Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Category Archives: 8-8.5/10

Miss Sloane (2016)

Sometimes, you’ve just got to stick it to ’em.

Elizabeth Sloane (Jessica Chastain) is one of the more infamous and controversial lobbyists working Washington. That has less to do with the fact that she actually gets her bills passed, as much as it has to do with her brash, cocky and sometimes incredibly arrogant attitude that rubs a lot of people the wrong way. When the company she’s working for decides that they want to get a gun-bill passed, Elizabeth’s good intentions kick in and it makes her realize that she doesn’t like the bill and wants her own gun-reform bill to pass instead. So, what does Elizabeth Sloane do? Well, she joins up with a rival company, gathers up her team of new and old coworkers, and sets out to take down the new bill, garnering as many votes for her own gun-reform bill that can. However, when you’re going up against so many big dogs on the hill, there comes a point where you may have to put up, or shut up – something that Elizabeth doesn’t want to do, and it may as well cost her, not just her career, but even her life.

Miss Sloane sounds so incredibly boring and lame. It’s as if all the grand-parents got together in a room, decided that they needed a movie that only they cared about, gathered together a huge crowd of talented people to work in it, and yeah, just watch the movie for themselves. But Miss Sloane, if anything, is not at all like that; the best way I can describe it is as being a cross between David Mamet, Aaron Sorkin, and Alan J. Pakula.

"I'm not terrible. Okay, maybe a little bit."

“I’m not terrible. Okay, maybe a little bit.”

Intrigued yet?

Well, if not, that’s okay. Miss Sloane, on-paper, doesn’t seem like the kind of movie that would actually work or better yet, be entertaining in the slightest bit, but for some reason, director John Madden and first-time writer Jonathan Perera, come together so perfectly, matching their styles, needs and wants like a couple who’s been together for five decades, that it hardly ever bored me. It’s snappy, quick, jumpy, sometimes random, a little crazy, surprisingly very funny, and yeah, when they decide to slow things down every once and awhile, actually kind of heartfelt. Actually, not really, but that’s kind of what works.

See, Miss Sloane takes place in this all-too-real world where politics is a dirty and unforgiving game, where rich, powerful and corrupt people will continue to always crack down and ruin the much poorer and less-connected civilians who are, honestly, just trying to make the world a better place. It’s the typical worldview we see painted so very much, but it still works because, well, that’s exactly what happens in the sick, cruel and usually evil world of politics.

Because it paints this portrait so vividly, Miss Sloane never for once feels like it’s taking any cheap shots; it’s easy to get wrapped-up in this world of fast money, fast people, and fast crime, and almost forget that, oh yeah, this movie’s actually about getting a bill passed. Madden, as a director, has shown that he usually loves to take his movies as slow and as melodically as possible, actually keeps up the pace here, which as a result, helps ensure that no matter how many times it gets off-course, Perera’s score stays crackling and fun.

Most of that, of course, has to do with the fact that from the very beginning, the movie makes it awfully clear that, yes, these are smart people, doing smart things, in smart jobs, so why shouldn’t they sound smart?

It’s actually a lot of what follows Sorkin in his career and works so damn well for him, which is why I’ve been getting a little shocked by all of the criticism towards this movie. Most of the complaints seem to come from the fact that no real characters have any actual development to them, whereas the plot does, and it’s a pretty lame one at that. For one, it’s a two-hour long movie that, quite frankly, moved by so quick that I hardly noticed and/or cared about the lack of character-development and as for the other, well, yeah, the plot can be pretty lame.

"Man up, dammit!"

“Man up, dammit!”

I’m still not sure whether or not Perera’s original script had as many silly twists and turns in it, or if it was just another case of studio interference, but either way, the ones that do eventually come around in the later-portion of the movie are, for lack of a better term, silly. Sure, it’s hard to not expect a movie such as this to eventually fall into the melodramatic-trappings that it does, but it’s also not hard to expect a movie that’s as smart, that seems to know what it’s doing from the very bat, not roll into them to keep the audience excited and on-edge. It’s hard to talk about these few twists and turns without giving stuff away, but just know this: The twists and turns are silly and definitely keep Miss Sloane away from being an otherwise perfectly solid and exciting piece of thinking-man’s entertainment.

And yes, while I’m at it, I may as well talk about the character-development that I alluded to before, because well, yeah, there isn’t much here, but at the same time, I don’t feel that there needs to be.

Miss Sloane, the movie, from the very beginning makes it very clear that a good portion of these characters have no lives outside of their work; they are utterly and completely consumed by it and it takes over what exactly makes them who they are. In that sense, it’s understandable why we don’t get to know much about these characters, or the way they are, or how they act, outside of the idea of their professions. In a way, it’s kind of sad, but the movie doesn’t harp on that aspect too much and instead, shows us exactly why these characters have no lives, are so dedicated to their jobs, and more importantly, care so passionately about getting this bill passed.

And because of that, the amazing ensemble is better off for it, too. Everyone assembled here, honestly, is quite great, with hardly a single bad apple to be found in the pack – Mark Strong, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, John Lithgow, Sam Waterston, Allison Pill, Michael Stuhlbarg, Jake Lacy, Douglas Smith – but really, the one to outshine them all is Jessica Chastain, playing our titled-lobbyist. Honestly, Chastain has never been better, mostly because her roles have never been nearly as daring as this; here, she gets the chance to play someone who is unlikable, doesn’t make excuses for it, and if someone has a problem with it, always has a snappy comeback, primed and ready to hit back with. The movie does make some attempt to develop her more, but mostly gets rid of that idea once it realizes that it’s sometimes best to just let Chastain do her thing and own every scene she’s in.

More roles like this for her, please. And also, more movies like this, please.

Consensus: Even if it does take some odd twists in the later-half, Miss Sloane is a fun, crackling, and spitfire thriller that may be about something as boring as getting a bill passed, but has just as many explosions and battles than any summer blockbuster.

8 / 10

Fourth-wall already broken?!? This movie has no rules!

Fourth-wall already broken?!? This movie has no rules!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Collider

Little Men (2016)

Adults ruin all the fun!

After the death of his grandfather, Jake (Theo Taplitz) and his parents move into his apartment complex in Brooklyn. There, he meets Tony (Michael Barbieri) a young Hispanic kid who shares the same fun interests that Jake does and also happens to always be around the area a whole lot. It’s a solid friendship that’s built mostly on their shared love of video-games and acting, but beyond them, there’s something far more serious going on. Jake’s parents, Brian (Greg Kinnear) and Kathy (Jennifer Ehle), have inherited mostly all of what the grandfather had, including the thrift store located underneath them. The thrift store is currently being run and maintained by Tony’s mom, Leonor (Paulina Garcia), who seems perfectly comfortable with her business, even if she knows that her time is going to be quite limited there, what with rent getting higher and higher in the area. Now feeling the push from Brian to pay the necessary amount of rent to stay, Leonor starts to pull Tony further and further away from Jake, leading to the boys giving their parents the silent treatment, as most kids their age are perhaps most known for doing.

"I stubbed my toe!"

“I stubbed my toe!”

The best thing about Little Men is that writer/director Ira Sachs, who I’ve never been quite a huge fan of, never seems to judge a single person in this whole entire movie. Every character here acts in a selfish manner, somehow, none of them are ever seen as “the bad guys”, nor are the others seen as “the good guys”. If anything, everyone here is just a person – they all make their own choices, decisions and matters in life, regardless of whether or not they’re actually the right, or smart ones, to make.

And that’s why, for all of its small, understated moments, Little Men is quite the flick.

It’s the kind that moves at such an efficient pace that you hardly even realize that it’s just barely under-an-hour-an-a-half, but feels way shorter. With his past few movies, Sachs has shown that he’s not afraid to settle things down with his plots and keep them as languid as humanly possible, but because of that, they tend to just be boring. Here, it’s very different; with what feels like it was a very quick-shoot, with barely any time to waste, Sachs creates a very quick, but meaningful tale of growing up and also, getting older.

See, if anything, Little Men is a coming-of-ager that’s actually painfully honest about getting older and trying to see the world, not just through your own, rapidly maturing eyes, but through your parent’s as well. Sachs does a smart job of showing us not only why this situation is bad for the two kids at the center of the flick, but why it’s bad for all of the parents, too; after all, they are the ones who are having this disagreement, not the little ones. How this one situation affects just about everyone around them is important and more specifically, handled so well by Sachs, who seems to give each and every character some sort of detail that makes them more inherently interesting as the time goes by.

It’s also the cast who are all quite great, too, especially the kids at the center.

Cheer up, parents. You've still got the second generation to think about here.

Cheer up, parents. You’ve still got the second generation to think about here.

While I’ve never seen them in anything before, both Theo Taplitz and Michael Barbieri are great here and not only feel like actual, real life kids, but their friendship is an interesting one that could have definitely been its own movie, what without all of the parents bickering at one another happening on the sidelines. Taplitz is just the right amount of dorky and artsy, whereas Barbieri is just the right amount of brass and sharp, but together, they actually do work as pals; they both have a love for acting that shines through in a great scene, but they also seem to get along whenever they aren’t focusing on acting. Sachs perfectly shows what it’s like to get to know someone when you’re young and just figuring yourself out, while at the same time, figuring out how that fellow person is going to factor into your life as you get older. It’s a beautiful relationship that, yes, at times does seem like it’s going to lean into some sexual areas, but surprisingly, doesn’t.

It’s just sweet and nostalgic.

As for the older folks in the cast, they all do fine jobs. Greg Kinnear turns in a very raw performance as Jake’s downtrodden dad, Jennifer Ehle is good as the psychiatrist mom who may think a little too hard, Talia Balsam is good as the snarky, sometimes mean-spirited aunt, and Paulina Garcia, as Jake’s mom, does a nice job, but her role is the one I had the most problem with, the same as I had with Naomie Harris’ in Moonlight. As Leonor, Garcia has a tough role in that she has to be a little unsympathetic, yet, at the same time, still sympathetic to us, if that makes any sense. The role is there for her to take, but for some reason, I couldn’t help but thinking that Garcia downplays the role way too much; when she should be engaging in some sort of conversation with the characters who are speaking to her, she just sits away, smokes her cigarettes, and then breaks into random, unbelievable monologues.

She reminded me of a femme fatale that you’d find in a noir, as opposed to a small, intimate indie, where real people talk, act and exist. Garcia was great in Gloria and Narcos, which makes me disappointed to see that her role, while clearly important, also feels like the most unbelievable aspect of the whole thing. Maybe I’m expecting too much, but I don’t think that I am: When your whole movie is based on the realistic look and feel, it’s hard to really accept the moments where something doesn’t ring true and just feels like a writer, well, writing.

Consensus: With a smart direction and cast, Little Men is an interesting, emotional and sometimes relateable tale of growing up, not just for kids, but for parents as well.

8.5 / 10

Kids, man. They're literally the future.

Kids, man. They’re literally the future.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

No (2012)

So. Much. Relevance.

It’s 1988 in Chile, and for the past fifteen years or so, dictator Augusto Pinochet has been doing all sorts of things that you would expect some person with way too much power and control would be doing. And for those who don’t like his ways, well, somehow, they disappear and are never heard from again. But the rest of the world’s leaders aren’t happy about this and know that in order for there to be peace and solidarity between all nations, they pressure Pinochet to put the next election to a vote. Against his will, essentially, Pinochet agrees and puts the fate of the office in the hands of the people, once and for all. Those who want him to stay vote “YES,” those who want him to go vote “NO.” In the month leading up to the election, each side is given 15 minutes of airtime each night to promote their cause on television. Running the “NO” campaign is Rene Saavedra (Gael García Bernal), a young advertising executive, who knows how to win the election the right way. However, with very few resources and a lot of tension coming from the opposing side, Saavedra and his fellow campaign managers run into all sorts of problems that may take them away from winning the campaign.

There's no sleeping in political campaigns!

There’s no sleeping in political campaigns!

Without sounding too obvious, I think it’s safe to say that a movie like No is pretty damn relevant to what the United States is going through at this very same exact moment. But that’s not to say that the movie is all that specific to just the 2016 Presidential elections, but more or less, every election, in any country ever. This idea about elections in and of themselves have become something of laughing-stocks over the years; everything is planned out perfectly, no candidate really means what they say, and when you get right down to it, all it is is a dick-measuring competition between two people who have more money than they know what to do with.

But No, in a smart way, changes that all up and reminds us why elections, or at least, the very idea of them, are so damn important to begin with.

Director Pablo Larrain does a lot of smart things here, but perhaps the smartest of them all is that he doesn’t lose sight of what matters most in between all of the crazy, sometimes over-the-top commercials, ads and whatnot, and that’s the human element of what was going through Chile at this point in time. No does tell us, at the very beginning, what is going on in Chile, but it doesn’t necessarily rely on a whole lot more than just that to inform us; simply, it uses the way in which these campaign managers all fight for their side to win, as passionately as they do, to drive home the idea even more.

It may not seem or sound like much, but it matters a whole lot. Larrain seems to be making a point about free speech, the idea of it, and why it matters so much in a society, regardless of if said society is run by a democracy or dictatorship, but never hitting us over the head with it. Because his story is about a political campaign, rising up against the more powerful forces that be, Larrain never gets preachy. He’s just telling a story, the way it deserves to be told.

And because of this, No can be quite a thrilling ride.

Some men just want to watch the world be a happy place.

Some men just want to watch the world be a happy place.

I’m not sure if Larrain meant for it to be perceived as that, but hey, it still works. There’s something incredibly interesting about watching and listening as a bunch of very smart, driven people, gather together in a room and figure out how to spin a certain story to make themselves look better, or create the most overly theatrical presentation and sweep the nation with their message and artistry. In a way, it’s a lot like watching the final season of the West Wing, but this time, barely anyone speaks English, is hardly pretentious about their work, and it’s a lot more condensed this time around.

At the same time, however, when No is all said and done, it still feels like a universal tale. Sure, this one in particular just so happens to be about Chile and how its citizens were constantly being held back by a brutal and rough dictatorship, but a good portion of the story can be centered towards other societies and populations as well. It’s not just about spinning a campaign the best way one can do, as much as it’s actually about achieving what you want to achieve and what you think is best for all those concerned. No deals with a lot of hot-button political issues, but it never forgets about the human aspect and knows that in order to make a society great, you have to have great people in it, who want to constantly make it better, and ensure that no more injustices are committed.

Isn’t that what everybody wants though?

Consensus: Smart, interesting and most of all, compelling, No tells a fact-based tale without hitting too hard on the heavy, important issues it’s trying to tell, as much as it just reiterates the fact that political campaigns, when done right, can change lives for the better.

8.5 / 10

Don't tempt them. They have weapons.

Don’t tempt them. They have weapons.

Photos Courtesy of: CTCMR

Captain Fantastic (2016)

Be one with nature. Not with people.

Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen), his wife Leslie, and their six children all live in the wilderness of Washington state. They’ve done so as a way of life for as long as the oldest has been around and because of this, they’ve taught their kids a lot about life. For one, they’ve learned how to survive, read, think for themselves, and take care of one another, without getting bogged down or too distracted by what’s going on in the overpopulated world outside of the woods. However, their lives all begin to change when Leslie suddenly dies and has a funeral back in her hometown, leaving Ben to bring the kids back around to not just see their real family, but the rest that the world has to offer. Of course, not everyone takes a liking to seeing Ben back around, criticizing those he hasn’t seen in years, but Ben doesn’t care – he’s too busy ensuring that his late wife gets the proper burial she deserves and so desperately wanted before her tragic death. But obviously, not everyone believes what Ben wants is the right, or better yet, proper way.

I'm pretty sure using phones is a big no-no when sticking it to the man.

I’m pretty sure using phones is a big no-no when sticking it to the man.

The first 20 or so minutes of Captain Fantastic are, honestly, pretty bad. Most of it takes place in the woods, with Mortensen’s character and his family all living away from the rest of society, loving every second of it, getting by and letting it be known that this is the way of life that ought to be lived. In a way, it felt like writer/director Matt Ross was saying the same thing, only through these characters; that living in an overpopulated society full of people, cars, restaurants, stores, etc., really isn’t what life should be all about. Instead, it ought to be lived vicariously through nature and appreciated for that alone. It was so nauseating to hear and watch that it had me feeling like it was time to just tune the rest of the movie out and hope that the best comes around.

But thankfully, it does.

Eventually, the story changes and all of a sudden, we’re given something of a “road movie”, in which Mortensen’s character and his family are out traveling, running into family-members that they haven’t seen in forever, or met, and trying to get used to these new surroundings. In a way, it’s a fairly more conventional movie than the one originally promised/planned, but it’s one that’s far more likable and well-done as it seems like, believe it or not, Ross has something to say and it’s that maybe living outside of society isn’t what it’s all made out to be. Perhaps, being and living around other human beings, doing things, communicating, interacting, so on, is really what’s the most enjoyable aspect about life in the first place?

Sure, it sounds so cheesy and obvious, but Ross brings this out in a very smart manner that isn’t ham-handed in the slightest. If anything, he gives us great, lovable characters and shows just exactly how they live their lives and get by, without ever trying for anything more. It sounds so simple and easy, and that’s because it is, but it still works so well that it’s hard to really get across, other than just to say, “Yeah, it’s a sweet and honest tale about life, growing up and accepting the world for what it is.”

Well, essentially.

"Freebird? Again?"

“Freebird? Again?”

And in it, Ross has assembled a pretty great cast, especially what with Viggo Mortensen in the lead as Ben Cash. What works so well about Mortensen here is that, underneath all the 70’s mop and beard, you can tell that there’s an earnest, lovely human being, however, he’s also a challenging figure. The movie is interested in exploring the ideals and history of this family, as well as it’s interested in just what goes on throughout this man’s head; he’s a barrel of contradictions who doesn’t always know what’s best for his kids, but at the same time, still doesn’t know what’s best for kids from other families. It’s not just entertaining to watch as Mortensen constantly plays around with what this character “thinks” is right, as opposed to what “is” right, but pretty interesting as you never quite know where he’s going to end-up next, metaphorically speaking.

Surrounding him is a pretty solid cast, though, who all measure up to his abilities. Certain talented folks like Ann Dowd, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, and Steve Zahn are all perfectly cast as the family members that he casually runs into during this trip of his and all bring out a different aspect to this character, based solely on the way that they interact with and react to him. We get a sense that they’re all loving people, trying very hard to connect with someone that they just don’t know how to connect with, mostly because they don’t actually like him. Sometimes, showing us a character and the way they are with those around them, does a better job than just telling us, which may sound obvious, but it’s a rule that seems to be lost on a lot of writers and directors today, which is why it’s great to see Ross utilizing that here.

The only downside of the movie is, unfortunately, the family of kids themselves.

Actually, that’s wrong. All of the kids in the cast are fine, but there’s one who seems like he doesn’t quite measure-up as well and that’s George McKay as the oldest, Bo. McKay is fine and does what he can, but unfortunately, his American-accent is just awful. You can tell that he’s doing one and because this character has a lot of yelling/freak-out moments, it’s not hard to hear it even more and get distracted. Also, not to mention that the character’s subplot can be a little silly at times; the fish-out-of-water scenario is a fun bit, but the idea that this character is casually looking into colleges on the sly and trying to make something of his genius brain, not only feels ridiculous, but a lot like a ripped portion of Shameless. Either way, it doesn’t quite work and because it does take up a bulk of the flick, it can’t help but keep Captain Fantastic away from being great.

Still, it’s a very good movie nonetheless so yeah, see it. Please. It’ll make you laugh, happy and possibly, even cry.

Consensus: Heartfelt, sweet, funny, and well-acted, Captain Fantastic takes what could have been a very annoying plot, turns it on its head and makes something exciting and lovely out of it.

8.5 / 10

Those kids desperately need Netflix in their lives.

Those kids desperately need Netflix in their lives.

Photos Courtesy of: Cannes, Aceshowbiz, Indiewire

Elle (2016)

Women, stand up.

After being randomly raped in her own home, Michèle Leblanc (Isabelle Huppert) doesn’t know who to trust or what to make sense of. So, the only thing that she can do, without alerting the police, is just get on with her everyday life, as if nothing had ever happened in the first place and everything is peachy-keen. She goes back to her job as the head of a successful video game company, where she gets on her a few employees, but also adores a few others. Meanwhile, she’s dealing with issues from her ex-husband (Christian Berkel), as well as her best-friend/employee (Anne Consigny), and cougar mother (Judith Magre), who spends most of her time and fortune on a much younger man who she hardly even knows, yet, trusts enough to get married to and leave everything to, if she does just so happen to die in the foreseeable future. And if that wasn’t enough for Michèle, she’s also got these new neighbors who are way too stingy for their own good, an immature who won’t learn to grow-up, and a possible affair that may be more and more scandalous, the longer she decides to not tell anyone about it.

Women and video-games?!? Say it ain't so?!?

Women and video-games?!? Say it ain’t so?!?

It’s been a long, long ten years, but you know what? Paul Verhoeven is back, everyone. And honestly, as corny as it is to say and type, he’s better than ever. While from a certain standpoint, Elle may seem like it has way, way too much going on for what it is, essentially, a revenge-thriller, but that’s the actual beauty of it. Verhoeven has made a career off of taking all of these different strands of story, putting them together in one pile, and letting it rip, which is exactly what he does here, but it’s far more than just pure, trashy, pulpy entertainment.

Believe it or not, there’s actually a heart and soul to Elle that may surprise you.

That isn’t to say that Verhoeven himself doesn’t have some fun with the material, because he totally does. In a way, Elle is his excuse to play with genres more than he’s ever done in the past. Thriller, romance, drama, comedy, mystery, nothing is off the table for Verhoeven and because of that, it’s hard not to be excited by Elle. Like he did with Black Book, Verhoeven hardly ever lets up and just keeps on going and going and going, until he needs to catch a breather or two, but even then though, in those very rare, small moments of actual heart and humanity, Verhoeven’s still restless.

It’s basically what he did with Black Book, but whereas with that movie, it felt like he was just sort of running wild, with nowhere to go, here, there’s at least something of an objective in plain sight: Telling the story of this complicated, yet, incredibly compelling woman.

And as this one woman in particular, Isabelle Huppert gives one of her best performances. Crazy, right? One of the best actresses to ever grace the screen, American or Foreign, Huppert gives what is, essentially, a career-defining performance in a Paul Verhoeven movie, and while his track-record with female actors/characters is, at the very least, spotty, he gives her everything to work with and she takes it all with flying colors.

That's not her husband! Oh my! What is happening?!?

That’s not her husband! Oh my! What is happening?!?

Because Michèle is such a difficult character to love and understand, Huppert has a great time; you never quite know what she’s thinking, what she’s going to do next, or even what her reasons are behind most of her odd decisions. But no matter what, her character is inherently intriguing, where she makes one decision, then makes another to contradict that last, and you’re sort of left wondering why? But it doesn’t matter – Huppert runs just as wild with this character as Verhoeven does with this movie and it makes me happy to see her finally, after all of these years, get some possible Oscar-talk.

Even if she doesn’t win, it just matters that she’s finally getting talked about, for what seems like a time coming.

Of course, Verhoeven’s caring and allows everyone else to put in some great work, too, alongside the likes of Huppert. Anne Consigny is great as her best-friend/employee who knows everything there is to know about Michèle and accepts her for what she is, warts and all; Christian Berkel is a nice fit as Michèle’s ex who she still, on some occasions, bangs; and as her cougar-bound mother, Judith Magre is such a blast to watch, playing-up the fact that she is ancient, but also isn’t ashamed of that. Deep down underneath the thriller itself, is a fun, crazy and sometimes thrilling family-drama that in a lesser-movie, would have been the only piece in the pie, but because this is a Paul Verhoeven movie, there’s a whole lot more pieces where that came from.

And in a way, it works and sort of doesn’t. Due to Verhoeven dealing and playing around with so many strands of plat and genres, he can’t help but get twisted up in it just a bit, which is what eventually happens by the end. See, when all is said and done, and we realize that the movie is definitely going to be about the actual rape itself, the movie does go off the deep-end, to where it’s far more sinister and violent than we ever expected it to be. Does it still stay fun? Yes, definitely. But what, at one point, was a cold, dark thriller placed in this believable, detailed character-drama, soon just turns into another one of Verhoeven’s slightly erotic-thrillers that care more about nudity and blood, than actual hearts or humans.

May sound like a little too much to ask for, but hey, so be it. Paul Verhoeven’s back and let’s hope that he’s here to stay.

Consensus: Wacky, wild, twisted and entertaining, Elle is a solid balancing act and return for Paul Verhoeven, while also featuring one of the best performances the legendary and impeccably talented Isabelle Huppert has ever given.

8 / 10

Can't trust that scarf!

Can’t trust that scarf!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Bleed for This (2016)

Never say never. Even when you probably should.

Vinny “The Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza (Miles Teller) is a local Providence boxer who shoots to stardom after winning two world title fights. He’s also got a bit of a brash, cocky attitude that ticks off everyone of his opponents, as well as makes him a fan-favorite for boxing and sports fans alike. He’s got so much potential to do great things with his boxing-career and he’s trained so hard for it all, that no matter what happens to him, he’s not going to let it slip away. Especially not even a near-fatal car accident that leaves him with a broken neck and ideas that he may not ever walk again. Rather than getting his spine worked on and giving him even better chances of walking again, Vinny decides to go with Halo surgery, that leaves him with this crazy box strapped to his head and shoulders. Why? Because Vinny believes that he’s still got what it takes to get back in the ring and defend his title. However, time starts to roll on and eventually, Vinny gives up, believing that there’s no reason to try anymore. That is, until he starts lifting and training again, even with the harness on his body. This is when his trainer, Kevin Rooney (Aaron Eckhart), decides to come back to Vinny and mount their comeback, even if absolutely no one believes that it can, or better yet, should happen.

I think it goes without saying that sex with that thing on is practically nonexistent.

I think it goes without saying that sex with that thing on is practically nonexistent.

Bleed for This comes so very close to be the ugly stepchild of the Fighter, that it’s almost distracting. However, what works best about Bleed for This is that director Ben Younger does small, rather interesting things to not just play around with the formula and conventions of a boxing movie, but avoid similarities to far better ones, too. In the Fighter, the movie was much more concerned with the wacky, wild and over-the-top family surrounding the title character, than actually him, whereas the story behind Bleed for This, and the very true one at that, is actually about the fighter himself and barely anyone else.

Just the way a boxing flick should be told.

See, with Vinny Pazienza, though we don’t really get to know much about him in the first act, other than that he’s a bit of a hot-shot and show-boat, the movie still makes up for all of that in showing us just the kind of person he truly is when faced with death-defying adversity. Once Vinny gets into the car-accident, it would have been incredibly easy and also, boring, for Bleed for This to become a run-of-the-mill redemption tale, played to hokey music and even hokier lines like “never give up, kid”, or “never give up”, or something along those lines, but Younger is a much smarter director than that. If anything, Younger knows how to avoid all of those age old cliches of what we expect from the boxing movie and find a way to not necessarily forget about them, but just not really embrace them much, either; he puts less of an emphasis on the fact that Vinny truly is an underdog and more of on the fact that this really happened and well, whether or not we know how the story actually ends, it’s quite a journey to watch.

It also helps that there’s a great deal of fun and lively energy to Bleed for This throughout the whole two hours. Whereas with Younger’s debut, Boiler Room, it sort of felt like all of the fun and wild energy was there, but soon, began to dissipate once a real, actual story started weaving its way into the main-frame, Bleed for This instead takes the story and runs rampant with it; none of what we’re really seeing is fresh or original, but it almost doesn’t matter. So what if everyone surrounding Vinny, including Vinny himself, all speak in ridiculous Boston-like accents? So what if Vinny works out and trains to AC/DC? So what if Vinny’s sisters all look and act tacky? So what if Vinny’s dads a little bit of a dead-beat and only cares about making money? So what Vinny’s trainer, Kevin Rooney, is an alcoholic, who has seen far better years as Tyson’s trainer?

"Come on, champ. Bring us home an Oscar."

“Come on, champ. Bring us home an Oscar.”

So what to all of this formulaic junk? Because really, the movie’s best and at its brightest when it doesn’t care about playing by any certain rules and just telling its scrappy, underdog tale, the way it wants to. Does it get wrapped-up in the usual issues that most sports movies do? Of course it does, but it does such a good job of telling its story in an exciting manner, that it hardly matters because it’s barely even noticeable.

The more sports movies that follow this path, I’m telling you, the better.

It should also go without saying that Bleed for This is helped out incredibly by the cast involved, most in particular, Miles Teller and Aaron Eckhart, in one of the best performances I’ve seen either give in quite some time. Teller’s brash, cocky attitude that may be all too real, works well for someone like Vinny, who may not be as much of a d-bag, as much of a tool who loves his body and loves how he can beat people up. In that sense, Teller’s perfect for the role, but also works in other instances when we see Vinny’s true colors and realize that, above all else, he’s still kind of a kid who just wants to put on his gloves and fight.

And come to think of it, aren’t we all like that a little bit?

With this and Sully, it finally seems like Aaron Eckhart is back on the right track to reminding us all why he’s such a talent not to be wasted on crap like I, Frankenstein, or Battle: Los Angeles (seriously, Aaron, what the hell, man?). Regardless, Eckhart’s great as Kevin Rooney, working with an almost laughably cartoonish Boston-accent that works hand-in-hand with his bald head and ever-expanding beer-gut. Is it the kind of showy role that most actors roll with when they’re looking desperately for Oscar attention? Pretty much, but Eckhart is so good here, it hardly matters. You see a certain love, friendship and understanding between him and Vinny that grows over time, making it not only seem like the two understand each other, but possibly even need each other, too. It’s basically a bromance, without all of the excessive hugging and kissing.

You know, typical bro stuff.

Consensus: Even with all the conventions of a boxing movie standing in its way, Bleed for This gets by on heart, good performances, and a great deal of energy that buffs formula in small, but smart ways.

8 / 10

"Yeah, they told me to win the title, so I did. Am I right?"

“Yeah, they told me to win the title, so I did. Am I right?”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Indiewire

Arrival (2016)

If they can’t speak English, can’t trust ’em. Right?

On one random day, for unexplained reasons, multiple mysterious extraterrestrial spacecraft touch down across the globe. What do they want? What are they? And what the hell could they possibly do? No one quite knows, which is why, as expected, the government gets on it immediately. And in doing so they, they put together an elite team including linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), to help investigate these matters and see if there’s any harm going to be done to planet Earth. No one quite knows how to communicate with these extraterrestrial beings, but Louise believes that she’s able to and starts figuring out what they’re language is, how to decipher it and yes, how to figure out all that they’re feeling or saying. It’s not an easy task, and with the rest of the world watching, sitting on pins and needles, not sure of what to make of these things, it becomes extra stressful for Louise. However, she has a plan and knows that it’s always best to treat outsiders with the utmost respect and dignity, especially if they could exterminate your whole population with the drop of a hat.

Hey, Am? Yeah, something weird over there.

Hey, Am? Yeah, something weird over there.

Another year and guess what? Another Denis Villeneuve movie. While saying that may make it seem like I’m discouraging the fact that one of our brighter, more inspired directors of today’s day and age continues to make a movie each and every year, it’s not meant to. As opposed to someone like Woody Allen, who churns out flicks because he’s got nothing else better to do and well, has the money, Villeneueve’s movies seem like they took forever to direct, are handled with care, and yes, for the most part, pretty damn good. Sure, at the same time, they’re dreary, sad, sometimes, violent, and yes, a little disturbing, but hey, they’re mostly all good movies and they deserve to be appreciated as such, right?

Anyway, with Arrival, it’s interesting to see Villeneuve sort of in a new light. He’s tried out the thriller genre by now, so instead of just focusing his sights on that, he goes towards sci-fi and it’s actually surprising how different this flick is from his others. While it’s still thrilling and sometimes unpredictable, it’s not dark, it’s not dreary, and it sure as hell isn’t ultra-violent – it’s actually quite heartfelt and inspiring.

Yes, for a movie about so-called aliens, I’m as shocked as you are.

What it all mostly comes down to though, is that Villeneuve himself never keeps us as informed as viewers, as we ought to be. Like Louise and all of these other characters, we don’t quite know what these beings what, or what they’re put on this planet for – what we do know is that they’re here, on Earth, and they may pose something of a threat. However, it’s interesting to watch as Louise and all of these other scientists get together and try to communicate with these beings in a relaxed, peaceful, and sometimes civil manner.

Most of the time, with sci-fi flicks especially, we see that the alien-beings up in the sky are evil and out to get the human race, but it’s a little different here; the aliens here look different, for sure, but they also have different intentions that we haven’t quite seen, or heard before in sci-fi movies of this nature. Even the layout of the pod is interesting; it’s literally one dark room, with a clear-glass and totally left up to our imagination – it’s dreamy, beautiful, but also terrifying, and seeing this on the biggest screen possible, honestly, the better.

Do scientists really look this sexy and cunning?

Do scientists really look this sexy and cunning?

Oh and yeah, Arrival is quite thrilling, but not in the way that you’d automatically expect. There’s some guns, there’s some explosions, there’s some running, there’s some running, and yeah, there’s some cursing, but it’s not all played-up for dramatic-effect because Villeneuve had nothing else better to do – it all feels earned. The movie’s main source of tension and excitement mostly comes through not knowing what to expect next and constantly waiting for this situation to get out-of-hand and spiral out of control, which it sort of does, but not in the way that you’d expect. Villeneueve and writer Eric Heisserer are constantly flipping the script on sci-fi conventions here that it is, yes, smart, but also interesting to watch, as we never quite know where they’re going next, nor does it seem like they know, either.

They’re just having way too much fun living life in a sci-fi flick and well, I can’t blame them.

The only aspect the movie sort of falls a tad apart in is the fact that it relies a little too heavily on this final-act twist that, for all the red herrings, curve-balls, random dream sequences, and symbolism, is still obvious and doesn’t quite pull the rug from underneath us. It’s hard to really be mad at a movie for not having a solid final-act twist, but there’s also something to be said for a movie that seems to harp on it so much and so often, that after awhile, it becomes annoying. We get what the movie’s getting at and because of that, it feels overdone.

Still, the cast is quite great here. Amy Adams is a sweet and peaceful presence as Louise, but also hints at having something of a darker side to her; Jeremy Renner plays the hip, cool and joking scientist that aids her in all of her work and has a nice bit of chemistry with her; Forest Whitaker shows up as the as the army Colonel, making it seem like he’s going to be the evil, dispirited villain of the story, but surprisingly, doesn’t turn out that way; and Michael Stuhlbarg, despite not being given a whole bunch to do, still has some fun as the coordinator of this mission and it’s just nice to see him around.

Consensus: Despite a weak final-act, Arrival is interesting, thrilling and smart, while also feature another win for Denis Villeneuve, one of film’s more compelling talents who seems to be challenging himself more and more with each flick he does.

8.5 / 10

Yeah, so what?

Yeah, so what?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, TwiCopy

Doctor Strange (2016)

He’s strange, but then again, aren’t we all?

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is, for lack of a better term, a deuche. He’s constantly rude, always showing-off in front of those around him, and throwing around his genius that after awhile, everyone around him learns to just accept it for him being just himself. However, his whole life changes when he gets into a near-fatal car accident that leaves him with career-ending nerve damage. Strange being the ignoramus that he is, believes that there’s a cure that save him and won’t stop at a single cost to figure out just how he can get his life back on-track the way it was before.  life changes after a car accident robs him of the use of his hands. Eventually, he ends up at Kamar-Taj, where he is told that, in order to receive the use and feeling of his hands again, he’ll have to believe in himself and everything that everyone tells him. Strange isn’t up for this, but decides that the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) may know a thing or two about achieving all sorts of crazy powers. And achieve all sorts of crazy powers is exactly what happens to Strange, however, he now has to think about how to use them: For himself, or for the greater good of the world?

He may be strange, but man, he sure is sexy.

He may be strange, but man, he sure is sexy.

Marvel is on a roll. You know this, I know this, Disney knows this, even Grandma Pearl knows this. It’s just a thing that every person in the world, even Zack Snyder and all his cronies, have come to accept and just embrace. Even the movies that are, at the very least, “meh” (Ant-Man), are still fun, entertaining and good pieces of popcorn fun because they’re Marvel – they’ve got a winning-formula and no one will stop them.

That’s why Doctor Strange, for some reason, feels like a breath of fresh air.

It’s not just a good Marvel movie, but close to being a great one. It is, yes, an origin story, but it also doesn’t try to make us understand each and every little thing about its mythology, what it’s all about, or what the tie-ins actually are – in fact, with the exception of maybe one or two mentions, not a single other Marvel character shows up here. Call me crazy, but I don’t mind that; sure, seeing the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, or even the Hulk pop-up, say a witty line or two, and then be off into the sun is nice, but it also makes the movie feel more and more like a product, than less and less of its own, actual thing.

Does that make any sense? Probably not, but it doesn’t matter, because Doctor Strange is a good piece of Marvel. Director Scott Derrickson clearly has a certain love and affection for these characters and this universe and it shines through just about every single shot. The constant trippiness and mind-bending of the visuals and the fight sequences, in 3D no less, make you feel as if you are actually stuck inside someone else’s dream and can’t get out of it; while that may sound absolutely horrifying to some, to me, it worked. Doctor Strange is the kind of Marvel movie that can get away with a lot because of its obvious tie-in, as well as its huge cast, and because of that, it’s better off.

It’s the kind of movie that gets to be all sorts of weird and goofy, but yet, at the same time, still work wonders that most superhero movies aim for.

Because even if it doesn’t want to admit it, at its heart, it is still a redemption story, with Stephen Strange at the center, showing us a person who can be awfully mean and unlikable, but at the same time, because he’s Benedict Cumberbatch, charming as hell. In fact, it’s perhaps perfect casting that even though I was initially thrown off by the awkward-sounding American-accent Cumberbatch uses, after awhile, it’s easy to get used to, because you accept this character for kind of a d-bag who, sometimes does the right thing on others behalf, and other times, doesn’t. The movie never makes him out to be a super, duper awesomely great guy, but more or less, some a-hole who just so happened to get some super powers. It’s a nice, refreshing touch that seems to be lacking in so many of the other Marvel movies, even including the Iron Man flicks.

"People didn't like our casting. Screw them."

“People didn’t like our casting. Screw them.”

And the rest of the prestige cast is quite great, too, even if they do have some silly material to work through. Chiwetel Ejiofor is good as Karl Mordo, something of a mentor to Strange, even if he becomes more of a sidekick by the end; Rachel McAdams pops up every now and then as the only human here and is fun and charming, bringing a nice bit of chemistry and flair to the screen with Cumberbatch; Benedict Wong doesn’t have a whole lot of stuff to do, but he makes the best of what he’s got with Wong (yes, that’s actually his name); Tilda Swinton is pretty great as the Ancient One, making her plea for her own movie, all the more understandable; and Mads Mikkelsen, as Kaecilius, is fine as our villain, but his character is also the main problem with Doctor Strange and Marvel movies as a whole.

See, it’s no shock that Marvel has its fair share of issues with villains; they do such a great job of building up and developing these ultra superheroes, that when it comes time for the foes to show up and act menacing, it feels rushed and weak.

Sure, Loki’s perhaps the only exception to the rule, but he hasn’t been seen in a Marvel movie in nearly three years, so it’s kind of a problem. And while Mikkelsen is as menacing as ever as Kaecilius, the character himself just feels weak and random; the issues that he brings up, or better yet, the reasons for why he’s acting out in evil, maniacal ways, never quite register. It’s hard to really talk about it at great lengths without giving a little bit away, but the realization of what’s going on and why he’s trying to destroy the world, never quite makes sense and feels rushed, as if the writers themselves were thinking of something to make him so mad about. That doesn’t ruin Doctor Strange, but it definitely does keep it away from reaching the heights it so desperately comes close to touching.

Oh well. Maybe Black Panther will hit the nail on the head?

Consensus: Even with the weak villain, Doctor Strange is still a wild, yet fun adventure from Marvel that adds another great superhero to its already stacked list of great superheros.

8.5 / 10

"Wingardium Leviosa!"

“Wingardium Leviosa!”

Photos Courtesy of: The Nerds of Color

De Palma (2016)

depalmaDon’t care. Black Dahlia still blows.

Brian De Palma has been making movies for nearly 50 years of his long life. Some, obviously, are better than others, but he’s still remained one of the more original voices in cinema who, with each and every flick, sees or tries to do something different than what he may have had to try before. So, through one whole sit-down interview, De Palma talks about his life, his relationships, and most of all, his films. No, literally. Every. One. Of. His. Films.

Love him, hate him, don’t have an opinion on him in the slightest, Brian De Palma has been around long enough to have the right to say that he knows a thing or two about what he’s talking about. Or, at the very least, get his point across in a manner that, sure, doesn’t always make perfect sense or justify the fact that some of the movie he chats about downright blow, but they do help clear some things up and make us realize that, “hey, maybe he just wanted to make a movie and try something. Why not?” Anyway, De Palma, the movie, will most likely change your view on the person and maybe, probably less of his actual movies.

Hey, who's that dude to the left?

Hey, who’s that dude to the left?

Either way, it’s a simple documentary in which we literally sit, watch, and listen as De Palma himself goes throughout the whole history of his life, as well as what each and every movie he’s ever made, means to him, or even, means to his artistic-craft. The movie is so incredibly simple and ordinary, that you’d think co-directors Noah Baumbach and Jake Paltrow just used their free time wisely, but it doesn’t appear as that at all; rather than us just listening in on a conversation, as if it were some PowerPoint presentation, Paltrow and Baumbach use so much B-roll and clips to help make these stories and little nuggets literally pop-out at us. It would have been easy for them to just have us sit there and listen to whatever De Palma wanted to say, but the fact that they actually incorporate everything else into it, makes it all the more entertaining to watch.

Which, for most people watching who aren’t familiar with De Palma, his work, or even movies as a whole, probably won’t have.

Sure, to enjoy De Palma, you don’t necessarily have to be a “movie-addict”, but there is a certain feeling of prestige, or general knowledge about the film-business, or even movies as a whole to fully understand just what De Palma is getting at half of the time. So yeah, it may be limited in that respect, but for those many who the movie does work for, it works like gangbusters; it definitely helps that De Palma himself is so off-the-cuff and open about every little thing that comes to his mind, that it almost makes you think he’s going to drop some heavy-duty secrets about the biz that may get him banned for life.

Say "hello" to his little friend. Aka, the budget.

Say “hello” to his little friend. Aka, the budget.

Things don’t quite pan-out that way, but they actually get a little closer. Fights with producers, studio-heads, narcissistic actors/actresses who wanted more spotlight than what they were given, etc. – De Palma calls almost all of them out, but it makes perfect sense. The guy’s been making movies since the mid-60’s and say what you will about what he’s churned-out lately, he’s still a relevant name that people look towards and mention every once and awhile. The movies that he’s directed (such as Scarface, or Blow Out), have all gone on to become something of classics, whereas others of his (Carlito’s Way, Body Double), may seem a tad bit unloved, but still get credit nonetheless.

Either way, watching De Palma makes you realize that the guy’s made some pretty damn good movies.

Of course, they’re not all winners and more often than not, they’re stinkers, but the ones that do stink so bad, have a reason for stinking. We find this out and plenty more in our time with De Palma and it’s hard to ever get bored by it. The only times where the movie begins to lag, honestly, are mostly in the moments where we focus on De Palma’s weakest, perhaps far less interesting movies in the later portion of his career, where he doesn’t say much, or if he does, doesn’t really have much to bring to the table. Of course, can’t blame the film-makers for working with what they’ve literally got, but it’s not hard to realize that the movie loses some muster in the final-act, when it has to stray a bit away from being sad and a little depressing, and more towards hopeful.

Even if, you know, a movie like Redacted is awful and the less said about it, the better.

But the more said about De Palma, the movie, as well as the actual person himself, hey, even more better!

Consensus: With a simple approach, De Palma gives us the certain insight we wouldn’t normally get from a legendary film-maker, that touches on all aspects of his life, as well as, more importantly, the hits and misses.

8.5 / 10

See this? Yeah, get used to it.

See this? Yeah, get used to it.

Photos Courtesy of: The Denver Post, The New York Times, The Movie My Life

Moonlight (2016)

Dancing in the…

Growing up on the hard, sometimes unforgiving streets of Miami, Chiron has had to deal with a lot. He’s constantly heckled for being gay, even if, as a young kid, he doesn’t even know what gay means, or if he even is it. That’s why a local drug-dealer named Juan (Mahershala Ali) makes it his duty to take care of him and be something of a surrogate father to him. Chiron doesn’t know what to think of this guy, nor does he really know what a daddy is; his mother (Naomie Harris), is currently trying her best to raise Chiron, but her drug-habit is so persistent and reckless, that even Juan, the one who is selling the drugs to her, has something to say. Fast forward to Chiron being in high school and, well, not much has changed for him. He’s still getting picked on, he’s still finding himself on the bad end of brawls, and most of all, he still doesn’t know how to talk to people. The only person that he does have some sort of a connection with is Kevin, a kid who may be in the same boat as Chiron, but doesn’t quite know it yet. Then, fast forward many years later and all of a sudden, Chiron is out of Miami, making money as a drug-dealer, and yes, jacked as hell. But how did he get there? And better yet, what’s next to come?

Baptize me in Miami beaches.

Baptize me in Miami beaches.

It’s actually kind of weird to talk about Moonlight, but trying hard not to say too much about it. For one, it’s not necessarily a movie built on the element of its surprises, or its twists, or its turns that the plot takes, as much as it’s just about the story evolving into something that we don’t expect from the first scene. In it, we see a typical coming-of-ager where a young little tyke named Chiron, or as he likes to be named, “Little” (played by Alex Hibbert), all of a sudden is being raised and brought-up by a local drug-dealer.

If this was its own little movie, it would probably get a 10 out of 10 from me. It’s sweet, heartfelt, honest, and perfectly acted by Mahershala Ali who, just saying, deserves something of an Oscar nomination (alongside Shia LaBeouf, but of course, neither of which will actually happen) for his work here, showing that the age old cliche of a drug-dealer with a heart of gold, really can be spun and seem fresh. But somehow, writer/director Barry Jenkins switches things up unexpectedly; the screen sudden fades to black and fast-forwards to a story that’s still about Chiron, but now, he’s older, in high school (played by Ashton Sanders), and somehow, it seems like a smart transition. For a director behind the camera and pen for a second time, it’s actually surprising how many risks and gambits Jenkins tries and yet, still somehow pulls it all off.

It makes me wonder why his directorial debut, Medicine for Melancholy was so, meh.

But that’s neither here, nor there.

Anyway, what Jenkins works with best here in Moonlight is that he tells us an honest, raw, gritty and sometimes beautiful tale of love, finding one’s self, and becoming who you are, through certain periods of your life, but it’s neither sappy, nor sentimental. In a way, it’s a whole lot like Boyhood – not just in terms of its narrative – but in terms of how it depicts real, everyday things that people go through when they grow up, but never sensationalizing them; for someone like Chiron and all of us, they’re just things that happen and help make us who we are. Jenkins is a smart director, as well as a writer, in that every single scene, literally, every frame, there’s not just a certain feeling of inherent beauty lying from within, but we also feel that this is one singular story, and not just our own that we can relate to.

And while, yeah, it’s great if you can relate to a movie, it’s not always a necessity and it’s why a movie like Moonlight, as much as it wants to be a typical coming-of-ager, is still uniquely original in its own kind of gritty way. Jenkins allows us to feel something for this protagonist, through all of the thick and thin, never judging him for who he is, what he does, what he becomes, and surely what he represents, but mostly just gives us a story of one person growing up, in Miami and encountering all sorts of painful hardships that gets so highlighted in so many movies, yet, so rarely feels as fresh and as organic as it does here.

Stay there, kid. It's not even worth it.

Stay there, kid. It’s not even worth it.

That Jenkins doesn’t tell us exactly how old Chiron is through all of the stages of his life, or where certain characters are at when they’re not seen on-screen, doesn’t matter; the movie’s not about the plot intricacies and structure, it’s about its raw, painful emotions that, after awhile, are hard to resist. The movie doesn’t ask for you to cry, nor even shed a tear, but it’s hard not to. Its story is so simple and so easy-to-follow, that it’s almost criminal.

How can so many movies with the same structure and same messages still get everything so wrong?

Regardless, Moonlight may also be one of the rare movies in which its lead character is played to perfection by all of its different players. As a pre-teen, Alex Hibbert gets down perfectly the sheer innocence and sweetness that so many kids are born with and can’t ever shake off, regardless of how awful their surroundings get; as a teenager, Ashton Sanders is also quite great, showing a great deal of intensity and emotion, even without uttering a single word half of the time; and as a grown man who would literally have King Kong turning back for his island, Trevante Rhodes, an actual athlete who competed in the Olympics, is absolutely brilliant, not just displaying the same sense of raw intensity and emotion without saying anything like Sanders did, but going even further and showing us that there’s a small, vulnerable child still somehow trapped in there. It doesn’t get any better than these three and honestly, it makes me wonder where their careers are going to go next, what with all of the lovely attention this has been getting.

But of course, there’s others in the cast and they’re all quite good, too. Janelle Monae shows up as Juan’s girlfriend/possible wife and fits perfectly into this movie’s world; Jharrel Jerome plays Kevin as a teen and does a great job showing a certain personality in a story that can get as bleak as Moonlight‘s; Andre Holland plays an older-version of Kevin and is quite perfect, showing a great deal of the same personality, but with an even better chemistry with Rhodes; and, well, unfortunately, Naomie Harris plays the drug-addicted mother of Chiron’s and she’s just not good. It’s a shame, too, because in all honesty, Harris is good in mostly everything else I see her in, but here, she was just so over-the-top and crazy, that she literally felt one crack-pipe away from Rosario Dawson’s similar character in Gimme Shelter. The movie tries to make her more than just the typical, cliche druggie-mommy, but in all honesty, she’s even worse as she really does carry the movie down with her.

Hence why a 9 and not a 10. Sorry, fellas.

Consensus: Even with a plot as simple as this, Moonlight is still painstakingly raw and emotional, that it reaches for the sky, hits it, and then some, echoing in a new, exciting voice with Barry Jenkins.

9 / 10

Silent, but definitely deadly.

Silent, but definitely deadly.

Photos Courtesy of:

Courage Under Fire (1996)

Who to trust? The hunky guys? Or the gal?

While he was on-duty during the Gulf War, Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) accidentally caused a friendly fire incident and it caused him to rethink his military career, even if his superiors were able to look the other way for it. Now, with the war-effort over, he is assigned to investigate the case of Army Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan), a soldier who was killed in action when her Medevac unit was attempting to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter. And while it seems like a simple case of a solider being killed by enemy-fire, the more and more Serling begins to look, the more he realizes that there’s more to this story than just what’s on the surface. In a way, someone on the U.S.’s side could have killed Walden and if so, for what reasons? By interviewing everyone involved with the incident and who worked closely with Walden on that one specific day, Serling hopes to find it all out and then some.

Meg and Matt? What a dynamic duo!

Meg and Matt? What a dynamic duo!

Courage Under Fire is a lot like A Few Good Men in that, yes, it’s a fairly conventional drama-thriller that deals with the Army and a case that needs to be solved, however, it ends on a far more interesting note than it may have ever set out for. With the later, it’s become infamous for its final showdown between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise and all of the countless conversations to follow, but with Courage Under Fire, that discussion is literally the whole two hours. In a way, Courage Under Fire is a conversation and an argument both for, as well as against the Army and the war-effort during the Gulf War of ’91, that neither pays tribute, nor attacks the soldiers who have, or haven’t participated in it.

Which is to say that it’s a good movie, yes, but it’s also more than just your average war-drama.

Director Edward Zwick knows how to handle a lot of material all at once, but what’s surprising the most here is that he does seem to actually settle things down and focus on the smaller details of the story that make it so dramatic. Sure, whenever he takes a flashback to the actual incident itself, the movie is chock full of action, with bullets flying, people dying, and explosions coming out of nowhere. At first, it may feel a tad uneven, but eventually, the movie, as well as Zwick, begin to find a groove that works in helping for the movie get to its smaller moments, while also giving the action-junkies a little something to taste on.

After all, the movie, from the ads and posters and whatnot, does appear to be promising this slam-bang, action-thriller of a war flick, which is also very far from the truth. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t thrills, chills and action – there is, it’s just not in the forms of any sort of violence. Instead, it all seems to come from learning more and more about what really happened in this incident, realizing the conspiracy theories and cover-ups, and then, also seeing all of the different perspectives and how those characters shape the perspectives themselves. It’s a whole lot like Rashomon, but there’s a whole lot going on that keeps the similarities at bay, and instead, just feels like an interesting way to tell a mystery that could have been dull, boring and, honestly, uninteresting.

It’s also very hard to make a movie as dull and and as uninteresting as the one it could have been, especially what with the great cast on-hand.

"No blinking!"

“No blinking!”

As is usually the case, Denzel Washington is great in this lead role, showing a lot of dramatic-depth and compassion, without hardly saying anything at all. He’s the kind of actor that gets by solely on a look of his face and totally makes the scene his, and even though his role may not have been as fully-written as he’s used to working with, it’s still a role that Washington himself works wonders with, even if he does have to put in a little extra here and there. It’s also nice to see the likes of Lou Diamond Phillips, Seth Gilliam, and a young Matt Damon, as the soldiers involved with the incident, showing us more into their souls and what they saw.

But really, it’s the performance from Meg Ryan that makes the movie so good, as she shows a rough, tough and brave character who, despite what version of her, we hear and/or see, is still an admirable one. Ryan may seem like an odd-choice for this role, but as she proved in the 90’s, she owned almost every role thrown at her, and it was nice to see her do well with a role for someone who was, essentially, shown in just flashbacks. It honestly makes me wish she did more drama and stayed away from all of the non-stop rom-coms, as she clearly had the chops to pull it all off, but yeah, unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

And now, nobody knows quite where she’s gone.

Consensus: With a timely, smart message about war, Courage Under Fire brings a lot of thought and discussion to its sometimes predictable format.

8 / 10

Just one of the guys. Except, a lot prettier. Depending on who you ask.

Just one of the guys. Except, a lot prettier. Depending on who you ask.

Photos Courtesy of: Writer’s Digest, Teach With Movies, Empire

The Accountant (2016)

Math truly can drive people to murder.

Ever since he was a kid, Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) has had issues dealing with the world around him. Now that he’s older and on his own, well, he’s a whole lot wiser, even if his people skills aren’t all that great still. Still, he’s a mathematics savant that helps him get by and make a living, solely freelancing as an accountant for dangerous criminal organizations and other shady businessmen who sometimes like to keep their private information, well, private. However, a certain someone is trying to find out just who this Christian Wolff guy is and what his plan is – and that certain someone is treasury agent Ray King (J.K. Simmons), who recruits a young employee (Cynthia Addai-Robinson) to assist him in any way that she can. While they’re are looking into him, Christian takes on a state-of-the-art robotics company as a legitimate client. But once Wolff realizes that there’s more going on underneath the hood of this company, then more and more people start getting killed, which leads Wolff to making some very deadly decisions.

Is this how accountants fall in love?

Is this how accountants fall in love?

A part of me is actually surprised about the Accountant‘s rather lackluster reception among critics. Here is, for the most part, a piece of adult-entertainment, that’s dark, weird, violent, and mysterious. I dare call it “original”, because lord only knows how many movies about murderous-accountants there are actually out there (Google says “none”, but you never know), but still, it has all the qualities of the sort of movie that critics and adult-audiences seem to love and adore.

So why don’t more and more people like it?

Well, for the most part, it is a very odd movie. Despite director Gavin O’Connor having made some normal, relatively simple character-studies with Warrior, Miracle and Tumbleweeds, here, he seems to have gotten brought into the cold, cruel world of Bill Dubuque’s script – one that literally features an accountant with Autism, kicking ass, taking names, and shooting all sorts of people down, whenever he isn’t doing math and charming the pants off of fellow accountants. It sounds so strange and in ways, it actually is, but somehow, Dubuque and O’Connor seem to come together in a way that makes this weird world actually work and take place in some sort of reality to where we care for the characters, their situations and most importantly, what actually happens.

The Accountant is interesting in that it wants to be about Christian Wolff, his issues growing up, and his issues as an older-man trying to wade through the world, but at the same time, still wants to be this violent thriller in which rich people are getting knocked-off one by one. We know there’s a connection along the way, somewhere, however, the movie still plays both sides of the field, making it appear to be two movies, yet, still feeling wholly as one. It’s odd to describe, I know, but the Accountant is the kind of disjointed, uneven movie I would normally despise and be confused by, but that didn’t happen this time – instead, I was actually brought in by the story and most of all, its characters.

And playing against-type, Ben Affleck is, as usual, pretty great. He has a lot of weird tics that he has to go through with Christian Wolff, but mostly, Affleck does it all in an effective way to where this guy’s still a total mystery and we don’t know what he’s going to do next, or to whom, yet, we still like and trust that he’s a good person. Part of that is Affleck’s general likability, but another part of it is that the movie does an effective job of placing flashbacks when they need to be placed, which allows us to know more and more about Wolff’s adolescence and get a better, if more sad, picture of what this dude’s life has been.

Oh, and it also helps us be absolutely shocked when he starts killing people with the simple pull of a trigger.

"Yeah, I know. But the solo Batman movie will be better."

“Yeah, I know. But the solo Batman movie will be better.”

Others in the cast are quite good, too. Anna Kendrick has a silly role as the fellow auditor, but still gets by on being charming; J.K. Simmons has a dumb scene in which his character explains everything that we need to know about Wolff and their history together, but besides that, he still does a solid job playing; Jon Bernthal is cool, but menacing as the one hitman who’s going around and shooting down all of these rich folks; Jon Lithgow has a couple of crazy moments that makes me wish he would take more of these darker flicks; and Jeffrey Tambor, unfortunately, isn’t around a whole lot, but a part of me feels like a lot of his stuff may be somewhere on the cutting-room floor.

Still, what all of these performers do, and do well, is that they all add a little something to a movie that, quite frankly, could have come off way too serious and melodramatic. In a way, they help it all come-off more legitimate, with Bernthal actually getting one or two emotional moments that hit the right notes, even in a movie that wouldn’t seem to know anything about them. This allows for all of the blood and violence that does eventually come around, to hit a whole lot harder and feel like more than just your typical action-thriller – it’s one with more on its mind and more in its heart.

As strange as that heart may be.

Consensus: While not perfect and definitely an odd hybrid, the Accountant gets by on a solid cast, a smart direction that takes itself seriously just enough, and a couple of nice twists and turns that keep this mystery alive.

8 / 10

So. Many. Numbers.

So. Many. Numbers.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Best in Show (2000)

Are people this crazy at cat shows?

Eccentric show dog owners travel to compete at the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show. Some are crazy, some are determined, and some, well, nobody really knows. Regardless of what they are, they are all under one roof, going for the number one spot of having the best dog in the show.

Improv comedy is sort of a gamble in that, if you have the right people, it works. For Guest and his usual suspects, it tends to normally go by all fine, but there are the times in which you can tell that he’s just rolling with whatever weird and crazy stuff he can find, even when some of it can be cut. Such is the case when you have a whole cast just ad-libbing whatever comes to their mind naturally, but somehow, Guest can get by fine with it because he’s had enough material to work with and of course, the solid cast and crew to play with, too.

America's favorite ad-lib couple.

America’s favorite ad-lib couple.

And really, that’s the main thing to talk about when discussing Best in Show, as they’re all the reason why the movie does, and honestly, doesn’t work.

Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara probably deserve some of the highest praise out of the whole cast, because not only is their chemistry perfect, but the little running-gag about O’Hara’s character is probably the best in the whole film. The whole gag is about how she was pretty funky and wild when she was younger, and before she met Levy’s character, so therefore, every guy that she sees in person comes up to her, talking about their wild nights together and it just gets even crazier and crazier as you hear more about it. Especially the one scene with Larry Miller who plays an old flame, and just knows how to make everything so terribly uncomfortable for all. Also, Levy is probably the most endearing character out of this whole film since this guy just never seems to cut a break and get away from a guy his wife hasn’t slept with.

There’s also the terribly neurotic, snooty couple, Parker Posey and Michael Hitchcock, who both do terrific jobs with their roles as they are the type of people you get with any one of these high-flying competitions where people literally lose their cool over the smallest things out there. All of the fights they have are hilarious and seem so over-the-top, but in all honesty, who the hell cares? Each one is funny and they all have great chemistry together, you know, when they’re just going at it on one another.

We also have the stereotypical gay couple, played by John Michael Higgins and Michael McKean, and have a great chemistry together, very surprisingly, and also have some of the best lines in the whole film. Higgins is always a comedic actor that I have always appreciated when I see him show up in random junk like Fired Up or The Ugly Truth, because he always ends up stealing the show, as he does here. Sure, it’s a stereotype of what we normally see made of gay characters in movies and TV, but it still works and not necessarily made to offend.

After all, like everyone else here, he’s just a character.

The true couple.

The true couple.

Then, there is also the one “couple” that has the dog that’s one two years in a row, played by Jane Lynch and Jennifer Coolidge, and they both play their typical characters that we have seen them both play before. Lynch is probably the better of the two because there’s a deep and dark intensity to her character that I feel like this film could have went into more about, in order to create funnier and more memorable moments, but I guess it was all about going with the flow on this one.

The weakest character out of the whole bunch would probably have to be Guest’s own character he played. It’s not that this character isn’t interesting or funny, he just seems very unoriginal in the fact that he is the usual dumb hillbilly that comes from the roots of the woods, and says things very strangely in his country-bumpkin accent. It’s understood what the one single joke about this character is going to be from the beginning, and rather than trying find variances on it, Guest sort of goes with the same one, over and over again.

Still, the real show is left up to Fred Willard to steal and that, thankfully, he does.

As the head color-commentator, Willard gets to do a whole lot of crazy and random things, by mostly just saying whatever comes to his mind first, even if it has nothing to do with the actual dog show and you know what? It works so perfectly well. Willard has perfect comedic timing and whenever he says something dumb, you don’t care because the guy just continues to roll and roll with it, almost to the point of where you feel bad for the straight-man British actor that calls the show right next to him. It’s one of those moments where it makes me realize that Willard always makes me laugh no matter what it is that he does.

Consensus: Though it’s not always a winner with it’s improvisational jokes, Best in Show is still a very funny comedy mainly because of the talent that’s on-display here, especially Willard who will have you in stitches by the end of it.

8 / 10

Who needs Joe Buck when you have Fred Willard?

Who needs Joe Buck when you have Fred Willard?

Photos Courtesy of: Film Experience Blog

Waiting for Guffman (1996)

Everyone’s got the acting bug. Some more than others, obviously.

The town of Blaine, Mo., approaches its sesquicentennial, there’s only one way to celebrate: A musical revue called “Red, White and Blaine.” And to ensure that everything goes all fine and smoothly with this musical, Corky St. Clair (Christopher Guest) is assigned the duties of director, writer, choreography and just overall boss of everything that goes on. Corky tries out a few talents but ends up settling on a bunch of excited but also, unfortunately, untalented locals (Eugene Levy, Fred Willard, Catherine O’Hara). For awhile, everything seems to be going fine – the musical-numbers are performed well and the actors themselves seem competent enough that they’ll be able to remember their lines when it’s showtime. But when Corky and the rest of the cast and crew find out that respected critic, Mort Guffman, is coming to see what the show is all about and how it’s going to go down, then everyone loses their cool and feels as if it’s time to crank the show up to 11.

Everyone needs a Remains of the Day lunchbox.

Everyone needs a Remains of the Day lunchbox.

What’s odd about Waiting for Guffman is that it’s probably Christopher Guest’s less known, or seen feature, yet, it may also be his best. It’s not perfect, but it’s tight, hilarious, and most of all, heartfelt. See, there’s something that seems to be missing from some of Guest’s other flicks and it’s the fact that he actually does love and appreciate these characters for what weird specimens they are; he may crack jokes at their expense and enjoy making them look silly, but he also enjoys their company and loves hanging around them.

And that’s why, Waiting for Guffman, despite featuring Guest’s typical jokes and gags, also seems like a tribute to the kinds of characters he likes to poke fun at and get plenty of laughs from. It’s less of a movie about the theater world and how thespians may, or may not, take their work a little too seriously, as much as it’s about these small-town, seemingly normal folks trying to make a difference in their lives, as well as the numerous lives of other people around them. Guest is a smart writer and director in that he doesn’t try and get sappy, or hammer this point away by any means, but there’s a feeling to these characters and this town that they live in that’s easy to feel a warmness from – something that’s not always so present in Guest’s other work.

However, it’s still the actor’s showcase no matter what and it’s why Guest, as usual, is able to work so many wonders.

Because a good portion of his movies are ad-libbed, Guest can sometimes forget when to cut a scene, or an actor’s antics, but here, he seems as if he knew exactly what to do and when to do it all. Everyone gets their chance to have fun and shine like the bright diamonds that they are, but Guest also doesn’t forget to cut things whenever necessary. Sometimes, it’s not about how much funny material you have, as much as it’s about how much of it works when cut-and-pasted next to one another; having someone go on and on about airline food is one thing, but to have a person make a line about it and keep moving on, especially when your movie is barely even 80 minutes, makes all the difference.

Yep, don't ask.

Yep, don’t ask.

I know this makes it sound like so much more than it actually is, but this kind of stuff and attention matters in comedy and it’s why Waiting for Guffman is one of Guest’s better flicks – a lot of the stuff that he would somehow miss the mark on in the next few films to come, he seemed to have nailed down here, which makes me wonder why mostly all of the ones to follow were, at the very least, disappointing. That said, Guest himself is quite great as Corky, playing up one of the best caricatures he’s ever had to deal with; while most of the jokes thrown around about Corky is his flamboyancy, the movie, nor Guest’s performance, comes off as homophobic. Sure, it’s funny that Corky constantly, day in and day out, still says that he’s straight, but the fact remains that Corky himself is still the brains of the operation here and without him, the play itself doesn’t go too well.

In a way, the same could be said about the movie, too.

Cause honestly, Corky is such a fun and lovable character, it’s hard not to miss him whenever he’s not around. Sure, the usual suspects like Levy, O’Hara, Willard, Posey and Balaban are all here to pick up the slack and still have us enjoy what it is that we’re watching, but Guest’s performance takes over the movie so much that whenever he’s absent, it’s hard not to think of where he’s at, or what he’s doing. Guest is obviously behind the camera, doing what he does best, but what about Corky? Sometimes, it’s best to just give us more of a character who is stealing the show to begin with. Maybe it’s not always the case with every great character, but it seems like it would have been perfectly fine for Corky.

Consensus: Funny, smart, quick, and a little touching, Waiting for Guffman is one of Guest’s better flicks that shows just what he can do when he’s thinking on his feet and is still capable of editing his material to perfection.

8.5 / 10

Somehow, it's not embarrassing. Or at least, not as embarrassing as some high school plays I've seen have been.

Somehow, it’s not embarrassing. Or at least, not as embarrassing as some high school plays I’ve seen have been.

Photos Courtesy of: Theater Mania, The Film Authority, Cinema da Merde

Wuthering Heights (2012)

Is it safe to say not much has changed?

Heathcliff (as the younger version Solomon Glave, and James Howson as the older one) is brought in off the streets from a nice Christian man, who believes that it is his god-given duty to ensure that those who are off far worse than him, should get the same love and respect as he gets. Some in his family don’t see it the same way, with the exception of Catherine (as the younger version Shannon Beer, and Kaya Scodelario as the older one), who instantly takes a liking to Heathcliff. While Heathcliff is supposed to be working on their farm, most of the time, he spends gallivanting through the fields with Catherine, falling more and more in love with her as the days go by. Of course, she may feel the same way, too, but because he’s black and doesn’t come from a very wealthy family, she begins to have second-thoughts about what those around her may start to think. Pissed-off at her, and especially the harsh treatment he suffers from her older brother, Heathcliff runs off into the middle of the night, presumably never to be heard from again. However, many years later, Heathcliff returns, only to find Catherine married to a much wealthier guy.

He's looking for her.

He’s looking for her.

It’s interesting that, for perhaps the 15th time or so, Wuthering Heights has been adapted and believe it or not, the story still rings true. Granted, maybe one or two adaptations is fine enough, but honestly, it doesn’t matter because the source material, no matter how old or stuffy it may be, still somehow resonates. Issues with class, race, and even sex, still stick around in today’s day and age and while Wuthering Heights may take an awful lot of staring and paying attention to grab a hold of these modern-day themes, it’s still a piece of material that works.

And in Andrea Arnold’s hands, it is, surprisingly, the best it may ever be.

Arnold may seem like an odd choice as adapting this source material, but it becomes very clear that, right from the grainy and gritty look of the movie, that she’s going to get along with it just fine. After all, it seems like the setting for Wuthering Heights, fits Arnold’s darker sensibilities the most, in terms of setting especially; she can make any sight beautiful, even when, in a film like this, where there’s hardly a sign of any sort of sunlight to be found. And while it’s definitely a bit distracting at first, the tight aspect-ratio works for the movie, having us focus in on these character’s, their emotions, and most of all, yes, “the action”.

While it’s hard to really say anything that happens here is, in the very least, “action-y”, if you love period-pieces that are ripe and filled to the brim with emotion, than this take on Wuthering Heights has plenty of it. Sure, some may see it suffocating that Arnold has us straight up in these character’s faces a good portion of the time, but it all works because it allows for us to feel the raw, dirty and downright nonglamorous love and emotions that they all feel at one point or another. Arnold’s style may definitely be manipulative, but it’s manipulative in the sense that it allows for you to see a story done so many times before, done a tad bit differently and judging how the results end up being.

She's looking for him.

She’s looking for him.

And with her cast, Arnold really seems to have it all worked out.

Shannon Beer and Solomon Grave are lovely and imaginative as the younger versions of Catherine and Heathcliff, respectively, but it isn’t till their older and more mature where the performances really start to click. As Catherine and Heathcliff, the older years, Kaya Scodelario and James Howson are quite magnificent because they say so much, with so little. The burning, fiery intensity between them two is felt from the very start and it hardly ever ceases, with Howson turning in some truly heartbreaking moments without even uttering a word. It helps that Arnold’s camera is, once again, practially up their noses to capture all of these moments of true, unabashed emotion on screen, but it also is left up to them to be handle this sort of material and put something of a different spin on it.

Of course though, you can only put a spin on an ancient tale so much and so often that, after awhile, there’s no more spins left. A part of me appreciates Arnold for taking this material on and trying something as different as she could think of with it, but there’s still that feeling that she’s tied down because of it. The freedom and the variety that’s been around in so many of her other films seems to have been lost here, if only because she feels as if she has to work for the audience who is actually going to go out and see this, all due to name recognition. Sure, it’s not a bad idea, but it’s also a bummer to watch when you know that someone like Andrea Arnold, can make so many more wonders, when she’s just got a little more freedom on her hands/

That said, it’s still great. So yeah, don’t listen to me, essentially.

Consensus: Dark, gritty and raw, Andrea Arnold’s low-key take on Wuthering Heights works because of its new spin on an age old tale, yet, at the same time, still feels like it’s holding Arnold back a bit.

8.5 / 10

Good thing that they found each other. Shame it seems to be in the wrong year, however.

Good thing that they found each other. Shame it seems to be in the wrong year, however.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Red Road (2006)

I spy with my little eyes, lots and lots of smelly people.

Jackie (Kate Dickie) spends her days monitoring a series of surveillance cameras trained on a rough Glasgow neighborhood. While it’s no stellar job, it’s one that she finds enjoyable enough to where she doesn’t have to do much except keep her eye out on any sort of chicanery or misdoings. And in this neighborhood that she has to constantly check out, there’s a lot of that going. One fateful day, however, while she’s roaming around on her video-cameras, she spots Clyde (Tony Curran) on one of the screens, somebody she doesn’t seem to know much of anything about, yet, for some reason, she becomes incredibly obsessed with him. With what originally starts out as her video-stalking him, soon turns into her following him around on the streets, talking to his friends and getting involved with his life. It’s odd, but Jackie has a reason for all of this and eventually, it’s all going to come out in unsettling ways.

Yeah, Jackie's a little strange, but hey, she's Jackie!

Yeah, Jackie’s a little strange, but hey, she’s Jackie!

What’s interesting about Andrea Arnold’s movies is that none of them ever seem to be “thrillers” in the literal sense, but for some reason, they turn out to be just that. Eventually, we get so wrapped-up in these characters, their lives, and their stories, that eventually, it’s hard not to be gripped by each and everything that they do, or don’t do. And with Red Road, that is especially true – while the movie is, plain and simply, a dark, gritty and slow-burning character-study, there’s still suspense and an air of mystery in it that makes it so much more.

But at the same time, it’s still an expertly-done character-study that, without the talents of Andrea Arnold, probably wouldn’t have been nearly as interesting.

While Arnold is in the perfect position to make Red Road some statement about surveillance, government’s reliance on it, and how normal, everyday citizens are literally paranoid every second of their lives because of this fact, she instead decides to just keep her focus as low and as tight as possible. This isn’t a tale about the government, police, or even surveillance – it’s about the freedom that this sort of technology can provide for someone, who is exactly like Jackie and in need of some sort of closure, or different path to go down with her life. The movie never makes it out like technology is this evil, or this great thing, it just shows that it’s a thing that can change a lot of people’s lives, while also making everyone seem closer to one another, even if they truly aren’t.

Once again though, this isn’t some sort of message movie. Arnold is smarter than that and knows that the ingredient to making a solid little character-study is to give us someone worth watching and caring about, even if we don’t know everything there is to know about her. Jackie’s a bit of an odd protagonist, but she’s one who constantly shows more shadings as the movie runs on by, with Kate Dickie pulling off a great performance, one that shows the subtle range we’re not too used to seeing from her in bigger showings like in the VVitch, or on Game of Thrones. Jackie is an intriguing character, but Dickie finds certain ways to make us understand a little bit more about her, through her interactions with those around her, as well the plain, but troubled looks on her face.

Hate that feeling of never know who's going to speak in an elevator.

Hate that feeling of never know who’s going to speak in an elevator.

Of course, there’s more to Jackie as we soon learn and this is where Red Road starts to fall down a bit.

What started as an interesting character-drama, soon turns into something of a melodramtic thriller that, yes, once again, may not be a “thriller”, in any sense, but has those same sort of qualities and attitudes that make it fit in with that genre. Arnold seems interested in having us know why Jackie is doing what she is doing and tying it all together in one, neat little bow, but honestly, it almost feels like it didn’t need to come to that. The movie makes it out as if Jackie’s decision wasn’t random, but expected, through certain twists, turns, and reveals that come to fruition at the end.

Are the twists and turns shocking? Yeah, they actually are. However, they also make Red Road feel like a different entire movie. What was one a small, understated character-drama about this Jackie lady and her quest into the dark regions of Glasgow, now all of a sudden becomes about her dance with darkness and how it all started. It felt odd to me, even if the characters of Jackie and Clyde, as well as the relationship they build over time, continues to be interesting.

Consensus: Not perfect, Andrea Arnold’s debut, Red Road, definitely benefits from an amazing performance from Kate Dickie, as well as some understated, smart writing that pays closer attention to characters we don’t always get to see in film nowadays.

8 / 10

My living-room, in this day and age of Peak TV.

My living-room, in this day and age of Peak TV.

Photos Courtesy of: Movie Boozer, Ruthless Culture

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