Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 8-8.5/10

Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

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

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

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

Who needs rehab when you look this good?

Who needs rehab when you look this good?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

Trust me, Will knows.

Trust me, Will knows.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Southside With You (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

A little romantic, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Don’t Breathe (2016)

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

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

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

He clearly opened up the more adult Goosebumps book.

He clearly opened up the more adult Goosebumps book.

Make any sense?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With, or without the scares.

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, The Verge 

Hell or High Water (2016)

Crime? Yeah. Keep it in the family.

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

The bros that live together, grow competing mustaches together.

The bros that live together, grow competing mustaches together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Cinema Clock

Pete’s Dragon (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think his posse beats mine 100 times over.

I think his posse beats mine 100 times over.

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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

Tony Montana ain’t got nothing on the French.

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

Yeah, talk about some skill.

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

Hey, gangsters gotta love too, right?

Hey, gangsters gotta love too, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly Mesrine was puffing that magic dragon.

Clearly Mesrine was puffing that magic dragon.

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

Shades are always cool.

Why so grumpy, Vincenzo? 

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Roger Ebert, Metacritic

Indignation (2016)

College was always just one sexual experience, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, that Logan Lerman. So sassy and cool.

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

Who knows?

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

"Uh, so what you wanna do?"

“Uh, so what you wanna do?”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Get Shorty (1995)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously, stay away from that movie.

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Qwipster

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013)

Sorry, Edgar Winter, but some albino dudes are just downright creepy.

Julian Assange was like any other tech-lover in the world – the internet was his play-place where he could, say, and act anyway he wanted to. This is why he decides to do certain things like hack into certain security systems that show negligence on the company’s behalf. First, it was banks, then, it became government agencies who did not take kindly to someone as random and mysterious as Assange. Eventually though, word got out about Assange and sooner than later, they had a site where they could put any and all classified information that they stumbled upon – a little old website called “WikiLeaks”. On the site, users were able to anonymously and because of this, the government continued to target them more and more. However, Assange knew that these whistle blowers expected their identities to be hidden, which is why he stood up for almost every single person who was being looked into. And then, somehow, some way, it all changed; Assange, WikiLeaks, the whole internet world. Changed. And nobody really knows why, or who’s to blame.

"See? It's like Wikipedia, but not!"

“See? It’s like Wikipedia, but not!”

It’s mighty difficult to approach a subject like WikiLeaks, or even Assange, without getting bogged down in all of the crazy, never ending bits of info, twists, turns, and new happenings that never seem to end. However, Alex Gibney is the kind of director who can be trusted in these sorts of situations; he knows that the best way to present any piece of information, is to do so in the most comprehensible, slow-manner imaginable, so that everyone feels as if they know what’s going on and what’s just been brought to the table. This may not sound like much for a person who has literally been making documentaries every year since 2005, but it matters a whole lot, especially when you’re dealing with murky waters like WikiLeaks and especially Assange.

In fact, definitely Assange.

However, what’s probably the most admirable choice that Gibney takes here (among many), is that he never really digs into Assange as much as he should, or definitely could have. Clearly, the movie isn’t very pro-Assange, but at the same time, they also don’t hate him, either; if anything, the movie shows that he may have started out with good intentions and a smart head on his shoulders, but after awhile, once fame and praise got in his ears, he couldn’t help but run wild. Gibney shows that the tech-world may have, at one point, been totally behind Assange’s back, no matter what, but then drastically turned on him once it turned out that he may not be exactly who he appears to be.

But really, Gibney doesn’t want to make the whole movie about Assange, even though he could have definitely done that and it would have been no problem. Instead, Gibney decides to bring up ideas and points about the current world in which we live in, where no secret is hidden and unable to be found. Nowadays, there’s hardly any privacy, everyone has a computer/technology-device, and you know what, anybody can hack into something in order to uncover those private secrets you may have hidden from the rest of the world.

But what Gibney asks about this reality is whether or not that’s a good thing in the first place?

Yeah, let's hate this guy, apparently.

Yeah, let’s hate this guy, apparently.

Or, as he asks, are we giving random strangers too much power and control?

The movie itself falls somewhere in the middle, knowing that certain secrets ought to be brought to the news, because everyone has a right to know, but at the same time, knowing that certain things that aren’t really a matter of public concern deserve to be out and about for everyone else to see, either. Take, for instance, the iCloud Leak scandal – sure, a lot of pervs got their kicks off of nude pics from celebrities, but did this leak really need to happen? Could all of that energy and attention been devoted elsewhere to, well, I don’t know, the FBI? The CIA? Or, hell, anyone else except for Jennifer Lawrence?

Gibney brings these questions up, yet, never answers them and that’s fine – the movie isn’t necessarily as much about the answers, as much as it’s more about the world in which we live in. Also, Gibney doesn’t forget that a story like this, as compelling as it already is, can still be as exciting and fun to listen and watch, even if you already know everything that’s coming a mile away. If you don’t know the Assange and WikiLeaks story, then get out from underneath that rock.

But if you do, have no fear, because Alex Gibney still finds a way to make it all work.

Consensus: Informative, smart, exciting, and most of all, thoughtful, We Steal Secrets finds Gibney in top-form, even if the story itself is constantly expanding and getting more and more convoluted as we speak.

8 / 10

He's basically an albino Wes Anderson.

He’s basically an albino Wes Anderson.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Don’t be greedy, people. Or, make stuff up.

At one point in their existence, the Enron Corporation, was one of the most powerful around. They had so much money and so much control, that not only did they start to itch out into the oil business, but they even went so far as to attempt to partner-up with Blockbuster. Even if the later deal didn’t necessarily go through, still, Enron was more than capable of biting the bullet on at least one occasion because, well, they were so rich, that they could afford to make a little misstep, here and there. Or, that’s at least what the numbers represented. Somehow though, as Enron started growing more and more over the years, more and more people started raising speculation about how legitimate they were, as well as how honest and by-the-books their numbers were. Needless to say, the rest of the world soon figured out the shocking results of Enron and it wasn’t at all pretty.

EVIL!

EVIL!

Alex Gibney is such a tremendous director who, it seems anyway, has a new movie out every year, covering a new subject/topic. And it deserves to be noted that almost each and everyone is almost as good as the one that comes before it, so much so to the point that you almost want him to make a documentary about whatever is going on in the world. Donald Trump? Definitely! War? Yeah! The air? Why not!

And heck, while we’re at it, why not just talk about Enron?

This is all surprising to say too, but Enron was Gibney’s first flick and he made quite a mark with it. While the story itself is such a clear-cut and dry tail of a major, big-body corporation getting way too ahead of themselves and folding underneath their own negligence, Gibney somehow finds a way to make it all compelling and, well, entertaining. After all, a story that follows the rise and fall of a once very powerful corporation, is only as good as its pace and man, does this thing move or what?

Gibney throws a lot of information at us, not all of it is fully comprehensible to layman’s ear, however, he figures out how to make it matter and at least somewhat understandable in a way, that it almost doesn’t matter what certain definitions are, for certain words. All that matters is that you’re able to pinpoint exactly when Enron became a powerful force, and when exactly the seams started to show, and people we’re realizing that maybe, just maybe, they weren’t all that they’ve made themselves out to be.

Sadly, not many more came after this.

Sadly, not many more came after this.

And really, the best parts of Enron, the movie, aren’t when we’re watching the rest of the world be singlehandedly fooled by Enron, the company – although, yes, it’s hard not get swept up in all of the excitement and energy – it’s when we start to see Enron start to become a bit of a joke and people are losing all sorts of hope in them. You can call it “sad” for sure, but what Gibney does best is show that even when Enron was falling apart and everyone had practically turned their back on them, there’s still something interesting in watching a company try its hardest to stay alive, well and positive, even in the midst of all sorts of hatred and adversity directed towards them.

Doesn’t make them sympathetic in the least bit, but it certainly does make you think: When did everyone become so awful and mean in this company?

Throughout the flick, we get a good bunch of interviews with people who were once apart of Enron and we get to see their side of the story; while it’s perfectly easy to just automatically throw blame on everyone who was in the company, it’s also another thing to understand that maybe not everyone in the company, was in on the scheme that was occurring beneath their noses. That’s why, to see Gibney try his hardest to humanize these people – most of whom had no idea about what was going on – it’s admirable. He’s not trying to make us feel sorry for them, but he’s actually just showing us that there were people who were in this company and as loyal as they could be and guess what? They still got screwed over.

It’s your typical story of a corporation: You’re loved and adored one second, next, your hated. In Enron’s case, it’s obvious why everyone turned against them, but in that sense, it’s still kind of sad. While they are not forgiven of every wrongdoing they had ever committed, most of the people in the company lost their jobs, their fortune and their beach houses, but most of all, the idea that a corporation could literally pick itself up, make a name for itself, and do whatever it wanted, and be successful at it, was destroyed. Now, thanks to company’s like Enron, the American Dream was no more and the business world of America would no longer be the same.

Thanks, fellas.

Consensus: A typical rise-and-fall story, Enron is a perfect example of just how good Alex Gibney can be when he’s got the juice to make a compelling story, all the more exciting and engaging with certain angles to spin and show.

8.5 / 10

Enjoy the pose while it lasts, buddy.

Enjoy the pose while it lasts, buddy.

Photos Courtesy of: SBS, Jigsaw Prods, Reeling Reviews

Don’t Think Twice (2016)

Don’t always try to be a comic. Not everyone likes a non-stop jokester.

The Commune has been an improv troupe for as long as the downtown New York comedy scene has been around. Some have obviously gone onto bigger, way better things, whereas there have been quite a few, that have either given up on comedy altogether, or still stayed with the comedy troupe, in hopes that, one day, they’ll soon catch that big break. Miles (Mike Birbiglia) has been with the troupe the longest, and not only wonders what he’s to do next with his career, but also what to do about his life, when it comes to starting a family and getting a stable job. Same goes for everyone else, like the spoiled Lindsay (Tami Sagher), who still gets allowance from her wealthy parents, like Allison and Bill (Kate Micucci and Chris Gethard), two comedians who have hopes and ambitions of getting their comic-book careers off the ground, and especially like Samantha and Jack (Gillian Jacobs and Keegan-Michael Key), the couple of the group who, despite not always seeing eye-to-eye, have stuck together through it all. However, one of the members is now getting a shot at stardom and it puts every other member’s lives and careers into perspective.

We get it, you improv.

We get it, you improv.

Comedies about comedians are kind of hard to do. For one, you have to be funny, but at the same time, you also have to do so in a way that’s smart and relateable enough for the audience to get and understand just where it is your coming from. For writer/director/star Mike Birbiglia, it’s clear that the comedy world, can be a very sad one, where missed opportunities and chances occur on a daily basis and no matter what, it’s going to be a constant push-and-pull; some days, you’ll think that you’ve finally been noticed and all of your wildest hopes and dreams can happen, whereas other days, you’ll feel as if you screwed the pooch and lost all hope and promise for the world. At the same time, Birbiglia also knows that the comedy world, if you’re lucky enough, can be a place to meet all sorts of lovely and kind people who not only make you laugh, but also are there to give you a hug when you need it the most.

Don’t Think Twice is the kind of movie you expect to be all sorts of corny, preachy, and not all that funny; like improv itself, you can only go so far to the point where you’re hitting every obvious convention on the head. But Birbiglia, who made an impressive directorial debut in Sleepwalk With Me, seems to understand that there’s a certain level of heart to make the humor work, as well as vice versa. Sure, we can laugh at some of the things that these characters do and say, whether on the stage or not, but sometimes, what makes the humor more compelling and fun is that we know these characters, understand their personalities, and see exactly where they’re coming from.

May not sound like much, but trust me, in the comedy world, it means everything.

That’s why Birbiglia improves on his debut here, as he not only shows a skill in taking all of these different subplots and giving them their own spotlight, but also knows how to make them all somewhat important enough to where we do care about this troupe, what happens to them when one of them leaves, and just what each and everyone of them bring to the world of comedy. It would have been incredibly easy for each one of these characters to be as nauseatingly annoying as the next, but somehow, Birbiglia makes us care and most of all, laugh with them. Like with his debut, it’s clear that the story comes from a soft place in Birbiglia’s heart and he wears his heart on his sleeve, almost each and every scene he gets the chance to, whether the scenes be funny or not.

But it’s not just Birbiglia’s movie and it’s not just his performance – there’s a whole slew of others that make this movie well worth it and make us understand better why these stories matter. Because every character gets their own personality/subplot/hobby, they all come off as three-dimensional characters, even if there are a few that could have been dispensable in the long run. Sure, Micucci’s, Gethard’s, Sagher’s characters don’t really shake the movie quite as much as Key, Jacobs and Birbiglia do, but there’s time and dedication to them, that makes them more than just the side-performers who are around just because Birbiglia wanted to work with them.

Cheer up, Mike. Your life isn't really all that sad and miserable in reality.

Cheer up, Mike. Your life isn’t really all that sad and miserable in reality.

Then again, Key, Jacobs and Birbiglia truly are astounding in this movie and it’s hard not to think about them long after.

Birbiglia, despite giving his ensemble plenty to do, still comes off as heartfelt and humane as the pathetic Miles, who has long reached his expiration date in the comedy scene and is hanging on to it by a thread. You feel bad for him, even if, at the same time, you want him to grow up already. Then, there’s Jacobs as Samantha, who really understands how to make a sometimes unlikable character, seem sympathetic. She does some silly, downright idiotic things throughout the flick, but Jacobs makes you feel for her, more and more as the flick goes on and it’s hard not to fall in love with her, as if the world hasn’t already been doing so for the past few years or so.

But really, it’s Keegan-Michael Key who steals the movie, showing us that, yes, beyond all of the wacky impersonations, the screaming, and the joking around, he truly can act. As Jack, Key has the hardest role to pull-off, because he has to be both a nice guy, as well as a bit of a dick at the same time, and honestly, we never hate him as much as we should. During the comedy scenes, Key is on fire as always, but when it’s just him, laying his heart out, it’s surprising, because it all works so well. We like this guy and we feel for him, even when he’s thrown into a corner and has to do something that may hurt those around him. It’s a great performance that I hope to see more of from him in the future.

Hopefully, that’ll also give Birbiglia an incentive to make more movies.

Consensus: Funny, smart, and heartfelt, without ever overdoing it, Don’t Think Twice finds Mike Birbiglia expressing his love for the comedy world, while also realizing the pain and heartbreak that can come along with it.

8 / 10

Funny friends stick together and annoy each other mercilessly.

Funny friends stick together and annoy each other mercilessly.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

Who doesn’t want to go out and kill some Nazis?

Major Reisman (Lee Marvin) is assigned an unusual and top-secret pre-invasion mission: Take a small unit of soldiers convicted of felonies and turn them into a commando squad to be sent on a special mission. The mission is an airborne infiltration and assault on a chateau near Rennes in Brittany. And the incentives for those felons who survive the mission is that they will have their sentences commuted. It quickly becomes clear that both Reisman and his superiors regard the operation as a near suicide mission and expect that few, if any of the felons will return.

The first hour-and-a-half of the Dirty Dozen is as good as you can get. There’s plenty of action, jokes, and cool, macho-stuff going on between a bunch of guys that will just get any dude watching it, feeling inspired that they now have to act like this in order to get whatever it is that they want. Not saying that going around and shootin’ up Nazis left and right will get you anywhere, but acting big and tough like these guys seems like it could get you going somewhere in life even if it just by pure intimidation.

Now he knows not to back-talk.

Now he knows not to back-talk.

It’s the typical man movie, for better and for probably worse, depending on who you’re talking to.

Where this film works is the fact that it takes what we usually expect with a WWII movie, flip it on its side, and give us a flick that not only has a whole lot of humor, but also a bunch of violence that seems like these film-makers take pride in showing on the screen. Back in those days before this little ditty hit, WWII flicks were pretty grim, dark, and depressing, as they should be because that’s what war was. Instead, we get an action-filled ride with humor, murder, and a couple of really cool pieces of violence against the enemy at the time, and when it’s all said and over, we all jump up in the air and say, “Yay!”. It was a very risky move taking what was essentially a very touchy subject all those 22 years later, and make light of, but it works well because the movie’s not trying too hard to be funny in a way that’s offensive. It just has a light sense of humor that works, given the setting and all that.

However, as great as this film may be for totally taking these war movies conventions and giving them a nice “edge”, we still seem to get something very similar to them by the end of this flick just when they decide to get all serious on us. Right about the half-way mark, when it seems like all of these crooks have had their fun, had their training, and had their time to shine, they get shipped off to do the big mission they were assigned to do in the first place and that’s where things started to get a little fishy for me, just by how the tone switched up very dramatically.

Don’t get me wrong here, this film is barely ever boring, but it’s just that the last hour of this movie seemed to face problems with the fact that they couldn’t really escape the idea of some of these people dying combat, having their last words, and never being able to walk the face of Earth again. I don’t care what war flick you’re making, nine times out of ten, you’re going to have to come to this fact and show it in your movie, which is what this film does here, it’s just a shame that it takes more away from the film than actually give it any dramatic depth. We care for these characters and whenever one of them goes down, we feel for them, but it also feels very uneven. It’s as if director Robert Aldrich didn’t know how far he wanted to go with the comedy, nor did he know how far he wanted to go with the violence and death, either.

It’s sort of a mixture between the two and it doesn’t quite bode well for the final-half.

Either way though, the cast is pretty great, featuring a who’s who of absolute bad-asses.

Eh, don't look behind you but I think Charlie Bronson's there.

Eh, don’t look behind you but I think Charlie Bronson’s there.

Lee Marvin leads the movie Major John Reisman, someone who doesn’t take a single bit of back-talk at all, but he’s also not necessarily the hard-nosed drill instructor we’re so used to seeing and hearing in these kinds of movie. He’s not screaming or yelling curses, he’s not taking them down and making them all little playthings in front of everybody else, and he sure as hell isn’t making his soldiers be respectable to him and call him “sir” and whatnot. Basically, this guy doesn’t get on these cases about much and just makes a deal with them – you do your job, I’ll do mine, and maybe, just maybe, we can both get out of here alive and you may get free for good. It’s a pretty strong deal that this dozen makes with Reisman and what better person to make that deal than Lee Marvin. I got to tell you, this guy is cool and pretty bad-ass when he needs to be.

But honestly, Marvin’s just the tip of the iceberg, like I’ve mentioned before. There’s a whole slew of famous peeps from this dozen like Charles Bronson (before he started taking a hobby in vigilantism), Donald Sutherland (before Kiefer started trying to take his legacy), Telly Savalas (before he got his stint on Kojak), Jim Brown (after he just retired from kicking booty in football and before he started going off and kicking more booty in films) and John Cassavetes (before his indie film-making career took over the world). There’s plenty more that are apart of that dozen and they’re all amazing, and add side performances for Ernest Borgnine and George Kennedy to the supporting cast and you got yourself a bunch of dudes, who know what they’re doing, how to do it, and how to make it fun while still maintaining that level of respect that usually comes with the actors of these statures.

Wow. I’ve literally grown more hair on my chest.

Consensus: The Dirty Dozen suffers a bit from unevenness, but still features plenty of kick-ass moments of action, violence, blood, and Nazis being killed and also some great performances from a cast that is just filled with a who’s who of bad-ass, male actors from the 60’s.

8 / 10

If only I was as cool.

If only I was as cool.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins, FilmDROID

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

Screw too many women, trust me, you get screwed, too.

Harry Block (Woody Allen) has had a pretty crazy and unfortunate life. He’s been with many women, has made many mistakes, and has a lot of opinions that don’t always make him the most popular guy in the room. And now, he’s gaining fame and fortune off of all of that by putting into a new book of his, one that people love, with the exception of the few he’s actually writing about. Most of the women from his past have disowned him, which depresses Harry to a great degree. However, the only thing keeping him alive and well is the fact that he has a son, who he knows will have a bright future. Also, Harry finds out that the university that once kicked him out, now wants him back for a ceremony to honor him and all of his accomplishments. This gives Harry an idea: Take his son with him on this trip and allow for all sorts of fun and adventure to occur. Little does Harry know that he’s kidnapping his son to go along for the ride with him, along with the likes of a friend (Bob Balaban) and hooker (Hazzelle Goodman).

Way more loyal than Annie Hall.

Way more loyal than Annie Hall.

Due to the fact that Woody Allen likes to make a movie almost every year, a lot of people tend to get on his case. Obviously, some movies are better than others and, especially as of late, it appears like some of them aren’t even worth watching, but because they’re movies by Woody Allen and feature great talent in front of the screen, people can’t help but see what he’s got cooking up next. After all, a bad Woody Allen movie is at least better than most of what we seem to get out there, right?

Well, either way, where it seems like some of the issues with Woody releasing a new movie every year is that the movies tend to all follow the same formulas, ideas and themes of all of his movies. They’re mostly all lighthearted affairs that have to do with dysfunctional families, Judaism, forbidden love, sex, writing, poetry, classical music, jazz, or anything else of these natures. They’re all very similar and it honestly makes me wonder why Woody himself doesn’t bother to go deeper and darker with himself, or his material.

Cause, honestly, Deconstructing Harry is that perfect example of what Woody Allen can do when he decides to throw all caution to the wind and just not appease to anyone. While some of themes and ideas may be the same from before, here, they’re much more darker and sinister; rather than appearing to play for the big and broad laughs, Woody’s going for something much more meaner and angry, where it appears that he does in fact have an ax to grind.

Who is he grinding it at/for?

Well, no one in particular, but it allows for Deconstructing Harry to be better than most of his other flicks, because it proves that the guy actually has a point. He’s not just making a movie because he’s got the budget, the stars, and an inchworm of an idea that he’ll decide to play around with after the first-half – nope, this time Woody is going for the kisser and not apologizing for it. This is all to say that Deconstructing Harry is quite funny, but in a far different way that makes me feel better about Woody Allen, the writer – his jokes aren’t necessarily played-up for the smarter people of the crowd, but more for anyone who appreciates a good joke when they’re given one.

It sounds so stupid in hindsight, but honestly, good, consistent humor in a Woody Allen movie can sometimes be hard to find. Sure, every once and awhile, you’ll get a sly or witty line passed by some character here and there, but here, Woody’s throwing out jokes left and right. Do they all work? Not really – the whole bit involving Billy Crystal as the Devil could have probably bit the dust in the editing-room – however, the moments where the comedy works, it really works and is worthy of a big, howling laugh.

Focus on the finer things in life.

Focus on the finer things in life.

Yes, I know, it sounds stupid, but trust me, it totally matters.

But it’s not like Deconstructing Harry is better than most other Woody Allen movies because it’s darker and funnier (although, those are two attributes that help it), but because what Woody himself seems to be talking about is interesting. Harry Block’s life is such a whirlwind filled with heartbreak, anger, resentment, and controversy, that writing about it, gets him into hot water with those around him and eventually, he alienates himself from the rest of the world. Clearly, Woody seems to be channeling his own, inner-most demons and it’s neat to see play-out, as Woody himself definitely feels guilty for hurting the people that he’s hurt in the past, but also knows that the same hurt that he’s caused, is the same kind that’s brought him so much fame, fortune and respect in the biz.

So yeah, Woody’s talking about himself a lot here, but it works. Woody himself is quite good in the movie, but really, he’s meant to let others do all the work for him and show that they’re worthy of being here. People like Tobey Maguire, Julia Louis-Dreyfuss, Robin Williams, Stanley Tucci, Demi Moore, Kirstie Alley, and others, don’t have a whole lot of screen-time, but are still funny and well worth their short time here. Why none of these people have bothered to show up in a Woody Allen movie is beyond me, but then again, maybe they, too, don’t want to waste time on something that’s going to just be “mediocre”.

Then again, neither do I, and I still can’t stop watching his movies.

Consensus: With a darker, more energetic edge, Deconstructing Harry shows a meaner side of Woody Allen that we hardly ever see, that’s both funny and interesting.

8 / 10

Everyone loves Woody. Except obvious people.

Everyone loves Woody. Except obvious people.

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

Paradise Now (2005)

Walking around all day with a bomb strapped across your chest would probably already feel like death.

Lifelong friends, Said and Khaled (Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman) lead a normal life, working together in a garage and never discussing politics or religion. Having sometime ago volunteered to become suicide bombers they now learn that they’ve been chosen for the next mission and that it will begin in only 24 hours.

Being that this is a terribly touchy subject, not many people feel the need to even go out there and give this film a shot because it tries to humanize people who do terribly heinous things. Is there a problem with that? No, not really. But the problem would be to not give this film a chance it so rightfully deserves in my mind.

Director Hany Abu-Assad does something different with this type of subject material that will get in anybody’s mind because he does one thing that nobody ever wants to hear or see: Sympathy for suicide bombers. Now, don’t get me wrong, those people who strap bombs to their chest just so they can blow it up (along with themselves) in crowded areas full of soldiers, innocents, and civilians are not the people we should feel totally sorry for. But, this film does show us that these people are still human beings none the less, and they all have the same types of decisions and consequences that we have as well, it’s just different in a way.

"Are you ready? No pressure or anything?"

“Are you ready? No pressure or anything?”

That’s what’s interesting about Abu-Assad’s direction, as he paints a portrait of two kids that we don’t really think we would be able to stand in a film like this, yet, he somehow gets us to feel sympathy for them even when it seems like they have no remorse or no care for the pain they are about to cause. These kids don’t really know what they’re about to do, until it finally comes up and then they are sort of left wondering just what the hell they wanted to do in the first place. We see that these two guys believe in violence for freedom, but then, that starts to change once they wonder that maybe, just maybe, all of the problems that these two sides are fighting about, could be resolved in many other, different ways rather than just going around and blowing yourselves up. It provides a lot of food for thought as it makes you see why these kids think the way they do in the first place, and then why they all of a sudden start to change their minds once they are actually confronted with the idea of death staring them right in the face.

You would think that a film that seems so pro-Palestinian would almost be unwatchable, especially if you’re an American, but that’s not really the case. The movie isn’t “pro” or “anti”, it’s just “human”. It takes the life of these humans first and foremost, beyond anything else resembling politics or institutions. The movie itself doesn’t seem to have a problem asking us the hard questions and allowing for there to be actual answers left in the air. It’s risky film-making, especially for subject material as troubling as this, but it works all the same.

Why more film-makers can’t bother to do this is beyond me.

"Can't breathe? Eh, well it's okay."

“Can’t breathe? Eh, well it’s okay.”

Perhaps where this film really falters is in it’s writing that sometimes comes off as very smart and insightful, but also seems a bit too dramatic. There are moments that occur in the latter half of the film, where certain characters start to break into long montages that don’t really seem like they would happen in real life, regardless of the situation. There’s one point where a character is literally just sitting down, starts talking about his dad, goes on about his childhood, and somehow ends up circling it all around to what he thinks is right and what he thinks is wrong about Palestine. It could have been a great and very memorable scene had it actually rang a true note at all.

But other than that, the rest of the film is quite fine. The most powerful aspect of this movie are the two performances given by Kais Nashef and Ali Suliman who both play the friends that have to go through with this whole suicide bombing. Both performances keep you on the edge of your seat because they both show you a lot about how they are, how they change, and what they may, or may not do next. There’s a great amount integrity to them that makes them seem like guys who really want to do this and believe in what they are doing, but then they all of a sudden start to have reservations and you see a bit of an innocent, scared side to them as you would probably see through any human being put in the same situation as them. They are both perfect together, and have a nice chemistry that feels like they’ve been life-long buds and it’s heart-breaking to think that these guys have all lived their lives together and are planning to end their lives that way as well, except they’re under a lot darker stipulations now.

Consensus: Paradise Now may be a difficult film, in terms of subject material, as well as presentation, but it gets by on the heart and humanity of its script, and emotional performances from its two leads.

8.5 / 10

"You see this place, man. One day, it's going to be all ours to blow up."

“You see this place, man. One day, it’s going to be all ours to blow up.”

Photos Courtesy of: Cinema Escapist, Little Daya

Blow Out (1981)

Sound guys never get the respect they deserve.

Jack Terry (John Travolta) is a sound-effects technician for movies who, while recording sounds for a low-budget slasher film, mistakenly captures audio evidence of an assassination involving a presidential hopeful. While Jack feels as if he may be a bit paranoid, especially from what everyone around him says, he still believes it to be true and makes it his mission to stop this assassination at once. Along the way, he meets Sally Bedina (Nancy Allen), a young lady who befriends Jack and gives him a second chance at life, even if looming under the horizon is someone looking to kill both of them.

No matter what Brian De Palma does as a director, he will always been known as one of the more successful Alfred Hitchcock impersonators, but you have to think about it: Any director that laces themselves into a dark and twisted tale of suspense and paranoia, is essentially doing Hitchcock, right? Well, yes, and kinda no. De Palma is obviously channeling Hitchcock here, but he lets it all work out on his own just by having an underlining sense of dread and tension throughout. Right from the goofy first-shot to the painfully depressing last one, we are immersed in this story as we have no idea how everything is going to turn out.

Who's worse to work with? Celebrities, or owls?

Who’s worse to work with? Celebrities, or owls?

You could say that’s how Hitchcock movies are, but by the same token, so are De Palma’s movies, too.

In fact, it’s the great ones that really keep you on-edge, which Blow Out definitely is.

Instead of just letting the story tell itself off, De Palma allows himself to bring out some real tricks up his sleeve. The camera is constantly moving around in this film to give us this frantic feel that Jack is going through but even when it isn’t, it still had me on the tip-of-my-toes, because there’s still an air of tension. Scenes like when Jack is deconstructing the film to match the sounds with the images is a surprisingly neat scene because of how much detail De Palma layered this scene and to also show easily manipulated film and audio can be, just at the switch of a button. But other times when the camera is moving, it really messes with your head like one scene where the camera is going around on a 360 axis in Jack’s studio as he is frantically looking around for his lost footage that seems to have been replaced, or taken from him. It’s a cool scene that shows you what De Palma can and could do with the most generic plots, just by tilting the camera one way or another.

And sure, you could call them “gimmicks”, but they really do help keep this unpredictable story moving, even when it seems like De Palma himself wants to take some time out of the mystery and build characters. Which wouldn’t have been a problem so much had the characters been all the neat in the first place; like, say, for instance, Nancy Allen’s Sally. Trust me, I know why she’s in this movie and why De Palma feels the endless need to have her role mean something in the greater-scheme, but really, her hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold character is stale and Allen, at times at least, wasn’t always the best actress to call on for these sorts of things.

That Brian De Palma: A true American.

That Brian De Palma: A true American.

But of course, with one bad performance, comes one, very good one and this is where John Travolta comes in.

Travolta does a great job letting us feel the type of paranoia and craziness that’s going inside of his head throughout this whole mystery, however, what really makes this character and performance work is how they treat him. When you usually have a hero-like character in these films, they are treated like latter-day Saints that can almost do no wrong whatsoever and always fight the good battle. The difference here is that this character, no matter how much evidence he proves or no matter what he says, he’s always looked at as a bit of a conspiracy-nut just because he’s a little strange. Never has a film really made us look at a hero, the same way as everybody else did in the film, quite like this before and it works in making us realize that maybe we can’t be too sure that he’ll eventually come out on top after all. And if he does, at what cost? It’s a great piece of character development that De Palma proves he can do very well, and Travolta gives off his best performance of the whole 80’s decade, his career almost died in.

Thankfully though, thirteen years later, he was saved.

Also, bonus points for being in Philly and featuring a kick-ass villainous performance from John Lithgow. Honestly, you can’t have enough movies set in Philly, nor can you have enough of John Lithgow just being a scary and sinister human specimen that we definitely know he’s capable of being.

Consensus: Despite the usual missteps found in some of De Palma’s work, Blow Out is an intense, unpredictable, weird and downright bleak conspiracy-thriller that never clues you in on what to think or believe, but for all of the right reasons.

8.5 / 10

John was still very confused in 1981.

John was still very confused in 1981.

Photos Courtesy of: Criterion, One Perfect Shot

Happiness (1998)

Is all sex good? Or only some? Ugh! High school didn’t teach me anything!

Three sisters (Jane Adams, Laura Flynn Boyle, Cynthia Stevenson) all seem to be facing problems in their lives, but they aren’t the only ones. A husband (Dylan Baker) is struggling with being the right role model for his son, while also struggling with his pedophile-like ways; a socially-awkward man (Philip Seymour Hoffman) can’t bed the woman he wants the most; and an aging, married couple (Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser) run into problems when one-half decides to sleep around and see whether or not they can be happy.

As is usually the case with Todd Solondz’s movies, almost every aspect of these stories are in some way, form, or shape, disturbing. It doesn’t matter whether they concern two people coming together, finding love, or some aging-couple trying to figure out if they are good enough for one another, because somehow, someway, Solondz is going to find his way to make it as disturbing as he can. For most writers/directors, this blatant attempt at really messing with our general taste for decency would seem rather showy and annoying, but for Solondz, it can sometimes works very well because the characters in his flick tend not to have much decency, either.

Just go for it, bro. What have you got to lose?

Just go for it, bro. What have you got to lose?

Then again, when you’re human, who needs such a silly thing as “decency”?

And that’s basically the whole point of Happiness: What it means to “be human”. A lot of the movie has to deal with sexual coming-of-age, masturbation, pedophilia, aging, philandering, and all of that other happy, joyful stuff, but the movie still treats all of these matters with some respect. Rather than having each story seem like it could only happen in a movie, where people speak and act as if they are in a movie, Solondz makes it seem like every character is a real-life person, you just don’t know it because underneath the whole charade and appearance, their real selves are waiting to come out.

Solondz knows that he is uncovering some real, brutal truths about what makes us human here, and he does not shy away from it in the least bit. This is refreshing to see because you need a guy who’s going to slap you in the face, tell you what’s going on in reality, and never let you forget about it. Sometimes, the grotesque dirty talk can be a tad overboard, but he still kept it grounded to where you could see people having conversations like this everyday. It’s just all a matter of what type of people I’m talking about because, as this flick will show you, there are some strange human specimens out there that are just waiting to be noticed, loved, and find happiness.

But hey, we’re all human, so don’t we all deserve a little bit of love, respect, and, well, happiness? Solondz argues this idea, but because his writing is so smart, it works. We care for these characters and understand them, even if we know that they’re sad and sometimes vile creatures.

And yes, the cast is so good that it helps us watch them more and more.

Out of the whole flick, Dylan Baker probably has the hardest role to make work, because of how creepy and unsettling his character is, but yet, also has to stay relatively sympathetic as well, to sort of make us feel like we can see where the hell he is coming from when he wants to touch little boys. It’s not supposed to work, but somehow, he makes it work. As the perfectly-named Bill Maplewood, Baker plays that type of dude you see in the park with his family, that looks so regular, happy, and joyful, but, deep down inside, is the most dark and disturbing soul imaginable. He’s that one in a million dude that seems to find away to hide who he really is from the outside world. Baker not only makes this guy creepy as hell, but also makes him seem like a real person in the way he is so desperate to make himself pleased and happy, that he will go to the end of the Earth to achieve it. It’s not an easy role, but it’s one that Baker plays with effortlessly, allowing us to see everything there is to see about this man.

But yeah, he’s not the only solid one in the cast, as there’s plenty more.

The era of blind dates; they'll never end.

The era of blind dates; they’ll never end.

Playing another creep in this movie is Philip Seymour Hoffman as that weird dude in high school, who you never talked to, got shoved into lockers, was too afraid to take showers after gym class, and never spoke a word to anybody. However, the thing about Hoffman’s character in this movie is that he seems like the quintessential geek that always looks at porn and breathes down the hot girl’s neck, but you feel as if there is more to him than just that heavy-sweating and non-stop boners. Hoffman makes this guy interesting, as if more and more layers are going to be popping out of him at any second, but you never really get that and to be honest, we didn’t really need it. We see how he can be nice and find his true, inner-self, but there does come a point where you wonder just who he really is, other than that nerd you stay away from on the street.

And then there’s Jane Adams as the youngest of the three sisters who seems to be having the most problems with her life, for the main reason that she just can’t seem to get a grip on things. She knows that she wants to be happy, make money, be loved, find that special someone, start a family, and be successful, but she just doesn’t know how. The story that she has where she gets all hot and ready with a student of hers (Jared Harris, who has an odd Russian accent here) doesn’t really light up the screen, but the way she acts and looks the whole movie does. You can tell she’s confused, scared, and upset with where her life has gone, but you can also tell that she’s searching for the answers whenever they come to her quick enough.

Only time will tell with this poor soul.

But those three performances are, unfortunately, where the compliments for this cast and these characters somewhat stop, because they don’t all work. The problem I seemed to have had with Solondz’s framing-device is that there seem to be about five different stories going on at the same time, and maybe only two-and-a-half of them are even interesting. The others? Ehh, not so much.

The one story that should have really re-located our hearts to our stomach should have been the one with Ben Gazzara and Louise Lasser as the old, married-couple that are hitting an incredibly rough patch. So rough, that the one thinks that it’s time they call “a break” for a bit. What’s bothersome about this subplot is that it’s rarely focused on, but when it is, it seems to bring everything else down with it because it doesn’t tell us anything new or doesn’t even seem to be turning it’s wheels. It seems to just give Solondz a bit more freedom to play around with old people banging. It doesn’t work and only took away from the film. But there’s other stories here that are at fault as well, but mainly it’s Solondz’s.

Once again, he wants to disturb us, and that works.

Mission accomplished, I have to assume.

Consensus: Not everything in the dark and disturbing Happiness works perfectly well, but it’s amazing cast really does allow for these characters to come off the screen.

8.5 / 10

Daddy's got some issues he's got to work through.

Daddy’s got some issues he’s got to work through.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aflixionado, Claude’s Corner

The Conjuring 2 (2016)

Come on, ghosts! Let’s try and play nice now, ya hear!

With all of the hype and infamy surrounding the Amityville horrors, paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) have become something of overnight celebrities. Everyone wants to know more about them, but they also want to question them more and figure out if everything that they say, or do with ghosts is actually real, or all just a put-on. For this reason alone, Ed and Lorraine decide to take something of a sabbatical from the paranormal-busting world and just focus on getting back to reality, where they can continue to raise their family in a carefree, quiet environment. However, when they hear about a family being terrorized somewhere in England, the Warrens can’t help but feel inspired for one more battle against the dead. This time, though, they may have met their match. And with Lorraine losing her touch with reality and starting to battle more and more with the dead and dark spirits that have been haunting since she started seeing them, it’s all coming to head and this may be the most dangerous mission they’ve had to work with yet.

Oh, those silly, little children. Always seeing dead people.

Oh, those silly, little children. Always seeing dead people.

The first Conjuring, if anything, was a fun horror movie. While a lot of people shrieked, screamed, hooted and hollered during it, the movie, at least from my point-of-view, wasn’t all that scary; sure, it had some jumps here and there, but it seemed like the movie was less about the jumps and more about the tension, the suspense and the thrill of waiting to be scared and actually having it happen. James Wan is a smart director in that he doesn’t just throw everything at us, altogether and at once – he takes time to build his pieces, so that we get a clear picture of what we’re heading into, only to then pull the rug from underneath us and have us not knowing just what the hell to expect next.

That’s why, underneath it all, the first Conjuring was a fun movie. It wasn’t great and it, for me at least, wasn’t this terrifying experience that made me go home scared of turning the lights off when I went to bed. It was a normal horror movie in that it had a simple premise, a simple ghost, and simple characters, without trying to go any further on any of that; it had a ghost who needed to be taken out of a house and well, that’s exactly what happened.

But the only reason why I bring so much of this up is because the Conjuring 2 is a step-up from the original and shows that James Wan isn’t just trying to make the same movie, over and over again.

Sure, he has the scares, the jumps, the spooks, and the ghosts on full-display here, but once again, there’s more to it than just that. In making it seem like the almost indestructible Warrens are up against the grain here, Wan has made sure that this ghost is as evil and maniacal as you can get. In fact, I’d say that the first hour of the movie is dedicated solely to this family getting slowly tormented by this spirit who, for lack of a better word, just wants people out of “his house”. Why? Well, the movie goes into a little bit of that, too, but it doesn’t always matter, because the scares are there and we know that when the Warrens come around, everything’s going to be all fine and dandy, right?

Well, no. Not really.

Wan makes the Conjuring 2 out to be a do-or-die experience where anything could go wrong, at any second, and the unpredictable nature of the spirit takes over the story and has us hoping for the best, but also expecting the worst. After all, it’s a horror movie, so obviously, bad stuff has to happen to good people, regardless of whether we want it to, or not. Wan knows this, which is why he actually allows for there to be character-development with all of the characters, not just the Warren’s.

Because the family getting terrorized by this spirit is, after all, a middle-to-low class family just getting by, with a husband who is out and about, living a different life with a neighbor, a daughter who sees things in her sleep, and a boy who has a stuttering problem, we really sympathize with them. We aren’t doing it because, oh yeah, ghosts suck and all of that, but because do they really deserve this? Obviously, no family in their right mind deserves it, but Wan really does make us ache for these characters and it’s why we really want to see the Warrens show up and, essentially, save the day.

Pretty.

Van Gogh would be proud.

But once again, Wan is a smart enough director to know that not everything can be so simple and laid-out, even in a horror movie like this. Surprisingly, there’s more to the relationship between Ed and Lorraine than the first movie ever touched on and through this second installment, Wan shows us that they really are each other’s world and without the other, they’d be nothing in this life, or the next. It’s actually kind of sweet and makes these two characters appear less as just “religious ghostbusters”, and more as a married-couple who want to help those around them, while also trying to make sure that they still come home to one another, alive, well, and happy to go on another day on solid ground.

And really, that’s why the Conjuring 2 is better than the first.

Wan seems like he’s more interested in going darker and deeper into this story than ever before and not just leaving everything on the surface-level. The movie does run a tad too long, however, a lot of the reason why it’s over two hours, is because there is more time dedicated to character-development, as well as more opportunities for Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga to work with material that is, fine at best, but still gives them something to do, rather than just yell at goofy-looking spirits.

In fact, yeah, let’s try and work on those spirits next time, okay VFX team?

Cool.

Consensus: By adding an extra level of depth and emotion to the proceedings, the Conjuring 2 packs more of an emotional wallop to go along with all of the effective jumps and scares.

8 / 10

Does she not have any posters?

Does she not have any posters?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Nice Guys (2016)

Who ya gonna call? Two studs!

It’s 1977 in Los Angeles, and Holland March (Ryan Gosling) is a bit down-on-his-luck. His wife has just died, he’s left to care for his teenage daughter all by himself, and he’s got a job as a private investigator that sometimes pays the bills, and sometimes doesn’t. However, there’s a new case that comes his way when a young woman named Amelia (Margaret Qualley) mysteriously disappears. While Holland is sure enough that he can solve the case on his own, a local enforcer, Jackson Healy (Russell Crowe), comes into the picture, vowing to find Amelia as well. The two don’t get along fully well, but hey, they’re willing to push aside differences to solve the case and make a few bit of dollars in the process as well. What the two run into while in the case, though, is probably more than they bargained for, what with shady government agencies, hitmen, and the porn community, all involved in one way, or another.

He doesn't drive, but he takes pics, too. Man. Talk about a total package.

He doesn’t drive, but he takes pics, too. Man. Talk about a total package.

The best thing that Shane Black has ever done for himself and his career is become a director. Once he was able to do that, he didn’t have to worry about any director messing-up, or misinterpreting his vision, but instead, just know that what he wanted to see, was what he was going to get. Case closed. All of his movies have all been pretty great, but with the Nice Guys, it feels as if he’s finally found that sweet spot in cinema that may make or break him.

Meaning, if people don’t go out to the Nice Guys, Hollywood may stop allowing for Shane Black to work carelessly on his own projects and just keep him to name-brands. However, if people do go out to the Nice Guys, which they totally should, Hollywood will not only reward originality and creativity in the biz, but reward Black himself.

But honestly, it doesn’t matter because whichever way you put it, there’s no denying the Nice Guys is just a fun time from beginning to end, and Black is all to thank for that.

Clearly, it’s a buddy action-comedy, given the fact that this is a Shane Black movie, but it doesn’t feel like a well-worn thread; instead, Black himself finds new and interesting ways to not only surprise us, but himself as well. You think you have a clear-cut idea of where this story is going to go, what with the convention and all that, but nope, Black will take a step to the right or left and beat away from the path we’ve all seen before. I can’t go into great detail about what I’m going on and on about, but if you’ve ever seen a Shane Black movie, you get where I’m going; the dude follows the beat to his drum and that’s great. He does it better than anyone else, mostly because he created the damn drum in the first place.

And this is all to say that the Nice Guys is the perfect kind of summer blockbuster you’d want to see. It’s pace is breezy, its sunny-set location is relaxing, it’s jokes deliver, it’s action is exciting and unpredictable, and most of all, the characters themselves are so great and well-written, that it’s hard to find a stand-out here. Black brings in a lot of colorful beings, but mostly all of them are better than the last and after awhile, you start to wonder if he’s got any more in him.

Then, you soon find out that yes. Yes he does.

With Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling, Shane Black has found his perfect odd-buddies. Crowe is the rough, tough and ragged figure that loves to solve every problem/argument with a fist and a gun, whereas Gosling is the kind of cowardly figure who definitely uses his brain to get by, but has no capability in fighting or kicking ass. The two obviously clash, but to watch Crowe and Gosling bicker and banter with one another, is an absolute joy. The two really seemed to have get along during filming and even if they didn’t, they do a great job at hiding it.

Cheer up, Russ! You're in a Shane Black flick!

Cheer up, Russ! You’re in a Shane Black flick!

But it isn’t just about the joking around and busting-of-balls that makes these two characters such a blast to watch. Over time, as the movie rolls on and the case that they’re following gets more and more deadly, we get to find out more about these guys, their pasts and how, in ways that they don’t even know, are pretty similar. A lot of this can be attributed to Black’s script, but really, it’s Gosling and Crowe who do a lot of heavy-lifting and make the smaller, more quieter moments in between all of the guns, blood and cars, much more meaningful than you’d expect with a movie like this. Sure, Black keeps them funny, but there’s a heart and soul deep inside of these characters and it keeps the adventure worth sitting through.

It also helps that there’s so many others in the cast that are fun to watch, too.

Angourie Rice plays Gosling’s daughter and while she could have easily been another annoying, precocious child character, she shows that she’s smart, but also still very immature and can’t always handle every situation perfectly, just like any kid would act; Matt Bomer shows up briefly as a scary, vindictive hitman who makes his presence known in an awesome shoot-out; and Kim Basinger, in some limited screen-time, shows up as a shadowy figure, reminds the boys that she’s around to play as well and won’t let the screen get stolen from her.

That’s Basinger for ya. Always stealing that spotlight.

So yeah. I guess the real question is should you see the Nice Guys? The answer is yes. However, I feel like not many people will. Neither Gosling, Black, or Crowe are the box-office draws that they once were, but to me, that doesn’t matter. The Nice Guys is a great time; it isn’t perfect, but then again, what is?

“A lot of stuff,” you could say, but who cares? Just see the movie, dammit!

Consensus: With Black’s well-written script and smart direction, the Nice Guys is a laugh-out-loud, thrill-ride from beginning to end that benefits from a wonderful bit of chemistry between Crowe and Gosling.

8.5 / 10

Oh, Ry and Russ up to their silly shenanigans again!

Oh, Ry and Russ up to their silly shenanigans again!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Lethal Weapon (1987)

Buddy cop movies: Yeah, we’re too old for that s**t.

Following the death of his wife, Los Angeles police detective Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) seems to have lost his mind a whole lot and gone totally off the deep end. While he is still working cases to the best of his abilities, he’s also become reckless, to the point of where he’s not only putting his own life in the line of danger, but those around him as well. However, when he’s reassigned and partnered with Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover), he can’t help but clash with the older, by-the-books guy. Murtaugh is much more of a straight and narrow family man, whereas Riggs is a wild card who can’t be tamed, nor tied down and automatically, the two find stuff to bicker and banter about, even if none of it really matters to the job. But one fateful day, together, they uncover a massive drug-trafficking ring. Now, they have something to investigate and go after, which also means that they both have to learn how to trust one another and makes sure that they’ve both got the other’s back, even as dangerous as the situations can sometimes be.

Uh oh, everybody. Mel's about to snap. Look out!

Uh oh, everybody. Mel’s about to snap. Look out!

Lethal Weapon is a difficult movie to review all of these years later, because of how far, wide and weird the buddy-cop genre has gotten. There’s been many iterations over the years and while you definitely can’t say that Lethal Weapon invented it by any means, you can definitely make the argument that it helped popularize it and bring it back to the mainstream masses. After all, it showed that it didn’t matter odd your two buddies were – as long as they had a nice bit of chemistry and the movie itself was fun, then guess what? They can be as much of polar opposites as you want them to be!

And yes, Lethal Weapon definitely benefits from the great duo of Danny Glover and Mel Gibson – neither of whom were huge names by this point, but were slowly making their presences known to the audience out there. For some reason, they just gel so perfectly together like a solidly put-together sandwich of peanut butter and jelly on white; Glover is hard-as-nails and all about doing it the old school way, whereas Gibson is all about being a wild child no matter where he goes. It’s kind of corny, but because it’s Shane Black writing the script, believe me, it’s far from it.

Okay, maybe it is corny, but that’s sort of the point.

You can tell that Black has an affinity for these characters and this genre of action that, whenever he gets the chance to let his creative genius fly, he can’t help but let loose. So many conventions and cliches that writers would get attacked and put on a stick for, somehow, Black doesn’t have to go through; mostly, it’s due to the fact that his writing is two different things at the same time. One, it’s a homage to the kinds of movies he loves, but on the other hand, it’s also the same kind of movie that he’s creating and parodying, in and of itself. Anybody will tell you the best parody movies are the kinds that take on a serious route as they run on along and quite making wisecracks about stuff that always happen; Black never stops with the wisecracks, but it’s always fun to watch and listen to, even when, yet again, it feels like this has all been done before.

But that’s sort of the blessing and the curse of being released in 1987. For one, it was the heyday of action movies and right before they all took off the map to become the supreme juggernauts that they still continue to be until this very day, but it’s also placed in such a spot in movie history, that it’s hard to judge and base it on what’s considered “hip”, “cool”, and “in” nowadays. Black has clearly gone on to create better stuff in the years since, but Lethal Weapon will always and forever be his baby; it has his stamp all over it, to the point where it makes you wonder if anyone else could have written this and been as successful as he was.

Yup. He says it.

Yup. He says it.

But none of that jabbering matters.

What does matter in a movie such as this that the humor delivers, the action kicks all the right butt, and the characters are at least somewhat likable. Gibson and Glover are so immensely talented that they could have been playing pet rocks for all we knew – they’d still fire on all cylinders. It’s especially great to see the one role that really sent Gibson over into the American mainstream, where he portrays a wild fire, who may be a bit of a bad boy, but also the kind that saves the day at the end of everything. It’s a mixture of both sides that always kept Gibson interesting and mysterious, but especially so here.

And yeah, Glover’s great, too. He has the great line of the movie, obviously, but even the scenes with his family feel honest and pertinent to creating a bigger picture of who this character is. The dinner-scene between Murtaugh’s family and Riggs is entertaining, but also interesting in that it gives us a breather right slap dab in the middle, but doesn’t feel like it’s wasting anyone’s time or money. It’s just settling down so that we get to know these characters and their talented performers. No problem with that, as long as the bullets go flying and the cars do explode.

Which they do.

Plenty. Of. Times.

Consensus: Lethal Weapon will forever stand the test of time for being solidly entertaining buddy-cop flick, even if its been awfully duplicated over the years.

8 / 10

It's Shane Black so, uh, duh explosions.

It’s Shane Black so, uh, duh explosions.

Photos Courtesy of: Last Road Reviews

The Lobster (2016)

Crustacean, or everlasting love? Trust me, not as easy as you’d think.

After being dumped by his wife, David (Colin Farrell) has to find a mate in 45 days, or else he’ll be turned into an animal of his choosing. And to help him find the best possible mate, he gets taken to a fancy resort of sorts where he meets and hangs around with fellow other single people, all looking for that special someone before they too, turn into animals and roam their Earth as they so please. While there’s a few people David sets his sights on, eventually, he turns to the neurotic, but awfully fun woman (Rachel Weisz) who doesn’t really have a name, and no other discernible features, other than that she’s near-sighted, just as he is. The two eventually fall for one another and start to sense something real and passionate between one another, but there’s a bit of a problem. See, because they exist in this world where they have to prove their love to the rest of the world, they constantly have to battle with the conglomerates around them, that can either range from evil, controlling hotel managers, to evil, controlling rebellion leaders.

Take your pick, ladies.

Take your pick, ladies.

Though I saw it nearly three weeks ago, I can’t seem to get the Lobster out of my head. It’s the same feeling I had with co-writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos’ last movie (Dogtooth), but for different reasons. With that movie, I couldn’t get out of my head the fact that I was so disturbed and surprised by it, that even a thought of its twists and turns, just absolutely shook me to my core. The more and more that I begin to think about that movie, the more I’m quite confused about whether I liked it (which I think I did), or I loved it for its brash boldness (which I think it was).

With the Lobster, I have the same thoughts running through my head, where I don’t know if I love the movie (which I come very close to doing), or if I just think it’s a tad better and more focused than Dogtooth (I don’t know).

If anything though, it should be noted that the Lobster is unlike any other movie you’ll see this year, for better, as well as possibly for worse, depending on who you are. The Lobster is a very odd hybrid of a movie that’s a combination of sci-fi, comedy, drama, romance, action, and murder, all of which come into play throughout the movie in some very effective doses and it’s hard not to get interested by each and every step that Lanthimos takes with it. On the surface, the Lobster likes to poke jokes at this world, the people in it and how it would never, ever happen, but at the same time, Lanthimos himself takes it quite seriously to where we actually get a feeling for the world we’re thrown into and constantly learn more and more things about it as it goes along.

There’s an small bit of detail concerning why there are so many animals walking around in shots in the movie and once it’s revealed to us why this is the case (in an incredibly subtle way, mind you), it not only takes on a whole new life as something tragic, but downright tearful. Lanthimos makes to show his characters for being the absolute worst that they can be when it comes to obtaining love and/or using it as a way to live another day as a human, but at his very core, he’s still a human being that also wants to appreciate these people for what they are, and the fact that they all have hearts, feelings and emotions, just like you or I. Even the whole angle of how everyone seems to fall in love with one another through superficial ways is, yes, played-up for laughs, but sooner than later, starts to get far more serious and telling, as people actually start to react to love in different, sometimes horrifying ways.

Of course, Lanthimos plays mostly all of this dark material up for laughs and you know what? I laughed.

I hated myself for it, but there’s something just so darkly sinister about all of this material, that it’s almost a joke how far and willing Lanthimos is to let this material get as pitch black as it can be, while still maintaining some sort of humor in the process. Sure, everything and everyone here is so screwed-up and disturbing, but hey, sometimes that can be a little fun; Lanthimos, like I said before, takes this material seriously, but also enjoys trying to poke holes in it, as if he was so in love with his creation, that he also wanted to destroy it so he didn’t seem like too much of a pretentious crap.

Basically how anyone eats on a first date.

Basically how anyone eats on a first date.

And I got to give it to Lanthimos for assembling a solid cast here, all of whom probably read this script and had no idea what the hell to expect, but we’re still so interested that they probably thought, “Hey, it’s an experience, right?” Colin Farrell is hilarious to look at as David, the chubby, pathetic protagonist we come to know, love and sympathize with, even when it seems like he enjoys doing terrible things; John C. Reilly shows up as a very sad man with a lisp who has barely any chance of finding his true love, but because he’s John C. Reilly, it’s hard not to hope and wish for the best; Ben Whishaw plays an overly aggressive man with a limp who will do anything to find true love and I do mean anything; Olivia Colman plays the seemingly fake hotel manager who orders so many people to fall in love, that you wonder if she actually is herself; Léa Seydoux plays a leader of the rebellious group who stays in the woods called “the Loners” and is as steely and as mysterious as they come; and yes, there’s Rachel Weisz, stealing the show as Short Sighted Woman (and no, I’m not making that up).

Weisz is great in just about anything, but here, she really delivers. For one, she’s playing a character that we’re never too sure about, but makes it appear as if she does have some semblance of humanity, that once her and David do start to connect and come together, in awfully hilarious ways, it is, believe it or not, quite romantic. The two do have chemistry and even though they’re placed in some obviously awkward situations, they both make it work and have us believe that true love in this world does exist, even if it all seems to make everyone go mad and do terribly evil things to one another.

But hey, maybe that’s how Lanthimos pictures love as: It makes people go insane and act out in ways that they’d never have done so before.

Still though, despite all of my clear love and adoration for this flick, there’s a part of me that wants to be angry at Lanthimos for not allowing for the Lobster to go any further than it could have.

In the last-act, the movie becomes very plot-heavy and starts to feel as if it’s really building up to something big, but then, well, sort of ends. Lanthimos does this quite a couple of times throughout, where it feels like he’s going somewhere with a certain idea, or plot-thread, but then, all of a sudden, backs away from it; I don’t know if he’s doing that on purpose to toy with us, or if he just gets bored easily, but its noticeable and can get a tad annoying. However, the way the movie end, while interesting, definitely leaves a lot up in the air and really, I don’t know if it needed to be. The movie was never really about a mystery – it was more about whether or not true love could exist in this world where it seems all so calculated and made-up from the very beginning.

Whether or not Lanthimos knew or thought that, is totally up in the air.

Consensus: For what it’s worth, the Lobster is unlike anything you’ll see all year, with a heartbreaking and hilarious script that doesn’t always deliver like it should, but in the off-chance that it does, it’s extremely effective.

8.5 / 10

It's like True Dective season 2, except holy cow, so much better.

It’s like True Detective season 2, except holy cow, so much better.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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