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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 8-8.5/10

Dunkirk (2017)

Us Americans have it so easy.

In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, the troops were all evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found, but because these vessels were constantly exploding from enemy fire, or also because there was such a short supply, most of the soldiers ended up standing around, waiting for anything to take them home. After all, they could practically see their home land, how hard could it be to just get over there? Well, as we see, the battle raged on, with those out there on the sea, on the ground, or in the air, all helping out to ensure that, by the end of this mission, all of the French, British, Belgian and Dutch surviving soldiers would be safely evacuated. Then again, this is the war we’re talking about here and as people know, it can be awfully predictable.

Clearly looking for a Christian Bale-type from the Newsies era.

Christopher Nolan does something very interesting and tricky here with Dunkirk that makes it more than just your typical, run-of-the-mill, big, and bloated dramatization; rather than showing this mission from one point-of-view and leaving it at that, he decides to take on three-to-four different ones, all taking place sort of different times, in different locations, and for different reasons. It’s hard to fully explain without having already seen Dunkirk, but it’s a sign that Nolan, someone who is well-known for his awe-inspiring talent, has some more tricks up his sleeve than just giving us take-by-take tale of a real life event in WWII.

At the end of the day, it still is that, but it’s better than you’d imagine. Trust me.

And it’s mostly better because Nolan, no matter how far and wide he stretches with this material, always has us feeling as if we are right there, on the battlefield, with these fellow soldiers, trying to just survive. Nolan rarely ever leaves the battlefield once we get going and because of that, the next hour-and-a-half, or so, feel like an absolute rush of blood to the head; there’s a finger on the trigger and you can feel it the whole way through, and it never lets up. In a way, it’s almost too tiring, but it’s incredibly exciting, tense, and even unpredictable, which is a hard feat to accomplish in a WWII movie that’s already about a very famous moment in said real war.

But Nolan doesn’t forget to remind us that, even when we are shrieking, jumping up and down, and clamoring for our own lives, even when we’re tucked away, safe as can be in our over-packed movie theaters, that above all else, war is hell. Nolan isn’t exactly making a statement with Dunkirk, as much as he’s just trying to honor the brave souls who tried to stay alive, as well as those who couldn’t, but it is hard to walk away from this not thinking that war, believe it or not, is an absolute hell whole, where the strongest and bravest of men may even finds themselves petrified. It’s hard not to get swept up in everything that Nolan’s doing here and it’s nice to see all of his effort finally pay-off.

Sure beats Interstellar.

OH EM GEE! HARRY!

Then again, there is that feeling that when Dunkirk is over, it’s over and you can sort of go on with your day. This maybe has less to do with the movie, as much as it has to do with me, myself and I, but when Dunkirk‘s over, it’s done and that’s it. The movie hits maybe an-hour-and-47-minutes (Nolan’s shortest in, I don’t know, forever), but it goes by so quickly that you don’t even bother to check the time, or notice; you’re just so taken aback by everything that’s happening on the huge screen, that it almost feels like a disservice to divert your attention elsewhere.

And this isn’t to say that everything Nolan does here, doesn’t deliver, because it most definitely does. By the same token, however, it’s also not hard to sit down, think, and wonder whether or not this is just another big and bloated dramatization. It’s not typical and it’s not run-of-the-mill, but it is, above all else, a dramatization and because of that, it feels a tad too normal and conventional. It’s scary and not safe, but still, normal.

And for a Christopher Nolan movie, honestly, that’s a bit of a letdown.

Then again, may just be me.

Consensus: Big, loud, aggressive, scary, and ambitious as hell, Dunkirk is a sure sign that Nolan has returned to his full-scale roots, with better results this time around.

8.5 / 10

Good luck, boys. You’re sure as hell going to need it.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Downfall (2004)

Sometimes, the cowards way is all you’ve got. Actually, no. Not really.

It’s the tail-end of the war and well, things aren’t looking so good for the Nazis. Their constantly getting killed, losing ground, and seeing an end in sight, with them on the losing end. And since he can feel the noose beginning to tighten around his neck, Adolf Hitler (Bruno Ganz), at the peak of his power, decides that it’s time to get his whole empire together in his underground bunker, where they’ll not only be able to wait out the end of the war, but possibly even have a good time, too. It’s odd, too, because while they’re drinking, playing games, having dinner, and listening to music, the Allied Powers are inching closer and closer towards their bunker; some of those in the bunker know this, but decide not to tell the others. Eventually though, it becomes all too real to hide behind the lie and people begin to panic and wonder, “What’s next?” After all, if these Nazis are quite and tried, what could happen to them? That’s when everyone involved hatches the idea to end their lives, right then and there, before it all gets too scary for them.

A courtesy that, I bet, their victims would have loved to have, too.

Who’s that?

But hey, okay, I’ll stop it there. That’s my last bit of generalizing because a movie like Downfall could easily be held up to scrutiny for telling a tale about the last hours and days in the lives of some evil, inhumane and incredibly flawed human beings, and as a result, could be flawed for that very same reason. It’s the kind of movie you never thought would ever be made, but for some reason, here it is and it’s around for a little over two-and-a-half-hours, reminding you that Nazis, Hitler and many others like him did exist and guess what? They took the easy way out. Case closed. End of story.

But director Oliver Hirschbiegel and writer Bernd Eichinger pull-off something smart here in that they make this tale, while controversial to say the least, every bit as compelling as you wouldn’t expect it to be. For some reason, it’s a movie that doesn’t take a stance on Hitler, the Nazis, or any of the actions that they committed during the war, but more or less, show them in pure desperation, without any roads to turn down, and nowhere else to go. In this sense, then Downfall should please any person who still feels the absolute need and want to watch Hitler and the Nazis cower with fear and depression, expecting their lives to be coming close to an end and having nowhere else to go, but it actually doesn’t come off like this.

If anything, it’s a bit depressing.

But in an interesting way.

The movie never goes so far as to make us ever feel sympathy for these heinous human beings, but the movie doesn’t also forget to remind us that, at the end of the day, they too were people and as such, deserve to be seen and judged for that. They may not have all been perfect and in fact, they were all pretty awful and clearly knew what horrible stuff they were up to, but yes, they were humans – if anything, that may make them even scarier, showing just how deep down and dark someone can and will go for the sole sake of power and respect.

Once again, not generalizing, but just stating cold hard facts.

It’s okay, honey. You’ll be out of here soon. Just shut up.

Anyway, Downfall is an interesting movie and although it is long, it’s hard to get totally bored by what you’re watching. There’s something inherently compelling about sitting around and waiting for a bunch of evil people to meet their maker and come to the acceptance that everything’s all over for them; it’s not as if we want to see this all the time, but for some reason, with these people, it’s a lot more compelling to watch. Even though we do expect everyone to die, the movie still has us sitting around, waiting, and watching, for whatever is to come next. It’s just solid writing and directing, and considering how rough the subject-material may have been to bring to the big screen, it’s even more surprising how much it all works.

And of course, the performances from top to bottom are great because, like the writing and direction, they’re all portraying these human beings as, well, human beings. Bruno Ganz probably deserves the highest praise as Adolf Hitler, because not only do we see the pure rage and anger lying within this very unlikable person, but we also get to see the small, intimate moments with him as well. Like, for instance, the scenes he has with Juliane Köhler’s Eva Braun, in which we see a man genuinely happy and in love, but also realizing that his despicable and because of that, it’s very hard to feel anything for him but just utter and pure contempt. But still, Ganz does a great job of never really falling into a sheer and absolute parody, while also realizing that there were small, certain tics about this man that ought to be studied and looked at.

If only just so that we never have another one of him, ever, ever again.

Fine. There. I’m done now.

Consensus: While no doubt a long trip to take with some awfully despicable and evil people, Downfall also provides plenty of interesting food-for-thought about these people, and also by giving us a glimpse into some place we never expected to find ourselves at.

8.5 / 10

“Boys, we’re screwed.”

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Micah, The Blog of Big Ideas

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

The War of the Rise of the Dawn of the Why Are These Titles So Long?

After their last battle with the humans, due to the actions of evil Koba, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are still fighting for their lives and are still forced into a deadly conflict with the humans, who see their extinction coming and coming very soon. That’s why the ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson) wants Caesar and all of the apes gone, prompting the apes to suffer unimaginable losses. And as a result, Caesar sets out to find this colonel and take him down, once and for all. But on the trip, Caesar and his fellow band of trustees find something odd is happening – people are losing their ability to speak. How, or better yet, why? Caesar doesn’t know, or understand, but the further he adventures into this cold, dark and cruel world, the more answers he gets and the more he discovers about the possible end of the world, where the apes may take over, the humans may become extinct, and nothing will ever be the same again. It’s only a matter of time, though, and it’s a coin-toss of who is going to win this battle and continue to habitat the planet.

Comedic-relief? In the ape-apocalypse!??!

This new, rough, tough and re-vamped Apes franchise has been a pretty solid one, to say the least. I say “has” because apparently, it’s going to be the last. Well, at least, for now, and it’s odd because the movie seems like it still could continue on, getting better and better, and make more money for all of those involved. It’s one of the rare franchises that, if over, I’d be a little sad to see gone because, hey, these movies were actually pretty good and considering that the word “franchise” nowadays brings about gag-reflexes, it’s nice to have something that makes up for all of the marketing and tie-ins.

That said, War for the Planet of the Apes is still a fine movie that, whether or not it being the end, still works because it presents a pretty dark and disturbing future that the past two movies have tried to build-on. The only issue that I’ve had with these movies, and especially this one, is that they’re just so dour and mean at times, it almost feels like they’re trying way too hard. Director Matt Reeves knows exactly what he’s doing with this material for the second time around and it’s clear that he’s taking this premise, this world, and this idea incredibly seriously, without barely any jokes or goofiness thrown in there for good measure, but often times, it feels like he’s maybe trying to out-serious himself.

It’s basically the only summer blockbuster you’ll ever see that may depress you and mean to do so in the process.

And that isn’t to say that movies such as these can’t be ultra, super duper serious, because that’s fine; in this world, where the apes have taken over, the humans are struggling, and yet, for some reason, we’re still supposed to root for the more powerful species, things are allowed to be told to us without a punchline. But Reeves can also get a little sucked into this sadness and depression and because of that, the movie can often feel slow, plodding and above all else, a little boring. It’s too in-love with its own dourness that it’s almost too afraid to get its act together and start moving somewhere, hell, anywhere.

But as usual, once it does get going, War is quite the ride, mostly because, like I’ve stated before, Reeves knows what he’s doing with this tale. It’s actually quite interesting how the story plays-out – not by hitting the same sort of beats and conventions that we’re used to seeing with these kinds of stories, but keeping us, the audience, in the dark, for as much and as long as possible. Reeves always seems to have a little trick up his sleeve and because of that, the movie almost feels dangerous, as if anything bad, disastrous, or awful, could happen at literally any second.

“The horror.”

I know, it sounds all so simple and easy, but trust me, this is the kind of stuff that so many movies get wrong and/or can’t do, like at all.

But that’s why War, even despite it being the saddest thing since Trump’s Twitter, still works – it does get moving and can be fun, exciting, and hell, even a little scary. It’s the right kind of blockbuster and honestly, I’d say more about it, but basically, it does everything that the last movie just did, except also wants to provide some closure. And sure, that’s fine; possibly saying goodbye Andy Serkis’ Caesar is a bummer, because Serkis is always so good in the roles, as well as the fellow new apes along for the ride, like Steve Zahn’s possible comic-relief. But a possible ending also does provide a better hope and future for the state of franchise flicks, in that they don’t always have to be about the Easter-eggs, the tie-ins, the merchandise, the references, or even about the greater universe.

Honestly, all it needs to be about is telling a good story, with good characters, and a compelling arch that we want to see continue on, for many, many more movies. That’s what this franchise was able to do – even though, back in the day, it seemed like it was a dead brand – and it’s the hope that for the future franchises to come, they’ll take a lesson or two.

Let’s just hope they brighten up the damn rooms, though.

Consensus: Undeniably thrilling, emotional and exciting, War provides all of the action and adventure, as well as the darkness you’d expect from this ramped-up franchise by now.

8 / 10

And they’re not monkeying around! That works in this context, right?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Okja (2017)

But bacon is so good! Ugh!

With the threat of world hunger looming out there far in the distance, the family-owned, multinational conglomerate Mirando Corporation decides that the best cause of action is to create a series of super pigs who, over the next ten or so years, will continue to grow, get bigger, fatter and more juicier, so that when the time is right to munch down on them, they’ll be as tasty, as succulent, and as beneficial as ever. But in order for these pigs to grow as big as they need to, they need to be fed and kept-up well, which brings us to young Mija (Ahn Seo-hyun), who has been caretaker and constant companion to Okja at her home in the mountains of South Korea. But what Mija doesn’t know is that Okja, as big and as smart as he is, is one of the best super pigs around, meaning that it’s going to be the prime candidate for the killing and eating of. It’s something that Mija can’t understand or fathom, so that when the time comes to Okja getting taken away from her, she follows wherever the pig goes. But obviously, Mija isn’t the only one who has Okja’s best interest at-heart and sooner than later, everyone’s fighting over Okja and trying to figure out what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s actually for dinner.

Vanna White?

Movies like Okja make me happy that Netflix is around and doing what it’s doing. Sure, say what you want about how it’s killing movie-theaters and changing up the whole business-aspect of the film-industry, but still, you have to look at it like this: Okja is such an odd, crazy, and wild movie, that only a streaming-service could help get it made and released to a huge audience. Obviously, what happened to Bong Joon-ho’s Snowpiercer a few years ago had something to do with it, but still, it deserves to be said that Okja is as crazy, as original, and as fun of a movie as you’ll get the chance to see on the big screen, anywhere, this summer.

Of course you see this on the big screen which, yes, if you can, you probably should. It’s one of those rare movies that will probably on be seen on small-screens like laptops, iPads and, gasp, iPhones, but more than definitely deserves to be seen on the biggest, loudest, and most epic screen possible. If it isn’t, though, don’t worry – Okja is still a fun movie, no matter how, or where you see it. In a way, it’s the kind of movie that makes me happy not just for Netflix, but for visionaries like Bong Joon-ho and the fact that, despite their movies probably not making Transformers money, still get enough of a chance to make whatever they want and show it to the rest of the world.

Sure, that’s what every film-maker does, but for Bong Joon-ho, I don’t know, it’s something more special.

See, for Joon-ho, it’s all about the constant juggling act of tones and genres, and most of the time, he succeeds at pulling off a solid, satisfying transition. Okja is an odd mix between a comedy, a drama, a satire, an action flick, a monster movie, and yeah, a political-piece, but it does come together so well that it barely ever seems like it’s switing itself up – the bits and pieces of comedy/satire don’t always work and more than often seem way too over-the-top (more on that later) – but yeah, for the most part, Joon-ho knows what he’s doing and what he’s playing around with, and it’s just so much fun to watch. It’s almost as if you can forget about the obvious humanitarian message at the center of it all that’s basically saying, yeah, meat is murder.

End of story. Thanks, Morrissey.

And yeah, it’s preachy, sure, but it’s also handled in such a smart way that it doesn’t really attack those who decide to eat meat, either. Mostly, those who profit off of the meat-market and continue to do so, for all lack of general well-being and decency, are shown in the negative spotlight and made to apologize for themselves, even if they actually don’t. Sure, Joon-ho may not even be making a point and instead, just wanted to make a silly, fun, and rather sweet movie about a girl and her giant pig, but yeah, sometimes the themes are too obvious.

But in this case, they’re fine. They don’t take away from the fun, the excitment, and the enjoyment of the movie. If anything, it strengthens it by making it seem like more than just your typical monster movie; it has a heart, it has a soul, and yes, it has a little something to say. It’s the kind of monster movie that Joon-ho’s the Host seemed to want to be, but backed away from, slowly but surely.

Steve Irwin?

This time around, though, Joon-ho nails it and it’s just so much fun to watch.

Well, everything except for the satire. See, Okja clearly takes on a cast of colorful and nutty characters that, on paper, sound like a lot of fun, but when put together, in a movie which, despite having a lighter-tone than expected, is still serious enough to not be taken as a joke. And that’s a bit of a problem when you have the likes of Tilda Swinton and Jake Gyllenhaal showing up and acting as if they’re deleted-scenes from the latest season of Twin Peaks; Gyllenhaal is especially grating in a terribly annoying performance that doesn’t know if it wants to be sad, mean, funny, or just out-of-this-world. Either way, it’s hard to watch and just downright disappointing coming from an actor who seemed like he could do it all.

Then again, though, everyone else here who is downplaying, still does a fine enough job in keeping everything together. Steven Yeun, Paul Dano, Lily Collins, Devon Bostick, and Daniel Henshall all play animal rights activists here who may or may not be just as sinister and as harsh as the corporations they’re out against, but all play it small enough to where it’s interesting and they don’t take over every scene. Same goes for the young, brash and exciting Ahn Seo-hyun, who has a great presence for someone so young, and in something so big and ambitious. It would have been very easy for her to get lost in all of the crazy supporting characters and CGI, but nope, Seo-hyun holds it altogether and ends up being this movie’s glue it so desperately needed.

But once again, thank you Netflix. More of these, please.

Consensus: While the constantly switching in-and-out of tones doesn’t always work, Okja is still a smart, exciting and entertaining piece of popcorn fun that has more on its mind than meets the eye.

8 / 10

Just the sweet love between a girl and her huge pig? Aw.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (2017)

If you can’t trust the Hulkster anymore, who can ya trust?

It all started with Gawker and Hulk Hogan. After a sex-tape leaked of the later performing in salacious acts with his so-called buddy’s wife, from the former’s website, well, a lawsuit was made and everyone was taken to court. But here was the odd thing about the case: While it may have seemed like a win for Gawker, somehow, the case turned out to be way more different. Freedom of speech, the first amendment, the right to privacy – all of this was argued, but for some reason, someone who was clearly in the wrong (in this case, the Hulkster), seemed to be winning. But this one singular case turns out to be just a small piece of a much larger pie where news agencies are being bought-out by rich and successful Republican/Conservatives who want nothing more than to control the media and ensure that they have the final say of what’s written, what’s published, and what ideas are being let out to the rest of the world. It’s the world we live in and quite frankly, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better – for common citizens, or hell, journalists.

Wait, who is he swearing in? Hulk Hogan, or Terry Bolea? There’s a clear distinction, people!

Nobody Speak is obviously a very important movie for the times, but then again, this is coming from a journalist, who loves it when movies about journalism, or about certain issues in the field, are made, let alone, actually very good. Sure, Nobody Speak will work for anyone who is, at the very least, interested in what’s going on in our current world of media, whether they want to believe it or not, but for a journalist, this can’t help but seem like a cry for help, as well as a call-to-arms. Cause on one hand, it’s a movie that proves why smart, evenhanded journalism is absolutely needed for the world, but on the other, it’s also a movie that shows why a lot of that may be going away in hopes that certain rich people, can stay rich and protect themselves from any sort of scrutiny.

And sure, if you want to talk about Trump, then go for it, but honestly, Nobody Speak is much smarter than that.

It’s the kind of documentary that has so many targets it can aim at and hit with its clear precision, but it also strays away from because, well, there’s so much more to talk about than people like Trump, or Pence, or hell, even Hulk freakin’ Hogan. Which, speaking of the later, is interesting because while the movie starts out by focusing on this one case, the controversy surrounding it, the facts, the eventual conclusion, and what exactly happened in the courtroom, it also turns the other cheek to show how this was just a microcosm of a much bigger issue. It’s not as if Hulk Hogan speaks for the rest of the Conservative-world when he speaks about having his feelings hurt and his public-image tarnished, but it certainly helps that he’s set there in place, to help us understand that he’s not just the part of the problem, he may be the problem.

Uhm, yeah. Gawker was a pretty crappy site. But hey, that’s not the point!

Which is why Nobody Speak, is a smart documentary. It has so many issues and problems it wants to talk about, raise, and give examples for, that when it’s all over, it’s quite shocking how far it’s able and willing to go. Director Brian Knappenberger deserves a huge amount of credit for actually tackling this subject just as if it were another story on his desk, with all of the facts, ideas, and themes fully realized, giving us a clearer picture, the more we start to see the pieces fall together. It’s smart directing, for sure, but it’s also more astounding that he was able to still get everything together in a smart, cohesive manner to where we understand everything that is being laid-out to us, as well as why the hell it actually matters.

And whether or not you’re in the journalism world, guess what? Nobody Speak matters. Watch it. Learn it. And yes, don’t shut up. For anyone. No matter how many wads they have in their pockets.

Consensus: As timely as it is compelling, Nobody Speak starts small and silly with Hulk Hogan, before it turns the other cheek and becomes about what’s happening in our current landscape of the media today, and why we should all pay extra close attention.

8.5 / 10

I’d look like that too if my career, as I knew it, was over and done with.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Baby Driver (2017)

Look like a baby, drive like a baby.

Ever since a near-fatal car-accident left him with a severe case of tinnitus, Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been living his whole life with and by music. Strapped with ear-buds always in, and music always playing, he lives life to a soundtrack, knowing just the right sound, for the perfect mood, no matter what he’s doing. And in his line of work – as the go-to getaway driver – this matters most. After all, without Baby’s insanely impressive and crazy driving-skills, the bank jobs he’s apart of wouldn’t ever get done the correct way. But Baby wants more to life than just driving bank-robbers left and right, and after he meets a local waitress named Deborah (Lily James), he can’t help but see a bright and lovely future. The only issue is that he’s still on the hook to his employer Doc (Kevin Spacey), who’s not only the one feeding Baby all of these jobs, but actually making sure he, as well as those that he loves, are still alive. It’s something Baby doesn’t like to have hold over his head, so he does every job, without any questions asked, but with the arrival of rough and tough criminal Bats (Jamie Foxx), let’s just say things get a little tricky.

“Freebird” is always a must, right?

Baby Driver isn’t Edgar Wright’s best. Not by a long shot, in fact. However, it’s still everything you love and expect from a movie of his: Fast, witty, exciting, hilarious, silly, weird, full of obscure pop-culture references you don’t ever expect to hear, action-packed, and yes, charming-as-hell. In a way, it’s just nice to see an Edgar Wright movie, regardless of how great, lovely, or near-perfect it is; after what he went through with the whole Ant-Man debacle, it’s just nice to say we have a new Edgar Wright movie, rather than none at all.

Regardless, Baby Driver is still a good movie, all junk aside. It’s typical of Wright to take on the whole heist/crime-genre and never seem to lose an ounce of momentum throughout the whole two-hour run-time. Sure, it’s a movie about an insanely skilled getaway driver, so you’d automatically assume that it was just fast for the driving-sequences (which it is) and slow down for everything else, right?

Well, wrong.

In fact, Wright is just as energetic with the scenes of people sitting around tables, talking and going on and on about random stuff, than he is with any of the car-chases. Don’t get me wrong, the car-chases are still performed, filmed, and paced incredibly well, but Wright never lets up for a single second here, but it doesn’t matter, because it works and just adds an extra level of enjoyment to an already enjoyable movie. Rather than being way too much, for way too long, without a single breather to be found, Baby Driver turns out to be the well-deserved burst of energy that never lets up, keeps on trucking along, but keeps on finding ways to make it more exciting than before.

Just look at that baby-face. How could you want to smash it!

Which is to say that, nope, Baby Driver is not repetitive. It’s just a fun movie, plain and simple. It’s hard to totally pin-point down what about makes it such a blast to watch, other than to say, yeah, it’s fun. Obviously, you should see it.

And honestly, that’s why I have such an issue talking about Edgar Wright movies. I enjoy all of them immensely and while it’s a close battle between Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim as my favorite, it’s really hard for me to find total flaws with any of the others. In a way, some are just more enjoyable than others, and it’s more or a feeling that’s hard to actually put into words; call it lazy, call it what you will, but it’s been a problem for me ever since I started writing these things and have wanted to give Wright an extra shout-out, here and there.

It’s just that his movies are all solid pieces of entertainment, to say how and why, doesn’t really matter.

And yes, that’s sort of beauty about Baby Driver, as a whole. It’s just an honestly great piece of summer blockbuster fun that, unfortunately, probably won’t make a lot of money, because it’s too weird and too off-kilter for its own good. But it’s also a perfect sign of why visionaries and creative-genius’ like Wright deserve to make movies, no matter what they’re about, how much money’s behind them, and who actually wants to see them. Cause, at the end of the day, everyone’s going to enjoy them, it’s just all a matter of where and when.

So yeah, see Baby Driver.

Consensus: Even if it’s not Wright’s best, Baby Driver is still the same old kind of energetic, stylish, crazy, wacky, wild, and genre-smashing bit of fun we’ve come to know, learn, expect, and love from him and his incredible talents.

8 / 10

Someone’s got red on them.

Photos Courtesy of: Film School Rejects, Indiewire

Song to Song (2017)

Music rocks. Until it doesn’t.

Set in/around the Austin, Texas music scene follows the story of four different people who are all in some way, shape, or form connected to one another. There’s BV (Ryan Gosling) a struggling lyricist who has chances of becoming the next best thing since Bowie, but for some reason, doesn’t know if he wants to fully commit to this dream just yet. His buddy/co-writer/co-producer Cook (Michael Fassbender) is on a much different playing-field; he’s already established, rich, wild and happy as can be, but also a bit of a nut-case, which leads him to making some pretty rash, awful decisions. Then, there’s his former assistant, Faye (Rooney Mara), who now spends her time taking up odd-jobs, whenever she isn’t flirting with the idea of music. And then, there’s waitress Rhonda (Natalie Portman) who meets Cook and ends up not just falling for him, but the world he represents. The same thing happens when BV and Faye meet one another, too, however, their relationship becomes more and more toxic as certain secrets begin to come up into the air.

Look out, Rooney. This is how Baby Goose gets all the ladies.

Song to Song is a lot like every other Terrence Malick film released since the Tree of Life: Rambling, ambitious, meandering, random, and oh yeah, absolutely beautiful. And normally, as was the case in both Knight of Cups and To the Wonder, I would be annoyed, baffled and oh yeah, utterly disappointed; after all, this is the one director who every person in Hollywood wants to work with, drops everything to be around, and do so, without ever even being promised that they’ll be in the final-cut. It’s surprising, actually, because Malick, while no doubt having made some classics in his film-maker career, has more “mehs”, than actually “wows”.

Consider Song to Song in the category of the later, although, with some obvious mild reservations.

Of course, it deserves to be said that, at times, Song to Song can’t help but be incoherent; the editing is so dazzling and jumpy that it doesn’t take long to realize that every scene will probably be on the screen for upwards of five seconds, only to then be switched back to another. The editing is impressive and considering how much footage was probably there to be waded through, time and time again, cut-and-cut, it’s all the more surprising how much of it actually seems to make sense, when put together, but man oh man, the shots can tend to be repetitive.

I mean, yes, I get it: It’s a Malick film. So of course we have to have a bunch of scenes of people frolicking in nature, looking towards the sky, running around exotic locations, and trying not to kiss, but yeah, it happens way too many times here. A part of me wants to learn and accept that as Malick’s thing, and move on, but a part of me can’t help but think it’s just pure laziness, where rather than having to actually write a script, where people speak to one another and profess certain things, they can just run around, glance at each other, and appreciate nature. Once or twice is fine, okay, whatever, but it happens way too often here to where I was beginning to wonder if certain shots were re-used, just so that Malick could hit his frolicking-cue.

And on that note, let me just switch gears by saying, despite these reservations, this movie is quite the watch.

And I mean that in the best way possible.

Sure, it’s Terrence Malick, so the narrative isn’t always the strongest, but in a way, there’s more cohesion here, than there’s been in anything of his since the Tree of Life. Seemingly, they’re two love stories, all taking place around the Texas music scene, and while the movie does ramble on to other places, it’s easy to understand that it is about these four characters and leaving it at that. It’s easy to get confused and well, bored, in Malick’s other flicks, but here, it seems like he knows the kind of story he wants to tell and doesn’t try to go for anything else.

That said, there’s an energy to this thing that just keeps on kicking throughout the whole two hours. It’s honestly what kept me watching, even when it seemed the movie was going to lose its way. But surprisingly, it never does seem to; even in those parts where the movie slows down and focuses on, hey, get this, the actual characters and their lives, there’s still a rambunctious feeling in the air that Malick, believe it or not, just wants to kick out the jams.

Every waitress’ dream: One day, an alcoholic, drug-fueled, crazy and rather insane music-mogul will come in and sweep you off your feet.

And well, he sort of does.

If there’s one complaint that I’ve been seeing around is how Song to Song isn’t really as much about the music, as much as it’s about these characters that make and live around the music, which is an okay complaint, I guess. Except that well, that’s what the movie’s about. Malick doesn’t seem to set out and create some sort of conventional, crowd-pleasing musical in the same vein of La La Land or Chicago, but much more of a narrative-based movie that surrounds itself with loud guitars, amps, drums, and singers, like Nashville, for lack of a better complaint. Sure, we get brief glimpses of Florence and the Machine, Patti Smith, and the Black Lips, but the movie isn’t trying to make this the ultimate Woodstock experience for those who wanted to experience, but more or less, use it as an interesting backdrop for all of these wildly contained lives.

In a way, it’s incredibly smart on Malick’s part, because he not only makes us feel like we’re watching a documentary the whole way through, but a very interesting one at that. Which is to say that yes, Song to Song is beautiful, but you probably already knew that; Emmanuel Lubezki touches something and it automatically turns to art. But there’s something more beyond the prettiness and glossiness of the whole thing that makes it feel much more about the heart, other than the style.

Which is also why Malick does a smart thing in actually allowing his cast to aid him in telling the story, for once.

And with Gosling, Portman, Mara, and especially, Fassbender, Malick’s found some real treats. Granted, a good portion of their performances ultimately come down to narration, but when they are captured on-screen, in the moment, all of them are captivating and enthralling. Fassbender’s probably the stand-out here, showing a loose and wild man in Cook who, despite having all of the money and power in the world, still shows a great deal of darkness, lying underneath. While most of the performance seems improvised, it’s still a true testament to the kind of talent that Fassbender is, where he can play this sometimes over-the-top character and still, somewhat, make him seem real and honest.

Then again, it is a Terrence Malick film, so how real or honest you can get, totally depends on him.

Consensus: Though it does have the ability to ramble at certain points, the exciting energy, utter beauty, and interesting performances of Song to Song are what keep it, at best, compelling and a lively experience. Sort of like, hey, get this, going to a concert. Except with, of course, less music.

8 / 10

Alright, Rooney. Stop being Sia. Be you, girl.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Chuck & Buck (2000)

Names that sound-alike? Sign of true love.

When they were kids, Chuck (Chris Weitz) and Buck (Mike White) were actually pretty good friends. But now, all of these years later, they barely even know one another, or better yet, even talk. It’s like they’re two strangers, living in a world, where they both have memories of hanging out in their adolescence, but don’t really talk about it. Or, at least Chuck doesn’t, because after Buck reaches out to him, the two strike back up something of a friendship that calls back to their childhood. But for some reason, Chuck feels awkward and nervous about it; he knows that Buck is a weird fella, and though he accepts him for it, there’s still something keeping him away from fully delving into their history together. After all, he’s engaged now, so what’s wrong with catching up on his former-life, before his new one begins? Well, he’s about to get a huge dose of memories when it turns out that Buck is holding his own autobiographical play locally in town and, well, it has a lot to do with their past friendship.

Something Chuck doesn’t really want to embrace.

Go for it, Buck. He’s not so bad.

Chuck & Buck is an odd movie for quite some time. In fact, it’s so odd, awkward, and just weird, that it’s almost irritating; it feels like writer Mike White just wanted to be cooky for no good reason and director Miguel Arterta didn’t know how to tone all of that down. The two work well together, obviously, but for the first half or so of Chuck & Buck, it feels as if they’re trying a little too hard to weird, to be funny, and basically, to try and be like so many other indie flicks out there.

But then, just about halfway through, it all of a sudden changes. See, Chuck & Buck does have something resembling a heart, but it doesn’t sow itself straight away. In some ways, White’s a smarter writer than he lets on, showing an interesting amount of tact in making us believe that Chuck & Buck is going to be just another silly, off-the-wall indie-comedy about two friends catching up, with one being a weirdo, and the other, well, not being one. But eventually, the tide turns and we start to realize that there isn’t just more to these two characters, their lives, and where they are headed, but their actual relationship.

See, without saying too much, there’s some dirty, dark and odd secrets that Chuck & Buck keeps to itself and it’s worth waiting around for. Once again, White’s writing may take a little while to get used to – he doesn’t really write jokes, as much as he just sets things up to work later on, somewhere along the film – but once he gets into his groove, there’s no one better. He makes the material funny, while still retaining that odd sensibility, but also showing us more into these character’s lives and making us see just who they are, therefore, heightening the comedy, as well as the drama, that eventually takes center stage by the last-act.

Cheer up, Mike. HBO will eventually give you your own show (until they unfortunately cancel it like the evil souls that they are!)

Basically, it’s just smart writing. A bit annoying, but sometimes, you have to bother people, in order to surprise them.

And yes, it deserves to be said that White, while not just a solid writer, is also a pretty good actor here, too. Granted, it is his script he’s working with, so it’s not like he’s exactly stretching himself very far, but as Buck, he shows a hurt, rather tragic soul. Sure, the goofy act, at first, can be a bit bothersome, but it starts to show its shades and angles that not only make us understand why he is the way he is, but also grow a bit closer to him, as a result. There’s something sad just about the way White looks, but he writes Buck in such a way, that it makes us sympathize with him, even if, yeah, he is a bit of an odd duckling.

Chris Weitz, who is also a pretty solid writer/director in his own right, is also quite good here, making Chuck feel more like a human being, rather than just a boring, lame and straight-edged square. Like with Buck, his character feels one-dimensional and boring, at first, but over time, we see that there’s more to him and how Weitz acts in these small, subtle moments with White, truly are surprising and well-done. Beth Colt plays his fiancee and while it seems like she hasn’t done anything since, it deserves to be said that she’s very good here in a role that, yet again, seems too simple and boring from the beginning, but eventually shows itself over time. And the late, wonderful Lupe Ontiveros plays Beverly, the theater owner who has one of the oddest, but surprisingly most touching friendships with Buck that, like before, seems boring, but grows over time.

Notice a bit of a trend here?

Consensus: While initially seeming like every other annoying indie-dramedy ever made, Chuck & Buck begins to show its true colors and turn out to be a smart, funny, and surprisingly moving flick about love, friendship, and how we move on with our lives.

8.5 / 10

Did anyone cut a hole at the bottom of the popcorn?

Photos Courtesy of: CinemaQueer

Wonder Woman (2017)

Alright DC. I see what you did there.

Before she was ever known as the rough, tough, fearless, and absolutely beautiful Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot), she was also Diana, princess of the Amazons, trained to be an unconquerable warrior. However, Diana always longed for something more than just kicking ass and taking names, as being and raised on a sheltered island paradise, she never really got to see the outside world. But that all changes when she meets an American pilot Steve (Chris Pine) who tells her about the massive conflict that’s raging in the outside world, between the Germans and the U.S., meaning, WWI. Diana believes that the threat may actually be Ares, the ruthless and evil God that her family has spoken about for so very long, so she joins Steve along for the ride, to see if she can stop the pain and death from happening. Cause after all, Diana just wants peace, regardless of who is against it, and it’s something that Steve, as well as fellow other humans who meet her, soon to start to realize.

Hey, Diana? I think it’s a bit chilly out there in no man’s land.

It’s not a surprise to anyone that DC has got a lot of catching up to do. Marvel practically owns the name and the game when it comes to the superhero movie market and by now, it’s not even worth the battle. They’ve been around the longest and the far more superior brand that it’s probably best just to let them do their thing and wait for it all to die out, as all things once popular do.

But now, Wonder Woman shows up and all of a sudden, Marvel’s got something to work against. Sure, a lot of the praise from Wonder Woman comes from the fact that, so far, the two other DC movies have been lacking and messy as hell, but a good portion of the praise comes from the fact that Wonder Woman is a solid movie, filled with action, fun, excitement, humor, heart, romance, sci-fi, and yes, just enough references to keep everyone pleased with what they’re watching, as well as looking forward to what’s next to come. In ways, Wonder Woman is an origin story which, by now, has become so tiring and uninteresting, but somehow, director Patty Jenkins makes it all work, making Wonder Woman, look and feel like an old-fashioned Hollywood flick that our grandparents would probably enjoy the hell out of.

But by the same token, Wonder Woman is still a solid movie, old-fashioned or not.

It looks like a superhero movie and literally deals with a super, duper Amazonian woman who can deflect bullets with her shields and lasso people to death with a golden, glowing rope, but it’s also just a typical action swashbuckler, filled with action, bullets, death, a bit of blood, and oh yeah, monsters. So maybe that last part is a bit out there, but still, you get the point: Patty Jenkins and everyone aboard came together to make a movie that’s not just a loving ode to Wonder Woman and other superheros just like her, but the power of peace, love and tranquility. It’s a little difficult to talk about that in a movie where, of course, every issues is solved with fists, kicks, and death grips, but still, it matters in a movie like this.

Oh and yeah, it’s a movie about women being the most powerful ones in the room, but the rest of society just not knowing it, understanding it, or even wanting to accept. A lot of the humor here is placed on Wonder Woman being a lot more talented and smarter than most of the men around her, which is used for ironic chuckles, but also takes on a more serious-meaning, especially when we look at the world we live in today. Honestly, I’m not one for drawing paralles between a movie that is so obviously fiction, it’s not even funny, to the real, hard, and honest world, but sometimes, it’s hard to look away from this stuff.

Sometimes, it just needs to be restated that women rule, boys drool, and guess what, we’re all equal. So shut up to those who don’t believe the same!

Okay, I’m done.

Come on, boys. Show a little more skin.

But like I said before, Wonder Woman is light, breezy, and not all that serious of a movie, which definitely has to do with the tone, but also has to do with Gal Gadot’s downright star-making turn as Wonder Woman. Sure, this isn’t her first outing as the kick-ass princess, but for the sake of the argument, let’s say it is, because not only does Gadot get to show the world her true talents that Dawn of Justice wouldn’t allow for us to see, but she also gives us the most compelling superhero in quite some time. While Batman and Superman, in the DC world, are all conflicted with their feelings of honesty and of course, the daddy issues, Wonder Woman is a superhero that battles the reality that the world is an ugly place that even someone like her, can’t make better.

Is it a bit cheesy? Sure, but it works so well because Gadot is believable every second here. It helps that she’s gorgeous-as-hell, but it also helps that she has a nice presence about herself, where she’s not afraid to look sexy and daring, but also a little goofy. She reminds me of all the insanely hot girls from my high school who I didn’t bother with, not because they were out of my league (which they were), but because they didn’t have a lick of personality to them (which was also true, but honestly, it didn’t stop me from asking half of those girls out).

Either way, Gadot is amazing here and her chemistry with the always dependable Chris Pine, is another sight to behold. Honestly, I’d watch a movie where it was just to the two of them having a meet-cute and watching as the clouds aligned, but in the midst of all the action, CGI, and general craziness, they create something beautiful and honest. It doesn’t just give me hope for this franchise, but also for the real world, where it doesn’t matter who, or what, or where you are, you will always find somebody to love.

Okay, maybe a bit deep there, but you get the idea.

Consensus: Smart, exciting, and heartfelt, Wonder Woman is the first real good movie of the DC universe, but also a solid superhero movie in its own right, proving why, honestly, woman truly do rule the world. Get used to it, fellas.

8.5 / 10

Wait, is Gal Gadot auditioning for a role as a Sith Lord? Because I totally buy it!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

My Kid Could Paint That (2007)

Hey, I’ve never seen Da Vinci paint, so who knows if he really did it?

Ever since she was a little girl, Marla Olmstead watched her dad paint. So, at age four, she decided to take up the hobby and wouldn’t you know it? The little gal had some skills! While her paintings may have been random shapes, sizes, colors, and ideas, for some reason, the art world took notice; her age was a huge factor in her popularity, but also because the art world likes expressionistic paintings, like the ones she created, and embraced them no matter who they came from. Eventually, the rest of the world was taking notice to Marla and her extreme talent, which, as expected, led to a lot of praise, but at the same time, questions. After a 60 Minutes piece goes live on-air, Marla’s paintings are question and discussed as to whether or not she actually did paint them, or simply put, just acted and said that she did, so that the paintings could get sold to the highest-bidder? Or possibly, perhaps, she did do the paintings, but maybe not to the fullest-extent that the world was lead to believe? Meanwhile, it’s her parents, Mark and Laura, who seem to be in the spotlight more and more, due to their possible assistance in these profitable creations.

Suckers!

It’s hard to totally talk about My Kid Could Paint That without really getting down to what your own personal thoughts and beliefs on this actual controversy is. The movie itself, for the first-half, is actually pretty boring and feels like nothing more than a lame, amateurish student-project that probably would have been better suited as a ten-minute special for TV, rather than a half-hour puff-piece about this little girl who can create some surprisingly detailed paintings. It’s as if director Amir Bar-Lev couldn’t believe it himself that she could paint all of this stuff, and wanted to be there first and foremost, see what all the fuss was about. Even if you don’t believe she did any of the paintings, the first-half is still a bore, not because you’re waiting for the ax to drop and questions to arise, but because it just seems so one-note and repetitive, that it can’t help but feel like a slog.

Then, it all changes and all of a sudden, the first-half makes sense.

See, for Bar-Lev, it seems like the first-half is mostly used as a way to introduce us to these people, their personalities, and just exactly what he saw, when he first started to film the movie. It’s not as if he’s saying that these people are great, or deserve to be adored, but more or less, seen as possible human beings, right before the world gets an idea of who they are and whether or not they are building up some sort of scam. It’s brave that Bar-Lev continued on with the project when, just about halfway through filming, everything starts to crumble for both the subjects, as well as him, but it’s even braver that he didn’t seemed to get swamped-up into everything.

See, My Kid Could Paint That could have been, and possibly, even should have been, a total and complete hatchet-job on Marla and the family that possibly used her for their own self-worth. Whether or not you believe she did these paintings, doesn’t quite matter once the answers seemed to be brought up, but Bar-Lev, for his part at least, tries to stay as neutral as can be; he never passes all that much judgement on what he thinks to be true, and even when he does, it’s with such kindness and courtesy that you know he even feels bad saying anything.

But once again, the movie isn’t just about the paintings, first and foremost. Sure, the movie is about who made these paintings and what constitutes and actual artist, but it’s also about the art world itself and whether or not a world that lives and breaths on lies and deception, can honestly be sympathized with, when it’s tooled with. Maybe Marla did the paintings? Or maybe she didn’t? Either way, the art world looked upset and pissed-off, and in ways, isn’t there something to be said for that, regardless of who created said paintings in the first place?

Can’t hide from shame, people!

Most definitely.

But then again, it’s also why Bar-Lev is a smart enough film-maker to make My Kid Could Paint That about so much more than the art world, and whether or not Marla created these paintings. There are certain twists and turns that you don’t see coming, but all seem natural in the day-to-day life. For example, Bar-Lev doesn’t just simply tell us what to believe is actually real, or isn’t, who’s lying, or who isn’t, but more or less, keeps the camera on these people as they talk and try to explain themselves. It’s simple film-making, for sure, but it can be quite effective, especially when you have such a hot-button topic as this, with people who couldn’t be more ambiguous as to what the truth is, or isn’t.

Once again, whether or not Marla did these paintings, almost doesn’t matter. It’s the idea of something like this happening that’s probably more compelling and it’s why Bar-Lev deserves praise. He caught something in the knick of time, but rather than jumping on it and going all bananas, seemed to cool himself down and remember that there’s something more beneath what is just seen on the canvas.

Consensus: Despite a slow start, My Kid Could Paint That gets more compelling once its actual story comes into focus, where more and more questions seem to get asked, without clear, definitive answers made all that known to us.

8 / 10

Sorry, kid. Stick to circles.

Photos Courtesy of: True Films

Raw (2017)

Fine young cannibals.

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

That’s how it starts. Bloody noses.

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

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

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

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

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

And sometimes, that’s all that counts.

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

Damn. Should have went to school in France.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Interrupters (2011)

See? Not everybody has to kill each other.

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

How wrong they are.

Hero #1

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

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

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

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

Hero’s #2 and #3

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

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

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

Please.

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

8.5 / 10

Oh and of course, hero #4.

Photos Courtesy of: Cut the Crap Movie Reviews

Stevie (2002)

Always be a big brother.

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

Hey, it’s pretty hot out.

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

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

That makes sense, right?

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

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

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

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

Once again, I’m still not sure.

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

Maybe Stevie, 15 years later is coming soon?

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

8 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Kartemquin FilmsCritics At Large

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

As not seen on TV.

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

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

Poor Laura. Someone give her a hug.

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

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

Really, really ugly.

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

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

Uh, what?

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

Fun times.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Straight Story (1999)

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

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

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

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

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

And yeah, it works.

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

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

Gosh. Cheer up a bit, eh Richie?

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

Pull him over!

Photos Courtesy of: Konangal Film Society

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

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

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

Was it “method”?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Jonathan Rosenbaum

Tramps (2017)

Let’s get lost. Please.

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

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

Will they?

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

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

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

Won’t they?

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Hollywood ReporterThe New York TimesPopCultHQ

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007)

Eye for an eye. Literally.

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

“Books. Remember?”

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

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

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

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

“Papa? We do not look alike at all.”

But does it have the same effect?

Unfortunately, no.

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Married to the Mob (1988)

Sometimes, the ladies have to do the wackin’.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Man. What a director.

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

8 / 10

Can’t blame ya, Dean. It’s Michelle.

Photos Courtesy of: IMDBRoger EbertRoweReviews

The House of Mirth (2000)

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

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

See? There’s those long walks.

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

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

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

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

Just take him, Lily! Don’t be silly!

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

Photos Courtesy of: All About Gillian