there’s a lot of that going. One fateful day, however, while she’s roaming around on her video-cameras, she spots Clyde (Tony Curran) on one of the screens, somebody she doesn’t seem to know much of anything about, yet, for some reason, she becomes incredibly obsessed with him. With what originally starts out as her video-stalking him, soon turns into her following him around on the streets, talking to his friends and getting involved with his life. It’s odd, but Jackie has a reason for all of this and eventually, it’s all going to come out in unsettling ways.

Yeah, Jackie's a little strange, but hey, she's Jackie!

Yeah, Jackie’s a little strange, but hey, she’s Jackie!

What’s interesting about Andrea Arnold’s movies is that none of them ever seem to be “thrillers” in the literal sense, but for some reason, they turn out to be just that. Eventually, we get so wrapped-up in these characters, their lives, and their stories, that eventually, it’s hard not to be gripped by each and everything that they do, or don’t do. And with Red Road, that is especially true – while the movie is, plain and simply, a dark, gritty and slow-burning character-study, there’s still suspense and an air of mystery in it that makes it so much more.

But at the same time, it’s still an expertly-done character-study that, without the talents of Andrea Arnold, probably wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.

While Arnold is in the perfect position to make Red Road some statement about surveillance, government’s reliance on it, and how normal, everyday citizens are literally paranoid every second of their lives because of this fact, she instead decides to just keep her focus as low and as tight as possible. This isn’t a tale about the government, police, or even surveillance – it’s about the freedom that this sort of technology can provide for someone, who is exactly like Jackie and in need of some sort of closure, or different path to go down with her life. The movie never makes it out like technology is this evil, or this great thing, it just shows that it’s a thing that can change a lot of people’s lives, while also making everyone seem closer to one another, even if they truly aren’t.

Once again though, this isn’t some sort of message movie. Arnold is smarter than that and knows that the ingredient to making a solid little character-study is to give us someone worth watching and caring about, even if we don’t know everything there is to know about her. Jackie’s a bit of an odd protagonist, but she’s one who constantly shows more shadings as the movie runs on by, with Kate Dickie pulling off a great performance, one that shows the subtle range we’re not too used to seeing from her in bigger showings like in the VVitch, or on Game of Thrones. Jackie is an intriguing character, but Dickie finds certain ways to make us understand a little bit more about her, through her interactions with those around her, as well the plain, but troubled looks on her face.

Hate that feeling of never know who's going to speak in an elevator.

Hate that feeling of never know who’s going to speak in an elevator.

Of course, there’s more to Jackie as we soon learn and this is where Red Road starts to fall down a bit.

What started as an interesting character-drama, soon turns into something of a melodramtic thriller that, yes, once again, may not be a “thriller”, in any sense, but has those same sort of qualities and attitudes that make it fit in with that genre. Arnold seems interested in having us know why Jackie is doing what she is doing and tying it all together in one, neat little bow, but honestly, it almost feels like it didn’t need to come to that. The movie makes it out as if Jackie’s decision wasn’t random, but expected, through certain twists, turns, and reveals that come to fruition at the end.

Are the twists and turns shocking? Yeah, they actually are. However, they also make Red Road feel like a different entire movie. What was one a small, understated character-drama about this Jackie lady and her quest into the dark regions of Glasgow, now all of a sudden becomes about her dance with darkness and how it all started. It felt odd to me, even if the characters of Jackie and Clyde, as well as the relationship they build over time, continues to be interesting.

Consensus: Not perfect, Andrea Arnold’s debut, Red Road, definitely benefits from an amazing performance from Kate Dickie, as well as some understated, smart writing that pays closer attention to characters we don’t always get to see in film nowadays.

8 / 10

My living-room, in this day and age of Peak TV.

My living-room, in this day and age of Peak TV.

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Boozer, Ruthless Culture

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

Live by the oil, die by the oil.

On April 20, 2010, an oil rig out in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico exploded, leaving many oil riggers on board, dead, severely injured, and even worse, an insane amount of oil to fill up the ocean and wipe out a rather large chunk of the sea population. In this take on the true events, we get a glimpse into the life of one oil rigger, Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), who is very dedicated to his wife (Kate Hudson), his family, and his job, which means that he is mostly concerned with making sure that each and every member of his crew is safe on board of the oil rig. However, issues arise when certain shareholders and powers that be within BP have some issues with the way the rig has been going as of late; so far, they’re past budget and feeling a lot of pressure from their bosses to get the oil out of this rig, as soon as possible, and by any means neccessary. Of course, this means actually testing the darn rig in the first place, which causes a whole lot of problems and, essentially, sets off the disaster that we’ve all come to know and, unfortunately, may never forget.

"No! I've got to save the day!"

“No! I’ve got to save the day!”

Peter Berg seems as if he’s become the perfect, go-to guy for these true, fact-based tales about hard-working men and women being, well, hard-workers and facing death straight in the face, even when any normal person in their situation would run away and scream for their lives. Berg likes to make tributes to these people and honestly, it’s an admirable task that he has on his hands; he chooses to make movies about the stories that do actually matter and deserve to be told, to a larger audience who may not know the story as is, or exactly what happened. And because of that, another movie in his wheelhouse, like Deepwater Horizon, not only feels like a solid step in the right direction, but hopefully a sign of better things to come with Patriots Day, a film about the Boston bombings that comes out later this year.

Does it really matter though? No, not really. But if anything, a movie like Deepwater Horizon proves Berg to be one of the better directors out there today, but we just don’t know it yet. He’s not necessarily a flashy director, showing off all of the neat and unusual skills that he learned in film-classes or from his peers, nor does he ever seem to be the kind of director who has a statement to make with every flick he directs, with the exception of, of course, showing us that there are average, everyday people like you or I that could be, essentially, heroes. Sure, it’s a little cheesy and melodramatic, but it still works because Berg doesn’t lay it all on thick, as opposed to directors like Spielberg and, oh lord, Michael Bay seem to do.

No offense, Berg. You’re no Spielberg and you’re sure as hell no Michael Bay.

That said, Berg does a nice job with this material as he presents a story that most of us seem to know by now and still, somehow, some way, make it all compelling and tense. There comes a certain point about halfway through the film in which Berg has set everything up that he needs to set up – location, the characters, their relationship to one another, the central conflict of the movie, and why any of this matters in the first place, etc. – and just lets it all spin completely out of control. While that may sound like a bad thing, it works in Berg’s favor; he truly does get put in the heads of these men and women aboard this oil rig and makes us feel as if we are actually there, experiencing all of the carnage and havoc for what they are, which is disastrous.

Sure, you could make the argument that Berg goes a tad bit overboard with it, in the way that he went a little nuts about the soldiers in Lone Survivor breaking all of the bones in their body, but it makes you feel closer to this whole situation. While Berg is trying to tell us a story, he’s not trying to sensationalize anything, either, no matter how many explosions or high-flying acts he lets run wild; he’s respectful of the story itself, but isn’t afraid to also show what the sort of hell it may have been like on-board of that oil rig that day.

Trust the 'stache. It may save your life.

Trust the ‘stache. It may save your life.

Man, and to think that J.C. Chandor was the original director for this.

Regardless, Berg’s recreation of everything here is tense and unpredictable the whole way through, even if, yeah, we know exactly how everything goes down. All that matters most is actually being drawn in by these characters and the cast, which Berg allows for even more. Wahlberg has become something of his muse as of late (he’s starring in Patriots Day), and the two seem to handle each other quite well; Berg allows for Wahlberg to be his macho-self, while also still giving him a sense of vulnerability that makes us see a true human being, stepping up and being a hero of sorts. Berg also gets a lot of mileage out of some really talented actors like Kurt Russell, John Malkovich, Kate Hudson, Ethan Suplee, Dylan O’Brien, Gina Rodriguez, and a whole slew of others, but never feels like he’s shorting anyone, at any particular time. Malkovich’s BP member may seem like your typical Malkovich-villain, loud-screaming and all, but there’s a little something more to him than just being a savage-like prick who doesn’t care about the cost of human life when compared to the cost of his shares.

That said, the note that Deepwater Horizon ends on is an admirable one. Berg shows us, in small, relatively subtle ways, that our world is incredibly reliant on oil. While Berg doesn’t ever get the chance to stand on his soapbox and preach, he still shows us that this is what can happen when the danger of more profit and more reliability is out there in the world. Sure, he’s not necessarily asking you to get rid of your cars and start walking/riding bikes, but he’s also asking us to take a second look at what we do with our normal lives and most importantly, just how much we spend when we go to the pump.

Especially to BP.

Consensus: Tense, thrilling, emotional, and believe it or not, exciting, Deepwater Horizon is another true tale from Peter Berg that not only ups the ante on the explosions and deadliness of the situation he’s portraying, but one that’s got something to say and isn’t totally concerned with just blowing stuff up for the sake of it all.

8 / 10

"Coach? I've got a bad feeling about this."

“Coach? I’ve got a bad feeling about this.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007)

Everyone needs a little cut, no?

Evil Judge Turpin (Alan Rickman) lusts for the beautiful wife of a London barber named Sweeney Todd (Johnny Depp) and rather than having any competition with this man, Turpin decides to transport him to Australia for a crime he did not commit. Now, Sweeney Todd has returned after 15 years and is ready to extract some revenge, however, he knows that he has to be smart and sly about it. So he decides to open up his barber-shop with the dedicated Mrs. Lovett (Helena Bonham Carter) and together, they decide to not only give fellow citizens some nice trims and cuts and whatnot, but also give them a little thing called “death”. That’s right, Sweeney Todd takes all of his anger out on his customers who have no clue that instead of getting a buzz, they’re going to get a slice of their throats from Sweeney and then thrown in the boiler for meat-pies. While it’s sickening, it’s a hit among the people and eventually, it makes Sweeney more and more inspired on getting Turpin in is chair once and for all.

Who hasn't gotten a toy and admired it like this?

Who hasn’t gotten a toy and admired it like this?

Once again, there’s something so damn pleasant about watching Tim Burton have a good time with himself, and while Sleepy Hollow is definitely a solid showing of that fact come to life, Sweeney Todd is perhaps a better example. Here, not only does Burton get to roll around with musical-numbers, but he still gets the opportunity to play around with his dark, brooding and Gothic horror-style that he loves so much and can’t seem to get tired of. And of course, he gets to do it all with the people he loves and adores so much, like Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, and so on and so forth.

And because of this, Sweeney Todd feels like a celebration of sorts.

Not just for Burton, but musicals as a whole. Sweeney Todd is the kind of darkly humorous and sadistic tale that’s definitely not everybody’s plate of pie, nor is it going to win over any naysayers of the musical-genre as a whole, but for Burton, none of that matters – he’s having a great time allowing for these songs to play out in a traditional format, with the voices and music blaring over the speakers and never quieting down. The downside to all of the musical numbers is that Burton himself doesn’t quite know how to film these scenes and make them look interesting; sure, the songs are entertaining and interesting enough, but they’re filmed in such a one-on-one bland way that it makes the movie feel like you’re actually watching a stage-play filmed on the screen.

Sure, that’s fine and all, but sometimes, it’s always best to have a little more imagination with these numbers, especially when you’re making a full-length, feature-flick, with a big-budget and all. Cause honestly, sky’s the limit and if there’s anyone who knows a thing or two about going big and over-the-top, it’s Burton. And he does go for that quite often here, and you know what?

It actually works.

Oh man. RIP.

Oh man. RIP.

Because the tone and material is so subversive and mean, the humor and gags and whatnot, while silly, still work. Burton’s sense of humor in most of his movies have borderlined on cheesy, but because that’s his crazy style, it’s been accepted; here in Sweeney Todd, it feels right with the material. There’s nothing sillier than watching and listening to a barber singing about his one true love as he’s slicing and dicing the throats of his customers and Burton milks it all for it’s worth. He doesn’t let-up and because of that, it’s hard not to be entertained and excited by Sweeney Todd, even if the material and look of the film can be grim.

But of course, it mostly all comes together so well because Burton has his usual band of misfits to join in on the fun and without them, who knows how his film may have turned out to be. Depp’s Sweeney is a perfect fit because he’s not just charismatic, but a little dangerous, too. Depp has always had a good time in Burton’s movies, but here, it seems like he’s enjoying himself the most, playing the straight man to the, mostly, crazy proceedings. Characters around him like Timothy Spall’s, or Sacha Baron Cohen’s are all campy and wild, whereas Depp, always remains stoic and smart, which helps his character seem all the more sympathetic and, well, “cool”.

Maybe that’s not what he was going for, but hey, it’s what happened.

Honestly though, it’s Helena Bonham Carter who steals the show as Mrs. Lovett, Sweeney Todd’s lovely sidekick who will and has followed him through the thick and thin of life. Though her character sings about unrequited love and grinding up human-meat to make pies, there’s a sincerity to her character that keeps her watchable and downright sad. Carter’s comedic-timing is perfect, as well as her chemistry with Depp, but no matter what, when she’s given the spotlight to sing about her feelings of love and remorse, you feel them and it’s probably the only time that Sweeney Todd, the movie, actually seems like it’s taking itself more seriously.

Sure, fun and games are fine and all, but every once and awhile, it’s always nice to have a little cry just to remind yourself that you’re human.

Consensus: Burton’s dark sense of style and Sweeney Todd go so perfectly together, that it’s hard not to enjoy the movie, especially with the vocal and acting talents constantly on-display.

8.5 / 10

Love at first slash.

Love at first slash.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aceshowbiz

Weiner (2016)

What’s in a name?

After spending some time in Congress and starting all sorts of controversy for his loud, sometimes arrogant demeanor and approach to certain situations, Democrat Anthony Weiner decides that it’s his time to take things one step further and head for Mayor of New York City. And to be honest, it seems as if Weiner has an actual shot at winning the job; he’s good friends with the Clintons, his wife, Huma Abedin, is loving and supportive, and his viewpoints on race, gender, and class make him all around beloved human being. However, it all comes crashing down when news surfaces that Weiner was on the internet, scouring the web and sending all sorts of naughty pics to gals that he would strike up conversations with. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Weiner got in trouble for his internet-usage, but it was the one time that everyone who loved and supported him, began to turn the other cheek and think long and hard about who they wanted to represent them. Either they wanted the strong-willed, determined family-man, or they wanted the strong-willed, determined dude who looked to look at dirty pics online?

"Vote for me and I swear that I'll delete my web history."

“Vote for me and I swear that I’ll delete my web history.”

Oh and yeah, it’s all filmed.

No, seriously. Like almost everything that you could imagine wouldn’t be filmed in a situation as tense and awkward as this, trust me, it’s filmed. It even gets to a point where the directors, Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, even ask Weiner himself why he’s allowing for them to film everything and, well, he hardly even gives an answer. This is meant to show that Weiner himself, doesn’t give a hoot what constitutes good or bad publicity – as long as the cameras are turned towards him, the lights are beaming down on him, and people are talking to him, then Anthony Weiner is more than happy to oblige to anything.

Is that such a problem?

The interesting aspect about Weiner, the person, that the documentary gets across very early-on is that he’s the kind of politician that only Aaron Sorkin still believes in and thinks can still exist; he’s loud, arrogant, brash and selfish, but at the same time, he cares about what he believes in, is very opinionated, and isn’t afraid to get down on the ground level with fellow human beings, making it seem as if everything he does, says and promises, well, he’ll make happen one day. While watching the documentary, it’s not hard to think this, regardless of what political affiliation you may or may not have – watching someone like Weiner run around like a wild madman during his campaign parade is exciting and most of all, inspirational. It’s the sign of a true politician that believes in everything that he wants to do, even if some of it, sure, may be a little unrealistic.

But once again, is that such a problem?

And of course, that same question could be directed towards what he did in his spare-time – aka, what with the sexting and all that nonsense. The movie’s smart in that it never seems to be on Weiner’s side, nor does it ever seem like it’s totally against him; I would use the term “fly-on-the-wall”, in terms of their approach to the material, but Weiner himself makes a mention of it, so it’s kind of hard to compete. But yes, he’s got it right – this is on-the-fly, off-the-wall documentary film-making at its finest and it’s a testament to how passionate these film-makers were to getting everything that they could on film, regardless of if it was considered “rude”, or “unprofessional”.

"My husband is a good man. A little too horny, but hey, who the hell isn't?"

“My husband is a good man. A little too horny, but hey, who the hell isn’t?”

After all, their film-makers and film-makers have always been seen as “rude” and/or “unprofessional”.

Hell, it’s in the blood.

And due to the movie being a play-by-play of everything that’s happening, it’s not hard to get swept up in all the mayhem and drama, even when it seems all to excruciating to sit back, watch and relax. This is especially the case when you consider the fact that a good chunk of the film is literally watching as Weiner’s marriage falls apart right in front of our eyes, with him and Abedin hardly exchanging glances when in the same room, let alone actual words. It’s hard to watch, but you know what? It’s also incredibly watchable. Anthony Weiner wants us to see this for what it is and not really try to draw our own conclusions, even if there are certain things behind-the-scenes that do, or don’t happen and keep us guessing a little bit more.

That said, the movie still does fall short of being perfection because there’s never any introspective given on behalf of Weiner or even the film-makers. Sure, we can make up our own conclusions about what was going through the mind of Weiner during this one time in particular in his life, but sometimes, it’s always best to get a raw, one-on-one interview with the person; to just see him doing things that he would do in his normal, everyday life, no matter how interesting, sometimes, isn’t enough. To hear what’s going on in his head and understanding the beast for what it is, honestly, makes the journey all the more interesting.

Without it, it’s just watching a person do things that may be considered “self-destructive” or may not.

Consensus: Short of perfection, Weiner is a gripping, exciting, compelling, and sometimes hard-to-watch documentary that paints its subject in an unforgiving light, yet, at the same time, also makes him out to be the person some of us never knew actually existed beneath all of the overblown controversy.

8.5 / 10

There's no E-I-N in Weiner. No, literally.

There’s no E-I-N in “Weiner”. No, literally.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

Every person who has ever picked up a musical instrument – look out!

Childhood friends Conner (Andy Samberg), Owen (Jorma Taccone) and Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) were all set to rule the music world when they jumped onto the scene as the hip-hop group, the Style Boyz. They had clever, catchy tunes, that also earned them lots of respect in the rap-game, and made them one of the highest sellers of their time. However, as with most big and successful bands, there was a lot going on beneath the surface and eventually, the band broke up. After the break-up, Conner and Owen went on to stay together, with the later as a DJ playing for the former, who was now known as “Conner4real”. Of course, Lawrence faded into obscurity, almost to never be heard of again, while Conner is literally living out the life of an absolute and bonafide star. But as usual with these kinds of tales, when you’re on top for so long, eventually, you’re going to come crashing down real, real hard.

I think we all know who Andy Samberg's #1 fan actually is...

I think we all know who Andy Samberg’s #1 fan actually is

A movie like Popstar doesn’t deserve to bomb as hard as it did at the box office. It’s understandable that parody/satire flicks aren’t everyone’s cup of Joe and it’s definitely understandable that only a few share of people actually know who, or what kind of creative genius’ the Lonely Island actually are, but still. People out there in this world should have known better and understood that these are the kinds of movie that deserve to be made, should be made, and ought to make a whole bunch of money, because, well, that means more movies such as these.

Then again, I didn’t see the movie in theaters, but still. It’s the principle, people!

Anyway, what works best about Popstar is that yes, it’s the Lonely Island doing what they best; yes, they already had their film-outing with Hot Rod, however, that wasn’t nearly as much as their film as this is. All of the weird and eccentric tendencies of that movie, come out in full-form here where it seems like no matter how hard they try, the Lonely Island guys can’t seem to stop getting lost in their own wild, sometimes screwed-up imaginations. Some scenes go on longer than they should and the comedy just continues to draw itself out, but that’s sort of the point; these guys find the smallest, most intricate bits of comedy that work and they run wild with it until it’s dead in the ground and can’t go on any longer.

But then, they find more and more ways to keep it running. It’s hard to explain here because the movie is so littered with odd-ball jokes and gags throughout, most of which, yes, actually do deliver their laugh-out-loud moments. Bits with an over-exaggerated TMZ parody are downright hilarious; a few songs that actually mock Macklemore are pure things of genius; and even a small gag involving Conner’s “get-up” to hide himself in the public, still has me laughing. It’s not ground-breaking bits and pieces of comedy, but they’re still bits and pieces of comedy that had me howling while I was watching them, while also making me chuckle thinking about them long after.

Palms are sweaty. What? Too obvious of a riff?

Palms are sweaty. What? Too obvious of a riff?

And that, my friends, is when you know you have an effective comedy on your hands.

Of course, the movie isn’t totally perfect. Because it’s a parody flick and not the most sincere piece of storytelling, the times where it does get somewhat serious, don’t necessarily work and it’s because of that reason alone, the middle-act doesn’t flow quite as well as the first and last. It’s hard to describe without having seen the movie, but it’s just a feeling I got while watching the movie; the jokes still hit and made their marks, but they were much more stretched out and in service of a plot that seemed to take a halt for some weird reason.

But then, thankfully, the movie gets back on-track and everything’s back to normal in the final-act, where the jokes continue to fly and the songs get even better. And honestly, it’s hard to do wrong with the Lonely Island when it comes to their jams; they’re well-written, perfectly performed, and actually, believe it or not, meaningful. Sure, a good portion of them are just joke songs about dicks in boxes and whatnot, but a good portion of them do make fun of the entertainment world and the whole idea of what makes a celebrity that it makes them more than just a smart, intellectual jokesters.

Even though that’s exactly what they are.

And with Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, they’re all perfect here. The movie only really relies on Samberg, which is fine, because he’s still good as Conner, playing up this sort of act, then having to break it all down/ But really, Popstar works best when it’s just allowing for random people to show in, sometimes up off the streets, add a little bit of their own flavor and charm, and remind us more and more that this is in fact a group effort of humor. Will Arnett, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, Mike Birbiglia, Bill Hader, Chelsea Peretti, Imogen Poots, Justin Timberlake, and so many others all pop-up, do their things and yes, are actually funny. It’s surprising to get a movie with so many high-profile cameos and yet, have just about each and everyone of them be just as funny as the last one to come through.

It makes you wonder what Judd Apatow could work on.

Consensus: As a satire on the music-biz, Popstar is biting, but also pretty damn hilarious, featuring some of the best and most catchiest songs from the Lonely Island.

8 / 10

Unfortunately, the holograms will never end.

Unfortunately, the holograms will never end.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire


Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

Who cares if a person’s British or not? If they can say “puff” correctly, then I’m always satisfied.

Bridget Jones (Renée Zellweger) is a sweet, pudgy, chain-smoking British gal who just can’t seem to meet the right man in her life that’s worth settling down with. She’s 32 and she’s running out of time which is why she somehow gets involved with both her boss (Hugh Grant) and that man’s mortal enemy (Colin Firth). Hilarity, love, and British wit ensues.

Usually British comedies have me laughing my fanny off quite much, but then they start to die down and lose the steam that they once had and thrived so much on. Not Bridget Jones’s Diary; it just continued to go on and on until all of the characters were built-up and the hilarious situations that could and just might happen. It was funny to see a British comedy not take any sidebars in getting a little dirty or risque and that’s what I liked the most. When I want to see my rom-coms, I want them to be a bit bad and naughty, but still a tad sweet on the side. In fact, that’s how most comedies should be, but honestly, so rarely are.

And that’s why Bridget Jones’s Diary is a little treat in and of itself.

So lonely. And that snow is making it so much harder to feel less depressed.

So lonely. And that snow is making it so much harder to feel less depressed.

But honestly, what works best about the movie is Bridget Jones herself. She’s a different type of character that we don’t usually see getting the sort of attention or limelight in rom-coms such as these; normally, she’s the single, but somewhat ugly best-friend to the leading female. But this is her story and it’s worthy of it, too, because she’s a little bit of everything all rolled-up into one woman: She’s mean, dirty, funny, rough, good-looking and most of all, chock full of personality. She’s basically the perfect gal and while the movie does make some jokes at the expense of her weight and rather heavy-set demeanor, they’re only used as a way to highlight the fact that she’s just like us and not your typical romantic-lead, hence why she’s all the more lovable and sympathetic.

And because of that, we actually do care for her journey into finding that one and special someone. Granted, it’s a typical rom-com in which she tries to search for that man of her dreams, comes up a bit short, and then has to figure out just who it is that she wants in her life once she’s given a choice, so yeah, in a way, it’s predictable, but it still works. Because we care for and adore Bridget Jones and whether or not she actually does find the love of her life by the end of the two hours, her ride is enjoyable, if not all that surprising. Most rom-coms seem to think that just pitting a few really good-looking people together and seeing whatever sparks can fly is enough, but it honestly isn’t – sometimes, what we need is characters that we can care about and see if they end up finding the one true loves, or if they just continue on into that harsh, but sometimes relaxing world of singledom.

Which, let’s be honest, is not all that bad. You get more time to spend with Netflix, am I right?

"Uhmmm.....me love? Would...uhm...you like to....uhmm...have sex? Uhm please?

“Uhmmm…..me love? Would…uhm…you like to….uhmm…have sex? Uhm please?

As our titular character, Renée Zellweger is, as usual, quite amazing. At the time, there was a lot of controversy surrounding the fact that Zellweger herself wasn’t British and perhaps too pretty for the role, but the gal took it all one step further by doing her best to make herself “ugly” and gained a whole lot of weight and guess what happened? Well, she knocked the role right out of the park, by mixing a great deal of humor, heart and relatability that’s not too often seen in mainstream rom-coms of this nature. Sure, it helps that Bridget Jones herself is a good character to work with, but it also helps that Zellweger herself has perfect comedic-timing and can act like the Dickens whenever a hard, heavy and dramatic scene calls for her.

Then, as the two men who are seemingly fighting for her heart, are Colin Firth and Hugh Grant, are both pretty solid, adding a lot of fun and spirit to their roles, even when it seems like the script is sort of just letting them down. Still though, both are pretty solid at doing what they do, especially Grant who seems to really be relishing in the moment that he’s playing such a despicable cad, that it makes us wonder what’s the difference between fiction and reality with this guy. Is he like this in real life or not? I’ll leave you to decide, my friends. Firth is pretty solid too, even if I wish there was more to him than just a stone-faced, miserable dude that’s still trying to get over his ex. I know it’s hard and all but man, at least shed a smile here and there for once. It ain’t that hard.

After all, you got Renée Zellweger in front of ya.

Am I right?

Consensus: While it’s definitely a conventional rom-com, Bridget Jones’s Diary is still funny, heartfelt, and featuring an amazing performance from Zellweger that shows just the true talents she has.

8 / 10

Cheer up, Colin! You sour-puss! It's the holidays!

Cheer up, Colin! You sour-puss! It’s the holidays!

Photos Courtesy of: Miramax, Thecia.Com.Au

Gerry (2002)

Yeah, just bring a map next time.

Gerry (Casey Affleck) and Gerry (Matt Damon) for one reason or another, decide to head out into Death Valley. Though they feel as if they know the area pretty well and don’t need a map, they start to regret that decision just as soon as they start to forget where they parked their car was, or where the nearest bit of civilization was. While Gerry and Gerry aren’t too scared automatically, slowly but surely, without all that much food, water, or shade, they start to lose their minds a bit and come closer and closer to death itself.

Gerry is another one of Gus Van Sant’s more experimental films where instead of staying straight and narrow with a normal, easygoing convention like, I don’t say, a plot, he sort of just sets the camera down and lets people do things. Sometimes, they do exciting things, or other times, they just sit around, talk, act miserable, and yeah, do nothing. Gerry is the rare exception because there is a simple plot, and there is characters here actually doing something, but does that really make a conventional film? Not really and that’s where Van Sant’s direction comes in and balks at tradition.

Wait, which one's Gerry?

Wait, which one’s Gerry?

But does standing up to the man, flipping the bird, and doing your own thing really make a good film?

Not really, but it does make for a very interesting one and that’s why Gerry, despite having seen it maybe a month or so ago, has still stuck with me. It’s such a straightforward movie in the way that it moves, tells it story, and gives us an idea of who these characters, that it almost doesn’t seem like it’s trying – but look hard enough and guess what? Van Sant and company are trying really hard to bring people down on their level where they’re not just watching two guys wander the desert, looking for any sort of shelter they can find, but stay sane while doing so. The movie does play some tricks here and there with random mirages that don’t always work, but whenever it’s just Van Sant keeping his camera steady and focused on these two guys, as they walk and come closer and closer to dying of stravation, it’s so compelling.

Perhaps it’s more compelling than it should be, considering that nothing ever really happens in Gerry. Then again, that’s sort of the point; these two are literally looking for any signs of life that can save them and that’s about it. Whether or not they run into a bunch of evil, Russian villains on-the-run from the law and bringing all sorts of guns, violence and action with them, doesn’t matter – the movie really is, after all, about Gerry and Gerry. They’re lost in the desert and searching desperately for any bit of life.

Dirt nap. Literally.

Taking a dirt nap. Literally.

What’s more compelling than that?

Probably a lot, but really, the way Van Sant follows them both, slowly but surely, in wide-shots, close-ups, and of course, single-shots that literally last up to 15-minutes on some occasions, it draws you in so much that it’s hard to care about those other silly things like action, or violence, or yeah, twists and turns. After all, a movie like this doesn’t ask for the mainstream audience – it’s for the much more dedicated, arthouse fare who don’t need all of those extraneous add-ons that can sometimes drown films in their own overabundance. Van Sant’s previous flicks have known a thing or two about that and it’s worth saying that the more Van Sant doesn’t get in the way of the actual movie itself, the better.

The times where it does seem like he’s trying to be more stylistically demanding, it gets in the way of Gerry‘s impact. But really, it all comes down to Matt Damon and Casey Affleck as the two Gerry’s who, despite us not ever getting to know anything about them, except for the fact that they enjoy playing online role-playing video-games, they’re still sympathetic and interesting to watch. A lot of the script was improvised and you can definitely tell – one scene in particular that’s probably the longest shot of the whole flick features Affleck’s Gerry on a rock, trying to get down off of it, but doesn’t know how to do so, without breaking a bone in his body. It sounds silly, but the way the two interact with one another in a very tense situation, is not only entertaining, but downright telling. It tells us that these two probably are great friends and have a great camaraderie, even if they are probably going to rip each other’s heads off by the time the movie’s over.

But like I said, the movie isn’t totally about the performances – it’s more about Van Sant and the movie is probably better for it.

For lack of a better word, yes, Gerry is a sad, almost emotionally draining piece. Though it’s probably an-hour-and-a-half, it feels at least ten times longer than that, which is a good thing – it’s the kind of movie that asks for all of your interest and attention and if you give it, you will most definitely be thanked and pleased by the end. Sure, it’s still a depressing movie, but sometimes, depression can be a very compelling thing to watch, so long as it comes from a strong place.

Consensus: As sad as it’s involving, Gerry may not seem like it does much, but give it plenty of time and attention and trust me, it will work on your head for a long time afterwards.

8 / 10

Keep going boys. I think I saw a haystack some ways back.

Keep going boys. I think I saw a haystack some ways back.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

CVS, you better look out the next time I come through that front-door.

Bob (Matt Dillon), his wife Dianne (Kelly Lynch), Rich (James Le Gros) and Nadine (Heather Graham) are all a bunch of junkies who survive by robbing pharmacies in Portland, Oregon, in 1971. The natural leader of the gang, Bob, decides that it’s time to leave town after many, many scraps with the law and because of that, it brings about more and more problems with him, as well as with the rest of the group.

Writer/director Gus Van Sant has never really been a favorite of mine. Sometimes the guy does it for me (Good Will Hunting), sometimes he doesn’t (Paranoid Park), and other times, the performances are just so good that I don’t give a crap about his direction (My Own Private Idaho). This is one of those films that I’m sort of in the middle with – it’s not all that crazy or experimental, nor is it all that accessible, either. It’s somewhere between the two beasts we’ve come to know and expect from Van Sant and it’s why Drugstore Cowboy, as zany as it may get, is, at the very least, an interesting watch.

Who needs rehab when you look this good?

Who needs rehab when you look this good?

Not perfect, but hey, that’s fine, right? Life isn’t, so why should a movie be?

What’s perhaps so interesting about what Van Sant seems to be doing here is that he cobbles up together a mixture of all these different sub-genres and moods. There’s a heist movie, a crime movie, a romance, a anti-drug message, and also, a very dark drama that seems to have some dark comedic moments in there as well. Sounds like it could have been a total and absolute mess, which it sort of is, but it works; the movie is about a bunch of drug addicts who don’t ever seem to have their lives together, so why should a movie about their trials and tribulations be any different?

Van Sant does a smart job by getting in these character’s heads and mind-sets, while also never judging them for the decisions and actions that they choose to make throughout the whole movie, as questionable as they may be at points. But really, what Van Sant does show about these characters is just how sad and miserable their existences actually are, despite all of the fun and wild times that they may be having when they’re high off their rockers. Van Sant definitely enjoys sitting around and watching as these characters try to live their lives in normal ways, but he also can’t get past the fact that they’re realities are pretty screwed-up.

But at the same time, Van Sant doesn’t get too down in the dumps, as he actually shows that there’s maybe a little more to these characters and their lives, as well as their drug habits.

In a way, yes, Drugstore Cowboy is definitely an anti-drug flick in that it shows no matter how deep down in drug addiction you may be able to get, you can still get out of it, but don’t think that for one second, it won’t come back and bite you in your ass eventually. All of these characters either need their fix, or they just need to get away from the fuzz, but either way, they’re going through some very, fast-changing lives that get shaken up at just about every second and this film shows you that the lifestyle may be able to change. It’s not an easy change, though, and that’s where the harsh truth of drug-addiction and the message of Drugstore Cowboy comes into play.

It’s not happy, but it’s as real as you can possibly get.

Naked, but not alone. Hey, what's so wrong with that.

Naked, but not alone. Hey, what’s so wrong with that?

These harsh truths also go all the way back to the characters because, for the most part, they’re all just about as unlikable and unsympathetic as you can get. But the actors in the roles are so good that it’s hard to get too upset about. Matt Dillon gives a wonderful performance as the main junkie, Bob, and it’s one of those performances where Dillon relishes in being a total a-hole, but also likes to show a bit of a human side to him. If there was anybody in this flick that I actually liked or even came close to giving my heart to, it was Dillon’s character just because the guy starts to show some humanity by the end and never really loses that edge to him that made him so cool in the first place.

His wife is played by Kelly Lynch, who is pretty good in this role, showing off her feminine beauty, as well as her own knack for making us think that we could fall in love with her as well. Maybe that doesn’t make sense but I guess it sounds pretty cool, which is what most of this film goes for as well. James Remar is also here totally chewing the scenery as the bored cop who seems like he has it all out for Bob and his junkie friends, but you soon start to realize that the guy cares more about him than you may suspect and it’s actually a nice touch. So often these kinds of movies like to get down on cops and law-enforcement for being a bunch of party-poopers who are such sticklers that they can’t help but lighten up a little and let people have their fun, but mostly, the reality is that these cops, aside from doing their job, just really want to make the world a better place and ensure that no more people succumb to the addiction that is drugs.

Sure, not all cops think that way, but there’s a solid majority that do and it helps put Drugstore Cowboy into perspective a whole lot more.

Consensus: Though Van Sant may stuck between his artistic side and actually telling a story, Drugstore Cowboy works for its unflinching, painful look at the world of drug-addiction, while also giving a heartfelt message that’s less corny than it sounds.

8 / 10

Trust me, Will knows.

Trust me, Will knows.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Southside With You (2016)

First dates are always so awkward. Especially when there’s no Starbucks around.

Way back before he became the President of the United States, Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) was just like you or I – he was a young dude, trying to make a difference in this world, be successful, and yes, also try to win the hearts of lovely women. One woman who seems to have captured his heart as of late is a young, ambitious lawyer named Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter). So, like any young guy his age would do, he asks her out on a date and they get going on that date, even if Michelle herself doesn’t quite know that it’s a date yet. No worries though, as Barack is using this day solely as a way to pick her brain a bit, show her the kinds of cool and smart stuff he can do, and while they’re at it, get dinner, have a few beers, and yes, even seeing Do the Right Thing, which may make or break the future of what they could possibly have together. Will it all work out in the end? Or will it just be another one of those one-off dates?

"Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. Yeah, or something like that. I don't know. I'm still working on it."

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. Yeah, or something like that. I don’t know. I’m still working on it.”

Of course, we know what happens between Michelle and Barack, but that doesn’t really matter for a flick like Southside With You to work. In fact, even knowing who Michelle and Barack Obama are in the first place, probably shouldn’t matter for a flick like this, because it’s less about who they turn out to be, or what they represent, as much as it’s just about who they were at this time in their lives and how they came together, to love one another and figure out that they both wanted to spend the rest of their lives together.

A little romantic, isn’t it?

Well, that’s because it is and it’s one of the main reasons why Southside With You is definitely a great little piece of romance, despite it having something of a gimmick being that it’s Barack and Michelle in the romantic-leads. But honestly, that novelty goes away not after long, because the two performances are so good, that they don’t feel like two-bit impersonations, straining for likability or credibility, as much as they just feel like two different “takes” on who these people were when they were younger, and way before the world chewed them up and got ready to spit them back out. Sure, it helps that the two are definitely dead ringers for these two notable figures (Sawyers especially looks so much like Obama that I wouldn’t be surprised if the FBI took a look at his birth certificate), but it also helps that these two are more interested in developing them both as people, not just as caricatures that we see on the news.

If anything, Southside With You works best because it’s a snapshot of most young people’s lives, not just Barack and Michelle Obama’s lives in particular. They’re young, out-of-college, not sure what they want to do with the rest of their lives, but know that they have dreams, aspirations, and hopes that they’ll figure it all out soon enough and, eventually, find that one and special someone. In a way, yes, Southside With You works a lot like Richard Linklater’s Before movies did: They’re just a bunch of long, walking-and-talking conversations, but they’re meaningful, entertaining, and most importantly, insightful, in that they show us more about who these people were and just why it is that they fell so in love with each other after all.

Sure, a good portion of the movie could be total bull-crap, but it’s enjoyably sweet and heartfelt bull-crap, so what’s the harm?

The look on many lady's faces when they come toe-to-toe with the one and only Barack.

The look on many lady’s faces when they come toe-to-toe with the one and only Barack.

Sometimes, little, well-to-do movies like Southside With You need to exist, because they help flesh out a persona or iconic figure that we think we already know everything we need to know about, and don’t anymore information on. And in today’s political landscape, where it seems like the Obama’s all have one foot out the door, it’s interesting to see just who they all once were and where they got their start, even if we all know how life and the world turned out for them. And I don’t mean this as a way to bring out my political ideas or beliefs about the Obama’s, or anything resembling politics whatsoever, I more or less mean to say this as a way to show that a movie like Southside With You deserves to be seen, if solely because it will show people that there are more to our politicians and famous figures than just what’s seen on the tube.

Yes, they’re actual human beings who love, care and want to do right. They may not always make the best decisions, nor do they always have the right intentions with every decision that they make, but their humans, just like you or I. That goes for every person, not just Barack, or Michelle Obama, but everyone.

Even Donald Trump as much as it may pain for some to say and admit.

Consensus: Sweet and heartfelt, Southside With You works regardless of one’s political opinions or beliefs, making us all see a little more about Barack and Michelle Obama than ever expected.

8 / 10

Take his hand, honey. Trust me. It'll work out plenty for you.

Take his hand, honey. Trust me. It’ll work out plenty for you.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Don’t Breathe (2016)

If the world of magic isn’t doing it for him any longer, David Blaine may have a future in robbing blind people’s houses.

Rocky (Jane Levy), Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto) are three kids who seem to be making a living off of knocking off people’s homes. While it’s definitely trashy and not an ideal lifestyle to live, honestly, it’s the only way they can survive. One day, they hatch up this perfect plan to rob this rich blind guy (Stephen Lang), who also happens to live all by himself, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. It seems like the perfect job to, hopefully, end all jobs and that’s what seems to be happening, until they screw up one too many times and it turns out that the rich blind guy isn’t so sad and defenseless as they expected.

Honestly, that’s about all I can say about Don’t Breathe without really spoiling all of the fun for those who want to check it out, because it truly is the kind of small, but simple movie that deserves to be less said about, in order to be fully enjoyed. It’s the kind of movie that takes so many sick and twisted turns throughout it’s near hour-and-a-half run-time, that really, speaking about any of them in particular, or even hinting at them to great lengths would be an injustice. Just know that Don’t Breathe is the kind of movie that starts out as something you’d expect, but ends as something totally different.

He clearly opened up the more adult Goosebumps book.

He clearly opened up the more adult Goosebumps book.

Make any sense?

If not, that’s okay; Don’t Breathe seems like the sort of movie that works best when you look at it as a thriller, and less of an actual horror flick, filled with shocks, gasps, and jump-scares (even if that’s how it’s being advertised). Co-writer/director Fede Alvarez does something genius here with his material in that he continuously finds smart and clever ways to sneak up on us some more, making what would seem like a very simple, almost straightforward story, get spun in so many different ways, that it’s actually hard to pinpoint where it’s going to end up or turn to next. That same kind of film making seemed to be lost in his version of Evil Dead, even if there is a part of me that feels like he was just playing by some sort of studio mandate and didn’t have the total free reign to strike out on his own, do whatever he wanted to, and let his freak-fag fly.

Here though, Alvarez gets more than enough opportunities to do so and it’s quite a blast to watch. You almost get the sense that Alvarez is just so happy to be here, making a movie in his own name, with his own stamp, and isn’t going to shy away from doing whatever the hell it is that he wants, regardless of whether people enjoy it or not. In a way, that sort of works best for the movie, as the flick itself can get to some pretty dark, grueling and messed-up places that aren’t easy to expect – if anything, they’re small, little nudges towards darkness that Alvarez himself is more than happy to embrace, even when it seems like his movie is being advertised heavily towards teens.

If anything, Don’t Breathe is for the true, die-hard horror-junkies, even if it’s not totally a horror flick.

Someone's trapped in the closet! Who's in the closet?

Someone’s trapped in the closet! Who’s in the closet? Get it? R. Kelly?

But like I said, that’s kind of why Don’t Breathe is so special – it’s as small, as contained and as simple as you can get with a movie, even better, a horror-thriller, but it works so well. Rather than seeming like a manipulative way to cut-down on budget costs and whatnot, Don’t Breathe‘s premise actually seems more freaky, in hindsight, in how it’s this one, singular incident, as opposed to the whole wide world. It’s not the scariest flick out there, but the gore, the action and the blood is in full-force and you know what? That’s alright with me.

That said, if there is any department that Don’t Breathe seems to need help in is that it’s characters aren’t all that well-written or dimensional, but that can be forgiven in a movie as short as this. It seems more like Alvarez gives them as much attention as he can, showing them in their lives, and then spurning them off into more crazy and insane havoc, where the lines are constantly being blurred between who’s a “good guy”, and who’s a “bad one”. Honestly, it’s hard to ever make sense of who is in the right, who is in the wrong, and who is just doing whatever the hell it is that they can to survive, but no matter what, it’s a compelling thrill-ride.

With, or without the scares.

Consensus: Small and contained, yet fun, compelling and most of all, surprising, Don’t Breathe is the kind of low-key horror-thriller that Hollywood seems to have given up on, but we’ll hopefully see more of.

8 / 10

He's foolin'. Dude's just trying to collect disability.

He’s foolin’. Dude’s just trying to collect disability.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, The Verge 

Hell or High Water (2016)

Crime? Yeah. Keep it in the family.

Toby and Tanner Howard set out to rob a bunch of banks across the Texas region, but for what reasons? Toby (Chris Pine) has two kids that he’s got to support, whereas Tanner (Ben Foster), doesn’t really. The two are brothers who haven’t been in contact much all of these years, but for some reason, have now caught back up to do a bunch of a bank jobs, save up some money, and become all nice and rich. However, hot on their tail is aging, almost-retired Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges). While the brothers think they have the plan down to a T and are going to run into no mishaps along the road, of course, they do end up actually having some issues, whether it be poor-planning, or Tanner acting out in violent, sometimes dangerous ways. Either way, the bros have a plan that they’re going to stick to and stay alive with, even if Hamilton knows a thing or two about robbers of these sorts and isn’t going to back down from a challenge, even if his older age is telling him that it’s time to settle down and just retire already.

The bros that live together, grow competing mustaches together.

The bros that live together, grow competing mustaches together.

It’s nice to get a movie as relaxed and laid-back as Hell or High Water, yet, at the same time, still be tense and on-edge while watching it. Director David Mackenzie knows his way around a suspenseful sequence and doesn’t shy away from kicking up the action to high-gear, whenever he sees fit. However, he also makes the smart decision to slow things down whenever is necessary, so that we get a sense of this setting, these characters, their relationships, and just exactly what’s at-stake. Honestly, it’s movie-making 101, but for some reason, it still surprises me that we get so few of that in movies nowadays that when I do get it, it’s a nice and pleasant surprise.

Which is why, for the late-summer, Hell or High Water is definitely a nice jump of joy.

It’s not the kind of movie that breaks down barriers, or brings peace to the whole world, but it’s the kind of movie that shows how much can be done, with so little. Even when it seems like Mackenzie and writer Taylor Sheridan are way too comfortable and don’t really have anywhere to go, they all of a sudden pull something from underneath the rug and give us an action-sequence, a speech, or just a conversation between two characters that’s just as exciting as any of the shoot-outs or car-chases. Although, that isn’t to say that the shoot-outs and car-chases are fun and exciting, because they most definitely are, but they aren’t the bulk of the movie and that’s what matters most.

In a way, Hell or High Water is much more about some sort of political statement than any sort of popcorn crime-thriller; sure, it takes absolute joy in being all about sweaty Southern gals and pals cussing and shooting and robbing, but it also enjoys having a little something to say about these aspects as well. It’s a lot like a 99 Homes in that it speaks out against the government, the banks, and the whole entire system that would make two brothers feel as if they needed to rip-off of a bunch of banks, for whatever reason. The movie’s very hush-hush on their reasoning until a certain point (which, when it is revealed, makes a lot of sense and is pretty damn smart), but it’s more about how a world like ours can produce people to rebel and fight back against a system that’s constantly ripping them off and robbing them of their own goods and will.

It’s less preachy than I make it sound, trust me, but it’s still effective all the same.

That’s why a cast like this is so good and so needed to make sure that all of the material comes off organically; to have a bunch of silly, sometimes cartoonish Southerners go on and on about society and the United States government would get to be a bit old and not believable, but the ensemble does make it all work. But when they aren’t spouting-off their political ideas or beliefs, they’re also building their characters up to be understandable human beings, and not just goofy characters in a crime-thriller.

She's probably the biggest bad-ass of them all, and she doesn't even rob a bank. Or does she?

She’s probably the biggest bad-ass of them all, and she doesn’t even rob a bank. Or does she?

For instance, the brotherhood between Ben Foster and Chris Pine’s characters is so well-written, yet subtle, that you feel as if they’ve known each other their whole lives, have had issues in the past, but have gotten over all of them for the sake of growing older and allowing for bygones to be bygones. Foster is a compelling nutcase, whereas Pine is a lot smaller and understated, but all the more interesting, as we know that he’s got a head on his shoulder, but why he’s doing what he’s doing is always left in the air. It does eventually get answered, but really, it’s the mystery that keeps him so watchable.

And then, of course, there’s the always reliable Jeff Bridges, in full-on Rooster Cogburn-form, howling and cackling as much as he possibly can. But no matter what, he’s always lovable and fun-to-watch, even when it seems like his character may be running into caricature-territory. However, as good as he may be, it’s really Gil Birmingham who steals the show, offering a sweeter look into the life on an American that we don’t always see in movies, nor do we see get all that much attention as he does here. It’s the kind of quiet and contained performance that gets overlooked with so many big names and big performances, but it’s the kind that I loved and made me want to see more of, even if it’s just a supporting character.

Still though, he deserves his own movie and it’s one that I definitely wouldn’t mind watching.

Consensus: Small and understated, yet, still tense, exciting, compelling and most importantly, well-acted, Hell or High Water is a nice diversion from the rest of what the summer’s got to offer and definitely well worth a look.

8.5 / 10

Kirk got lost somewhere in Texas and hasn't called back yet. He's just having way too much fun.

Kirk got lost somewhere in Texas and hasn’t called back yet. He’s just having way too much fun.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Cinema Clock

Pete’s Dragon (2016)

While I’m never too sure about what’s lurking in the woods, dragons aren’t the first things that come to mind.

When Pete (Oakes Fegley) was just a small kid, his parents were killed in a tragic car-accident. The only one/thing there to protect and be there for him, actually came in the form of a huge dragon that Pete went on to name “Elliot”. Now, it’s been a couple of years and Pete and Elliot are getting along swimmingly; they love one another so much that they run around the forest together and get in all sorts of wacky and wild hijinx. It’s the kind of relationship every person could ever want in a best friend, and this kid Pete has it with this huge dragon that some townspeople believe in, and others don’t. However, Pete gets spotted one day by a park ranger (Bryce Dallas Howard), who believes that she can provide all of the solace and comfort that Pete needs in a world like this, even if Pete can’t stay away from Elliot, leading to some dangerous results for all parties involved.

If the warm, comforting hug of Robert Redford doesn't make you feel safe, then nothing will.

If the warm, comforting hug of Robert Redford doesn’t make you feel safe, then nothing will.

It’s a common conception that movies made for families and kids, tend to be quick. The reason for this is because kids are young and because of that, they don’t have the best attention-spans and can’t give a hoot about certain plot intricacies that movies aimed at an older-audience, sometimes like to get bogged down in. This summer has been no exception to that rule and it shows that yes, even if kids do like to have everything at their disposal, come so fast and crazy, doesn’t it also matter that things slow the hell down, too? Well, that’s why a kids movie like Pete’s Dragon exists and proves to the world that not all kids flicks need to be as action-packed and quick as a Fast and Furious movie.

Sometimes, a much slower, more melodic pace is just fine, so long as there is something to focus in on.

Director David Lowery (who may seem like an odd choice, given his directorial debut was the bloody, violent, and very adult Ain’t Them Bodies Saints) knows exactly what he wants to do with this story, but he doesn’t get too carried away on providing all of the high-flying and quick action that you’d come to expect with Disney kids flicks. Instead, he likes to focus on such things like plot, setting, and, well, believe it or not, characters. To Lowery, or so it seems from his two movies, knows a beautiful shot when he sees one, but also knows that what goes into them best is when you have a sense of place, time and character-development, to where you care more about everything that’s going on.

Sure, this may seem like Film-Making 101 here, but you’d be surprised how many films miss this part in the first place – especially kids flicks. Lowery allows for Pete’s Dragon, the movie, to settle in and get its own groove going; we get some wonderful CGI and some nifty running-around sequences, but mostly, Lowery is taking his time, giving us a better chance to get to know what we’re working with here. And it’s why Pete’s Dragon, when the adventure is all said and done, is quite a tear-jerker.

But it’s the right kind that earns the tears, and not some manipulative piece that needs so badly to rip them out of your sockets.

I think his posse beats mine 100 times over.

I think his posse beats mine 100 times over.

What Pete’s Dragon works best with, is how it gives off this sense of sadness in the air, even when you assume that certain scenes are supposed to be cheerful and relatively crowd-pleasing. There are a lot of scenes involving Pete and Elliot, just alone, by themselves, and clearly in need of something greater than just themselves; Lowery doesn’t hammer us over the head with this idea (just like he doesn’t with the environmental message that pops up every now and then), but he shows it in some honest, telling and heartbreaking ways. It’s very rare that kids movies are as moody as this, but Lowery finds just the right notes to play, at the right times.

Then again, the movie honestly isn’t as downtrodden as I make it sound; there’s a lot of fun to be had with this adventure, these characters, and also this setting, in general. Considering that it’s supposed to be set in the late-70’s/early-80’s, there’s a very Spielberg-y feel to it that doesn’t feel like a rip-off, as much as it feels like a sign-of-the-times; people were a lot sunnier and cheerier then, while also wanting to explore the ever-regions of the forest for something mystical, hell, even magical. The movie wears its nostalgia on its sleeve, but it never overdoes it and can, often times, feel like a movie that could have definitely been made around the same time as E.T.

But I digress.

The later part of Pete’s Dragon is overextended and honestly, the movie may be a tad long by at least 15 minutes, but that’s almost too hard to really be mad about when there’s this much attention to the small stuff that so many other summer blockbusters of this nature and for this audience, seem to forget about. The characters all have their own personalities, but they don’t feel one-note; Karl Urban’s one character may seem like the villain, but as time goes on, we start to see that there’s more shading to him than before, even if he is a tad laughable. Bryce Dallas Howard, Wes Bentley and Robert Redford also show up as the adults, too, and they’re all fine, but really, Oona Chaplin and Oakes Fegley are the ones who really put in the best work, seeming like actual kids, and never once precocious. They could have easily been, but nope, just like Stranger Things showed, Pete’s Dragon isn’t a fan of conventions.

Oh, and yeah, Elliot the Dragon is pretty great, too. He’s cuddly, while still dangerous at the same time. Why can’t all dragons be like that?

Consensus: Exciting, grandiose, sweet and emotional, Pete’s Dragon is the right kind of summer blockbuster for kids, even if the summer is winding down and kids do like their movies a whole lot faster.

8 / 10

"Pete, stop puffing on the magic dragon and guess what? There will be no more dragon."

“Pete, stop puffing on the magic dragon and guess what? There will be no more dragon.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Mesrine (Killer Instinct & Public Enemy No. 1) (2008)

Tony Montana ain’t got nothing on the French.

Jacques Mesrine (Vincent Cassel), was a notorious French gangster who rained supreme during the 60’s and 70’s. He did it all, and then some. And believe it or not, escaped jail not once, not twice, not even three times, but escaped jail four times.

Yeah, talk about some skill.

Yes, Mesrine is, essentially, split into two-halves, rather than take up any time, I’ve decided to review both movies, together, as if it was all one, long, four-hour gangster flick. Is that a better way to watch it? Eh. I’m not sure. It depends, really.

Hey, gangsters gotta love too, right?

Hey, gangsters gotta love too, right?

How much time do you have on your hands? Better yet, how much time do you have where you want to enjoy yourself and pretty damn riveted from start-to-finish, for a total, combined run-time of nearly four hours?

Does that sound appealing to you, then yes, watch Mesrine‘s two parts, together, in one sitting.

Despite this being quite a long take on a tale that, quite frankly, could have probably been narrowed-down to one, whole, regularly-timed movie, director Jean-François Richet definitely pulls out all of the stops by making it as interesting as humanly possible, while also not forgetting about the small details. He starts off on a risky move right at the beginning, which would have killed any other director’s momentum, but doesn’t here. He gives us a story all based on facts and true accounts, and one that can easily be read about online, but where’s the excitement in all of that?

The first-half of Mesrine has some of the best action, especially because it’s us watching as the titled-character is jumping head first into this world of crime and violence. Also, it helps that Richet doesn’t try to go hard for the whole over-stylized way of action, but instead just shows it off as a gritty act of violence that just so happens to be all true. It almost reminded me of something straight out of Heat and it reminded me of the good old days of Mann, when he was showing characters off as being as utterly remorseless, but interesting, as possible.

But the issue is that after the initial wham and bam of the first-half, it all kind of settles down.

The second-half is much longer and changes everything up both with it’s tone and pace; it’s a lot more slower and melodic as we focus more on the characters and what their motivations are behind every act, but the tone is also a lot different as it’s a bit darker than the first, but also has some nice comedy mixed in there as well. It’s a very strange mixture that ends up working quite well and still kept this film entertaining, even if there wasn’t any awesomely memorable action scenes here, as there was with the first one.

The problem with this whole film is that you already know the ending.

Clearly Mesrine was puffing that magic dragon.

Clearly Mesrine was puffing that magic dragon.

Yes, that’s a lame excuse since it’s pretty obvious that this guy would not have this story to be told, while he’s still out there running around and doing big, bad things like he always did. Understandable, but seriously, when all of the tension goes away and we’re left with barely any action scenes left to show, it just feels like a bit tiresome since we are just waiting and waiting for the end of this guy’s life to eventually just play out. He isn’t all that interesting of a character, and feels like every other person-turned-crime-gangster in other movies, and if it weren’t for the sympathetic girls he shacked-up with, he would have been downright reprehensible.

Although, of course, the person in real life still was, regardless of who he shagged.

But still, Vincent Cassel is solid here and despite being in almost every shot, he owns each and every one of them as Jacques Mesrine. Cassel is known for over-doing it a bit too much when he really doesn’t have to, but here as Mesrine, we don’t get nearly as much of it; even when we do get the screaming, shouting and letting it all out, it feels deserved and believable because this character he is playing is such a live-wire with almost everything he does. The guy gets thrown in jail and the first thing on his mind isn’t how he’s going to change his life, it’s how the hell he’s going to break loose and be able to get some sweet cash once he is out. This guy lives the life of a stereotypical gangster: Fast money, fast cars, fast guns, fast women, and overall, a fast life. But it’s not all fun and games with this dude, no, in fact he actually brings it down to Earth sometimes with his softer, gentler scenes where you see that there is a lot more to him than just one scary son of a bitch. The guy is still a person and deep down inside, cares for the people that are closest to him but can never ever be with them since he always seems to be on the run.

The rest of the supporting cast that comes in and out of this movie (just like Mesrine’s life) are all spectacular and may even be more interesting than Mesrine himself, at some points. Gerard Dépardieu plays the head gangster that takes Mesrine under his wing and shows a very dark and gritty side to him that’s not always shown; Matthieu Amalric plays a guy that escapes from jail with Mesrine and is actually a very interesting character to watch since you never know what his intentions are and what he plans to do with Mesrine and the money that they make together; and all of the beautiful ladies that come into Mesrine’s life (Elena Anaya, Cécile De France, and Ludivine Sagnier, to name a solid few) do fine jobs as well by not only serving up some perfect eye-candy, but some perfect dramatic scenes as well.

Consensus: Split into two, Mesrine doesn’t fully add-up, nor does it work as well together, but still, provides enough entertainment, excitement, and solid acting to be more than worth one’s while.

8 / 10

Shades are always cool.

Why so grumpy, Vincenzo? 

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Roger Ebert, Metacritic

Indignation (2016)

College was always just one sexual experience, really.

It’s the early 50’s and Marcus Messner (Logan Lerman) is ready to start a new chapter in his life. Rather than risking his life for his country in the war, something all of his other friends are doing, he decides to go to college, far, far away from home to Ohio. There, Marcus goes through the same old problems of studying too long, not getting along with his roommates, and having issues with his teachers. However, the one thing that keeps Marcus actually interested in this college life is the illustrious and mysterious Olivia Hutton (Sarah Gadon). Eventually, Marcus builds up enough courage to ask Olivia out on a date, and it ends with them engaging in some controversial and naughty acts. While Olivia thinks as if she’s done nothing wrong and, if anything, just helped pleasure someone she’s attracted to, Marcus is shocked and has no idea what to think. After all, it’s 1951 and no one really does what Olivia to Marcus on this one fateful day – even if they do, they don’t ever tell people about it. Then, word travels round about Marcus and Olivia are left, wondering what to do with their college careers and most importantly, with one another.

Behind every good man, is a girl just waiting to rock his world.

Behind every good man, is a girl just waiting to rock his world.

For Philip Roth, it seems as if no matter how good his novels are, they don’t always seem to translate well to the screen. That’s to be said with a lot of writers and their pieces of work, however, with Roth, it seems to be all too glaring and obvious; someone who’s narrative voice just hasn’t translated yet to film, to where someone can perfectly understand what sense of mood he’s trying to give off. People have attempted to try and capture this (and others still are trying to), yet, have come up short.

Writer/director James Schamus is, finally, the rare exception.

While Indignation itself is a movie adaptation without any sort of narration that sometimes provide to be the best parts of Roth’s books, it actually ends up working in the movie’s favor, as it allows for there to be more attention set on the look and feel of this whole film. For one, it’s a lot more downbeat and sad than you’d expect; the grainy way the movie looks, to the sometimes silent way these characters talk, it all feels like we’re in the Depression, when in reality, we’re stuck in the beginning of the 50’s, where teens were getting sent to Korea and everyone was still finding their place after the war. And for what reasons?

Well, the movie seems to address these questions, but without ever answering them – which is fine, because Schamus makes it clear from the beginning that isn’t the kind of story that’s meant to sum up the underlining repression of the 50’s. If anything, it’s mean to be one, sole tale of a young man, trying to navigate throughout the world, one step at a time, as well as he can without losing his head. While it sounds conventional and somewhat hokey, Schamus and his cast keep it all together to where it works and, even if you weren’t alive during this time to feel some sense of nostalgia, you still feel compelled by watching it all play out.

But of course, the movie doesn’t always even itself out.

For example, it sometimes feels like the protagonist, Marcus, is a bit of a mess himself, albeit an expected one. Due to him being such a young guy, at a very confusing time in his life, and trying to make that awkward transition from childhood, to adulthood, the movie mixes and mashes with trying to identify what kind of person he is. We get that he’s going through some growing-up pains, but how severe are they? Better yet, how are they brought on in the first place? By him? His overbearing parents? His rude roommates? His needy and somewhat psycho gal-pal? His Communist-like Dean? His religion?

Oh, that Logan Lerman. So sassy and cool.

Oh, that Logan Lerman. So sassy and cool, in a nostalgic kind of way.

Who knows?

While it’s fine that Schamus brings all of these different ideas up, it’s a tad infuriating to see him touch on all of these, yet, still get that chance to fully fall down on what he’s trying to say about Marcus, the character. Instead, we mostly rely on Logan Lerman’s great performance, showing all sorts of anger being bent-up in this kid, while also making him seem compassionate and loving to those who deserve it the most. He’s got a bit of an edge to him that’s typical with Roth, and Lerman plays it up so perfectly that it would be neat to see him in more adaptations after this, even if it’s not playing this same character, or what have you.

And everybody else is pretty great, too. Sarah Gadon keeps us interested in whether or not she’s a total whack-job, or just someone who needs love in this cruel, dark world; Linda Emond plays Marcus’ mother who never makes it quite clear what’s on her mind, but we do feel her pain; Pico Alexander shows up as, what you’d assume to be the typical “frat jock a-hole”, but turns out to be the most interesting character of the whole flick; and Tracy Letts just about nails every scene he has as Dean Caudwell, although it’s mostly because he has some of the best scenes in the whole flick. In fact, the few scenes that he has, can sometimes take up a large portion, but because they’re so well-done and well-acted, they’re hard to talk about at greater-length.

You’ll just know them when you see them and they’ll steal the show.

Consensus: As Roth adaptations go, Indignation is good in that it balances out a certain level of heart, humanity and raw passion, with some solid performances to help it out, as well.

8 / 10

"Uh, so what you wanna do?"

“Uh, so what you wanna do?”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Get Shorty (1995)

Be cool. Not the sequel. Just be cool in general.

Chili Palmer (John Travolta) is a Miami mobster who gets sent by his boss, “Bones” Barboni (Dennis Farina), to collect a bad debt from someone who Bones a whole lot of money. However, Chili’s not just going out and roughing up any normal dude, he’s going out to meet the one, the only Harry Zimm (Gene Hackman), a Hollywood producer who specializes in all sorts of flicks, but most importantly, horror flicks. And Chili meets Harry’s leading lady (Rene Russo), he can’t help but fall a little head over heels for her. So of course Chili wants to join up in the film-business and eventually sells his life story to Harry, and a few others in Hollywood. Sooner than later, Chili finds out that being a mobster and being a Hollywood producer really aren’t all that different, even if one does concern more ass-kicking than the other. Oh and while this is all going down, Bones is still out there looking for his money – something he will not let go of until it is in his hands.

Don't get too close, Rene. You have yet to be "audited".

Don’t get too close, Rene. You have yet to be “audited”.

It’s easy to do a Hollywood satire. All one really has to do is find some sort of way to say that “Hollywood is a sick, evil and cruel place where people with barely any talent flourish, and those who actually do possess a certain level of said talent, don’t.” It’s that simple and honestly, it’s why so many showbiz satires can sometimes feel tired, even if they are funny; Birdman was the latest showbiz satire that actually had a bite and sting to it that worked and made me laugh, beyond just being mean.

And yeah, Get Shorty‘s got a lot of bite to it, too. However, by the same token, it’s not trying to pass itself off as a Hollywood satire, through and through. If anything, it’s a fun, sleek, and cool crime-comedy, that also just so happens to take place in Hollywood, with actors, actresses, producers, directors, screen-writers, dolly-grips, interns, and etc. But it’s not as silly as it sounds – somehow, writer Scott Frank and director Barry Sonnenfeld find the perfect combo of action, comedy, drama, romance, and satire that, yeah, may not always make perfect sense, but still works out smoothly.

Which is more than I can say for some other Hollywood satires who really try to take on too much, without ever realizing that they have a story to continue with beside their mean-spiritedness. But really, underneath all of this, Get Shorty is just a fun movie that’s hard not to be entertained by. Frank’s script, when he isn’t riffing on any of the mechanisms of Hollywood or the film-business in general, is funny and features a great list of colorful characters that more than make up for some of the dull moments in the movie’s languid pace.

John Travolta, when he actually seemed to give a total damn, did a great job as Chili Palmer. There’s a sense of coolness about Travolta that, despite current controversies, we tend to forget actually exists, but here as Chili Palmer, he showed that off perfectly. At some points, he’s supposed to be this mean and tense figure, but then, he changes into being someone nicer and more charming. Some people may not believe both of the sides to this character, but it works, because Travolta could somehow be both menacing, as well as likable at the same time.

Always listen to Gene. Even when he sounds crazy, always listen.

Always listen to Gene. Even when he sounds crazy, always listen.

Where all of that has gone, is totally beyond me.

Anyway, he also has wonderful chemistry with Rene Russo who, as usual, is great here. The movie does kind of deal with the fact that her character is an aging actress in Hollywood, but doesn’t seem to be getting on her case – if anything, it makes her more sympathetic and makes us want to see her and Chili run off into the sunset at the end. Why she wasn’t around for the second movie, is totally beyond me, but then again, it may be more of a blessing than a curse.

Everybody else is pretty great, too. Gene Hackman seems to be having a lot of fun as the perfectly-named Harry Zimm, someone who is actually quite infatuated with the lifestyle that Chili seems to live; Danny DeVito is pitch perfect as Martin Weir; Dennis Farina gets plenty of chances to curse and act psycho, which is always a treat; Delroy Lindo shows up and he’s always good; and there’s even a few, oddly surprising cameos that seem to come out of nowhere, yet, still work.

Get Shorty is the kind of movie that may seem dated, considering it’s over a decade old, but it still works. The breezy pace helps a lot of the movie’s heavy-lifting and moving, feel as if we’re spending a lot of time with characters that we can learn to love, forgive and forget that they can sometimes be evil human beings. They may not be as lovely to learn about as they were in Elmore Leonard’s original book, but hey, they’re still fine as is.

Heck, they’re way better than whatever happened in the sequel.

Seriously, stay away from that movie.

Consensus: With a smart script and charming performances from the solid cast, Get Shorty is more than just another satire with jokes aimed at Hollywood for giggles, and it’s what matters most.

8 / 10

"I've got this great idea. How about a sequel?"

“I’ve got this great idea. How about a sequel?”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Qwipster