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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: 2017

The Lovers (2017)

Love the one you’re with. And the others on the side.

Mary (Debra Winger) and Michael (Tracy Letts) have been married for quite some time and as is usually the case with aging couples, things have gotten a little sour, a little boring, and most of all, a little dull. And because of that, they’ve both taken up with significant others to keep their lives happy, exciting, and above all else, worth going on for. Mary has Robert (Aidan Gillen), while Michael has Lucy (Melora Walters), and while both relationships can be definitely classified as “affairs”, they’re beginning to take on new lives as something far more serious and possibly even permanent. But here’s the thing: Mary and Michael are still together and don’t really know how to approach the issue of breaking up. And now with their son (Tyler Ross) coming home from college for a short bit, they especially don’t know what to do now. Should they break-up and move on, like they really want to? Or stick around and stay together, for a short time? Then again, they’re a married-couple so, who knows, old passions may come back.

Ew. Get a room!

The whole central joke surrounding the Lovers is this: Although the movie is about this couple who have been married for quite some time, we’re still seeing them as anything but. They don’t screw one another, barely even talk to one another, and hell, are rarely even in the same room together. This is deliberate on the part of writer/director Azael Jacobs’ part and it’s a smart take on what could have been a very preachy, very annoying, and relatively very conventional story. We’ve all seen spouses cheating on spouses, have gotten those sob stories, and see how they have all played-out, but the Lovers, with its interesting angle is, at the very least, different.

Does that make it any better? Not necessarily and that’s sort of the problem.

See, Jacobs’ take on making this marriage seem very fake works for awhile, until the other cheek is turned, and oh man, they’re all of a sudden screwing, and kissing, and talking, and gasp, in the same rooms together. It’s a nice little change-of-pace, but it also feels like the movie’s still trying to make jokes, without ever really trying its hardest to get down deep into what really makes a marriage, well, a marriage. The Lovers does seem interested in trying to figure out what constitutes love, marriage, and why people stay together for so long, even if the spark isn’t there. And hell, when the spark isn’t there, what’s the best way to go about getting it all back? Continue to try to screw each other, or set one’s sights elsewhere?

And it’s not like these are all points I wanted to see addressed here, it’s more that the film does seem like it brings them up, but backs away as soon as an idea is about to be developed. Jacobs seems like he knows how to create smart and interesting situations, with even smarter, interesting pieces of dialogue, but the end result is odd, as if he’s more confused at the end, than before he even started. It’s odd and definitely hard to explain, but it’s one of the main reasons why throughout the Lovers, I couldn’t help but be frustrated.

The only true element saving me here were the great performances by all involved, save by one Tyler Ross.

Oh, wait. Never mind. Don’t.

And no, it’s not like I’m going to crash on him because he’s young and playing a weak character in the first place, but because he just does not sit right at all with the rest of the movie. For some reason, Jacobs has written him to be this angst-fueled, angry, pissed-off, and irritated kid who seems to hate his parents, whether together or not, and can’t, not for a single second, let things go as they appear to be. Every scene he’s either picking a fight, or looking like he’s about to explode, and eventually does and it seems so random, so crazy, and so over-the-top, it made me wonder if I accidentally sat on the remote and came upon the Lifetime channel. It sound dramatic, but that’s because it is and it’s so weird.

Thankfully, like I said, the other performances are all great, with Letts and Winger making the most out of their scenes together. Winger’s especially impressive because she shows some sad, yet honest emotions in a character who feels like she could have easily been slut-shamed, but surprisingly, she wasn’t. She’s just an older women, looking for a second chance at love, and possibly finding it – just not in her husband. It’s nice to see Winger around again and it makes me hope that she sticks around for some more roles, regardless of if she’s still a pain to get along with.

Consensus: With two great performances in the leads, the Lovers gets by as a mildly interesting and entertaining take on married-couples, yet, also feels like it has a lot to say, without ever fully getting to a point.

6.5 / 10

It’s okay. Just hit up those side-pieces and all will be fine.

Photos Courtesy of: Variety, The New York Times, The Bajan Reporter

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Sleight (2017)

Is this what Criss Angel is up to nowadays?

Bo (Jacob Latimore) is a young guy living on the rough and tough streets of L.A., trying to get by and make a living for him and his little sister. But instead of doing what most of his friends are doing, like hustling, committing crimes, and selling drugs, Bo is keeping himself straight by performing magic on the streets. But honestly, after the death of his parents, it’s getting harder and harder for Bo to keep a roof over his head, so eventually, he turns to this life of crime where he falls under the tutelage of the local drug dealer (Dule Hill), who does not take kindly to people messing around with his stuff. But while all of this is happening, Bo meets Holly (Seychelle Gabriel) who, despite having a college education and plenty of other dreams in life, instantly falls for him. Now, Bo has more of a reason to live, survive and have all the things that he should want, but for some reason, the drug world just isn’t all that forgiving and it’s up to Bo to figure out just how the heck to get by it all. Then, something mysterious appears on his arm and things get odd.

Like really, really odd.

Eh. I’ve had more.

I have to give Sleight the benefit of the doubt in that it’s a low-budget film, with an incredibly diverse cast and relatively original premise. And yes, even a part of me is willing to forgive and get by all of the issues and problems had with this thing, just based solely on the fact that it’s so low-budget and got a lot working against it. But still, for some reason, I can’t get past the fact that Sleight, despite showing plenty of promise, never fully comes together.

In a way, it’s as if the budget needed to be bigger in order for director/co-writer J.D. Dillard to fully complete his vision. Clearly, some things got lost in the shuffle and it shows; there are far too many long-winding scenes where two characters are just sitting in a room, sort of talking, and seeming as if they’re going to never stop. In other words, yes, it’s called “character-development”, but it feels different here in Sleight – it’s as if Dillard had all of these scenes put in, because he didn’t have enough money to do other things.

Maybe this is just me talking, but either way, it slows the movie down to a halt.

And it doesn’t help that these characters aren’t the least bit interesting. Latimore is an interesting, bright, young talent who is surely going to go on and do great things, but his role here as Bo, when it’s not hitting every convention to be expected with a young whippersnapper growing up on the streets of L.A. (minus the whole magician angle), feels weak and almost underwritten. We’re supposed to see all of these different sides to him, but really, it’s just one where he always looks like a patron saint, taking care of all those around him, no matter what, and against all odds.

Giving David Blaine a run for his money. That guy’s still alive, right?

Dillard tries to even make his situation more interesting and therefore, compelling, but even that feels like it can get lost. A late-minute twist comes literally out of nowhere and while definitely cool, almost feels like it was thrown in there because Dillard got an extra check thrown his way from WWE Studios (who also helped distribute it). And I know a lot of what I’m complaining about is how it has a small-budget and clearly shows, but that’s not all it – it’s more that it’s a movie with a solid premise, yet, doesn’t take full advantage of it, mostly because it wants to play all of these different sides.

Dillard seems like he wants it to be a honest, raw, and gritty tale about growing up on the streets of L.A., but also wants it to be a sweet, youthful and lovely look at young love. Dillard also seems like he wants it to be a stone-cold drama about drugs, crime, and bad people, but also wants it to be about a kid possibly developing superpowers, or something of that nature. Honestly, it’s a mixed-bag overall, because it offers so many different sides and angles, yet, never fully comes together on one.

Just one. That’s all it needed. But nope. Couldn’t do that.

Consensus: Budget constraints aside, Sleight is a messy movie that’s filled with ideas and possibilities, but ultimately, never comes together perfectly. Oh, and yeah, its budget holds it back.

4.5 / 10

Wish the force was strong enough to get more “0’s” on them checks.

Photos Courtesy of:Indiewire

Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Yeah, I don’t know either.

It’s the 28th century, and special operatives Valerian (Dane DeHaan) and Laureline (Cara Delevigne), whenever they’re not working together to maintain order throughout the human territories, are also trying hard to figure out just what they’re doing together. Are they in love? Do they want to get married? Or do they just want to keep on doing what they’re doing, because it’s easy, simple and not all that made for dedication. Whatever the answer to their dilemma may be, it doesn’t matter, because they soon gather an assignment from the minister of defense (Herbie Hancock), to embark on a mission to Alpha, the ever-expanding metropolis where diverse species gather to share knowledge and culture for a hefty fee. But both Valerian and Laureline realize that something is off about their discovery and because of that, they’re hunted from all over the place, forcing them to run all over space and hop on different planets, where something odd and interesting is happening just about all of the time.

Blade Runner?

So yeah, Luc Besson is clearly going completely out of his way to ensure that the world gets a dose of Valerian and because of that, the man deserves some credit and above all else, respect. Word is, he not just put took a pay-cut on this one, but even went so far as to put his own money in the project; it’s currently the most expensive independent flick ever made and it shows. The movie is, for lack of a better word, beautiful; the CGI-team must have been hard-at-work, day and night, without any sleep whatsoever, trying to make sure that every piece of this crazily original and wild fantasy world was explored and shown to perfection.

It also does help get us past the fact that the movie’s story and script are troubling, to say the least.

But it’s obvious what Besson is doing here – clearly it’s been over two decades since we got the Fifth Element and because of that, we’ve got something of a new one for Generation-Y. In that sense, the movie can be pretty fun, because it’s so willing to be as ridiculous and as nutty as that movie, but at the same time, it doesn’t always work out. For example, the central romance between Delevingne and DeHaan, while somewhat cute, never works in this great, big universe where crazy, ugly-looking creatures show up left and right, spouting gibberish. It’s as if Besson wanted to have it both ways and because of that, the movie doesn’t always work and never quite figures out what it wants to be.

Uh, Avatar?

But Valerian is also a fun movie, that enjoys its own zaniness. It doesn’t have to always make sense of its universe, its characters, or even its central conflict – all it has to do is offer enough weirdness and electricity to remind us why these kinds of sci-fi movies, especially from Besson, can be a joy to watch. The movie doesn’t always figure out what it wants to do, what it wants to say, or hell, even where it’s going, but it does move so quick, it’s hard to always care.

And yes, the movie is almost two-and-a-half hours and somehow, yeah, it does go by.

Granted, there’s rough patches all throughout, but that’s expected here. Valerian may not be the cleanest, or smartest movie out there on the market, but Besson seems like he truly adores and cares for this material, regardless of if anybody else does. He’s putting it all out there on the line and while it may be too hard to ask for someone to pay for his water, or electric for the next month, I don’t think it’s too hard to say, “Hey, go check it out.” It’s weird and it’s supposed to be, so just get a little used to it and try to have some fun.

Please. Do it for Luc. He needs us all now, more than ever.

Consensus: Big, bright, loud, and ambitious, Valerian is certainly an original, but is also certainly uneven and a bit messy, making it feel like a cluster of a lot of different things that don’t always come together, but still somehow compel.

6 / 10

Surfing U.S.A. Or wherever the hell Luc’s got ’em at.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Girls Trip (2017)

Damn. I miss my girls.

It’s been a very, very long time since best friends Ryan (Regina Hall), Sasha (Queen Latifah), Lisa (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Dina (Tiffany Haddish) all got together and just acted wild and crazy. After all, they’re all grown up with Ryan becoming a huge celebrity/author, Lisa becoming a mother and divorcee who doesn’t get out much, Sasha becoming a gossip-blogger, and Dina, well, not really doing much except losing jobs and not really knowing what’s going on around her. That said, it’s about time that they all got together and they do so when they travel to New Orleans for the annual Essence Festival. Of course, they’re there because it’s all on Ryan’s tab, but it’s also because they just miss what they used to have and need to remember what it was like to just have a good time with your girlfriends. But certain issues with their personal lives, how much time has passed, and certain secrets, constantly hold them back from fully loving and exploring the weekend like they should. Eventually, it’s all going to come to a head and, possibly, it may result in this being the last trip these gals ever take together again.

Hopefully not United.

Girls Trip is everything that Rough Night should have been, minus the whole dead-stripper angle. It’s funny, well-written, fun, well-acted, and absolutely feels like you’re involved with the same exact party that these gals are in, committing all sorts of crazy, wild and wacky shenanigans. Of course, it does help that a good portion of the movie, as well as the jokes themselves, are in fact scripted and not just made up on the spot by whoever’s turn it is to speak, but still, that almost doesn’t matter.

The fact is that Girls Trip is funny and deserves to be seen.

It’s the kind of movie that gets off to a slow start because it’s trying to find its groove and has to develop certain things like conflict, characters, etc., but after awhile, gets itself together and all of a sudden, becomes a great time. It’s the kind of studio-comedy that does all the things that are necessary to make a big-budget, studio-comedy work, but so rarely actually do; instead of putting together a neat premise, with funny jokes, and even more interesting characters, everything’s just sort of jumbled together and made up, in hopes that the audience doesn’t know or even care.

But with Rough Night and the House, it’s hard not to notice these issues. It’s a sign that more and more studio-comedies need to be heavily scripted and oh yeah, funnier, too. Once again, all of these gals are to be thanked for keeping this movie as funny as it needs to be, but writers Kenya Barris and Tracy Oliver deserve a little shout-out, too – not just because they wrote a script with ridiculous situations and funny jokes, but because they actually went the extra mile into having us, believe it or not, care.

So. Much. Gossip.

Girls Trip reminds me a bit of Bridesmaids in that it definitely features gals being just as dirty, just as naughty, and just as raunchy as the guys, but also in that it’s a so-called “chick flick” that feels very honest and rash about women friendships and the certain bond that can be created with them. It doesn’t back away from showing just how these women all connect to one another, why they were friends were in the first place, and why they may all give a hoot about what happens to the other, at the end of the day. They could have all been types, too, but thankfully, the movie actually gives them all personalities and certain tics about them that make them, well, human.

Crazy, right?

But like I said, the cast helps out with this, too. Regina Hall, Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith (nice little Set it Off reunion), and the show-stopper, Tiffany Haddish, are all great here and help one another out, whenever it seems like the jokes may be slacking. However, that so rarely happens because there’s just a certain wild and crazy energy to this all that makes you not just feel like you’re apart of all the fun, but that you’re getting to know these gals better, as time goes on, too. Rather than making us feel like we’re hanging out with a bunch of strangers that we could care very little, or less about, we actually get to know, understand, and at the end, come to love them. Sure, they may be problematic and a little flawed, but if anything, that allows them to become more human and understandable, therefore, making the time spent with them (which is a bit long, by the way), all the more enjoyable.

Consensus: Fun, exciting, and oh yeah, pretty darn funny, Girls Trip features women doing their thing, having fun, not making any excuses for it, and oh yeah, reminding Hollywood what can happen when a little more thought is put into crafting an effective studio-comedy.

7.5 / 10

Not raining? Oh wait. Never mind. It’s style.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Dunkirk (2017)

Us Americans have it so easy.

In May 1940, Germany advanced into France, trapping Allied troops on the beaches of Dunkirk. Under air and ground cover from British and French forces, the troops were all evacuated from the beach using every serviceable naval and civilian vessel that could be found, but because these vessels were constantly exploding from enemy fire, or also because there was such a short supply, most of the soldiers ended up standing around, waiting for anything to take them home. After all, they could practically see their home land, how hard could it be to just get over there? Well, as we see, the battle raged on, with those out there on the sea, on the ground, or in the air, all helping out to ensure that, by the end of this mission, all of the French, British, Belgian and Dutch surviving soldiers would be safely evacuated. Then again, this is the war we’re talking about here and as people know, it can be awfully predictable.

Clearly looking for a Christian Bale-type from the Newsies era.

Christopher Nolan does something very interesting and tricky here with Dunkirk that makes it more than just your typical, run-of-the-mill, big, and bloated dramatization; rather than showing this mission from one point-of-view and leaving it at that, he decides to take on three-to-four different ones, all taking place sort of different times, in different locations, and for different reasons. It’s hard to fully explain without having already seen Dunkirk, but it’s a sign that Nolan, someone who is well-known for his awe-inspiring talent, has some more tricks up his sleeve than just giving us take-by-take tale of a real life event in WWII.

At the end of the day, it still is that, but it’s better than you’d imagine. Trust me.

And it’s mostly better because Nolan, no matter how far and wide he stretches with this material, always has us feeling as if we are right there, on the battlefield, with these fellow soldiers, trying to just survive. Nolan rarely ever leaves the battlefield once we get going and because of that, the next hour-and-a-half, or so, feel like an absolute rush of blood to the head; there’s a finger on the trigger and you can feel it the whole way through, and it never lets up. In a way, it’s almost too tiring, but it’s incredibly exciting, tense, and even unpredictable, which is a hard feat to accomplish in a WWII movie that’s already about a very famous moment in said real war.

But Nolan doesn’t forget to remind us that, even when we are shrieking, jumping up and down, and clamoring for our own lives, even when we’re tucked away, safe as can be in our over-packed movie theaters, that above all else, war is hell. Nolan isn’t exactly making a statement with Dunkirk, as much as he’s just trying to honor the brave souls who tried to stay alive, as well as those who couldn’t, but it is hard to walk away from this not thinking that war, believe it or not, is an absolute hell whole, where the strongest and bravest of men may even finds themselves petrified. It’s hard not to get swept up in everything that Nolan’s doing here and it’s nice to see all of his effort finally pay-off.

Sure beats Interstellar.

OH EM GEE! HARRY!

Then again, there is that feeling that when Dunkirk is over, it’s over and you can sort of go on with your day. This maybe has less to do with the movie, as much as it has to do with me, myself and I, but when Dunkirk‘s over, it’s done and that’s it. The movie hits maybe an-hour-and-47-minutes (Nolan’s shortest in, I don’t know, forever), but it goes by so quickly that you don’t even bother to check the time, or notice; you’re just so taken aback by everything that’s happening on the huge screen, that it almost feels like a disservice to divert your attention elsewhere.

And this isn’t to say that everything Nolan does here, doesn’t deliver, because it most definitely does. By the same token, however, it’s also not hard to sit down, think, and wonder whether or not this is just another big and bloated dramatization. It’s not typical and it’s not run-of-the-mill, but it is, above all else, a dramatization and because of that, it feels a tad too normal and conventional. It’s scary and not safe, but still, normal.

And for a Christopher Nolan movie, honestly, that’s a bit of a letdown.

Then again, may just be me.

Consensus: Big, loud, aggressive, scary, and ambitious as hell, Dunkirk is a sure sign that Nolan has returned to his full-scale roots, with better results this time around.

8.5 / 10

Good luck, boys. You’re sure as hell going to need it.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Lady Macbeth (2017)

Arranged marriages are all the rage.

In the year 1865 in rural England, a young woman, Katherine (Florence Pugh), is in a loveless marriage to an older man, Alexander (Paul Hilton). She doesn’t care for the man and in fact, he’s quite awful to her, but she puts up with it all because her father couldn’t take care of her any longer and now she’s got plenty of time to just sit around, drink, and eat, while occasionally having to sexually satisfy her hubby who, for some odd reason, doesn’t actually like being physically intimate. Either way, yeah, Katherine’s not happy about the arrangement, which is why she takes full advantage of the freedom she gets when her husband heads out for a business trip and is planning on being gone for quite some time. But her idea of “freedom” gets to be a bit much when she starts something of a relationship with the helper (Cosmo Jarvis), who enjoys having some hot, steamy sex with the lady of the house, but at the same time, also understands the dangers. This is something that Katherine doesn’t fully take into consideration and it all comes back to hit her in the face when people start coming around and sniffing about her place, wondering what’s going on.

Stop smiling!

Lady Macbeth is a pretty bleak film and because of that, it’s actually pretty hard to enjoy. Even in its 89 minutes, it’s quite repetitive and almost feeling like its script was written without any dialogue at all, but instead, just actions and sounds. In that way, it’s a movie that deserves and requires a lot of time, focus and attention, but mostly, it gets by on being a little dark, a little creepy, and a little eerie.

And yeah, that’s about it.

It does deserve to be said that director William Oldroyd approaches the material well; like stated before, there’s a lot of long, silent pauses where you can literally just hear the wind hitting the windows outside. Some may find this “boring”, but it works in this movie’s favor because it helps create an odd sense that something isn’t quite right here, even before bad stuff actually does start happening. And even when the supposed “bad stuff” does begin to happen, the movie thankfully doesn’t delve into any of the melodramatics you’d expect it to – it’s just chilling and creepy and that’s all it needed to be to get the job done.

Oh lord, The dreaded vial!

And yes, Florence Pugh is also pretty great in the lead role as Katherine who, over the hour-and-a-half, does a lot of changing (literally and figuratively), and finds a way to make all of the sides to her, at the very least, believable. That’s hard to do, too, with a character who we initially feel sympathy for, but know very little about, other than that she’s poor, in a crappy situation, and obviously miserable. However, Pugh has a certain look to her that makes any scene she’s in (which is every one), watchable, because she’s always on-edge and seeming like she’s one step ahead of us.

But like I said before, Lady Macbeth works because it is so chilling and, at times, disturbing. But at other times, it can’t help but feel like the same scene, over and over again, only just continuing on and on until it eventually hits the conclusion. Maybe this was intentional to give us a better sense of how empty and lame these character’s lives were, but it also does help but feel like a waste, even when the movie, like stated before, is so short in the first place. It’s one thing to not really have much of a script, but to have one, with, essentially, the same scene happening, over and over again.

It’s just lazy, honestly.

But man oh man. Thank heavens for Florence Pugh. That gal’s going to go some places.

Consensus: As short as it may be, Lady Macbeth still gets by as a chilling and upsetting psychological thriller, anchored by a solid performance from Pugh.

7 / 10

There’s that happiness again!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

War for the Planet of the Apes (2017)

The War of the Rise of the Dawn of the Why Are These Titles So Long?

After their last battle with the humans, due to the actions of evil Koba, Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his apes are still fighting for their lives and are still forced into a deadly conflict with the humans, who see their extinction coming and coming very soon. That’s why the ruthless colonel (Woody Harrelson) wants Caesar and all of the apes gone, prompting the apes to suffer unimaginable losses. And as a result, Caesar sets out to find this colonel and take him down, once and for all. But on the trip, Caesar and his fellow band of trustees find something odd is happening – people are losing their ability to speak. How, or better yet, why? Caesar doesn’t know, or understand, but the further he adventures into this cold, dark and cruel world, the more answers he gets and the more he discovers about the possible end of the world, where the apes may take over, the humans may become extinct, and nothing will ever be the same again. It’s only a matter of time, though, and it’s a coin-toss of who is going to win this battle and continue to habitat the planet.

Comedic-relief? In the ape-apocalypse!??!

This new, rough, tough and re-vamped Apes franchise has been a pretty solid one, to say the least. I say “has” because apparently, it’s going to be the last. Well, at least, for now, and it’s odd because the movie seems like it still could continue on, getting better and better, and make more money for all of those involved. It’s one of the rare franchises that, if over, I’d be a little sad to see gone because, hey, these movies were actually pretty good and considering that the word “franchise” nowadays brings about gag-reflexes, it’s nice to have something that makes up for all of the marketing and tie-ins.

That said, War for the Planet of the Apes is still a fine movie that, whether or not it being the end, still works because it presents a pretty dark and disturbing future that the past two movies have tried to build-on. The only issue that I’ve had with these movies, and especially this one, is that they’re just so dour and mean at times, it almost feels like they’re trying way too hard. Director Matt Reeves knows exactly what he’s doing with this material for the second time around and it’s clear that he’s taking this premise, this world, and this idea incredibly seriously, without barely any jokes or goofiness thrown in there for good measure, but often times, it feels like he’s maybe trying to out-serious himself.

It’s basically the only summer blockbuster you’ll ever see that may depress you and mean to do so in the process.

And that isn’t to say that movies such as these can’t be ultra, super duper serious, because that’s fine; in this world, where the apes have taken over, the humans are struggling, and yet, for some reason, we’re still supposed to root for the more powerful species, things are allowed to be told to us without a punchline. But Reeves can also get a little sucked into this sadness and depression and because of that, the movie can often feel slow, plodding and above all else, a little boring. It’s too in-love with its own dourness that it’s almost too afraid to get its act together and start moving somewhere, hell, anywhere.

But as usual, once it does get going, War is quite the ride, mostly because, like I’ve stated before, Reeves knows what he’s doing with this tale. It’s actually quite interesting how the story plays-out – not by hitting the same sort of beats and conventions that we’re used to seeing with these kinds of stories, but keeping us, the audience, in the dark, for as much and as long as possible. Reeves always seems to have a little trick up his sleeve and because of that, the movie almost feels dangerous, as if anything bad, disastrous, or awful, could happen at literally any second.

“The horror.”

I know, it sounds all so simple and easy, but trust me, this is the kind of stuff that so many movies get wrong and/or can’t do, like at all.

But that’s why War, even despite it being the saddest thing since Trump’s Twitter, still works – it does get moving and can be fun, exciting, and hell, even a little scary. It’s the right kind of blockbuster and honestly, I’d say more about it, but basically, it does everything that the last movie just did, except also wants to provide some closure. And sure, that’s fine; possibly saying goodbye Andy Serkis’ Caesar is a bummer, because Serkis is always so good in the roles, as well as the fellow new apes along for the ride, like Steve Zahn’s possible comic-relief. But a possible ending also does provide a better hope and future for the state of franchise flicks, in that they don’t always have to be about the Easter-eggs, the tie-ins, the merchandise, the references, or even about the greater universe.

Honestly, all it needs to be about is telling a good story, with good characters, and a compelling arch that we want to see continue on, for many, many more movies. That’s what this franchise was able to do – even though, back in the day, it seemed like it was a dead brand – and it’s the hope that for the future franchises to come, they’ll take a lesson or two.

Let’s just hope they brighten up the damn rooms, though.

Consensus: Undeniably thrilling, emotional and exciting, War provides all of the action and adventure, as well as the darkness you’d expect from this ramped-up franchise by now.

8 / 10

And they’re not monkeying around! That works in this context, right?

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Norman: The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer (2017)

Can’t trust anybody. Not even randomly kind Jewish men.

Norman (Richard Gere), a New York fixer, knows the right people and can get things done. He also can tend to be a bit overzealous and, as a result, begin to scare more people away, than actually bring them in and closer. Often too, his tactics can be a little odd and rub certain people the wrong way. But then again, those are the kinds of people Norman doesn’t want to really work with, which is why when an Israeli dignitary named Eshel (Lior Ashkenazi) comes to the city, Norman decides to impress the man by buying him some very expensive shoes and seeing if they can build on some sort of friendship. It works and he establishes a strong connection to the man, and it helps him when Eshel becomes Israel prime minister a few years later and, get this, actually remembers Norman and wants him to help out in his office. Norman accepts, but also wishes that he was a lot closer to Eshel and the inner-workings. Eventually, this causes issues for both men and will ultimately prove to be Norman’s unraveling, where his real life, all the secrets and lies that he’s kept throughout the years, finally come to lie.

“Trust me, it’s cold out.”

Norman feels like it’s based on a true story, but it really isn’t. In a way, writer/director Joseph Cedar seems to be basing this story off the numerous individuals who work in the strategy-world portion of politics and he doesn’t seem to be frowning upon them, nor even glamorizing them – in fact, he’s more or less just giving them the fair-shake they probably deserve. Political fixers, so often, are seen as heartless, tactful, and evil-doers who find a way to win and keep at it, no matter what. Why on Earth we look down upon these people as less than human, when in reality, they’re just really good at their jobs. And in Norman, the idea we get about political-fixers, as well as the title-character, is that being good at your job is one thing, but being a good and smart human being is another.

Although, that’s what I think.

See, the small issue with Norman is that the movie never really knows just what proves to be his actual fall-from-grace, because honestly, we never really get to see the rise, either. Of course, the word “Moderate” in the title probably says it all, but honestly, when your movie is built around the fact that your lead character doesn’t really accomplish a whole lot, yet, still falls down dramatically off the social-ladder, it’s hard to really feel any pain or emotion. We may care for this character, or even what he’s doing, but if we really don’t get the sense of what’s being accomplished and lost, then really, what’s the point?

Well, Israel’s got enough problems on its plate, honestly.

If anything, Norman proves to be another solid showcase for Richard Gere who, so late in his life, almost doesn’t care how big the movies he’s doing are. By now, he’s so happy to be able to work with these three-dimensional, interesting characters, that he’ll take the budget on, regardless. And as the title-character, Gere’s quite good here; he has every opportunity to play it silly and cartoonish, but thankfully, he strays away from that. In fact, what we see with Gere’s portrayal is a small, rather smart man who also just wants to be recognized, praised, and above all else, loved.

In a way, if you look closer and closer into Norman, the movie does show itself as an intimate character-study of this one relatively troubled man who, despite seeming to have it all, still wants a little more. Cedar is a smart director to know when to get in the way of his ensemble, but because he doesn’t and they’re all good, we see more sides to these characters than ever expected, especially Gere’s Norman. He begins to show his true shadows and signs that, once broken down, unveil a very unexcited and disappointing man. The movie doesn’t really hit as hard, or as heavy as it should, but considering there’s Gere here, it’s safe to say that he’s still an interesting enough character to watch wheel-and-deal for over two-hours.

Anybody else, anywhere else, probably would have been a pain.

Consensus: Though it never really delivers going any deeper than it should have, Norman still works as a smart, interesting character-study, anchored by an even better Richard Gere performance.

7 / 10

Someone give him a hug already!

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

The House (2017)

Cautionary tale?

Scott and Kate Johansen (Will Ferrell and Amy Poehler) have been planning their whole lives for their daughter’s moment she goes off to college. However, when the scholarship money falls though, they have to think of something and something quick, which eventually involves their close buddy Frank (Jason Mantzoukas). In other words, they put their brains together and think of something so crazy, so barbaric, and so insane, that hell, it just might work. That’s right, an underground casino where adults from all over the little town can come together, get wild, get crazy, throw money at the walls, and have a grand old time, as if they were young, free and without any damn responsibilities anymore. The only issue is that, for Scott, Kate, Frank, and well, everybody else, they are old and have something resembling responsibilities, making this casino a much more dangerous and scary place than any of them ever wanted it to become.

Homage to Scorsese? Or once again, just improv? Who knows.

It’s crazy to think a comedy starring two of the best, funniest, and brightest talents in the game, with plenty others surrounding them, would come and land with an absolute thud like the House did, but unfortunately, that’s what happened. It wasn’t screened for critics, it was barely advertised, and oh yeah, it didn’t really do well at the box-office, even despite both Ferrell and Poehler still being draws. What happened?

Well, the short is that it’s not a very good comedy.

But the long is that it’s just like every other studio comedy out there made in the world in that it features barely any story, cohesion, or interesting-writing, but instead, features a bunch of funny, incredibly talented people, just making everything up as they go along. Normally, I’d be disappointed with this, but considering that we literally just got the same thing a few weeks ago with Rough Night, it’s hard to really expect much else; without having to actually put any thought or effort into how these movies play-out, how the jokes build, and eventually, play out, the general idea is that you get a bunch of funny people around, put a camera in front of them, film, and let the magic happen.

Magic can occasionally happen in cases such as these and even in the House, there are some slight glimmers of true fun comedy. But the issue is that the laughs and fun happen so very few and far between one that, even at 80 minutes, it still feels like a stretch. Hell, you’d think that with such a short movie to begin with, that we wouldn’t have to sit through much and make this feel like more of a slog, but somehow, that’s exactly what happens. And yes, it’s exactly what happens when you don’t really put much of any effort into anything, other than getting a solid cast of funny people together.

Then again, maybe I’m putting too much thought into a movie like the House.

Children. They’re the future and why we do the crazy shit that we do.

Then again, maybe I’m not. Maybe I just appreciate it when a movie with as funny and as promising as a premise as the House, actually delivers on not just the funny, but also the promise, and gives us a, get this, a solid comedy. It doesn’t have to change the world, it doesn’t have to break down any barriers, and it sure as hell doesn’t have to be perfect – all it has to do is be funny and feel like it was at least written more than half-way through. The House doesn’t feel like that, though, and it not only suffers because of it, but so does everybody else, too.

And yes, this is to say that Poehler, Ferrell, Mantzoukas, and so many other well-known, talented and reliably funny people here who show up and give it their all, are indeed funny, but at times, it can’t help but feel like their talents are being wasted. Literally, not a single one of them play an actual character that makes sense, or at the very least, works in this movie’s small world; sometimes, even the bittiest kind of character-development can go a long way into helping us realize just why a person is why they are and why watching them is so funny to begin with. It’s simple movie-writing 101 and honestly, I shouldn’t even have to state this, but unfortunately, movies like the House exist and continue to come out, therefore, making it all the more understandable to bring up why a script matters.

Even for, yes, a comedy.

Consensus: Although everyone tries and can occasionally be funny, the House doesn’t live up to the promise of its premise, nor does it really have all that many laughs to help guide along its incredibly short 80-minute run-time.

4.5 / 10

What? Is there anything else you ought to do with money?

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

Paris Can Wait (2017)

Be yourself, momma!

Anne (Diane Lane) is in Cannes with her husband Michael (Alec Baldwin), a prominent movie producer. As the festival ends she learns that the vacation she and her husband were supposed to go on in Paris will be slightly delayed as they need to go to Budapest first. They plan to fly to Paris, but the pilot suggests Anne not fly due to an ear infection. Michael’s producing partner Jacques (Arnaud Viard) offers to drive Anne to Paris himself. But here’s what Anne doesn’t know, or better yet, expect: Jacques is going to take it upon himself to not just wine and dine her, but also even take her to bed. Why? Or better yet, how could he? Well, it’s because he’s French and that’s just the sort of wacky things that they do, right? Anyway, Anne doesn’t know whether to be flattered, or appalled, but mostly, just wants to be left alone where she can take pictures, enjoy the food, the scenery, and occasional good conversation that gets so very deep, she doesn’t know if she’s made the right decisions in her life.

Should it be Alec?

Paris Can Wait is probably the most perfect movie to take your older-relative out to this summer. If they don’t want the slam-bang, loud action of the blockbusters, then give them something small, quiet, sweet and relatively carefree that doesn’t ask for much except just your undivided attention for, oh, I don’t know, say an-hour-and-a-half, if even that. Which means that it’s a fine little movie in its own right, but does that make it really any good?

Not really. But once again, think about your older-relatives. They like movies, too, and why should they be forgotten about? Why? Because they don’t care for Transformers? Or some dude swinging a web? In this general sense, then Paris Can Wait is probably the most perfect movie around: Inoffensive, simple, and easy-to-follow. It’s not setting out to hurt, kill, or maim anyone, but then again, should it?

Better yet, coming from the matriarch of the Coppola family, shouldn’t it do that, and a whole lot more?

Yes, probably, but as is, it’s fine. Writer/director Eleanor Coppola has set out to make a small movie that tries to discuss all aspects about life, love, growing old, having regrets, and yes, appreciating everything around you, but doesn’t really seem to touch on any aspect all that much; it’s as if she’s treading along, hoping to catch something deep, dark, and rather emotional, but doesn’t. And as a result, we’re left with a movie that’s about so many different, small things, but not totally about a whole lot much else.

Or some French creeper?

It’s a shame, too, because at the center of this tale is a really great performance from Diane Lane who, is still just as beautiful as she was in Francis Ford’s the Cotton Club, but also a lot wiser and smarter of a performer. As Anne, Lane, gets the opportunity to show us a sad and, at times, confused older women who doesn’t quite know if she’s happy with the life she’s lived, but also knows that it’s a little too late to change everything up and act as if it never happened. There’s a very surprisingly and emotional scene involving Anne in a church and it’s a great bit of acting from Lane and probably the best part of the movie.

In other words, it comes out of nowhere and actually goes somewhere.

Something that, unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t follow through with. Sure, it’s enjoyable and a feast on the eyes, ears and probably even, the heart, but at the end of the day, it’s just a piece of time passing by. And what would you much rather do with your time left on this planet: Watch a mediocre movie starring Diane Lane? Or, actually live and experience life, go to Paris, drink wine, eat fatty food, have sex, be naked, and yes, just enjoy things around you?

But hey, don’t forget about those older-relatives. They’re what really matters, after all.

Consensus: With a solid lead performance from Diane Lane, Paris Can Wait gets by as an enjoyable diversion to whatever else is out there in the cinemas (hey, remember those?).

5 / 10

Aw, who cares, Diane! Just take those pics, gal!

Photos Courtesy of: Citizen Charlie

The Big Sick (2017)

Disease can kill. But also heal. Right? Not sure.

Kumail (Kumail Nanjiani) is a Pakistani comic living in the windy city of Chicago and, along with his fellow comics, is just trying to get by and hopefully, hit the big-time. But his whole life begins to change when he meets an American graduate student named Emily (Zoe Kazan) at one of his stand-up shows and immediately, the two hit it off. The only issue standing in the way of their relationship is that Kumail’s parents want him to get married within his religion. If he doesn’t comply, then guess? He’s practically kicked out of the family and never allowed to contact them ever again. It’s a shame, but it’s something that Kumail, despite his family’s best wishes, has sort of been trying to live against. Which is why Emily doesn’t know how to react to all of this. As a result, they break-up and Kumail is left back to dating women within his religion. But then, suddenly, Emily is in a coma and even worse, her parents (Ray Romano and Holly Hunter), travel all the way up up from North Carolina to see what’s happening with their daughter. It puts Kumail in an awkward situation, but it also makes him want to not just give this family a shot, but possibly even the relationship a shot. When she wakes up, that is.

Is this love? Or just a stand-in?

And here’s the real kicker: It’s all true. Yup. Co-writers Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon are, get this, a real life married-couple who met exactly like this and because of that, we’re allowed to sit back, watch and enjoy their dark, twisted, sometimes funny, but always sweet romance blossom (?). Which is odd because the Big Sick takes on so many different plot-threads and tones, that it’s a true wonder how any of it comes together in a cohesive manner, or at all.

Director Michael Showlater knows what he’s doing with this kind of material, in that he knows how to play-up the laughs, but also the sadness and sometimes weightiness of it, too. It’s a slippery-slope that Showlater balances around and while he doesn’t always make it work perfectly, the balancing act is way more skillful, the more you think about it and realize that he’s taking somebody’s else’s own material/life, and doing it all justice. It’s nothing flashy, it’s nothing spectacular, and it sure as hell isn’t anything surprising – it’s just sweet and rather good-natured.

Basically like nothing else the guy has ever done before, which is all the more surprising.

But still, it deserves to be noted that another famous figure had a hand in this pie, and it was Judd Apatow. And yes, you feel every bit of it. See, the Big Sick is one of those comedies that deals with a blog plot, but also likes to get side-tracked every so often by random subplots, characters, and jokes that, sometimes work, and other times, don’t. In this movie’s case, it’s hard not to imagine this movie slicing out at least ten-to-15-minutes worth of footage, because after the two-hour mark, it can feel a bit straining.

That look when you can’t decide whether to head for the hills or not.

And it’s not as if the material isn’t funny, or interesting enough – it’s just that it’s all so predictable that, after awhile, you just want it to get over with. We know that Emily survives, we know that she wakes up to smell the cauliflower (or in this case, Kumail), and we know that the two eventually fall in love and get married. So, honestly, why is it taking so long to get there? And better yet, where’s the rest of the story in the film? We get all of this talk about arraigned-marriages and the sort of controversy surrounding Kumail’s companionship to a white woman, but when it comes time to tell that part of the story, the movie sort of lingers over it.

It’s as if, oh no, it wasn’t a problem in the first place.

Either way, I’m clearly taking away a lot from the Big Sick and I shouldn’t; it’s a funny, heartfelt, and well-acted movie that doesn’t live up to all of the insane praise it’s been getting from every person and their grand-mother, but it’s still a nice, small, and sweet diversion from all of the loudness of the summer blockbusters. It’s the kind of movie that people can go into, expecting a romantic-comedy, getting one, but also being a little happy that there was a little more going on than just two attractive and talented people finding one another, falling in love, and yeah, getting married. It’s also a movie about culture, about family, and no matter how insane they both may all drive us, they are, after all, what makes us, us.

So it’s best to just appreciate it all for what it is and shut the hell up!

Consensus: Despite being overly long and uneven, the Big Sick still works because it’s funny, heartfelt, and an interesting rom-com that goes beyond the usual conventions of the formula.

7 / 10

See? They’re all fine!

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Alright. No more reboots!

After being recruited by the one and only Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) and kicking all sorts of ass in the so-called “Civil War”, 15-year-old Peter Parker (Tom Holland), when he isn’t in school, cutting class, or crushing hard on his fellow classmate (Laura Harrier), he’s throwing on his red and blue jumpsuit, shootin’ webs, and yes, stoppin’ crime. The only issue is that he was given specific instructions not to act out in this manner, or else, he wouldn’t be allowed in the Avengers, something Peter has wanted since day one. But Peter thinks that he can keep a low-profile, until real bad stuff starts happening, like when a low-level arms-dealer (Michael Keaton), begins selling highly illegal and dangerous weapons to all sorts of criminals on the streets. Sure, he was supposed to stay cool and calm, but after awhile, Peter just can’t stand by and let this happen, which means that it’s time for him to get involved and kick some butt. The only issue is that he’s got so much pressure, both at home and at school, that he doesn’t quite know how to juggle everything with his personal life and still, at the end of the day, save the world.

Just your friendly dorky neighborhood Peter Parker, everyone!

Such is a daily dilemma for all superheros, I presume.

So yeah, first things first: Spider-Man: Homecoming is, get this, not necessarily an origin story. Believe it or not, what we got to see of Spidey in Civil War was basically all we needed to know about him; he’s fun, goofy, quick-witted, and oh yeah, brash. That’s basically. Co-writer/director Jon Watts, as well as the five other writers here (Jonathan Goldstein, John Francis Daley, Christopher Ford, Chris McKenna, and Erik Sommers) are all smart enough to know that by now, we’ve seen and understood all that there is to know and understood about Peter Parker, his upbringing, where he came from, and all of the backstory that usually plagues another origin-story such as this.

Instead of showing us his first steps, or better yet, the first time he learned how to swing a web, we actually get character-development for Peter, as well as all of those that surround him. Sure, there’s plot about growing up, this baddie lurking somewhere in the distance, and of course, all of the tie-ins to previous Marvel stuff, but really, the movie is all about the characters, how they work with one another, and how exactly they work in this universe. It’s the small things that make these mega-budget, loud, and bombastic summer blockbusters so worth while and it’s why Marvel’s got a solid formula to keep on working with.

Which means that, yes, Homecoming is a swing and a hit. It’s not a home-run, but it’s definitely a solid piece of Marvel entertainment that feels like it’s not just giving us a nice peak inside this already large universe, but also allowing us to get used to these characters for future installments to come. For someone such as myself, who grew up on and adored the Sam Raimi Spider-Man flicks, it’s a little difficult to fully take in this new band of trustees, but after this first showing, they could grow on me. They’re easy-to-like, charming and yes, different enough from the original to where it doesn’t feel like we have to sit down, compare and contrast the two products the whole time.

Wait. Batman? Birdman? Some dude called “Vulture”? What’s going on?!?

Instead, it’s just nice to sit down and appreciate a popcorn superhero flick for being, well, exactly what it sets out to be: Fun.

End of story.

And if we are going to compare, then yes, it’s safe to say that Tom Holland more than fits into the role of Peter Parker because he’s not playing a total and complete dweeb. Sure, Maguire’s take is still heartfelt enough, but really, Holland’s Parker is portrayed more as of a bit of a smart-ass, who also happens to be incredibly smart. Holland’s fun to watch as Parker, but it also helps that he feels and looks like an actual kid; Maguire and Andrew Garfield were both nearly 30-years-old, playing a high-school-aged Parker, seeming like they were just doing dress up for October the 31st. With Holland in the role, he seems like an actual high-school kid, stuck in this sort of situation and because of that, it helps to relate to the kid a bit more.

And really, with our superhero flicks, isn’t that all we want? Someone we can root for, sympathize with, and even identify with? Probably not, but hey, it works for me.

Consensus: Fun, quick, and pretty smart for a superhero flick, Homecoming proves that Spider-Man doesn’t need another damn origin-story, but does need/get/deserve a solid bit of players to look forward to seeing in the near-future.

7.5 / 10

Brought to you by Jansport.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Casting JonBenet (2017)

So wait, who did it?

After two decades of all the questioning, all the guessing, all the myths, all the lies, all the rumors, and all the TV specials that your Grandma DVR’d, JonBenét Ramsey’s murder is still such the talk of the town that movies are being made about her life and possible circumstances surrounding her murder. And in this one special made-for-TV reenactment, countless actors/actresses/writers/directors are put on camera to not just talk about her life, but their own as well, and somehow, how the two can connect in ways that they never ever expected them to.

Don’t get too happy, kiddie. JonBenet was the same way.

But sometimes, that’s not actually the case. In fact, what mostly happens in Casting JonBenet is that just a bunch of people stare straight into the camera, say some awfully odd, goofy things, and continue on as if nothing was ever said in the first place.

Hm, Errol Morris much, eh?

Well, yes and no. See, Casting JonBenet wants to so desperately be like one of Morris’ all-time classics, where the outcasts of society have a little something to say to the camera, whether we want to hear it or not, that it’s actually straining itself. It’s not even that the people involved don’t have interesting things to say or ramble on about – it’s just that it goes on too long, without much of anything resembling a focus. It’s as if the camera was just placed and people walked in front of it and embraced as they wanted.

With Morris’ movies, he was never seeming to really go out of his way for this kind of zany stuff – it all just sort of came to him. And you could sort of make the argument that that’s what happened to director Kitty Green here, but a part of me refuses to believe it. Green clearly has an agenda here and while there’s no problem with their being one from a documentary film-maker, there’s still something to be said for when that agenda doesn’t quite work.

In other words, making fun of people to just make fun of people, while in real life may be the opposite, isn’t so fun to watch.

“Don’t worry, honey, no one reads his blog anyway.”

And that’s why Casting JonBenet, as short as it may be, is a little too much to handle. It’s mean-spirited and a little dumb. It’s as if no one involved really cared much about going deeper and further into what these people said, their lives, or hell, even JonBenet’s life itself. Granted, it’s nice that the movie didn’t go out of its way to make this into an investigative piece about what may or may not have happened to JonBenet, but come on, just listening to people talk about it, getting the facts clearly wrong, and never being corrected on it, cannot just get a little irritating, but pretty damn boring.

And when you’re making a movie, whether a documentary, or narrative-piece, it doesn’t matter, sometimes, you just have to go the extra mile to make sure your audience is in it. For me, I wasn’t; I know that people have loved this movie and what it does with the medium of documentary film-making, but it just didn’t connect with me. I appreciate what it’s attempting to do, its obvious influences, and some of the people here, but yeah, just not totally for me.

Probably why I waited a whole two months to actually get around to reviewing this. Oh well. Sorry, folks.

Consensus: Casting JonBenet tries a little too hard to be like Errol Morris, but in doing so, also forgets what makes his flicks so worthwhile in the first place: The reality of a heart and humanity.

4 / 10

Pay attention, ladies! Ugh! What divas!

Photos Courtesy of: Rolling StoneThe VergeRefinery29

Get Me Roger Stone (2017)

I don’t want me Roger Stone, but I want me a Roger Stone-type, if there’s such a distinction.

You may have heard the name before, but you sure as hell don’t know the face, or the actual accomplishments. To put it as simple as this: Roger Stone is the main reason why there’s been so many Republicans in office these past many decades. If it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have had Nixon, Reagen, Bush, and sure as hell not Trump, in office. But how? Better yet, why? Well, those are two very hard questions to answer, but through as much detail and insider-information as he can possibly give us, Roger Stone will fill us in on a few of his little secrets, and why the hell he’s stuck around so many of these conservatives in the first place.

Monopoly guy?

Or better yet, why he’s still sticking around Trump, despite the guy apparently not having anymore use for him.

Get Me Roger Stone comes ridiculously, almost dangerously close to seeming like a puff-piece for someone who, no doubt about it, is great at their job, but is also a bit of a dick. But how much of a dick is he, really? Or hell, the better question would be just how much of him is actually a dick, and how much of it is a put-on for the rest of the world of media? In all honesty, Get Me Roger Stone never comes up with the answer to that burning question, but it still remains an entertaining portrait of a man you didn’t think you wanted to know anything about in the first place.

Like at all.

Because see, what Get Me Roger Stone does, and does well, is that despite giving us a solid portrait of this challenging, arrogant man, it also makes us realize the obvious truth that, yeah, those people on the other side of the political-spectrum, despite believing in asinine, outdated and prejudicial ideas about society, are still human beings. Get Me Roger Stone is a smart movie in that it shows why Roger Stone, as a voice for all the Republicans and Conservatives out there in the world, still deserves to be hear and, at the very least, understood; we don’t have to agree with the guy, but like you or I, he’s got thoughts and opinions and yeah, they ought to be heard.

Oh, now Tricky Dick? Get me the actual Roger Stone!

Then again, the movie is smart enough in that it doesn’t make any apologies for the guys actions, either. More often than not, Stone will reveal something almost shocking to the camera about his dirty tricks, and sure, while it may seem like he’s a bad person for doing the sort of stuff he essentially brags about, the movie also makes us realize that, hey, it’s his job to be this dirty. And better yet, he’s also doing his job; almost every politician that he’s helped back up has become President, when it seemed like they didn’t have a prayer of ever getting into office.

Sure, he’s a dick. No doubt about it. But man, he sure knows politics.

And that’s all Get Me Roger Stone comes down to. By the end it starts to get serious and discuss Trump, but really, it’s a light, entertaining and sometimes hilarious look at the backstabbing, the gossip, and playtime that is politics. It’s a movie that’s as in love with the idea of politics, as much as it is with Roger Stone, or people just like him, but it also can’t forget that there is something fascinating about this guy, the way he carries himself, and just why he’s been so under-the-radar. After all, with a winning-record like his, maybe he should have been President, rather than Code Orange?

Actually, then again, nope. I’m fine. Let’s just get someone else and quick.

Consensus: Maybe not the deepest, most thought-provoking documentary about the blue politicians out there in the world, Get Me Roger Stone is still a fun, entertaining and insightful look at this one man, his career, as well as the rough, tough, but impressive job he has to do in order to win.

7 / 10

Oh, and second though, never mind. This one’s already tainted. Get me another one.

Photos Courtesy of: ViceNational ReviewRoger Ebert

Nobody Speak: Trials of the Free Press (2017)

If you can’t trust the Hulkster anymore, who can ya trust?

It all started with Gawker and Hulk Hogan. After a sex-tape leaked of the later performing in salacious acts with his so-called buddy’s wife, from the former’s website, well, a lawsuit was made and everyone was taken to court. But here was the odd thing about the case: While it may have seemed like a win for Gawker, somehow, the case turned out to be way more different. Freedom of speech, the first amendment, the right to privacy – all of this was argued, but for some reason, someone who was clearly in the wrong (in this case, the Hulkster), seemed to be winning. But this one singular case turns out to be just a small piece of a much larger pie where news agencies are being bought-out by rich and successful Republican/Conservatives who want nothing more than to control the media and ensure that they have the final say of what’s written, what’s published, and what ideas are being let out to the rest of the world. It’s the world we live in and quite frankly, it doesn’t seem to be getting any better – for common citizens, or hell, journalists.

Wait, who is he swearing in? Hulk Hogan, or Terry Bolea? There’s a clear distinction, people!

Nobody Speak is obviously a very important movie for the times, but then again, this is coming from a journalist, who loves it when movies about journalism, or about certain issues in the field, are made, let alone, actually very good. Sure, Nobody Speak will work for anyone who is, at the very least, interested in what’s going on in our current world of media, whether they want to believe it or not, but for a journalist, this can’t help but seem like a cry for help, as well as a call-to-arms. Cause on one hand, it’s a movie that proves why smart, evenhanded journalism is absolutely needed for the world, but on the other, it’s also a movie that shows why a lot of that may be going away in hopes that certain rich people, can stay rich and protect themselves from any sort of scrutiny.

And sure, if you want to talk about Trump, then go for it, but honestly, Nobody Speak is much smarter than that.

It’s the kind of documentary that has so many targets it can aim at and hit with its clear precision, but it also strays away from because, well, there’s so much more to talk about than people like Trump, or Pence, or hell, even Hulk freakin’ Hogan. Which, speaking of the later, is interesting because while the movie starts out by focusing on this one case, the controversy surrounding it, the facts, the eventual conclusion, and what exactly happened in the courtroom, it also turns the other cheek to show how this was just a microcosm of a much bigger issue. It’s not as if Hulk Hogan speaks for the rest of the Conservative-world when he speaks about having his feelings hurt and his public-image tarnished, but it certainly helps that he’s set there in place, to help us understand that he’s not just the part of the problem, he may be the problem.

Uhm, yeah. Gawker was a pretty crappy site. But hey, that’s not the point!

Which is why Nobody Speak, is a smart documentary. It has so many issues and problems it wants to talk about, raise, and give examples for, that when it’s all over, it’s quite shocking how far it’s able and willing to go. Director Brian Knappenberger deserves a huge amount of credit for actually tackling this subject just as if it were another story on his desk, with all of the facts, ideas, and themes fully realized, giving us a clearer picture, the more we start to see the pieces fall together. It’s smart directing, for sure, but it’s also more astounding that he was able to still get everything together in a smart, cohesive manner to where we understand everything that is being laid-out to us, as well as why the hell it actually matters.

And whether or not you’re in the journalism world, guess what? Nobody Speak matters. Watch it. Learn it. And yes, don’t shut up. For anyone. No matter how many wads they have in their pockets.

Consensus: As timely as it is compelling, Nobody Speak starts small and silly with Hulk Hogan, before it turns the other cheek and becomes about what’s happening in our current landscape of the media today, and why we should all pay extra close attention.

8.5 / 10

I’d look like that too if my career, as I knew it, was over and done with.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Baby Driver (2017)

Look like a baby, drive like a baby.

Ever since a near-fatal car-accident left him with a severe case of tinnitus, Baby (Ansel Elgort) has been living his whole life with and by music. Strapped with ear-buds always in, and music always playing, he lives life to a soundtrack, knowing just the right sound, for the perfect mood, no matter what he’s doing. And in his line of work – as the go-to getaway driver – this matters most. After all, without Baby’s insanely impressive and crazy driving-skills, the bank jobs he’s apart of wouldn’t ever get done the correct way. But Baby wants more to life than just driving bank-robbers left and right, and after he meets a local waitress named Deborah (Lily James), he can’t help but see a bright and lovely future. The only issue is that he’s still on the hook to his employer Doc (Kevin Spacey), who’s not only the one feeding Baby all of these jobs, but actually making sure he, as well as those that he loves, are still alive. It’s something Baby doesn’t like to have hold over his head, so he does every job, without any questions asked, but with the arrival of rough and tough criminal Bats (Jamie Foxx), let’s just say things get a little tricky.

“Freebird” is always a must, right?

Baby Driver isn’t Edgar Wright’s best. Not by a long shot, in fact. However, it’s still everything you love and expect from a movie of his: Fast, witty, exciting, hilarious, silly, weird, full of obscure pop-culture references you don’t ever expect to hear, action-packed, and yes, charming-as-hell. In a way, it’s just nice to see an Edgar Wright movie, regardless of how great, lovely, or near-perfect it is; after what he went through with the whole Ant-Man debacle, it’s just nice to say we have a new Edgar Wright movie, rather than none at all.

Regardless, Baby Driver is still a good movie, all junk aside. It’s typical of Wright to take on the whole heist/crime-genre and never seem to lose an ounce of momentum throughout the whole two-hour run-time. Sure, it’s a movie about an insanely skilled getaway driver, so you’d automatically assume that it was just fast for the driving-sequences (which it is) and slow down for everything else, right?

Well, wrong.

In fact, Wright is just as energetic with the scenes of people sitting around tables, talking and going on and on about random stuff, than he is with any of the car-chases. Don’t get me wrong, the car-chases are still performed, filmed, and paced incredibly well, but Wright never lets up for a single second here, but it doesn’t matter, because it works and just adds an extra level of enjoyment to an already enjoyable movie. Rather than being way too much, for way too long, without a single breather to be found, Baby Driver turns out to be the well-deserved burst of energy that never lets up, keeps on trucking along, but keeps on finding ways to make it more exciting than before.

Just look at that baby-face. How could you want to smash it!

Which is to say that, nope, Baby Driver is not repetitive. It’s just a fun movie, plain and simple. It’s hard to totally pin-point down what about makes it such a blast to watch, other than to say, yeah, it’s fun. Obviously, you should see it.

And honestly, that’s why I have such an issue talking about Edgar Wright movies. I enjoy all of them immensely and while it’s a close battle between Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim as my favorite, it’s really hard for me to find total flaws with any of the others. In a way, some are just more enjoyable than others, and it’s more or a feeling that’s hard to actually put into words; call it lazy, call it what you will, but it’s been a problem for me ever since I started writing these things and have wanted to give Wright an extra shout-out, here and there.

It’s just that his movies are all solid pieces of entertainment, to say how and why, doesn’t really matter.

And yes, that’s sort of beauty about Baby Driver, as a whole. It’s just an honestly great piece of summer blockbuster fun that, unfortunately, probably won’t make a lot of money, because it’s too weird and too off-kilter for its own good. But it’s also a perfect sign of why visionaries and creative-genius’ like Wright deserve to make movies, no matter what they’re about, how much money’s behind them, and who actually wants to see them. Cause, at the end of the day, everyone’s going to enjoy them, it’s just all a matter of where and when.

So yeah, see Baby Driver.

Consensus: Even if it’s not Wright’s best, Baby Driver is still the same old kind of energetic, stylish, crazy, wacky, wild, and genre-smashing bit of fun we’ve come to know, learn, expect, and love from him and his incredible talents.

8 / 10

Someone’s got red on them.

Photos Courtesy of: Film School Rejects, Indiewire

The Bad Batch (2017)

Cannibals gotta eat, too.

In the near-future, where it seems like the rest of the world is either on the brink of self-destruction, or already there, lies an odd area outside of Texas where there are no rules, laws, or jurisdictions whatsoever. And in that case, that means anything goes, where anyone can do whatever it is that they have to do to survive. It’s surely not the easiest place for anyone out there, and especially not a small, seemingly innocent girl by the name of Arlen (Suki Waterhouse), who just gets dropped in the air, only to then lose an arm and leg, very shortly afterwards. Why though? Oh, because there’s cannibals lurking just about everywhere you look in this awful wasteland and it’s up to Arlen herself to not just stay away from these terrible folks, but not become one of them herself. And while there, she meets someone named Miami (Jason Momoa), a Cuban who may look like a sinister and mean son-of-a-bitch, but in reality, just wants his daughter back – the same daughter that Arlen has in her company with good reason.

In a post-apocalyptic world where human flesh is desired, don’t worry, supermodels survive.

The Bad Batch isn’t so much of a mess, as much as it’s just a simple, pretty ordinary movie that strains to be something strange, odd, weird, and hella different, but in reality, is just like many other Mad Max rip-offs ever made in the past few decades. It’s grimy, hot, dirty, mean, grotesque, weird, and packed with a whole lot of wide, sweeping shots of the desert, but there’s one key ingredient missing: Excitement. See, without any of that, you just have an ordinary, everyday thriller that longs to be something way different and out-of-this-world, but ultimately, is just so slow and boring that it feels like it’s being made-up on the spot, but without all that much time, thought, rhyme, or reason of why everything’s playing out the way it is.

Okay, so yeah, maybe it’s a bit of a mess.

But still, the Bad Batch isn’t as bad as people have been making it out to be; if anything, it’s just a two-hour-long movie that feels longer and probably could have been cut by at least 30-to-40-minutes and no one would have been the wiser. Of course, you’ve got to give it to writer/director Ana Lily Amirpour who, after achieving some surprising success with A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, seems to have gotten total and complete creative-control with this here, for better and for worse. It’s nice that she was willing to make such an impact with her equally odd and strange debut, but whereas that movie seemed like it had somewhere to go, even while it was making itself up as it went along, this one seems like she doesn’t really have the slightest clue of where she wants it to go.

Then again, you can’t totally blame her. Not only does Amirpour have a bigger budget this time, but she’s got a bigger cast, scope, and yes, way more toys to play around with. In that sense, then Amirpour makes it worth her while; the movie looks muggy and disgusting, but deservedly so, as if it may have been taking place on the outskirts of Thunderdome, but still seeming like it’s own place. If there’s anything that Amirpour achieves here, it’s a nice general sense of the world that she’s created and the characters she’s given us to help make sense of this messed-up, sickening and twisted world.

I don’t know, Suki. May be a little too much man to handle.

That said, it does take awhile to get through it all which, ultimately, keeps the Bad Batch from fully getting off the ground. And it’s not even that it’s a terribly boring movie – there are some nice bits of tension that seem to work themselves out, the more drawn-out they are – it’s just that it takes so long to actually get going to where it needs to get going. There’s not much of a story to begin with, but then again, there wasn’t much of one with Amirpour’s debut; that movie had the benefit of going down certain weird and crazy avenues, while definitely random, made the movie all the more interesting to watch.

The Bad Batch doesn’t quite know where it wants to go, or what it’s actually interested in and therefore, it makes it harder for us, the audience, to get all that interested, either.

And it’s a shame, too, because Amirpour shows that she’s capable of handling a bigger-budget, with a bigger-cast and scope, it’s just that her story isn’t totally there. Had at least 15 minutes of the pauses and silences been cut-out, the Bad Batch would have been a tighter, much more compelling ride through this deserted wasteland. But as it stands, it’s just way too long, without all that much of a direction in sight.

Unlike, of course, any of the Mad Max‘s. Sorry, Ana Lily. Next time, I can feel it.

Consensus: With a bigger-budget and names, the Bad Batch shows Amirpour can handle more on her plate, except nail down tone, story, and well, pacing. Aka, the essentials for making a solid, exciting and relatively compelling thriller.

5.5 / 10

Oooh. Cheeky.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Rough Night (2017)

Girl power. Right, guys?

Jess (Scarlett Johansson), Alice (Jillian Bell), Frankie (Ilana Glazer), and Blair (Zoë Kravitz) were all once the best of friends in college. They drank, partied, danced, did drugs, and well, had sex together. But now, a decade later, they’re all, well, old. Alice is still holding on to her golden days; Frankie is still a rebel/hippie, sticking it to the man; Blair just got out of a rough divorce and is now an even worse custody-battle; and Jess, after years of trying to make a name for herself, is a politician who is now also finally getting married to her sweet man, Peter (Paul W. Downs). Which, of course, now means that it’s time to get the whole gang back together for a night full of fun, sex, drugs, and strippers. But an obvious wrench gets thrown into the mix when the stripper they hire surprisingly dies. Now, the gals have no clue what to do, and when they aren’t sparring with Jess’ other friend, Pippa (Kate McKinnon), they’re sparring with one another, trying to get out of this situation and not kill each other in the process.

Get a bad boy, girls!

It’s not hard to feel a little conflicted about Rough Night; it’s an R-rated comedy, starring women, directed by a woman, and even co-written by a woman, Lucia Aniello of Broad City fame. And yes, in a world where it seems like fewer and fewer of these movies are starting to pop-up, it’s nice to get a little reminder that women run the world, they’re fun, and hell, they can be just as, if not more, raunchier than their male counterparts. It’s why more movies like Rough Night deserve to be made, regardless of key demographics and it’s also a sign that, perhaps, the times do need to change. If not now, really, really soon.

But then again, I’m conflicted because while I’m happy the movie was made, by who made it, and who’s all starring in it, I still can’t help but feel like the movie should have been way better, more well-written, and well, funnier.

In fact, a whole lot funnier.

The general idea with studio-comedies isn’t whether the laughs are great, or huge, or even all that well-earned – it’s all a matter of if you laughed enough times, and if so, does that justify spending the time to go out and see it. In that case, then yes, Rough Night deserves to be seen because as a comedy, it can be funny. Granted, it’s not the most original premise out there in the world, but considering that it’s women in said premise, it makes it seem a bit fresher, even if the jokes aren’t always connecting. Rough Night is also one of those studio-comedies where everyone seems to improvising their butts off, which can provide to be funny, at times, but at others, a little tedious.

Drink up, girls!

So yeah, Rough Night can be funny, but it also feels like, given the cast and crew involved, why wasn’t it funnier? Why did it just reach the bare-minimum of humor? Why couldn’t it go above and beyond all of that? Some of that has to do with the fact that the movie was mostly all improvised by everyone involved, but it also has to do with the fact that the movie just doesn’t quite move as well as it should; even the premise itself, while familiar, still feels like a sad excuse just to have all of these women stand around a room, make dick jokes, curse, and yeah, do what they do best.

Which again, it works well enough because everyone involved is talented and can make wonders with whatever it is that they touch. But even they feel like more of architectured types, then actually, full-fledged people. Johansson’s Jess is a super-serious professional type who gets a little crazy, but not too much; Bell’s Alice just wants the party to keep on going; Glazer’s Frankie is a bit of a free-spirit; Kravitz’s Blair is sort of just there, who has a little bit of a past with lesbianism; and McKinnon’s Pippa, perhaps the only real star of the show, has some light and fun to her, but ultimately feels like an annoying sidekick, used for jokes every so often when the going gets serious. Trust me, they’re all fine and make this material work, in often times when it shouldn’t, but even they deserve a little bit better.

So yeah, you’ll laugh at Rough Night. Probably. But female-fronted films can do way, way better.

Consensus: Even with the obvious talent on display, Rough Night still feels like a mixed-bag of comedy that doesn’t always work and should be way funnier than it actually is.

5 / 10

Walk it out, girls!

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire

The Dinner (2017)

Have a nice, friendly din-din with your bro, they said.

Paul (Steve Coogan) and his wife, Claire (Laura Linney) get ready to spend an evening with his brother and sister-in-law at a fancy restaurant where they can catch up, discuss some things, and yeah, just do what adults do by a certain age when not much else is left to do: Try to one-up each other. It’s this sole reason that Paul doesn’t want to go, but there’s something going on with his son (Charlie Plummer) that this dinner needs to address and rather than sitting around, moping, and not seeing anything getting better, Paul decides to suck it up and have dinner with his brother and his wife. And said brother, who also happens to be Congressman Stan Lohman (Richard Gere), knows that he and Paul have some things to address, but it takes too long to get there because, well, they don’t quite get along. There’s a history there and it’s something that keeping this dinner away from being, at the very least, a civilized one. Tack on the fact that Stan’s wife, Katelyn (Rebecca Hall), isn’t in the best of moods, either, and yeah, it’s going to be a long night.

Steve Coogan is sure-as-hell wishing that he was dinner at with Rob Brydon right about now.

Without going so far as to review the Dinner on what could have been, instead of its merits like one should always do, there’s a part of me that wishes it had been a lot easier, simpler, and laid-out than what actually happens. See, on the surface, there’s a movie that’s ripe with promise of tension, questions, answers, family-history, and well, ideas about the world we live in, the world we make for future generations to come around, and most above all, politics. In that sense, had the movie just been a four-hander between these four very talented actors, just waxing on and on about life and all of its issues, then yes, the Dinner probably would have been as compelling as it promised.

But unfortunately, that doesn’t happen.

The Dinner is, for lack of a better term, overstuffed beyond belief and way too busy to really work with itself out. Director Oren Moverman has proven in the past that he has a knack for telling small, subtle, but dark tales about everyday humans, but for some reason, he gets wrapped-up in way too much going on here; granted, it was Cate Blanchett who was originally supposed to direct here, but dropped out, leaving Moverman to pick up the pieces. He tries to make sense of the many strands of plot this movie has, but after awhile, once the eighth or tenth unnecessary flashback hits the screen, it becomes really repetitive and really annoying, really quick.

After all, it’s only breaking up any of the tension that the actors create here in the first place, making it seem like the material was too troubling to work with in the first place, or that Moverman didn’t trust these actors enough to really give the movie all the intensity it needed to work. And when it’s just them four, sitting around a table, it’s quite a treat to watch; Coogan, Linney, Gere, and as usual, Hall, are all pros at what they do and can handle whatever this sometimes wacky script throws at them. However, it gets to become a problem when the movie steps away from them so much, almost to the point of where you wonder whether the title is ironic, or if there is actually supposed to be a so-called “Dinner” taking place?

I don’t know who’s their daddy, but Richard Gere and Steve Coogan did not came from the same mother.

And if so, with whom? Or better yet, will we actually be able to watch it?

Still though, it’s hard to hate a movie with this cast because when the Dinner is on them, it’s fun and rather, exciting. It’s a true testament to what can happen, even if you have a weak script, when you have a solid cast, doing what they do best: Act. Coogan’s probably the most impressive here, as his character not only gets the most development out of the four, but also gets to show off his much darker, meaner and weirder side that we don’t too often see. Sure, his American-accent is a little too odd for me to fully buy, but in this character’s case, it sort of works. Yeah, I’m still not sure.

However, the movie not only needed more of him, but yeah, everyone else, too. It’s called “the Dinner” for a reason – let’s see said “Dinner” actually occur.

Consensus: Despite solid performances from the four leads, the Dinner suffers from a way too busy and hackneyed plot that does so much, it breaks up any of the tension that’s meant to be felt with dark and disturbing material such as this.

5 / 10

“Cheers to pure hatred and contempt for one another and everything around us!”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Graduation (Bacalaureat) (2017)

As if school wasn’t rough enough. Thanks, Dad!

With his daughter’s high school graduation coming up, Romeo (Adrian Titieni) couldn’t be more than excited for both himself, as well as her. For him, it’s a sign that all of the years of hard-work and ensuring that his daughter got the education and treatment she deserved, have finally paid off, and for Eliza (Maria Dragus), it’s a sign that it’s time to grow up and move along with life. After all, her father has her locked, loaded and ready to ship out to a fancy school in England where, if she gets passing-grades on her finals, she’ll be spending the next few years of her life and, hopefully, out of a rugged, gritty, and dirty place like where they’re living in in Romania. But of course, it all begins to fall apart when, on the way to school one day, Eliza is attacked by a random person and possibly even raped. Now, with the finals coming up swiftly, Romeo uses every advantage in his power to make sure that his daughter not only takes the final exam, but passes and can move away, as soon as possible. But with everything going on in his life, added on with plenty more now, it seems like Romeo’s dreams may not at all come true.

Yeah, every teenager loves being surrounded by the cops and their dads.

Graduation is the kind of movie where it seems like nothing is happening, but if you really look deep in and hard enough, chances are, you’ll realize that almost everything is happening. It’s a story about one girl’s graduation and a father’s acceptance of her growing up and moving away, of course, but it’s also about so much more; it’s also about one man, at odds with the world around him, trying to make sense of an ugly place that, in all honesty, he partakes in. After all, we get to know more and more about this daughter, the father, and hell, even the mother, so much to the point where we realize that it’s more than just a slice-of-life tale, but a dark, understated look at these relationships and how they’ve constantly been getting worse and worse as the years have gone by.

You know, like is the case with all families, hate to say it.

But writer/director Cristian Mungiu is a much smarter film-maker than to just let this all be known to us, right off the bat. Nope. Instead, Mungiu takes his time, letting us know small, certain details about these characters, their lives, their histories, and well, where they want to go next. He’s a smart enough film-maker to know that it’s best to let everything breathe all by itself, which is why Graduation, at a little over two hours, and feeling every bit of it, can tend to be a bit straining; there’s so many subplots, with so many different meanings and threads, that after awhile, it makes you wonder what the real story actually is.

Hm, noticing a pattern there?

But he puts it all back together in a solid little character-study that has more to do with the father in this situation, than the actual daughter. Even though her characterization goes far and beyond being just another spoiled, little brat who doesn’t know or understand the world around her, just yet, it’s really the father who gets the most shadings, in which we see a truly detested and hated human being who, by the same token, also happens to be a very good father. If anything, he just wants what’s best for his daughter and in by doing so, takes some pretty chaotic, downright idiotic steps, but it all comes from a soft, sweet spot in his heart.

Sure, it may be problematic, but hey, it’s what dads do best.

And as the father, Adrian Titeni is quite great, showing us sides to this character that we never thought we’d see. Cause once we first meet him and see him as just another average, ordinary, everyday father who loves his wife, his daughter, and, at times, his job, we don’t really think that there’s much to know. But as the film goes on and the plot thickens, we see that there’s a truly messed-up and sad individual somewhere underneath and it’s hard to keep your eyes off of him. He may not look like a bastard, but he totally is, but he’s the kind who’s troubled and interesting enough that he’s compelling to watch and Titeni, through every chance he gets, allows this character’s depravity to sink further and further into troubling.

Sort of like, you guessed it, real dads. What they do for us is both a blessing, as well as a curse. It’s belated, but hey, Happy Father’s Day, dads.

Consensus: Even if it is a bit long and slow, Graduation still offers up a nice character-study on a few who are interesting, if also well-acted.

7.5 / 10

Ugh. Angst!

Photos Courtesy of: The Hollywood ReporterBFIThe Playlist