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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

A Ghost Story (2017)

Man. Ghosts really do have it rough.

A young, loving couple (Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck) who, despite their issues, seem to get along enough that they’re willing to make it work. Then, an unexpected tragedy happens and all of a sudden, both of their lives are changed forever. But somewhere, in the backburner, lies a ghost, who is constantly hovering and watching over every little thing that happens in this house. Over time, the house changes and we start to see new people come into this house, with all sorts of new lives and adventures. But through it all, the ghost remains. Alone. Sad. And without any clue of what the hell is actually going.

In other words, the life of a ghost is a pretty sad one.

Rooney.

The real beauty of A Ghost Story isn’t that it was shot in secret, made for $100,000, and featuring a very recent Oscar-winner, but that it literally goes everywhere and anywhere, and we literally have no idea what to expect from it. It’s the kind of small, mysterious movie that even going on further and further about it, what happens to the story, where it goes, what it wants to do, or hell, even what it’s trying to say, would almost be certain to spoil the movie.

The only thing that I can truly speak of is to the true talent of writer/director David Lowery who, so far, is really proving to be the top-tier talent in film. Cause with A Ghost Story, on paper, it seems simple and easy – a ghost literally hovers around from one life, to another, essentially. But it’s so much more than that. It’s sad, tragic and upsetting, sure, but there’s also bits and pieces of unexpected humor, heart, light, and yes, believe it or not, fun.

Not to mention that, oh yeah, this movie’s beautiful.

Casey.

Not just through the way it looks, sounds, or even feels – it just is. Considering the small budget, you can tell a lot of the money went into the way the film is presented and it works; the very tightly-round aspect-ratio, at first, is distracting and probably unnecessary, but ends up being another weird addition to an already original movie. The movie takes on a lot of different and crazy ambitious themes about life, death, love, afterlife, and existence as a whole, but no matter what, Lowery doesn’t get too bogged-down by trying his best to discuss this, time and time again, hammering it into our heads. He lets the story breathe, move at its own pace, and be as surprising as humanly possible.

And like I said before, the story does go to some truly unexpected and wild places. To say anything more would be a problem, for both you, as well as myself. Just know that wherever Lowery goes, it works. A Ghost Story is the kind of movie you make when you have the absolute drive and creative inspiration that you just can’t settle down anymore. Lowery, even after making the studio-heavy, audience-friendly Pete’s Dragon, didn’t need a whole lot of money, financial back-ups, or even all that much help to get this out and it shows.

He wanted to make something weird, original, and damn beautiful. And guess what? He succeeded at that.

More of this. Please.

Consensus: Despite being an awfully odd movie, A Ghost Story is still a mannered, smart and interesting take on all aspects of life, with a pitch-perfect direction from Lowery.

8 / 10

And ghost. What more do you need to know?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Stardust (2007)

Better than Goldust’s brother.

Tristan (Charlie Cox), a young man from the town of Wall, a small, quaint and lovely little town on the border of Stormhold, a magical kingdom where all sorts of crazy things happen. To hopefully win the heart and the hand of his girlfriend Victoria (Selma Miller), Tristan enters the magical world to collect a fallen star, in hopes that he’ll obviously win her over, but prove that he is quite the man that he always thought he could be. After little issues here and there, Tristan eventually collects the star who, to his surprise, is a woman named Yvaine (Claire Daines). However, Tristan isn’t the only one who’s looking for Yvaine; numerous witches, Kings, Queens, Princes, and Princesses also want this star and will do anything to get it, by any means. So now, Tristan’s job just got a whole lot harder. Not to mention that he and Yvaine, while initially not being able to get along with one another at all, start to see each other as equals and even, well, connect. In possibly more ways than Tristan has been able to ever do with his possible future-wife.

A pretty hot star.

Matthew Vaughn is probably the perfect director for a Neil Gaiman book, because no matter how strange, or action-packed, or even tense things get, Vaughn remembers not to take everything all that seriously. Meaning that we do get a lot of jokes aimed at the material, but it’s also very funny in the same way that the Princess Bride was – it respects the fantasy-genre up until the point of where it realizes how ridiculous it truly is. That’s a lot of Gaiman’s material and while there’s been plenty of attempts at recreating the same kind of odd-style that he has, Vaughn’s perhaps the closest one to achieving that.

And yes, it also helps that the movie is buckets of fun, reminding us that, when he isn’t trading quips and smart-ass remarks, Vaughn knows how to keep the action moving and exciting. Cause Stardust is a little over two-hours and about a bunch of silly witches and knights battling it out for a star, it can be a bit too much to ask for a non-lover of the fantasy genre. And yes, I am one of them.

However, Stardust is a much different tune.

It’s in on its own joke, it never really relies too much on exposition, or world-building, or certain other tricks and trades of these kinds of stories that can tend to make them a bit annoying. The story itself is already pretty straightforward and thankfully, Vaughn doesn’t try to over-complicate things; he keeps it simple, effective and most importantly, fun. He could have done anything he wanted with this movie and I wouldn’t have cared, because he knows how to keep it fun, even when you least expect it to remain as such.

That’s Michelle Pfeiffer? Uh. Yeah. Time has not done well for her.

And a whole bunch of that fun extends to the cast, too, who are, as expected, game for this kind of silly material. Charlie Cox, in a pre-Daredevil role, shows a great deal of charm as Tristan, a dork-of-a-man who we like right from the get-go and sort of stand-by, no matter where he goes, or what he does. Claire Danes is also quite great as Yvaine, the star with a whole butt-load of personality. Danes knows how to make this wacky material work and come-off not so wacky, and yes, her and Cox have a neat little bit of chemistry that transcends most other movies that are just like this.

In that we actually care and want them to get together in the end.

The rest of the cast is, thankfully, having a ball here. Michelle Pfeiffer shows up as the main evil witch, vamping it up and having an absolute ball; Robert De Niro may seem out-of-place, initially, as a pirate, but really blends in with this goofy-world; Mark Strong is, as usual, charming and a lot of fun as Prince Septimus, Tristan’s ultimate foe; and well, there’s plenty more where that came from. The real joy is just getting a chance to see everyone here show up, have a good time, and not make us feel like we aren’t involved with it, either.

We are and that’s the greatest joy of all.

Consensus: Despite its silliness, Stardust wears its heart and soul on its sleeve, with a fun and exciting pace, matched by an even more charming ensemble.

8 / 10

There were a lot of Italian pirates back in those days, people! Come on!

Photos Courtesy of: Paramount Pictures

Strong Island (2017)

Has much changed?

Despite a relatively rough upbringing, Yance Ford’s family was a pretty simple and lovely one. Her parents got along and were clearly in love, she got along well with her sister, and oh yeah, she was incredibly close with her older brother, William Ford Jr.. And while everything was looking all great and wonderful for them all, it all changes when William is shot and killed in a parking-garage. But why? What lead up to all of this? Could it have been prevented? If not, then what else could have happened? And well, how did the guy who shot and killed William, get away with it? These questions, as well as many more, are all brought up and, possibly, even answered.

But probably not.

The one thing that keeps Strong Island away from being the most perfect documentary I’ve seen this year, is that it really does leave a lot left up in the air when all is said and done. For some odd reason, it’s being advertised as a true-crime documentary, on Netflix, which means that tons and tons of people will be flocking to see this great injustice being done and how they can come up with their own theories about it, much like they did with the Jinx and Making a Murderer. Sure, while there’s a murder in the center here, the movie doesn’t just keep its focus solely on looking at the facts and thinking of other conclusions, as much as it asks questions, gets the answers, and then continues to ponder them, over and over again, until it’s all burned and etched into the ground.

Happy days. They never seem to last.

But still, the fact that it’s kind of a true-crime documentary, does make it feel a bit disappointing, when we get to the end and realize that there’s a lot left to discuss. It may be deliberate and probably the point, but it’s hard not to feel like there’s something more just waiting to be explored and taken another look at. When we will get that, who knows?

Honestly, though, it really doesn’t matter.

Strong Island is still, all issues aside, a very powerful and moving documentary that will take you by surprise with its methodology. Yance Ford goes out of his way to ensure that we get the full story and nothing but the truth, which helps us not only trust him, as a film-maker, but also all of the facts that are being thrown at us. Some of them may be bull-crap, but for the good part, Ford has gotten together a real rag-tag group of smart and trustworthy people who leave their souls out here on the line, with each and every interview. Having them talk directly to the camera, too, may seem like a bit of an Errol Morris rip-off, but it still works and seems like the only way you could tell something as tragic and as upsetting as this: Without ever shying away one bit.

Remember the name. Remember the face. Please.

And with Strong Island, while Ford talks about the murder and the botched investigation into it all, really, it’s a movie about forgiveness, regret, guilt, and above all else, family, the bonds that are created by it, and how, when push comes to shove, blood is thicker than water and it’s all we’re going to have. Ford gets the chance to interview two of the last surviving-members of her family and not only do they offer a lot to the whole product, they also genuinely make us think long and hard about our own families, as dysfunctional and/or weird as they may be.

Then again, every family’s got a little something weird going on, so it’s okay.

Like I said, though, these interviews take up the whole film and while they can sometimes get a little long-winding and especially, repetitive, we soon find out that, oh wait, that’s the point. The movie isn’t trying to be the most polished or assured piece out there as much as it’s just going where the stories and the interviews take it; the fact that it’s a beautiful movie to look at is helpful, but still. It’s the kind of movie that takes time to get used to, but it’s worth it. Each and every sigh, tear, and painfully awful silence.

Consensus: Even though it leaves a lot up in the air by the end, Strong Island is still a powerful and incredibly emotional doc about family and an injustice, giving us a fresh, diverse voice in Yance Ford.

8 / 10

Like any family: Happy and loving. Man, what a world we live in.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

Mother! (2017)

The older the house, the creepier the s**t in it is.

Grace (Jennifer Lawrence) is a stay-at-home wife who dreams of being a mother very, very soon. However, her poet husband, Eli (Javier Bardem), is a bit too distracted to really get up on that supposed promise. If anything, he’s too distracted to really focus on his young and beautiful wife, as he’s searching for inspiration for whatever work he can come up with next. He starts to find that when two strangers (Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris) show up and make the house their own. Of course, he has no problem with this, but Grace does and because she’s constantly dealing with some sort of mental-health issues, as well as the duties of keeping up this new house of hers, she can’t help but feel a little off about this all. Eventually, weirder and weirder stuff begins to happen, almost to the point of where Grace doesn’t know if she’s safe where she’s at any longer, or if it’s time to leave the house, her husband, and the life she was supposed to be living.

Put a shirt on, dammit! You’ve got company! I think….

Mother! is definitely not for everyone. Hell, I’m not even sure it’s for me. It is, however, a Darren Aronofsky flick, which means that it’s going to be weird, creepy, out-of-this-world, ambitious, and oh yeah, ridiculously disturbing. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from him now, nearly 20 years into his career, so why should we expect anything different? Can we really criticize a person’s work for being exactly on-par with everything they’ve been doing for the past two decades? Or do we have to hold them up to a certain candle where they have to sort of get with the times and make their rather hard-hitting style, well, work for others?

Say, like the norm?

Well, not really. And that’s why Mother! works; it seems like another case of Aronofsky sticking the middle-finger up to everyone who thought he sold-out with Noah, as well as one to those who think he’s almost too weird for his own good. This time around, Aronofsky’s taking what is supposed to be a relatively conventional story about a woman, probably, losing her mind, then turning it on its head, its side, and on its back, almost to the point of where we don’t really know if it can be turned anywhere else, anymore.

In other words, Aronofsky’s not playing around here and it’s an absolute delight to watch. Sure, it’s a slow-burn for quite some time, with all sorts of visual and literary metaphors to chew apart and piss us off, but it’s also a visceral ride through a possible hell. Aronofsky’s not afraid to go that extra mile into the dark and cruel abyss that some directors like to stray away from – he could care less and it’s hard not to be excited by this, but also put-off by just where this goes and where this ends up.

Cause in all honesty, I’m not even sure what the movie means.

Actually, scratch that. I sort of do and I sort of don’t. The movie’s final-act is so twisted, so disturbing, so messed-up, and so insane, that it’s hard to actually put into words. But just like the rest of the movie, it’s in-your-face and absolutely hard to look away from. This may put a lot of people off, as well as it should, but for someone like me, it was hard not to be mesmerized by what was going on, even if I couldn’t pick my finger on what exactly it was.

Long hair, clearly cares.

Meaning, yes, Mother! deserves and will probably benefit from multiple viewings. But that aside, it’s still a very creepy movie, with Aronofsky himself taking advantage of this tight and confined space, where it seems like there’s a nightmare every corner you turn, as well as his sounds. There’s a dark and brooding rhythm that’s constantly felt throughout, almost to the point where even the light-hearted and rather sweet moments, are still impossibly rough.

Once again, Aronofsky’s not afraid and it’s not hard to love that.

Also, Jennifer Lawrence puts in another great performance here, but also, her most demanding and grueling to-date. She’s never charming, or even lovely – she’s dark, twisted, and sad, seeming like she’s about to break-out into insane fits of anger and rage, at any minute. Aronofsky keeps the whole movie squarely on her, with her face covering up the screen for about nearly an hour of the run-time, making it hard not to sit there and dissect her every move. And she’s up to the task, too; she never lets us forget that there’s something simmering deep down inside of her, but also, because she’s Jennifer Lawrence, we sort of trust her, too.

Is that a smart move? Or a bad one? After all, this is an Aronofsky flick, we’re talking about and nothing’s to be trusted.

And man, more movies need that danger.

Consensus: Hard-to-watch, disturbing, and layered with a certain uneasiness that’s hard to shake-off, Mother! will not be for everybody, but those who appreciate it, will also be a witness to one of Aronofsky’s more demented creations.

8 / 10

“Everyone is waiting, Jennifer. Let’s have some fun.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

It (2017)

Honestly, real-life creepy clowns are creepier.

Derry, Maine is just like any other small-town in America. Quiet, quaint, and yes, quite a lovely little place. But look a little bit deeper, and there’s some true darkness lying underneath. And said darkness begins to show up more and more when kids randomly start disappearing left and right, without any signs of how, why, and where they may even be. Some kids believe it’s just kids being kids and getting lost somewhere in the woods, but for a select-few of other kids, they think it’s the one, the only, the infamous, and the incredibly dangerous Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), who lurks somewhere in the sewers, luring little children with his evil, magical powers. And the few kids who do see Pennywise, are quite screwed-up and don’t really know what to do with it, mostly because they’re too busy figuring out their own lives. For instance, there’s Bill, (Jaeden Lieberher), who has a stuttering problem; Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the chubby kid who’s also new to town; Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a gal who’s daddy may have a serious problem touching her; Richie (Finn Wolfhard), who enjoys making fun of every situation; Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), who’s a germophobe, but maybe because his mom only tells him he is; Mike (Chosen Jacobs), who seems to be the only black kid in town and is constantly bullied for it; and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), who’s Jewish faith continues to guide him in his life. Together, they’ll try to stop Pennywise, once and for all.

Nothing bad’s ever on a old-school Super 8 flick.

The reason why It works so well beyond many other Stephen King adaptations is because it hints at something truer, something meaner, and something darker than just what we see. See, in It, this new adaptation, while Pennywise is no doubt the true evil and scary-being here, it’s really other elements like rape, incest, murder, racism, and even time itself that seem to be the true evils. Like mostly all of King’s work, It shows us that the truest evils aren’t just ghouls an ghosts, but more or less, life and how it can be ruined by just some of the most dangerous and disturbing people imaginable.

But yeah, also killer clowns.

Still though, what works about It is that it’s not afraid to go the extra distance to get as dark and as disturbing as it wants. Director Andy Muschietti seems to know that the key-element to making material like this is not holding back and going as far as one can go with a hard-R rating. Meaning, we get a lot of blood, gore, cursing, nudity (sort of), and oh yeah, kids in peril. In fact, there’s so many moments of kids in peril here that it literally felt like another 80’s flick (and it probably wasn’t helping that one of the kids from Stranger Things is also here).

But it all actually works. As much as the movie wants to rely on the good old nostalgia of the small-towns from the 80’s, it also wants to terrify the hell out of us and with Pennywise, and with practically everything else Muschietti throws at us, it gets the job done. Granted, a lot of it can tend to be a bit over-bearing, obvious, and oh yeah, predictable, but for a horror flick that’s nearly two-hours-and-15-minutes and not feeling like a second of it, it’s nice to have around. It helps that the movie’s constantly tense and trying out new ways to creep us out, but yeah, the movie works where most horror movies nowadays don’t.

It gets the scares right, the characters right, and above all else, the villain right.

Sure he’s fine. Wherever he may be….

And as Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård is pretty scary. While Tim Curry’s original portrayal will forever stand the test of time, his take was a bit different; whereas Curry’s was far more campy and over-the-top, for comedic-effect, Skarsgård’s is meant to be more dangerous and absolutely unimaginable. He’s not supposed to show up watering the plants, or cracking dumb puns, but instead, biting the arms off of five-year-old children (which is something he does in the first ten minutes). It’s a solid portrayal that, depending on where this franchise goes, will be interesting to see how it all changes.

Same goes for the rest of the cast who, for now, are all very good at what they do. Sure, no one really stands out from the rest of the crowd, considering that they’ve all got a great deal of development and personality to help them get by, but the fact that they all were discernible from one another and had something going on in their lives, worked and mattered. The movie actually goes out of its way to show us more to these kids than just a bunch of wise-cracks about mullets and Molly Ringwald – like you or I were at their age, they’re vulnerable, scared, and absolutely terrified. You could say of the creepy clown that seems to be following them everywhere they go, but also of growing up and whatever other depravities the future holds out for them.

And yeah, I look forward to seeing the next part of their lives’ journeys. Because, of course, there’s going to be more of this. Don’t be naive.

Just give in and float away.

Consensus: With the unrelenting willingness to go to deep, dark places that most horror movies are afraid to even step near, the latest re-imagining of It works because it doesn’t forget to remain faithful to the source material, but to also the smart, solid, and somewhat terrifying scares that are much needed.

8 / 10

If he’s got candy, I’m interested.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Kid with a Bike (2011)

Every kid needs a bike to get by in life.

Abandoned by his father and practically everyone else around him, young Cyril (Thomas Doret) begins to act out in anger, causing all sorts of havoc and constantly finding himself in trouble. In a way, it almost seems like it follows him everywhere he goes and it’s as if Cyril will never be able to escape the darkness that swallows up his whole life. However, there is one light to be found in Cyril’s relatively bad life: His caretaker Samantha (Cécile de France), who took the opportunity to watch over him on something of a whim and is finding a lot more than she can chew. But seeing as how Cyril’s got nowhere else to go, but an orphanage, or even worse, a juvenile delinquent center and becoming another little boy involved with the system, she decides to stick with it and realizes that it may be worth it. And after much time together, yeah, Cyril gets used to Samantha, her rules, and the way she lives her life, which is relatively peaceful and nice, by his standards. But as per usual, Cyril’s past always comes back to bite him in the rear-end when constant attempts to connect with his dad seem to turn sour and piss Cyril off even more.

Good luck watching over that kid.

The Kid with the Bike is one of the Dardenne’s more interesting flicks, because it not only seems to have something resembling an actual plot, but seems to be a lot sweeter and more optimistic than their other flicks. Sure, it’s about a young whippersnapper who causes all sorts of problems, gets into trouble, and doesn’t have the best life imaginable, but it also has some solid glimmers of hope, too. In fact, a good portion of the movie is dedicated to Cyril getting better at life, at family, at love, and at realizing that there’s more to everything than just sitting around all day and being mad at the world around him.

Sometimes, it’s best to just smile and be grateful, as easy as that may be to say.

And yes, as usual, the Dardenne’s keep up with their naturalistic approach, where it seems like the movie’s a documentary, and yes, it works. But what really keeps the Kid with the Bike compelling is Thomas Doret in the lead role of Cyril, who proves to be a smart kid, despite also being chock-full of angst. The Dardenne’s have a knack for casting talented young actors in their somewhat difficult roles, because half of what they’re doing is just showing, rather than just saying; you can say that’s all of acting, but when you’re a kid, and half of what you’re being told to do is simply just standing there and reacting, it’s a pretty hard feat to pull off. But Doret does just that, showing that there are true, honest, and relatively sad layers beneath Cyril’s sometimes infuriating actions.

Brat.

As is usually the case with Dardenne protagonists, Cyril doesn’t make the best decisions, but because he’s a kid and is so hot-headed, it sort of works and makes sense. And considering she could have easily turned into a silly, sappy type that these types of stories love to have, Cécile de France feels real and honest as Samantha, a gal who doesn’t know what she’s gotten herself into, but knows the end results of what happens if she walks away, so she sticks it out, the best that she can. The two have a lovely little bit of chemistry, seeming as if they’re getting to know, as well as love one another, gradually over time, with the usual hurdles having to be climbed over.

But hey, that’s how family.

But the reason why the Kid with the Bike isn’t, in my book, considered one of the Dardenne’s best, even though it can come very, very close, is its cop-out of an ending.

And that’s all I’ll say about that. Just see it and you’ll know what I’m saying. Hopefully.

Consensus: Despite a folly ending, the Kid with the Bike is typical of the Dardenne’s, in that it’s sad, honest, heartfelt, and surprisingly warm, given the underlining of darkness always there to be found.

8 / 10

Well, maybe he’s got some charm.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

L’enfant (2005)

Some people just shouldn’t have children. Especially idiotic children.

After giving birth, teenage Sonia (Déborah François) returns home to find that her boyfriend, a petty criminal named Bruno (Jérémie Renier), has sublet their apartment. Sonia tracks Bruno down on the street, and after the couple spends the night together, they decide to start a new life with the baby and forget about any of their past trouble and woes. But the next morning, Bruno sells their child for cash, sending Sonia into an absolute state of shock and awe. How could he do this? Was it for love? Money? Or did he just not want to responsibility any longer of taking care of something that is, you know, his? Regardless, she decides that it’s best to press charges against him for taking what was rightfully hers. Bruno is shocked by her decision, too, so he vows to find the baby and bring it back to her, by any means necessary. And being that he’s already in the criminal-game, Bruno’s got some ideas and tricks up his sleeve.

“Looks like money to me.”

As usual with the writing/directing team of Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne, L’enfant is no easy ride. In fact, it’s one of their more disturbing, hard-to-watch movies ever made as we literally never grow to like any of these characters. Sure, you could say that about the rest of their films, in which we never really judge the characters, as much as we just sit and watch them, but here, it feels like they’re so despicable, that spending any time with them whatsoever, let alone two hours, would just be way, way too much. Add-on the fact that the Dardenne’s love themselves some hand-held close-ups and yeah, you’ve got a pretty miserable experience.

And yes, that’s exactly the point.

See, L’enfant is a hard movie to watch because, like most of the Dardenne’s other movies, it asks us the simple question of whether or not we can accept these idiotic, downright juvenile human beings as just that, human beings? They’re stupid and they make absolutely dumb decisions, but does that make them any less human than you or I? The Dardenne’s have always examined this in their movies, but it feels more raw and relevant here because, at the center of it all, is something resembling a love story, that eventually, as expected, turns sour.

But then it becomes a sort of redemption-story of one Bruno, who goes from being the most unlikable, despicable human being on the face of the planet, to actually a pretty determined guy, when he wants to be. See though, that’s the thing about Bruno and the movie – we never fully see it all in just one light. Bruno can be seen as another dumb young adult who doesn’t really know what to do, unless he’s committing some act of vandalism or crime, but when faced with responsibility, can act his age and actually make something of his relatively pathetic life.

Seriously. Michael Bay, take notes.

And it deserves stating that Jérémie Renier, a Dardenne regular since he was literally 14, does one of his best jobs here. Of course, it helps that he’s got a lot to work with; Bruno grows throughout the whole course of the movie and we see different shades of him. We may not always like, or respect the shades, but they are still shades nonetheless, and Renier remains always compelling. We never know what his next action will be, or for what reasons, and because of that, he’s incredibly watchable and perfect for this kind of role, in this kind of movie.

The kind of raw, gritty, and in-your-face movie that needs raw, gritty, in-your-face performance to match it.

But honestly, it’s the Dardenne’s who deserve a lot of praise for, once again, proving that the best way to tell stories such as these, is to just sit back and let the acting/writing do the talking itself. Which is surprising because a solid portion of the movie is actually quite as thrilling; a car-chase that happens about halfway through and seems to go on forever, is way more exciting than most that I see in your typical, summer blockbuster fare. But it doesn’t always resort to action to really keep itself compelling – all it needs is a little emotion and heartbreak to drive everything along.

Sort of like life itself.

Consensus: As sad as it is, L’enfant is still another masterclass in raw, gritty naturalism that the Dardenne’s have practically perfected, with a great lead performance from Renier.

8.5 / 10

Thanks, Bruno. Always making the men look good in this kind of situation.

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Classics

It Felt Like Love (2013)

Oh man. Young love. What the hell.

Lila (Gina Piersanti) is a teen from Gravesend who doesn’t have much going on in her life. Her mom’s out of the picture, her dad’s always working, and the few friends that she has are, well, to say the least, unreliable. But she’s growing up now and with that, she’s starting to realize more about her self and her own sexual-being, but most importantly, she’s starting to like boys for once. And then she meets Sammy (Ronen Rubinstein) a local guy who’s a bit of a thug and a bit of a hard-ass who is the complete opposite from the shy, introverted Lila, but for some reason, she wants him. She wants him so bad, that she even concocts a story about the two going out to those around her. Why? Well, no one really knows, but eventually, Sammy finds out about this and begins to even take a liking to Lila, too, although, it’s a much different kind of love or passion that Lila was ever expecting.

Ew. Get a room! When your parents aren’t home, that is.

It Felt Like Love deals with young/first love, meaning, it’s a movie right up my alley. But it’s a much different kind of one that doesn’t just rely on smart, lovely insights about growing up, coming-of-age, or discovering who you are, but more of just putting us in the feeling of being in love. Writer/director Eliza Hittman has a very unique style that’s raw and grainy, wherein times it almost feels like a Cassavetes film, but it also never leaves the view of Lila – it’s her movie, the whole time and because of that, we get the rare glimpse at young, somewhat predatory and confusing love, through the eyes of a young girl.

And it’s honestly something that we don’t often get to see, or at least, not at this deep of a level. With Lila, we see her act out in ways that not only surprise her, but shock those around her who feel as if they’ve known her all of this time; it’s actually interesting to see how Lila acts in certain situations, because while we get a general idea of who she is from the beginning, it’s never made clear just what kind of person she is. She stares into space a lot and rather than having everything to say, she mostly allows her eyes to do the talking for her, making her not just a compelling protagonist, but a very believable one who is, yes, a young and shy girl, discovering the world around her.

Love at first strike.

Which is to say that Gina Piersanti is pretty phenomenal in the role, because she does so much, with so little.

Granted, a lot of it is staring into space and looking as if she’s going to say something, but a lot of that is hard to do and pull-off, without it seeming lazy, or forced. Piersanti was about 14 at the time of filming, too, so it helps give it an even more realistic feel, but even besides that, there’s a certain aura surrounding her that just works and made me want to see more and more of her, just interacting in her day-to-day life. It reminded me a lot of Sandrine Bonnaire’s role in À Nos Amours, in that there’s this youthful, burning passion alive in every scene within this girl, that’s not just waiting to come up, but is ready to explode at any second.

It’s honestly a shame that I haven’t seen anything from Piersanti since. Here’s to hoping that changes very soon.

Consensus: Stylistically speaking, It Felt Like Love is a raw, rather gritty film that looks like it could use a shower, but fits perfectly well with the underlining feeling of obsession, love and passion, anchored all by a great performance from newcomer Piersanti.

8 / 10

Don’t worry, gal. It gets better. Wait. Actually, nope. It doesn’t.

Photos Courtesy of: VHX

The Limey (1999)

The toughest gangsters around are the ones you mostly can’t understand at all.

Wilson (Terence Stamp), a tough English ex-con travels to Los Angeles to avenge his daughter’s death. Upon arrival, Wilson goes to task battling Valentine (Peter Fonda) and an army of L.A.’s toughest criminals, hoping to find clues and piece together what happened.

With Steven Soderbergh, there’ no such things such as conventions or formula. Take, for example, Haywire; what seems to be a pretty self-explanatory, straight-forward thriller, is played to the tunes of jazz music throughout, features barely any score music at all, and doesn’t cut-away once from the major beat-downs that occur in that film. The same could almost be said for Magic Mike, which was essentially a steamy sex film, that features a cold story and three-dimensional characters. Basically, Soderbergh plays with genre and doesn’t care what sort of rules he’s breaking.

What a view. Damn L.A.

Cause what’s the point of having rules if they aren’t meant to be broken in the first place, eh?

And like with mostly all of his flicks, the Limey isn’t just about switching things up, but being pretty cool while doing so, too. It’s a noir in the sense that it’s a deep, dark, and gritty tale about some mean, ugly people, but it’s also a revenge-tale that doesn’t always give you the most perfect idea of what it’s going to do next. Soderbergh shoots things here in a certain way, whether in an odd camera-angle, or somewhere off-to-the-side like you’ve never seen before, that makes you wonder what he’s going to come up with next. He doesn’t over-do it, either, and it can sometimes feel like he’s meshing what sorts of style bits and pieces he wants to, in order to make a sort of easy story, hit a lot harder.

And deep down inside, it really is a tale about a father trying to ask for forgiveness and wonder about what he missed out on. Speaking of Terence Stamp, this guy absolutely nails it as Wilson, the guy who we never, ever get to really know that well but for some reason, we don’t feel as if we have to, we just got to watch him. Stamp is a guy who always just sits in the background, let everybody else in front of him kick some ass, and then come in out of nowhere, steal a scene or two, and just walk off as if he was the leading man they were waiting for the whole time. The difference here, is that he is the leading man and he shows that he has all the right skills to pull that off as well. Even though he may not physically fit to pull of a scary-ass crook that would kill you the first chance he got, Stamp still makes up for that with the look on his eyes and the steps in his walk. This guy has got a mean-looking face that makes many people shiver in their beds, and when you watch him put those mean, old eyes on somebody here, you know something bad is about to go down.

Somehow, can totally see these two being the best of buddies.

A shame that Stamp doesn’t get anymore starring roles like this, but at least he still shows up from time-to-time and still steals every show.

On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Peter Fonda as the ex-hippie, record producer, named Valentine who seems like a gentle dude, that just mixed up in all of the wrong things. Fonda doesn’t play this guy like your typical, evil villain that just goes around with an evil ‘stache, twirling it all the time his evil pleasures get fulfilled. No, this guy actually has a certain amount of heart to him that makes you feel a bit bad for the guy, even if he does come off like the type of guy you shouldn’t trust or even like in a film like this. Great to see Fonda give off a wonderful performance and be on the look-out for a nice bit where he talks about motorcycles. Easy Rider reference, anyone?

Also, Luiz Guzman is here. Enough said.

Consensus: The Limey may be a bit too stylized and simple for its own good, but still allows Soderbergh to drench his story in a hard-boiled narrative that gives you some great performances from this cast, as well as some real thrilling moments of violence, that harken back to the golden days of 60’s and 70’s thrillers.

8 / 10

Really? Does it need to be that high?

Photos Courtesy of: Artisan Entertainment

Sex, Lies, and Videotape (1989)

Where’s the sex!?!

Ann Bishop (Andie MacDowell) and John Mullany (Peter Gallagher) are a married couple that may not get it on non-stop, but are relatively fine with it. She doesn’t really think sex is all that big of a deal, and he, well, is getting it anyway by her sister (Laura San Giacomo). However, all of their sexual desires and pleasures come to a-head once John’s old friend, Graham (James Spader), comes back to visit him and reveals a very strange, but interesting pleasure that not only has Ann curious, but her sister as well.

Reviewing movies like this are hard because not only do you have to take into account the fact that it’s a tad old and dated in some ways, but also the fact that creator/writer/director has done some far, far better material over the years and it’s just hard to compare now to then. In this case, yes, Steven Soderbergh has done far, far better ever since his 1989 directorial debut, but you got to hand it to the guy, cause he’s made a splash on cinema ever since.

And hey, it started off pretty well, too.

What’s that crazy contraption she’s holding?

Where Sex, Lies and Videotapes probably surprises people the most is in that it’s much of a character-driven drama, than a sexually erotic thriller, in the same vein as Fatal Attraction. It all sounds like a bore, just listening as people convulse in a bunch of conversations about doing the dirty deed, but Soderbergh writes it in such a way that seems very honest, realistic, and actually understandable. People don’t just do sex to get off, and when they do, it’s usually to just get by something in their life that seems to bother them and whenever it’s to just have sex, usually it’s just because they’re horny at the specific time of day. However, people also act on sex as if it’s not something that’s meaningful, and not something that can wake you up from a lifetime full of slumber and stupidity. These characters all find that out in sometimes the hard way, the easy way, or sometimes the way that just cannot be explained.

It’s a very frank movie and while Soderbergh hasn’t really titillated audiences like this since, he still shows that sometimes, being naked, doesn’t mean having to take all of your clothes off for the world to see. Sometimes, being vulnerable and honesty is more than enough – something that Soderbergh has continued on with for his whole career.

But you can’t help but think that this isn’t Soderbergh’s best work and probably the least-flashy of all of his movies. When you watch a Soderbergh movie nowadays, you know it’s a Soderbergh movie just by the way it looks and feels. This one, not so much. Maybe it was probably because the guy was so darn young (26 at the time) and didn’t really develop a sense of style until the late 90’s, or the fact that he didn’t really want to focus on his look and wanted to focus more on his script, but it feels more like a regular, indie-movie from the 80’s that has a generic look, style, and despite the script-involved, a pretty generic feel to it all in the end as well.

But hey, it was ’89. He was young and just getting ready to shake the world up.

But really, these four in the cast is probably what helped Soderbergh achieve the most success here. Andie MacDowell has probably never been the heavy-hitter of an actress, but her performance here as Ann is probably the best she’s ever done, ever has done, and probably best she ever will have done for the rest of her career. What makes Ann so interesting is that you can sympathize with her because she seems troubled, sad, and in desperate need of a wake-up call that there’s a huge world out there to explore. But as soon as Graham enters the picture, things start to come alive for her and we see how MacDowell makes that pretty clear, but also very mysterious in how you never know if she’s going to go for something new and alive, or stay with something that’s old and boring. It’s the best that MacDowell has ever been and her character, Ann, just felt like somebody that’s easy to care for and want the best for when it was all over.

Assuming she just stubbed her toe.

All of MacDowell’s scenes with James Spader absolutely were the best parts of the movie, because right from the start, you can tell something’s going on between them, without either of them really knowing. They have a spark between them that’s obvious and gets a bit skewered as time goes on, but keeps on coming back and back for more and kept me interested the whole way. Let’s also not forget to mention that James Spader seems to be having the freaking time of his life playing Graham, a character who is a bit strange, but also very real in how he deals with his world and his problems. You never know what’s up with this guy and whether or not he’s going to turn out to be the guy that kills dames in their showers, but you always are enticed by him, almost as much as Ann is and that’s a great-touch of character that Soderbergh allowed Spader to add.

Thank the lord for that, too.

And in all honesty, who better to play Ann’s asshole, slime-ball of a husband than Mr. Eyebrows himself, Peter Gallagher? Gallagher is very good at playing a guy that you don’t like, don’t trust, and have no sympathy for whatsoever, and I think that’s what the point of this character was to begin with. I do wish there was more development to this guy, other than just being a dude that listens to his penis more than his heart and why he’s boning his sister-in-law in the first place, but I guess it doesn’t matter when you have an actor like Gallagher than can make this character work, no matter what. Playing the sister-in-law he’s banging, Laura San Giacomo who is pretty dirty and juicy as the gal that seems to be very comfortable with her sexual-self and it’s a performance that kept me wondering if there was more to her than just a gal that likes to bang. Thankfully, there is and I think it’s something that Giacomo does very well. So at least both gals get development and one of the dudes does.

Guess that’s a victory?

Consensus: Perhaps not measuring up to the masterpieces Soderbergh would soon be making, Sex, Lies and Videotape shows a rather cool, insightful look at the lives of some sad individuals.

8 /10

“So uh, wanna get weird?”

Photos Courtesy of: The Film SpectrumCritical and Creative Arts PublicationFilm Freak Central

The Road To Guantanamo (2006)

War crimes, eh?

Right after 9/11, the whole world was pretty much all shaken up and paranoid. Meaning, anyone who was either Muslim, or looked to be Muslim, were watched, attacked, and in some cases, arrested, interrogated, and tortured, all for the sake of tolerance and peace. Or so they say. And around this time, there was a case in which several British Muslim friends go to Pakistan to attend a wedding. For some odd reason, despite the political climate, they decide to go off and visit Afghanistan, but they find Kandahar under attack and flee to Kabul. Seeing as how their trip has turned to absolute crap, given what’s going on, they try to return to Pakistan but mistakenly end up in a Taliban stronghold. Following their capture, they are sent to a U.S. military base in Cuba, where they endure all sorts of mental and physical pain, anguish, and hurt, all by the hands of soldiers who are red-hot and ready to find terrorist, no matter where they may be. Hell, in some cases, they don’t even care if they’re terrorists or not – they just need someone to interrogate and find more information about. And it all took place in a little place called Guantanamo.

Anyone who shops at the GAP clearly must be a terrorist.

Perhaps you’ve heard of it?

Docudramas are really hard to pull-off in a totally and completely satisfying way. Mostly, that has to do with recreations themselves, while maybe meaningful and pertinent to explaining some stories for the camera and the audience at-home, can also feel a little hokey. Sometimes, just hearing a person explain a situation is more than enough, rather than having the actions played-out to us in over-dramatic, possibly theatrical ways, with actors who don’t really seem to fully grasp what they’re doing.

Basically, it reminds people too much of TV documentaries and honestly, some of those can kind of be lame.

But the Road to Guantanamo uses these dramatizations in a manner that doesn’t just aid the story, but makes it feel a lot more like a movie. The movie itself is probably an-hour-and-a-half long, but it zips through everything so damn quickly that, honestly, it feels like an hour less than that. Director Michael Winterbottom has taken on many different faces and beings throughout his career and it’s surprising to see him handle everything here so well, what with the interviews, the dramatizations, and political-messages all coming together in one, seamless package.

Don’t know what scare-tactic is, but yeah, probably not working.

If anything, it’s impressive how well it all comes together, without it ever feeling like the message was lost, in between all of the action and disturbing, sometimes graphic details. Cause at the center of this all, is really a story, or a few, in that sense, about Guantanamo itself and just how far exactly the United States went to ensure that they found terrorists, regardless of if the prisoners were even terrorists in the first place. And being nearly 16 years since the start of the Iraq War, it’s common knowledge that, yes, Guantanamo was an awful place and even worse, did way more harm than good.

If anything, it helped create more terrorists, than actually stop, or find them. It helped usher in an even more negative persona for the United States and the Army, than either already had before. Did it help us get a few people? Quite possibly. The facts still remain to be seen, even until this very day, but what Road to Guantanamo helps us understand a whole lot more, is that in this huge dungeon of doom, there were still human lives at stake here. Most were being destroyed and it’s honestly a tragedy that no one, not even till this very day, has been held accountable for it.

Sure, the movie does leave a lot of questions up to the viewer about why these men were even in Afghanistan in the first place, but really, those sorts of questions aren’t all that pertinent. The fact remains that a little part of each and everyone of them died once they were taken in and tortured and who’s to blame for that? Us, or them?

Honestly, the answer is pretty damn easy.

Consensus: As compelling as it is thoughtful, the Road to Guantanamo is lightning-fast docudrama on a few individuals stories, that not only highlight their own personal journeys through hell, but just what it is that Guantanamo itself stood for then, and until this very day.

8 / 10

See what I mean?

Photos Courtesy of: The New York Times, Bidoun, Ceasefire Magazine

Detroit (2017)

Honestly, has much changed? NOPE.

It’s the summer of 1967 and in Detroit, there’s all sorts of tension boiling up, to go along with the non-stop heat, rioting and civil unrest. It’s starting to tear apart the seat which has every person, white or black, on the edge of their toes, not knowing what to do next, or just how to get out of this awful situation alive. The cops are constantly having to fight huge crowds and yes, the huge crowds themselves, who are predominately black, are tired of being discriminated against and they’re not going to take it anymore. But while this is all happening, somewhere outside of where all the action’s taking lace, there’s a report of gunshots that the Detroit Police Department, the Michigan State Police and the Michigan Army National Guard decide to investigate. Eventually, they are drawn to the Algiers Motel, where they search the whole joint, looking for guns, or any sorts of weapons of any kind. Seemingly coming up empty and pissed-off, several policemen start to torture and interrogate the many suspects they have in their possession. In other words, it’s not a nice situation to be in and guess what? It’s not going to get any better.

Uniforms don’t count.

Detroit‘s marketing has smartly been revolving around the fact that it’s about the Detroit Race Riots, all of the shots, explosions, fights, brawls, and havoc that we expect with these kinds of movies. After all, it’s a movie from Kathryn Bigelow who, especially as of late, is known for her super big, bright, loud, and ambitious projects, and hell, it’s even titled “Detroit”, as if it was going to be all about the riot and not much else. And yes, even for awhile, it seems like that; we get to see the beginning of the riots, acquainted with a few characters, and even get a sense of when and where everything is happening. It’s all scattershot and a little meandering, but of course, that’s the point.

Because really, Detroit is about this one horrific moment in the middle of all other horrific moments that, needless to say, would tell us everything about what got people so pissed-off in the first place.

And hell, why they’re still so pissed-off now.

But like I said, once Bigelow gets to this infamous moment, all 55 minutes of it, the movie grabs ahold and does not let go for a single second. It’s brutal, it’s disturbing, it’s uncomfortable, it’s mean, and yeah, it’s all too real to look away from; it’s the kind of unrelenting and gritty sequence we’d get in something like a Michael Haneke film, where it’s so hard-to-watch, we can’t look away. And in Detroit‘s case, that’s a positive – it helps put us right there, with everyone, feeling the same paranoia and anguish that was felt for all parties involved, most importantly, the victims.

It’s also where Bigelow’s directing really works best, as it tells us everything we need to know, but without really hitting us over-the-head. Mark Boal’s screenplay helps us in that regard, too, because he understands that while most people know about race-relations and police-corruption within the United States, he also gets the sense that stories such as this need to be re-told. In a day and age where anyone, literally anyone, can get pulled over by a cop and wind-up dead, for no real reason at all, then yes, movies like Detroit matter and deserve to be made, seen, and spread across all countries, not just America.

Way too many similar images out there.

But by the same token, the movie does run into its fair share of problems.

For instance, when the sequence is over, the movie really doesn’t have anywhere else to go. Of course, it turns into a courtroom drama, where all the surviving parties duke it out in a supposedly fair trial, but honestly, by that point, we’re already so winded, it’s hard to really keep up with everything. We, the viewers, just went through a near-hour of hell and now, we’re expected to sit around and chill out, watching as more injustices get committed and more corruption gets swept under the rug? It’s a lot to ask for and really, it depends on how you’re feeling.

Me, I was fine with it, but for different reasons. By this point, it’s less about the injustices, and more about the physical and mental scares left on these many individuals who were victimized in this one situation. No matter what happens, no matter where they go, no matter what they do, they will always remember this situation, how it turned out so damn awful, and how it never even needed to get to that point, but did, because of racism.

Plain and simple.

And that, to me, is the hardest pill to swallow here and why, despite its faults, Detroit is a compelling watch. It doesn’t get everything right – even some of the performances from a relatively solid ensemble can be a little weak and hammy – but at the end of the day, it’s about a grave injustice that should have never happened in the first place and should have immediately been stopped. Come to think of it, they still could and yet, for some odd reason, they aren’t.

Why, people? Why!

Consensus: Even with the structure-problems, Detroit still works as a hard-hitting and absolutely disturbing take on race-relations, power, corruption, and violence in America that, despite being set 50 years ago, is still awfully relevant today. Go figure.

8 / 10

Seriously. Is this from the movie, or like, two weeks ago? What’s going on!?!?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

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

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