Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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Tag Archives: 2008

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

Tony Montana ain’t got nothing on the French.

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

Yeah, talk about some skill.

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

Hey, gangsters gotta love too, right?

Hey, gangsters gotta love too, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Clearly Mesrine was puffing that magic dragon.

Clearly Mesrine was puffing that magic dragon.

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

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

Shades are always cool.

Why so grumpy, Vincenzo? 

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Roger Ebert, Metacritic

Street Kings (2008)

Don’t mess with Johnny Utah. Ever.

Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a veteran member of the LAPD who has definitely seen better days. While he does still do his job and take down the bad guys that need to be taken down, he also does so by sucking down bottles of vodka. He does this because he is still mourning the loss of his wife and as is such, has alienated a lot of those around him. One person in particular is his former partner, Officer Washington (Terry Crews), who now looks back on his time with Ludlow in disgust. Ludlow knows this and doesn’t like it, which is why he decides that it may be time to get Washington to shut up, before certain people start listening in on to what he has to say. But wouldn’t you know it that when Ludlow does get a chance to shut Washington up, Washington is gunned-down in what happens to be a random corner-store robbery. Feeling some echo of guilt, Ludlow decides to set out and find out who did this to Washington, but unfortunately, the more he digs up, the more dirt begins to show.

That Forest Whitaker eye is not to be messed with.

That Forest Whitaker eye is not to be messed with.

David Ayer can handle these types of dirty, gritty and violent thrillers about corrupt cops and politicians being, well, just that, corrupt. However, there does come a point where eventually, all of the same things that you made your name on, can get to be a bit too old, especially when you’ve got nothing left to say. Sure, a movie like Street Kings should resonate more so now, than it ever has before; police corruption is at an all-time high and people seem to really be demanding questions more than ever, but for some reason, it’s the kind of movie that brings these hard and questionable figures up, without ever seeming to bother to really say much more about it.

Instead, Ayer is more interested in shooting things and throwing blood anywhere he can set his sights to.

That’s fine because Ayer can handle action well. The best parts of Street Kings, actually, are when it’s just a few characters sitting in a room, expecting there to be some violence occurring soon, with their hands firmly on the trigger’s of their guns, not knowing when the other shoe is going to drop and people are going to have to be lit-up. It’s why some of the best moments of Training Day, were the ones where you had no clue exactly what was going to go down, even if you had a general idea.

Problem is, with Training Day and countless other flicks that Ayer has attached his name to, he’s become a tad too conventional. Street Kings feels like the kind of cop flick that would work somewhere back in the mid-90’s – ideas like these weren’t new, but they were still sustainable for entertainment. You could make the argument that Street Kings is sort of working with the same environment, to just be fun and nothing else, but when you have brothers in blue, who are literally doing terrible, immoral things, or getting killed, left and right, there’s a feeling that maybe, just maybe, someone needs to ask, “why?”

In a way, it’s almost like Ayer has a responsibility to ask those questions and get, at the very least, an idea of an answer. To just service your plot with cops and criminals getting shot and killed, without ever saying anything else about it, seems wrong. Trust me, I’m all for the down, dirty and immoral action when push comes to shove, but Ayer doesn’t really have his flick placed in any sort of fake world, or universe – it’s a real world/universe, where cops are meant to stop bad people, from doing bad things.

In fact, it’s the world in which we live in now.

"Uh. Hey. Freeze, man."

“Uh. Hey. Freeze, man.”

But honestly, besides that, Street Kings can be fun, when it actually cares to be fun. There’s a lot of the same stuff seen before, especially from Ayer’s pen, and you can tell that he’s trying to change everything up, yet, fall back on  the same conventions that have made cop-thrillers, such as his, hits in the first place. Ayer is a good director and writer when he wants to be, but here, it feels as if he’s just moving along, steadily, not trying to rock the boat and rely on what he knows best, without trying to change up any sort of format.

The only opportunity Ayer really gets a chance to liven-up things in Street Kings is with his wonderful ensemble, all of whom are having a great time. Keanu Reeves is actually quite good as Ludlow, mostly because the guy doesn’t always have to say something – some of the times, he just backs it up with his gun, or his fists. This suits Reeves just fine, just as it suits him playing the mentor-role to Chris Evans’ young, hotshot rookie character, both of whom work well together. Evans, too, in an early role before he truly broke-out into stardom, seems like the heart and soul of this cruel, dark and upsetting world, which works, until the movie decides that it cares less about him and more about just shooting people’s heads off.

Once again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but there comes a point where it’s overkill.

Others randomly show up like Common, the Game, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, John Corbett, and Terry Crews, and all add a little something to the proceedings. You can tell that Ayer likes to cast these known-actors in roles that you least expect them to work with and it actually works in his favor. However, had he given more screen-time to Hugh Laurie and Forest Whitaker, equally the best parts of this otherwise mediocre movie, all would have been right with the world. The two play opposing chiefs who may or may not be as evil, or as good as they present themselves as being. Ayer always treads the fine line here between these characters and it makes me wish that he decided to do more with the other characters, or even the plot.

Consensus: As conventional as cop-thrillers can go, Street Kings boasts an impressive cast and some fun moments, but ultimately seems to concerned with blowing stuff/people up, and not ever asking why.

5 / 10

"Let me give you my card. And no, I'm not playing that cynical doctor this time."

“Let me give you my card. And no, I’m not playing that cynical doctor this time.”

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert.com, IMDB, Deep Focus Review

Wall-E (2008)

Save the world. Save the robots. Get off your rumps.

It’s been nearly 700 years and yep, us humans have destroyed the planet we all loved and called “home”: Earth. After years and years of negligence and laziness, Earth has become nothing more than just one huge, ever-expanding trashcan. But where have all the humans gone? Well, somewhere up in the sky, they’ve all retreated to a paradise of sorts, sitting down on their lazy butts, getting fatter and fatter as the days go by, eating and drinking everything that comes in their way, and being able to move around, solely by a chair. But while they’re all enjoying the heck out of their fat lives up in the sky, trash compactors are left on Earth to clean up their mess and make life on Earth sustainable again. However, it appears as if all of the trash became too much for the trash compactors, as only one still exists and seems to be working: Wall-E. And yes, being all alone on Earth can definitely be a problem for a little robot like Wall-E, who wants nothing more than some sort of love in his life. Eventually though, he gets that in the form of Eve, a robot sent down from the paradise-in-the-sky who may, or may not have sinister intentions for Earth, the human existence, or even Wall-E himself.

But don’t tell him that! That boy is smitten!

True love if I was ever able to see it happen between two bots.

True love if I was ever able to see it happen between two bots.

Anyway, yeah, Wall-E‘s another typical Pixar home-run, in that it makes you laugh, it makes you cry, it makes you think, and it makes you happy and absolutely proud that there’s still a small part of you that’s still a child. You may work a typical, 9-to-5, have a wife, kids, dog, car, and drink beer, but deep down inside, you’re still a six-year-old kid who wants to hold his mommy’s hand when he gets sad. Or then again, maybe you’re not that at all.

Either way, you get my point: Pixar has been working with this formula for as long as they’ve been around and guess what? Wall-E is no different.

But there’s a little something more to it that makes it worthwhile in the long-run.

You can tell that director Andrew Stanton definitely has a huge affinity for silent films, as well as the classics of yesteryear, in how he appreciates the simplistic messages of love they spout-out, and also likes how they all rely on an emotion and tone, told solely through the way everything looks. Automatically, when you’re thrown into this new and desecrated Earth, there’s already this sad, lonely and depressed feeling when watching Wall-E, all by his lonesome, do nothing but clean-up, watch old movies, long for someone to hold hands with, and have conversations with a invincible grasshopper. Then, all of a sudden, Eve comes in and everything seems a lot more goofy, joyous and believe it or not, hopeful. Yeah sure, the Earth is close to being nearly destroyed, but hey, at least these two robots found their possible soul-mates, right?

Well, that’s why Stanton’s direction is so smart here; he does a lot without telling us anything us, but rather, just showing us everything we need to know. Eve talks in perfect, Siri-like English, whereas Wall-E barely makes sense and for some reason, it’s better that way; hearing these two speak to one another isn’t the point of this flick, or even their romance. In all honesty, it’s all about the raw and sweet emotions that the feeling of love, or that idea of being connected with someone out there in the world can make you feel. Sure, call it maybe a tad too serious for a Pixar movie, but hey, what can I say?

This is the kind of stuff that gets me going.

Such a cuddly little robot. Until he kills you and takes over the whole world.

Such a cuddly little robot. Until he kills you and takes over the whole world.

Of course, about halfway through, the movie’s tone changes from carefree and pleasant to, of course, more convoluted, tense and plot-heavy, but for some reason, it still works. It definitely shouldn’t – the change is so drastic, that it almost feels like the powers at be got to Stanton and had him get things going – but where the movie goes without itself after this switch is interesting. It certainly does become an obvious farce, but it’s a funny one that drives home its environmental message as well as it could have, without totally pointing and wagging its finger in your face.

Okay, maybe the movie is trying to tell us humans to “stop leaving your trash everywhere and sitting on your rumps all day”, but still, is that not supposed to be something we should hear? I mean, heck, I’m sitting down now as we speak and I already feel like I’ve got to get up and do something with my life. Wall-E knows that it has a story and a plot to work with, aside from all the gooey and heartfelt emotions running throughout, but the mix-and-match between both sides gels so well together that, honestly, I’m shocked.

But at the end, Wall-E still takes itself all the way home.

While it definitely gets a tad bit lost in some odd and relatively annoying political shenanigans involving Fred Willard (!) as the President of the United States (!!!), Stanton is still able to bring us back to where we were at in the beginning: Wall-E searching for that one and special someone to sit down and watch movies and hold hands with. It will bring a tear to your eye the right way and it will remind you that true love does and can most definitely exist.

Even if the true love does exist between two robots in a post-apocalyptic future version of Earth.

Consensus: Fun, hilarious, smart and tender, without ever feeling like it’s trying too hard to be any of them, Wall-E drives home an environmental message that matters, while also not forgetting about what really makes a great family flick for everyone in-mind.

9 / 10

Pictured: America, circa 2026

Pictured: America, circa 2026

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, Screen Musings

Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)

Every guy’s got that one ex-girlfriend who looks like Kristen Bell and ruined their lives.

Peter Bretter (Jason Segel) isn’t doing much with his life, really. Sure, he’s got TV star Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), as a girlfriend, but really, he just sits around the house, eating a crap-ton of cereal, getting on the piano, and slowly writing his opera to Dracula. Eventually, all of this laziness catches up to him when Sarah dumps him for rock star and pop-sensation Aldous Snow (Russell Brand). Heartbroken and without any clue as to what to do with his life, Peter decides to say screw it all and go vacation in Hawaii. After all, it’s nice, relaxing and just an all around great environment to be in, even though, when he gets there, he discovers that Sarah and Aldous are at the same resort of him, as lovey-dovey as they can possibly get. Though he automatically regrets the decision he makes, a clerk at the resort (Mila Kunis) gets Peter to stay and just enjoy the time he’s got. And yes, that’s exactly what Peter does, even if it does seem to be with her an awful lot. But still, there’s a part of Peter that no matter how hard he tries, he still can’t get over Sarah.

Oh, man up, wussy.

Oh, man up, wussy. She wasn’t even that hoooooo….okay, that’s a lie. She totally was.

You’ve got to hand it to Jason Segel for laying it all out there, literally and figuratively. Forgetting Sarah Marshall was his baby from the first stroke of the pen and it only makes greater sense that he’d be the star of it, and it actually works in the movie’s favor. Segel’s got this everyman feel to him that makes him not only likable, but downright sympathetic, even when it seems like he’s making dumb decisions, time after time again. Then again, the idea here is that because he’s so heart-broken and torn-up, he makes bad decisions by accident, not knowing what else to do.

Once again, this aspect works because it’s relatable and smart, without ever trying to be too much of, either.

At its core, Forgetting Sarah Marshall is another Apatow-lite comedy where people riff on random things for the sake of it, but this time, there’s more of a story to it all, with this one being that Segel’s character needs to get over his ex. Sure, it’s not much of a story, but it’s at least something to hold together all of the sticky pieces of improv that, yes, can occasionally bring out small, brilliant gems of comedic genius, but other times, can seem as if they’re just going on far too long and not really adding much of anything. Sure, a five-minute bit about champagne is fine and all, so long as it’s funny, but does it really need to be here?

Can it be substituted for something else more pertinent to the story? Or, can it just be taken out altogether?

The only reason I bring any of this up is because Forgetting Sarah Marshall is nearly two hours and can certainly feel like it. While we’re in the dawn and age where it’s virtually impossible that any movie, let alone a big-budgeted, mainstream comedy will be under two hours, there’s still something to be said for a movie when its short, but sweet and tight enough to where you don’t feel like you’re strained by the end. And no, I am not saying I was “strained” by Forgetting Sarah Marshall‘s end, but more like I was left with a lot of laughs, a rag-tag story that tried to hold everything together, and a better understanding that as long as you find another attractive person to kiss and bang, don’t worry, you’ll get over that attractive person you used to kiss and bang.

Catfight! Catfight!

Catfight! Catfight!

Okay, maybe it’s not nearly that cynical, but you get my drift: The message is as simple as they come, but it still works because the feeling of heartbreak is, unfortunately, for so many out there, universal. Everyone’s experienced it at least once in their life, whether they like to admit it or not, and even though the film likes to poke jokes at the idea of not being able to function in society after a break-up, it’s still very much a reality. Sometimes, the world around you just doesn’t make perfect sense, but because you know you have to be happy and move on, even if you don’t feel it at all, you still have to push yourself further and further to get to that point. Segel flirts with this idea and while he doesn’t fully go for it all, he still brings it up in a way that made me think it was more than just your average studio-comedy.

Because, yes, despite the wonderfully wacky, but charming performances from the likes of Kristen Bell, Mila Kunis, Russell Brand, Jonah Hill, and of course, Paul Rudd, amongst many others, the fact that Forgetting Sarah Marshall addresses sadness, love, heartbreak, and the feeling of remorse in an honest, but funny way, made me think of it a lot differently than I used to. Segel may or may not be working through some demons with this work here, but whatever the case is, his heart shines through and it’s nice to see someone take their script as passionately as it should be taken as.

It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s a blast to watch.

Consensus: In need of a trim or two, Forgetting Sarah Marshall can definitely feel a tad overlong, but still benefits from lovely and funny performances from the whole cast, as well as a smart script that goes beyond what you expect a studio comedy to be all about, even if it totally turns into that.

7.5 / 10

Hey remember the talk show this guy had? Me neither.

Hey, remember the talk show this guy had? Me neither.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

The Incredible Hulk (2008)

He gets angry. He goes green. He doesn’t like it. Yeah, we get it.

Scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) has a bit of a problem. After being exposed to a gamma radiation that contaminated his body and cells, he’s now been unable to control his emotions and therefore, has been lashing out as the Hulk. Desperate to find a cure and get away from the controversial spotlight that constantly surrounds him, Banner decides to go across the world, looking anywhere that he can find any sign of hope. Of course, going off the grid as he does also means having to be cut-off from his one true love Betty Ross (Liv Tyler), who wants nothing more than for him to just be safe. Her father, CIA Gen. Thunderbolt Ross (William Hurt), however, wants Banner to turn himself into the authorities so that they can cure him and make sure that he doesn’t go around smashing things anymore. But because Banner doesn’t seem all that interested in listening or taking orders, Ross decides to enlist the help of a supremely powerful enemy known as The Abomination (Tim Roth), who is nearly as dangerous, if not more as the Hulk.

How Edward Norton prepares for a role. Any role.

How Edward Norton prepares for a role. Any role.

Except in his case, he’s the baddie!

It’s been said and shown that giving the Hulk his own movie doesn’t quite work out as perfectly as some would prefer. Ang Lee’s Hulk was an odd, slow and downright boring character-study that was way too deep for its own good and the Incredible Hulk itself, while fun, still feels like it’s not really allowing for this interesting character, other than, as expected, setting up several other Marvel movies to come up after. If anything, as evidenced by the first two Avengers movies, Hulk is perhaps best used as a supporting character, who comes around every so often, destroying things, smashing them and reminding people that he can an absolute crowd-pleaser, while also the most dangerous thing around.

But regardless of all this, the Incredible Hulk does do the character some justice, in that it gives him plenty of things to smash and be angry at. At the same time, however, it also can’t help but feel like a small disappointment compared to all of the other standalone Marvel movies, where we get a rich mix of story, humor, heart, and excessive tie-ins. In a way, actually, the Incredible Hulk‘s actually very interesting to watch all of these years later as, at the time, it was the second movie produced by Marvel in this planned-universe (after Iron Man, obviously). So, with that said, it’s neat to see how little the film actually relies on featuring tie-ins from other superheros, or barely even hinting of their existence at all; after all, when this movie was being made, the idea of an Avengers movie was just a pipe-dream that Marvel had planned, it all came down to whether or not people were going to stick around for four more years to actually see it. Thankfully, they did, but as a small microcosm of what Marvel once was, the Incredible Hulk serves as a nice little escape from some of the overstuffed and overcrowded superhero movies we’ve got going on nowadays.

And I’m not just talking about Marvel’s movies, either.

But regardless of its importance in the long-run of Marvel movies, what the Incredible Hulk does best is that it serves its story justice by offering up as much as action as humanly possible. Louis Leterrier isn’t the best director out there, but he’s a competent enough director that when you tell him to shoot an action-sequence, well, he does just that. And to mention, he makes them pretty damn exciting and fun, even if they are just chock-full of CGI and green-screens. Still, that’s the name of the game with these superhero movies and if that’s what I’m going to start complaining about, well then, I’ve got bigger problems on my hand.

And even when the action isn’t going on, the movie still works fine enough. The drama may not be as heavy as it was in Ang Lee’s movie, which is both a positive, as well as negative; positive because it doesn’t drag the story down from being an actual fun piece of big-budgeted action, negative because it doesn’t always feel like it’s the strongest it can be, given the cast and talent involved. Getting Edward Norton involved with the movie in the first place was smart, as it showed that someone as talented and as smart as him was willing to take a chance with this role and, well, guess what? He does a good job with it.

Take away that grizzled 'stache and Liv Tyler's a spitting-image of William Hurt!

Take away that grizzled ‘stache and Liv Tyler’s a spitting-image of William Hurt!

Granted, the material is not nearly as strong as we’re used to seeing Norton work with, but he does what he can, with what he’s given. While Ruffalo is a perfect fit as the Hulk now, it still makes me wonder what would have happened if Norton didn’t piss-off too many people behind-the-scenes and he was around, collecting the big paychecks. Sadly, it’s all speculation, because obviously, Norton didn’t last long.

But hey, he left a pretty good impression.

After all, some of the scenes he has with Tim Roth, William Hurt and especially, Liv Tyler, as oddly-written as they may be, he brings a certain amount of genuineness to it that makes us feel closer to this story, as well as this character. We don’t get to know his heart and soul like we did in Ang Lee’s, but that’s actually fine; you get the sense that perhaps they were setting-up more development of this character for future movies, but instead, had to opt for the easy way out in just letting it all hang. While I don’t particularly agree with the fact that we can’t give Hulk his own movie, one of these days, I’d like to see them do him justice one day, where we get all of the smashing and whatnot, but some heart and humanity behind it as well.

Maybe with Ruffalo? Who knows!

Consensus: As an early Marvel movie, the Incredible Hulk does fine in giving enough action to help measure out some of the messier parts of the movie, like the melodrama.

7 / 10

It's like David vs. Goliath, although, they're both pretty well-matched.

It’s like David vs. Goliath, although, they’re both pretty well-matched.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Soul Men (2008)

How many times can you say “mother****er” and still have it be funny each and every time?

Louis (Samuel L Jackson) and Floyd (Bernie Mac) were part of a popular singing duo back in the day, but both went their separate ways and never spoke again. When the death of their former group leader (John Legend) reunites them and sends them driving cross country for a tribute concert at the legendary Apollo Theatre, they will have only five days to bury the hatchet on a 20-year-old grudge.

If there’s any reason as to why you’d bother with Soul Men, it has to be because you want to see one of Bernie Mac’s final movies. Apparently, Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac were friends for a couple of decades before this movie came out and just wanted to be in a film together for the longest time, and you can totally tell why because they have amazing chemistry here. Every chance they get together on-screen, it’s like magic working between two buddies that never seems to end and they always have something to say to each other, no matter how crude or rude it may be.

Move over, John. Let Sammy and Bernie take over!

Move over, John. Let Sammy and Bernie take over!

Which is to say that a lot of it is definitely ad-libbed as they go on non-stop rants using “mother****er” about 50 or so times (that is not an exaggeration either, people), and that’s what adds a lot of comedy to this film. There were many times where I found myself laughing really hard, other times I found myself chuckling, and other times I just felt myself smiling because I was seeing two buddies work together like they always wanted to, and having an absolute blast with it. Seriously, if it wasn’t for these two guys, this movie would have totally, and I do repeat, totally would have sucked, but because they’re together and making an absolute blast out of it, it’s worth watching.

But it’s not always these two guys together and that’s perhaps the biggest issue with Soul Men.

Since Soul Men is a tale about two older dudes on the road to a concert, we get a lot of blabbering, yelling, screaming, hootin’, and hollerin’ between the two which is relatively amusing at first because it’s these two guys doing it and they always make it entertaining to watch, but then it just goes on and on and on until the film really seems like it’s running out of ideas. A good boner joke is nice to have about two or three times when you have a movie about old dudes that are trying to stay hip and with it, but seriously, when you get to the point of when you have it up to a total of twelve jokes in a 90-minute movie, then you’re just shooting more for the teen-comedy crowd and not the type that would actually venture out to see a Mac/Jackson comedy about two old guys.

As with most movies that revolve around a band, and or, music in general, the soundtrack here is pretty solid with a couple of memorable tunes that pop in and out from time-to-time, as well as some original ones that sound like covers and are all pretty nice and fun to listen to, but don’t really do anything for the movie. Most of them sound unoriginal and although Mac and Jackson sing all of the songs with their terrible voices, they’re never actually played-up for laughs. Instead of the songs actually being a bit goofy and humorous at how bad these guys blow, they play it too seriously and every song-sequence goes on for way too long without any jokes involved whatsoever.

Jackets don't get any prettier than that!

Green suit-jackets don’t get any prettier than that!

It gets even worse once the film begins to get sympathetic by the end and the really lose itself as it just feels uneven. If a comedy wants to play it nice and sweet by the end, there’s no problem with that. However, with Soul Men, it felt forced. Revelations come out as if they were working their way into the story the whole time and a certain character that’s supposed to mean something to both of these guys, doesn’t really do anything and is sort of forgotten about once that character leaves the screen.

I’m not trying to spoil anything, but does it really matter?

Probably the strangest fact about this movie is not only how Bernie Mac died after filming just wrapped-up, but also how Issac Hayes, who also shows up here, died exactly a day after him. That’s right Chef was a goner right after Mac, and at the end of the movie they sort of touch on this fact in a very well-done, and emotionally-charged tribute to the two and it actually got me a bit misty-eyed. This tribute was probably the highlight of this flick and definitely seemed like it got more attention to it, than the actual film itself and it’s shame that Mac and Hayes had to go out on something like this because even though the movie’s not horrible to watch, you still can’t help but feel like these two deserved something better to use as a swan song and have people remember why they were so loved in the first place.

Either way, R.I.P you two soul men.

Consensus: Despite there being a great chemistry between Samuel L. Jackson and Bernie Mac, Soul Men still flounders underneath its own weight of sentimentality and a lack of actual fun, interesting ideas to roll with its story.

5 / 10

RIP you two on the left. You on the right, however, keep doing what you're doing. Like cursing. A lot.

RIP you two on the left. You on the right, however, keep doing what you’re doing. Like cursing. A lot.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Burn After Reading (2008)

Never trust those who are “too fit”.

When CIA Osborne Cox (John Malkovich) gets demoted from his job, he decides that it’s time to start the proceedings on his memoir. Somehow, though, the disk containing all of this information falls into the hands of two gym employees, Linda Litzke (Frances McDormand) and Chad Feldheimer (Brad Pitt), both of whom clearly have no idea what they’re going to do with this disk. But they both have the right idea to blackmail Cox for some money, even if they don’t know how to go about it, nor what the actual proceedings are. Meanwhile, Linda herself is in search of a better life that isn’t just working in the gym. Currently, she’s trying to fund her cosmetic surgeries, as well as someone to love in her life. Through various dating websites, she meets the charming and likable Harry Pfarrer (George Clooney), and the two hit it off immediately. Strange thing is that Harry, despite being married, also happens to be shackin’ up with Osborne’s wife (Tilda Swinton), which leads the whole situation to end up in some real weird, sticky situations, sometimes with them leading to violence and all sorts of bloodshed.

"Malkovich? Malkovich?"

“Malkovich? Malkovich?”

At this stage in their career, the Coen brothers can practically do anything that they want and nobody is going to tell them otherwise. They have enough Oscars under their belt, have made their studios enough money, and have earned enough respect in the biz to say that they want to make about anything, and everybody will fall for it, hook, line and sinker. As is the case with most writers and directors, they’ve had some mediocre films, as well as some amazing films, but mostly, they’ve made films worth checking out and taking time out of one’s day to watch, because a Coen brother’s movie is, quite frankly, better than a lot of other stuff out there.

And Burn After Reading is the exact reason why they are so beloved.

Though, at the same time, the movie doesn’t show the Coen brothers really working with anything new, or ground-breaking; instead, they’re taking on the whole spy genre, making a farce out of it, and rather than having real, actual spies involved, the movie’s just about a bunch of regular, everyday people who are, yes, goofy and sometimes idiotic. However, they are all searching for the same thing: Money and power. To the Coens, this is perhaps the most interesting aspect about the human-condition, in which seemingly normal people, can be driven so ridiculously mad by the prospect of wealth, that they’d do almost anything to achieve it and rule their own little world.

At the same time, though, rather than being all sad and serious about it, the Coens add a lighter touch onto that whole idea, giving us characters that aren’t just colorful and likable, but also interesting. Sure, some of these characters may come off as very schticky and thin, but the Coens also show how that they’re personalities make who they are and determine every decision that they make throughout the movie. Some characters are, obviously, smarter than others, but nobody here is actually a good person, and there’s something inherently fun and entertaining in watching all of these characters get caught in a crazy web of lies, murder and deception, just for the hell of it.

It also helps that the cast is pretty great, too.

As usual, the Coens work with some of their own regulars who, by now, have mastered the art of the “Coen speak”. George Clooney is exciting, but also very weird as Harry, who always seems to have an issue with the food he eats, as well as an odd obsession with wood-panels; Frances McDormand’s Linda is a total polar opposite of what we’re used to seeing her play, giving us a naive, sometimes sad character who always tries to stay upbeat, no matter what the situation may call for; and Richard Jenkins, as Linda’s boss who can’t seem to stop falling over her, makes you want to give him a hug just about every scene he’s involved with.

We get it, Brad: You're really in-shape!

We get it, Brad: You’re really in-shape!

But the newcomers to the Coen’s also handle their material well and show why they deserve to be in their movies a whole lot more. John Malkovich does a lot of cursing and yelling as Osborne, and it’s so much fun to watch and listen that I didn’t care if his character didn’t get as developed as I would have liked; Tilda Swinton’s character is a bit bitchy and mean, but also seems like she’s got more going onto her that would have been interesting to see developed more, but for what it is, this is all we get and it’s fine; and Brad Pitt, well, let’s just say he sort of steals the show. Not only does Brad Pitt seems like he’s so eager and excited to be apart of a Coen brother’s movie, but he also seems like he really wants to see what’s more to this character that he’s playing – something that isn’t quite seen in the rest of the movie.

Pitt’s Chad, for the most part, doesn’t really care about gaining any sort of money or respect, he’s just around for the fun of it all. That’s clear from the very beginning, once we realize that there’s a certain zaniness and energy to him that’s hard to ignore. This is mostly all thanks to Pitt who, using his grace and charm, shows that while a meat-head like Chad can be lovable, he can also be one you sort of feel bad for, once the situation he’s involved with gets to be a bit too crazy and over-the-top for his own good. There’s something about Chad that I wanted to see more of, but really, what I got was fine enough.

And that’s basically all that there is to say about Burn After Reading: It’s fine, and although you wish you saw more, that’s all you really need.

But hey, don’t just listen to me, let J.K. Simmons tell you all about it.

Consensus: Though it’s not exactly breaking down any barriers, Burn After Reading still finds the Coen brothers in a fun, hilariously wicked spirit that maintains their sense of odd energy the whole way through.

8 / 10

How can these two not have a ball together?

How can these two not have a ball together?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, IFC

Pride and Glory (2008)

Keep it in the family. Even corruptness.

After a bunch of his fellow cops are shot dead in what was supposed to be a drug-ring raid, Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) returns to the detective field to figure out just who killed these cops and just exactly how it all happened. And because his daddy (Jon Voight), his brother Francis (Noah Emmerich), and brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell), are all apart of the force as well, it should make absolute sense that he should have no problems getting the right kind of answers he so desperately seeks. However, what Ray begins to find out, though, is that the details surrounding the killer and what happened are a bit shady. For one, nobody can find the supposed-shooter, and to make matters worse, it turns out that perhaps some brothers in blue may also be a little bit dirty. Which is expected, but there’s a possibility that these dirty cops may have been involved with the killing of the other cops, leading Ray to start questioning all of the cops around him, including his family. Obviously, they’re all appalled and shocked by Ray’s findings and accusations, but at the same time, there’s still some truth to it, and this is when everybody involved starts getting desperate and finding a clean way out of this dirty situation.

"Please tell me! Why did you get those corn-rows?!?"

“Please tell me! Why did you get those corn-rows?!?”

If you’ve seen one cop movie, generally, you’ve seen ’em all. Hardly do they ever stray away from the norm of what we’ve all come to know and expect with a cop movie, which begs the question: Why does Hollywood keep making them? Is there really any huge sell or draw in them that makes people flock out to the theaters to check them out? Or is that Hollywood can’t get over its weird affection and interest in the brothers in blue, so they still continue to make movies about them, not offering anything new or interesting to say about them, either?

Well, whatever the answer may be, Pride and Glory doesn’t really do much to make sense of it.

Although, Pride and Glory is a different kind of cop movie; for one, it’s about dirty cops, being, well, dirty and corrupt as all hell. Given today’s political climate, you’d think that this would be a hot-button topic worthy of being touched upon and prodded at, but director Gavin O’Connor doesn’t really seem interested in diving deep into that discussion. Instead, he just sort of wants to show off his dirty cops as they were; doing stuff they shouldn’t be, pointing the fingers at others, and telling lookie-loos to “mind their own business and shut their mouth”. O’Connor may have some sort of interest in what drives a seemingly normal, everyday cop, to become a drug-dealing, money-stealing baddie, but he doesn’t quite show it.

Most of the time, O’Connor allows his movie to fly-off the rails with fine actors going a tad bit over-the-top. Gifted character actor Frank Grillo is sadly the clearest example of this as his cop character, albeit a dirty one, wants absolutely each and every person in the movie to know it. It’s almost as if any and all subtlety was lost here and O’Connor told Grillo to “just have fun”, and he really did. Problem is, all of the yelling, punching, kicking, and gun-slinging doesn’t do much to help create a character, but further highlight a type that needs to be done with.

But Grillo isn’t the only one who is dialing it way, way up.

Colin Farrell is intense, doing his best De Niro impression here, but once again, his character feels like he has no rhyme or reason for breaking bad. Sure, we get the idea that maybe greed took over and he couldn’t stop himself, but we can only assume that because we never see this character actually be a good cop – we just see him as this dirty one, who can’t be trusted with anything. There’s an unpredictable nature to Farrell that he brings onto the screen each and every chance he gets, but mostly, it just ends with him yelling or acting out in some way.

Just imagine Micky Donovan, as a cop.

Just imagine Micky Donovan, as a cop.

I mean, hell, the guy almost hot irons a baby! What the hell!

Edward Norton, thankfully, dials it down a bit more and seems to actually be more interested in diving dig into his character’s psyche. Issue is, this tends to make his character feel a bit more boring and dry than he probably should, which is an even bigger shame because he’s the lead protagonist we’re supposed to stand behind, root for and spend all of our time with. Norton has solid scenes with just about everyone around him, but when it comes to pushing the story-line along, there’s a never ending sense of normality that overtakes Norton, as well as the movie and it’s hard to get away from.

By the end though, O’Connor decides to stop sitting around and let everything and everyone, within Pride and Glory, run wild.

This means that guns are shot, people are beaten-up, noses are bloodied, faces are battered, people start shouting, and out of nowhere, which was, at one point, a slow, almost meandering drama, is now this wild-and-out, action-thriller where people can’t stop beating the hell out of one another. Is it exciting to watch? Sure. Does it feel like a whole completely different movie? Oh, most definitely and it’s an issue that seems to make Pride and Glory, yet again, just another cop movie.

Although still plenty more watchable than season two of True Detective.

That’s for sure.

 

Consensus: Despite a solid cast, Pride and Glory is drenched into too many cop movie cliches and conventions to really do much, other than just mildly entertain those looking for some entertainment.

6 / 10

"We're brudders. We ain't eva gain to brake apaart."

“We’re brudders. We ain’t eva gain to brake apaart.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Seven Pounds (2008)

If Will Smith is God, does that mean Jaden is Jesus? No!

Tim Thomas (Will Smith) isn’t very happy with his life. For reasons that aren’t known fully well right off the bat, he doesn’t really seem to care about where his life is at right now, so in a way, to make himself feel better or something, he decides to help out the lives of a few people – most of whom, already have enough problems in their own lives. There’s Ezra (Woody Harrelson) a blind meat salesmen who also plays piano and is getting a bit lonely; there’s Connie (Elpidia Carrillo) a mother of two children who isn’t in a very healthy relationship; there’s George (Bill Smitrovich), a man who needs a bone marrow transplant; and last, but certainly not least, there’s Kate (Rosario Dawson), a woman with a weak heart defect. Using some shady I.R.S. credentials of his, Tim finds a way to enter himself into Kate’s life, which, at first, creeps her out, but eventually, she gives into Tim’s persistence and strikes up something of a relationship with him. However, what Kate doesn’t know, is that Tim has a reasoning for all of this guiding and assisting he’s been doing, which will most definitely shock her, as well as the others that he’s been there for in the past few months or so.

Will's sad.

Will’s sad.

Seven Pounds, while definitely a flawed film, is also an interesting one. It’s one of the very few and rare, mainstream, big-budgeted flicks featuring an all-star cast that is as dark and depressing as you would probably get with any small-time indie. That isn’t to say that big-budget movies tend to be happy and pleasant pics, but at the same time, they don’t feature nearly as much dread or misery as Seven Pounds does. Because studios are playing for a much-bigger audience, which therefore, means a whole lot more money’s at-play, most of the time, execs will make a film-maker go back countless times to the editing-room so that it tests well and doesn’t scare too many people away from it.

But oddly enough, it doesn’t seem like a lot of that happened with Seven Pounds.

Instead, bravely enough, both director Gabriele Muccino and screenwriter Grant Nieporte, seem as if they were able to keep the sad tone as they had intended it to, with the incredibly shocking, and even more upsetting end. While you can get on this movie’s case as much as you want with its execution, there’s no denying the fact that it took a lot of guts to make this movie and have it stay the way that it did. And though I won’t get too deep into what happens at the end, I will say this: It’s a big shock.

At the same time, however, it’s a bit silly and abrupt. This is mostly due to the fact that throughout the whole movie, Muccino and Nieporte try their absolute hardest to mask just what this whole plot-line means, why we’re watching it, and what it is that’s driving Will Smith’s character to do all of this nice stuff for all of these random people. By using tiny flashbacks, Muccino doesn’t necessarily fill us all in perfectly on where this is all leading, but he makes it clear that everything is happening for a reason, even if it’s all too simple and easy to understand for its own good.

That said, Seven Pounds is an odd mix of a film that, at times, wants to endearing and heartfelt, but also, miserable and painstakingly mean, even if it tries to talk out against such feelings. Most of this comes through in Smith’s performance as Tim Thomas who, sadly, is a bit too bland for somebody as talented as Smith to work and excel with. Rather than allowing for Smith to try out new shades of his acting talents that we may have not seen already, Smith is instead let-down by the fact that Thomas is a bit of a pessimistic and bland person who, every once and a blue moon, will get up and yell at someone, but soon, change his tune and go back to being quiet and brooding.

Rosario's happy.

Rosario’s happy.

In a way, there seems to be two different characters at-play with Tim Thomas, and it’s a shame that Smith is stuck having to work with it all.

Though Smith doesn’t get nearly as much to do here, Rosario Dawson does eventually take over as Kate, a sweet, honest girl who, by the end of the movie, we definitely feel sorry for. However, that’s one of the biggest problems with Seven Pounds: We never actually get to care for Tim himself. Some could say that’s the point of this movie, but I’d definitely like to argue said point; there are many scenes that depict Tim as both, a selfish and heartless person, but also, others that show him as a sweet person, just trying his hardest to do whatever it is that he can to make sure that those around him are happy and pleasant. Though we’re told Tim’s doing this all for a reason, we still never get to fully figure out just who exactly Tim is, which is why the majority of this flick is just watching as some random dude, goes around to random people, helps them out in random ways, and does it all for some random reason.

Sure, we know that the reason’s going to be explained to us at the end, but that also means sifting through two hours just to get to that final reveal. Which means, that we also gave to sift through a lot of scenes where people scream, cry, smile, kiss, make love, and act nice, yet, none of it ever hit the notes that the film-makers clearly want it to. But hey, Will Smith wanted a movie made and guess what Will Smith got? A movie, starring him, produced by him, that also kind of features him as a nice person.

But then again, maybe not.

Gosh! I still don’t know!

Consensus: As daringly bleak as it may be, even for a mainstream flick, Seven Pounds is still not as emotional or compelling as Will Smith, or anyone else around him, may want it to be.

4 / 10

But together, they're as happy as two people can be! Good for them!

But together, they’re as happy as two people can be! Good for them!

Photos Courtesy of: Comingsoon.net

Baby Mama (2008)

Who doesn’t have baby mama drama?

Kate (Tina Fey) is a businesswoman who, for the most part, has been pleased with her life thus far. She has a good job, a nice apartment in Philadelphia, and generally considers her life simple and easygoing enough that she doesn’t have to worry about too much. Problem is, there’s one thing that she really wants to do with her life that sadly, she may not be able to do: Have a child. Due to her being infertile, Kate has not been able to, no matter how hard she has tried, to naturally have a child; so, she takes the next best step in the matter, which leads her to becoming apart of a surrogacy program. In the surrogacy program, for those who don’t know what that means, Kate’s baby will, through sperm injections and all sorts of other medical shenanigans, be conceived and born through some other woman. This other woman in question just so happens to be Angie (Amy Poehler), someone who is definitely not at all like Kate. Which is fine for Kate, so long as she can trust Angie to be smart about her body and realize that there is indeed a human growing inside of her. But after Angie runs into issues with her own husband (Dax Shepard), she begins to live with Kate, which is when the two begin to learn more about one another, even if they also have differences as well.

Tina doesn't need Greg Kinnear in her life, but hey, she'll take him!

Tina doesn’t need Greg Kinnear in her life, but hey, she’ll take him! And you know why? ‘Cause she can!

Of course, in Baby Mama, wacky hijinx ensue. That’s obvious from the very start, however, Baby Mama is a tad bit smarter than most of the other broad comedies out there that would have attacked this premise as dumb as possible. This isn’t, of course, to say that Baby Mama isn’t predictable, by-the-numbers, or at least, conventional, because it’s each and everyone of those things – but working behind all of those conventions and obvious story-structures is, for one, laughs, and also, a decent-sized heart that reminds you that you’re watching a female-lead comedy, that can appeal to basically everyone.

Sure, it may definitely help if you’re a woman or going through the same life event as the one depicted here, but regardless, it doesn’t matter.

Baby Mama is, first and foremost, a comedy. And a funny one at that. Most of that comes from the fact that both Tina Fey and Amy Poehler have such great chemistry between one another, that it’s hard not to get wrapped-up in the fun and enjoyment they clearly have playing side-by-side. Even though their characters are, obviously, general opposites, not just in terms of personality, but also in social backgrounds, you still get the feeling that Fey and Poehler can’t wait for that moment in this film where their characters start to put all of their issues aside, take some shots, get wild together, and generally, have fun together.

To say that Fey and Poehler are both funny here, is doing them justice. However, there’s also another element to their performances that factor in well and that’s that their characters are actually well-written, despite initially seeming like stupid and dull caricatures from the beginning. Like, for instance, try Fey’s Kate: While she appears to be a stuck-up, way-too-serious businesswoman who is all about her job and not much else, eventually, the story goes on and we see that there’s actually a lot more fun and excitement to her life. Heck, the reasons for why she wants a baby to begin with, regardless of whether it’s naturally or through agencies, are understandable; she’s gotten to that point in her life where she wants one, she doesn’t need one, but wants one.

It's set in Philadelphia, so of course the bell-hop is a token black guy!

It’s set in Philadelphia, so of course the bell-hop is a token black guy! Gotta love my city!

That is, most of all, perhaps the greatest distinction this movie makes and is truly a smart piece of writing. It shows that woman like Kate, whether they be successful or not, don’t need to have babies to make their lives feel fulfilled. Does that mean that they’re not nice to have around? Of course not, but Baby Mama doesn’t believe that in order to make sure that your life is great and superb, it needs to be so with a baby by your side. It’s a small piece of writing, I know, but it’s what sets it apart from most other female-driven comedies out there that are all about getting married and having kids, because of some ill-conceived notion from many, many years ago, that says women need a certain amount of requirements to make their lives great.

But still, seriousness aside, Baby Mama is still a fine comedy.

Like what I said for Fey’s Kate, can be said the same for Poehler’s Angie: She may seem a bit white trash-y, but after awhile, the movie just shows her more off as a wild girl who not only likes to have some fun, but also wants to be a bit more serious in her own life as well. She doesn’t need to be serious, but she wants to be. There are others in this movie that show up in this movie that are funny, charming and welcome, but it’s really Poehler and Fey who make the movie work the most.

Even though the movie does admittedly get a bit syrupy and sentimental by the end, Poehler and Fey still feel fun and fresh, adding another sense of enjoyment to the proceedings. The plot does eventually get to be a bit too much and be about things happening, one after another, with random twists coming out left and right, but regardless, Baby Mama can still be funny and at times, relatively insightful. It may not be trying too hard, but in its own way, it sort of is; it’s taking the female-driven comedy and doing something with it that isn’t revolutionary or game-changing, but normal.

And hey, there’s nothing at all wrong with that.

Consensus: Predictable and lightweight for sure, but regardless, Baby Mama still offers up plenty of laughs and enjoyment courtesy of Poehler and Fey’s lovely chemistry.

7 / 10

Does this tend to happen? Ladies?

Does this tend to happen? Ladies?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Reader (2008)

Even the Nazis had to get a little freaky from time-to-time.

When Michael Berg (David Kross) was younger, he fell for a woman, Hanna (Kate Winslet), who was nearly twice his age. She taught him everything that he needed to know about life, cooking, books, family, women, and most importantly, sex. But because he was so young and hardly knew anything that he wanted with the world, let alone who he was going to spend it with, the years went by and Michael began to get more and more interested elsewhere. For one, he took up with a new girlfriend of his own and started focusing on his career. Because of this, Hanna inexplicably got up, left and disappeared from Michael’s life, without a note or anything. Saddened by this, Michael does eventually move on with his life and grow up to be a dashing, handsome, but sadly, flawed middle-aged man (Ralph Fiennes). But Michael is brought back to Hanna through hearing of a trail she’s being put through for war crimes she committed under the Nazis. While Michael never knew about this secret past of Hanna’s, he knows that it doesn’t make her a bad person. At the same time, however, Michael doesn’t know if he can bring himself to relive his very lustful younger years.

I know of many men who would do anything to be in that same bathtub. Just get that other dude out, though!

I know of many men who would do anything to be in that same bathtub. Just get that other dude out, though!

The Reader is the kind of movie that makes you want to punch somebody in the face. Because, for as long as it is up on the screen, you assume that it’s going to be these sweet, saucy, sexy and lurid fantasies that came true for this one dude, all those years ago when he was hardly even 15. But what works about these scenes isn’t that they are just chock full of butt, boob, penis and vagina, but that there is a small layer of fine sensuality felt within it. Most people would have a problem watching a movie that makes the case for a boy who has just hit puberty, hanging around and having all sorts of steamy sex with this much-older women, but Stephen Daldry doesn’t.

And that, to me, makes me want to give the dude credit. Not to mention a solid bro-five, but that’s for later when were singing dicks out at the bar, joshing around and laughing about all the good times.

But yeah, anyway, the movie.

So yeah, what Daldry does best is that he shows that this relationship, while definitely controversial and frowned-upon for sure (and also illegal, but hey, who cares!), is just that – a relationship. In between all of the humping, the pelvic-thrusting, the orgasms, and smoldering hot baths, these two actually strike-up something of a nice chemistry between one another. While she teaches him in how to make love to a woman so that he’s not the only one who enjoys it (which always happens, sorry ladies), he, unbeknownst to him for awhile, teaches her how to read. Sure, you could make the argument that she’s teaching him more about the ways of life than he is to her, but still, the fact that this movie shows that there’s more going on than just bodily-fluids being swapped, helps us connect to these characters.

And then, it all changes up.

About half-way through, the movie goes from being a very explicit coming-of-ager, to being another Holocaust/WWII drama that likes to prey on the fears of those who are easily vulnerable to these types of movies and love to tear up. In a way, this makes the movie feel less interesting and lose its sense of focus, but there is an interesting spin put on that whole sub-genre of film. Rather than focusing on the plight of those affected by the Holocaust (like, for instance, the Jews that Hitler killed), the Reader asks us the age old question that we don’t see too often explored in movies: Can we have sympathy for those who were on the other side of the Holocaust?

It’s easy to have sympathy for those who were personally being persecuted and discriminated against, but is it that easy to have the same kind for those who were apart of the SS? Cause, after all, sometimes, those people were the same ones who were just taking orders from the higher-ups, in hopes that they’d be done with the war as soon as possible, so that they too could go back to their normal lives. And hell, had they decided not to go through any order handed down to them, then they too may have followed the same fate as their prisoners.

But that’s why there’s a boldness to the Reader that I enjoyed and couldn’t stop wrapping my head around.

For one, we never know quite for sure that Hanna was apart of the SS, until we do, and it makes us wonder as to whether or not we can push certain truths to the side, no matter how harsh they may be. After all, she’s a woman who was just doing what she was told to, by those much more powerful than her. And it’s not like she still acts or thinks the way she does today, right?

Still can't stop thinking of K-Wins. Nor should he.

Still can’t stop thinking of K-Wins. Nor should he.

Cause after all, what we do see from Hanna, is that she’s a loving and caring woman. Sure, she can be a bit grumpy at times, but she’s got a reason to be. It should be noted that Winslet is great in this role as Hanna, even though I don’t believe it’s the role she should have won the Oscar for (Revolutionary Road would have been my one and only choice). But all that aside, Winslet is great in this role because she allows for us to see the sometimes broken-hearted woman that lies inside this rather rough and tough exterior that Hanna presents to the world around her. The role itself may have been written-out to be incredibly over-the-top and hammy (what with the over-extended German accents and all), but Winslet finds certain narrow paths to make it much more subtle and it works, especially when we get to the end of the movie and wonder whether or not this woman actually does deserve to be persecuted for these war crimes she’s being called upon.

Cause, honestly, does she?

Well, the movie brings these questions up, yet, doesn’t seem too interested on answering them. That’s fine, too, because it seems like they’re the kind of questions that deserved to be brought up in a manner that has people hitting themselves in the face, over and over again, trying to figure out what conclusion they can settle on. However, it does allow for the movie to end on a sour note that feels more interested in pushing its message across and lose the main focus of this story: Michael himself. Without him, we’d have no reason for this story to exist, but as soon as Ralph Fiennes shows up, it’s almost as if the character gets pushed to the side and all of a sudden, Lena Olin shows up, gets pissed-off and we’re left thinking, “What was the point?”

Sure, some kid got boned a lot, but other than that, did we really need that extra half-hour tacked-on at the end to remind us that, hey, the Holocaust was bad, guys? Probably not, but for some reason, Daldry included it anyway and makes me wonder just where the main focus was here. Did they use Michael’s sexual awakening as a manipulative path into talking about the Holocaust? Or, did Daldry legitimately want to talk about the Holocaust?

Eh, whatever. Too much questions.

Consensus: For awhile, the Reader is alluring, smart, and interesting coming-of-ager anchored by a wonderful performance from Winslet, but loses focus in the later-half and feels like it wants to tell a different story than it set out to do.

7 / 10

Is that a smile I see?

Is that a smile I see? Eh? Maybe? Nah, never mind!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Visitor (2008)

Live life by the drum.

Widower Professor Walter Vale (Richard Jenkins) lives a mundane existence as a college economics professor. He gives fails students who don’t deserve to fail; he’s only doing piano because of his long, lost wife’s talent; and generally, he’s just a dick to everyone and anyone around him. However, when going off into the city where he hopes to relax and possibly wallow in his own misery, he stumbles upon two illegal immigrants who have taken up shop in his place. At first, he’s upset, but as time goes on, he befriends them and even goes so far as to help them with all of his might when they’re discovered by U.S. immigration authorities.

Back in 2008, I remember actually hearing little things about this movie here and there, but nothing that was worth jumping up and down for. Then the 2009 Academy Awards came around and everybody was wondering, “Just who the hell is Richard Jenkins and what the hell is this movie he’s been nominated for?”. I’ll admit it, I was one of those people and needless to say, I can totally see why the Academy chose to give this guy and this film some notice. It’s actually a nice, little indie.

It would be hopelessly romantic, however, it's an indie, so go away heartfelt emotions!!

It would be hopelessly romantic, however, it’s an indie, so go away heartfelt emotions!

Which, honestly, is no surprise considering it comes from writer/director Thomas McCarthy, a guy who, time and time again, proves that he can be a master at making very subtle, heart-warming indies. After seeing his two other flicks (The Station Agent, Win Win), I’ve begun to realize that this guy has a style, without ever really having a style at all. He shoots all of his films like natural stories of a human-being; doesn’t try to do anything fancy or flashy with his camera; and much rather instead, allows for the story tell itself. This usually works for him because his stories are usually so rich that you can’t help but feel as involved with them as the character’s in it themselves. Overall though, it’s lovely to see a director not only let the story tell itself, but never really delude from that story either and keep it on that subject so we know how they feel, what they feel, and all of the other little things about them in between.

This is also a film where McCarthy seems to be tackling bigger issues here than just the levels of love, friendship, and trains. Here, he actually seems to be making some very valid points about the post-9/11 America that we all live in and it kind of made me think a little bit about how I sort of looked at people from other races, heritages, and countries. Whenever we see a person that’s not from this country, and is from an Arabic one, we look at them, and without a single second to think, all of a sudden get absolutely paranoid.

I’ve done it. You’ve done it. We’ve all done it.

Fact is though, we don’t know these people as well as we think we do, as we mostly forget that they too, like us, are human beings. Ones who are ripe with feelings, emotions, and all of that nonsensical baloney that us humans can’t ever seem to get a grip on, no matter how hard we try. McCarthy doesn’t just shove these ideas or thoughts down our throats, however, much rather, he just allows for us to pick up on them as the movie goes on along. McCarthy trusts us and it’s very noble, on his part.

But if there was a problem to be found here in this movie, it’s that his direction could sometimes get a tad bit too subtle for his own good. In fact, I’d say that it sometimes seems like he’s cheating the audience out of something, all because he wants to take the higher road. Which, dealing with a simple story such as this, is understandable, but when you want your story to deliver on the emotional-cues, hook, line, and sinker, you sort of have to give us a little piece of that sentimental moment to fully put us over the hill. McCarthy, once again, strays away from doing that and instead, is relying on us to make the emotions work, but it sometimes takes away from even more of an emotional wallop.

Visitor2

Michonne?!? In love?!? No zombies?!?

Regardless of all that though, if there’s one thing that the Visitor should always and forever be remembered for, it’s that it showed the bigger, brighter world out there just who the hell Richard Jenkins actually is. However, that’s not saying that before the Visitor, nobody knew who the hell Jenkins was in the first place, because he was constantly everywhere. He was the go-to character actor that you could always rely on to make a movie better, and it was a nice change-of-pace to see him here, actually getting the chance to revel in the spotlight a bit.

That aside, Jenkins’ performance is quite great and was definitely deserving of the Oscar nomination, as we really see this man for what he is – a sad, lonely and relatively depressed old man who has given up on life, basically, but hasn’t given up on it so much so that he’s willing to let himself go. He still wants to try on and live on, even if it is for the sake of allowing for his wife’s legacy to live on vicariously through him. At the beginning, we’re practically told that he’s a mean, grumpy old dude, but as time progresses on and we get to see him interact with those around him, we realize that there is something sweet, lovely and charming to Walter Vale. While he isn’t a perfect person, he’s still one that you could meet on the street, have a chat with, and go on about your day. You don’t need to think about him all that much, but you’ll remember that you at least had the conversation with him in the first place.

Much like Richard Jenkins himself: Always present and lovely to be around, although, you’ll still be asking, “Where the hell did he go?”

Consensus: The Visitor gets by solely on the power and complexity of Jenkins’ lead performance, which helps to allow Thomas McCarthy’s script to reach new, emotional-heights, even if he does cheat the audience out of them quite a bit too many times.

8 / 10

Slappin' da drum, man.

Slappin’ da drum.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Waltz with Bashir (2008)

Take that Wall-E! This is real animation!

Writer/director/producer Ari Folman was 19 when he served in the Lebanon War in the 80’s. He did his job, his duty, and did it all for his country. However, after all of these years, Folman seems to have forgotten all that has happened, with the exception of a dream that he and two buddies of his have had where they emerge from the water, naked. Seems rather strange, but again, he doesn’t know if that’s real or just a dream. That’s where his former-soldiers help him out to tell him what happened, what they did, and what exactly went on in the Lebanon War. The results not only shock us while we sit and listen, but even them as well.

This is one of those hard flicks to categorize because not only is it a documentary, but it’s also an animated movie. When I first started watching this, I was terribly confused as to what the hell I was seeing. I knew I was seeing a bunch of cartoon-figures chat about the war and whatnot, but I didn’t know if the voices were going through the motions or if they were actual interviews. As you could probably tell, I wasn’t used to seeing my documentaries changedup like this but thankfully, I got used to it after awhile and that’s when things really started to set in.

First of all, let me just go right out by saying that the idea of shooting this movie in an animated-form was sure brilliance on Folman’s behalf. Not only does it allow these stories to hit the imagination that most of them are told in, but it allows you to sink into the material even more. These are real people, talking about real happenings that they either witnessed, or heard of during their time in the Lebanon War, and after awhile you just forget that it’s all told to you in an animated-form. Not only does this allow Folman to film stuff that would have been a bit too costly for him, had it been shot in a live-action way, but you just feel as if you are right there.

When in doubt, just dream of fully-naked women. That will get you by when it comes to war-time.

When in doubt, just dream of fully-naked women. That will get you by when it comes to war time.

On top of that, the animation is pretty damn good as well! Some characters look goofy, some animation seems cheap compared to others, and not everything works, but there is still always something to gaze at with this flick and with this animation. It’s also great to see a flick that uses it’s animation as a tool for telling a more compelling story, rather than to just get away with being dirty and grotesque. Some moments here are downright disturbing and seem like they would have been slapped with the NC-17 had it been done with real actors and real film, but nonetheless, it all feels suitable to the harrowing and disturbing tales these guys are all talking about. Seriously, some of this stuff here will mess you up.

This is one of those movies that totally took me by surprise because within the first ten minutes; I was already bored. I didn’t get what this movie was trying to talk about, the style of filming it was using, and whether or not everything I was hearing was real, or just stories that this dude wrote. But as time went on and I started to gain more and more knowledge of my surroundings here, then it all started to make sense. What’s so unique about my slow, but moving-knowledge of what was going down in the grander scheme of things, was sort of like what our main protagonist was going through as well.

Not only do we not have any clue what the hell happened or what we are about to hear, but neither does Folman. That’s why it’s so intriguing to see a flick not only put us in the same spot as the lead character (or whatever you’d call him), but have us grip on to reality just as he does. The whole idea behind this movie is that after the war, some men come to terms with the harsh-realities of what they just witnessed, or they just throw it to the back, forget about it all, and have it placed as dreams. That’s exactly what this movie touches on, in a way that I never expected to not only affect me, but show so strongly in animation.

And even with the animation, nothing of what you see here is going to be watered-down. You’re going to see some pretty disturbing stuff that will not only have you shadow your eyes away, but may also piss you off, as it did to me. Just knowing that these types of travesties actually occurred and, in some ways, still is to this day, really upset me to the high heavens because it made me feel as if there was no need for any of this violence or war. Now, some peeps may disagree with me and say it’s all about religious conflicts and that they need to settle their differences as soon as possible, but is this really the answer? Killing un-armed people in the streets? Destroying farms and live-stocks so people starve? Using a gun and a rank as a power-method;  getting rid of religions in hopes that they will one day, fade away into obscurity? Really?

Are these really the answers we all search for when we need to settle any conflict?

"Hey, how's the ki...AAAAHHH!!"

“Hey, how are the ki…AAAAHHH!!”

For me and my thoughts, this is just wrong. But to see it displayed in a way like this, really hit me even harder. Hell, I could probably type in some war-footage and find tons and tons of actual deaths and murders caught on-camera, but somehow this hurts me on the inside more. Something just didn’t sit well with me and had me feel as if this world, not only has it’s beauty, but it’s ugliness as well. It made me angry, it made me upset, but most of all, it made me happy to live ithe life I live, where I live it. Not saying America’s better or anything like that (because clearly, that isn’t the whole truth), but it does make me realize that the life I’ve been granted is one that I should be thankful for, each and everyday I wake up.

Sorry if this is beginning to sound like I just smoke a bowl, but that’s what happens to me when I see a movie that really has an effect on me; it has me thinking, talking and hoping that other people feel the same way as I do. And if not, then oh well. Still see this though.

Consensus: Depending on what your view of the Lebanon War is, Waltz with Bashir may, or it may not, connect with you, but if you have a heart, and a thirst for human-righteousness, it should still hit you hard and where it hurts the most inside.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

Can't say that it's not an AIRport.

Technically, it’s still an airport.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Eventually, we all get old and die. Tell me, what else is new?

After New York theater director Caden Cotard (Philip Seymour Hoffman) hits it big with his “version” of Death of a Salesman, the question on everybody’s mind is: What’s next? However, he’s the only one who doesn’t have that question anywhere near his mind at the moment, mainly because he’s got a lot of crap going on that he can’t escape from. His artist wife (Catherine Keener) just left to Berlin with his 4-year-old daughter; his box-office worker Hazel (Samantha Morton) is flirting up a storm with him; he just got hit in the head by a pipe and found out that it may be a deadly sign of things to come (meaning death); and he just received a grant to make his next big play inside of an area the size of a football stadium. Caden’s brain is so wracked and sad, however, that he does eventually come up with an idea that may take some by surprise, but makes total sense when you take his whole life into perspective: Caden plans on making the play about his whole life, including the most eventful moments, and all of the people he meets and greets. Self-indulgent? You bet your ass it is!

Going into this movie and knowing that Charlie Kaufman is not only just writing this movie, but directing it as well, should already get you in the right frame-of-mind, and make you expect the unexpected, even if the unexpected is totally, and utterly random and pretentious. But such is the case with Kaufman, who’s the type of writer whose style should not work at all, but somehow does, mainly because he’s had such talented directors like Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry being able to pick up the pieces and frame them in a somewhat comprehensible way, where not only do the heavy-set ideas hit our brains at maximum-speed, but the story itself just works, regardless of if we get it or not. Those two are just obvious examples, as I’m sure they are many more directors out there who “get” enough of what Kaufman does with his writing, and what he’s trying to say. However, when it’s just him running the show, and no outside interference or inspiration, then things get very, very shaky as a result.

Aside from PSH, let's see which one ends up turning out to look like this once they got older.

Aside from PSH, let’s see which one ends up turning out to look like this once they got older.

Then again though, like I said before: It’s Charlie Kaufman, and you have to know what you’re getting yourself into. So that means that there’s no need to fear, this won’t be one of those reviews where I get on the movie’s case for being non-stop pretentious, self-indulgent and preachy, because I expect that from him. Instead, it’s going to be more of a review on how easy Kaufman’s writing seems to be. See, the movie is less about a guy making a play of his life, as much as it’s more about how life itself is a play, and we are all just characters within it, going about our emotions, our action, and our decisions in a way that were pretty much spoon-fed to us from birth; they’re just starting to show now. And with that idea in mind, I have to give Kaufman plenty of credit. Not only can the dude look at the human-existence, but the reason we have to live, with a sour-puss attitude and grin on his face, but he can also show us that life is pretty damn sad, no matter how times we try to avoid that sadness with the simple things in life.

Very depressing, I know, but there’s just something about Kaufman’s writing that makes it so wonderful and honest that you can’t help but be entranced, nor not be interested in hearing what he has to say. You just listen, watch and learn gracefully, as if you’re watching a fellow human-life happen right in front of your own, very eyes. Which, in a way, you pretty much, and that’s where I hit my problems with this movie and where it was trying to get at.

The problem with this movie isn’t that it’s depressing or it makes you look at your own life, as well as the other’s around you, with a dour-look, but how it just seems to only reach for that idea as a point to be made. We always know where Kaufman’s getting at with this material; he feels that life is a sad, miserable experience that we live through, but we live through it nonetheless, so why harp over the meaningless things like break-ups, divorces, and lost-loves, just live life! And yes, it is very sad and cynical in it’s own way, but Kaufman never seems to be bringing anything much else to it other than that. There are shiny and bright rays of hope and happiness to be found somewhere in the finer-lines of this story, but anytime they get a chance to pop-up and show themselves, Kaufman comes right back down with his swiping-hand of negativity, showing us that we shouldn’t be happy with what we see, we should cry, pout and kick cans all day because of it. Maybe he’s not that much of a dick about it, but he comes pretty close at times, and it just shows you why this is the type of writer that can do some major business when he has a helping-hand with the direction; but when it comes to his own shot at glory, and giving it his all, he sort of stutters into his way of balancing out the happy, as well as the sad times in life.

Surely there’s plenty of both elements in everybody’s life, but it sure as hell isn’t always sad, Charlie. Get a grip, man!

"Why yes, I am reading "Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Musings about Everything That Has to Do With It." Have you heard of it before?"

“Why yes, I am reading “Thoughts on the Afterlife and Other Musings about Everything That Has to Do With It.” Have you heard of it before?”

And while it’s disappointing that things didn’t turn out better for Kaufman’s direction, it’s even more disappointing to see the awesome cast he was working with here, and how little most of them, minus the few exceptions, are given. One of those said few exceptions, Philip Seymour Hoffman as our main, mid-life crisis man for the next 2 hours: Caden Cotad. Hoffman is great at playing these sad-sack, miserable characters that don’t care much about the life they live, nor the little things that make it worth living, but he feels like he’s channeling the same emotions every once and a little while. He seems never crack a smile, no matter what the occasion may bring. However, he seems to be able to lure every women he meets into bed with him, make her the happiest gal alive, show her her own faults, make her sad, push her away, lose her, and then never see her again. That’s a non-stop cycle that continues to revolve around every so often, and it got as annoying to watch, as much as it did to see Hoffman put on the same saddened, depressed-look on his mug. It works when the humor within Kaufman’s script comes to show, but not when we’re supposed to care for this guy, as well as the fellow women he falls in love with.

Many of which, may I add, are played by extremely talented, and great actresses, who are given material that could have easily benefited them more, had Kaufman himself seemed to actually give a crap about them, or life. Catherine Keener does her usual, “I’m old and artsy, but I’m also bored and impulsive, therefore, I’m a bitch”-act, and does it well; Samantha Morton is a bit of a sweetie-pie as one of Cadence’s first loves, one who lives in a burning house, that constantly burns throughout the whole movie (whatever sort of metaphor that’s supposed to be, I still can’t wrack my brain around); Michelle Williams acts like a bit of a bitch as well, but shows some compassion for the way she feels towards Cadence and their relationship that isn’t so present with the other gals in this flick; and Emily Watson has moments of fun and spirit, but doesn’t get much more time to really allow for her character to breathe or shed any meaning as to why she’s even shown. The only one who really seems to be livening up this material is Hope Davis, as Caden’s therapist who shows up from time-to-time, does something weird or goofy, tells him to read her expendable, self-help books and leaves him on his way, hitting all of the right tones you need from an odd, Charlie Kaufman movie. Problem is, she isn’t in it enough and doesn’t get the chance to really let loose on material that could have easily used it from her, Tom Noonan, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and even Dianne Wiest. Seriously, how do you misuse Dianne Wiest!!?!? She’s so precious!

Consensus: The sad points of our weak, pathetic lives that Kaufman obviously makes in Synecdoche, New York don’t make the movie too depressing to get-through, they just don’t add much flavor or energy to a flick that could have really benefited from some, had it had the director to really make it pop-off the screen, and into our minds and laps to chew on for a long, long time.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Public transportation would make anybody depressed.

Public transportation would make anybody depressed.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

In Bruges (2008)

Who knew Bruges was such a happenin’ place! Full of fun, murder and all!

After a job goes terribly wrong, hitmen Ken (Brendan Gleeson) and Ray (Colin Farrell) are sent away to Bruges to let the heat die down. This also allows for their boss (Ralph Fiennes) to think of their next move, so that while they’re in Bruges, not only can they enjoy the various sights, but they can wait on his call for further instructions of what to do next. In the meantime, the two hitmen go sight-seeing, although against most of Ray’s wishes; instead, he would much rather like to drink, do drugs, find some pretty ladies and have as much fun as one possibly could while vacationing in a place like Bruges. Luckily for Ray, there’s a local film crew around town filming something with a dwarf and a pretty gal (Clémence Poésy) that he automatically takes a liking to. However, the aftermath of his one job still continues to mess with his mind and threatens to ruin any possibility of being sane he may have. To make matters even worse, when the two guys eventually do get their call from the boss, it isn’t a pleasing one and may actually pit the two seemingly good friends up against one another.

But hey, that’s business, mate.

It’s a very rare occasion in which a movie that I have seen more than a handful of times, can not only just make me laugh nearly as much as I did the first time around, but can also keep me on edge as to where the story is going next. And with In Bruges, it’s an even rarer-occasion, because, generally, the film leans on its constant plot twists that take over the last-act of this movie; plot twists that I have seen many times before. So for a movie to excite me all over again, as if I was just watching it for the first time in my life, truly is a work of magic.

I think we all know she's in for a wild night ahead of her.

I think we all know she’s in for a wild night ahead of her.

Because, the fact remains, In Bruges is one of the better dark-comedies of the past decade, and not too many people know about it. Even if they should, they don’t. But while that may seem like a meaningless “idea that I think is actually a fact”, there’s something endearing about that aspect that works wonders for this movie.

For instance, the movie prides itself in being contained to this one, rather small part of Bruges; a place you didn’t think was a perfect setting for a film, but somehow, totally is. It’s a place that the movie mocks on more than one occasion, but also shows that there’s some beauty in the land these guys are vacationing at. I don’t mean in just the numerous museums or churches these two guys see, I mean in the people they meet and the things that happen to them, both good and bad. What I’m basically trying to say is that Bruges itself, becomes something of a character in a movie that’s named after it and it creates a small vortex of a world that, as they say in the movie, “Seems like you’re in a dream.”

All that philosophical shite aside (working on my Irish over here), this movie is still entertaining-as-hell no matter how many times it’s watched. You so rarely get that with any movie, but when you see as many movies as I do on a regular basis (more than any normal human being should ever have to), certain movies just fade in your mind and you lose the ability to love them all over again. However, with In Bruges, that ability isn’t anywhere to be found; in fact, I think I may love the movie even more now, then I did way back when I saw it in the early days of ’09.

Certain jokes I can catch up on quicker now, the story makes a whole lot more sense, and the performances from the trio of lead veers quite closely into being “perfect”; especially from Colin Farrell, the actor I’ve always had faith in, and here is exactly the reason why.

As Ray, Farrell is a ticking time bomb just waiting to explode and destroy everything around him. You get the sense that he’s a young, brash asshole that doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut, nor knows how to act like an adult, but that’s sort of the point of the character and makes Farrell act even better than before. He’s a bit of a punk that does and says bad things throughout the majority of this movie (as hilarious as they sometimes may be), but knows that they are bad, wrong, they should not be done, and at least wants to move on from those mistakes and see if he can turn his life around.

In other words, he’s a bastard with a conscience, and every single second of watching Farrell play him is a total pleasure.

Even more of a pleasure to watch is Brendan Gleeson as the older, much more experience hitman that’s something of a father-figure to Ray, although the movie doesn’t hit us over the head with that idea. Instead, it just allows us to see Ray and Ken as two guys, who have the same job, and are mates, yet, they are in a bit of a sticky situation that can go either way. They don’t know, and they don’t necessarily care. They just want to take each day as they come and both characters express that feeling in two very different ways. For Ray, spending his day is all about getting drunk, having a shag or two with a lady, and just overall, having a grand old time. Whereas for Ken, he’s much more simpler in that he likes to read a book or two, explore the land around him a bit, and at the end of the day, go to bed while watching the tube.

They’re both opposites, yet, they are very good friends that understand each other and at least try to make sense of where the other one comes from. Watching them speak to each other about such stuff like either Belgium art, guys who sell lollipops, kung-fu, is constantly fun and entertaining, while very interesting because we see certain shades of their characters come out that we didn’t expect to ever see, all throughout their conversations. It also helps that Gleeson and Farrell have a lovely chemistry that never feels false. Not even for a single second.

Look out, Oskar!

Look out, Oskar!

And to make matters even better, we have Ralph Fiennes here as the foul-mouthed, constantly pissed-off boss of theirs that isn’t around a lot, but when he does show up, is around to only take care of business his way. We hardly ever see Fiennes do a performance as nasty or as eccentric as this, which is what exactly makes it such a pleasant, if totally unexpected surprise. But what Fiennes is able to find in this character is some ounce of humanity that makes him more than just a dirty, cold-blooded killer; the dude has a code/conscience, and all he’s doing is following through with it. He’s a mean old son-of-a-bitch, but he’s at least a human one, and the fact that we get to see that aspect of the character is truly a testament to the kind of actor that Fiennes is.

But honestly, I’m going on and on about the cast, without mentioning the one who is really responsible for this whole thing coming together so perfectly: Writer/director Martin McDonagh. Sure, McDonagh’s style of blending dark comedy with humane-drama, and bloody violence, has all been done numerous times before, but there’s something oh so refreshing about McDonagh here that makes me wonder not only why he doesn’t do more movies, but also why many more writers and directors haven’t followed suit? Because what McDonagh does so amazingly well here, is that he finds out what makes us laugh, what makes us cry, and what keeps us on the edge of our seats when watching movies, and combine them all together to make a movie accessible enough for anyone to see.

I mean, I’m not saying that In Bruges is the perfect pint of Guinness for either mom, dad, or your younger sibling, but what I am saying is that if you and your pals are hanging around late one night, need something to watch that will not only interest you, but have you downright laughing and enjoying yourselves, then you could do worse. Far, far worse.

Moral to the story: Watch this movie and thank me later.

Now go!

Consensus: Hilarious, fun, superbly-acted, exciting, surprising, and sweet in spots you don’t expect it to be, In Bruges is a near-perfect dark-comedy/thriller more people need to see in order to realize just how much crap is truly out there in the world that everybody knows, and why little gems like this go so unnoticed, for so very long.

9.5 / 10 = Full Price!!

Something in that image doesn't fit with the rest of it....

Something in that image doesn’t fit with the rest of it….

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Be Kind Rewind (2008)

What’s a VHS?

In a downbeat area of New Jersey, there lies what seems to be one of the last ever mom-and-pop-run video-shops that actually still sells VHS tapes. The place is called “Be Kind Rewind” and it’s run by the old and a bit out-of-touch Mr. Fletcher (Danny Glover). However, in order to see what’s wrong with his video-store and how he can fix all of its problems, he decides to take a bit of a vay-cay and do some thinking on his own. This leaves his most trusted, dedicated employee, Mike (Mos Def), the responsibility of watching over the whole shop and making sure nothing bad at all happens. Somehow though, it totally does, because once the buffoon of the neighborhood, Jerry (Jack Black), gets electrocuted and comes into the shop, he wipes all of the tapes clean with nothing but static on them. Scared to have his boss find this out and be ultimately disappointed in him, Mike decides to pick up a camera, get Jerry and start filming their own versions of these movies. It’s called “Sweded”, and somehow, the town catches on and, in a way, like these versions a lot more than the actual movies themselves. This gets the store all sorts of attention – both wanted and unwanted.

So yeah, while that premise may sound strange and all, just let me tell you that this is a film written and directed by Michel Gondry; somebody who is definitely one for not always being the most “normal” film-maker out there. However, that’s the reason why this movie actually works – Gondry has a vision that may alienate some, but to others, there’s a certain joy in seeing what he sees through those artistic eyes of his. And while I couldn’t necessarily call something like this “artistic”, there’s still something joyous about it that makes it all worth watching.

"So you want me to get rid of all the Woody Allen pictures?"

“So you want me to get rid of all the Woody Allen pictures we have in store?”

Gondry’s weird-isms aside and all.

Although, I do have to say that for the first half-hour of this movie, nothing seemed to be happening at all. I get that there was supposed to be some sort of reason behind why these tapes were all erased and therefore, drive these guys to actually have to make these Swedes, but it seemed way too slow and messy. Almost as if Gondry himself was searching everywhere he could for anything that resembled a plot and didn’t know where to start, or end; he was just searching and searching, while annoying us at the same time.

But eventually, once the plot gets going and the Swede-ing starts happening, then the movie gets to be a bunch of fun. Which is mostly due to the fact that I think Gondry shows exactly what it’s like to have the creative adrenaline run through your body; the same kind of adrenaline that makes you want to get up from what you are doing and just have the world see what it is that you see, or are able to create. A part of me likes to think that Gondry uses this angle, only to express his own knack for creating low-budget remakes of popular films, but another part of me likes to think that whatever the case may be, it doesn’t matter. He’s clearly happy making these small, really cheesy remakes, and as a result, I was too.

And basically, that’s the whole gist of this movie. For a good portion of it, at least, the movie is all about what it’s like to have the need to make a movie right from where you are, with whatever you’ve got. It doesn’t matter if you have a budget, a whole lot of talent, or even all of the right equipment to get going from the ground-up. All you need is some inspiration and that drive to make you keep on shooting whatever it is that you want to shoot. If it’s a video of you just ranting about whatever it is that’s on your mind in that point in time – then go for it! If it’s a video of some Charlie kid biting somebody – then sure, totally go for it!

Whatever the idea in your head may be, it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that you’re able to get up off your rump and film something! That’s what movies are all about in the first place, and while this movie may not be the most perfect piece of cinema to exemplify that fact, it’s still a noble effort from someone who clearly knows a thing or two about what it is that he’s talking about/filming.

How I imagine he acts every time he steps out of the shower.

How I imagine he looks every time he steps out of the shower.

As for the rest of the movie, it’s all pretty fine, especially in the casting-department. Though Jack Black’s shtick is the same here, as it’s been in, I don’t know, say, every single one of his damn movies, it’s still pretty entertaining and makes sense once this Jerry character gets a little bit too big for his britches and acts like he’s some big-time star of some sort. Sure, he has plenty of haters, but Black’s shtick, when used well, is entertaining and fun to watch. Same goes for Mos Def who, despite being on a short list of rappers-turned-actors, is one of the better ones because he’s able to go from role-to-role, without ever seeming like he’s trying too hard for one thing or another. He’s just being an actor, although there still has yet to be that one role that distinguishes him from the rest of the group.

Still though, I hold out hope. Not just for Def, but for the future of movies as a whole. Because even though certain people don’t believe the movie-business will be the same twenty-thirty years from now, there’s still hope out there that people will feel the need to want to express themselves in a fun, creative manner. Especially with a camera in their hand; something in front of them; and a chock full of ideas inside their noggins.

I still hold out hope, people. And you should too.

Consensus: While inherently messy, Be Kind Rewind still gets itself together in time for it to be a fun, creative, and rather passionate-look at what it takes for a person to create something, whether it be a film, a book, a song, or any piece of work that expresses themselves for being who they are.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Now they're all working at FYE. Damn, DVD's.

Now they’re all working at FYE. Damn, DVD’s.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Choke (2008)

I never thought that a movie about a sex-addict, would have such a small amount of actual sex in it.

Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell) is a sex-addicted med-school drop-out that works as an 18th century tour guide, and on the side, decides to fake as if he’s having an actual choke-attack, in public restaurants. Why? Well for one, it makes those people feel as if they have to give him money for a speedy-recovery, and for two, the money for that goes straight to his cooky-mom (Anjelica Huston), who seems to be going through the latter-stages of dementia. Which just adds more problems to Victor and his life, while also allowing him to possibly see that there’s maybe more to life than just screwing people. And yes, the use of that word has many meanings.

Movies about sex-addicts usually make you feel as if your body can’t get enough sex on-screen for the whole run-time, yet, your mind is telling you otherwise. Most films such as that get you right in the mind of a person who can’t go a second without popping a B and feeling the need to get relieve themselves in the next room. Take for instance something like Shame. That movie, no matter what anybody says, was a full-on depiction of a sex-addict. It had sex, boobs, anal, bum, dick, balls, and even ass-licking. It had a little something something for every sexual maniac who wanted to see it, and because of not holding back for a single second (hence the NC-17 rating it was slapped with) it got it’s point across. Comparing that flick, to this one, is sort of a joke, considering that this is an adaptation of a novel from Chuck Palahniuk. If that name doesn’t ring a bell to you, let me lay it down like this: it’s the writer of Fight Club.

See! Now all the hands go up in the air!

Secretly, they both have hard-ons.

Secretly, they both have hard-ons.

But comparing this to a movie like Shame, is a bit misguided. Because see, while they may feature the same subject-material, they’re both different movies in terms of tone and message. Not to mention the fact that one is definitely a whole lot better and memorable than the other.

I think one of the main problems with this movie is that it never seems to go far enough with its plot, its message, or even its characters. I’m not some crazy sex feign, who needs to watch movies where two people get it on, so I can go and rub one out, but when a movie presents itself as a story about a struggling sex-addict just trying to get by in the real world without having to stick it in some hole; then I wanna see a lot of that so I can get a full look and feel. Now, I don’t mean to say that this film is “sexless” per se, but compared to what it could have been: It was rather tame. And come to think of it, that’s just how the whole film is.

Clark Gregg is the writer/director here and seems like he has a general idea of what Palahniuk was trying to say, but getting down the message ain’t anything special, that is unless you don’t have the material to back it up. The humor is funny, but pretty obvious in the way that doesn’t seem like that writer’s style. It’s more about the jokes where people can’t seem to get it up, or cum too quickly, or anything dirty of that nature. It isn’t witty, it isn’t thoughtful, and it sure as hell isn’t as dark as the advertising may make it be; it’s more sophomoric, as if Clark Gregg felt like some guy having an orgasm while imagining himself playing baseball was as hilarious as an Elephant wearing a polo. Sure, a movie about a guy who cons people into giving him money by faking a choke-attack is a pretty dark aspect to take into a story like this, but it’s maybe shown once or twice, and then it’s gone from all existence.

Seeing as I already talked about what Gregg was able to do with this message, it may seem like I’m tracing back my steps, but let me say this: Gregg seems to only be going through the motions, with little love or feeling. The movie starts off kindly as it shows how this one guy, who is seemingly a bad person, can start to change his ways somehow, but as time goes on, we realize that it’s a lot easier said than done? Predictable? Yes, but it seems like this story could have had more to it. However, Gregg doesn’t even add that “more” to it. Instead, everything plays out exactly as you’d expect it to, with little to no surprises, except for maybe one character coming out of nowhere with a random, philosophical speech about God and what certain passages in the Bible mean. The whole religious theme in this movie was very whatever for me, but as soon as that one moment I speak of came and went, I was really getting ready to slap someone. So obvious, so predictable, and so nothing at all like Fight Club, that got by being more than just a flick where people beat the shit out of one another and didn’t talk about the club where they went to go do this. That’s what made that movie a downright classic, whereas this movie is just instantly forgettable.

Blonde-strokes - milf

Blonde-strokes – milf

The only saving-grace to this flick is the performances, and that’s not saying much once you start to find the bigger picture that lies beneath. Sam Rockwell is great, as usual as Victor, a sex-addict that’s starting to open his eyes a little bit more but just can’t. Rockwell always does an awesome job in roles like these, mostly because he loves playing the bad guy, even if he does have a conscience. He’s sleazy, he’s dirty, he’s sexy, and he’s mean, but he’s also got a nice side to him as well, which shines through every chance it gets. The problem with his character is that by the end, the guy seems to turn around so much, that it’s almost unbelievable. I get that he wants to fall in love and stop humping every person he walks by on the street, but it’s a total-180 for a character that didn’t really seem as if he had much problems being himself in the first place.

Anjelica Huston plays his mommy and is also great, as usual, but her character falls through the same hole. She obviously seems like a nice woman, but by the end, our image of her just gets skewered because Gregg felt as if he needed to add more of a an extra dimension to these people, and make it seem like they haven’t been total and complete dicks for the last hour and a half. Kelly Macdonald is as cute as ever as the doctor that tries to help out Victor’s mommy, but she’s hiding her accent a little too much, and a lot of her line-readings come off as more awkward than earnest.

Consensus: Choke has an interesting premise, a well-stacked cast, and even a smart bunch of characters that promise to do so much, yet, somehow, director Clark Gregg loses his way and barely does anything at all with the material, except offer us little to absolutely no surprises.

4 / 10 = Crapola!!

"So...uhh, ya wanna take my heartbeat somewhere more private?"

“So…uhh, ya wanna take my heartbeat somewhere more private?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Wendy and Lucy (2008)

Man’s best friend can also be a lady’s best friend, too!

Wendy Carroll (Michelle Williams) is driving to Ketchikan, Alaska in hopes of a summer of lucrative work at the Northwestern Fish Cannery, and the start of a new life with her dog, Lucy. When her car breaks down in Oregon, however, the thin fabric of her financial situation comes apart, and she confronts a series of increasingly dire economic decisions, which also leaves Lucy in a very vulnerable position.

Back in 2008, Marley & Me was considered the go-to dog movie, that had every doggie-lover out there pulling out a box of Kleenex by that tear-dropped soaked-ending. When I saw it, to be honest, it kind of got to me as well since I do love dogs but little did I know that there was a smaller, more effective doggie-loving movie out there around the same time. Then again, back in 2008 I wasn’t a movie critic so maybe that’s why I never caught much wind of it.

Damn me and my younger-self!

This is the third film from co-writer/director Kelly Reichardt who seems to have a certain style to her work that may be hard for some to get into, but works for those who have enough time and patience on their hands. What Reichardt does is she takes a plot, doesn’t do anything with it, and just let’s the camera keep rolling as you watching events play-out in front of you;  you know, as if it was almost like real life. She did the same exact thing with Meek’s Cutoff, and even though I didn’t appreciate that one as much as this, it still had it’s moments where I felt involved. This whole film, I felt involved mainly because of what Reichardt is able to do with this story, or lack thereof.

Lucy: A dog going through an existential crisis.

Lucy: A dog going through an existential crisis.

Some people will probably be pissed about this film and how it seems like nothing is even going on for the first 30 minutes or so, but Reichardt’s film isn’t all about what’s physically happening; it’s all about what’s going on when you look deeper into certain actions. Maybe I’m giving the film more credit than it desires but there is something here that makes this film compelling just about the whole way through. We see this whole story through the eyes of this gal and we see her for all of her faults and positives. She’s broke and is on the streets now and we have no idea why, but we don’t really need to know that to be invested in her story. All we do know is that she’s struggling big time and will do anything in her power to get where she needs to go, but also make sure that she finds her dog beforehand.

But once the final ten minutes of this thing happens, be ready, cause it will get you; much like it got me. Because the whole film is one big bleak-fest, that never seems to have any ray of sunny hope in it whatsoever, it feels like that’s how it’s all going to be, so it’s best to just leave the emotions alone and not even bother with them. Then out of nowhere comes this emotional wallop that the film apparently has been packing the whole time and once it does come through, it doesn’t at all feel calculated or phony, unlike Marley & Me. You probably won’t think that this film will get you, but trust me, it will and it does. Not saying that it made me cry, but it got me feeling just a bit more than I originally expected.

My only problem with this flick was that I feel like it takes so much of it’s time going absolutely nowhere sometimes that it doesn’t really matter what happens next. Actually, now that I think about it, I can’t remember any huge emotional or memorable scene that occurred in the middle act. They all came in the beginning and last act and it wasn’t that the rest of the film other than that was boring, it just seemed like Reichardt didn’t feel the need to move her story, so instead just let it move on itself without any real direction or idea. Not saying that this is a bad direction to take when you have a small indie like this, but sometimes you need to spice things up every once and awhile just to keep our eyes glued on the screen. Just my opinion though, man.

And let me also not forget to mention the most random scene in this whole film that seems to come completely out of nowhere: The infamous forest scene. Without giving too many weird details away, Wendy ends up sleeping in the woods one night only to be awoken by some freakishly creepy man that starts talking and cussin’ all of this gibberish that made no sense whatsoever. It goes on and on to where it seems like we should be scared for her and for this story, but it just seemed very obvious that a story would go for this trick of scaring us into believing that anything could go wrong with this gal. Once again, can’t give too much away but it’s a weird-ass scene that stuck in my head for all of the wrong reasons.

"Ruff ruff. Okay, Lucy?"

“Ruff ruff. Okay, Lucy?”

But the only damn reason we even care about Wendy’s homeless-self to begin with, is because she’s played by none other than Michelle Williams. Williams, as we all know, is a knockout when it comes to the acting department as she proves, time and time again, that she can always amaze us with the talent she brings to the big-screen and never lets us down with a role she daringly chooses. This is a very soft, slow, and quiet role for Williams, but she masters it perfectly with just the right look and attitude to every obstacle that comes in her way and it’s a very delicate portrait of a flawed character that, believe it or not, we actually care about and want to see be happy after all of the shit she’s been through so far. It’s the type of character that Williams excels, and the fact that she’s allowed to use her facial-expressions, just makes it all the better to watch.

Somehow though, Williams almost gets over-shadowed from somebody else: An unknown actor by the name of Wally Dalton. Dalton plays a store security guard that offers her help in any way that he can and tries to be there for her when everything in her life seems like it’s total crap. I’ve never seen this Dalton dude before but he’s very likable and nice, to the point of where I wanted to see her hang-out with him more because of the sweet things he does for her, whenever he coucl. This relationship between them doesn’t go where you expect and at the end of it all, they share a nice little connection that doesn’t end perfectly, but also couldn’t have ended any other way either.

Much like real life.

Consensus: Wendy and Lucy may tick some people off for its slow-pace, but it still packs a powerful punch of emotion mainly because of Michelle Williams’ layered, but subtle performance. Doggie-lovers, bring your Kleenex to this one too.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

Definitely not the best kiss she's ever had, but pretty damn close.

Nothing like a slobbery, wet embrace. Much like my ex-wife’s.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBCollider

Valkyrie (2008)

But I thought Hitler died in a movie theater explosion? Stupid Hollywood and their tricks for making up history as they go!

After permanently losing his right eye and arm, Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg (Tom Cruise) is forced to come back to Nazi Germany, with a newfound respect from those around him, as well as a new mission on that he sets his sights on the most: Assassinating Hitler and making Germany a peaceful country once again. The problem isn’t that Hitler’s the most powerful man in Germany, whom almost nobody can double-cross and succeed at doing, but getting each and every person on the same page, so that the plot goes perfectly according to plan. There are people in high places involved, too, it’s just that they are so nervous, that they second-guess themselves so many times, that they either kill themselves, spill the beans to others, or screw up the plan while it’s going on. However, for those who are inspired to take down Hitler, they don’t back down, not even when the slightest misstep rears its ugly head. Which, during this plan, occurs many times – maybe moreso than anybody involved would have wanted. But such is the case when you’re trying to take down the powerful, almighty Führer.

First thing to mention, that is more than likely going to screw people over while watching this movie (if one decides to do so), is that every actor here, whether they be English, French, American, or, obviously, German, has to play a German character. There’s nothing different about that – heck, if an actor is called upon to do some sort of accent that isn’t of their own native-tongue, then there’s no doubt in their mind that they shouldn’t take it. However, what’s so strange here is that almost nobody in this cast, not even the German actors (as hard as they are to come by), even flirts with doing a German accent.

"So, the one Jew says to other Je-...... Oh, I mean, hey, fuck that Hitler guy, right?"

“So, the one Jew says to other Je-…… Oh, I mean, hey, fuck that Hitler guy, right?”

Perhaps the biggest criminal of this is Tom Cruise who, in the first few minutes, does a bit of German to show that he’s got the chops to be on-par with Liam Neeson in every which way; but a mere seconds later, he’s back to his original, American-dude accent that almost everybody is able to recognize right away and is distracting practically the whole way through. It makes sense if you English lads like Tom Wilkinson, or Kenneth Branagh, or even Bill Nighy in these German roles, cause at least they have an accent as is to work with, but Cruise, he has nothing. It’s just him talking, and acting like he’s Jerry Maguire all over again.

Except this time, instead of, “Show me the monaaaaay!”, it’s, “Heil Hitler!” Which, while we’re talking about it, he only does once, so relax over there ya Scientologists!

And it’s not that Cruise is bad really, it’s just that he’s playing Tom Cruise, which is neither good or bad, it’s just Tom Cruise. Especially so here, considering he doesn’t seem like he’s really trying to go for anything else other than the heroic, determined-type we’ve seen him throw himself into role, after role, after role. Nothing wrong with that, because the dude’s a pro at those types of roles, but it does get old after awhile when it seems like all you’re seeing is the same guy, play the same role, in the same kind of movie, except with different scenery around him. In this case, it’s Nazis, but honestly, throw in a scene of Cruise on the hood of a car, with that iconic track playing somewhere in the background, and you’ve practically got another Mission: Impossible movie.

Except, once again, their being Nazis and all.

The rest of the cast is fine, too, mostly because they’re easier to not be distracted by when they’re trying to sound a lick at all like German-folk, but there’s nobody here in particular that’s spectacular. Everybody’s fine and serviceable with what it is they have to do; which, most of the time, just consists of them clicking their heels, staring into space very intently, and sweating bullets, which was probably because Bryan Singer decided to douse all of them with Aquafina bottles before shooting. So yeah, that last part doesn’t count.

And speaking of Bryan Singer (all “under-aged boys parties”-jokes aside), the guy does what he can here with this material. He clearly wants to make this move, sizzle and spice like a Hitchock thriller, while at the same time, still harp on the fact that an evil man like Hitler actually existed and had immense power over thousands and thousands of people. However, what takes away from most of what Singer does here, is that it’s a story we all know the ending to. Okay, maybe not all of the little, itty, bitty, gritty details, but what we know is that the plan failed, Hitler lived, and all of those who were involved with the conspiracy theory in the first place, we’re all eventually killed anyway. So yeah, it sort of ends on a dim note, but that’s the kind of note we can expect from a movie like this, because that’s exactly what happened.

"Stop hanging out with the pirates!"

“Stop hanging out with pirates!”

It’s not like I’m saying that movies that have an ending we already know about, can’t be fun or exciting anyway possible, because they totally can. However, in order to do so, there needs to be a drive, or a certain feeling of emotion involved with the proceedings that makes us feel, even for a split-second, like this story’s outcome could happen differently than what we already know. It’s highly unlikely, but so are plots to plenty of movies; that’s why we need movies to go for the gold whenever they can, having us believe in the unbelievable, and throw all of our cards out on the table, as if we don’t know what’s going to happen next.

The problem is, we know what’s going to happen next, and Singer never gives it that drive. Nor does he do much else to keep the proceedings exciting. Just by-the-numbers, by-the-books, and that’s it.

Yawn.

So in a way, I guess I have to give Singer some credit for at least sticking to history as much as he could for the film’s sake, without ever allowing it to get too boring or preachy, but at the same time, I can’t help but wonder what the point was about this whole movie. We know that it wants to show us that Hitler was a bad man and that nearly everyone close to him wanted to stab him right in the back, but it doesn’t seem like anything new; person gets on top of their throne and now all of a sudden, everybody wants to take the throne away from said person. It’s a traditional story-route we’ve seen done a hundred times before, but I guess the only real aspect of this movie that separates it from the rest is that the person in that throne is, well, Adolf Hitler.

Oh, and also Nazis.

Consensus: Both Tom Cruise’s and Bryan Singer’s intentions are noble and make Valkyrie, for the most part, interesting to watch as the plot unfolds, but the problem is that we get what happens what happens at the end, and we can’t help but not really care for these generic characters more than we need to.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"What are you talking about? These are our TPS Reports. Nothing else."

“Huh? What are you talking about? These are our TPS Reports. Nothing else.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBComingSoon.net

Elite Squad (2008)

Never thought I’d say this, but those poor drug dealers.

Rio de Janeiro is not a very nice place to live. It’s filled with drugs, sweat, crime, murder, more crime, sex, corruption, and a whole lot more crime. No matter how hard the local police-force try either, it seems like it’ll never be fixed, if mainly because most of the force is as corrupt as those committing the crimes in the first place. However, there is a certain certain force that takes matters into their own hands and makes sure that crime doesn’t begin to escalate, and more and more innocents are injured or killed. Their name – BOPE (Special Police Operations Battalion. The captain, Nascimento (Wagner Moura), is the head honcho in charge here and always makes sure things go according to plan, even if he does have the occasional “snap-out” every once and awhile; but he’s getting treated for it and has a baby coming on the way, so maybe it’s not best for him to be around so much violence, death and crime, right? That’s why he decides to start training, brain-washing and beating-down several possible recruits to fill-in for his job, and he thinks he’s found it in both Neto (Caio Junqueira) and Andre Matias (Andre Ramiro). Both are good buddies, but are different in their ways, except for one key similarity: They want to enforce the law and take those down who go against them.

"What? All I said was, "What's up?""

“What? All I said was, “What’s up?””

We’ve all seen the Brazilian, gangster-thriller done before, right? Well, in case you haven’t, trust me, all you have to do is watch City of God and you’ll get a pretty clear picture of what these types of movies are like – violent, dirty, gritty, raw, unflinching, bloody, and usually filled with all sorts of coke, weed, heroin and other drug paraphernalia that I’m even afraid to admit to knowing, in hopes that the CIA isn’t spying on me. I may make it sound like any other ordinary crime-thriller involving gangsters out there, but that movie in and of itself is just about perfect and shows you exactly what one can do with the a tired genre like the crime one, and find a way to spin it on its head in an energetic, creative and original way.

But, as you know by actually visiting my blog, this isn’t a review on City of God, this is a review on Elite Squad, and what a damn shame that is, because this movie doesn’t really deserve your time of the day to be viewed, nor does it really deserve my precious time and effort to be reviewed. Although, since I am a dedicated film-nerd/blogger, I have to stick to my guns and try my very hardest to inform you people on any movie out there, good or bad.

And this is one of those latter ones, which is a shame because just reading that premise up above made this seem like something that would kick all sorts of fine-ass. Somehow though, it does, but not in the right ways. I’ll give director José Padilha credit for one thing, and that’s for at least making me feel like I was on the dirty, disgusting and corrupt streets of Rio de Janeiro, where anything could go wrong at any second, to any person, for any reason. In ways, with the hand-held camera-style Padilha so clearly loves and embraces, I felt as if I was watching a documentary where I was seeing a lot of these crimes being committed, on both sides. For that, Padilha deserves some admiration for sticking it to the streets and at least having me believe that I was watching something that could actually, believably happen on the real streets of Rio de Janeiro

However, that’s where the compliment begins and ends, because the rest of this flick is a mess, and it’s solely on Padilha’s part, and nobody else’s. The main problem Padilha runs into with this flick is that it’s so abundantly clear who he is siding with in this story, and that’s the police-force themselves. Sure, he shows them in some unflattering ways where police-chiefs are all about corruption, keeping your mouth shut and earning some dirty money on the side, but most of the time, he’s usually backing up these men-in-uniform, their actions and what they stand for. And it’s not like there’s a problem when you show your appreciation for the heroes who get stuff done and keep the crimes from happening more and more, but when you have those heroes putting plastic-bags over any possible criminal’s head, just to get bits and pieces of information out of them, the line between “glamorizing” and “being frank” gets blurry.

Here, Padilha seems to start off with the latter, where he shows that even though these guys do get their jobs done in an efficient manner, they’re still very messed-up in the head and not always honest people. But that all begins to change where we soon see that these officers are now carrying-out very violent, very disturbing actions in order to make their job a bit easier. Once again, I am in no way saying that we shouldn’t support and show our love for our local police-forces who are out there and risking their lives, so that our lives a bit easier, simpler and safer, but this movie really tests our patience with how far we’ll go to stand behind these men and root them on as they practically shoot, kill and violently torture anybody who slightly gets in their way. No, I am not a hippie, but I am a person who knows when “enough” is “enough”, and there came a certain point during this movie where I didn’t give a shit about any of these guys, what they were doing or who they were trying to find, capture and kill. All I wanted them to do was stop beating the ever loving shit out of everybody that they suspected to be a drug-dealer, even if that person was holding the slightest ounce of pot.

Poor old Johnny forget about those unpaid parking tickets.

Poor old Johnny forget about those unpaid parking tickets.

I mean honestly, sometimes you just have to say, “Leave me be, man.” And I felt like that many of times during this movie.

Even the fine performances from the cast couldn’t survive this movie’s mucky moral-siding. All of the officers that this movie focuses on and actually gives two shits about, are relatively compelling to watch and can be interesting at times, but later on, they just turn out to be a bunch of sick, twisted and sadistic nut-jobs that you’d neither want to help you out of a burning car, patrolling your neighborhood, or anywhere near your friends or family for that matter. Now, I don’t know how they do things in Rio de Janeiro, but in the U.S. of A, or practically anywhere at all in the world that isn’t Brazil, we don’t want these kind of crazies coming around, enforcing the law, and making sure all is well and doesn’t go bump in the night. We already got our hands full, you know?

Consensus: Those who want to take a life in the police-force will probably find Elite Squad to be somewhat “inspirational” to them, but even then, I don’t know if any person’s morality can stoop so low as to applaud these men for what they do in order to get their job done, all in the name of “the law”.

3.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

I guess this is the part where you say, "Freeze with your hands up!". But it's cool, just fire away!

I guess this is the part where you say, “Freeze with your hands up!”. But it’s cool, just fire away!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderComingSoon.net

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