Advertisements

Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Category Archives: 9-9.5/10

Lenny Cooke (2013)

Don’t put all your hoops into one basket.

Lenny Cooke, at one point in the early-aughts, was considered one of the best, most-sought high school basketball players. He was fast, smart, and incredibly athletic. But the one thing that brought him back was the fact that he didn’t really care much about school. Like, at all. And considering that he grew up in poverty, he didn’t believe that having an education would really amount to much, other than just more annoyances in his daily life. So, rather than spending a year or two at a nice college, getting some form of education, and then heading for the NBA, where he would most likely be a top choice, Cooke decides to just skip college altogether and go straight for the NBA where, he hopes, to be the #1 pick of the NBA. Involved with the same draft were players of names like Lebron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade, among many others, meaning that while it didn’t look totally terrible for Lenny, it also didn’t look too bright, either. Fast-forward nearly a decade later and yeah, Lenny’s life is a lot different than he could have ever imagined.

Who’s that chump?

Lenny Cooke is probably one of the best sports documentaries ever made, but only because it doesn’t forget that in sports, just like in everyday life, there is above all else, failure. Most sports documentaries that we see talked about and constantly praised, have to do with the underdogs facing all the odds and winning the grand prize – or if not the grand-prize, at least something close to it. But in Lenny Cooke, the documentary, it’s less about achieving that grand-prize, or even working towards it, and more about just watching a person do whatever he can to avoid it, for no real reason other than, well, life.

And in that sense, Lenny Cooke can be a little frustrating.

Both the person, as well as the documentary. Then again, however, I feel as if that may be the point. After all, Lenny isn’t an easy guy to totally pin-point; he’s young, a little brash, and so incredibly talented, he almost doesn’t know what to do with himself. It’s actually hard to sit there and watch as he possibly squanders his future away, due to decisions that he’s just not fully equipped to make just yet. It almost makes you want to shake his head and tell him what to do, but it also has us grow a lot closer to him, as an athlete and as a person who could have possibly been one of the best.

But why didn’t Lenny become one of the best? There’s a lot of ideas and questions brought up about this, but really, there’s no clear answer. There’s a few – like how Lenny’s friends may have influenced his final decision – but not a whole lot to really nail down and have as the final say. In this sense, once again, the documentary can be a tad bit frustrating, while also making exact sense as to why it is frustrating.

So interested.

Cause, after all, in life, there are no clear answers, or solutions. Just moments and certain choices that eventually lead to something happening. And such is the tragedy about life.

And a lot of the credit here deserves to go to the Safdie brothers and producer Adam Shopkorn, who gets a huge deal of footage from the early-aughts, when Lenny was the next best thing in basketball. This footage, while remain gritty and in-your-face, also puts us right there with Lenny, watching his life flash before his eyes, allowing us to see his skill, and just exactly who he was off of the court. The movie never tries to paint him as a hero, a saint, or even a terrible kid – mostly, they show that he’s a kid. Insecure and way-in-over-his-head, like all of us when we’re 18 or younger and, essentially, have the world at the base of fingers.

Which is why when the movie does abruptly shift into a final-act where we see Lenny, in present-day, it’s downright shocking. Not only is he bigger, but the life he lives, is pretty depressing. It’s hard to really say why this is, if you haven’t seen it, but what the Safdie’s are able to capture and get in this final-act, without ever passing judgement whatsoever, is a down-and-out tragedy. It shows you that time can pass you by and even the smallest, teeniest, tiniest decision, can affect the rest of your life for good. It doesn’t matter if you’re great at basketball or not, life is unfair and sometimes, it can bite you right back.

You know, general happy feelings that arise with sports.

Consensus: Smart, affecting, and absolutely tragic, Lenny Cooke is one of the rare sports documentaries that views its failure with an unblinking view and never shying away from getting even deeper.

9 / 10

Ugh. Time flies. Savor it, people.

Photos Courtesy of: CBS Local Sports, IndieWire, Worldstarhiphop

Advertisements

The Hurt Locker (2009)

War is a drug. Use it wisely.

Sgt. J.T. Sanborn (Anthony Mackie) and Specialist Owen Eldridge (Brian Geraghty) are members of a bomb-disposal unit in Baghdad and currently, they’re reeling after the death of one of their fellow soldiers (Guy Pearce). But there’s not much time to sit around and mope, and before long, in struts Sgt. William James (Jeremy Renner), who by his own count has disarmed 873 bombs and is a bit of a daredevil. It’s something that Sanborn and Eldridge aren’t quite ready to get used to, especially after having just suffered a serious loss, but they decide to stick with it, for as long as the missions are set. But as the missions continue to get deadlier and deadlier, the more and more Sanborn and Eldridge begin to clash with James – he doesn’t quite care, however. He’s too busy diffusing bombs and throwing all sorts of protocols out the window with reckless abandon. It’s something that may not only prove to be his undoing, not just as a soldier, but as a human, and it’s why Sanborn and Eldridge are absolutely terrified of what’s to come next. You know, as if the Iraq War itself wasn’t already scary enough.

Cool, calm, collected, and a total deuche.

Surprisingly enough, throughout its two-hour-and-ten-minute run-time, the Hurt Locker never seems to make one single political statement. It would be easy, too, considering that it was a war with more than a few sketchy reasons for existing, starting, and continuing on to take on greater new heights, but director Kathryn Bigelow and writer Mark Boal are much smarter than to get too bogged down in that kind of stuff. After all, when everyone out there in the mainstream media is doing it, then really, what’s the point of beating a dead horse?

Instead, the Hurt Locker stays absolutely closed-in and focused on the soldiers, what hell they go through, how they survive, what gets them through each and every day, and just why the hell they need this war in the first place. Some do it for the sole sake of fighting for their country, meanwhile, others do it for the sole sake that they have nothing else better to do at home, so why not pick up some guns and shoot down baddies, eh? Once again, these aren’t necessarily ground-breaking statements being made on the parts of Bigelow, or Boal, but they do help us grow closer and closer to this movie as it goes on, continues to get more dangerous, and yes, depict that war is hell, no matter where it’s fought.

Case closed.

And as far as the war itself, the Hurt Locker is a total thrill-ride. Having already seen it three times, I can easily say that the movie doesn’t lose its tension, or even its element of surprise, because Bigelow just knows how to film this sort of action. While there’s a lot of shaky-cam, and chopping, and cutting, and editing, and fidgeting, it still feels reasonable – it puts us in the mind and state of these soldiers while they too are in this battlefield and it helps us get a better sense of just what sort of electricity may be running through the air. It’s basically a docudrama, but with really good performances and action that somehow, still continues to shock us, the more brutal it can get.

So many careers before Marvel came around and snatched them all up.

Which is to say that, of course, the Hurt Locker is an anti-war flick. But then again, it’s also not really making a statement, either. Through these soldiers, like James, like Sanborn, like Eldridge, Bigelow and Boal are trying to get down deep into the root of the war and what the real costs are. We see so much of the big-wig politicians on TV speaking about the war and how the enemy needs to be taken down, but is they who are in the battlefield? Is it they who sign up? Or if not them, what about their fellow family-members who may meet the criteria for being soldiers in the Army?

Once again, nothing new here, but it still deserves to be said and noted, especially in a war-thriller that has way more on its mind than just thrills, chills, bangs, booms, and shots fired.

Because it really is, surprisingly, a character-study of these three soldiers who, over time, get to know and trust one another, a little more. They may not love each other, but that’s sort of the point, it seems; Sanborn and James go throughout the whole movie holding a sort of disdain for one another, but when push comes to shove and their lives are in-stake, they come together and yes, kick some ass. It’s what soldiers do best and it’s nice to see them get the salute they so obviously deserve, having to pick up the pieces and the dirt from what the politicians leave for them.

It’s a shame, but yep, it’s reality. When will it end?

Consensus: Hard-hitting, brutal, thrilling, and above all else, thoughtful in its large presentation, the Hurt Locker is a much smarter Iraqi War film that honors those who fight, day in and day out, with all sorts of danger surrounding them.

9 / 10

Can’t be too hot, right?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

It Comes at Night (2017)

Stay inside. Watch Netflix. Never come out. The end.

In a world where a deadly disease has been rapidly spreading, a close-knit family lives together, holed-up somewhere in the woods, where they fight all sorts of everyday dangers, aside from the disease. While the patriarch of the family, Paul (Joel Edgerton), wasn’t quite ready to live a life like this, he knows that his wife (Carmen Ejogo) and son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) need him now and it’s about time that he took charge. Which is why when a mysterious outsider (Christopher Abbot) accidentally breaks into the house one day, Paul can’t trust the guy, or anything that he says. Initially, that is. After awhile, the two get to know one another, where they came from, and yeah, even forge something of a bond. And yeah, it turns out that this mysterious stranger has a name – Will – as well as a wife (Riley Keough) and kid. Together, the two families try to stay alive out there in the woods and fight the disease, but weird things begin to happen for both families and it comes to a head, especially when the lies begin to unravel.

New family…..

It Comes at Night has been oddly marketed as a typical and conventional horror-flick, filled with spooky ghosts, creatures, and happenings. It constantly seems to be playing with the fact that there’s an “It“, it goes bump in the night, and yeah, there’s something to worry about, almost in the mythical sense, as opposed to the realistic sense. And I don’t know if it’s smart, or just pure manipulation of advertising, because It Comes at Night doesn’t really have anything to do with spooky and scary monsters in the slightest.

If anything, it’s just about spooky and scary human beings which, from a marketing standpoint, probably isn’t the one thing that’s going to sell tickets to the everyday, average movie-going member. Nope, sirree. Instead, most want to see a dark, twisted, shock-filled, and gory chiller filled with ghosts, goblins, ghouls, and evil, satanic beasts that can only be things of nightmares, as opposed to the real, everyday world.

And that’s why those types of movies, while some being quite good, are just not my bag. They feel phony, fake, and a little too obvious to really creep me out. It Comes at Night, however, is my kind of horror movie; it’s the kind that doesn’t really deal with anything supernatural, but instead, shows us that these supernatural beings are always lingering in everyday, normal human beings who, when pushed to the brink of insanity, act just as ugly, or hell, even as evil as these monsters from other horror flicks are known for acting. Honestly, who needs a Freddy, or a Jason, or even a Pinhead, when you can just have a bunch of normal people, who have to act out, kill, and lose bits and pieces of their soul.

See why I’m not working in advertising?

Regardless, It Comes at Night is a pretty great movie in its own right, forget the whole “horror” genre tie-in. Writer/director Trey Edward Shults clearly plays around with his audience in smart ways, making it seem like the material is going to go down one dark avenue, but then takes another wild turn, going somewhere completely and utterly darker and more sadistic than you’d expected. Because of the small-scope, and presumably, small-budget of the flick, it makes sense that he’s able to get away with some of the mean stuff that he gets away with here – the movie doesn’t back down from showing people, making rash and sometimes, tragic decisions, while having mercy about them, also know that they have to make them, for the greater good of themselves, as well as the ones that they love.

…meet the old family.

It’s basically an episode of the Walking Dead. Except that it’s actually good. Not cheesy. Doesn’t feature any zombies. And, oh yeah, actually has something interesting to say. It reminds me what can be achieved through horror, so long as there’s something going on behind the scares, the chills and the brutality; just having a bunch of scares, violence, and oh yeah, gore, without much going on, doesn’t quite work. There needs to be a soul, a heart, a bleeding pulse to everything that’s going on, because without that, what’s the point?

Sure, some people may be scared, but there’s nothing behind it.

Then again, this is all just me speaking. It Comes at Night will probably fail ten ways from Sunday at the box office, but honestly, that’s because most audience-members won’t be ready for it. They won’t expect the movie to be more character-based and more about the decisions that these people make, and why they make sense. They won’t expect there to be a small amount of actual blood, violence and gore, with most of it actually being hinted at, or shown off the screen. They won’t expect it to have a whole bunch of questions, setting up its dystopian-world, and not really answering a single lick of them. And they sure as hell won’t expect the material to go as deep, as dark and as downright disturbing goes.

But I did. And that’s why I loved it.

Consensus: Remaining smart, interesting, and complex, even despite all of the violence and creepiness that eventually ensues, It Comes at Night is a step above your average horror-fare, showing more mind, than bravado, while still also not backing away from disturbing us in the meantime.

9 / 10

Let the freakiness begin!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Aliens (1986)

Aliens are pretty scary, but humans can be even worse.

After floating in space for 57 years, Lt. Ripley’s (Sigourney Weaver) shuttle is found by a deep space salvage team. Upon arriving at LV-426, the marines find only one survivor, a nine year old girl named Newt (Carrie Henn). And while no one on-board really knows who Newt exactly is, or why she was all by herself on this huge ship, Ripley takes a liking to her and trusts her with all her might. Little does she, nor everyone else know, that there’s literally a huge colony of aliens waiting to get rid of them all and it’s up to these rough and tough soldiers to step up, stand together, and get rid of the threat, because lord knows that if they don’t get rid of it in space, it may just come closer to hitting Earth and causing way more problems than they could have ever expected.

Say what you will about James Cameron, his scripts, his cheesiness, and his knack for going over-the-top, but the man can direct a freakin’ action movie, for gosh sakes. I mean, literally, there’s not a minute in Aliens that isn’t packed with some sort of fun, or intensity, or excitement in the air; it’s literally two-and-a-half-hours of pure, unabashed adrenaline, mixed in with some speed for even better times. While some movies like to pride themselves on being a piece of absolute energy from start-to-finish, very few of them actually are and it’s why Aliens, all of these years later, still reigns supreme as one of the best action movies of all-time.

Okay, so yeah, Jimmy Cameron clearly recycled some ideas.

That said? Is it stupid? Hell yeah, but with James Cameron, it works. See, whereas Alien was much more of a slow-burning horror-thriller, Aliens is way more of a slam-bang action-thriller, where instead of taking our time, feeling the mood, it’s a pure straight-shot from the get-go. While that may sound bad and a downgrade from the original, it actually works in the movie’s favor; we still get to feel the mood, we still get to know some of these characters, and yeah, we still get thrown on the edge of our seats. All the stuff that made the original so great are here still, but they’re just heightened to a point of where they seemed to have been replaced by something far better.

It’s like something we didn’t even know we needed.

But that’s why James Cameron is such a master at his craft – he knows what a movie-going audience wants and absolutely delivers on it all. Sure, he hasn’t met a cheesy one-liner he didn’t like, nor does he seem to stray away from macho-posturing, but it really doesn’t matter, because it’s so fun to watch and listen as these goofy characters all talk, scream, and pose their muscles. In other words, Aliens is the perfect movie for a nerd to enjoy and not feel threatened by, but also for the jocks to enjoy and not feel like they’re losing their reputation as one of the cool guys.

In other words, everyone can find something here to love and enjoy and at the end of the day, even get along.

See what I mean?

Now, isn’t that what movies were made for in the first place? Not just entertaining people, but bringing them together, no matter how different they may be from one another? To me, that’s what movies are about and it’s why Aliens, while definitely not the heartfelt, sentimental flick I’m making it out to be, is just a near-masterpiece. It’s got some stupid moments and Paul Reiser’s character, more often than not, feels like an unfortunate villain that the movie just falls back on for unnecessary conflict, but for the most part, every bit of it works.

And mostly, it all comes circling back to Sigourney Weaver in the title-role of Lt. Ripley. See, in the original, while Ripley was still a strong character, she wasn’t quite given nearly as much as she’s given to do here and it’s why Weaver’s performance tops everyone else’s here; she’s got presence and seems like she’s as tough as she makes herself out to be. But she’s also the kind of character that isn’t asking for us to love, adore, and praise her – she’s just a rough and rugged S.O.B. that isn’t afraid to stand up to those around her and speak her mind.

In other words, she’s the perfect woman. But also a little scary.

But that’s fine, because Weaver is great at these kinds of characters. After all, she’s practically made a career out of them and it seemed to have started with Ripley. While yes, even those on the side of her like Lance Henriksen, Michael Biehn, and the late, always amazing Bill Paxton are great to watch and have here, it’s Ripley’s show the whole way through. She reminds us not why strong female characters matter first and foremost, but why strong characters matter in general.

Especially in something that is basically an alien shoot-em-up.

Consensus: While undeniably cheesy and over-the-top, Aliens is also undeniably fun, exciting, compelling, and perfectly directed by James Cameron, that you almost forget how great Weaver is in the lead role.

9.5 / 10

Move aside, fellas!

Photos Courtesy of: Horror Freak News

LA 92 (2017)

So is this what that Sublime song was all about?

It was one of the most heated and controversial times in our country, the spring of 1992, in Los Angeles to be exact. With all sorts of racism, hate and anger brewing in the air, everything came to a head when four cops were acquitted of the crime of nearly beating Rodney King to death. It was a decision that shook the whole world, but for most of the citizens in Los Angeles, they not only felt like this was a personal attack, but a time for them to strike back, have their voices heard, and stand up exactly for what they believe in. And of course, this lead to some of the most shocking and upsetting violence ever seen in mainstream culture.

There’s going to continue to be a lot more documentaries out there like LA 92. Technology has gotten so grand by now that nearly everyone and their grandmothers have a camera with them, meaning that they’ll be able to capture whatever it is that’s happening in front of them. In a way, there’s no privacy and everything can be seen for the whole world, which may make someone very paranoid, but also makes it possible for small events, inside these huge ones, appear and finally be seen.

Wanna let it burn!

And it’s why LA 92 is so surprising, considering that this was around the time where not everyone had a cell-phone, nor did they have a video-camera along with them. So the fact that both directors T.J. Martin and Dan Lindsay were able to tell a whole documentary about the LA Riots, solely through video-footage, without any present-day interviews or narrations, or what have you, is truly astounding.

And yeah, the fact that it’s downright intense the whole two hours, is an even greater achievement.

Needless to say, there’s a great deal of energy simmering throughout LA 92 that plays out just like the real timeline of the events presented. The movie starts off slow and melodic, but there is no doubt an unsettling feeling in the air; it’s as if we, just like the people involved, know exactly what’s going to happen, and it’s only a matter of time. However, just waiting for it all to happen is pretty damn suspenseful and it makes certain horrors and thrillers shame in comparison.

Hey. I was using that.

That said, when it does come to the actual riots, there is nothing left to the imagination. You’d think that with all of the press-coverage this infamous event got and still does get, that there wouldn’t be anything new or surprising to see here, but there actually is. We get a lot of hand-held footage that puts us right there, on the ground, and in the action, and it’s absolutely terrifying. There’s this feeling that we, the viewers, are in danger and it’s hard to keep your eyes off of the screen. We know what the end result of this whole situation is, but for some reason, it’s still so insanely crazy and wild that it’s hard to not get involved with.

And because of that, LA 92 is an achievement. Not just in documentary storytelling, but editing and storytelling in general. It’s the kind of documentary that’s hard to really talk on and on about, without just saying that it deserves to be seen. Everything that happens is still relevant to this very day and while the documentary doesn’t quite try and make that comparison as well, it’s obvious, therefore, it doesn’t even need to be said.

The only thing that needs to be said is that you need to see LA 92. Please. Do yourself a favor.

Consensus: Exciting, tense, and masterfully put together, LA 92 is not just an alarming recount of the infamous time in our nation’s history, but a sign that moments like these will only repeat themselves.

9 / 10

Some things, you’ve just got to let figure itself out.

Photos Courtesy of: (not) to docFlavorwireSuddenly, a shot rang out

The Messenger (2009)

Possibly the only instance in which Jehovah’s Witnesses would actually be a welcome presence.

Partnered with fellow officer Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) to bear the bad news to the loved ones of fallen soldiers, Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) faces the challenge of completing his mission while seeking to find comfort and healing back on the home front. Meanwhile though, he strikes up something of a relationship with a widow of a fallen soldier (Samantha Morton), who shows him that there’s truly something to live and be happy about with life.

Co-writer/director Oren Moverman uses the Messenger to get across two points: The pain and grief one feels after the death of a loved-one is greater than any hurt ever felt, and also, that life after the war is incredibly difficult. Are either points being made anything new, or necessarily fresh? Not really, but somehow the Messenger feels like a real, hard, honest, and raw indie that doesn’t back away from getting down to the hard truths of the hard psyche, as well as still attempting to build character along the way. In other words, it’s a movie right up my alley and it’s a perfect example of what can happen to your movie when you don’t have a very high, mighty and flashy script, but plenty of heart and emotion to make up for all of the style and the bang.

When you’re doing the job they do, fishing sounds perfect.

And because people still can’t seem to get enough of watching veterans cope with everyday society.

But is the Messenger an anti-war film? In a way, it is, but in other ways, it isn’t; the movie is never necessarily arguing about the war, why it happened, and what it’s true intentions were, as much as it’s just highlighting the fact that there were many souls lost during it, both home and on the field. Like the Hurt Locker, the Messenger essentially says that come back from the war, can’t escape it, go crazy, and end up losing their minds, only wanting to go back for me. It’s the same old song and dance every single time but this time, somehow, it feels different as Moverman takes a look inside the mindsets of all of these characters and we see sad people that seem to not be able to move on in life, all because they were sincerely crushed by the war. You feel for them, you understand them, and when it’s all said and done, you sort of end up hating the war because of what it’s done to these characters. Moverman never once gets preachy and instead, just lets us look at the view of the war from these character’s sides and make up our own decisions on our own. It’s a smart move on Moverman’s side and it’s great to see an anti-war film, that doesn’t try to spell it’s message out for you on-screen in every single shot, even though, yeah, we know what it’s trying to get across.

And playing these characters are some of the best talents working today. Ben Foster’s pretty solid in his lead role as Will Montgomery, someone who, obviously from the start, has issues. However, the movie, nor Foster ever ask for our sympathies, or our love. We feel for him enough as is and can feel his pain from a mile away – it makes the performance all the more gritty, as well as his character all the more believable.

All a vet needs is some pizza.

And if Foster being a good actor in the first place wasn’t enough, then he’s given two possible love-interests here, both are pretty amazing in their own rights. Samantha Morton is always tremendous and here, she’s even better, playing the widow who may or may not just be lonely and need some human connection, or generally actually like Will. The two have a nice bit of chemistry that does grow gradually over time, without ever making it seem all too clear just where it’s headed. Playing Will’s “other gal” is Jena Malone and while she doesn’t have a whole lot of time here, her presence is felt, just by the very few scenes she and Foster share, bringing more insight into who this guy really is.

But the real stand-out of this whole film and this whole cast, is in fact Woody Harrelson as Tony Stone.

Woody is, no matter what, always great to watch. He can be light and charming one second, but then, out of nowhere, scary and disturbing the next second. Here, he plays a little bit of both, with the later portions shining the most; he plays Tony as a stern, serious and by-the-book guy who seems like he’s never smiled in his life, but can also be quite the charming fella, too. Harrelson’s performance can get so intense sometimes, you never know when the acting begins or ends with him, making each and every one of the scenes he has with Foster, all the more suspenseful and compelling. They’ve worked together since this, so obviously there was no love lost, but come on, you can’t tell me they didn’t give each other a nudge every now and then, eh?

Who knows? We may never find out.

Consensus: Heartfelt and humane, while also never trying too hard to get its anti-war message across, the Messenger is a smart, well-acted, and emotional look at grief, loss, sadness, and of course, PTSD, yet, handled oh so perfectly well.

9 / 10

See? Like they definitely beat the snot out of one another during breaks.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Two Lovers (2008)

It all comes down to choices. Really, really hot choices.

After his broken engagement left him cold, crazy, and very disoriented, photographer Leonard Kraditor (Joaquin Phoenix) moves in with his parents in Brighton Beach, where he spends most of his days working for his parent’s dry-cleaning service and trying to drown himself in lakes. Both of his parents know that he’s still going through a rough time, so they don’t want to push him too hard, but they also want him to be happy and feel loved, which is why they set him up with Sandra (Vinessa Shaw), a sweet Jewish girl who also happens to Leonard’s father’s co-worker. They appear to be a fine match, even if Leonard himself is so closed-off, but then he meets his neighbor Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), who absolutely takes his world by storm. But by becoming involved with her, Leonard also realizes that she’s got a lot of baggage to her, too, and Leonard’s not sure whether he wants to stick with that and risk all of the luxury in the world, or play it safe and appease his parents with Sandra.

Baby Goop?

Choosing between Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, man, what a terrible predicament, right?

Obviously, I kid, but seriously, just looking at this plot from afar, it’s hard to care at all; the three involved in this love-triangle of sorts are all hot, attractive people, who don’t know who they want to marry and spend the rest of their lives with. It sounds so terribly boring and nauseating, but writer/director James Gray knows how to frame this story in a way to where it’s not only interesting to watch play-out, but after awhile, we start to feel the same sort of love-torn and sad emotions that everyone else here practically feels. It’s no surprise, either, because mostly all of Gray’s movies work well as mood-pieces, but Two Lovers may be his most impressive, where he takes a relatively simple tale of two possible love-stories and finds a way to make them both sweet, heartfelt, and awfully depressing.

But still, somehow, Gray finds a way to make it all work. All the movies leading up to Two Lovers, for Gray, happened to be packed with action, violence, incest, and Shakespearean-twists out the wazoo, which is probably why something like this was such a breath of fresh air, as stern and as serious as it may be. Still, it’s interesting to see a lot of what Gray does well in all of his other movies, still works well in Two Lovers – it’s just that everything and everyone is so muted, you hardly even notice anything’s actually happening.

And yeah, it’s kind of beautiful.

Or, Vinnie Shaw? (I don’t think she has a sort of nickname so let’s just roll with that, shall we?)

In a way, Two Lovers is a lot like watching real-life happen before our very own eyes, where we see two love stories unfold, as well as the people themselves. Gray never gets in the way of the material and always allows for the actors to speak for themselves and help develop the characters over time, which is why a good portion of the movie feels like a really small, intimate and cuddly stage-play, where people are going to express their feelings for the whole world to see. But it’s not nearly as melodramatic as that, which helps the movie in the long-run; it always feels honest, raw, gritty, and believable, no matter where the story sometimes leads.

And of course, the performances are pretty great, too. It’s wonderful to see Joaquin Phoenix in such a solid role, where he not only gets to play someone resembling a normal dude – with obvious weird quirks here and there – but also a charming dude all the same, too. So often when we see Phoenix now, we know, love and expect him as the wild and insane guy who will literally go anywhere and do anything for a role, but believe it or not, when he wants to be, he can be quite a likable presence on the screen and have us feel some sort of love for him, too. It helps that this Leonard fella is already a strong character to begin with, but Phoenix finds smart, surprising ways to flesh him out to where he’s more than just a confused sad-sack, but a confused thirty-something trying to get on with his life, but just doesn’t know how.

Meaning, he’s like you or I, so it’s way more interesting.

The two ladies that Phoenix has to choose between, Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw, are both pretty good, too, giving us reasons why he should choose one over the other. But honestly, the movie isn’t really about “will he, won’t he” – it’s more about him finding a way to make himself happy and get past this deep bit of sadness in his life. The movie never tries to make one lady seem better than the other, nor does it have to; Paltrow is lovely to watch, as well as is Shaw, and both have great chemistry with Phoenix that I could have watched for days-on-end. But the movie isn’t all about who he goes home with at the end of the day and even when we do get to that point, it’s surprising and a little sad, but totally and rightfully earned.

Man. Why can’t more romance-flicks be like this?

Consensus: With three stellar performances and an interesting eye to romance, Two Lovers is more than just a conventional tale of two girls battling for the love of one man, and more about a man trying to figure himself out, and the ladies who just so happen to be near-by when it’s all happening.

8.5 / 10

Cheers to the winner!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Into the Wild (2007)

Run away. Far, far away. And piss off everyone you ever knew.

After graduating as a top student at Emory, Christopher McCandless (Emile Hirsch) decides to, essentially, throw any idea of a career away. His very wealthy parents (William Hurt and Marcia Gay Harden) cannot believe this, but they don’t have enough time to digest it all, what with Christopher literally being out on the road the next day, on his way to the Alaskan wilderness. Christopher doesn’t bring much with him, as he leaves mostly everything back in his house, with the exception of money, his backpack, and oh yeah, most importantly, his notebook. While on the road, Chris meets all sorts of wacky and wonderful characters, all of whom make some sort of a difference on Chris’s life, showing that he may truly have something to live for and above all else, may want to get back into society once he has completed his self-fulfilling mission. But, that may not happen for Chris, as he’s already risking life and death in the first place, while everyone back at home clamors wondering just when he’s going to come home, if ever again.

Be one with birds.

Into the Wild is probably the best film Sean Penn has, or ever will, make in his career. It’s the kind of movie that you don’t expect to work, especially not from an actor-turned-writer/director who has something of a shoddy, relatively fine filmography in the first place. There’s a certain bro-y attitude to Penn, the person, that makes him perfect for this material, but also not; to approach McCandless’ the right way, you sort of have to keep an objective view, never letting your own thoughts or opinions, as a storyteller, shine through.

And of course, it helps that the man himself wrote everything down while he was on this never ending trip of his, therefore, it appears as if we are literally watching him go from one adventure, to another. There’s no clear sign that Penn is trying to say how great it is that he got the chance to just let it all go and soak up the scenery, nor is there a clear sign in him saying that it was a terrible decision for the man to make in the first place, for all of those involved who weren’t him; in a way, Penn leaves it all up to us to decide, while he shows us both sides of the argument. Sure, it was great that he got to see the world and really couldn’t have given a crap about material things in life that waited for him back at home, but at the same time, he really did just get up and leave one day, without ever really telling anyone of where he was headed, when he’d be back, or what his reasons were.

In other words, he’s a bit of an a-hole.

But Into the Wild does work because it doesn’t always portray him as such, or if at all, during certain times. Mostly, McCandless remains something of a blank slate that has enough personality to matter to this story, but it’s really all about those that he meets on this wild and crazy adventure, mostly all of whom are exciting and charming to watch, bringing a little something extra to this journey. Vince Vaughn gets a chance to shed some dramatic-muscles as Wayne, a dude who gives Chris a job for a short time and may have something tricky up his sleeve; Catherine Keener is sweet as an older-gal who’s finding it hard to connect with her husband; Marcia Gay Harden and William Hurt, despite playing types, also show some more heart and emotion to said types; Jena Malone plays the sister back at-home who knows and trusts her brother enough to take on this situation with a smile on her face; Kristen Stewart shows up late in the game as a possible love-interest for Chris and shows him that there truly is something beautiful to life; and Hal Hollbrook, in what has to be the most heartbreaking performance I’ve ever seen, plays an older fella who picks up Chris, instantly takes a liking to him, and surprisingly enough, sheds all for him, as well as us. It’s a rich, raw and surprisingly gritty performance from someone who, honestly, we didn’t think needed to prove anything more to us, but here he is, essentially, stealing the show.

Be one with the sky.

Which isn’t to say that all of these people steal the show from Hirsch, either. He’s quite good here, showing that there’s more to this character than just a wannabe-hippy who can’t deal, man. In a way, he’s a lot like most kids who are fresh out of school and desperately need something to do, somewhere to go, and some sort of option/goal in life to have them continue on to live and be happy. Could his decision have gone down better and more thought-out? Sure thing, but it still shows that there’s a reason for what he did, and not just because he wanted to.

Man.

Anyway, Penn deserves the most credit here, taking a very ambitious, long and sprawling tale of one dude discovering himself, as well as the world around him, and never making it seem like it’s wheels are spinning. It’s constantly moving, always touching on interesting characters and points, never harping on any of them too much, and overall, just making us feel closer to this guy and more invested in his journey. We know where he goes, we know how it ends up, and we know how his story ends, but for two-and-a-half hours, Penn allows for us to forget about this all and just revel in the scenery, the people, the vibes, and yeah, of course, the sweet, soulful tunes of Eddie Vedder, in what has to be one of the better soundtracks from a movie in the past decade.

Consensus: While it may not have been easy to take this tale and give it the deserving film treatment, Sean Penn is somehow able to do so with Into the Wild, showing a certain skill for storytelling and character detail that makes this journey all the more compelling and interesting, even if we know just how it all ends up.

9 / 10

And definitely be one with your impeding and foolish death.

Photos Courtesy of: The Mind Reels, Linkedin

Logan (2017)

Not all superheroes have to be nice.

It’s sometime in the near-future and needless to say, the world is not the best place for mutants. Most of them have either been killed, or are so hidden away from society, you wouldn’t even know where to look for them. However, Logan (Hugh Jackman) is one of them and needless to say, time has not been too kind to him. All those years of violence and havoc, have now taken a toll on his mind and most importantly, his body. Now, it seems like Logan, who was considered to be immortal, may eventually reach his demise. But before that happens, he’s tasked with saving the life of another mutant, a little girl named Laura (Dafne Keen). She doesn’t speak much of English, but has something about her that makes those involved with killing mutants, now want her. Logan sees this as something that he has to protect, so along with another aging mutant, Professor X (Patrick Stewart), they set out to take Laura out of harm’s way. But to where? None of them really know, but they’re going to search far and wide, anyway.

Oh. Time has not been kind.

Oh. Time has not been kind.

After seeing Deadpool last year, I came to the conclusion that in order for most of the superhero movies to stay fresh, they have to up the ante a notch or two. Meaning, it’s time to get rid of all the bloodless violence, the soft and sometimes petty smack-talk, and most importantly, enough with the predictability. Say what you will about some of Deadpool‘s flaws (which there aren’t many of), it’s one of the rare superhero movies that feels like it’s doing something new with the genre, while also staying pretty loyal to certain tropes and conventions, too.

The only difference with that movie was that it knew what it was doing and wasn’t afraid to tell you, either.

And with Logan, the same case can be made that, in order for most of these superhero movies to stay fresh and somewhat original, they need to change the way we see them. Rather than getting another run-of-the-mill, cookie-cutter superhero flick in which there’s a good guy, a bad guy, a threat, a love-interest, and eventually, a final showdown, we get a superhero movie where there’s a few okay guys, a few evil guys, a terrible and disturbing threat, no love-interest, and eventually, a bloody, gruesome and sometimes mean, final showdown. So okay, yeah, not everything here is changed up and different, but Logan shows small, slight ways that the superhero genre can be helped out a bit.

Which is what also brings me to talk about the R-rating Logan was able to obtain and it’s actually what saves the movie. See, Mangold approaches the material in such a dark, heinous and sometimes gritty way, it seems like R was the only way to go to do the actual story justice. But it’s not the kind of R-rating that’s hammered in because everyone wanted to give it a shot; the action and violence is a lot more brutal and gory than ever before, the cursing comes at the best moments and isn’t shoe-horned in, and just the overall feeling of it feels more adult and mature than any of the other superhero movies floating around out there.

It’s as if the kids were left at home and the parents got a night out at the movies and for a superhero movie, that’s pretty damn surprising.

"You think you're more mutant than me?"

“You think you’re more mutant than me?”

And this is to say that it all works so incredibly well. Mangold ups the emotion, just as much as he does the blood, violence and gore, and for that reason alone, there’s more at-stake with this story – we feel closer to Logan than ever before, feel for him, want him to live on, beat the baddies and most importantly, continue to be the way he is. The movie never takes any shortcuts to giving us a fully-realized and complete story to this character, as well as Xavier, and at times, there’s something sweet about watching about watching these two characters, who we first got to see on the big-screens almost two decades ago, finally show their age and embrace the fact that their time on Earth is, of course, limited.

It’s sad for sure, but the movie never forgets that at its center, is really Logan, the rough heart and soul of this movie, as well as this whole franchise. And in his supposedly-final outing, Hugh Jackman probably gives his best performance as Logan, showing that there’s true heartbreak behind all of the killing and destruction he does. Rather than just being a guy who kills for the greater good of society, he’s really just killing cause he has to and has all of this rage hell-bent inside of him – it’s as if he finally stopped trying to please everyone and just let loose. Jackman’s always been perfect for this role and if this really is his last showing, needless to say, it’s the perfect swan song for him to go out on and shows us that we’ll truly, without a doubt, miss him in this role.

Now good luck finding a replacement!

And not just for Jackman, either, but for Stewart as well who, like the former, gives his best performance as this character, showing deep sadness and frustration within a character that seemed like he always had it all together. Stewart gets a chance to explore Xavier’s nastier, ruder side and it’s a joy to watch; not because we know he can do it (as was the case with Blunt Talk), but because he’s stealing every scene he’s in. The chemistry between he and Jackman also finally comes into play here, where we realize that they’re not just best friends who have literally been through it all together, but that they’re also one of their kind left and they both have a legacy to behold.

It’s sad, but kind of heartwarming and the note Logan ends on, well, needless to say, is perfect. It’s melancholy, depressing, and altogether, perfect. Where they’re going to go with the franchise, is totally beyond me, but I definitely look forward to it.

Consensus: With a harder, darker and rougher edge to it than the others, Logan works perfectly as a more adult-like superhero movie, with plenty of action, blood and cursing for the grown-ups, but a heartfelt, sad, and rather sweet story at the center, proving even more why Jackman is perfect for this title role and why it’s going to be weird without seeing him in it.

9 / 10

Save the girl. Save the world. Live on.

Save the girl. Save the world. Live on.

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

All About My Mother (1999)

Everyone’s got mommy problems. Some more than others, obviously.

Manuela (Cecilia Roth), a nurse and single mother tries her hardest to come to terms with the death of her one and only son, Esteban (Eloy Azorin), who was tragically killed when he was struck by a car. For some odd reason, Manuela never got around to telling her son about his father, except that he was dead. However, that was all a lie and after much time of just sitting around and wallowing in her own grief, Manuela decides to get up and leave Madrid and head for Barcelona in hopes of finding Esteban’s actual, real life and hopefully, still alive, father. However, the man that she left behind, eighteen years ago when she was pregnant, is now a transvestite named Lola (Toni Canto). Now, Manuela has to find out just what happened to Lola all of these past years and actually come to grips with where her life has gone, for better and for worse.

All About My Mother is typically considered one of Almodóvar’s best, and with good reason. For obvious reasons, it won him a plethora of awards, especially the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, among some very stiff competition that year. But despite all of that surface-junk, it’s one of his most tightly-written; his balance of wacky, over-the-top comedy, with heartfelt, somewhat subtle character-drama and obvious melodrama is so perfect here that it almost seems like he’s not trying.

Laugh it up, ladies. Something bad may happen soon.

Laugh it up, ladies. Something bad may happen soon.

If anything, it’s the one movie where it doesn’t even seem like he was on the set for half of the days, directing and you know what? The movie’s kind of better off for that. There’s a feeling of ease to this, that isn’t found in all of his other flicks; other movies obviously show a tad bit of restraint and relaxation from Almodóvar, but for the most part, they all flirt with it, until they’ve had enough of sitting around and decide to get a little wacky. All About My Mother, in another way, sort of stays the same, practically the whole time and it’s a better movie for it.

Still, it’s an Almodóvar movie through and through and that should never be forgotten.

What it mostly all comes down to is the characters and from Almodóvar, they’re always strong. But what’s always most interesting about his characters is that he’s writing strong, emotional roles for and about women, without ever seeming like he’s looking down upon them, judging them, or simply using them as a prop so that he can get his kicks off of them. Sure, he’s had some questionable issues with sex and gender in the past with his movies, but when you get right down to it, no one is writing strong characters for women like he is and it helps you think of his movies in a far better light because of it. Most Hollywood movies have forgotten how to write for, or about, women in the first place, so it’s a nice bit of fresh air to see someone who knows what he’s doing and how he’s going to go all about it.

And if you need any further evidence of what I’m trying to get across, just look at each and every character in All About My Mother. Sure, a lot of them are goofy and rather over-the-top, but they’re also real, honest, living, breathing and emotional human beings, not to mention, women; the same kind of women who aren’t afraid to lash-out and be emotional every once and awhile, because, well, they’re allowed to. Almodóvar seems to have every character here perfectly written down, even to their smallest, little tic or trait, that it feels like, as time goes on and on, we get to know and love them even more.

She's not just beautiful, but a good actor, people!

She’s not just beautiful, but a good actor, people!

It also helps that the ensemble is pretty great, too, as is usually the case.

Of course, All About My Mother features the usual talent we’ve come to expect with Almodóvar, which isn’t necessarily a criticism, as he knows what works for thee ladies, and what doesn’t. Cecila Roth’s Manuela has to act-out in some unsympathetic ways, but because this is, essentially, her tale, we always feel for her; Marisa Paredes’ celebrity-mother character is perfect for her vamping-side, but we also get to see a little more underneath the facade that makes her everyday interactions with those around her, incredibly interesting; Penelope Cruz is here in an early role, showing a certain bit of heart and humanity that I wish more modern-audiences knew her for; and as Agrado, the most fun and exciting member of this cast, Antonia San Juan steals every scene she’s in, showing a great deal of heart, humor and humanity, just about with every opportunity. Watching as all of these characters sit in a room and chat about whatever comes next is enough of a treat, but because everyone is so good and their characters are so vividly-drawn, the movie’s just a blast to watch.

It’s hard to imagine saying that about a drama, but such is the case when you have expert-writing, directing and of course, acting.

Man, why can’t all movies be like this?

Consensus: Smart, funny, emotional, and above all else, heartfelt, All About My Mother is one of Almodovar’s best, but without ever making a big stink about it.

9.5 / 10

Mothers never quite leave you alone, do they?

Mothers never quite leave you alone, do they?

Photos Courtesy of: Enter the Movies

Silence (2016)

Like politics, never bring up religion at the dinner table.

It’s 17th century Japan and the government is killing citizens who identify themselves as Christians. Among those killed were a bunch of priests who came over from Portugal, to not just spread the word of Christianity, but also help out the Japanese citizens who rightfully did follow the faith. Stuck over there Father Cristóvão Ferreira (Liam Neeson), a mentor to many priests still living in Portugal and influential figure in the world of Catholicism. Two of his proteges, Jesuit priests named Sebastião Rodrigues Francisco Garupe (Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver), decide that they have to find him in Japan, discover whether or not he’s dead and see if they can change some ways in how Catholicism is accepted in Japan. However, both soon realize that, as soon as they enter Japan, the Japanese government does not at all take kindly to anyone preaching the Catholic word, especially priests from another place who came over solely to do just that.

"Trust me, my son. I used to be Spider-Man."

“Trust me, my son. I used to be Spider-Man.”

As far as passion-projects go, Silence is one of the better ones. Martin Scorsese himself has been hard at work trying to make this movie a reality for the past few decades, and while there’s been some sure signs of it possibly happening before, unfortunately, we’re just getting the movie now, many, many years after the fact. That said, whatever halted the project for so long, clearly worked and mattered in the long-run as Silence isn’t just one of the best religious epics in quite some time, but one of Scorsese’s most personal and emotional.

 

It’s a known fact to anyone who has seen more than a few of his movies, that Scorsese loves to discuss faith and how it embodies each and every person. Here, he gets to explore that idea more and more, but he’s never showy about it; the movie’s nearly three hours long and while it is definitely a slow-mover, it’s never boring. Every shot, every action, every line of dialogue, everything in general, is so perfectly specific and timed, that it seems like Scorsese himself had everything planned-out perfectly way ahead of time, so that he didn’t miss a single beat. It’s the sign of not just a true director, but an even better storyteller, finally getting the chance to tell a story that’s closest to his heart, the only way he knows how: Through film.

That said, Silence is less about Scorsese and his battle with his demons, and more about the actual battle between right and wrong, understanding one’s faith, and how it actually makes you who you are. The movie could have been incredibly preachy and come right out and said, “Without faith, you are nothing,” but it doesn’t. The movie’s much smarter in that it shows how religion can be used in many different ways; for some, it’s a healing mechanism to help get them through hard times and remind them of the better ones to come, while for others, it may be used as a weapon. The movie makes it a point to show how much these Christians are being persecuted for what they believe in to their core, and while a lot of people may come away from seeing this thinking the movie’s all about that, it’s actually much, much deeper than that.

If anything, the movie does something smart in that it actually raises a magnifying-glass to Catholicism and many other religions, without ever showing a sign of disrespect.

Without diving into it too much and having this just be one, long sermon courtesy of someone who doesn’t know how to deliver an effective one, Silence is interesting in how it shows that all religions, when you get right down to it, may act and work in different ways, but are mostly all beneficial to those who are involved with it. The movie also dives deep into this idea that those using faith and Catholicism to their advantage, may be just as bad as those persecuting the ones for following said same faith. There’s a lot of discussions about one’s identity and how one’s faith connects it all, which made this adventure all the more compelling.

Because yes, the movie is, after all, an adventure and it feels very much like that. But with Silence, we don’t get the typical flair and energy from Scorsese – this time, he’s much more mannered, subdued and surprisingly, subtle. For instance, there’s a lot of scenes involving gruesome and ugly violence, yet, rather than getting all in-your-face about it like he’s done before, Scorsese takes a step back, shows it in a different light and in a way, makes the violence being portrayed on the screen, all the more terrifying. Same can be said for the rest of the movie, where it seems like Scorsese’s following a certain path, where he sets the pace and carries us by his side.

"Please, Father. Keep me away from more Taken movies."

“Please, Father. Keep me away from more Taken movies.”

Cause if I’m going to spend nearly three hours in 17th century Japan, the only person I want to do it with is Marty Scorsese.

That said, Scorsese doesn’t take away from his ensemble, either. While it’s a bit disheartening to see the likes of Liam Neeson, Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver play Portugal priests, it’s still easy to get past once you actually see them act and realize that they’re very good at what they do. Neeson and Driver aren’t around nearly as much, which gives Garfield plenty of time to work through this material’s like no one’s business; the character is already so interesting that Garfield doesn’t have to do much, but there’s an extra layer of emotion and compassion to his performance that makes this character downright heartbreaking. If anything, this performance reminds me that Garfield is probably one of the most exciting talents we’ve got working today and makes me so damn excited to see what he’s up to next.

It’s interesting though, because you’d assume with a movie about how rather villainous and evil that these Japanese folks can get, that they’d all be despicable and one-note, but that’s very far from the truth. Sure, while they’re mostly all terrible human beings, they’re layered and have more going on underneath the hood, other than just wanting blood and guts. Some are just doing their job and sticking to it, while others are simply scared as hell and just trying to survive. In ways, God or Jesus doesn’t even factor into it – it’s just life itself.

And sometimes, that’s more important.

Consensus: Many years in the making has proven to be a smart move for Silence, Martin Scorsese’s decades-long passion project that is quite possibly his most emotionally satisfying, powerful and personal since the Last Temptation of Christ.

9 / 10

"So uh, what's up with the food?"

“So uh, what’s up with the food?”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

La La Land (2016)

Tap dance the pain away.

Mia (Emma Stone) is an actress living in Hollywood waiting for that one big break. She constantly goes to auditions, but never seems to get the part. The closest she ever gets to achieving actual stardom is by serving celebrities coffee at the place she works at on a studio film-lot. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz pianist who dreams of one day owning and running his own club where everyone can listen to and play whatever jazz that they want to. However, the times have changed and unfortunately for Sebastian, who spends most of his time playing conventional tunes at a local restaurant for tips, nobody really cares for that old school version of jazz. Late one night, though, Sebastian catches the eyes and ears of Mia and the two suddenly fall for one another, dancing, singing and acting more creatively than they ever had before. But both Mia and Sebastian long and live for something bigger and brighter than what they have now, and the longer they stay together, the more and more their careers begin to go in separate directions.

Though I never got around to reviewing it (tragic, right?), writer/director Damien Chazzelle’s debut, Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, feels like every person’s first movie. It’s scrappy, it looks cheap, it’s brimming with ideas, and yet, the execution doesn’t entirely work. It’s the kind of movie where you can tell that Chazzelle was just so damn happy that he got together just enough money to make a movie and do his musical-thing, that he didn’t care too much about certain important elements that matter to a movie, like plot, or character-development, or other things like that. It’s a movie that features a handful of lovely, dizzy song-and-dance numbers, that are more than able to get you smiling, but whenever they are over and we’re forced to actually listen to these characters talk to one another and well, just be, it starts to lose all sorts of fun and excitement.

"Is this love that I'm feeling?"

“Is this love that I’m feeling?”

That’s why La La Land is such a huge, dramatic leap forward and feels like the movie Chazzelle may have been trying to make after all.

It just feels like seven years late.

That’s all fine, though, because La La Land is one of the best movies of the year. It’s the kind of musical that has great, swirly, fun, exciting, and memorable song-and-dance numbers, but when the music stops and the people start talking, guess what? It’s still just as exciting and interesting! So often do we get musicals where it feels like all of the music was written first, and everything else came second – imagine a landscape painting where all of the shapes and sizes were finished, but not the actual colors and objects themselves.

However, La La Land gets all of that right, and then some. Chazzelle’s script is smart, though, because while he does get wrapped-up in his love and admiration for jazz, what it represents, and what it does for those sorts of people who will never let it go, he also doesn’t forget that jazz is definitely a dying form. And in its death, lies a new form of jazz that’s poppy, mass-produced and more mechanical-sounding than a Marvel fight scene, as illustrated by John Legend and his character’s band (who are believably bad). Chazzelle does see this changing form and is sad, admittedly, but he also realizes that the movie’s not just about jazz, as much as it’s about art and artists, and what the later can do when they are inspired, happy and ready to show the world what they can do.

But it’s not nearly as nauseating as I may make it sound.

Despite all of its doe-eyed wisdom and love about the arts, about L.A. and about the Hollywood business, it’s also smart and understanding that sometimes, the world doesn’t quite work out the way you want it, especially for artists. Through Mia and Sebastain, Chazzelle shows that providing art and entertainment for the world around you, sometimes, isn’t enough – what really matters most is being able to actually wake up each and every day, happy with what you do, and feeling as if you’re ready to take on the world around you. This isn’t just for artists, or people involved with the entertainment-industry – this is for anyone, with any sort of trade. What La La Land shows is that when you have the ambition and you feel inspired, you can make wonders happen – not just for those around, but for your own self.

Look out, Hollywood! Here come your starlets!

Look out, Hollywood! Here come your starlets!

Once again, I know this sounds so melodramatic and cheesy, but La La Land stays so far away from any of that, that it’s absolutely magical, even when people aren’t singing, and dancing, and emoting. In fact, the song-and-dance numbers, oddly enough, feel as if they were written second to the actual story and character-development, as opposed to it being the other way around; it doesn’t mean that the songs themselves are weak in the slightest, but it does show that more care and effort was put into giving the audience a good, emotional and relevant story, rather than just a dog-and-pony show that seems to only fulfill the needs and desires of the creators themselves.

That said, La La Land will make you feel all sorts of happy, pleasant and joy-filled thoughts and emotions, but it’s still kind of raw, sad and emotional.

How?

Well, Chazzelle does a perfect job in casting both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in his lead roles, because not only do they share a perfect chemistry, but they are also so beautiful to watch on the screen, that it’s actually kind of hard to take your eyes off of them. Stone’s Mia, when the camera isn’t molesting her face, is actually a very depressed character who wants to make a name for herself, but keeps on flubbing it at auditions and not getting the roles that she wants, whereas Gosling’s Sebastian wants to preserve jazz by opening-up his own club, but by doing so, he still has to be successful and possibly “sell-out”. Sure, attacking this idea of being true to yourself, while still bringing in tons of bucks, isn’t exactly anything new or ground-breaking, but La Land Land does it in such a smart, believable way, that it still feels fresh.

The movie shows us that these two don’t just come together and fall in love because they’re the two most attractive people they know (even though it’s definitely one of the reasons), it’s because they both have a love and appreciation for the arts and what it is that they do. It’s interesting, too, because Mia doesn’t even like jazz, making her and Sebastian’s connection stronger – something that so few couples in real life like to admit to keeping them together for so long. But together, they feel like the kind of tragic couple at the center of a fable like Beauty and the Beast, or Romeo & Juliet – they may be perfect for one another, but there’s still something holding them back from fully giving it their all and staying as dedicated as they can be.

Regardless of all this mumbo jumbo, yeah, La La Land is a terrific movie.

It will probably get nominated for heaps of Oscars and it might win them all. Will it be deserved wins? Does it really matter? Not really, but please, whatever you do, see it. You’ll be walking out with a smile on your face and in desperate need of wanting to sing and dance with every person you see.

And if you don’t, I’m sorry, but cheer up.

Consensus: Sweet, delicate, magical and downright beautiful, La La Land is the rare musical in which every song-and-dance number is exciting and lovely, but everything else surrounding it, works even better.

9.5 / 10

Man, why can't we just watch them have sex?

Watching them sing, dance and love one another is fine and all, but man, why can’t we just watch them bang? Talk about a true gift for the holidays.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Life’s a little sad. So just take the boat out.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) lives a pretty sad life. Most of the time, when he’s not cleaning out toilets, fixing sinks, or working on pipes in four apartment complexes, he’s spending most of the time drinking at the bar, getting drunk and starting brawls with people. However, his life is shaken-up a tad bit when his older brother (Kyle Chandler) dies of a sudden heart-attack, leaving Lee to pick up after his brother and become the legal guardian to the son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). This means that Lee has to return to his hometown, watch over Patrick for the time being, take care of his brother’s affairs and figure out where to go next. But there’s something going on deeper and darker underneath Lee that makes his travel back down memory lane a whole lot more disturbing and it involves his ex-wife (Michelle Williams), who is still reeling from the affects of a tragedy she and Lee both had gone through when they were together, some many years ago.

Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has such a distinctive ear for dialogue, it’s a wonder why more of his movies haven’t worked. You Can Count on Me, while perhaps his most famous, is a good movie, that’s still outdone by its quirks and Margaret, even despite all of the setbacks and controversies during production, is still an uneven, overblown, and occasionally interesting movie that gets outdone by Lonergan not having enough focus. But here, all of those issues and problems there, seem to have gone away. Now, with Manchester by the Sea, Lonergan has found focus, he’s found humor, he’s found heart, he’s found self-control, and most importantly, he’s found a great cast who almost never let him down, or let-up in giving him the best that they can.

manchester2

Uh oh. Get the Kleenex ready, boys.

So, what the hell took so long?

Regardless of the “whys”, or “whos”, of that inane question, Manchester by the Sea is one of the better dramas I’ve seen in quite some time, but it isn’t quite what you’d think. Sure, it’s a little sad, it’s a little depressing and it’s definitely a little hard-to-watch, but all feels real, raw and gritty, to the point of where it never rings true or feels overdone. Rather than just making this a sad movie, about sad people, Lonergan finds smart, small and interesting ways to not just inject some humor into the proceedings, but also have us more interested in these characters in the first place.

Rather than just being a tale about sad people being sad, Lonergan takes it one, small step forward and shows us why they’re sad in the first place, how they cope with it all, how they get by, and most importantly, how they all connect with one another. Manchester by the Sea is one of the rare drama’s where you may actually get excited by the sight of watching a bunch of characters gather into one room and just speak to one another; Lonergan, despite a heavy theater background, knows how real people talk and express themselves, without ever seeming like he’s reaching too far and wide to show that. We could have all easily been turned off and away from this sad, repressed world that Manchester by the Sea shows us, but Lonergan does the smart thing in that he embraces it all and shows that, underneath all of the quiet, dark moments, there’s some light and love found in there, too.

Which is why Manchester by the Sea is far better than most indie dramas out there.

Sure, it embraces the darkness and sadness its characters represent, but also doesn’t just wallow in its own misery, either; the movie takes pride in building its characters, showing them for all that they are, and never passing any judgement. A movie like this, with these kinds of characters, could have easily came off as pandering, or even rude, but Lonergan seems to adore each and everyone of these characters, warts and all, that after awhile, it’s hard not to follow suit. They’re not all perfect, they’ve all got issues, they’ve all got benefits, and they’ve all something about them that’s just not, for lack of a better term, “troubling”, but then again, so does everyone on Earth. This idea that we’re actually sitting around, watching real life people, talk and engage with one another, makes it not just easier to relate to them all, but come closer and closer to loving them all, as well.

Ain't nothing like a brother's keeper.

Ain’t nothing like a brother’s keeper.

Oh and yeah, it helps that the ensemble is pretty amazing, too. Casey Affleck is a pretty great actor, but over the past few years, hasn’t quite shown it. He’s been a little out of the spotlight, occasionally popping up in supporting roles, or being giving leading roles without much mainstream appeal, but here, as Lee Chandler, he gets the best role of his career and he makes every second work. Right from the start, there’s something interesting about this guy that makes us want to see how he lives his life, how he talks to people and generally, how he gets by. Affleck shows us that there’s more to him than just this downtrodden and slightly alcoholic shadow of a man – he shows that there’s a living, breathing and feeling human being that wants so desperately to get by in life, but for reasons that come very clear to us in the middle of the movie, just can’t. It’s a raw, gritty performance that doesn’t always go for the big emotions, but when it does, Affleck shines through it all and shows that he’s dangerously on the cusp of breaking out for the whole world to know his name and face.

Why it hasn’t happened yet, is totally beyond me.

As his brother, Kyle Chandler makes the best of what he can, what with the flashback structure popping in and out whenever it wants. However, as much as flashbacks can sometimes ruin a flick and seem obvious, above all else, it works here and helps make us understand more about these characters, as well as Chandler’s dead brother-character, who we see as a loving, adoring brother who was always there for his little bro, even when it was nearly impossible to do so. Despite playing the conventional role of the angst-y teen, Lucas Hedges does a nice job as the orphaned nephew in that he shows us a kid trying to come to terms with his life, where it’s heading and exactly who his family is. He has a nice bit of chemistry with Affleck that shows that there is some sort of a relationship there, but still clearly needs to be worked on.

However, the real standout in maybe just four or five scenes is Michelle Williams, showing up occasionally as Affleck’s ex-wife. While it may surprise some that she’s not in here a whole lot, every scene that Williams gets, she makes count for all that it’s worth; she’s funny, smart and dramatic, sometimes, all at the same time. There’s one key scene late in the movie where her and Affleck’s run into one another on the streets and it’s hard-to-watch by how emotional it gets. It shows that as long as the material is there, you can give an actress a small role and watch her work wonders for the whole product.

Not that Manchester by the Sea needed much help in the first place, because it’s quite great, but it’s definitely nice to have.

Consensus: At times, it’s funny and light, others, it’s dark, dramatic and sad, but no matter what, Manchester by the Sea is an expertly crafted and acted character-piece about life, love, regret, family and heartbreak, without ever coming off as melodramatic as it may sound.

9 / 10

It's okay. Go crabbing. Feel better about yourself.

It’s okay. Go crabbing. Feel better about yourself.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Tickled (2016)

Everyone likes something weird. Of course, some like weirder stuff than others.

New Zealand journalist David Farrier, for one reason or another, is surfing the web and suddenly stumbles upon a video of a couple of dudes, literally tying up another dude and tickling him. Why? How? And what is it all for? Well, being the journalist that he is, Farrier decides to take a closer look and research more and more about this tickling and realizes that, hell, there’s a whole bunch of other videos out there of the same thing. Better yet, there’s even a whole league for it, which aptly names itself “competitive endurance tickling”. Farrier has no clue what the hell he is looking at, so he decides to reach out to the video-production company filming and releasing the videos, Jane O’Brien Media. He thinks what will be just a simple little peak of his curiosity, soon turns into something so crazy, so far-fetched, so corrupt, so insane and most of all, so dangerous, that Farrier, as well as his traveling/filming buddy, television producer Dylan Reeve, don’t know what to do or expect next. All that they can do is continue to research, reach out to people and figure out just what the hell is going beyond all of the tickling and giggling.

He's so prepared.

He’s so prepared.

Tickled is by far one of the oddest, most random, yet, compelling, exciting, intense, and surprising documentaries I have ever seen. It starts out as a documentary about competitive tickling and these weird videos that are all over the internet and sooner than later, turns into something hugely and incredibly different. To say why that is, or how, would be an absolute disservice to you, the reader, and also to the movie; after all, the biggest sell about the flick is that you don’t really know what’s going on, just like the film-makers themselves.

Due to both Dylan Reeve and David Ferrier having no clue of what adventure they’re setting out on, the movie’s even more compelling because we’re with them every step of the way. When they find something out, we find something out; when they get threatened with legal, or physical action, we get get threatened, too; when they interview some odd-belly wacko who, oddly, turns out to be sympathetic, we’re interviewing them, too; and whenever they’re thrown into a do-or-die situation that they may not be able to get out of, we are automatically thrown into the same situation.

It sounds so obvious, but it works.

Tickled is the kind of documentary that makes me understand why I love good, hard, well-reported and interesting investigative journalism. Sure, it’s a documentary and at that, not necessarily a piece that you associate with journalism, but Ferrier makes it very clear from the get-go that he not only wants to find out what’s going on beyond all of these tickling videos, but who’s to blame. Once he begins to find out all of that out, he realizes that there’s something mean, downright evil going on and it’s where Tickled becomes more and more intense. We don’t quite know where it’s going to go, how it’s going to end-up, or who else we’re going to talk into along the way, but the ride is so thrilling and, at times, scary, it’s hard to not get involved.

And even the reveal itself of what’s really going on, believe it or not, isn’t disappointing. So often with movies in general, especially documentaries, when we find out the answer to a central mystery, it can’t help but go down with a whimper, instead of a bang. It’s sometimes as if the film makers knew that they were standing on a gold mine, but didn’t know how much that gold cost, or how rare it was, so they just decided to try and sell it and do with whatever they had. Take, for instance, the original Catfish flick – interesting idea, neat execution, but the follow-through in the final-act is so weak that when we do actually find out who is to blame, or what’s going on, it just seems lame.

"What have I done?!?"

“What have I done?!?”

Then again, such is the reality with life.

However, here with Tickled, the execution isn’t just great, but so is the follow-through. Once we find out who’s to blame for all of these videos and why they’re so twisted in the first place, the movie becomes less about guys who get some sort of sexual pleasure from being tied-up and tickled, and more of a movie about privacy, what deserves to be out there on the web, and just how far can one person go to take over another person’s life. It is, above all else, an incredibly relevant movie that in the internet-age we live in, it’s hard not to sympathize with; the various interviews and discussions with people who have been involved with these tickling videos are sad and disturbing. That most of them were just youngsters looking to make a quick buck for whatever reasons and are now paying the piper because they don’t want said tickling videos out there on the web for the whole world to see, really makes you feel for them.

But Tickled doesn’t just stop at showing sad people and leaving it at that. David Ferrier and Dylan Reeve deserve all of the kudos for actually going out there, finding something odd and unique, but also realizing that something dangerous like this, also deserves to be explored further. I don’t know how much time, or money went into these guys investigating these videos and their creators, but I will say this, it was worth it all. What they eventually find out is not only shocking, but downright memorable. It’s weird that I’d go so far as to profess my love for a movie about competitive tickling, but the movie itself is so much more than that and for that reason alone, it deserves high, loving and adoring praise.

With maybe a few playful tickles here and there.

Consensus: Weird, yet oddly compelling, Tickled starts out as one thing, and turns into another completely, while always having something to say along this wild, crazy and always intense journey in the darkest regions of the internet.

9.5 / 10

Yeah, not even the slightest bit homosexual.

Yeah, not even the slightest bit homosexual.

Photos Courtesy of: Flickering Myth, Hollywood Reporter, Jared Mobarak

The Ice Storm (1997)

Cheer up, suburbia. Have some sex.

1973 is winding down and you know what? Maybe it’s time for a little break. It’s Thanksgiving break and those living in the suburbs of Connecticut, when they’re not dealing with the cold temperatures and snow on the ground, are also dealing with one another. Ben (Kevin Kline) is a frustrated father who doesn’t like his job, but also doesn’t know how to seek love or happiness from his wife Elena (Joan Allen). So rather than trying to actually solve it by talking to her like the old days, he’s currently seeking fulfillment from his neighbor Janey (Sigourney Weaver). Meanwhile, his teenage daughter, Wendy (Christina Ricci), has some issues going on of her own, too. She’s currently playing weird sexual games with Janey’s son Mikey (Elijah Wood), making him act out in the usual ways that young, adolescent kids do. And there’s the older brother, Paul (Tobey Maguire), who has a huge crush on some girl in his class (Katie Holmes), but doesn’t know how to go about it, nor does he quite know how to even talk to girls, but is going to try anyway.

When in doubt, trust daddy to carry you home.

When in doubt, trust daddy to carry you home.

Though it doesn’t get a whole lot of credit for this, the Ice Storm was actually one of the first “suburbia sucks” movies to start the boom that sprung in the late-90’s-to-early-aughts. Of course, a lot of the movies to follow were bland, unoriginal, and just downright depressing, but the Ice Storm, even without it being the starter-package, still sails above the rest. See, it does something with its message and its sadness, and it actually builds off of them; so many of the other movies that were soon to follow, seemed to just focus in on this aspect of suburbia and not go anywhere else.

It was just one emotion, the whole way through.

And sure, you could also kind of say the same about the Ice Storm, but it’s a much more deliberate mood-piece. It’s a slow-burner for sure, but it’s also a movie that takes its time for certain reasons, like building up characters and each of their relationships to one another; the fact that the movie has about five-to-ten core characters, really gives off that feeling of repression and suffocation, but in a way, draws us closer to these character. Ang Lee may be known for paying extra attention to the ways his movies look, but here, he shows that there’s a certain attention paid to characters that just can’t be matched.

What Lee shows is that, beyond all of the sadness, repression and claustrophobia, is that there can be some bittersweet moments of pure love and joy. At times, when it’s not trying to get us down in the dumps, the Ice Storm can actually be a funny movie, poking fun at both growing old and growing up, in a time and place where it seems like the experiences and feelings are almost identical. That’s not to say that the movie’s a dramedy in any sense of the term, but the movie isn’t just one long funeral – there’s bits and pieces of sheer happiness and joy, but because they are indeed so scattered, they truly do make those said moments all the more lovely and emotional.

And then, yes, there’s the ensemble who are all, as expected, pretty great.

Kevin Kline is so perfect as Ben, the upset and constantly nervous father who clearly wants the best for him and his family, but just also doesn’t know what to do anymore. With Kline, there’s always this feeling that he’s the cool and hip dad who never gets the respect he deserves and watching him here, you totally feel that – he’s just waiting to be noticed, recognized and if anything, appreciated. If he has to go out and find that for himself, then so be it.

Joan Allen plays his wife, Elena, and has a far more subtler role than him, but is still very effective in it. There’s this lingering sense of anger underneath everything that she does and it’s exciting just waiting around to see when she’s going to crack and lose her cool, once and for all. Sigourney Weaver’s Janey may also seem like a total villain at first, but the movie does humanize her in certain ways that’s not just surprising, but refreshing; here’s a woman, having sex with a married man, and while she doesn’t feel regret for it, she’s also not very happy about it, either.

Like everyone else, she’s just trying her absolute hardest to get by.

Sorry, Tobey. Don't have to go home, but can't stay here.

Sorry, Tobey. Don’t have to go home, but can’t stay here.

As for the kids, they all fair-off pretty fine, too, especially since most of them were the premiere young actors at the time. Christina Ricci is great as the sassy, overtly sexual Wendy; Elijah Wood is very fun to watch as the fellow teenage boy she constantly teases and plays around with; Tobey Maguire plays the older college student who isn’t sure just how to go about picking up girls and because of that, his awkwardness shines through in every scene; and Katie Holmes and David Krumholtz, in only just two scenes, really do come close to stealing the show, highlighting a great deal of adolescent sincerity that they were able to match in the following years to come, but not with the same amount of rawness.

But the real takeaway from the Ice Storm and these characters is that, yes, they’re performed and written well, but they’re also never judged. Because these characters are so sad and in such huge funks, they don’t always make the best, or brightest decisions – in most cases, they’re doing just whatever they feel will make them happy at that one exact moment in time. It would have been easy for a movie, let alone, its director to shine a light on them and frown, but instead, Ang Lee embraces them for all of their faults and realizes that they too, just like your or I, have issues and they’re just trying to wade through them all. They aren’t perfect, hell, they’re not even nice, but they’re real people and those are the kind that are very hard to find movies nowadays, or in general.

Consensus: With extra attention paid to its troubled characters, the Ice Storm is a sad, dramatic, but rather moving mood-piece about suburbia and all of those imperfect beings who inhabit it.

9.5 / 10

Cheer up! Your celebrities!

Cheer up! Your celebrities!

Photos Courtesy of: Moon in the Gutter, Awards Circuit

13th (2016)

Locked up and they don’t let you out. Even if you’re at home.

The Thirteenth Amendment, as written states that, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” Meaning, in other words, that even if slavery is abolished in our country and no man, woman, or child of color is supposed to be claimed as “property”, somehow, there’s a loophole created in which, if a person is in jail, they are allowed to be considered, for lack of a better term, “slaves”. Ava DuVernary shows us exactly how we get there, what spurred that decision, and how, in the many, many years since, our country has upheld those traditions by putting a better and bigger focus on imprisonment, when it should be about a whole lot more than just keeping the prisoners in prison.

Through previous examples in the past, documentary film makers who make the switch over to full-length, narrative-flicks, tend to not work out so well. Sure, there’s the likes of Kevin Macdonald, who got his start in documentaries, only to turn the other cheek, try his hand at narrative-flicks and yeah, still do great things, but then there’s also the likes of Michael Moore who, after solid documentaries, tried his hand with Canadian Bacon and well, the less said about the movie, the better. But it’s interesting to see someone who is known for their full-length, narrative flicks, like DuVernay, take a stab at documentaries and come off a whole lot better than, dare I say it, her other actual movies in the first place.

Apparently, also a "CRIMINAL."

Apparently, also a “CRIMINAL.”

That said, 13th is very much a thought-provoking and powerful statement on our economy, our culture, and our nation’s history with racism and imprisonment. But still, it’s a whole lot more than that; rather than being one rousing speech about injustices and racism, after another, DuVernay shows the history of how our country has gotten to where we’re at today. See, it wasn’t too long ago that the KKK was running wild around the South, looking for black people and stringing them up on trees – in a way, they’re still doing that, but it’s much more different.

While this may seem like a whole lot of speculation, the movie shows how the days of yesteryear, still haven’t changed. And even if they had, they’re being changed in certain ways to where it’s more politically correct to substitute “criminal”, for “slave”. DuVernay’s got a lot to say and whole lot more on her mind and in her head, but she doesn’t allow for 13th to just be her on her soapbox and never getting off of it.

See, for obvious reasons, 13th is about everyone in our society – not just black people, or white people.

But everyone.

And that’s why 13th, in all honesty, is one of the better documentaries I’ve seen in quite some time. It approaches a subject and a topic that could have been so desperately one-sided and obvious from the very start, but instead, shows all different perspectives and takes on its topic, that it’s actually quite brilliant and better off for that reason. While DuVernay definitely has a point she wants to make, she still allows for a lot of people to have their say, as well as the spotlight, whether it be positive, or negative; people who automatically think that she just trashes on Trump and leaves it at that, will be surprised to see that both of the Clintons get a little roasted on the fire as well. Even people that she talks to, like the representatives from ALEC (who are a huge focus-point here) and yes, even Newt Gingrich himself, aren’t painted in a bad light – they’re telling their sides of situations and stories and guess what, DuVernay gives them the chance to do so.

How they choose to represent themselves is entirely in their hands.

But honestly, the main reason why 13th works so well is because it feels so very relevant, so very off-the-times, that it’s hard not to get swept up in the emotional and power of it all. By the end of the flick, after we’ve witness how our country has, single-handedly, ensured that more and more people in our country will get put in prison, DuVernay shows us how the battle and incrimination isn’t just behind the bars, or in the cells, but actually on our own streets and in our own homes. There comes a point where DuVernay shows us all of the sickening and downright disturbing footage of all the members of the black community who have been shot and killed by law-enforcement, for reasons that are still unknown to us. If you’re the person who chose not to watch these bits and pieces of footage in the first place, then be ready to be shocked and mad as hell.

And yes, another supposed "CRIMINAL."

And yes, another supposed “CRIMINAL.”

And really, that’s what DuVernay wants us to feel. She wants us to rise up and have something to say, regardless of race, gender, or political affiliation. Even if you are a cold, blue-blooded Republican, or Conservative, there’s no reason or rhyme for why you should sit by and watch as police mow-down unarmed, seemingly innocent men and women in the street just because they, the trained-professionals themselves, felt “threatened”. Even if you believe it to just be a race thing and a way for our country to get rid of “the black people”, trust me, it’s going to come around to white people soon enough.

Either way, political affiliation doesn’t matter here with 13th.

In fact, what it’s all about is whether or not you can stand by and watch as people, day in and day out, black, white, yellow, whatever, get killed, locked-up, and thrown away from the rest of society for good. Some may deserve it, sure, but a whole lot of people don’t and it’s up to us, whether or not we want to sit by and watch it all blow-up in smoke. Sure, I’ve been doing a whole lot more preaching than I would have liked, but hey, that’s what happens when you have a great documentary on your hands that doesn’t let up and forces you see things and think.

Consensus: Hard-hitting, thought-provoking, and brave, 13th shows Ava DuVernay tacking a whack at documentaries and absolutely hitting it out of the park.

9 / 10

Oh yeah, and that guy.

Oh yeah, and that guy.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, The Playlist, Washington Post

The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

It’s better to be an outlaw, than a conformist.

Back in the day, when he was a kind, fun-loving and good-natured man of society, Josey Wales (Clint Eastwood) had to witness helplessly as his wife and child were murdered by Union men all led by Capt. Terrill (Bill McKinney). It destroyed Josey so much that he automatically set-out for revenge, joining the Confederate Army and lending all of the crazy and violent services that he had to offer. But when the war ends and all of his fellow Confederates decide that it’s the best time to lay down their arms and surrender, Josey outright refuses. Reason being? He doesn’t trust a man like Terrill and with good reason, because as soon as the Confederates their arms, their gunned-down and killed by Terrill. Now, Terrill sets out to take down Josey Wales, once and for all and make sure that he doesn’t spread his hate or anger any longer, or to anyone else in particular. But this is exactly what happens when Josey, along his trip, meets all sorts of colorful and lovely characters who ends up not just calling allies, but family, even.

Chief? And Clint? Wow. Words can't explain.

Chief? And Clint? Wow. Words can’t explain.

Westerns are sure to scare a lot of people away, mostly because of the time and attention they take to actually fully enjoy them for what they are. This is the case with a good number of Westerns, whereas other ones just plain and simply stink, are way too slow for their own good, and feel like the same movie we’ve seen before, just with more horses and gun-battles. But that’s why Clint Eastwood’s Westerns are things to be admired and loved, even – they’re the kinds of plays on the genre that you automatically assume is so calculated and precise, that anything against the genre would fall flat on its face.

But even in 1976, long before his Oscar win for Unforgiven, Eastwood proved that the Western genre was not at all dead and in a way, could still make all sorts of wonders. But what’s probably most interesting about what Eastwood does here, is that it doesn’t seem like he’s doing much, especially when it comes to his directing; all he really does is tell a story, keep the camera as still as possible, and yeah, just let everything happen as it should, in front of the camera. It sounds as simple as can be and definitely is on the screen, but it works so well because the story itself is a compelling one, going into places you least expect it to and doing certain things that you don’t expect it to.

Why is that? Well, it’s because Westerns seem so ordinary and plain, that yeah, it’s hard to get a really good one, right?

Well, incorrect. Kind of. What works best about Outlaw Josey Wales is that it has something to say about the nature of violence, murder and death, but doesn’t try to hit you over the head with it. The Native American shown here are all sympathetic human beings, not the usual savages we see in flicks such as these, but instead, mostly just people who want peace and love with their fellow man and women. Josey Wales, the movie as well as the character, shows that it’s possible, especially when the two sides have a common enemy and are more than capable of laying down their arms against one another and joining hands, whether it’s to frolic in nature, or to take down the white man, once and for all.

Either way, it’s a heartwarming message that’s actually thrown into a movie that’s chock full of violence, blood, gun-shots and rape. But does it still work? It surprisingly does, as the type of Western Eastwood here paints, isn’t a terribly endearing or lovely one, but mostly, one that would exist in the real world. As is the case with every society you live in, there are some bad apples and there are some good ones, too. Unfortunately, the bad ones do outweigh the good ones, but those good ones are around to take them down and make sure that no more wrongful deaths or murder occurs.

But all this said, when you get right down to it, Josey Wales isn’t a movie that’s all about the message or trying to prove a point  – it does do what every good Western does and that’s offer plenty of gun-slinging violence and action for each and every person to enjoy.

I bet he feels lucky.

I bet he feels lucky.

And as a director, Eastwood truly does know how to make these scenes pop and sizzle with the right amount of fun, but also heinousness that makes some of these callous acts of violence seem disturbing. While he is no doubt giving the gun-loving audience a taste of what they all want and oh so desire, he is also making it done in a way where you can tell that he’s not all for the violence and is, in a way, trying to also pass some blame and judgement on it all.

Either way, as a director Eastwood is terrific here, and yes, even better as an actor. Once again, he’s not doing anything we haven’t seen him do before, but he still owns it all so well, sometimes, without even saying anything. All he has to do is spit out his tobacco, glare at people, and give a little growl, and guess what? His presence is felt throughout the whole thing. It’s honestly why Eastwood is still considered such a bad-ass and why an iconic figure like him was always welcome in anything resembling a Western.

But while this could have definitely been Clint’s show from start-to-finish (after all, he did direct the movie), what’s perhaps most admirable about him as a director is how he’s able to lend the screen to the rest of the cast and have them show off all that they can do and bring a little bit more fun and fiery energy to the proceedings. Sondra Locke plays Laura Lee, a supposed love-interest that doesn’t quite work, but is still compelling enough to watch; Paula Trueman plays the cooky and always batty Grandma Sarah, who starts off as something of a caricature, only to turn out to be an honest, living and breathing person; and as Lone Watie, Chief Dan George is perfect, nailing every bit of humor and heart that this character has to offer, while also maintaining a pitch perfect odd-couple chemistry with Eastwood. In a way, they’re like the perfect, little, crazy family.

They all love one another, but man, they sure can shoot.

Consensus: As far as Westerns go, the Outlaw Josey Wales isn’t just action-packed and fun, but heartfelt, emotional and smart, offering a perfect showcase for what Eastwood can do as both actor, as well as director.

9 / 10

And that, my friends, is how a perfect friendship gets started.

And that, my friends, is how a perfect friendship gets started.

Photos Courtesy of: IMDFB, Quotes Gram

Klown (2012)

The best role models are always the most random.

Frank (Frank Hvam) is trying so desperately to prove to his girlfriend that he’s father-material, even if everything that it seems like he’s doing is proving otherwise. He surprises her with sex in the middle of the night, and he’s seen as a perv; he gets nice and pretty things, and he seems like a sugar daddy; he shows his soft side, and he’s seen as a softy. But this time around, Frank wants to prove that he’s got the goods to make a solid father and in order to prove this, he decides to kidnap his girlfriend’s 12-year-old nephew, Bo (Marcuz Jess Petersen), on a little trip of sorts. Normally, this would be all fine, dandy and relatively sweet, but where Frank’s taking Bo is on a trip that he and his friend Casper (Casper Christensen) call “Tour de Pussy”. Though Casper is initially against Bo coming on the trip, as well as he should be, he eventually gives into the fact and embraces it – doing everything that he normally would, with Frank occasionally joining in on the festivities.

Learning how to swim, but in the Danish way.

Learning how to swim, but in the Danish way.

A movie like Klown makes me wonder why more comedies in America aren’t nearly as good. It’s the kind of comedy that gets everything right, that not only every comedy should get right, but every movie in general; it’s got hilarity, a little bit of heart, some neat little twists and turns, and most of all, likable and well-written characters that you actually do want to watch more of. And heck, it even clocks in just under an-hour-and-a-half, making it the rare short movie that, quite honestly, I could have watched for another hour or two.

Can’t remember the last time I said that about a movie, let alone, a comedy.

But that’s the magic of Klown – it’s the one rare exception to most R-rated, raunchy comedies out there that seem as if they’re just trying so desperately hard to make its audience laugh, that they fall over themselves, laying in a puddle of their own filth. Some people love that, which is fine, but for me, I prefer the raunch to come from a smart, special place, where it all feels earned and is as disgusting as you can usually get. Call me a sick individual, or whatever you want, but trust me, when raunch works in a movie, it can work like gangbusters and that’s one of the real beauties of Klown – it’s raunchy-as-all-hell, but man, does it ever work.

If anything, Klown could definitely be described as a crazy mixture of Curb Your Enthusiasm, with a real Adult Swim tone and feel; the situations that these characters get themselves into are, yes, a little predictable and expected, but they’re so subversive, so wrong, and so damn evil, that they’re incredibly hard not to enjoy or laugh at. Case in point, there’s quite a few times here where you know the punch-line is going to be coming very, very soon, but because it’s been so jacked-up over time, and there’s a real great bit of energy to the whole film, that you just laugh your pants off when the time comes.

Yeah, doesn't get anymore embarrassing.

Yeah, doesn’t get anymore embarrassing.

In fact, Klown is so chock full of laughs that it’s really difficult to pin-point the funniest moments.

And that, my friends, is when you know you have a great comedy on your hands – it doesn’t try too hard to make you laugh and because of that, it works oh so perfectly. But really, I’ve got to give all of the success of Klown, to both Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen, who not only star in the movie as crazy versions of themselves, but even wrote the damn thing, too. To say that these two are some sick, twisted and messed-up individuals, would be predictable and not quite right; they’re screwed-up, but they’re also incredibly talented in knowing how to write a quick, entertaining movie, but also never forgetting about their trademarks. While I’ve never seen the show that this movie is based on, if anything, it makes me want to check it out, just to know what these two guys have to offer to the world of comedy and also, whether or not they’re funnier to watch than most American products out there.

Call me unAmerican, call me what you will, but if something’s funny, I’m going to watch it and enjoy the hell out of it. Regardless of where it comes from.

Consensus: Downright vile and almost inhumane, Klown is the sort of comedy from the wrong side of the tracks that so rarely gets made, yet, also doesn’t ever seem to work well, with nearly as much heart, humor and subversiveness as it has.

9 / 10

One, big, happy Danish family.

One, big, happy Danish family.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Aidy Reviews

Elephant (2003)

On that fateful day, did anyone go to freakin’ class?

Taking place in Watt High School, in the wee-hours of the day, high-schoolers such as John, Elias, Jordan, Michelle and many more, all go throughout their day like they usually would. Hanging out, relaxing, and maybe shootin’ some b-ball outside of the school. However, today is not like every other day. See, today is the day that two kids (Eric Deulen and Alex Frost) wake up, decide to skip school, bring a whole army of weapons instead, and just shoot it up.

Remind you of any similar situations?

He's roaming.

He’s roaming.

Could Elephant be about Columbine? Most definitely. But nearly thirteen years after its release, could it also be just about every other school-shooting tragedy in America? Without a doubt and honestly, that’s the scariest reality of Elephant – Gus Van Sant set-out to capture the same kind of overwhelming dread and sadness that existed with that tragedy and in a way, it’s also what predicated so many of these other tragedies.

Not much has changed in this world and whether or not he was hitting at that, Van Sant’s Elephant will, unfortunately, forever be a relevant piece.

Most people (like myself) usually complain about Van Sant’s deliberate pace where it feels like he’s just slowing things down, because he doesn’t have anything else better to do. But for Elephant, it works because it’s deserved. Instead of making this a flick where we see everybody and everyone in this high school, we only get a couple of glimpses into the lives of some of these people where they aren’t really doing much at all, except we feel as if we know who they are, what they represent, and everything they are ever going to be (foreshadowing maybe?). Most of this flick is downright dedicated to Van Sant following these characters as they walk through the halls, talk to other people, not go to class, and do what they usually do on a regular, typical day of school, but the fact that you know something is up, always stays clear in your mind.

The atmosphere that Van Sant creates here is unbelievable. At one side, you have the character-based aspect where we get to know these characters for a bit, start to feel a little something for them because they’re at that part in their lives where older people begin to feel nostalgic for their youth and get jealous, and with that we get to understand just where they stand in the cliques and groups of high school. That’s effective here, because Van Sant is able to make us feel something for these people, solely based on the fact that we know what happens to them, and also, that they feel like real  human-beings that are just wandering around their school like most of us have done and still do. It’s a slow pace, but it works, because we feel like flies-on-the-wall for this one, very unfortunate and sad day.

But then, on the other side, you have this one aspect in the back of your head where you know the shootings are going to happen, you know the kids are going to come into the school, and you know people are going to start dying, but the movie does so much twisting and turning with these characters and all of their different view-points, that you never know when and you never know how. In a way, you could almost declare this as a “thriller” where Van Sant really lays on us the fact that we know something is going to happen, but the “when” really eats at us inside. And since you wait for these shootings to actually happen, the tension just continues to build-up inside of you as you feel like every second you spend with these characters, is a second that could be their last alive.

It’s downright unsettling, but that’s sort of the point.

He's roaming.

He’s roaming.

To say that the shootings in this movie are “disturbing”, is an understatement. I have seen plenty of disturbing movies in my past, and most have all freaked me out to the high heavens, but the shootings in this movie did it for me in a way that they just didn’t. That’s mostly because these deaths captured here, on-film, seem almost too real to be faked, or actually put into a film; Van Sant doesn’t glorify them, in a slam-bang action kind of way. There’s not even all that much blood, but when there is, it isn’t made out to be like a horror flick, with guts and gore spread-out all over the walls. They are shown as if somebody was actually getting shot where they fall back, lie on the ground, and practically bleed to death.

By doing this, not only does Van Sant have us feel like everything we are watching is real, but also puts us right on the ground with these fellow kids as they continue to scramble for their lives, because they never know when they might lose it next. By far, the climactic-shootings in this flick are some of the most disturbing scenes I have ever seen in my life and it’s done with no flair, no glitz, no glamour, and sure as hell no special-effects. It’s done in the most realistic-way possible and I have to give Van Sant the highest kudos for going with that direction, and never making it seem like a thriller, even though in my head, it definitely was.

Speaking of the shootings themselves, they provide no easy answers to what happened and that’s alright.

Just like the case of Columbine, a lot of pundits, parents, organizations, etc. all pointed the fingers towards the typical things like rap, TV, and Marilyn Manson. Does this actually mean that this is what drove the guys to go to school with Uzi’s and shoot the whole school up? Probably not, but that’s why Elephant is smart – it never points a finger, nor does it bring any closure. It just shows us that there were two kids who decided that, one day, for one reason or another, they had enough and just wanted to raise some hell and havoc at their school.

Why? We may never fully know, but that’s sort of how the world works: There are no easy answers. It’s a sad reality, but yet, it is the world we live in, where people can be shot and killed, for no real reasons given.

Consensus: Stoic, effective, compelling, and disturbing, Elephant is Gus Van Sant at his most tender, showing the horror of this one great tragedy and never shying away from the darker, gritty details of it.

9.5 / 10

And he's staring. Yup. Typical high school.

And he’s staring. Yup. Typical high school.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, And So It Begins

Schindler’s List (1993)

Not everything’s in black and white. Except for, well, this movie.

Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) was a German industrialist and Nazi party member, who came to Krakow in 1939 and capitalize on everything that was happening in this area at that time. Schindler is already a rich man, but he sees a way to get richer, so he decides to use various Jews who are being pushed from one ghetto to another, to his good use. Not only does he employ them for the easiest tasks, but he’s making all sorts of money off of it, too. With the help of Jewish accountant Itzhak Stern (Ben Kingsley), Schindler is basically able to keep going with this form of slave labor. However, what makes Schindler less terrible than he sounds, is the fact that these workers are called “essential”, meaning that they stop in the factories, and away from the gas-chambers. While Schindler doesn’t care too much about this at first, eventually, once he begins to see all of the pain and cruelty the Nazis are making the Jews suffer through, he decides to wage a small war of sorts, trying to get every single Jew he can find into his factories, so that they don’t have to die. Sometimes, it works. Other times, unfortunately, it doesn’t.

Yes, people: Liam Neeson did act before Taken!

Yes, people: Liam Neeson did act before Taken!

It’s difficult to do a review on Schindler’s List because, well, what else is there to say about it? By this point, it’s basically like reviewing water – “Yeah, it’s pretty good and all, right guys?” Some people obviously don’t like it, but others still and to this very day, love it with all of their hearts. Is there any problem with that? Absolutely not, as it’s one of the very rare movies that, no matter how many times you see it, still is able to conjure up feelings of anger and rage that only grow stronger as the movie goes on and on.

Then again, why you’d want to watch this movie more than once is totally up in the air!

Regardless, what Schindler’s List proved back in the day, and especially now, was that Steven Spielberg wasn’t afraid to get as heavy and as dark as he possibly could. Sure, the Color Purple showed some people the truly messed-up and scary feelings he was battling deep down inside of his soul, but if anything, Schindler’s List releases them on full-blast. No man, woman, or child is safe from Spielberg here and that’s how it should be when doing a movie on the Holocaust; there’s no bright, shining sun here, it’s all sadness, almost all of the sadness.

But like I said, it needed to be, in order to get what it’s trying to say, which is basically as simple as can be: The Holocaust was a terrible time for our world. While this may not be any groundbreaking news to anyone out there who has ever picked up a book or a newspaper, still though, Spielberg really does make you feel the chaos and wretchedness of the Holocaust, without ever pulling back. One sequence in particular is when the Jews are all moved from their ghettos, to the camps, and while you assume that the sequence is over once all of the Jews are in the camps, all safe, warm, and cozy, surprisingly, it isn’t. It continues to go on, while showing more and more Jews who tried to stay behind and hide in their homes, all get caught, gunned-down and treated awfully, even if they were trying something incredibly admirable.

This is all to drive home the fact that, yes, the Holocaust was horrible. Spielberg’s camera constantly focuses in on everything happening, without ever making it seem like we’re watching a movie of his, or a movie in general, and more or less, a viewpoint from someone who was actually there. This makes the movie all the more terrifying and also give you that feeling of suffocation that, no matter where you go, you cannot hide from the Nazis.

They love it that way, too.

Spielberg is smartest when he tones himself down and here, he totally does. The cheesy, overly sentimental moments, at least for the longest time, are all turned down so that Spielberg himself can just focus on the story, these characters, and most of all, this setting. It would have been very easy for Spielberg to pass judgment on each and every Nazi here, but believe it or not, he actually just shows everything for what it is; people get killed for stupid reasons, Nazis act out in vicious, inhumane-like ways, and human rights are violated every way from Tuesday, and yet, no judgement from Spielberg. He shows everything as it is, just as it would have been back in the day, which makes the movie all the more disturbing.

But Spielberg doesn’t just wallow in the sadness – in fact, he does feature a story here and a pretty compelling one at that.

He's just English enough to be classified as "German".

He’s just English enough to be classified as “German”.

What’s perhaps so interesting about Oskar Schindler and his story here is that we never get a full grip on just who he is, what he cares about, what he believes in, or exactly why it is that he’s doing all that he does here. Sure, he definitely wants to profit off of the helpless Jews and he also wants to have a whole lot more power to his name, but does he really care about all of this so much? The movie never makes a clear decision on what it is that Schindler is all about, and that’s perfectly fine; Schindler is as much of a mysterious to us, as he is to those around him. We watch him interact with Jews and Nazis alike, acting and speaking in two, entirely different manners; with the former, he’s soft and caring, whereas with the latter, he’s respectful, but also tricky and figuring out any way he can con these men into giving him what it is that he needs, or better yet, wants.

In fact, after watching Schindler’s List for the, ahem, second time, I’ve come to the conclusion that Oskar Schindler wasn’t entirely a good person and that’s alright – in fact, he’d probably prefer it as such. What’s so great about Liam Neeson’s performance is that while he always appear to be the hero in the story, the things that he does and says don’t always show this; sure, he was trying to save Jews from being wrongfully killed, but at the same time, didn’t he just want to make a quick buck without having to pay anyone else for it? Neeson makes us constantly think that the man is some sort of later-day saint, without ever fully converting and showing off his good features, and allowing for us to be confused by just who, or what kind of man this guy was?

The questions remain long after the movie, but still, they’re worth bringing up.

It’s also worth bringing up that Spielberg allows and dedicates some time to the Nazis and, incredibly, allows for them to be fleshed-out as much as they can possibly be fleshed-out. What Spielberg is trying to show with these Nazi’s, is that even though they’re going around, killing Jews because of silly orders they were given, sometimes, they don’t always like to do that; most of the time, they’re just bored, teen-like guys who need to blow-off some steam and don’t really have any other way that doesn’t involve shooting people for no reason.

Ralph Fiennes’ performance as Amon Goeth shows us exactly what it is that we need to know about these Nazis. While he himself is a terrible excuse for a man, the movie also shows that there is some breath of humanity in him that, despite never coming out, does exist. Fiennes is startling in this role; being both scary, twisted and naive, all at the same time, but never overdoing any of it. He could have definitely been an over-the-top, wacky and wild Nazi villain, but he plays it at just the right level to where we definitely hate him, but also realize that he’s a human being and unfortunately, he has way too much power and time on his hands.

Then again, same could be said for Hitler.

Consensus: Smart, provocative, well-acted daring, disturbing, and downright emotional, Schindler’s List is the high-mark in Spielberg’s career, and with very good reason.

9.5 / 10