Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Bleed for This (2016)

Never say never. Even when you probably should.

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

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

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

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

Just the way a boxing flick should be told.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You know, typical bro stuff.

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

8 / 10

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

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

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Indiewire

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016)

It’s like Tinder, or Grindr, but for ugly-looking creatures.

Newt Scamander (Eddie Redmayne) arrives in New York by boat, carrying a suitcase with him. Why? What’s in the suitcase? And why does the year have to be, specifically enough, 1926? Well, it turns out that he has just completed a global excursion to find and document an extraordinary array of magical creatures. He’s arrived in New York just for a brief stopover that, he assumes, would go down without a hitch. However, his suitcase randomly opens up and a mysterious, platypus-looking creature named Jacob runs out of it, leaving Newt to have to search the city, far and wide, for this creature and get him back in safely his suitcase, so that he can continue on with his adventure. However, his stay in New York becomes far more difficult once he meets a factory worker aspiring to be a baker (Dan Fogler), and an odd woman named Tina (Katherine Waterston), who also turns out to be a member of the Magical Congress of the United States of America (MACUSA). Meanwhile, a deadly, terrifying force is taking over the area, destroying all sorts of buildings and killing people. No one knows where it’s coming from, or from whom, but Newt has an idea and will stop at nothing to make sure that no more people are hurt.

"Come with me, Newt! We've got to show that hack David Blaine what real magic's all about!"

“Come with me, Newt! We’ve got to show that hack David Blaine what real magic’s all about!”

Coming from a person who, as much as I hate to say it, doesn’t quite love the Harry Potter franchise, it’s surprising how much Fantastic Beasts can be at times. Director David Yates who directed the last four Potter movies, shows up here and brings the same kind of fun, lively and exciting bit of whimsy that he brought to those movies, but while the installments he worked with were far more darker and scarier, this time around, he gets to play everything down a bit.

I would mention the same way he did with the Legend of Tarzan earlier this year, but I think we all know that’s not true.

Anyway, the best part about Fantastic Beasts is that it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously, or get too bogged down in the actual plot itself; due to this being an actual franchise-in-the-making, it would have been very easy for the movie to just set up a whole bunch of stuff and just sort of leave it all up in the air, knowing that we’ll still come back anyway. Instead, the movie’s more concerned with giving us the chance to know these characters, this setting and just what this wonderful, slightly more grown-up world of fantasy and wizardry has to offer. There’s a whole heck of a lot more scarier beasts this time around, period-details about the good old days of the roarin’ 20’s that only older people would really appreciate, let alone, get, and even the humor itself, while obviously silly at times, also feels like it’s aiming for a smarter, more adult crowd than the Potter movies.

Bad buzz-cuts automatically mean "villain".

Bad buzz-cuts automatically mean “villain”.

Not to say that there’s anything wrong with those movies or the people who like them, it’s just that, for awhile at least, they were movies specifically created for kids. Times have changed and for Yates, it seems like he understands that the better aspects of Fantastic Beasts are actually getting us involved with this world and all of the colorful, surprisingly wacky characters and creatures that inhabit it. While characters like Newt and Queenie are meant to seem off-kilter, even the human characters, like Tina, or Jacob Kowalski, still seem placed into this bright, shiny and sometimes weird world where magic does exist and for the most part, takes priority over all else. It reminds me of what the early Potter movies set out to be, all before they got obsessed with their own sense of sadness, dread and darkness.

That said, Fantastic Beasts still runs into its problems.

For one, it’s story doesn’t quite work. While in the first half or so, Yates doesn’t get too bogged down by what’s going on, who’s to blame for it all, and how it all can be stopped (magic, right?), eventually, he changes his tune and in the second-to-last-half, decides that maybe it’s time to actually give us a full-blown story that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, nor really matter. The best times of Fantastic Beasts are whenever we’re sitting there, watching as these characters run all throughout NYC, chasing creatures, tripping over themselves, and hitting constant obstacles, as if they were outtakes from the Looney Tunes, but whenever we focus in on the actual so-called “villains” of the tale, it never quite registers.

Most of that has to do with the story itself being so incredibly dark and disturbing, making Fantastic Beasts feel a tad bit off. Without saying too much, the subplot involving the so-called “baddies”, ends up coming down to child abuse and depression, which, in a movie where the first hour is dedicated to a bunch of characters chasing around what is, essentially, a platypus who can stick all sorts of items inside of him (please, don’t ask), is odd. It also doesn’t help that incredibly talented actors like Colin Farrel, Ezra Miller and Samantha Morton, are all left to work with some lame material that seems like it wants to be more sinister than it actually is. Even though the evil creature actually turns out to be quite scary and loud, there’s almost no rhyme or reason behind it all; we get the sense that maybe this character’s strict religious beliefs have something to do with it, but maybe not. Either way, it doesn’t quite work and only gets in the way of making Fantastic Beasts as bright and as shiny of a spectacle as it so clearly wants to be.

Consensus: Even with an overly complicated plot that seems to promise darker times to come in future installments, Fantastic Beasts can still be a very fun, charming and lovely little spin-off the obviously more famous Potter franchise.

6.5 / 10

You're Newt, Eddie! You're not Stephen Hawking anymore! So stop with that quivering lip!

You’re Newt, Eddie! Not Stephen Hawking! So stop with that quivering lip!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, The Movie My Life

Black Book (2006)

Lord. The Holocaust was messed-up.

After just barely escaping her death, young Rachel Rosenthal (Carice van Houten) goes on the run from the Nazis during WWII and soon realizes that it’s a whole heck of a lot harder to stay alive when literally everyone you know is either dead, or missing. That’s why Rachel decides that it’s best on her to become a part of the Jewish resistance and going undercover, assuming the name Ellis de Vries. One of her first and perhaps, most important mission, is to seduce a Gestapo officer named Ludwig (Sebastian Koch), someone who is dangerous and possibly maniacal, as most Nazis at that time were. While Rachel/Ellis is perfectly fine with carrying out the mission, taking down the Nazis and assuring that no more Jews are wrongfully killed, she also can’t help but bring herself to feel a little something for Ludwig who, over time, turns out to be a whole lot sweeter and kinder than she ever expected. Now, Rachel/Ellis is left to think fast about what she wants to do: Either accept the Nazi and not kill him, therefore, risking the Resistance’s plan, or taking him out and achieving what she and the Resistance wanted?

Tell those Nazis, gals!

Tell those Nazis, gals!

Everyone knows by now that when you get a Paul Verhoeven movie, you’ve got to expect the trashiest, craziest and wildest movie around. It doesn’t mean that the movie itself has to be good (see Showgirls), but what it does mean is that you’re going to get a movie that knows what it is, doesn’t make excuses for itself, and may, or may not, possibly offend you. If it doesn’t, then there’s surely something wrong with you.

That’s why a tale about the Holocaust, coming directly from the likes of Paul Verhoeven, already calls on controversy before the first scene is even shot. And honestly, that’s where some of the genius comes from with Verhoeven – he isn’t afraid to do what he wants, when he wants, and how he wants, regardless of what those around him may feel, or think is “politically correct”. It also helps that Black Book, for better or for worse, is a pretty fun and wacky Holocaust tale that probably didn’t even have to take place during WWII, or deal with Nazis and Jews; it could have literally been a movie about gangsters or cowboys for all we know.

However, Verhoeven sticks with the WWII-setting and well, it works.

Verhoeven doesn’t settle down one bit with this material and that’s where some of the real fun and joy with Black Book comes from. While movies like Basic Instinct and Showgirls love to take their time and harp on the fact that there’s some sort of story being told and built-up to, when in reality, they’re really not, Black Book shows Verhoeven at his absolute peak – never slowing down, pinpointing every plot development, and just always moving. In a way, it’s very fun to watch, but it can also be a bit tiresome; so much moving and running about, for nearly two-and-a-half-hours can really wear a person down, regardless of how many energy drinks are involved.

That said, I’ll take a quick and fun movie, over a slow, brooding and boring one, which is why Black Book works. Verhoeven doesn’t feel the need to settle, or appease anyone, but instead, just tell this movie with as many twists and turns as humanly imaginable. Sure, there’s probably a few too many, but the movie doesn’t really seem to rely too much on whether or not you believe in them – it more or less depends on being able to follow along with the constant action, lies, deception, and lies that take up the whole, entire movie. If you’re able to do that, then yeah, Black Book is a good time.

Cheer up, Nazis. There's more to life than exterminating Jews!

Cheer up, Nazis. There’s more to life than exterminating Jews!

And if not, then well, I don’t know what to tell you. Watch something else.

Where Verhoeven gets most of his criticism from is how he handles his female characters and the actresses in said roles. For one, he isn’t particularly nice to them; every time it seems like he’s got another lethal, smart and conniving femme fatale, he’s always got another dumb female character, making silly mistakes and always letting her emotions get the best of her. With Carice van Houten’s Rachel/Ellis, I’m torn – on one hand, I believe that she’s the heart and soul of the movie, but at the same time, Verhoeven does sort of treat her like garbage. She’s constantly yelling, running about and making silly mistakes, but at other times, she’s doing quite the opposite.

It’s a weird mish-mash of aspects to her character that don’t always gel together well, which makes van Houten’s performance all the better; she’s more than willing to stand up to Verhoeven’s sometimes crazy style and go with whatever pace he needs her to. Same goes for just about everyone else around her. Sebastain Koch is good in a role that, unsurprisingly, caused a lot of controversy for playing a Nazi with a heart of gold, which is odd, but hey, it actually works for a Verhoeven movie.

Consensus: For all of its twists, turns and craziness, Black Book is quite fun and exciting, even if, at times, it can feel like too many wheels are spinning at one time.

7 / 10

Even Nazis need a little sing-a-long.

Even Nazis need a little sing-a-long.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Bleecker Street

Hollow Man (2000)

Even while invisible, Kevin Bacon still loves to show his dong.

Scientist Sebastian Caine (Kevin Bacon) is working with a secret military research team to complete his experiment of making living-things, completely and utterly invisible. It works on a couple of animals, but Sebastian being the narcissist and ego-maniac that he is, decides that it’s his turn to go under the wire and test it out. It works, but as you could expect, it does come with some perks. Deadly perks, at that.

At the time that this movie came out, it was regarded as a visual-spectacle. The idea that a character like Bacon’s, could seemingly disappear, re-appear, and show up in different forms over time and still have it look realistic is very stunning to say the least. Granted, in the days of Avatar and every Summer blockbuster known to man since 2008, we’ve come to expect a lot from a visual stand-point, but that’s still not to say that this movie isn’t surprising with what it shows us. If you take it into context of the time that it was made, how, when, and who made it, it’s damn surprising and definitely deserved an Oscar nomination. However, anything more than a cheap-o special-effects nomination, would have been ridiculous and downright laughable.

Sort of like Hollow Man itself.

Now, that’s not to say that the movie is terrible or anything – it’s just a total and complete B-movie. If you still don’t think it is, take into account who the director is, one Paul Verhoeven. Basically, this is a fun movie from the wicked-mind of Verhoeven that never seems to sleep, until he’s satisfied with as much blood, gore, nudity, sex, and violence that he can get. And then some.

The guy’s a nut behind-the-camera and gives this movie the type of feel that we want from our corny, sci-fi flicks, campy fun. Some of it is a bit too serious, but who the hell cares when you got a movie about a guy that’s invisible, naked, and killing people, left and right?

No one! That’s who!

Oscar-nominated visual-effects right there....

Oscar-nominated visual-effects?

Still though, the story does leave plenty to be desired in the end. Actually, there’s a lot left to be desired, what with a premise such as this. This movie is bonkers, in the right ways, and in the wrong ways, but no matter what, you never, ever for a second take this movie, the story, its ideas, or its characters ever seriously. I don’t know if that’s a discredit to the peeps involved, but either way, I just didn’t care. Sometimes, you just want to have fun with a crazy B-movie and often times, it feels like Hollow Man forgets a little bit about that.

Despite getting very horror-ish by the end, with everyone getting killed every which way but loose, the problem within Hollow Man was that it tries so hard to make this main character’s problem seem so universal, so understandable, and so relatable, that it should almost come off as no wonder to us why he would ever, ever think about killing everybody. A story needs to be told here, of course, and Verhoeven needs to get rid of the ketchup packets he paid for, of course, but the movie could have done more to actually make me believe the fact that this guy would literally lose his cool, and instantly start killing people.

Also, the people around him are so stupid and never, ever think for themselves for one instance. Even when Sebastian’s invisible and a bit creepy, everybody still has him call the shots because what better way to go about things than to let the invisible guy who’s been cooped-up for awhile say what needs to be done, right? It’s dumb, but honestly, watching dumb people get killed in awfully gory ways, while sometimes fun, does still seem repetitive because you know, no matter how far they may get from him, they’ll always screw it up somehow and die.

Basically, it’s every other horror movie ever made, but with Verhoeven, there’s nothing wrong with wanting/expecting a little bit more.

...these too.

Oh, now I see why….

And at the same time, it’s hard not to feel a little something for the cast. Kevin Bacon feels like he was really down-on-his-luck when he took the offer for this movie, not because he’s bored or anything, he’s actually having a lot of fun playing the baddie for awhile, it’s more just that he seems like he’s too good for this kind of trashy stuff and couldn’t be bothered either way. Probably just a nice way for him to get a new, Summer house, so if that is the case, good for him.

Elisabeth Shue is also randomly here as his ex-lover/co-worker, who knows what to do when he gets a bit wild, but is also a tad stupid in her ways, too. That’s where Josh Brolin comes in to save the day and show that he can be cool, charming, smart, and pretty bad-ass once he’s given the chance to be. A pre-cursor to his role in No Country For Old Men? I think so. Oh, and any movie that has Greg Grunberg in it, is always a win for me. Even if two strong gals like Rhona Mitra and Kim Dickens are, unfortunately, nothing more than walking, talking meat, with boobs.

Then again, this is a Paul Verhoeven flick. Why should I be surprised?

Consensus: The Oscar-nominated Hollow Man is nothing more than another stupid, nonsensical sci-fi flick that’s initially intriguing, then gets dumber and dumber as it verges into slasher-territory. However, if you want a good time, give it a look cause that’s what it’s here for and nothing else.

5 / 10

"What the fuck did we just star in?"

“What are we all doing here?”

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.Com.Au

Basic Instinct (1992)

Eyes advert, fellas!

Homicide detective Nick Curran (Michael Douglas) is known for always solving his cases to the best of his ability and because of that, he not only has a good career, but a good life in general. However, it all changes one day when he begins to investigate the mysterious of a rock star and links up with the sexy, vivacious, and possibly dangerous Catherine Tramell (Sharon Stone). Believe it or not, she’s actually a crime novelist who loves to write about all sorts of deadly, violent crimes, or better yet, like the ones that continue to pop-up around the same time the death of this rock star occurs. For Nick, however, he believes that no matter how beautiful Catherine is, he won’t let her get in the way of his investigation. But that becomes a whole lot harder when Catherine starts alluding to Nick’s lover (Jeanne Triplehorn) as having more of a criminal background than she may have let on, making Nick think long and hard about whether this case is worth it, or if he just wants to retire from the force now and possibly settle down.

Love at first fight. And other stuff.

Love at first fight. And other stuff.

Oh, and Sharon Stone flashes a bunch of dudes.

There’s certain moments in film history that will forever remain infamous and the aforementioned Sharon Stone scene is one of them. Does it matter that the rest of the movie is neither as shocking, crazy, unpredictable, or infamous as that one scene in particular? Not really, but it doesn’t keep Basic Instinct, a rather mediocre, if at times bland erotic-thriller, to continue to pop-up in discussions about sex, movies, the MPAA, and mainstream, big-budget movies as a whole.

Because, like I said, Basic Instinct is a fine movie – director Paul Verhoeven doesn’t have it in him to make a boring movie, by any stretch of the imagination – but it also seems like the kind of movie that wants so hard to be cool, sexy, seductive, and rad, that it also forgets about what makes most movies like that in the first place: Some semblance of entertainment. Verhoeven loves his movies to be trashy, dirty and sweaty, which is what we get a whole lot with Basic Instinct, but that doesn’t make it nearly as fun, or as exciting as it sounds; in a way, it can actually be kind of boring. In a way, it’s clear that Verhoeven wants to make a sort of homage to the film noir’s of the 1950’s or so, but obviously, with a far more modern-update.

If that was his intention, then yeah, he got it down well; he captures the look, the feel, and most of all, the performances, except with a whole lot more boobs, butt, blood, and ice-picks. But style-points in a movie like this can only go so far – after awhile, there needs to be a story, emotion, and most of all, action. And I don’t mean “action” in the literal sense, as much as I mean in the proverbial sense – people just standing around, staring into space and thinking long and hard about what they want to do next, unfortunately, just doesn’t cut it.

You can look, but you can't touch, boys.

You can look, but you can’t touch, boys.

A lot of that happens in Basic Instinct, too.

A part of me thinks it’s just Verhoeven’s obvious European influences coming out, but a part of me also thinks that it’s just him slowly realizing that there’s not much more to the movie than a bunch of hot, steamy sex. And like I said, the hot, steamy sex is done well, it’s just that everything else surrounding isn’t and more or less, feels as if it’s all just filler so that Verhoeven himself can get another sex scene going. It’s understandable why the movie was so shocking back in 1992, but nowadays, sex in movies is overplayed, no matter how explicit and it made me wish that a good chunk of this flick was actually dedicated to an actual, compelling plot, and less to how Sharon Stone’s boobs or butt looked while mounting Michael Douglas.

Then again, the two do mount each other nicely and it’s one of the stronger aspects of the movie. That Nick has a bit of a dark side to him and is drawn to Catherine’s even darker, possibly more sadistic ways, makes the movie all the more enjoyable to watch; we know that he’s going to eventually crack under the pressure and make sweet, sexy love to her like the Dickens, but when, where, how, and at what cost, makes it all the more intriguing to sit through. Together, the two are quite good; they play-off of one another well, with Stone’s over-the-top playfulness, going hand-in-hand with Douglas’ over-the-top seriousness. In a smaller movie, with less of media-attention and a different director, the two probably would have made a very interesting drama, where instead of focusing on how many times they bang, it’s more about how many times they actually do love one another, but of course, that’s all a fantasy.

Of course, what we have is a movie that allows them to put in some good work, even if the work itself isn’t all that there. Verhoeven does eventually have some fun in the final-act, once people start getting killed-off left and right, but by then, it’s a little too late. The movie’s a little over two hours, but honestly, feels a whole lot longer than that, and because of such, it’s a bit of an uneasy watch. Just when you think and expect for the movie to fully pick up the slack and get going somewhere, Verhoeven decides to slow things down and focus in on these characters and whatever garbage lines they have to deliver. Sometimes, that’s fun, as long as it stays trashy and fun.

But being just trashy and leaving it at that, I’m sorry, is not fun.

Consensus: Well-acted and directed with plenty of style, Basic Instinct also proves that all of the sex, violence and nudity in the world, can’t make-up for a weak story and script.

6 / 10

Yeah, it's that scene.

Yeah, it’s that scene.

Photos Courtesy of: The Iron Cupcake, Indiewire

Boiler Room (2000)

Sometimes, Charlie Sheen’s swagger is just needed.

Seth Davis (Giovanni Ribisi), is university drop-out who doesn’t have much going for his life. However, determined to prove his worth to a demanding father (Ron Rifkin), he decides to take a job at a small brokerage firm and, through his time there, begins to become something of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, for lack of a better term.

Writer/director Ben Younger literally wears his Glengarry Glen Ross and Wall Street influences on his sleeve, that the man doesn’t even try to hide it. In fact, a few times, the man actually shows clips of the movie, in Boiler Room, where the characters here are seen actually saying the same lines of those movies. In a way, you want to call him a “rip-off artist”, but at the same time, you don’t want to, because he’s not hiding it; he’s letting us know, right off-the-bat, that these characters, as well as himself probably, look up to these movies, these characters, and these ideas of capitalism, that they don’t care if they look like copy-cats.

"Wait, what?"

“Wait, what?”

They’re making money, baby and that’s all that matters!

Regardless, Younger as a director and writer, is a pretty solid one. There’s a certain energy to the movie that’s hard not to get wrapped-up in, because as our characters are making more and more money, the more the movie picks up its pace. In a way, it’s the junior-version of Wall Street, but it works so well because Younger is constantly reminding us that none of those influences matter; sure, they’ve helped him to where he’s at with this movie, but hey, so what? Just party, bro.

But honestly, where Younger really starts to fail is in the actual story department itself.

Younger seems as if he knows a thing or two about keeping up the brisk pace and how to have fun with these sometimes detestable characters, but when it comes to actually slowing things down, focusing on these characters, their lives and their motivations, he loses a bit of his step. For example, try the terribly-forced “romance” between Ribisi and Nia Long, who don’t seem to have any chemistry at all, any reason to be together, or anything really holding them together once things go South for both of them. It annoys me that films like these feel the need to add in a romantic subplot, just to appeal to women and hoping that they don’t get alienated from this movie but the bad news is that they already will. No girl will be attracted to a movie about a bunch of young, hot, cool, hip, and rich dudes in suits that make millions and millions of dollars, so it’s hard to imagine ladies wanting to come out and see something in the first place, because oh my gosh, Giovanni Ribisi and Nia Long make-out!

And then, the story begins to get a tad bit more predictable as it rolls on along. Boiler Room is obviously a rags-to-riches story, or so to speak, and because of that, it follows a very plain and conventional plot-line. Ribisi’s character starts at job, starts getting really rich, starts getting cocky, and eventually, one bad thing happens after another, until he’s broke, near-dead and without a pot to piss in. It’s all very formulaic and try as he might, Younger can’t help but get caught up in doing the same stuff we’ve seen done before, many, many times.

"Yeah, I'm done with action flicks. Maybe."

“Yeah, I’m done with action flicks. Maybe.”

Despite this, the cast is quite good and help keep the ship afloat.

In a rare lead role, Giovanni Ribisi kicks some fine stick-selling ass as Seth Davis. Ribisi gets a bad-rap sometimes for taking roles to the next level of over-the-top and making them terribly campy to the point of where it’s cringe-inducing, but some will be surprised that this kid can hit it out of the park when it comes to being subdued and very charming. You like Seth Davis right when you see him and even though his character motivations may get mixed around in a bender a bit too much, you still like both him and Ribisi. Wish that this movie made Ribisi the top mainstream act that everybody thought he was going to be, but I don’t think it bothers him if he’s second-in-command.

Everybody else is fine as hell, too. Vin Diesel is a scene-stealer as Chris Varick, the guy who teaches Seth the ways of the stock broker, and it’s a great dramatic role for Diesel that shows the guy has a terrible amount of charm and humor in him, that makes all of his characters work. The guy may be stuck doing Fast and Furious for the rest of his life, but at least we know that we can depend on him to pull out something like this or Find Me Guilty to remind us of why the guy has such a presence about him in the first place.

Nicky Katt plays the “stereotypical dickhead role” as the one guy who doesn’t really like where Seth is going in his success and it’s an obvious character, but a fine performance from a guy that I see in everything and still haven’t been able to match the name with the face. Let’s also not forget the fine, little cameo from Ben Affleck that practically seems like a total rip-off of Alec Baldwin’s cameo from Glengarry Glen Ross, but still works here because it seems like Affleck is having a total ball here and that’s always a joy. There’s a bunch of others in the cast like Scott Caan, Tom Everett Scott and Jamie Kennedy, all playing the young hotshots within the firm and are all perfectly cast.

Consensus: Boiler Room is, initially, a fun, exciting and thrilling ride, but soon turns preachy and predictable, which makes it feel a little uneven.

6 / 10

"Stop. Over. Acting!"

“Stop. Over. Acting!”

Photos Courtesy of: Derek Winnert

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

Arrival (2016)

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

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

Hey, Am? Yeah, something weird over there.

Hey, Am? Yeah, something weird over there.

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

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

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

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

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

Do scientists really look this sexy and cunning?

Do scientists really look this sexy and cunning?

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

Yeah, so what?

Yeah, so what?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, TwiCopy

Loving (2016)

Love the one you’re with. Screw the haters.

It’s 1958 in Central Point, Virginia and Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga) fall in love with one another, are having a child together and you know what? They decide that they want to get married. However, because she’s black and he’s white, they’re not allowed to get married in their own home state, so they decide to drive all the way to Washington and get hitched the right way. When they get back to their hometown, not only do they realize that almost everyone in the town knows about their marriage, but they’re not quite happy about it, either. Most importantly, though, it’s law enforcement who wants both of them out of their town and somehow, find a way to make that happen. So now, Mildred and Richard are forced to move to Washington, D.C., away from the rest of their family and feeling more ostracized than ever before, until they realize that what’s happened to them, above all else, isn’t right and sure as hell isn’t legal. So they band together, pick up a lawyer (Nick Kroll) and decide to take their case to the Supreme Court, against all odds and with some sort of sliver of hope that they’ll be able to stay married and get back to their families, once and for all, like they have the right to.

Love is someone you can literally lean on.

Love is someone you can literally lean on.

Although he’s one of the far more interesting and compelling voices in film today, writer/director Jeff Nichols still found a way to disappoint the hell out of me with Midnight Special. Sure, it was an ambitious change for him and to be fair, the first two-thirds of it are probably great, but man oh man, that final-act and twist? Yeah, just didn’t work for me and felt like maybe, just possibly maybe, Nichols got a bit too ahead of himself and stretched out further than he could go.

But now, over eight months later, and Nichols has got another movie, which in ways, is still a bit of a change for him – a true, fact-based tale about Mildred and Richard Loving. It’s a tale that deserves to be told with absolute tender, love, care and integrity, which is everything that Nichols brings to the material; he’s very much in his wheelhouse of giving us small details about these characters and their lives, without ever seeming like he’s overdoing it or trying to get at something. If anything, he’s just telling a story of two people, who fell in love, got married and for some reason or another, weren’t allowed to.

In a way, it’s a change for Nichols, but it’s also very much what we’ve seen from him before.

And because of that, Loving works in small, glorious ways. Nichols is a smart writer and director in that he knows how these “based on a true story” movies can go – over-the-top, melodramatic, corny – and opts out for the exact opposite. Instead of going overboard with the raw and powerful emotions, he downplays everything, as if we aren’t just watching a movie happen in front of our very own eyes, but life itself. It works, in that it makes us feel closer to the Loving’s than ever before and also helps make us feel more and more for their situation, as if that wasn’t hard to do in the first place.

It also helps that both Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are quite great in their roles, showing off a great deal of sincerity, even when they’re trying so hard to bottle-up all of their feelings and emotions. It’s interesting that the movie paints the them as two separate people who feel differently about the situation that they’ve unfortunately been thrown into; she’s all about the spotlight and believes that the more eyes on the case, the better, while he just wants to be left alone, stay quiet, and sit in the corner, unseen or unheard. It’s an interesting contrast that does wonders for their performances, especially Negga who’s smile and pure beauty lights up any room that she pops up in here.

Love is someone you can get locked-up with.

Love is someone you can get locked-up with.

Then again though, the movie does drop the ball on actually making us feel something for their love and their passion, which was, above all else, the most important aspect. Due to Nichols having to focus on so many other aspects of the story (the court case, the racial prejudices, the other family-members drama), it’s hard not to realize that the Loving’s themselves sort of get shoved away to the side, in that we never quite feel their love, their passion, or their fight for one another. They sort of just dance a little bit, kiss a lot, have babies, hold hands, and yeah, that’s about it.

If that’s true, inspired love, then hey, maybe I’m missing something. But either way, if you’re going to make a movie about a married-couple who love one another so damn much, that they’re willing to beat the odds and take on the man, to ensure that they have those God-given rights, then why not allow for us to feel that said romance?

Either way, Edgerton and Negga always stay good and compelling, regardless of the shortcomings of the script.

Same goes for the supporting cast who are all fine, with the exception of maybe one. It’s hard not to mention Nick Kroll when you’re speaking about Loving, because, as much as I hate to say it, he does stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a bit of inspired casting to have Kroll play the Civil Rights lawyer who does eventually pick up the Loving’s case, but it also doesn’t help that Kroll, for some reason or another, decided to play this character as a fun-loving, somewhat chirpy dude from the 50’s who talks as if he was a deleted scene from Fargo. It’s weird, too, because I’ve seen Kroll really do some great work with dramatic-material, but here, he just doesn’t fit in, especially when you have the likes of Bill Camp, Michael Shannon, and Martin Csokas, and others, showing up and putting in great work.

Consensus: While imperfect, Loving is still a sign that Jeff Nichols is back on the track to telling small, character-driven stories about love, romance and happiness, even without ever seeming preachy or melodramatic, given the true story-aspect.

7.5 / 10

Love is someone who, once again, you can actually lean on. Man, be independent!

Love is someone who, once again, you can actually lean on. Man, be independent!

Photos Courtesy of:Indiewire

Lust, Caution (2007)

Love works in mysterious, dastardly ways.

During World War II, Wong Chia Chi (Tang Wei) is just another young, ambitious and politically-aware college grad looking to make something of her smart mind. Eventually, through meeting up with old friends, she becomes something of a secret agent who is planning to take down the government, or in some ways, just rebel and get her causes voice out there, heard loud and clear for the rest of the world. One of her first and perhaps, most important missions of them all, is to seduce and even assassinate an corrupt political official Mr. Yee (Tony Leung), who also works for the Japanese puppet government in Shanghai. While Wong is initially thrown off by the mission and thinking that she’s not quite capable of getting the job done, she sticks with it, believing that it must be done. However, as time goes on, she starts to find herself falling for the sometimes sad Mr. Yee – a move that may cost her, as well as her fellow rebels, their lives.

This could be us, but we watch Ang Lee movies.

This could be us, but we watch Ang Lee movies.

Lust, Caution is perhaps most notorious and controversial for its explicit sex scenes that, unsurprisingly, led to the MPAA giving it the dreaded NC-17 rating. And to speak of those sex scenes, well, yeah, they’re quite explicit, but most importantly, they matter. In a story chock full of lies, deceit, death, violence, and corruption, the one aspect that really speaks volumes is the actual sex itself; it’s graphic, in-your-face and barely leaves anything to the imagine, but it’s also kind of beautiful, too.

In fact, “beauty” could definitely be said for the movie as a whole.

Surely, this isn’t much of a surprise coming from Lee, who’s definitely been known for his movies to have an eye for the exquisite details in the certain ways his movies look. And it helps – the movie literally transports us all the way to Japanese-occupied Shanghai during World War II, and never seems phony, fake, or as if any of it took place on a major, Hollywood studio. There’s an air of authenticity that works for the movie and also makes us feel like we’re watching more than just another sick and twisted tale of love and murder, but more or less, a sincere look at a love story in the first place.

Lee is no slouch when it comes to the look of his movies, but at the same time, he also doesn’t back down from giving his characters the best work to deal with and because of that, the two leading performances from Tang Wei and Tony Leung are quite great. Wei’s especially great as she starts off as this young, naive and rather silly college school girl, who is still trying to make sense of her life and what she wants to do with it, yet, gets wrapped up in a situation where she has to act and be an adult, real quick, or else. It’s a transformative performance that shows her range and helps makes us feel more and more for her character, as we always know that she’s doing the right thing, but also question her motives, or better yet, how far and willing she is able to keep up with this mission, even when she knows that it can’t end on any sort of good note.

Yeah, I bet we can all predict what's happening here. Scandalous!

Yeah, I bet we can all predict what’s happening here. Scandalous!

Tony Leung is also quite great in the lead role as Mr. Yee, because he never seems like a true-and-tried villain. Sure, he’s definitely got despicable qualities to him, but the movie doesn’t just make him this one-note villain, who can’t wait to kill or screw anything that walks in his way; believe it or not, he actually is a human being, who has feelings, thoughts and ideas, which in ways, makes him all the more terrifying to watch. The movie may want him to be a villain, but Leung can’t help from making this man somewhat sympathetic, even in the slightest regards.

The only aspect about Lust, Caution that truly keeps it away from being another Ang Lee classic, is its length.

At a little over two-and-a-half hours, the movie more than wears out its welcome, as it is, yes, a little slow and even, at times, meandering. As hard as Lee may try to spice things up with sex, violence and lies, there’s still this never ending feeling that the movie is going to continue to go on and on, even when it should be wrapping itself up. And this isn’t to say that there isn’t anything wrong with long movies, so long as they give us a reason to understand why they’re so long in the first place – Kenneth Branagh’s four-hour version of Hamlet comes to mind, as it’s perhaps the most condensed version of that play and still feels necessary – but for some reason, Lust, Caution never makes a reason for it. Sure, there’s a lot of killing, sex, twists, turns and nudity to be had, but for how long and why?

The movie does eventually give us that answer, but unfortunately, it takes maybe way too long to get to it.

Consensus: With a certain eye for beauty, Ang Lee’s Lust, Caution is a sensual, well-acted, and rather tense thriller that may also be too long for its own good.

7.5 / 10

Love is so suffocating sometimes.

Love is so suffocating sometimes.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert, Focus Features, Drama Fever

Ride with the Devil (1999)

Ridin’s better than runnin’, right?

In 1861, two best buddies from the South, Jake and Jack (Tobey Maguire and Skeet Ulrich), are forced to join up with the guerrillas in order to get revenge for the slayings of their families. At first, they seem to be really inspired to be rebellious and start killing whomever they think is on the other side and against them, however, they begin to think otherwise once they realize that they have a future ahead of themselves. For instance, Jack gets together with a widow (Jewel) who’s watching over them for short while, while Jake starts to think differently about the cause that these rebels are fighting for, and what it even matters in the end. Obviously not everybody thinks the same way these two folks do, so they land themselves in hot water, not knowing whether they’re going to die on the battlefield, or behind enemy lines.

"I swear, on my heart, not to pass on the Spider-Man role."

“I swear, on my heart, not to pass on the Spider-Man role.”

Ride with the Devil is an interesting flick in that it starts out as being something very ordinary and conventional, yet, changes around halfway through. Something very tragic happens and rather than getting ourselves a slam-bang Western full of action, guns, broads, whiskey, saloons, and pianos, we get something of a down-to-earth, mellowed-out character-drama that’s concerned more with its acting, than its pure spectacle or anything like that. And coming from Ang Lee, you can’t totally expect much different. The guy has made a living by taking a simple premise, and somehow being able to turn it on its side, giving us something that we didn’t expect to see, or didn’t really want to.

Which normally works for Ang Lee, but is still a bit messy here in Ride with the Devil.

For instance, it mostly all comes down to its plot. At one point, the movie’s about these two buddies who go into the war, not knowing what to expect, and somehow get thrown into the middle of it all. Then at the next point, somehow, the movie becomes a racial-drama, showing us all sorts of hatred and remorse African Americans had to face before they were made free. At one point, the movie becomes something of a war epic that’s made to get us up in the air, with our feet giving out right from beneath us. But then, at the next point, it suddenly becomes something of a romantic-drama, mixed with little bits and pieces of comedy. Oh, and before I forget to mention it, the movie does seem like it’s trying to make a point about the rebels and they’re hypocritical way of going about their business in order to make a point, which was probably the most interesting point the movie had to make yet, sacrificed it for a rivalry-angle between two characters that comes out of nowhere, and yet, they continue to milk it for all that they got.

Always follow Jewel.

Always follow Jewel. Except if your name is Kurt Loder.

So yeah, there’s a lot going on here and Lee, with all of his best intentions, does what he can to make it interesting. And for the most part, he does; this harsh and unforgiving view of the Wild West, that also paints it as an unpredictable hellhole, where any wrong decision can have you shot dead in the dirt, is a refreshing one and shows that Lee never backs down from a challenge, whether visually or structurally. However, the movie does have so much going on, with so much to say and do, that it seems as if Lee himself is having a hard time keeping up with, or better yet, even track of where he’s going next.

Unfortunately, that also keeps the movie away from having the sort of emotional and powerful effect it should most definitely have.

But thankfully, his cast is so good that they really do help it out. Tobey Maguire fits perfectly well as the sweet and quiet Jake; Jewel is actually a nice fit as the fiery, yet somewhat seductive widow who Jake falls for and starts something of a relationship with; Skeet Ulrich is actually a lot of fun to watch as the brash and charming Jack, showing that there was more to him than just his boyish good-looks; Jeffrey Wright, in one of the performances that put him on the map, does a great job as Daniel Holt, a former slave dealing with racism in these terrible and violent times, sometimes, hardly even having to say something to get his point across; and Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, despite playing what is, essentially, the conventional villain of the movie, does a good job with it, making us feel like he’s more tortured than just evil, as if the pains and terror of war may never leave him, no matter how many years go by, or how long he stays away from guns and murder.

There’s a whole lot more to this cast that really help Ride with the Devil, but it’s always Lee’s show, first and foremost.

Consensus: With so much going on, Ride with the Devil still works as an interesting and well-acted, if somewhat messy, Western epic.

7 / 10

The West is about to get a whole lot more wild now.

The West is about to get a whole lot more wild now.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert, Memorable TV, Duke Wayne.com

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

Sense and Sensibility (1995)

Why can’t people just date like they used to?

When Elinor Dashwood’s (Emma Thompson) father dies, her family’s finances are absolutely crippled, leaving her and her family to think fast of where they’re going to end up next, or better yet, who they’re going to marry. After the Dashwoods move to a cottage in Devonshire, Elinor’s sister Marianne (Kate Winslet) is torn between the handsome John Willoughby (Greg Wise) and the older Colonel Brandon (Alan Rickman). She seems to not care who she ends up with, because all she really wants is to have some fun, be happy, be loved, and most of all, be taken care of for the rest of her days. On the other side of things, Elinor doesn’t have the best options, even though she’s definitely in love with one Edward Ferrars (Hugh Grant), who also happens to be previously engaged to another woman to marry. Through this all, however, Elinor and Marianne come together and realize that there’s way to be happy and pleased with life, with, or without husbands.

Sisters till death do them part. Just don't tell them that.

Sisters till death do them part. Just don’t tell them that.

Sense and Sensibility is probably the best period-piece ever made. Sure, there’s a lot of stuffy people out there in the world who probably sneer at certain flicks of this nature, because they don’t feature any action, violence, or explosions – or at least, not in the physical, literal sense – and prefer to focus on more things like characters, plot, emotion, and most importantly, language. If it’s not your bag, then fine, but to say that it’s a terribly boring genre in and of itself is wrong; when done right and to near-perfection, they can be quite the most exciting, most emotional things to watch.

Take Sense and Sensibility, for obvious reasons: While it may seem boring and overstuffed, in just a little over two hours, it does so much. It’s funny, heartfelt, romantic, sweet, sad, passionate, beautiful, exquisite to look at, perfectly acted, and most of all, directed with such a smart, detailed look, that it honestly feels like Ang Lee hardly even showed up to the set.

Which is, yes, a good thing.

What it shows is that the material was already there and all that Lee himself had to do was just stand there, keep the camera in-place and of course, focus on the action; while that sounds incredibly simple and easy, which it is, there’s also something to be said for a director who gets literally every shot correct. There’s not a dull moment, or misplaced shot to be found – Lee knows how to make beautiful scenery look even more impeccable and it’s the main reason why Sense and Sensibility may remain his best movie. It’s not flashy, or overstuffed with the sort of visual flair that he’s known for using – it’s just plain and simple, but still compelling in each and every way known to man.

 

Don't trust all men, Kate. They're swine.

Don’t trust all men, Kate. They’re swine.

And it also all comes down to the fact that the ensemble cast is so perfectly assembled, that it’s hard to find the single best, even if it does come sort of close. While Emma Thompson may not have wanted to be cast here in the first place (she’s also co-writer), she’s still amazing as Elinor. Thompson’s one of the best around, but what she does so well here is that she finds small, subtle ways to get her character’s feelings of sadness and regret across, but never actually has to say it; throughout the whole movie, she’s constantly on the verge of tears and one step closer to losing her marbles, and watching as Thompson constantly battles with that, is incredibly moving.

She was great in Howard’s End, but honestly, she could have won the Oscar for this, too.

Anyway, there’s also a very young, very spirited Kate Winslet as Marianne, being as lovely and as charming as we’ve ever seen her before, working as the perfect counterpart for Elinor’s more reserved-self. The fellas aren’t so bad, either, with Hugh Grant playing the perfect Edward, and never letting us know just whether he’s a slime or not, and the late, great Alan Rickman, playing Colonel Christopher Brandon, who may have a far more obvious route of going with his character, but to watch as he constantly battles himself over his love for Marianne, is quite the watch.

But really, it all comes down to the actual meaning of Sense and Sensibility, which isn’t just that, “Rich, white people will always fall in love,” as much as it’s actually about, “Don’t stop giving up on love and finding whatever path your life will take you.” Sure, it sounds all incredibly corny and sappy, as if you’re almost reading a self-help guide, but it’s not quite as bad as I make it sound; there’s a true bleeding heart here, that shows us many people can be sad, even if they are rich. It’s not a matter of how much money, or mansions you have, as much as it’s about what sort of love you’ve got in your life and what it does for you, day in and day out.

Okay, yeah, it’s a little sappy, but man, it works.

Consensus: Smart, heartfelt, sweet, well-acted, and most of all, never boring, Sense and Sensibility is the ultimate peak of period-dramas, showing Ang Lee’s great balance of humor, mixed with pathos and romantic-drama, and never missing a mark.

10 / 10

Not all ladies search for male suitors. But when they do, they do so in style.

Not all ladies search for male suitors. But when they do, they do so in style.

Photos Courtesy of: Decider, Frock Flicks, The Rush Journals

The Handmaiden (2016)

It takes three to tango.

In Japan-occupied Korea, a Korean con man named Count Kujiwara (Ha Jung-woo) wants desperately to become rich and not have to worry about a single thing in his life. So, the only way to do that is when the heart of Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), a Japanese woman who is about to come into a great deal of money with her father’s inheritance. However, in order to do so, Kujiwara’s going to need to come up with a smart, despicable plan – what he ends up concocting is recruiting an orphaned pickpocket Sook-hee (Kim Tae-ri) to become her handmaiden, watch and listen to her every move, and inform Kujiawara on everything that happens, so that when he does come around to win Lady Hideko’s heart, he’ll have no issues. And while Sook-he is more than up to this opportunity/challenge, somehow, her and Lady Hideko get very, very close to one another; so much so that it may possibly ruin Kujiawara’s plans for fame and fortune, while also ruining the gals’ lives.

"Read me more."

“Read me more.”

In the past few years, I’ve become more and more acquainted with Park Chan-wook and his flicks. After seeing Stoker, I realized that possibly there was more to him than just what people were telling me, not to mention that there was a lot of praise going his way. And sure, it’s understandable that not all foreign film-makers strike gold with their English-language, stateside debut, but maybe, perhaps, there was something I was missing out on?

And yes, after awhile, I realized that I was. Oldboy is still a near-perfect classic on rewatch; Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance may be slow and deliberate, but man, it’s a visual masterpiece; Lady Vengeance feels like a rehash, but has some inspiration; and Thirst, while long, still is definitely the best vampire movie to be made in the past decade or so. Of course, there’s a few that I’ve missed, but to be honest, those are the main flicks to watch if you want to know all about Chan-wook and realize that he is one of the more original voices in film today.

And that’s why the Handmaiden, for quite some time, feels like he’s back to his roots.

For one, it’s a sexy and seductive story – you can say “erotic thriller”, but that just brings back bad memories of the early-90’s and Sharon Stone flashing Newman, too much – and it hardly ever lets up on the steaminess. Chan-wook plays around with sex and gender roles, but there’s a passion to it all that doesn’t make it seem overdone; he’s not just showing these characters nude, having sex with one another, and doing all sorts of other dirty things for giggles and laughs, but more or less, to tell the story and show just how vulnerable these characters can be. It helps create some real, hard and honest tension, without resorting to the obvious avenues of twists, turns, or violence, that so often, his movies can tend to dive towards.

Sorry, bro. Clearly not interested.

Sorry, bro. Clearly not interested.

That’s why the performances from everyone involved are so good – they all feel like real human beings, not just caricatures that Chan-wook can toy around with, even if he does have some joy in doing so. Ha Jung-woo is downright despicable at first as Kujiwara, but after a short while, shows more heart and compassion that’s surprising, but also, quite believable; Kim Min-hee, regardless of her beauty, is able to convey countless emotions with just a look in her eye; Kim Tae-ri, with her young girl innocence, works well in a movie that never talks down to her, but shows her in an as many lights as possible; and though he comes in a bit late, Cho Jin-woong is quite evil as Lady Hideko’s creepy, perverted Uncle who doesn’t have many morals, but he’s hard not to be compelled by.

That said, what happens to the Handmaiden in the final act or so started to take me away from it.

For instance, it’s a near two-and-a-half-hour movie that, at first, doesn’t feel like it. Chan-wook is a master at pacing, knowing what’s important and what isn’t, but also knowing how to keep us glued in with certain mysteries that don’t make perfect sense right away, but with time, eventually do as they develop. However, the issue he runs into here is that he seems to pad it on just a tad much; at times, it can feel like he’s making stuff up as he goes along, which can sometimes work if you’re just constantly moving and the pace is nice, but then, it begins to slow down.

What was once a really exciting, quick, fast and electrifying tale of sex, deception and corruption, all of a sudden, turns into a slow, brooding tale of people having sex and getting spanked. I don’t know why, but for some reason, it just didn’t work for me; it seemed as if Chan-wook himself changed everything up to challenge himself more and while it’s definitely commendable, it still doesn’t quite work. Sure, his movie still looks great and the performances, if anything, get more and more emotional as they toll on, but the movie just doesn’t assist them with much of a compelling story, especially when it seems to just be weaving in and out with twists, turns and unpredictable, seemingly random plot-points.

Not what the first-half had in mind.

Consensus: Despite great performances and a very promising first-half, the Handmaiden unfortunately falls apart in the final act, with one too many plot twists and turns to make sense of.

6.5 / 10

Never mind. It takes five to tango. So count me in.

Never mind. It takes five to tango. So count me in.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Who brings a gun to a fist fight, anyway?

Ever since he was a little boy, Desmond T. Doss (Andrew Garfield) has been around and seen all sorts of violence that it’s made him into a far more civilized, peaceful person as he’s gotten older. However, with WWII on the horizon, Desmond feels the need to serve and protect his country. But, how can one do that if they aren’t willing to pick up a gun and kill the enemy? Well, for Desmond, he decides that his true calling in war is to be a on-the-field medic and care for his fellow soldiers, all without having to lift a finger to kill someone. Obviously, Desmond’s fellow soldiers and comrades don’t take too kindly to Desmond’s “conscientious objector” ways, leading them to not just beat him up, but mock him and try whatever they can to get him kicked out of the Army for good. Through it all though, Desmond remains faithful to his true-self and doesn’t let others get in the way of what he rightfully believes him, even when death is staring him clear in the face.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a pacifist.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a pacifist.

For the first hour or so, Hacksaw Ridge is as playful, as entertaining, and as light as I’ve ever seen a war movie start. Sure, there’s a lot of dark stuff about alcoholism, PTSD, daddy issues, and violence that pops up every so often, but for the most part, Hacksaw Ridge starts out like an old school war flick, that soon turns into the bright-eyed version of Full Metal Jacket. It seems as if we’re going to get something so silly and wacky, that it actually makes you wonder whether Mel Gibson directed it, or he just through his name on there and had someone else do the job for him.

But then, after that first hour and the soldiers hit the battlefield, holy hell, it does a total 180 and all of a sudden, it’s a real war flick.

There’s blood, there’s guts, there’s decapitations, there’s severed-limbs, there’s fire, there’s explosions, there’s wounds, there’s cuts, there’s injuries, there’s cursing, there’s screaming, there’s shouting, there’s grown-men yelling for their mommies, there’s bullets, there’s guns, there’s grenades, and most of all, there’s death. Somehow, through some way, Mel Gibson himself was able to fool us all into thinking that this was going to be none other than an entertaining romp on WWII, only to then, turn the other cheek and absolutely stick our faces in it. If anything, it says more about us, than it does him – how can we expect something so lovely and cheerful to come out of so much pain, agony and death?

Well, Gibson answers that by basically saying, “we don’t.” We don’t, in that we spend roughly an hour or so with these characters, getting to know them, their lives, their hopes, ambitions and dreams, and then, with the drop of a hat, they’re shot dead, point blank in the heads. It’s so shocking, so abrupt, and so disturbing, that honestly, it couldn’t have been done any other way. Some may call it “uneven”, which it may definitely be, but still, Gibson surprises us out of nowhere and it works – it has the rest of the movie play-out in a far more serious, albeit more solemn tone.

Now, that isn’t to say that the movie’s perfect, of course.

As usual, Gibson’s movies, always look, sound and feel great, but when you get down to the bottom of them, are they really about much? Not quite. See, with Hacksaw Ridge, it’s obvious from the very start that it’s about faith, religion, and standing against war, with Garfield’s Desmond clearly angled as the Jesus-figure of the story and it’s so corny, that it actually works, until it gets way too obvious, with Gibson finding whichever possible symbolism that he can find and not stepping away from it one bit.

"Yes, Mr. Garfield. We allow you to stay away from franchise flicks forever!"

“Yes, Mr. Garfield. We allow you to stay away from franchise flicks forever!”

Should I be shocked that it’s coming from the same guy who did Passion of the Christ? Obviously, no, but it does make you wonder just what is this story about? Desmond Doss’ acts of bravery and heroism? Or, Mel Gibson’s constant battle with himself and his religion? Either way, it doesn’t keep Hacksaw Ridge from still being a very good war movie, that has something to say, even if Gibson doesn’t fully know what that is, or how to get it all out.

It also doesn’t keep the cast from giving some solid performances, either.

Andrew Garfield, now that he’s done with Spider-Man, can finally go back to making due on the promise he showed with the Social Network and if last year’s 99 Homes was just a starter, Hacksaw Ridge is his next-at-bat. While it’s definitely a thinner role, Garfield’s great in it, displaying a wild deal of humor, heart and personality, even if he does sometimes come off a tad bit too much like a classier-version of Forrest Gump. That said, Garfield handles everything so well, that he honestly does make it seem like he’s a true saint, even if the movie can’t trust him enough to give that impression in the first place.

Others like Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, Teresa Palmer, Hugo Weaving, and yes, even Vince Vaughn, all show up and put in some surprisingly solid work. Gibson has always been an actor’s director, showing each and every player off for what they can do best and never losing sight that they add a little more to the story. Because it’s not just about Doss and his heroic acts, as much as it’s about the aspect of war and the toll it can take on the actual humans themselves. The film’s preachy and obvious, but there’s an undercurrent of some real, hard and honest emotions here that work and make you think twice about war itself, and also Gibson.

Maybe that was his plan all along, that bastard.

Consensus: While heavy-handed, Hacksaw Ridge works as a brutal, well-acted and compelling anti-war flick that shows the return of Mel Gibson, the incredibly talented director that we didn’t know we missed so much of.

7.5 / 10

Hold up, everyone. Private Doss has got to think about his life.

Hold up, everyone. Private Doss has got to think about his life.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Doctor Strange (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

"Wingardium Leviosa!"

“Wingardium Leviosa!”

Photos Courtesy of: The Nerds of Color

De Palma (2016)

depalmaDon’t care. Black Dahlia still blows.

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

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

Hey, who's that dude to the left?

Hey, who’s that dude to the left?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10

See this? Yeah, get used to it.

See this? Yeah, get used to it.

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

Blood Father (2016)

Daddy knows best.

John Link, is an ex-convict (Mel Gibson), who is just trying to get by in life. He runs a tattoo parlor out of his trailer, located somewhere in the outskirts of Southern California, attends local AA meetings, and most of all, hangs around his local trailer-park community, not trying to lose his cool after all of the crazy stuff that he’s seen or done. But now, it seems like life is coming back to bite him in the rear-end and this time, John may have to push back. After he gets a call from his estranged daughter, Lydia (Erin Moriarty), he has to grab her, get her out of trouble, and basically, go on the run from her drug-dealing boyfriend (Diego Luna) and his vicious cartel of ruthless, sometimes toothless gang of thugs who go around the state, shooting anything, or anyone that resembles John or Lydia. Because why? Because why the hell not!

Bearded Mel.

Bearded Mel.

With Taken having ended its franchise last year (even though there’s supposed to be a TV-adaptation out soon), it seems like the “old-guy-goes-around-killing-people” sort of sub-genre is coming to its demise, so to speak. Sean Penn’s the Gunman was a notorious bomb, Bruce Willis had a movie out this year called Precious Cargo that nobody saw and apparently, followed roughly the same plot-line, and now, we have Mel Gibson in the old guy game, with Blood Father. And while that may sound like a running-joke on some sort of annoying podcast, I kid you not, it isn’t.

In fact, Blood Father is quite the real deal.

It’s the kind of stinky, schlocky and silly B-movie thriller that all of those other movies I mentioned tried so desperately hard to be, but yet, were far too serious and “meaningful”, to even come close to. Blood Father is the kind of movie that winks a lot at the audience, knows what it is, doesn’t pretend to be much else other than what it is, and most importantly, get its job done in under 90 minutes. Most of those other movies I mentioned earlier, almost all clock in at two hours and yet, they still don’t quite hit the same highs as Blood Father does in its first five minutes, let alone, its whole 88 minutes or so.

Does that mean it’s perfect? No, not at all. But what it does mean is that director Jean-Francois Richet knows exactly what he’s making and isn’t trying to settle for anything more, or anything less. While it was definitely a huge risk casting Mel Gibson in a lead role, especially when all you really want for your low-budget, independent thriller is recognition and attention, he makes up for it in taking a balls-to-the-walls style that barely lets up. In a way, that can sort of come back to bite him; the moments that the movie does settle itself down to have conversations between daddy and daughter, it feels like it’s checking off something on a list. It’s as if the movie knows that it has to have this stuff, in order to tell a good story and keep the plot moving, even if, to be honest, it doesn’t totally work.

That said, the energy, excitement and absolute craziness of the action here is hard to ignore. Richet knows how to shoot an action-sequence, without doing non-stop cutaways and fast-edits to make it seem more hectic than it actually is – sometimes, a simple close-up or tilt will do just fine and get the same feeling across. He showed the same thing in his remake of Assault on Precinct 13 and not much has changed here, what with Blood Father is always moving somewhere and barely ever stopping, except for, like I mentioned, when it does.

And you know what? Say what you will about him, his personal life, his beliefs, and what he’s said to cops, Mel Gibson is still a movie star, dammit.

Clean-shaven Mel.

Clean-shaven Mel.

Sure, Hollywood may have forgotten about him and shooed-him away as the drunk Uncle nobody really talks to, or keeps in contact with, except for when it’s absolutely necessary, like at Thanksgiving, but Gibson himself hasn’t forgotten about himself, nor has he let go of what made him such a compelling actor in the first place. All that rough, tough and gruff that was there before, is still here and even as he gets older, there’s something inherently charming, even exciting about watching a middle-aged Gibson curse, shoot and kill his way through whatever stands in his way. He looks crazy and you know what? The movie makes him appear as such, too, and it’s hard not to love this character, everything he does, or says, even if you know, full well, that he’s got to get his morals in-check.

The rest of the cast is pretty solid, too, with random bit-players showing up in key roles and making this seem more like a joint-affair and not just “Mel Gibson owns the world”. Erin Moriarty may not be the best actor for this role as Lydia, but her character’s at least more believable than whatever the hell Maggie Grace’s was doing and/or saying in the Taken movies, so she’s already winning; Michael Parks and Dale Dickey show up as Gibson’s former pals from back in his bad boy days and are both perfectly slimy and icky; Diego Luna’s villainous character is cheesy, especially after he suspiciously comes back to life after what seems like a life-ending gun-shot to the dome in the first five minutes, but still does what he can; and William H. Macy, as Gibson’s buddy/sponsor, Kirby, is as perfect as they come and in all honesty, a better movie would have just said “screw you” to all of the violence and killing and just focused on the budding friendship between Kirby and Link.

Then again, probably not, because all of the violence and killing is pretty rad.

Consensus: Crazy, wild and never pretending to be something it isn’t, Blood Father is chock full of B-movie goodies, with a gruff, but engaging Mel Gibson tying it all up.

7 / 10

And oh yeah, intimidating, slightly dangerous Mel. The one we all know and, sometimes, love.

And oh yeah, intimidating, slightly dangerous Mel. The one we all know and, sometimes, love.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Apocalypto (2006)

Can’t trust humans. But can definitely trust Jaguars.

Even though the Mayan kingdom is at the height of its power, there are signs that the empire may be slowly, but definitely surely, crumbling beneath its very own feet. That’s why leaders start to believe that it’s time for them continue on building more and more temples, while also sacrificing certain folks, so that their crops can survive, as well as their people. During this time, somewhere deep in the forest, lives Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), a peaceful hunter in a remote tribe, who, along with his wife Seven (Dalia Hernández), already have a child and another on the way. Life couldn’t be better for Jaguar, or all of his other friends and family, until everything all goes to hell when a much more powerful tribe comes by the village and raids it of the strong men, leaving the women and children to rot and, presumably, die. While Jaguar and his friends don’t exactly know where they are being taken to, what lies beyond the journey is something much more powerful and disturbing, and that is the changing of times and how, no matter how hard you try to get past it, your fate will never desist.

It's love when you have more piercings than her.

It’s love when you have more piercings than her.

Mel Gibson is a good, sometimes even great, director. His movies all look, sound and move, great, and for the most part, they deal with certain, troubling issues about life, murder, temptation and faith that we don’t too often see from most directors, let alone those who were most known for acting in movies, and not directing them. And yet, for some reason, his movies always seem imperfect.

While sure, you can definitely say that Braveheart is a great movie (even though it has its fair share of haters), it’s still a relatively conventional film of one gaining his freedom and beating the man, so to speak. The only difference with that movie is that it features a lot of blood, murder, axes, Scottish dudes, and yes, kilts. What Gibson really impressed people with, as he has done in the years since, is that he knows how to stage a big-budget, larger-than-life epic set-piece, where we do feel immersed in this great new world that we’re literally being told about and shoved into.

He’s done it with mostly all of his movies and yes, Apocalypto is another one of those movies.

That isn’t to say that it’s perfect, but it’s got signs of a true master working with all of the tools in his shed, so to speak, and having a grand time. While the movie came out not too long after Passion of the Christ, it is still, in ways, very different; it’s not nearly as self-serious, or as overly violent as that movie. Instead, there is humor to be had, there is a sense of adventure, and yes, there is a whole lot of shocking and disturbing violence that takes place here, but it all feels earned and not just something that Gibson himself couldn’t get enough of. That Gibson literally places us in this fun, breezy village in the first half-hour, only to then throw us into a setting where people are getting beheaded, women are getting raped, and babies are getting flung from trees, shows that, not just as a director, but as a person, he’s continuing to grow. Of course, talking about the year 2006 and Mel Gibson, wouldn’t be complete without all of the controversy that surrounded him at the time. But in a way, that doesn’t matter; a movie like Apocalypto doesn’t necessarily make Gibson out to be an immoral, or suspicious human being, much like Passion did, it just shows that his aspirations go further beyond being a movie star.

But still, does any of that matter?

"Kill him. The gods told us to. I think, anyway."

“Kill him. The gods told us to. I think, anyway.”

Not really. What does matter is that Apocalypto, for all of its action, its blood, its gore, and severed heads, still doesn’t seem like it really has anything fresh to say at all. Whereas Passion, albeit misguidedly, made a comment on faith as a whole, Apocalypto seems to just say the same thing as Braveheart did: “Always fight back. Never give up. Stick it to the man.” Sure, it may resonate with those who have never seen every sports movie ever made, but for those who have seen one, or a whole bunch of other movies, it comes as a bit disappointing. The signs of Gibson being a far more passionate and thoughtful director are here, and definitely show up in bright spots, but they don’t always stay around long and it’s why Apocalypto, with its 138 minute run-time, can’t help but feel a tad long.

Gibson himself spends a little too much time on the torture and murder of these native villagers, but then again, why shouldn’t he? What Gibson’s showing is true to history and more importantly, honest. He’s not shying away from the harsh reality of it all, nor is he trying to sensationalize anything – he’s showing all of the barbarianism, for what it is. Still though, he doesn’t make a comment on it and it’s where Apocalpyto, sadly, doesn’t reach its full potential.

Consensus: Epic, sweeping and surprisingly ambitious, Apocalypto finds Gibson swinging for the fences and, mostly, coming out on top, even if his message doesn’t seem to translate past being your typical, saccharine line about achieving one’s dreams and beating the odds.

7.5 / 10

The look of our savior. No. Not JC. But close enough.

The look of our savior. No. Not JC. But close enough.

Photos Courtesy of: The Fanboy Perspective

31 (2016)

Poor clowns. Never get the respect they deserve.

While on tour and cruising the states, bringing their wacky and wild show to everyone out there, five carnival workers stop at a gas station on the eve of Halloween, not really thinking much of anything, except how much fun they’re going to continue to have on the rest of the tour. But suddenly, for unexplained reasons, they are knocked-out and kidnapped, only to wake up a few hours later, with it being Halloween and them having to fight their way out of a dungeon chock full of murderers, psychopaths, and just plain and simple weirdos. The game is called “31”, and it’s a life-or-death kind of thing, which the carnies more than get the gist of right away. But as ready as they may be to duke it out for their lives, with some of the most homicidal and strange maniacs the world has to offer, they still don’t ever what’s going to come up next. For them, the next 12 hours will be absolute hell and they’re going to have to try and survive each and every minute of it, as best as they can.

Symbolism? Eh, probably not.

Symbolism? Eh, probably not.

I’m pretty sure I wasn’t supposed to like 31. It’s another one of his ugly-looking, gritty, dirty, mean, disgusting, violent, and gory horror-flicks that takes place in the 70’s, features over-the-top characters, a lot of F-bombs for some reason, and just really, really weird stuff that sort of all goes unexplained. Not to mention the camera jerks around so much that you’ll be lucky if you don’t get motion-sickness.

But for some reason, I actually kind of liked 31.

Granted, it’s not a great movie and it’s surely not an improvement over any of his flicks, but it does show him having some fun, while also doing whatever he can to bring in others on his fun, as well. With the Halloween movies, there always seemed like this idea that Zombie had someone, or something, to answer to and he never quite got the opportunity to fully break-out and do his crazy thing. Here, with 31, it’s most definitely his own, single affair and because of that, we get to see more and more glimpses into his messed-up, screwed-up mind, even if we don’t really want to.

And for that, 31 sort of works. It’s the kind of movie that’s just weird enough to pique some sort of interest, but also violent and exciting enough to truly be fun. Sure, there’s a whole lot of disturbing violence that occurs to characters who probably don’t deserve it, but rather than focusing on the doom, gloom and sheer dread of it all, like he’s done a million times before in all of his other movies, Zombie now seems to treat them as something that just ups the ante and keeps the story moving. As with Zombie’s other movies, he’s always excessively focused so much on the harsh and brutal killings, but never really doing anything with them- here, he gives us an idea of just how cruel and crazy this version of Hell is and because of that, it’s easy to be compelled by.

There’s action, there’s violence, there’s blood, there’s gore, there’s chainsaws, there’s barb-wired baseball bats, there’s evil clowns (as if we need more of them), there’s British people in wigs, and hell, there’s even a German-speaking Nazi midget. I assure you that this is a Rob Zombie flick and not an old taping of ECW, I’m speaking of here. But like I said, it’s just so crazy and insane, that it somehow works.

See! Killer clowns really do exist!

See! Killer clowns really do exist!

Zombie, for once in his career, seems to embrace it all, have some fun, and not be as closed-off as he once was.

Still, the movie’s not perfect. Far too many times does the flick feel as if it’s a video-game, offering up another dastardly and evil villain for our group of supposed-heroes to battle, and even when it does seem to talk about something darker, stranger brewing underneath the surface, it backs away from it all. This idea that the 31 game is all some sort of institutionalized madhouse for prisoners being held against their will is brought up at least once or twice, but for some reason, never explored again; it’s almost as if Zombie scared himself with the thought of actually having something interesting to say, or do, and backed away before it was too late.

Shame on you, Rob.

As for the cast, Zombie’s usual band of misfits are around, and mostly all of them are fine. If anyone really stands out here and gets a chance to do something with the sometimes thinly-written material, it’s Richard Brake. In his tall, skinny and lanky-demeanor, Brake truly is terrifying, but in a very unconventional manner; he doesn’t have to wield a big gun or sword to get his point across, just the dead look in his eyes and tattoos on his body are enough to have us creeped-out. It also helps that Brake, of all people, handles Zombie’s material like a champ, making some of the most ludicrous and ridiculous lines come out, well, sort of comprehensible. I get that that’s the job of an actor in the first place, but with Zombie, it seems almost too difficult, as his scripts are just so weird and wacky, not even the most talented thespian could make sense of it. Thankfully, Brake is able to here and even if I don’t really wish Zombie continues to make more movies, if he does, I hope he does so with Brake.

Consensus: Mean-spirited, ugly, disgusting, violent and grimy, 31 is, admittedly, the same kind of flick we expect to see from Rob Zombie, but this time, has a lot more fun with itself than all of the others before.

5.5 / 10

Rob Zombie's answer to French New Wave? Eh. Probably not.

Rob Zombie’s answer to French New Wave? Eh. Probably not.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Spine Chillr