Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 8-8.5/10

Deepwater Horizon (2016)

Live by the oil, die by the oil.

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

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

“No! I’ve got to save the day!”

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

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

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

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

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

Trust the 'stache. It may save your life.

Trust the ‘stache. It may save your life.

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

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

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

Especially to BP.

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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

Everyone needs a little cut, no?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It actually works.

Oh man. RIP.

Oh man. RIP.

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

Love at first slash.

Love at first slash.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aceshowbiz

Weiner (2016)

What’s in a name?

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

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

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

Oh and yeah, it’s all filmed.

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

Is that such a problem?

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

But once again, is that such a problem?

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

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

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

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

Hell, it’s in the blood.

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even though that’s exactly what they are.

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

It makes you wonder what Judd Apatow could work on.

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

8 / 10

Unfortunately, the holograms will never end.

Unfortunately, the holograms will never end.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

 

Bridget Jones’s Diary (2001)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Am I right?

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Miramax, Thecia.Com.Au

Gerry (2002)

Yeah, just bring a map next time.

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

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

Wait, which one's Gerry?

Wait, which one’s Gerry?

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

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

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

Dirt nap. Literally.

Taking a dirt nap. Literally.

What’s more compelling than that?

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Drugstore Cowboy (1989)

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

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

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

Who needs rehab when you look this good?

Who needs rehab when you look this good?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

Trust me, Will knows.

Trust me, Will knows.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Southside With You (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

A little romantic, isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Don’t Breathe (2016)

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

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

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

He clearly opened up the more adult Goosebumps book.

He clearly opened up the more adult Goosebumps book.

Make any sense?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With, or without the scares.

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, The Verge 

Hell or High Water (2016)

Crime? Yeah. Keep it in the family.

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

The bros that live together, grow competing mustaches together.

The bros that live together, grow competing mustaches together.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Cinema Clock

Pete’s Dragon (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I think his posse beats mine 100 times over.

I think his posse beats mine 100 times over.

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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

Tony Montana ain’t got nothing on the French.

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

Yeah, talk about some skill.

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

Hey, gangsters gotta love too, right?

Hey, gangsters gotta love too, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly Mesrine was puffing that magic dragon.

Clearly Mesrine was puffing that magic dragon.

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

Shades are always cool.

Why so grumpy, Vincenzo? 

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Roger Ebert, Metacritic

Indignation (2016)

College was always just one sexual experience, really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, that Logan Lerman. So sassy and cool.

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

Who knows?

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

"Uh, so what you wanna do?"

“Uh, so what you wanna do?”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Get Shorty (1995)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seriously, stay away from that movie.

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Qwipster

We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks (2013)

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

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

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

“See? It’s like Wikipedia, but not!”

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

In fact, definitely Assange.

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

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

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

Yeah, let's hate this guy, apparently.

Yeah, let’s hate this guy, apparently.

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

He's basically an albino Wes Anderson.

He’s basically an albino Wes Anderson.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

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

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

EVIL!

EVIL!

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

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

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

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

Sadly, not many more came after this.

Sadly, not many more came after this.

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

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

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

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

Thanks, fellas.

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

8.5 / 10

Enjoy the pose while it lasts, buddy.

Enjoy the pose while it lasts, buddy.

Photos Courtesy of: SBS, Jigsaw Prods, Reeling Reviews

Don’t Think Twice (2016)

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

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

We get it, you improv.

We get it, you improv.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

Funny friends stick together and annoy each other mercilessly.

Funny friends stick together and annoy each other mercilessly.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Dirty Dozen (1967)

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

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

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

Now he knows not to back-talk.

Now he knows not to back-talk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

If only I was as cool.

If only I was as cool.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins, FilmDROID

Deconstructing Harry (1997)

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

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

Way more loyal than Annie Hall.

Way more loyal than Annie Hall.

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

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

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

Who is he grinding it at/for?

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

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

Focus on the finer things in life.

Focus on the finer things in life.

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

Everyone loves Woody. Except obvious people.

Everyone loves Woody. Except obvious people.

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

Paradise Now (2005)

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

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

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

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

"Are you ready? No pressure or anything?"

“Are you ready? No pressure or anything?”

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

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

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

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

“Can’t breathe? Eh, well it’s okay.”

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Cinema Escapist, Little Daya