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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 8-8.5/10

Raw (2017)

Fine young cannibals.

Justine (Garance Marillier), a French vegetarian who lives a pretty carefree, normal life with her parents, is just getting ready to enter veterinarian school, where she’ll join her sister and other kids who want to one day be able to help all the animals of the world. But for Justine, who is going through a pretty rough and, at times, brutal rush week as a “rookie”, finds it a little hard to connect with people who seem to care so little for animals, yet, at the same time, want to still work to help them. Even weirder is the fact that Justine, who has been a vegetarian all her life, eats a raw rabbit kidney and suddenly, can’t get enough of meat, animal, or better yet, human. In fact, it begins to take over Justine’s life at this very crucial moment in her girlhood, where she’s starting to become more and more sexually active, discovering herself a bit, and hell, even falling for a guy, even if the guy is her roommate (Rabah Naït Oufella), and also happens to be gay. Not to mention her sister, Alexia (Ella Rumpf ), seems to have the same issue with not being able to control her cravings for all things meat.

That’s how it starts. Bloody noses.

The central metaphor of Raw is pretty easy to figure out: Cannibalism is a lot like growing up, especially for a girl, right? Writer/director Julia Ducournau sort of knows that the idea in and of itself is a tad bit far-fetched, but believe it or not, she makes it work so much so that by the end of the movie, you may think, “Oh yeah, makes sense, right?” Either way, Raw is still a pretty great movie that jumbles together a horror story, with a coming-of-age one, that somehow works better with the later, but also deserves the former.

In other words, it’s a successful combination between the two that makes them both feel like peanut butter and jam, as opposed to peanut butter and mustard.

And yes, like I said before, Raw deals with a lot of coming-of-age themes like understanding your life, sexuality, and just where you work in the world, and it’s quite frequently insightful, smart, and well, sweet. Even without all of the blood, gore and gross-out stuff (of which there are many, and they’re actually all pretty great), Raw still feels like a genuine, honest and frank movie about coming-of-age and discovering just who the hell you are, what you like, and what the rest of your life is going to be like. It’s actually quite interesting to watch, as the movie could have easily been just about this girl’s cannibalism and the ways she tries to hide it, but instead, becomes a smart metaphor and peek inside the life of this girl, who’s just trying to know what she is and what she can bring to the world.

But it’s honestly not as lame as I make it sound, people. Raw is still a pretty brutal and disgusting movie that doesn’t hold back on making us feel sick to our stomach, which is a pretty big achievement on the part of Ducournau, who could have easily made each and every bit of the gross-out stuff a cop-out to just get weird and dark for no reason. While it’s hard to imagine cannibalism of this kind occurring without going unnoticed in a real world situation, Ducournau frames it all so well that it’s actually easy to believe these gals going around, eating all things meat, whether living or dead, getting away with it, and continuing on as if nothing ever happened. It’s silly and a little stupid, but hey, it works.

Will they, won’t they? Aw, who cares! Just sex already!

And sometimes, that’s all that counts.

Even by the end, when the horror begins to take center stage, the movie still doesn’t lose itself, mostly because by that point, it knows its own extremities and craziness that it’s decided to throw all caution to the wind and have a go of it. Once again, it works, but it does come from a soft spot in Ducournau’s heart that makes the movie feel like more of an excuse to just show disgusting, bloody stuff, again and again – there’s a story, with characters, and heartfelt emotions, just looking to be understood and developed.

And with Garance Marillier’s Justine, it’s hard not to be compelled. For one, Marillier has this look about her that is both cute and adorable, yet, also a little dangerous. Think the French Chloe Grace Moretz, but without all of the obvious and smart-ass wisecracks – in fact, just watching Marillier on-screen, without her even saying any dialogue, is tense enough and makes it seem like we’re getting to know her character better and better through that way, rather than having to listen to pounds and pounds of dialogue that, eventually, spell everything out. Justine goes through a huge transition throughout the whole movie and it’s Garance Marillier who not only makes us believe in it, but want to see where she goes, what she does, and the types of connections she makes; after all, she’s a smart girl who’s just trying to figure out who, or better yet, what the hell she is.

Same goes for her gay roommate, Rabah Naït Oufella’s Adrien who, despite obviously liking men, also seems to share a lot of scenes with Marillier where the possibility of them having hot, dirty, sweaty, freshman year sex, gets bigger and bigger. He’s a sweet character, though, and isn’t just used to be the “GBF”, or a punchline. Same goes for Ella Rumpf’s Alexia, who is pretty creepy just standing there, but also interesting to watch, because we’re never always sure about her motivations, how she feels, or what she’s going to do next. The movie could have easily been about her, too, but the fact that she’s a supporting character, just goes to show you the kind of strength on behalf of this movie’s writing.

Consensus: Even as silly as it gets, Raw always keeps itself in some grounded-reality, by being both a smart, insightful coming-of-age, as well as a dirty, disgusting and unfiltered body-horror flick, about body-horror.

8 / 10

Damn. Should have went to school in France.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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The Interrupters (2011)

See? Not everybody has to kill each other.

In most cities throughout the country, there’s a great deal of violence that’s hard to turn away from. It’s tearing apart families, destroying societies, and most of all, killing many, many people who don’t deserve any bit of violence done towards them (not that anyone deserves to die, or be hurt in the first place, but you get my drift). This is when CeaseFire came together in hopes of doing one thing and one thing only: Interrupting violence. Made up entirely of ex-gang members who’ve done their time and seen the error of their ways, CeaseFire’s mission is to put an end to the violence epidemic among the youth of one of the harshest, meanest cities in the whole country, Chicago, by mediating conflicts before they escalate into murders. And while some people want to learn how to better themselves, as well as their own community, others don’t think that they can. After all, some feel as if they are too far along in life to turn back time and become peaceful, carefree members of society.

How wrong they are.

Hero #1

The Interrupters could have easily been the preachiest, most nauseating documentary ever made. It’s about how violence can be stopped through simple, small and kind actions, as well as action can be made, just not in the violent sense, to ensure that everyone walks away from a situation better and happier about their lives. It has the look and hell, even the feel of this kind of documentary that’s not necessarily hitting any sort of new nail on the head, but instead, just hammering away at one obvious point, again and again, until our minds are numb to it all and we just accept that this is how the world works, when in reality, it doesn’t.

And yes, the Interrupters can be a hard movie to get used to, especially whatever your preconceived notions about inner-cities, violence, and gangs, and all that jazz are. Even I myself went in with a little trepidation, having lived in Philly for quite some time, knowing what works, what doesn’t, and what’s all a hoax for middle-class white people, such as myself, to feel better about themselves.

But even I was shocked by how much the Interrupters, both the documentary, as well as the group themselves, work.

In fact, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen before; in a time where violence seems to be happening every second in the world and is broadcast everywhere the next, it’s rather sweet and reassuring to see that there are people out there trying to stop this violence, once and for all, by any means. But what’s even more shocking is to see how it all plays out and, well, works – the movie is much more about the wins and success of the group, rather than the losses and defeats, however, both sides of the equation are shown here. The Interrupters shows us a group who’s mind-set it is to stop violence from occurring by calming people down and talking everything out, which sounds all hokey and stupid, until you actually see it work and somehow, all the cynicism goes away.

Hero’s #2 and #3

It’s as if, yes, the world can be changed through some heartfelt, meaningful conversations.

But the Interrupters is honestly more than just about this group, all the good that they’re doing, and what they can do for communities, but about the strength of the human condition in the first place. The fact that the group is run by ex-cons, who not just go out of their way to save people’s lives, but also put their owns on the line, is honestly surprising, but the fact that they all seem to know what they’re talking about and are 100% dedicated to making this group and its efforts work, is all the more shocking. It’s as if these people were tossed to the side as soon as they got out of jail, but rather than getting down in the dumps, they decided to make a difference and change people’s lives, the way they probably wish theirs would have.

It’s hard to go into specific examples, except to just know this: Everyone here is a flawed, but lovable human being. They try to make the world a better place and because of that, it’s hard to ever have issues with the things that they’ve done, said, or witnessed in the past. They’re past it now and are in desperate need to save people’s lives. If that doesn’t earn them at least some small bit of forgiveness, then I don’t know what does. Just stop the violence, people.

Please.

Consensus: Even at the center of the Interrupters, lies a hokey message about how we can all get along, but through the stories we hear and see play-out in front of our own eyes, it can’t help but feel honest, raw, and reassuring that all life is beautiful, no matter what kind.

8.5 / 10

Oh and of course, hero #4.

Photos Courtesy of: Cut the Crap Movie Reviews

Stevie (2002)

Always be a big brother.

After not seeing his younger friend for several years, documentary director Steve James decides to catch up with the Illinois boy he once mentored through the “Big Brother” system that so many schools adopt, yet, don’t ever seem to fully keep up with. Although, time has changed for both Steve James and Stephen Fielding. Steve is an accomplished, Oscar-nominated director, with a lovely wife and kids, whereas Stephen, at one time, a very dorky kid, is now a damaged adult who has had repeated problems with the law, with one serious charge that he possibly touched a younger relative in an appropriate spot. James knows this about Stephen, but rather than asking him why he did what he may have done, he decides to look back on Stephen’s life leading up to now, and tries to figure out just what went wrong.

Hey, it’s pretty hot out.

You’ve got to give it to Steve James for making a two-and-a-half-hour documentary about someone nobody else knows, but him. In that sense, he’s literally making a movie, for himself, and for his own conscience, so that he can help make sense of his life, his subject’s life, and figure out just what the hell went wrong along the line. Was it him? Was it Stevie? Was it Stevie’s family? Or, basically, was it just the way the world was turning for both parties involved?

In other words, this is basically one, long therapy-session for James, who also just so happened to film it all and release it for the whole world to see. A little pretentious and self-involved? Perhaps. However, Stevie, both the movie, as well as the person himself, are far from pretentious or self-involved, making it a bitterly long pill to swallow, but one that’s worth swallowing in the end.

That makes sense, right?

Either way, Stevie works best because it focuses on Stevie, just as much as it focuses on Steve James. See, the reason why the movie matters and is made in the first place, is because of their friendship and honestly, it’s a touching one. They both seem to genuinely have a love and respect for one another, even if time has passed them both by and they realize that while they were once big parts of each other’s lives at one point, that isn’t such the case any longer. James has gone on to make a name for himself and his family, whereas Stevie is still trying to grow up and keep his head out of trouble. It’s a sad, yet honest tale about how time passes, but somehow, those small relationships we had early on in our lives, still maintain and stay strong all of these years later, regardless of whether those involved with the relationship have changed a whole lot, or not.

In this case, yes, Stevie and Steve changed a whole lot, but they still find ways to connect and love one another, even if they’re still uncertain about where the time has gone for them. It’s an ode to their friendship and long-lasting bond, for sure, but it’s also one to the fact that the people we depend on the least, can sometimes be the ones to trust the most. Who knows if Steve James wanted to gain some fame and love from audience-members for reaching out to an old pal of his, or if he genuinely cared about his friend and wanted to shine a lot on who this special friend of his is?

Good old pals, reconnecting, almost two decades later. So okay, maybe not great pals.

Honestly, it’s hard to fully come to a conclusion of. A part of me feels like James is looking for adoration, but another part of me thinks that he’s genuinely sad and somewhat regretful over the separation he and Stevie have had for all of these years, so he just wanted his friend to have some shine in the spotlight.

Once again, I’m still not sure.

That said, Stevie, as a documentary, is still a smart and understated character-study about its subject, what brought him to become the way he was when the movie was being made, and whether or not he has any hope in this place we call “Earth”. While Stevie has no doubt done some heinous and terrible things, the movie does make the case that perhaps, just perhaps, it’s less of Stevie acting out and more of just the way of him acting the only way he knows how. James focuses on Stevie’s home life, with his family and his incredibly sweet and supportive wife, showing that no matter how hard he tries, there’s always someone, or something, pulling him back to do even more worse in the world. It’s sad to see, time and time again, but James knows this, so he offer small glimmer of hopes, in that we can see that Stevie knows he can do right and make up for his bad mistakes from his past, but when he will, or if he will, remain a whole entirely other question.

Maybe Stevie, 15 years later is coming soon?

Consensus: Though it probably didn’t need to be nearly two-and-a-half-hours, Stevie is still a smart, honest, and rather emotional character-study on its compelling, yet, incredibly flawed-subject, as well as on its director, Steve James himself, who actually offer some interesting spins on this story, too.

8 / 10

Doesn’t that look like someone who is in desperate need of a hug? Or a shave?

Photos Courtesy of: Kartemquin FilmsCritics At Large

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

As not seen on TV.

In the small, relatively folksy town of Deerfield, Washington, FBI Agent Desmond (Chris Isaak) inexplicably disappears while hunting for the man who murdered a teen girl. And although the killer is never found, Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), after experiencing all sorts of crazy dark visions and supernatural encounters, actually predicts that whoever did such a murder, will do another, and very soon. He’s right, because somewhere in the small, relatively folksy town of Twin Peaks, a high school girl named Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), will soon mate the same fate, however, she obviously doesn’t know. Instead, she spends most of her last days alive, hanging with friends, whoring herself out to dirt-bags, doing coke, and oh yeah, being pestered by her sometimes sadistic father (Ray Wise), who may, or may not, have more sinister intentions in his head.

Fire Walk with Me is obviously the perfect movie for fans of the TV show. It doesn’t just set everything up in a perfect little bow that we came to know and expect from the show, but actually makes the show, in ways, better. For instance, Fire Walk with Me, being that it’s movie, allows for David Lynch to unleash his darkest, meanest and cruelest tendencies, unlike anything he’s ever tried to do before, whereas with the show, it’s a lot more silly, odd, and well, somewhat light. Of course, the show has its dark moments, but when it comes to which piece is the darker, meaner of the two, Fire Walk with Me absolutely takes the cake.

Poor Laura. Someone give her a hug.

That said, it’s also one of Lynch’s lesser appreciated movies because, well, it’s not exactly that much of a mind-trick.

There are bits and pieces of it where Lynch loses control of reality and lets his freak-flag fly, but mostly, it’s actually subdued, so that he can make way for more time with Laura, these characters, and the awful situation that she’s in, all leading up to her death. It’s actually a pretty brave decision on the part of Lynch, who doesn’t just seem like he’s trying to tell the story that we spent nearly two seasons of episodes trying to know more and more about, but also get down deeper into the myth and the idea of Twin Peaks, in that the bright, sometimes shiny little town by the woods, while pretty on the outside, is also pretty dark, screwed-up, and ugly.

Really, really ugly.

But still, that’s why Fire Walk with Me, while definitely a flawed movie, still hits hard; it’s unrelenting and brutal, but it also comes from a soft spot in Lynch’s heart, clearly. While he’s not against showing these characters getting down and dirty with life, he also knows that there’s something about them that he feels for and sympathizes with. Mostly in the case of Laura, he understands that she has a rough life and doesn’t want her story to go unnoticed, which makes it a slight bit traumatizing to see just where her story goes and leads up to, even though yeah, we all know where it’s going.

And really, Fire Walk with Me works perfectly if you know Twin Peaks, the show, sort of love it, and accept it for all that it is. If you hadn’t seen the show, there’s sort of no point to seeing this; there’s one too many threads, call-backs and references that just work way better if you already have previous knowledge. Hell, even the few times that the movie does try to go back make a mention of the show, it’s a little sloppy.

Uh, what?

For example, Agent Cooper does show up here and there, every so often, but it’s so random and unnecessary, it just feels dumb. Same goes for an odd appearance by David Bowie, who literally bumbles his way through three minutes, and Kiefer Sutherland and Chris Isaak’s cop characters, who honestly don’t serve much of a purpose to the overall story. They’re all just added-on threads to a story that’s honestly kind of thin in the first place.

The only one who really matters here the most is Sheryl Lee’s Laura Palmer.

Lee, with a face that any camera could fall in love with, takes over every scene she has here, with sheer heartbreak and sadness, that she makes the movie better, just by showing up and giving it her all. While she was on the show and still great, she was playing two different characters, essentially – as the living, breathing, sexing, and snorting Laura Palmer, Lee is terrific. You feel for her every second, even when the movie seems to lose all control. Because, in a way, she has too, and it’s why it’s all the more tragic of a watch.

It almost makes you wish that she was in the show more. Something we’ll finally be able to see, hopefully with the show back, in all its glory.

Or maybe you. Never freakin’ know with David Lynch.

Consensus: Even though it’s got some random and weird issues, Fire Walk with Me is still a perfect tribute to those who loved the show, and also want to explore the darker side of the tale.

8.5 / 10

Fun times.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Straight Story (1999)

Get it? Because it’s not a total mind-f**k!

Alvin (Richard Farnsworth), an elderly World War II veteran, lives with his daughter Rose (Sissy Spacek), who has an intellectual disability. When Alvin hears that his estranged brother Lyle (Harry Dean Stanton) has suffered a stroke, he makes up his mind to go visit him and do it all, hopefully, before he dies and they’re both left to feel like they missed out. However, there’s an issue: Alvin doesn’t have a driver’s license and Lyle does live very far away. So what can Alvin do to travel all of this way to see his bro? Well, he hitches a trailer to his recently purchased thirty-year-old John Deere 110 Lawn Tractor, that has about the maximum speed of about 5 miles per hour, and sets off on the 240 mile journey from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin. Of course, he runs into all sorts of colorful and rather normal characters throughout his journey, most of whom offer to drive him the whole way there, with others just telling him to give up. However, through it all, Alvin remains determined, knowing that this may not just be his last shot at regaining some happiness with his brother, but his last shot at regaining some happiness with life in general.

“Yeah, honey. You’re driving me mad. Literally.”

So the inside joke about the Straight Story is that, pun intended, there’s not much else to it, other than just what is exactly presented to us. It’s just a normal, everyday story, told in the most straightforward, easy-to-follow manner imaginable, without any curves or side-turns into the extreme or ambiguous. It is what it is, no questions, meditations, think-pieces, or re-watches necessary.

But the reason why this deserves to be said is because it’s directed by David Lynch who, for what seems like the first and perhaps, last time, ever, made a normal movie. Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a problem with his many mind-benders that went on to make him famous and well-known, but at the same time, there’s something to be said for a dramatic change-of-pace like the Straight Story, where it literally seems like Lynch is a whole entirely new person, trying on a new piece of skin, seeing how it fits him, and working with it.

And yeah, it works.

The Straight Story is probably one of my favorites of Lynch’s because there are bits and pieces of it that feel like a Lynch film, what with the sometimes odd, awfully random character interactions, but it is still, after all, a movie in its own right. It’s slow, meditative and yes, old-timey, but there’s something truly charming and lovely in that that not only makes us feel like we’re watching the perfect movie for the whole family, but the perfect movie for anyone wanting a bit more drama and depth to their road-tales about elderly people. After all, there’s plenty out there like the Straight Story that feel it is necessary to dumb-down their material, for the sake of making silly jokes and ham-handed sentimentality.

But Lynch proves to be a smarter director than allowing himself to get caught up in all of that. He knows what the material deserves and doesn’t lose his sight on telling it, without trying to add some sort weird spark onto it. Sure, can it be a bit disappointing to see Lynch so ordinary and plain? Probably, yes. But like I said, a change-of-pace, especially one as solid as this, is a welcome one.

Gosh. Cheer up a bit, eh Richie?

It makes you wish that more idiosyncratic directors jumped out of their wheelhouse a bit and tried some new flavor for once.

That said, the Straight Story proves to be as much of a showcase for the skills that Lynch has, as much as it proves to be for the talent of the late, great and highly underrated Richard Farnsworth. As Alvin, Farnsworth gets a whole lot to do; while he is definitely playing an old-school, do-gooder who likes to wax on about the good old days, he’s also funny, charming and above all else, kind of sad. In fact, there’s a lot of sadness to this character – just by looking in Farnsworth’s pale blue eyes, you can tell that there’s just years and years of anguish and grief piling up, and it works absolutely well for building this character and helping us to understand just what there is about him. After all, he’s just another old guy who wants one last shot at life, so what else is there about him that can be offered?

A lot, it seems and it’s why Farnsworth’s a talent we still miss to this day. We just don’t know it.

Sissy Spacek is also quite good in the supporting role as his daughter, although at the same time, doesn’t get a whole lot to do, except have the occasional conversation with her daddy while he’s on his adventure. That’s probably how the whole rest of the cast plays-off as – they’re there to assist Farnsworth in all of his daily duties. Some are good (like a randomly pregnant teen), some aren’t (the woman who hits the dear is so over-the-top, I’m actually shocked it made it into the final-cut), but for the most part, they’re there to help us fully realize the world that David Lynch doesn’t often portray in his films: The simpler, kinder and more soft-spoken one where people aren’t all monsters and demons, but instead, actual nice, sweet people, who wouldn’t mind helping out an old-timer get to see his long, lost brother.

Consensus: Definitely a change-of-pace for Lynch, but a welcome one at that with a smart, attentive direction, witty, humanistic writing, and above all else, a great lead performance from Richard Farnsworth.

8.5 / 10

Pull him over!

Photos Courtesy of: Konangal Film Society

Hearts of Darkness: A Filmmaker’s Apocalypse (1991)

It’s like they say, “Your best movies, are the ones that come close to killing you.” Even though, yeah, they don’t.

After making not just the Godfather Part I, but Part II in the span of a nearly two years, Francis Ford Coppola could basically do whatever the hell it is that he wanted, with as much money, with whomever, and wherever. That’s when he decides to take up adapting Heart of Darkness, the novella that had been a long passion-project of Coppola’s, but needed some extra push to get off the ground. Eventually, he got it, but in this case, it wasn’t what he, or anyone else was expecting. Needless to say, without saying too much, one lead actor gets a heart-attack, another gets recast about halfway through, one is filmed in a drunken-stooper, one lies about his age to get in the movie. But then, if you go past the usual actor stuff, you’ve also got the fact that the budget is running up the bill way more than it was supposed to, the Vietnam locals are getting pissed, the weather was absolutely awful and practically unlivable, and oh yeah, Coppola himself literally lost his mind.

Was it “method”?

The biggest joke about Hearts of Darkness would be that the resulting film of all this mayhem and madness, Apocalypse Now, turned out to be a bunch of crap that people put way too much of an effort into, for no other reason because they had to, or they thought what was right. But that’s what’s funny, because the movie turned out, dare I say it, almost perfect. All of the years spent filming, editing, and putting money into it, guess what?

At the end of the day, everyone went home happy.

But Hearts of Darkness isn’t a movie about what the final product ended up becoming, nor is it really about what everyone else thought about the movie, it’s mostly about the behind-the-scenes of everything that happened on, as well as off the set, and yeah, it’s just about as candid and as eye-opening as you can get with a documentary about so many big names and faces in Hollywood. With the assistance from Fax Bahr and George Hickenlooper, believe it or not, Eleanor Coppola, Francis’ wife, is actually the perfect one to bring this table of absolute craziness to the big screen; she was, after all, there for it all, and her insight, while sometimes silly, focuses on things that probably mattered the most. While Francis was off worrying about how much fire was burning the trees down, Eleanor was worried that her husband was going to have a stroke and possibly die from all of the tension and turmoil in his life.

It’s not like she wants us to feel bad for her husband, but at the same time, she also wants to see it from more of a film-nerd’s perspective, where the control-freak director is always right for themselves, the movie, and everyone else around them. But still, just watching what happens behind-the-scenes here, and the things that we only hear small instances of, are truly insane, but draw you in even closer to the mind of Coppola, how he worked, and why he slaved away for so long to get this picture of his made and up on the big screen, for all the world to see and hopefully feast their eyes on.

It was the 70’s and it was hot, so maybe he wasn’t totally crazy.

And really, it all comes back to Coppola, someone who has become a pretty infamous figure in movie-making, only because it appears like his career has taken a huge turn downwards after he was put into debt for this project, as well as the many others to follow. For one, it’s interesting to see Coppola talk about this project, but also not think of him as a total ass; sure, he loves himself and his work, but can you blame him? The man has literally just made two of the greatest movies of all-time and was onto making another, so maybe he’s allowed to kiss his own ass, eh?

If so, it still brings up the question: How much is too much?

Eleanor and the movie as a whole, brings this point up many times and makes us think, whether we’re on his side for going so far as he did, to make sure that this movie was complete and actually worked to his vision, or, if he was just way too artistically-driven in the first place? See, it would be a problem if the movie didn’t turn out to be such a classic, but it somehow did and it makes us not just think, but wonder: Where has that same artistic integrity gone? And hell, when is it coming back?

Consensus: Eye-opening and thrilling to watch, especially if you’re a film-nerd, Hearts of Darkness will surely show you everything you need to see, hear, and understand about all of the craziness that went into making sure the final product turned into what it is seen as today.

8.5 / 10

Pictured: Cast and crew getting the hell out of Coppola’s rage.

Photos Courtesy of: Jonathan Rosenbaum

Tramps (2017)

Let’s get lost. Please.

Danny (Callum Turner) is a Polish kid living in Queens, who aspires to be a top-level chef. He still lives with his mom and brother, and is, basically, made out to be living there for the rest of his life, essentially. So when his brother gets locked-up in Atlantic City and calls him up, he needs to get his act together. His mission is simple: Get a bag from a lady and drop off another. If that wasn’t easy enough, he would then get help from Ellie (Grace Van Patten), a gal who also is apart of this deal somehow. While neither know one another, they decide that it’s best to be nice enough so that they can get the job done and go home. However, they both sort of screw-up in giving the wrong woman the bag. Now, they both have to retrace the woman’s steps and figure out where the bag is, how they can get it, and when they can get it back to its rightful place, before there are some serious consequences. Of course though, this also leads Danny and Ellie to spending more time together, getting to know each other, and yeah, possibly even falling in love. Maybe though, right?

Writer/director Adam Leon deserves some props for basically remaking his previous flick, Gimme the Loot, and only changing up certain aspects, like the characters, the situation they’re in, and the time. That’s about it. Everything else is basically the same, with the plot, the look, the tone, the feel, and of course, the spirit. Meaning that it was fine for him to remake it, because not only was that a solid little movie, but this one’s even more solid and, well, little.

Will they?

May not have been the most original idea out there, but hey, it works, right?

And with Tramps, Leon seems to be having some fun, playing not just with the geography of the story, but the constant tones that pop in and out. For one, it’s a comedy, but it’s also got some small, yet, serious consequences, making it almost a thriller, but not really. The movie is also a drama, with some romance sprinkled in throughout, but really, it’s just an all around sometimes serious, sometimes not, movie. Does that it make it bad? Nope, not all. If anything, it just makes it unique and a lot of fun to watch, mostly because Leon nails everything he’s trying to nail.

So often what happens with movies such as these is that they get too bogged down in story, tones, moods, and everything else, that they all mash together in an uneven, if watchable mess. Tramps is not that kind of movie because it has such a lovely, breezy pace to it all that when it does change itself up, it feels welcomed and believable, as if the adventure these two kiddies got on, all of a sudden switched gears. Some of it’s a bit silly and downright ridiculous, but honestly, it’s hard to get annoyed by all of that.

Won’t they?

The movie’s so charming that it’s like, alright, who the hell cares? Just have fun.

And while Tramps may not become the most serious piece of film ever seen, it does work so well because Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten are, quite literally, the cutest two people to ever share the screen together. He’s tall, charming, and a bit stupid, whereas she’s small, tough, and smart. Together, the two probably shouldn’t work, but they have such good chemistry that it all works out. They always make it seem like they want to drop whatever scene they’re doing and maul each other on-screen, even when they’re not supposed to be giving off that feeling, but it actually works. We want to see them fall for one another and possibly make cute, but odd kids.

Tramps 2 anyone? Netflix? Yeah, make it happen.

Consensus: While slight and small, Tramps is also a fun, charming, and rather sweet tale of little lovers-on-the-run, that also sort of isn’t, but whatever. It’s a good time. So shut up.

8 / 10

Aw. Who cares? Just be cute together, dammit!

Photos Courtesy of: Hollywood ReporterThe New York TimesPopCultHQ

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Eye for an eye. Literally.

Jean-Dominique Bauby (Mathieu Amalric), editor-in-chief of French fashion magazine Elle, lived a pretty momentous and happy life until he was 43, where he, all of a sudden, suffered a massive-stroke. But his stroke was perhaps the most unique and rare of all time, as the damage to his brain stem results in locked-in syndrome. Meaning, he was practically a vegetable, left for dead, couldn’t move any part of his body, except for one key part: His left eye. Once again, it was a rare case of a stroke, so obviously, no one really knew what to do – the doctors were constantly studying him and figuring out ways to hold conversations with him, which mostly just led to him blinking a lot and getting frustrated. But through it all, Bauby himself kept something of a journal, detailing his inner-most thoughts, his anger, his rage, and eventually, giving a voice to himself, when he couldn’t even mutter a word.

“Books. Remember?”

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly gets by, for quite some time, on the fact that it’s got this unique and ridiculously odd premise, and works despite itself. Seeing as how the movie is taking place from Bauby’s point-of-view, and considering that this is his story mostly after he suffers the stroke, it only makes sense that the movie take place in his head, where we see everything he sees, hear everything he hears, and, well, not really, but sort of feel what he feels, right?

Well, yeah, kinda. And surprisingly, it works.

Director Julian Schnabel takes a risk here in putting us inside the head and mind of Bauby, where we see just what he sees for at least the first hour or so. It’s actually quite mind-boggling how long Schnabel goes with this gimmick, but surprisingly, it never gets old, or grows tired, like so many other camera-gimmicks of the same nature would have; if anything, it makes us feel closer to this subject and have us grow more sympathetic to him, over time. Sure, it may not have been all that hard to do in the first place, but still, it deserves to be said that the gimmick taken on here, pays-off and honestly, could have gone on the whole time.

Because unfortunately, it doesn’t and eventually, Schnabel, out of fear that the audience may get bored, decides to switch it up to more conventional film-making, where we get everyone else’s stories, start to get flashbacks, and of course, see Bauby, both before and after the stroke. Does it still work? Yeah, it actually kind of does. There’s always something interesting and compelling about these stories in which a person literally has all the time in the world to think about their lives, the mistakes they’ve made, the decisions they should have done, the people they’ve hurt, the ones that they’ve loved, etc., and Bauby’s no exception. It helps that the writing is sharp, too, in that we Bauby himself never loses a comedic-edge to the absolute piece of crap he has been handed, making him, of course, more likable, as the film progresses.

“Papa? We do not look alike at all.”

But does it have the same effect?

Unfortunately, no.

See, there’s only so much you can do with your film when you decide to abandon a gimmick more than half-way through, especially when the gimmick was already working heavily in your favor. An odd example of this happening elsewhere is in REC 3: Génesis, where, like the two movies before it, is filmed in the trademark, found-footage style, and, like in those two other movies, still works and is perhaps even creepier. But then, out of nowhere, it abandons this and becomes a traditionally-shot film that’s like any other horror film. Was it a risky move? Yep. Did it ruin the movie? Not really, because it still stayed tense. But did it have the same chilling effect as the first two movies, or better yet, the first-half?

Nope, not really. And that’s what happens with the Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

The story is still there and compelling, but it also feels like a wasted opportunity to really go deeper and further with this gimmick. Some may have been especially happy that the film switches gears about more than halfway through and started to introduce a more ordinary style of film-making, which is understandable, but to me, it felt like a cheap back-away from really sticking to itself in telling the story, the way it probably should have been told. I can’t speak on Bauby’s behalf whether he’d be happy about it, either, but hey, maybe he would have.

He seemed to have liked the artistic, more creative side of the world before, well, you know.

Consensus: Instantly smart, original, inventive, and altogether, compelling, the Diving Bell and the Butterfly maintains emotion throughout its two hours, even if it does flutter a bit when it surprisingly switches gears some time around the middle.

8.5 / 10

Uh yeah. Just kill me now. Thanks. Bye.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Married to the Mob (1988)

Sometimes, the ladies have to do the wackin’.

Angela de Marco (Michelle Pfeiffer) is fed up with her gangster husband’s (Alec Baldwin) line of work and wants no part of the crime world. Which is why when said husband is killed for having an affair with the mistress of mob boss Tony “The Tiger” Russo (Dean Stockwell), she and her son head out for New York City where they will hopefully not just get away from the life they once knew, but start a new one, far, far away from the blood and violence of the mob. Unfortunately, Tony can’t allow for Angela to get out of his sights and makes it his mission to track her down and get rid of her, in hopes that she doesn’t go off squealing to the feds. Sure, Angela would never do it, because she is done with that part of her life, but she ends up meeting a young handsome fella named Mike (Matthew Modine), who, unfortunately, for her, also happens to be an FBI agent. And it’s Mike’s job to make sure that no harm happens to Angela, but at the same time, he can’t help but fall for her, wondering what could happen if he didn’t have the job title and the badge and could, you know, be a normal, everyday person.

Is Alec Baldwin 30 here, or 16? Can’t quite figure it out.

Was Married to the Mob the first, or better yet, the last stab Hollywood took at tackling the mobster-comedy? Not at all, but it’s definitely been a genre long dead by now, only because there seems to be so much you can do with it. The jokes have been made, the wise guys have been made into caricatures, and yeah, every convention has been spoofed. It’s hard to imagine a world where one of these was coming out a year, let alone, in the golden days of film, almost every week, and it’s also hard to imagine one actually nailing its mark in the days of 1988.

But that’s why Married to the Mob is such a lovely movie, all of these many years later.

For one, it’s the true sign of director Jonathan Demme knowing what to do with silly material and not forgetting to lose his sight of what matters, what works, and what doesn’t. Much like in the same vein of Something Wild, Demme takes a pretty conventional story, and somehow, turns it completely on its ear, with a crazy-mad bit of energy that hardly ever seems to let up, with jokes, puns, and wit to be found, without ever getting past the fact that there’s a story at the center. And like that movie, Married to the Mob does eventually get darker and far more serious, but still, somehow retains its screwball roots – it’s the kind of movie a lot of parody directors try to make work, but just never hit the mark with. Demme did that so often, that you almost hardly noticed and it’s why Married to the Mob, while maybe not his best film, at least shows what sort of magic the guy could bring to silly material such as this, without ever seeming like he was trying too hard.

So serious. Yet, so retro. So it’s cool, right?

And of course, yes, there’s also a lot of praise to the ensemble, too, all of whom, make the best of this fun, light material that makes everyone seem like they’re having the times of their lives. It’s hard to imagine a world where Michelle Pfeiffer wasn’t a bonafide star, but back in ’88, right before Married to the Mob came out, she was struggling to make her name known for the whole world to take notice to. And that’s why it’s no surprise that her lead role as Angela de Marco made her into that star that we all know and love so much now. It’s the perfect role for Pfeiffer, in that she gets to be sweet, a little ditsy, but also absolutely charming and fun to watch, maintaining a crazy great deal of sexuality, as well as vulnerable. In a way, she’s a bit better than the fluffy material, but still, she makes it work by seeming like she’s in on the joke, while also not forgetting that there’s strides to be made with a character such as this.

Same goes for Dean Stockwell, having a great time as Tony “the Tiger” Russo. Is this a caricature? Most definitely, but Stockwell hams up every aspect of this character that it’s a joy to watch, because you never know when he’s going to snap and lose his cool, calm, and collected demeanor. Mercedes Ruehl plays his wife who is a lot more unhinged and crazy, but also gets some of the biggest and best laughs. Meanwhile, Matthew Modine is good as a romantic-lead who has a nice bit of chemistry with Pfeiffer, and Oliver Platt, in one of his first big roles, plays his partner, nailing that comedic-timing we all know and adore.

Basically, everyone is doing a great job here, having some fun, and yeah, also realizing that what they’re playing with may be a little bit more serious. But Demme doesn’t push it too much, so, neither do they.

Man. What a director.

Consensus: Light and a little fluffy, Married to the Mob isn’t exactly as serious as it may end up getting towards the end, but through it all, remains funny, charming, and surprisingly smart for a typical screwball mobster comedy.

8 / 10

Can’t blame ya, Dean. It’s Michelle.

Photos Courtesy of: IMDBRoger EbertRoweReviews

The House of Mirth (2000)

The grubbiest paws aren’t always the easiest to bother.

Lily (Gillian Anderson) is a ravishing socialite who takes her charm and beauty for granted. For one, she thinks she’s way better than a lot of those around her and while she’s not necessarily wrong, said beauty and charm does start to bring all sorts of interest her way in the form of men, but it also brings upon jealousy in the form of the fellow women who surround her and can’t stand the fact that she gets so many eyes towards her ways. And just like a lady did back in the day, she seeks a wealthy husband and, in trying to conform to social expectations, she misses her chance for real love with Lawrence Selden (Eric Stoltz), a man she think she’s better than, even though he thinks that they would be perfect, no matter what. Eventually, her search for a husband takes her to many different men and prospects, none of whom quite work out once Lily is accused of having an affair with a married-man, not just making her bad news, but also an outcast from the rest of the socialites who she used to wine and dine with so often.

See? There’s those long walks.

The best period-pieces are the ones that, no matter how old the tales in them are, or are taking place, still hold some relevancy in today’s day and age and can be looked at through the modern-eye. The House of Mirth is such a period-piece, in which we get a classic tale of a woman trying to find love, be rich, and relaxed for the rest of her life, which isn’t all that relevant nowadays, but sooner or later, eventually does. To say that the House of Mirth takes a turn for pure darkness about halfway through wouldn’t be necessarily such a spoiler, because it’s a story that’s been around for many years and it’s also quite obvious by a certain point just where the story itself is actually headed.

But there’s still something about its deep dive into sadness and darkness that still sticks with me.

And honestly, it’s a true testament to writer/director Terence Davies, who not only has a knack for nailing the period-details to this story down perfectly, but also knows how to make each and every one of these characters, inherently interesting just in the way that they are. Sure, watching a movie where a bunch of rich people bicker, eat, drink, dance, take long walks, and gossip, may not seem like the most entertaining two hours ever put to screen, but somehow, Davies makes it all click and pop off of the screen. He doesn’t take these characters, or this story, as a product of its time, but instead, a product of any time, where rich people sneer at those who they feel are lesser than them, for sometimes awfully silly and ridiculous reasons.

Which is why the House of the Mirth, both the source-material, as well as the movie, still work, way beyond most other period-pieces do. It’s a tale of love, sure, but it’s also a rather chilling, disturbing tale of one person’s descent into sheer madness and depression, and just how that can all happen, solely through people’s words and actions. It follows a very clear path early on and never really strays away from it, but the path is compelling to watch; we know where the story is headed, but to watch it all play out, as sad as it can sometimes get, honestly, is hard to turn away from. It’s like a train-crash you see from a mile away, can’t do anything about, and for some reason, you don’t want to miss the end-result of.

Just take him, Lily! Don’t be silly!

Okay, so that maybe that’s a bit harsh, but you get my point.

And of course, the movie works as well as it does because Davies has assembled a pretty solid ensemble here, what with Gillian Anderson leading the charge as the complex and heartbreaking Lily Bart, a character we get to know, love, and feel so much sympathy for over the two hours. Anderson has always been a very strong actress and it’s interesting to see her here, because she has to show so much emotion, by barely showing much at all; it’s the kind of stuffy, yet, subtle performance so many actresses try to work with and nail, that Anderson does so flawlessly here. Watching her try to navigate through life, as well as all of these various people around her, can truly be hard-to-watch, but she always stays rich, true and honest, and it’s why her character works as well as it does, all issues aside.

Eric Stoltz also has a nice role as the love of Lily’s life who, for some reason, she doesn’t ever come around to loving because she think she’s better than him; Anthony LaPaglia plays another possible suitor for Lily who, may or may not, have the best intentions in mind; Dan Aykroyd gives a truly surprising and shocking performance as a married-man who instantly takes a liking to Lily and wants to help her out in any way that he can, with obvious strings attached; Terry Kinney plays a very similar character; Laura Linney plays a married-woman who doesn’t take so much of a liking to Lily’s naughty ways; and the same goes for Elizabeth McGovern.

Basically, everyone here is evil, sick, or twisted. But hey, they’re rich, so they’re able to get away with.

Consensus: As stuffy and blase as it may start, the House of Mirth soon turns into a sad, shocking and rather upsetting tale of class and gender roles that still feels relevant.

8 / 10

Then again, can you blame all men for practically drooling over this woman?

Photos Courtesy of: All About Gillian

Marley (2012)

No way in hell this dude smoked pot.

Most of you out there may know him as Bob Marley, but you don’t know half the story of the man who’s real name was Nesta Robert Marley, and was also of mixed-races. That’s right, his father was white, and rarely ever saw him which lead to Bob finding one escape from this harsh-reality that he could: music. Oh, and weed too, but being from Jamaica, that pretty goes without saying. Anyway, this movie traces Marley’s existence from his birth in 1945, to his sudden death of cancer at the age of 36. It was a short life, but what a life it truly was.

 

Thus, the beginning of the weed-smoking days.

Thus, the beginning of the weed-smoking days.

So often now, whenever we see a story about an inspirational musician, we get their backstory about how their lives growing-up blew, their mommies and daddies were killed, they had no real family, they were orphans, they were sad, they had drug problems, etc., but rarely do we ever get to see the story of the person who grew up reasonably well, was happy with his family for the most part, and surprisingly, didn’t have many problems with his self-image. Sure, the man was sometimes made a fool because his parents were of different races, but the way the movie approaches this very real fact, it’s almost like an afterthought.

Until, we see just how his life would be sculpted out of this one aspect of his life.

But still, for the most part, life for Bob Marley was a relatively pleasant one that was filled with joy, happiness, thoughts, and plenty of weed. However, things weren’t always so bright and shiny for the world around him, which is why Bob decided to take that sweet, everlasting voice of his, get a guitar, find a microphone, and express what he felt and saw from day-to-day, all through the power of music. Music is one of the best ways you can learn anything about anyone, and with Bob Marley, there was no exception because the man was never afraid to let you know what he felt in a song, how he felt it, and what the ultimate conclusion to his thoughts were supposed to be.

See what I mean?

Many people heard these thoughts and conclusions and, believe it or not, were changed, right then and there. Bob Marley not only influenced people within the reggae/ska genre, but even went so far as to influence countries in a way that was never, ever seen before, not even by musicians. The man knew this too, and never, not for a second, used it to harm’s will. He was always there for the people who loved him the most, the country that supported his ass throughout all of the growth-years, and most surprisingly of all, gave free concerts to regions that were filled with so many poor people, that even asking a dollar for a ticket would have been too pricey (in today’s day and age, a free concert is a sign of a saint).

But the question begs: Why did this man do all of this? Well, it was all because he had a voice, he had dreams, he had hopes, and he had a voice, and everybody wanted to hear it. And hell, he was not afraid to share it with anybody either.

However, Marley doesn’t set out to totally lionize the subject, either. Issues about his own family, feelings, political stances, all that, are touched on here. No stone is left unturned and it’s why, at nearly three hours, the movie can feel a bit excessive, but by the same token, it’s also giving us the full picture of this man we all think we know, yet, don’t actually know nearly as much as we think we do. That’s how the best documentaries work and it’s why Marley works best.

It gives us all that we need to, should, and better know, whether we knew we wanted it or not.

But nonetheless, director Kevin Macdonald still gives us the look at Marley, his life, and everything that he did with it, in a way that not only shines respect for the iconic-artist, but shows how his voice still holds up today, and is a true testament to just how far and wide one is able to go with their documentary’s subject, no matter how iconic or famous they may already be.

 

Consensus: Marley is longer than most documentaries that have to deal with musicians, but when your subject is Bob Marley, and you speak with everybody that knew him the closest, you have plenty of time, plenty of rhymes, and plenty of…well..material to work with. Sorry, couldn’t keep it going all the way.

8.5 / 10

"This next track is for all of the white kids that can't handle chores and being it at 11. Mon."

“This next track is for all of the white kids that can’t handle chores and being in at 11. ‘Mon.”

Photos Courtesy of: Magnolia Pictures

Their Finest (2017)

Now I definitely don’t need to see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk.

It’s Britain, 1940, and needless to say, the war is hitting them pretty hard. Men are being shipped-out randomly, bombs are dropping everywhere, resources are drying up, families are being torn apart, and it just doesn’t seem like the good old days any longer. It seems like everyone is sad, depressed and absolutely unsure of what to do with their lives, which is why the British Ministry of Information decides to step on in and change all that up the only reliable way they know how: Making movies. And one such movie they commission is a supposed true story of heroism and bravery that occurred in Dunkirk, France. Of course, the movie-version of these said events get all wrapped-up and twisted around, to the point of where the original story isn’t even found anywhere, but the message of the tale is simple: Greater and better times are ahead and can still be found now. And crafting that film is writer Catrin (Gemma Arterton) who finds herself constantly battling it out with fellow writers, like Tom (Sam Claflin), actors, like Ambrose Hilliard (Bill Nighy), and fellow women in the office, like Phyl (Rachael Stirling) who give her crap for her gender and how she handles herself. But all she’s trying to do is make the best, most inspirational movie she can make, no matter what.

How could you not fall for the chum?

Their Finest is one of the most charming movies I have seen in quite some time and it doesn’t even seem like it’s trying. Okay, that’s a bit of a lie; it’s so smug, likable and sweet, that it’s almost begging for our adoration before the opening-credits roll onto the screen. But for the most part, it’s the time, the place, and the nostalgic message that makes it feel like Their Finest doesn’t have to even try – it’s homework of charming and pleasing the pants off of the audience is already done for itself.

That said, it’s still a wildly lovely movie that even without the time, the place, the nostalgic message, it would still work. Sure, those things certainly help, but mostly, Their Finest works because it’s a movie that has a heart as big the bombs that are constantly being dropped out throughout. Director Lone Scherfig and writer Gaby Chiappe come together in an interesting way that doesn’t shy away from the dark, brutal, and grueling reality that the war presented for everyone involved, but it also doesn’t shy away from the fact that there was some happiness and light to be found through it all.

It’s like an overlong episode of Boardwalk Empire, except the polar opposite – everyone around the main characters are sad, but the main characters themselves, somehow, through some way, are happy.

It all works, though, and never appears too cloying, or overly cutesy; it all feels earned and just earnest enough that it knows it’s harsh reality, without ever trying too revel in it, either. The movie is, plain and simple, just sweet and lovely – like a Pastri that you know you shouldn’t have, but also can’t keep yourself away from, either. That may not be the best way to describe Their Finest, but trust me, just know this: It’ll be hard not to smile the whole way through. Even when the movie’s sad (which it can be on countless occasions), it’s still kind of cheerful.

And it mostly all comes down to the characters and what they represent. In what has to be her best role to-date, Gemma Arterton finally gets a chance to prove that she can be awfully sweet and charming, when given the right material to work with. As Catrin Cole, we see a character that’s still figuring herself out, trying to make some sort of a mark in the world and above all else, trying to remain happy, hopeful and optimistic towards a brighter, better future. It’s a role that could have been easily grating and annoying in anyone’s hands, but it’s one that Arterton works so well with, that you immediately fall in love with her and her infectious spirit.

Gemma, have you ever seen Atonement? Get out of the subway!

And it’s also easy to see why everyone in the film does, too.

Sam Claflin, once again, proves that he’s quite possibly the most charming and handsome British guy working today, aside from Henry Cavill, as Tom, and shows quite a nice little chemistry between he and Arterton. The relationship may go into obvious places, but because they’re so good and cute together, it doesn’t matter – we want them together, no matter what. Bill Nighy is also the stand-out as the one actor in this whole production who can’t seem to know or realize that he’s a little too old to be quite the superstar he once was. The character could have easily been a cartoonish buffoon, but there’s a lot of heart and warmth in Nighy’s portrayal, that it works. Same goes for everyone else who shows up here, adding a little bit more personality and light to the whole proceedings.

But if anything about Their Finest really works for me, it’s the message that, no matter what happens to you, the outside world around you, or anybody, anywhere else in the world, the movies will always be there for you. Sure, it’s a sentiment that’s not as relevant as it may have been in the early-1940’s, when practically everyone and their grandmother needed a little cheering up, but it’s still the same kind of sentiment that resonates for any film-lover. Movies have always been made, and will always continue to be made, to take people away from their real lives, and place them somewhere lovely and magical, and provide the perfect distraction. Sure, there are movies that are made not to do such a thing (aka, documentaries), but the ones that really take you out of the real world and give you hope and ambition, well, then those are the ones that deserve to be seen, no matter what’s going on around you.

It’s what movies were put on this Earth to do in the first place and it’s why they will always hold a special place in each and every living person’s life.

Consensus: Sweet, endearing and ridiculously nostalgic, Their Finest wears its heart and humor on its sleeve, with even better performances to show for it.

8.5 / 10

Making movies have never been so, ehrm, British.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)

High school sucks so much that, honestly, sometimes you just have to make your own excitement.

Accomplished high school student Ben (Parry Shen) seems to excel at almost everything and it’s absolutely boring him to death. When your Asian, living in the suburbs of California, and doing so well in school, honestly, nothing else really excites you anymore. But you know what does? Not being able to actually win something over, or, in Ben’s case, not being able to win over his dream girl, Stephanie (Karin Anna Cheung). It’s all Ben can ever think about, so eventually, he decides to strike up an unlikely friendship with trouble-seeking tough guy Daric (Roger Fan), where he starts doing all sorts of bad and illegal stuff, along with various other members of the so-called “gang”. Eventually, these illegal ventures start setting their sights toward Stephanie, and her rich boyfriend Steve (John Cho), who has a proposition for these guys that, if they’re able to succeed with the plan, may make them all rich. But for some reason, it may not go as planned, being that Steve and Ben don’t necessarily get along in the first place.

Yeah, fairs can kind of suck.

Better Luck Tomorrow is a surprising film for many reasons. One, first and foremost, because it presents a different, intelligent view of Asian Americans that we don’t ever actually get to see in American movies, or better yet, in American high school movies. See, a lot of the times, the constant cliche with Asians in films such as these is that they’re so book-smart, can’t speak a lick of English, and are mostly used as funny, side-characters to help guide us through this adventure of watching a white protagonist, struggle and get through high school. Of course, this is just a rough generalization of what we’re used to seeing, but if any John Hughes movie is proof, then yeah, Asians have it bad when it comes to high school movies.

And that’s why Better Luck Tomorrow is so interesting, because it turns that whole viewpoint on the side and for once, shows us Asian Americans who are just like the white protagonists in all of those other movies, except in this case, they’re far more real and raw. These kids here don’t just curse, but they drink, they smoke, they have sex, they get naked, they commit crimes, and hell, they could even care less about their grades. Co-writer/director Justin Lin has made quite the career for himself taking on the Fast and Furious franchise, but if anything, he shows us that he has a unique and smart voice that isn’t just something we’ve seen, or heard before.

Or even if we have, it’s way different than ever before.

Choose Harold. Especially if he has a sick-ass moped. 

And in that sense, yes, Better Luck Tomorrow is a smart film that, honestly, doesn’t get made as much as it should. But then, there’s this other side of the movie that’s actually more about the tone, the feel and the actual plot itself which, believe it or not, still works. Better Luck Tomorrow starts out as your typical coming-of-ager where the guy dreams of getting the girl, but slowly and surely, starts to show its true colors; things get dark, real quick, but you actually believe them. The movie could have easily fallen apart trying to take itself more seriously, but Lin keeps it altogether, showing us that sometimes, when you’re young and feel as if you have nothing left to lose, chances are, you’re going to make some pretty awful, life-altering decisions.

The movie isn’t as hokey as I make it sound, though. Lin knows better then to dive into sentimentality, or to get all caught up in the usual cheesiness that comes with coming-of-age high school tales. There’s a certain feel and look for realism that not only makes the movie oddly relatable, but in a way, rather sweet. We get to see and understand these characters for all that they are, not just who, or what they represent, and it makes us easier to identify with them as troubled, confused and bored kids, as opposed to a bunch of types.

Still, the moral of the story? Well, I’m not so sure and that’s probably the movie’s biggest issue.

It’s hard to figure out just why the ending left a sick taste in my mouth, but it probably has to do with the fact that it just sort of ends, and that’s it. Yes, it’s neat that no real lessons are learned, or even, thankfully, taught to us, but there’s still an odd feeling of something missing. It’s as if the story itself wasn’t over, but just that Lin either ran out of money, or lost some footage, somewhere out there in the world. Either way, it makes Better Luck Tomorrow, what is otherwise a very fun, insightful and rather interesting coming-of-ager, feel weird – as if there was more to be had, but we just didn’t get it.

Consensus: By putting its focus on characters we don’t get to see in the spotlight so much, Better Luck Tomorrow opens itself up to a whole new, interesting world and promises of ideas, but also shows us that oddly fun and compelling tales like these are universal, regardless of race.

8 / 10

Guess what? These kids could probably kick your ass. You just didn’t know it.

Photos Courtesy of: Entertainment Weekly, Decider, Tropics of Meta

Friday (1995)

I guess the hood ain’t such a bad place to live after all.

Craig (Ice Cube) spends most of his days doing nothing, staying unemployed, and just trying to get by in life, constantly chilling with his boy Smokey (Chris Tucker). However, the day that comes between Thursday and Saturday hits and for some reason, there’s something different about the day that isn’t like every other one.

By the mid-90’s, the hood subgenre of film became a bit of a joke. The themes, the violence, the stereotypes, etc., had all been played-out so much so that by a point, there was even a Wayans spoof on it all. What once had been a reliably sad and effective genre of film-making, soon became a bit of a stale product, that only seemed to get worse with each and every attempt at creating something close to resembling Boyz N the Hood.

Every neighborhood’s got a dude like this.

Which is why, at the time, and of course, now Friday is such a breath of fresh air.

Sure, is it a “hood film”? Yeah, it is, but it’s a different kind of one. It doesn’t really try to lay down some life-altering message about getting out of the hood and making a better future for yourself, nor does it ever seem to try and ever take itself too seriously. If anything, it’s just a smooth, relaxed, and downright silly comedy about one day in the hood, where some good stuff, some bad stuff, and some wacky stuff happens in, of all places, the hood.

And yes, Friday works because of that; it’s a very chilled-out kind of movie that doesn’t rush itself, doesn’t have too much of a plot to really get going with, and it sure as heck isn’t running too long with its barely 90-minute run-time. And none of this is a bad thing, either – most comedies, like John Waters always says, should barely be 90 minutes and Friday works well for that reason. A lot of the gags are so quick and random, that they somehow just work and come together, because the movie doesn’t harp on them too much, just like it doesn’t slow itself down with jokes, either. And it all matters, too, because, well, the jokes are actually pretty funny in and of themselves.

Which is why it’s hard to go on and on about Friday without talking about the one and the only, Chris Tucker.

Gotta get down on….

I think it goes without saying that Tucker makes Friday as funny as it can get. He’s often the scene-stealer, using his high-pitched squeal and delivery to make any joke land, as well as seeming like the funniest guy in the room, amongst a pretty funny crowd. It’s not really known how many of his lines were scripted, or how much everyone involved just trusted him to do his thing, but whatever it was, it works and it’s because of Tucker that even when Friday seems to meander a bit too far away from itself (which it often does), it still comes together in the end.

Which isn’t meant to take away from everyone else here, but yeah, when compared to Tucker, it’s hard not to notice. For instance, Ice Cube plays the straight-man, and seems to be having fun, even though often times, his role seems to just be used as the protagonist we see everything through. John Witherspoon is also a lot of fun as his daddy and kept me laughing every single time he showed up but also provided a lot of insight into how daddy’s usually are with their older, bum-like children. Nia Long is also nice as, once again, the romantic love-interest in a hood flick, while such comedic-greats like Michael Clarke Duncan, Faizon Love, and Tiny Lister, and oh, of course, Bernie Mac, all show up, do their things and remind us why they’re so funny in the first place.

But where Friday doesn’t hold up for me (and granted, I have seen this movie about four-to-five times now), is that it’s direction is a bit sloppy, however, with good reason. At barely 25 years of age, F. Gary Gray took over Friday and seemed like he didn’t have to do all that much, but somehow, the movie is still a bit messy. The best aspect of the movie is how, for the longest time, there’s really no plot and nothing needing to drive it by, but by the end, all of a sudden, there’s a plot, there’s a serious conflict, and there’s a, unfortunately, message that we’re all supposed to learn from. If anything, it feels lame, tired and annoying, and it seemed to only happen because Gray was just getting started and needed to get his foot in somewhere.

Thankfully, he did.

Consensus: Even with a slightly amateurish direction, Friday still works because of its odd gags, relaxed, yet pleasing tone, and of course, the exciting cast, led by a stand-out performance from Tucker.

8.5 / 10

Damn, indeed.

Photos Courtesy of: Filmaholic Reviews

Gods and Monsters (1998)

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

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

He likes what he sees.

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

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

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

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

Can you blame him?

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

Best friends forever.

Photos Courtesy of: Cinema Queer

One False Move (1992)

Small towns always need a little excitement.

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

See what I mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man, Bill. We miss you already.

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

8.5 / 10

Small-town cops get no respect.

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

King Kong (2005)

He must protect his house.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jack knows what I’m talking about.

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

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

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

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

Black Kong. What a name.

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

8.5 / 10

See what I mean?

Photos Courtesy of: Fernby Films

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bromances work in mysterious ways, sometimes.

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

Couldn’t hurt, though.

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, Rotten Tomatoes 

Spellbound (2002)

 

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

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

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

"Eeeeeeeeeeeee."

“Eeeeeeeeeeeee.”

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

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

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

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

"Hmmmmmmmmm."

“Hmmmmmmmmm.”

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

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

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

That’s all he had to do.

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: True Films

The Cable Guy (1996)

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

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

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

But did it deserve all that?

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

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

Not really.

 

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

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

See! He's not so bad!

See! He’s not so bad!

How fitting.

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

Right? Eh. Whatever.

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

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

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

8 / 10

Oh, uhm. Ha-ha?

Oh, uhm. Ha-ha?

Photos Courtesy of: Monkeys Fighting Robots