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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

Abacus: Small Enough to Jail (2017)

Love the large, hate the small. The American Way.

Thomas Sung was just like any other immigrant who navigated over the United States: He just wanted a fresh, bright start in the land of opportunity and promise, when that actually meant something. And well, he did just that. By the time he was 40, he opened Abacus, a small family-run bank, that helped out those who were in the same position as he was, within the Chinatown community. After many years of working and serving, all of a sudden, the bank is hit with an indictment on cases of fraud money-laundering, both of which seemed to have happened under shay circumstances. But the Sung family fights it and goes to trial and, as a result, find their names and reputations tarnished in the media. But why? One step closer to what’s going on and it turns out that despite these top-level banks causing the financial crisis of 2008, that we’re all still paying for, somehow, it was this small, family-run bank that had to face the music when the time came around for some jail time.

Interesting, right?

Always got to have the daughters in daddy’s corner.

Well, yes, it is. That’s because director Steve James has an eye for these kinds of stories and isn’t afraid to go the extra mile and distance to find out what’s really at the root of the source. Granted, Abacus is a relatively safe and conventional movie, considering the ambitions of grandeur James showed with Stevie and the Interrupters, but it’s still well worth the watch because of the story behind it and well, what this says about us, as a society, and of the U.S., a country.

Without saying too much, Abacus is probably a perfect movie to be released right about now. A film about how an immigrant came from, essentially, nothing, to make a life in America and live the dream, is what we need to hear more of. America, as we speak, is in a bit of a stand-still, where it’s apparent that immigrants who come to this country are becoming more and more ostracized and hated for, well, taking absolute advantage of what America has to offer.

Ah, the courtroom. A lovely place that almost EVERY. BANKER. SHOULD. HAVE. SEEN.

Meaning, yes, hopes and boundless dreams.

That used to be something lovely and proud to stand by, but sadly, it’s all changed. You have to give credit for James shining a light on this story, at this point in time, and never forgetting that at the center of this supposed-scandal, is just one man, trying to do right by his family. That’s all and nothing else to it.

Of course, the story goes deeper and this is where Abacus really works. It goes to the top and deals with all sorts of conspiracies that, despite being dense, are still easy to follow. As I said, this isn’t James’ best, or even his most challenging, but the man knows a good story when he sees one and isn’t afraid to shine his camera’s light where it deserves to be shined.

If only there were more of them out there just like him. Especially in office.

Okay.

I’m done.

Consensus: While not necessarily the game-changer we’re used to seeing from James by now, Abacus is still a compelling, interesting and heartfelt look at a small family, in a big country, doing whatever they can to survive. So yeah, it’s also relevant.

7.5 / 10

It’s okay. Just retire and get away. Us Americans are a pain. I know.

Photos Courtesy of: Abacus Movie

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A Ghost Story (2017)

Man. Ghosts really do have it rough.

A young, loving couple (Rooney Mara, Casey Affleck) who, despite their issues, seem to get along enough that they’re willing to make it work. Then, an unexpected tragedy happens and all of a sudden, both of their lives are changed forever. But somewhere, in the backburner, lies a ghost, who is constantly hovering and watching over every little thing that happens in this house. Over time, the house changes and we start to see new people come into this house, with all sorts of new lives and adventures. But through it all, the ghost remains. Alone. Sad. And without any clue of what the hell is actually going.

In other words, the life of a ghost is a pretty sad one.

Rooney.

The real beauty of A Ghost Story isn’t that it was shot in secret, made for $100,000, and featuring a very recent Oscar-winner, but that it literally goes everywhere and anywhere, and we literally have no idea what to expect from it. It’s the kind of small, mysterious movie that even going on further and further about it, what happens to the story, where it goes, what it wants to do, or hell, even what it’s trying to say, would almost be certain to spoil the movie.

The only thing that I can truly speak of is to the true talent of writer/director David Lowery who, so far, is really proving to be the top-tier talent in film. Cause with A Ghost Story, on paper, it seems simple and easy – a ghost literally hovers around from one life, to another, essentially. But it’s so much more than that. It’s sad, tragic and upsetting, sure, but there’s also bits and pieces of unexpected humor, heart, light, and yes, believe it or not, fun.

Not to mention that, oh yeah, this movie’s beautiful.

Casey.

Not just through the way it looks, sounds, or even feels – it just is. Considering the small budget, you can tell a lot of the money went into the way the film is presented and it works; the very tightly-round aspect-ratio, at first, is distracting and probably unnecessary, but ends up being another weird addition to an already original movie. The movie takes on a lot of different and crazy ambitious themes about life, death, love, afterlife, and existence as a whole, but no matter what, Lowery doesn’t get too bogged-down by trying his best to discuss this, time and time again, hammering it into our heads. He lets the story breathe, move at its own pace, and be as surprising as humanly possible.

And like I said before, the story does go to some truly unexpected and wild places. To say anything more would be a problem, for both you, as well as myself. Just know that wherever Lowery goes, it works. A Ghost Story is the kind of movie you make when you have the absolute drive and creative inspiration that you just can’t settle down anymore. Lowery, even after making the studio-heavy, audience-friendly Pete’s Dragon, didn’t need a whole lot of money, financial back-ups, or even all that much help to get this out and it shows.

He wanted to make something weird, original, and damn beautiful. And guess what? He succeeded at that.

More of this. Please.

Consensus: Despite being an awfully odd movie, A Ghost Story is still a mannered, smart and interesting take on all aspects of life, with a pitch-perfect direction from Lowery.

8 / 10

And ghost. What more do you need to know?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Kingsman: The Golden Circle (2017)

Well, maybe Bond is a lot cooler.

It’s been a year since we last caught up with Eggsy (Taron Egerton) and well, let’s just say, things are still kind of the same. Baddies still want to kill him and he’s still got to find ways on how to not only kill them, but save those lives around him. And while he’s definitely looking forward to living a life on the straight-and-narrow, he’s pulled back in when a new threat arises in Poppy Adams (Julianne Moore), a dangerous, but very light and happy drug-dealer who’s trying to end this war on drugs as we know it. Back with his usual band of misfits, like Merlin (Mark Strong), Eggsy is ready to stop Poppy once and for all, but this time, with the help of another spy company, Statesman. And if that wasn’t enough for Eggsy, it turns out that his mentor Harry (Colin Firth), who he had long thought was dead, is still alive and trying to get his skills back. But that’s obviously going to be a lot harder than he expects, especially what with this mission continuing to threaten more and more lives.

Somehow, it works.

The first Kingsman, while definitely in poor-taste, was no doubt a Matthew Vaughn film, for better and for worse. It was stupid, loud, dirty, dark, violent, and oh yeah, pretty fun. It’s the kind of movie that didn’t really know if it wanted to be smart, or just plainly dumb, but either way, it was fun and got by mostly on the charm of its game-cast, as well as Vaughn himself who takes this kind of material, makes it his own, and doesn’t allow for us to forget about that. There’s something actually kind of awesome and relatively brave about that, because while so many people will get on his case for his mistreatment of women and other issues within society, he still doesn’t care; he takes it in stride, moves on, and continues to make some fun movies.

That’s why the Golden Circle is a bit of a disappointment, especially coming from his side.

For one, it’s a sequel which, already, causes some problems. Meaning, it’s louder, more over-the-top, longer, and densely packed with so much stuff, it’s almost overkill. I get Vaughn’s enthusiasm for having the opportunity to hang with these characters again and in a way, it makes it feel like less of a hack, studio-job, and much more of a passion-project, but there’s so much going on here, it can’t help but feel stuffing. At nearly two-and-a-half-hours, Vaughn may have a lot to say and a lot to do, but in all ends up jumbling together, making the first one seeming like a tight, well-paced adventure.

This new one, unfortunately, takes too many weird side-roads to get where it needs to go, especially since the script isn’t nearly as smart as it may think it is. The first one ran into that same kind of a problem, where it’s almost like it thought it had something neat and smarmy to say about intelligence movies of its nature, but really, just wanted to shoot people and objectify women. Once again, if that’s your bag and you can pull that off, then good for you,

Hey, everyone. See this? It’s Julianne Moore having fun. Let her have more of that!

The first one could and did. This one? Maybe not so much.

Still, every opportunity I get to think of the problems I had with this movie, in terms of its story and jam-packed story-line, I still remember that there’s a lot of fun to be had with it, too, in particular with the action-sequences that Vaughn has no problem with making so absolutely insane and crazy, it’s hard to expect it anywhere else. There’s just a certain bit of flair and energy to these sequences that aren’t found much elsewhere, and it’s hard not to get swept-up in it all, even if you know that when they’re done, it’s time for 20-25 minutes of more random bits of dialogue.

But hey, the ensemble seems to be having fun with it, so is that entirely a problem? Well, not really. Taron Egerton fits this role of Eggsy like a glove; Firth shows back up and gives us a bit more depth to a character that I think we already had enough of; Strong comes back and brings some heart and fun to a character that deserved more depth and, finally, got it this time around; Julianne Moore gets the opportunity to vamp and have fun here as Poppy Adams, and yes, makes every moment worth it; Pedro Pascal proves to be a bad-ass as another secret-agent, Jack Daniels; Channing Tatum, Jeff Bridges, and Halle Berry, despite a whole lot of promise by the ads, aren’t in this whole lot, although they make the best with what they can; and oh yeah, there’s a secret musical-guest that’s a pretty nice addition and a whole lot of fun. Don’t know if it’s a spoiler or not so I’ll just shut up and say that this person, along with everyone else, made the experience a little bit better.

Not a whole lot, but a little bit. And that’s all that really matters.

Consensus: Bloated and overly ambitious, the Secret Circle, unfortunately, suffers from a great deal of sequelitis, but due to Vaughn’s knack for exciting action and a fun cast, it still works.

6 / 10

Somehow, skiing just got pretty bad-ass.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Strong Island (2017)

Has much changed?

Despite a relatively rough upbringing, Yance Ford’s family was a pretty simple and lovely one. Her parents got along and were clearly in love, she got along well with her sister, and oh yeah, she was incredibly close with her older brother, William Ford Jr.. And while everything was looking all great and wonderful for them all, it all changes when William is shot and killed in a parking-garage. But why? What lead up to all of this? Could it have been prevented? If not, then what else could have happened? And well, how did the guy who shot and killed William, get away with it? These questions, as well as many more, are all brought up and, possibly, even answered.

But probably not.

The one thing that keeps Strong Island away from being the most perfect documentary I’ve seen this year, is that it really does leave a lot left up in the air when all is said and done. For some odd reason, it’s being advertised as a true-crime documentary, on Netflix, which means that tons and tons of people will be flocking to see this great injustice being done and how they can come up with their own theories about it, much like they did with the Jinx and Making a Murderer. Sure, while there’s a murder in the center here, the movie doesn’t just keep its focus solely on looking at the facts and thinking of other conclusions, as much as it asks questions, gets the answers, and then continues to ponder them, over and over again, until it’s all burned and etched into the ground.

Happy days. They never seem to last.

But still, the fact that it’s kind of a true-crime documentary, does make it feel a bit disappointing, when we get to the end and realize that there’s a lot left to discuss. It may be deliberate and probably the point, but it’s hard not to feel like there’s something more just waiting to be explored and taken another look at. When we will get that, who knows?

Honestly, though, it really doesn’t matter.

Strong Island is still, all issues aside, a very powerful and moving documentary that will take you by surprise with its methodology. Yance Ford goes out of his way to ensure that we get the full story and nothing but the truth, which helps us not only trust him, as a film-maker, but also all of the facts that are being thrown at us. Some of them may be bull-crap, but for the good part, Ford has gotten together a real rag-tag group of smart and trustworthy people who leave their souls out here on the line, with each and every interview. Having them talk directly to the camera, too, may seem like a bit of an Errol Morris rip-off, but it still works and seems like the only way you could tell something as tragic and as upsetting as this: Without ever shying away one bit.

Remember the name. Remember the face. Please.

And with Strong Island, while Ford talks about the murder and the botched investigation into it all, really, it’s a movie about forgiveness, regret, guilt, and above all else, family, the bonds that are created by it, and how, when push comes to shove, blood is thicker than water and it’s all we’re going to have. Ford gets the chance to interview two of the last surviving-members of her family and not only do they offer a lot to the whole product, they also genuinely make us think long and hard about our own families, as dysfunctional and/or weird as they may be.

Then again, every family’s got a little something weird going on, so it’s okay.

Like I said, though, these interviews take up the whole film and while they can sometimes get a little long-winding and especially, repetitive, we soon find out that, oh wait, that’s the point. The movie isn’t trying to be the most polished or assured piece out there as much as it’s just going where the stories and the interviews take it; the fact that it’s a beautiful movie to look at is helpful, but still. It’s the kind of movie that takes time to get used to, but it’s worth it. Each and every sigh, tear, and painfully awful silence.

Consensus: Even though it leaves a lot up in the air by the end, Strong Island is still a powerful and incredibly emotional doc about family and an injustice, giving us a fresh, diverse voice in Yance Ford.

8 / 10

Like any family: Happy and loving. Man, what a world we live in.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

First They Killed My Father (2017)

What a world we live in.

Loung Ung (Sareum Srey Moch) is just like any other 5-year-old girl. She loves her Ma (Sveng Socheata), her Pa (Phoeung Kompheak), and the rest of her family. Her father’s a government worker, so of course they live a relatively cushy, pain-free life where they get to have all sorts of food and watch all the TV they want. It’s a pretty nice life for a five-year-old, but it all changes when the Khmer Rouge assumes power over Cambodia in 1975 and forces Loung and her family out on the streets. For the next year, Loung’s life will consist of travelling to camps across the country, where they will be interned and forced to work, follow rules, and do whatever those with all of the power say they have to do. Loung has no clue what’s going on, nor should she; however, her family does and it’s why she ends up getting split-up with all of them, and sent to a child soldier camp. There, she learns the gruesome art of killing and all of the fun tricks and trades that come with it. But Loung wants her family back and she’s absolutely determined to find them, wherever there may be. But in Cambodia, at this point in time, danger lurked everywhere you looked.

Five-year-olds – they never have a clue what’s going on! Damn kids!

First They Killed My Father is probably the best movie Angelina Jolie has directed so far. Granted, that’s not saying a whole lot, but it still proves that there truly is some talent and skill underneath all of that obvious ambition and passion fully on-display. Whereas her past three movies have all felt like she had something to say and didn’t quite know how to get it out onto the screen, or better yet, what to even do with it, First They Killed My Father shows Jolie getting her point across, but in the most simple way possible:

By just letting the story play-out, exactly as it would for a five-year-old like Loung.

And that’s the actual beauty of First They Killed My Father – everything we see, hear, feel, is all through the eyes, ears, and gaze of Loung. In this sense, the movie almost feels like a dream, constantly swishing and swooshing from one event, to the other, but it’s effective. It gives us a human look and feel on the true brutality of the Cambodian Genocide, but doesn’t ever feel like it’s dramatizing it; it feels like we are in her head and because of that, it’s hard not to look away.

And yes, for the first hour or so, First They Killed My Father is a small, somewhat quiet, and incredibly subtle picture about a very large, very disastrous, and very disturbing part of our planet’s history. Jolie doesn’t seem to be in any particular rush to tell this story, or get any point across – she just tells the story, like it’s meant to be told, without her getting in the way and ruining everything. That seems to have been the problem with mostly all of Jolie’s flicks, as she constantly finds herself somehow getting in lost in translation, or not really knowing how to make certain stuff work, but this time around, she’s got it down well enough to where it registers and never lets us forget that, oh yeah, she’s quite talented.

Waste of perfectly good bamboo.

That said, still not a perfect movie.

If anything, it’s a very impressive one that shows us Jolie is capable of making a good movie, if not a great one. But for now, First They Killed My Father will have to stay in the group of the former, especially with the final hour. See, what happens about halfway through, is that when the story does escalate into becoming something far more violent and action-packed, it feels different; we still see everything through the eyes of Loung, but the movie’s pace picks up and it’s a tad jarring.

Rather than remaining a quiet, almost meditative flick, everything’s all ramped-up, with blood, guts, limbs, bombs, and weapons flying everywhere. It’s still somewhat effective, because it never takes us away from the true tragedy of what actually happened, but it does feel like a different movie entirely and because of that, it can’t help but feel a little messy. It took me out of the film a bit and had me forgetting about the previous hour I just saw, where a director was truly soaking in the material, not getting in the way, and not being too over-the-top about it.

That all changes, unfortunately, and shows that we’re still a bit away from getting Jolie’s masterpiece. Maybe someday very, very soon.

Consensus: Artfully and surprisingly tastefully directed, First They Killed My Father is a dramatic and moving improvement on Jolie’s past flicks, but also keeps her a slight bit away from achieving true greatness.

7.5 / 10

With this and Beasts of No Nation, maybe Netflix’s niche is child-soldiers? I don’t know. Just saying.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix

American Assassin (2017)

American Assassin

After a devastating terrorist attack kills the woman of his dreams, Mitch Rapp (Dylan O’Brien) is pulled into a dark, unrelenting world of tracking these terrorists down and getting his own sort of revenge. But just as soon as he gets close enough to do so, he’s whisked away by the CIA who, having tracked all of Mitch’s actions in the past year or so since the attack, like what they see and feel as if they can use it to their own advantage. However, Mitch is a bit of a hot-head and while he has the skills to shoot a gun and kick all sorts of ass, he needs to know how to control his temper so that missions can be completed, without any issues whatsoever. That’s when Mitch is sent to an isolated boot-camp, headed by Stan Hurley (Michael Keaton), a former Marine who is quite the ass-kicker himself. Together, Stan and Mitch track down a terrorist (Taylor Kitsch), who has plans of starting a global war, but once again, it all comes down to whether or not Mitch can control himself, when the push comes to the shove.

Do they allow those kinds of hair-do’s in the CIA? Or should I say, hair-don’ts!

The first 40 minutes or so of American Assassin are actually pretty good. Director Michael Cuesta, who, oddly enough, has made quite the name for himself in small, rather disturbing indies, doesn’t really speed things up, as much as he lets it all play out in front of our own eyes, in a very mannered-way. In a way, that makes the violence all the more shocking and graphic. Sure, having an R-rating attached certainly helps things, but rather than seeming like an action set-piece in a big-budgeted movie, American Assassin‘s action, in the first-half at least, feels like it’s going for something colder, darker, and deeper, than just blood, guts and terrorists doing bad thing.

Then, it all goes away.

At about the half-way mark, the movie then realizes we need a mission, we need a story, and oh yeah, we need some sort of conflict that isn’t just Mitch and Stan constantly dick-measuring – there needs to be a baddie, a reason, and oh yeah, way more action. When this happens, American Assassin eventually turns into a very dumb, over-the-top, and surprisingly safe action-thriller that wants to keep on being dark and meaningful, but is just too silly for its own good. It’s as if Cuesta may have gotten thrown out of the director’s chair about halfway through production when the powers that be eventually realized he wasn’t making the Bourne rip-off they so desperately wanted.

Cause even in something like Bourne, at least the politics of that movie, while challenging, at least feel fully realized. The action happens for a reason and while it is no doubt played-up for thrills and chills, it still comes from a very dark, realistic place, in a world where these sorts of things happen each and every day. In American Assassin, the politics are way too troubling and one-sided, almost to the point of where I wonder whether it was made before, or after Trump got elected.

In other words, it’s so jingoistic that it borders on xenophobic.

Kick some ass, Mikey. Do it for ‘merica!

Then again, the villain is a disillusioned and paranoid former-soldier from the South, so I guess that kind of saves it? I’m not sure, actually. What I am sure of is that for the final hour or so, American Assassin gets pretty rote and well, boring. It’s action isn’t all that exciting, it’s script continues to get sillier, and yeah, we see where it’s always going. The first-half had at least some surprises and excitement to it, because it felt a little fresh, but once that goes out the window, we’re back to crazy action-sequences that you can see perfectly fine, but do you really want to?

The only real saving-grace above this all is Michael Keaton, who feels like he’s way too good for the material and may have signed-up for something else entirely. Still, as the strict and mean Stan Hurley, Keaton gets a lot of mileage out of being the angriest and possibly, toughest guy in the room, despite himself being quite tiny and over 60-years-of-age. Still, it’s a testament to the kind of actor Keaton is, because he helps this thing move, probably when it shouldn’t.

As for Dylan O’Brien? Yeah, the verdict’s still out on him.

It’s not that I see him as dull, either, it’s just that the material he’s given here either doesn’t give him enough room to stretch, or he himself doesn’t know how to take this character. He’s jacked and handsome, but when you get down to it, there’s still this kid-like vulnerability to him that doesn’t quite register and makes this character feel like Jr. Bourne.

But hey, as long as he doesn’t get injured again, at least he’s got the Maze Runner to fall back on, right?

They still make those, right? Somebody help me.

Consensus: Despite a very promising start, American Assassin soon turns into a full-blown action-thriller, that’s never as fun, or as smart as it clearly wanted to be.

5 / 10

Baby Looney Tunes are taking over the CIA! Help us, foreign nations!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Mother! (2017)

The older the house, the creepier the s**t in it is.

Grace (Jennifer Lawrence) is a stay-at-home wife who dreams of being a mother very, very soon. However, her poet husband, Eli (Javier Bardem), is a bit too distracted to really get up on that supposed promise. If anything, he’s too distracted to really focus on his young and beautiful wife, as he’s searching for inspiration for whatever work he can come up with next. He starts to find that when two strangers (Michelle Pfeiffer and Ed Harris) show up and make the house their own. Of course, he has no problem with this, but Grace does and because she’s constantly dealing with some sort of mental-health issues, as well as the duties of keeping up this new house of hers, she can’t help but feel a little off about this all. Eventually, weirder and weirder stuff begins to happen, almost to the point of where Grace doesn’t know if she’s safe where she’s at any longer, or if it’s time to leave the house, her husband, and the life she was supposed to be living.

Put a shirt on, dammit! You’ve got company! I think….

Mother! is definitely not for everyone. Hell, I’m not even sure it’s for me. It is, however, a Darren Aronofsky flick, which means that it’s going to be weird, creepy, out-of-this-world, ambitious, and oh yeah, ridiculously disturbing. But that’s what we’ve come to expect from him now, nearly 20 years into his career, so why should we expect anything different? Can we really criticize a person’s work for being exactly on-par with everything they’ve been doing for the past two decades? Or do we have to hold them up to a certain candle where they have to sort of get with the times and make their rather hard-hitting style, well, work for others?

Say, like the norm?

Well, not really. And that’s why Mother! works; it seems like another case of Aronofsky sticking the middle-finger up to everyone who thought he sold-out with Noah, as well as one to those who think he’s almost too weird for his own good. This time around, Aronofsky’s taking what is supposed to be a relatively conventional story about a woman, probably, losing her mind, then turning it on its head, its side, and on its back, almost to the point of where we don’t really know if it can be turned anywhere else, anymore.

In other words, Aronofsky’s not playing around here and it’s an absolute delight to watch. Sure, it’s a slow-burn for quite some time, with all sorts of visual and literary metaphors to chew apart and piss us off, but it’s also a visceral ride through a possible hell. Aronofsky’s not afraid to go that extra mile into the dark and cruel abyss that some directors like to stray away from – he could care less and it’s hard not to be excited by this, but also put-off by just where this goes and where this ends up.

Cause in all honesty, I’m not even sure what the movie means.

Actually, scratch that. I sort of do and I sort of don’t. The movie’s final-act is so twisted, so disturbing, so messed-up, and so insane, that it’s hard to actually put into words. But just like the rest of the movie, it’s in-your-face and absolutely hard to look away from. This may put a lot of people off, as well as it should, but for someone like me, it was hard not to be mesmerized by what was going on, even if I couldn’t pick my finger on what exactly it was.

Long hair, clearly cares.

Meaning, yes, Mother! deserves and will probably benefit from multiple viewings. But that aside, it’s still a very creepy movie, with Aronofsky himself taking advantage of this tight and confined space, where it seems like there’s a nightmare every corner you turn, as well as his sounds. There’s a dark and brooding rhythm that’s constantly felt throughout, almost to the point where even the light-hearted and rather sweet moments, are still impossibly rough.

Once again, Aronofsky’s not afraid and it’s not hard to love that.

Also, Jennifer Lawrence puts in another great performance here, but also, her most demanding and grueling to-date. She’s never charming, or even lovely – she’s dark, twisted, and sad, seeming like she’s about to break-out into insane fits of anger and rage, at any minute. Aronofsky keeps the whole movie squarely on her, with her face covering up the screen for about nearly an hour of the run-time, making it hard not to sit there and dissect her every move. And she’s up to the task, too; she never lets us forget that there’s something simmering deep down inside of her, but also, because she’s Jennifer Lawrence, we sort of trust her, too.

Is that a smart move? Or a bad one? After all, this is an Aronofsky flick, we’re talking about and nothing’s to be trusted.

And man, more movies need that danger.

Consensus: Hard-to-watch, disturbing, and layered with a certain uneasiness that’s hard to shake-off, Mother! will not be for everybody, but those who appreciate it, will also be a witness to one of Aronofsky’s more demented creations.

8 / 10

“Everyone is waiting, Jennifer. Let’s have some fun.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Kidnap (2017)

Kidnap (2017)

Karla Dyson (Halle Berry) is just another single mother doing whatever she can to get by. Her job as a waitress can be a little demanding, with her also battling over custody for her son with her ex-husband, and yeah, she tries. But to add another wrench in her life is the moment when her son is kidnapped by a bunch of random rednecks. Karla has no clue why they kidnapped her son, but you know what? She’s not going to hesitate for a single second to find them and get her son back. Which is something she does, although it becomes readily apparent that Karla’s going to have to do a lot of driving, yelling, running, maneuvering, thinking, and oh yeah, possibly even killing. See, Karla’s life just got a whole lot more complicated, but it’s her son and she’ll fight for him any day.

So happy….UNTIL!

Just like with the Call a few years ago, Halle Berry is once again stuck with a B-movie where all she has to do is show up and give it her all. Which is exactly what the Oscar-winner does; there are brief moments where she really has to let loose on her emotions and well, it actually kind of works. Granted, she’s practically crying and yelling throughout the whole movie, but no one does that quite as well as Berry does and she actually elevates the material, just by showing up and putting in solid work.

It makes me wonder why she’s doing stuff like this, when in reality, she’s still a tremendous actress and downright beautiful to-boot.

But once again, why is she here?

Always check your blind-spots.

And this isn’t to say that Kidnap‘s a terrible movie; it’s exactly what you would expect in a late-summer diversion. It’s fast, fun, and incredibly stupid. The fact that the plot-line never goes beyond “Halle Berry chases kidnappers” for the whole 86 minutes, should really show you what you’re getting yourself into. And it’s not necessarily a problem that the movie doesn’t try to over-complicate itself with things like plot and motivations, but a part of me feels like there truly was no script here and a lot of it was just left up to director Luis Prieto and Berry to make up as they went along.

If that’s true, what they do make up can be exciting, but most of the time, a little repetitive. For instance, a good portion of the first-half is this car-chase that goes on and on and on for what seems like hours. Which is fine, because it does keep the adrenaline going, but there’s not much else to it; we just hear Berry talking to herself and wondering what the next best move for her is. After awhile, it can get a bit old and feel like, once again, there’s not much of a script.

Just action, action, and oh yeah, a little more action.

Once again, though, it’s not as if this is always a problem with movies – simplicity is, in ways, sometimes a movie’s best friend. But here, with Kidnap, it feels lazy and as if there really wasn’t anything else actually going on beneath the surface to be found. It can be fun, but even at 86 minutes, it still feels like it was stretched a bit too thin, even by its own standards.

So yeah, Halle, please get back into the mode of making good movies again. Please. We need you and miss you.

Consensus: Even as a late-summer diversion, Kidnap is fine, but also feels like it’s not really going anywhere and solely depending on the still-great skills of Halle Berry.

5 / 10

Oh. Here we go with this for an hour.

Photos Courtesy of: Kenwood Theatre

The Unknown Girl (2017)

Not your problem, don’t solve it.

Jenny (Adele Haenel) is a young doctor who has a pretty bright career ahead of her and is using her knowledge to help out those looking up to her. But late one night, after a very long day of working with all sorts of people, she’s just so pooped and can’t be bothered with someone who rings her buzzer late after work hours. While she normally would have any other day, on this particular day, she doesn’t, and ultimately, it ends up biting her in the rump for the days to come. As it turns out, the person ringing the buzzer was a young African woman who was found dead not long after ringing away. How? Or why? Or better yet, who exactly was this woman? It constantly aches and chews away at Jenny and for the next few days, she spends, when she’s not looking over patients, finding out more about this woman and the life she led. Is it to make up for the guilt she feels? Or is it just because she herself needs a little bit of inspiration in her own stale-mate life?

“Cheers! Or at least try to! We’re in a Dardenne movie.”

It should be said that a Dardenne movie is a lot better than most of what is out there, regardless of how good the actual Dardenne movie is. And in the case of the Unknown Girl, this is especially true. It’s not that it’s neither bad, nor good – it’s just that it’s very mediocre and awfully generic, especially given the standards that the Dardenne’s have come to be known for in the past two decades they’ve been around.

And it’s odd, too, because the Unknown Girl has everything one could want from a Dardenne movie. It’s bleak, a little sad, super-serious, well-acted, and filmed in such a naturalistic, realistic way that it almost seems like a documentary than anything else. In that sense, it’s very French and wears a lot of the Dardenne’s movies on its sleeves, but for some reason, the story just isn’t here.

And that ultimately proves to be its main and only issue.

“Hello? Yeah, I’m pretty depressed.”

The fact that the story in and of itself is a Macguffin, sort of doesn’t matter; it’s fine that we sort of spend our time, waiting and watching as Jenny finds out more about this mysterious woman’s life. In a way, there’s plenty of secrets to be had and it makes you think of just where it’s going to go, especially since the Dardenne’s movies aren’t always the most predictable bunch.

But then, it gets going and it turns out, oh wait, there’s not much to it. We begin to find out more about the life this woman lived, why she was ringing the buzzer that night, the guilt, the sadness, and the tragedy of her life left behind, and that’s about it. We don’t really learn much about anyone in the meantime, nor does it ever feel like much of anything was accomplished – it’s just a story, being told in the most generic-way imaginable. Which isn’t to say that it makes the Unknown Girl a bad movie, but considering that we’re talking about the Dardenne’s here, it can’t help but feel like a disappointment. This is usually their bread and butter, and while there are bits and pieces and splashes of interesting ideas, they feel in-service of a story that’s not quite where it wants to go, or what it wants to do.

It just meanders long and long enough until we’re at the end and left wondering, “Well, that’s it? Really? Anything else?”

But nope. There isn’t. Oh well.

Consensus: Despite there being flashes of the usual solid work done by the Dardenne’s, the Unknown Girl still feels like a bit of a disappointment, with a slow-pace, generic story, and awfully simple outcome.

5 / 10

Great door-to-door service medical-care. Why don’t we have this in the States?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

It (2017)

Honestly, real-life creepy clowns are creepier.

Derry, Maine is just like any other small-town in America. Quiet, quaint, and yes, quite a lovely little place. But look a little bit deeper, and there’s some true darkness lying underneath. And said darkness begins to show up more and more when kids randomly start disappearing left and right, without any signs of how, why, and where they may even be. Some kids believe it’s just kids being kids and getting lost somewhere in the woods, but for a select-few of other kids, they think it’s the one, the only, the infamous, and the incredibly dangerous Pennywise (Bill Skarsgård), who lurks somewhere in the sewers, luring little children with his evil, magical powers. And the few kids who do see Pennywise, are quite screwed-up and don’t really know what to do with it, mostly because they’re too busy figuring out their own lives. For instance, there’s Bill, (Jaeden Lieberher), who has a stuttering problem; Ben (Jeremy Ray Taylor), the chubby kid who’s also new to town; Beverly (Sophia Lillis), a gal who’s daddy may have a serious problem touching her; Richie (Finn Wolfhard), who enjoys making fun of every situation; Eddie (Jack Dylan Grazer), who’s a germophobe, but maybe because his mom only tells him he is; Mike (Chosen Jacobs), who seems to be the only black kid in town and is constantly bullied for it; and Stanley (Wyatt Oleff), who’s Jewish faith continues to guide him in his life. Together, they’ll try to stop Pennywise, once and for all.

Nothing bad’s ever on a old-school Super 8 flick.

The reason why It works so well beyond many other Stephen King adaptations is because it hints at something truer, something meaner, and something darker than just what we see. See, in It, this new adaptation, while Pennywise is no doubt the true evil and scary-being here, it’s really other elements like rape, incest, murder, racism, and even time itself that seem to be the true evils. Like mostly all of King’s work, It shows us that the truest evils aren’t just ghouls an ghosts, but more or less, life and how it can be ruined by just some of the most dangerous and disturbing people imaginable.

But yeah, also killer clowns.

Still though, what works about It is that it’s not afraid to go the extra distance to get as dark and as disturbing as it wants. Director Andy Muschietti seems to know that the key-element to making material like this is not holding back and going as far as one can go with a hard-R rating. Meaning, we get a lot of blood, gore, cursing, nudity (sort of), and oh yeah, kids in peril. In fact, there’s so many moments of kids in peril here that it literally felt like another 80’s flick (and it probably wasn’t helping that one of the kids from Stranger Things is also here).

But it all actually works. As much as the movie wants to rely on the good old nostalgia of the small-towns from the 80’s, it also wants to terrify the hell out of us and with Pennywise, and with practically everything else Muschietti throws at us, it gets the job done. Granted, a lot of it can tend to be a bit over-bearing, obvious, and oh yeah, predictable, but for a horror flick that’s nearly two-hours-and-15-minutes and not feeling like a second of it, it’s nice to have around. It helps that the movie’s constantly tense and trying out new ways to creep us out, but yeah, the movie works where most horror movies nowadays don’t.

It gets the scares right, the characters right, and above all else, the villain right.

Sure he’s fine. Wherever he may be….

And as Pennywise, Bill Skarsgård is pretty scary. While Tim Curry’s original portrayal will forever stand the test of time, his take was a bit different; whereas Curry’s was far more campy and over-the-top, for comedic-effect, Skarsgård’s is meant to be more dangerous and absolutely unimaginable. He’s not supposed to show up watering the plants, or cracking dumb puns, but instead, biting the arms off of five-year-old children (which is something he does in the first ten minutes). It’s a solid portrayal that, depending on where this franchise goes, will be interesting to see how it all changes.

Same goes for the rest of the cast who, for now, are all very good at what they do. Sure, no one really stands out from the rest of the crowd, considering that they’ve all got a great deal of development and personality to help them get by, but the fact that they all were discernible from one another and had something going on in their lives, worked and mattered. The movie actually goes out of its way to show us more to these kids than just a bunch of wise-cracks about mullets and Molly Ringwald – like you or I were at their age, they’re vulnerable, scared, and absolutely terrified. You could say of the creepy clown that seems to be following them everywhere they go, but also of growing up and whatever other depravities the future holds out for them.

And yeah, I look forward to seeing the next part of their lives’ journeys. Because, of course, there’s going to be more of this. Don’t be naive.

Just give in and float away.

Consensus: With the unrelenting willingness to go to deep, dark places that most horror movies are afraid to even step near, the latest re-imagining of It works because it doesn’t forget to remain faithful to the source material, but to also the smart, solid, and somewhat terrifying scares that are much needed.

8 / 10

If he’s got candy, I’m interested.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Unlocked (2017)

Spies don’t even spies.

After failing to apprehend the terrorist behind a Paris attack that claimed dozens of lives, CIA agent Alice Racine (Noomi Rapace) is forced to spend the rest of her days in in London, living and working the boring task of being a caseworker. Out of the blue, though, her mentor (Michael Douglas) unexpectedly calls her back into action when the CIA discovers that another attack is imminent. And just like that, Alice is thrown back into the dangerous life of being a spy who has to get any sorts of information, by any means whatsoever. And that’s exactly what happens, although, it’s a lot more violent than she’d ever expected, especially when information she’s able to draw out of a suspect is compromised and she becomes a target of every government agency known to man. Now, it’s basically Alice back on the run, without any idea of where to go, or who to turn to, except to just use her smarts and ass-kicking abilities.

Who’s the more bad-ass one here?!?!

You wouldn’t know it, or hell, even think about it, but Michael Apted’s probably one of the best directors ever. Now granted, he hasn’t necessarily changed the way we watch film, or take it in, but what he has proven, is that no matter where he goes, what he takes on, or whatever the hell it is that he’s doing, he remains consistently good at it. Sure, you can say all that you want about some of his flicks, like the World is Not Enough, or even Nell, but the man has made some pretty great movies, over the past 40 years.

Which is why something as boring and silly as Unlocked feels like a bummer and an overall waste of everyone’s time and talent, his especially.

Which is odd, because spy-thrillers seem to be Apted’s niche; these dark, dirty and twisty tales of intrigue and violence seem to be up his alley, considering he knows how to keep the tension going, even when we’re not sure where the story’s are going. That’s what sort of happens to Unlocked at first, until it just loses all control and hope in ever making sense, or even being entertaining.

See, the best part of these so-called “spy-thrillers”, is that while they are twisty and turny, they still at least have some sense of understanding and cohesion. Meaning, there has to be a rhyme and a reason for someone to turn out to be, I don’t know, either a spy for another agency, or not actually dead all of this time – throwing those twists out in the air and out of your ass, doesn’t quite work. The best part of these thrillers is being able to follow along with everything, but also not knowing what to actually expect next, and yet, still have an idea of where it could go.

Make any sense?

Come on, Mike! Really?

Probably not, but hey, it’s whatever. Unlocked is the kind of thriller that doesn’t ever make sense of itself, its characters, where it wants to go, or hell, what it even wants to say. There’s a lot of twists and turns for sure, but none of them ever make any sense. And when it turns out that we get a twist, a character has to go on and on for a four-five stanzas about why they did what they did, why they were deceitful, and why it’s for the greater good. Which isn’t to say that we don’t see these twists coming from a mile away – one particular character’s evil motivations are noticeable from the very beginning – it’s just that they’re so stupid in the first place, that to have to explain them, more and more and why they should make sense, doesn’t work. It’s sort of like telling a joke – if you have to explain it, it didn’t work and therefore, isn’t funny, or effective.

That’s how it is with Unlocked‘s non-stop twists and turns: They don’t make sense and probably weren’t ever supposed to. Which is sometimes fine, but the movie’s not all that much fun in the first place, with Apted turning in a disappointingly workmen-like direction, where it seems like even he’s bored. Hell, the ensemble who, for some reason, is quite stacked, even feels like they’re giving it their all, but ultimately, fall prey to lame editing and an even lamer script.

Noomi Rapace, as usual, is a bad-ass and knows how to play it, but who her character is, or what her motivations are beyond “saving humanity”, is never quite clear; Michael Douglas shows up to sort of chew scenery; Toni Collette, sporting an Annie Lennox-do, is pretty bad-ass, but also randomly here; John Malkovich sort of chews scenery, too, although why he’s even here in the first place is a total question-mark (I’d ask the same thing about Douglas, although one close look will actually show he produced the damn thing); and believe it or not, the best of them all is Orlando Bloom who, sporting a ridiculous cockney-accent, a crap-ton of tats, and gelled-up hair, seems to be having the most fun, playing up a rare villainous role.

He may be in the wrong movie for this much fun, but hey, I want that movie instead!

Consensus: The cast does definitely try, but through it all, Unlocked is too boring and over-written to really work as a smart, fun, and exciting spy-thriller, despite what Apted’s previous credits may have you hoping and wishing for.

3.5 / 10

“Oy, mate. No mo’ pirate movies for may!”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Goon: Last of the Enforcers (2017)

Who needs a goal? Kick somebody’s ass!

A lockout has reunited old teammates and brought a crew of new players to the bench for the one, the only, and the notorious Halifax Highlanders. Sidelined after one too many hits and now married with a baby on the way, Doug “The Thug” Glatt (Seann William Scott) is forced to hang up his skates and settle into something that we call “normal life”, with him trying his hand at selling insurance. Does it quite fit him like a hockey-glove? Not at all, but it does keep him occupied and his wife (Alison Pill) happy, so why not just stick with it? But it all changes when Doug’s nemesis, the young, cocky hotshot Anders Cain (Wyatt Russell), is made captain of the Highlanders and new ownership threatens to tear his team apart. Now, Doug feels as if it’s time to lace back up the skates, put the gloves back on and, yeah, take some people’s teeth out.

Get it? They’re Canadian! Listen to the way they pronounce their “O’s”!

In the world of sports movies, it’s very rare that we get one about hockey. Better yet, it’s incredibly rare that we get a good one. Or hell, it’s incredibly rare that we get a hockey-comedy that isn’t just funny, but also kind of sweet and exciting to watch for everybody, regardless of if they love hockey or not. But that’s exactly what the first Goon was: Hilarious, hard-hitting, and at the center of it all, a little heartfelt. It was, for lack of a better word, one of the better sports movies made and perhaps, close to being the best hockey-movie of all-time.

Notice how I said “close to”, people. Don’t get all riled-up as I know Slapshot! is still #1 is on everyone’s list.

But still, Goon probably didn’t need a sequel, but here it is and well, things feel a whole lot different. For one, the quality has been downgraded a whole lot. Jay Baruchel takes over directing-duties this time around and while he’s very good at shooting hockey and the sort of excitement that can be felt from watching a game, where it seems like everyone’s more interested in beating the hell out of one another, and not actually, you know, scoring goals and winning, he feels awkward with everything else. The comedy, the drama, and even the slightest bit of heart that’s anywhere to be found, just doesn’t quite work.

Does he know what’s happening?

The only thing that really does work is, other than the hockey and over-the-top, but effectively extreme brawls, is Seann William Scott who, once again, proves why he’s one of the more underrated talents in comedy. Cause while the guy is definitely funny, he also has a little something more to him than just crass-jokes about balls and Canadians (which is all this movie’s comedy revolves around); he’s actually a pretty nice guy who means well and basically loves everyone around him, even if he is an absolutely nutty and crazy fighting-machine. Scott’s delivery with everything he says here is golden and feels like he’s constantly lifting the movie above what it actually seems like it wants to be.

Cause at the end of the day, it’s still a really loud, a really crass, and really dumb sports-comedy that sort of works, but also sort of doesn’t.

It’s hard because when you compare it to the first one, you have to think that there may have been an opportunity wasted. The story isn’t really here, the comedy is really slapdash, in terms of what’s funny and what isn’t, and the supporting-characters all just feel a little one-note. It’s as if the heart and soul was somehow lost, even though it seems like everyone involved with this, wanted to make this, and felt so incredibly passionate about it, that they didn’t care if the money was there or not. They wanted to make Goon 2 and well, they got it.

I just wish it was something totally worth waiting the past five years or so for.

Consensus: While still just as silly and raunchy as the first, Last of the Enforcers also feels like a drastic step-down with weak writing and a bad case of familiarity, despite the hockey-scenes and William Scott saving the day.

5 / 10

That’s more like it, Dougie! Knock his ass out!

Photos Courtesy of: Entertainment One

Little Evil (2017)

Every dad gets static from their kids. Especially the ones that aren’t even their DNA.

Gary (Adam Scott) is doing the best that he can as step-dad to Lucas (Owen Atlas), but as most step-dads know, it’s not all that easy. For one, he loves Lucas’ mother (Evangeline Lilly), but also knows how hard it is to compete with the father of Lucas, whoever the hell he may be. Also though, Lucas may be, what we call, “evil”. In fact, literally so. It gets quite scary for Gary, who does whatever he can to connect to the kid and become something of a father-figure, but for some reason, it just doesn’t seem to work – there’s something about Lucas that is weird and dangerous. It’s something that Gary, along with a fellow league of bewildered step-dads investigate just to find out what’s really going on Lucas’ head and whether or not he can be saved/helped. But when someone’s possibly the descendant of the Antichrist, it’s very hard to save them.

Yup. Toates normal.

Like, at all.

A few years ago, writer/director Eli Craig made a snappy, funny, and intelligent little horror-comedy called Tucker and Dale v. Evil. It’s hard to say what was so genius about it, other than that it turned the horror-genre on its ears and used a one-joke premise to its fullest extreme. Just when you thought the movie was done making jokes at its own expense and was going to run out of stuff to do, say, or even work with, guess what? It went that extra mile. But it was also funny, too, and not in that kind of smarmy, look-at-me kind of way – it was a genuinely funny and interesting horror-comedy that kind of had something to say, but better yet, had something to do.

Which is why Little Evil still kind of works, but seven years later, also can’t help but feel like a bit of disappointment.

It’s still a funny movie, though. Like Tucker and Dale, it’s very much a one-note premise that constantly reinvents itself in goofy, even wackier ways that honestly didn’t even seem imaginable. Craig seems to be parodying the Omen, and other “demon-child” movies, but also seems to be having a good time exploring the facts of life when it comes to being a step-father.

Which is to say that the movie has a heart and something on its mind, although, by the same token, doesn’t go as far as it possibly wants to, or even should. It’s literally under 90 minutes, and because of that, it can’t help but feel a little too quick, a little too swift, and most of all, a little too rushed. It’s still funny, with the jokes both making fun of the premise, as well as benefiting from, working, but there’s still something there just not fully connecting. Don’t know what it is, but yeah, you can sort of feel it.

But then again, the ensemble is so much fun to watch and be around that, at the end of the day, does it even matter?

With a mother like that, would a demon-child even matter?

Adam Scott, as usual, plays a perfect every-man as Gary, the stepdad who tries so desperately to be loved and respected by his stepson, yet, just can’t seem to catch a break. There’s some heartbreak to be had there with what I just said, but the movie doesn’t bother to go as deep as it probably wants to – Scott does, though, and it’s why, the performance comes off any better than it probably should have. He’s funny and knows when to tell the best joke, but there’s something deeper and darker there that makes the movie a bit more interesting, rather than just being a barrel of silly jokes about demons and children.

As his wife, Evangeline Lilly is charming and as cute-as-a-button, as usual, whereas Owen Atlas, when he’s not being terribly scary, also has some nice little moments as Lucas. The real stand-out, however, is Bridget Everett as Al, another stepdad that’s along with Gary for this wild ride. Yes, it is a joke: Having Everett play, basically, a man, but it’s a joke that works, time and time again. She’s easily the one having the best and most fun, constantly cracking jokes and seeming like the life of whatever party is being held. It’s nice to see Everett get a chance to be funny, as usual, but also have it pay-off in a movie that’s so deserving of her.

You know. Unlike Fun Mom Dinner.

Consensus: While a small step-down from his debut, Craig’s Little Evil is still a funny and relatively enjoyable piece of horror-comedy that doesn’t quite have the stamina to go as deep as it perhaps would like to.

7 / 10

Yeah, it’s okay, man. Just look at the mother.

Photos Courtesy of: Netflix 

Dean (2017)

Go home. Then leave.

Dean (Demetri Martin) is an NY illustrator who needs a little bit of inspiration in his life. So what better way to find it then when your mom dies and your dad is basically depressed? Well, that’s what happens to Dean when, suddenly, his mom dies and he has to leave his sheltered, lovely little life in NY, and head back home to the sunny and hot L.A. While there, Dean reconnects with old friends and family; friends still seem like they’re not doing much with his life, whereas his family, like his father (Kevin Kline), seem stuck, too. And you know what? So is Dean! That’s why, when he meets the sexy and mysterious Nicky (Gillian Jacobs), he immediately hits it off with her and starts to see something of a future with her. Meanwhile, his dad is finding a possible soul-mate in his real-estate agent (Mary Steenburgen), who may also be the right recipe to help get him out of his funk. Are both going to get better and start to realize that there’s more to life than just sulking around and being freakin’ miserable all of the time?

Ugh. Quite whining!

Dean is a lot of different styles and trademarks that other writer/directors have pulled-off before and much better, too. It’s a little bit of Wes Anderson, a smidge of Woody Allen, and oh yeah, a whole lot of Zach Braff. It’s an odd concoction, which sort of works, but also seems like writer/director/star Demetri Martin liked what he saw a bit too much and just decided to pick and choose what he wanted to work with?

I don’t know. Actually, what I do know is that it sort of works, but also doesn’t feel all that terribly original. Sort of like Martin himself who, despite having such a cult-following for his alternative and whimsical brand of stand-up, just never quite connected with me. He felt too twee and a little too of-himself to quite work for me, but hey, that’s me and stuff like that doesn’t matter.

I just want to let the world know that I am not a Demetri Martin fan. Now that it’s out in the open, I hope that we can both move on and get along cordially.

But it’s odd because it seems like you really have to be an absolute adoring fan of Martin’s to really like Dean, or what he’s doing in it. He’s literally the star of this thing, through and through, playing a rather unlikable and whiny character that feels real and honest, but by the same token, can tend to get a bit annoying. While Dean himself may not be all that interesting, to me, seeing just where this character went along for his journey of self-discovery and the people he hung around, was more than enough to keep me interested. Martin is fine in the lead role, but once again, your tolerance of him may vary on how you feel exactly for this character.

“Ew! What a lame-o hipster!”

The real saving-grace of Dean is, thankfully, the supporting-cast who all seem like they did this sort of as a labor-of-love, what with all of the big, talented names attached. Gillian Jacobs, while her character seems absolutely like a type, gets by in showing a nice deal of chemistry with Martin; Rory Scovel plays Eric, Dean’s best buddy who is a bit weird, but also endearing enough to work; Kevin Kline is fine as Dean’s dad, but honestly, feels like he was thrown in there because he had some free-time and wanted to be a nice guy to Martin; and yeah, the same goes for Steenburgen.

In fact, the much better movie here in Dean, actually, isn’t about Dean at all.

It’s about his dad trying to get a firmer grasp on the rest of his life, move on, find love again, and figure out where to go from here. But the subplot’s never as fully developed as it ought to be; we go through very long stretches of the movie without even a glimpse of what Kline’s character is up to, but instead, are stuck watching Martin’s Dean. It’s a shame, too, because Steenburgen and Kline do seem to have genuine chemistry here and their scenes together, while definitely minor and rushed, do have a bit of sweetness attached to them that the rest of the movie, honestly, is missing.

But still, it all depends on how you feel for Demetri Martin.

Consensus: As far as indies go, Dean‘s pretty conventional and safe, but the ensemble is fine enough to help you pass the time along and enjoy what’s in front of you.

6 / 10

Go away, Demetri. Let Kevvy-poo take over.

Photos Courtesy of: CBS Films

Megan Leavey (2017)

Never step between a woman and her dog. Dawg.

Megan Leavey (Kate Mara) was like a lot of us when we get to a certain point in each of our lives – we’re bored, uninterested in a lot of stuff, and just not really sure of what we want to do, or where we want to go. That’s when she decides to join the military and finds out that it’s a lot harder than she expected. But eventually, she finds her path and it isn’t before long before she’s a young Marine corporal and finding interest in the oddest aspect of the army: The K-9 unit. See, after she gets in trouble for committing a lewd act on the base, Leavey is assigned to have to clean up in the K-9 unit, where she forges a bond with Rex, a particularly aggressive dog that, over much time, she begins to train into becoming a top-level bomb-sniffing dog. And together, the two entrust in one another to complete all sorts of missions on the battlefield, looking for bombs and ensuring that no one gets killed. However, when out on the field of battle, all lives are in jeopardy.

“The other Mara girl, reporting for duty, sir!”

Megan Leavey is, literally, a story about a girl and her dog. Sounds cheesy, melodramatic, sappy, and pretty damn awful, but surprisingly, it isn’t. Sure, it’s melancholy and a little corny, to be fair, but it’s also so simple, so straight-forward, and actually, so sweet, it’s hard to dismiss it for being what it is and not making any excuses for itself. It almost makes you wish more movies were just like it, but not really, because then that would just be boring.

In fact, having one Megan Leavey a year, is fine with me.

Well, scratch that: Actually, it would be nice to have more stories of tough, strong-willed and talented women, directed by and written by, women, all the time, throughout the year. We got that before with Wonder Woman and well, it’s nice to get it again with Megan Leavey, because when you get down to it, it is just that – a movie about a strong-willed, smart and talented woman who saved lives and is a better human being for it. She also acquired quite the bond with a lovable dog, which also helps put it into focus, but it’s so nice to get a story like this, without any sort of preaching whatsoever, that it makes you actually wish there were more of them around.

Sure, writer/director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s direction isn’t all that stylish and can, at times, certainly seem like something made-for-TV, but she doesn’t get in the way of the material, or the true-story this movie’s all about, so it actually works. We get to know Megan Leavey, why she matters, and why exactly we’re getting a near two-hour movie about her trying her best to connect with a bomb-sniffing dog in the military; there’s plenty of jokes that could be made at this movie’s expense, but the fact that it’s all true, actually helps. In fact, it would have probably just seemed like an indirect remake of that same movie from a years ago, Max, but thankfully, this story’s true and that one isn’t.

They must be getting her mixed-up with Rooney, the troublemaker.

Maybe. I still have yet to see it and don’t quite plan on it.

Cause after all, Megan Leavey is fine enough for me. It’s a movie about a girl bonding with a dog and it’s a little goofy, but it works the way it is. And it definitely helps to have Kate Mara in the lead-role, because anytime it seems like this material could get maudlin or cheesy, guess what? Mara’s there to save the day and bring some legitimacy with the role. Her Megan Leavey is a very smart and intelligent woman, but also not a perfect one; she makes mistakes and she says the wrong things when she shouldn’t, but you know what, that helps make her more human. The role’s also the more impressive once you take into consideration that a good portion of her roles are just her acting across from a dog, which can’t always be an easy-feat.

Then again, those who act in the Planet of the Apes movies are acting across from Andy Serkis in a tennis-ball-laden-onezie, so yeah, maybe it’s not all that hard.

Consensus: Ridiculously straightforward, Megan Leavey works better as a smart and relatively compelling true tale of a woman, her dog, and the lives that they saved.

6.5 / 10

Who’s cooler?

Photos Courtesy of: Bleecker Street Media

Beatriz at Dinner (2017)

Never invite the help for dinner. That’s rule #120 for the upper-class.

Beatriz (Salma Hayek) is a masseuse who has a great deal of clients. One just so happens to be Kathy (Connie Britton), the mother of a girl that Beatriz not only helped, but befriended many years before. Now, Beatriz works her magic on Kathy and in a way, they consider themselves as “friends”. Others may see it differently, but they talk a lot and get to know one another so well that they basically might as well just be friends. Or at least, something like it. Anyway, Beatriz is in a funk one day when, because of the awful day she tells Kathy about, Kathy decides to invite her to a dinner they are having a little bit later. Kathy’s doing this out of the kindness of her own heart, but her husband (David Warshofsky) isn’t too happy about it; for him, this is a business-dinner and not a very social one, meaning that having someone like Beatriz around may be odd. However, Kathy insists and she gets her way, leaving Beatriz to spend the night in the house, at the table, talking with the guests, drinking wine, and eating all sorts of lovely meals. But little does she know that one of the guests (John Lithgow) is quite the pompous ass that literally stands against everything she is for.

Looks like someone didn’t get the “rich housewife gown” memo!

Everything that Beatriz at Dinner is attempting to say, or at least, get across, I whole-heartedly agree with and stand by. In today’s day and age, with the political-climate we currently have going on, it’s great to see a movie stand up to these sorts of fat-cat, bigwigs of the upper-class that constantly seem to be getting away with filthy, bloody murder. But what Beatriz at Dinner does well and at least gets across, is that it shows us that these people are, as you’d expect, human. They may have looser morals and heavier wallets, but they are no doubt, humans, and in a way, that makes them scary.

The fat-cat, bigwig of the upper-class here in Beatriz at Dinner is played by John Lithgow and as usual, he totally immerses himself in the role. He’s compelling, powerful, takes over any room he’s in, seems like he always has something arrogant to say, and oh yeah, is quite menacing when he wants to be. But he’s also humane and feels like a real person – the kind you wouldn’t want to call “a friend”, but the guy you could see yourself sitting and having a drink with, only because he seems like a good time when he isn’t talking about big-game hunting or knocking down trees. But through Mike White’s script and Miguel Arteta’s direction, we see someone who does have a soul and a heart, as black as they may be, and because of that, they are hard to look away from and because of that, easier to indict and point the finger at.

Issue is, that’s all the movie has going for it.

Which isn’t to say that Beatriz at Dinner doesn’t have other fine qualities to it, other than shaming the rich and powerful; it can be, at times, quite funny and interesting, if only because we want to know more and more about these characters. As usual with Arteta’s movies, he’s not afraid to simmer everything down to where we aren’t getting constant jokes, every few seconds, but instead, moments to relax and focus on the finer things in comedies such as these, like characters and what’s to them. Of course, White knows what he’s doing with a script like this when it comes to writing comedy and nailing down perfectly the kind of awkwardness that would be had in a certain situation such as this.

“Cheers to whatever!”

But if anything, the real problem is that it feels unfinished. The movie, for being nearly 80 minutes, feels like it’s missing maybe a few too many reels, especially near the end. The dinner party comes around and why it takes up the bulk of the movie, it still feels rushed and not as if everything fully came together. Some of the humor in these scenes works and there’s a lot of hinting at something deeper going beyond the surface, but nope, the movie just sort of backs away and continues on with way too many ham-fisted points about current-day society.

Once again, I totally agree with what it has to say, but there’s a better way to go about it than here.

And also, if there’s a main problem here, it’s Beatriz herself. While it’s nice that we get a movie where the Latin-American masseuse is the lead protagonist, it also doesn’t help that she’s kind of a type, too. Beatriz, whenever is necessary for her and not really understanding the conversation going on around her, constantly chimes in and rambles on and on about stories from her native-land, goats, and well, mother nature itself. It’s basically one-joke, stretched way too long and it hurts because we know that there’s more to this character than just waxing on and interrupting conversations. Hayek is fine in the role, but yeah, even she feels like she may have been stuck with something that isn’t exactly a win-win for her, in the end.

Consensus: Regardless of what, or who, it speaks about and against, Beatriz at Dinner still feels like it’s missing some pieces to fully keep a cohesive, smart and subtle dramedy, even despite a good cast to help out.

5 / 10

Of course she has a guitar to jam out with.

Photos Courtesy of: Killer Films

Band Aid (2017)

Who says music can’t save lives?!?

Ben (Adam Pally) and Anna (Zoe Lister-Jones) have been married for quite some time, but from what it seems like, they may not totally last. They can’t stop fighting about whatever is on their mind, nor do they ever seem to have any enjoyable times together. That all begins to change, however, when they both realize that maybe, just maybe, they can use their skills as musicians as a way to cope and mend the fences between them two and hell, maybe even use it as therapy. But to start working on that all, they need to get a band together, which then eventually adds neighbor Dave (Fred Armisen) who, despite being a little weird, means well and is there to not just help the band out on the drums, but to help both Ben and Anna out, too. But with the songs working and coming together in a solidly-catchy fashion, does that mean that everything’s all peachy-kin for the couple? Or, are they back to their usual screaming and fighting-bouts that seem to come out of nowhere and end up at about the same place?

Pictured: Their only moment of happiness together.

For awhile, Band Aid seems like it’s going to be one of these kitschy, awfully cutesy movies about a bunch of young, happenin’ hipsters getting together, forming a band, and performing even kitschier, cuter songs about love, life, and well, sex. But then, writer/director/producer/star Zoe Lister-Jones throws us a curve-ball and keeps the focus on the characters, their relationships, and just what’s at the core of everything that’s going on. Sure, the catchy music is there to be used a device to help us navigate through the story, but really, it’s about this relationship, no matter what.

And yes, it actually works.

In fact, it works almost too much. Lister-Jones has a knack for writing smart, honest dialogue that doesn’t feel like it’s trying too hard to be raw and gritty, but just make us think a little bit. The fights these two have, while sometimes long and over-winding, are also entertaining and interesting to listen to, because they feel like the kinds of arguments actual, real people would have. You could almost go so far as to say it’s all “relatable”, but I feel as if that’s already a given; it’s the kind of movie that makes you love these characters because you identify with them, but also hate them for the same exact reason, and in return, hate yourself.

It’s the kind of writing that isn’t flashy, but real and it’s what kept me so interested in Band Aid. Even when it seemed like some of these characters were a little too insufferable and the whole music-angle was a bit too obvious of a way to show us, the world, that the cast can ACTUALLY PLAY THEIR INSTRUMENTS, the dialogue kept drawing me back in. It actually goes towards some very dark and sad places, and while for any lesser writer or director, it would be a severe misstep, it actually comes together and works here; the songs themselves may be poppy, light and awfully catchy, but behind them are painfully hurtful feelings of anguish and depression that don’t ever seem to go away, no matter how many choruses are sung about them.

“TURN IT DOWNNNN.”

Just makes you want to pick up the guitar and start beltin’ out some tunes yourself, eh?

Anyway, yeah, Lister-Jones is incredibly talented behind the camera, but is also equally just as talented in front of it. She’s a smart director to not keep the focus solely on her character, but it also makes you want to see more of her; she has this kind of presence where she seems like the smartest person in the room, what with her perfect deadpan, but also isn’t afraid to get vulnerable here, showing us some slight weaknesses to a strong persona. Her chemistry with Pally also helps, because they not only work as a couple who seem to be in love, but also as a couple who can’t seem to stop hurting the hell out of one another with their non-stop insults. Even Fred Armisen shows up here and plays what could have been an awfully conventional and one-note character, actually turns out to be rather sweet and kind, even if, yeah, he’s a bit creepy.

There’s more to every character here and it’s just like the way it is in life.

Consensus: Band Aid may present itself as another “let’s make a band”-sub-genre of kitschy indies, but actually prefers to dig deep into its characters and relationship at the center of its well-acted ensemble.

7 / 10

Power trio. I give ’em two months.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)

Looks like T-Swift’s gonna need one of these soon.

The merciless dictator of Belarus (Gary Oldman) is being held-up on charges of some serious war-crimes, but for some reason, there’s no real clear-cut evidence against him. The only option imaginable to actually come in front of a court and testify to this man’s heinous actions is Darius Kincaid (Samuel L. Jackson), a notorious contract-killer who is currently serving a pretty long sentence for his various kills in his storied-career. So yeah, he signs a deal to come forward, but now, his name is out there and people want him dead. So what does one do for a hitman who needs protecting, especially for the next 24 hours? They call up the hitman’s bodyguard, who also happens to be Michael Bryce (Ryan Reynolds), a straight-laced bro who is also reeling from a bit of heartbreak. Now, it’s up to Michael to make sure that Darius can stay alive and testify, or else it’s not just his ass on the line, but possibly his life. Only issue: He and Darius don’t exactly see eye-to-eye.

Like, on anything.

Oh yeah. Salma Hayek’s also here, basically re-doing her role from the equally insane Savages.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard wears its late-80’s, early-90’s action-comedy influences on its sleeve and doesn’t really make any sort of excuse for it, either. In a way, that’s sort of commendable – it’s like all of those Tarantino rip-offs we got about midway through the 90’s that tried to be something that they clearly weren’t. But in this case, the movie isn’t wholly trying to be something it isn’t – it knows it’s stupid, silly, wacky, and over-the-top, and it’s kind of fun for that reason alone, right?

Well, uh, yes and well, uh, no.

See, the one issue with the Hitman’s Bodyguard is that it’s a lot of things all wrapped-up into one, without ever making total sense of itself. Sure, it’s a dark comedy that flirts with the idea of heinous, ugly violence being played for laughs, with constant swearing and nudity being flung everywhere, but it also seems like it never knows when to tone any of that down. Cause the jokes don’t always land, the camaraderie doesn’t always work, or hell, make sense, and the plot, despite the constant twists and turns, just doesn’t make sense. You get the sense that director Patrick Hughes sort of got this right from the get-go, so rather than taking his time on every little plot-detail, he kept everything moving as fast and as crazy-quick as he could.

Still, it doesn’t keep the movie away from being shy of two hours, but yeah, it does help that the movie knows how to keep itself going, even if it is only to distract us from the fact that there are some problems here. Like, for instance, the script just isn’t as funny as it thinks it is; the constant conversations between Jackson and Reynolds, while occasionally amusing, also grow tired and old, after about the fourth or fifth one that clocks in at about ten minutes. It’s nice to have an action-comedy that cares this much about dialogue and listening to two characters, essentially, just banter about, but it makes you wish that the script itself were better.

Another foreign country. Another freakin’ car-chase.

Or hell, that the jokes were funnier.

Instead, we get some lame punchlines, callbacks, and oh yeah, forced drama about love, life, and careers. It doesn’t work and it’s sure as hell hokey, but once again, there’s at least an attempt to do something here. Would this have all been handled a lot better in the hands of Shane Black? Most definitely. But that guy wasn’t around, because he’s off trying to make another classic and because of that, we get Hughes working from Tom O’Connor’s script. Whether these two saw eye-to-eye on what exactly was hilarious about this script or not, isn’t shown in the final-product, because it’s sort of like everything gets thrown at us, at once, without any break in the action.

Which can be fine, too, because the movie does have some solid action-pieces and bits and pieces from Jackson and Reynolds. In fact, Reynolds and Jackson are probably the true reasons to see this; they clearly have great chemistry with one another and also show that, despite them both being charismatic as hell, they also know when to give the other the spotlight. They’re not constantly duking it out to see who gets the better lines or the shinier moments, they’re just having fun and trying to invite us in on it, too.

Shame that doesn’t quite happen, though. Once again, however, there is an effort. And that’s all that matters.

Consensus: Perhaps not as hilarious or as smart as it thinks it is, the Hitman’s Bodyguard benefits from some fun action and a solid pairing of Reynolds and Jackson who, despite not having the best material to work with, wade through it all with their dignities still in-tact.

5.5 / 10

Get it? Nuns and hit-men? So loopy!

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Bushwick (2017)

It’s the end of the world as we know it and as long as Bautista’s there, I feel fine.

It’s just another typical day in NYC and Lucy (Brittany Snow) and her boyfriend (Christian Navarro) decide to spend their time together, heading off to see Lucy’s sister and grand-mom. Nothing too crazy or out of the ordinary, but typical. Then they step off the subway, and for some reason, hell has broken loose. Guns, weapons, bullets, and bodies are flying everywhere on the streets of Brooklyn’s Bushwick neighborhood. Why? Well apparently, Texas is attempting to secede from the Union, and militia forces have descended upon New York City to claim it as an East Coast base of operations and negotiation tool. Now it’s up to Lucy to survive the day, which isn’t all that easy when you’re a small, relatively civil white girl from Brooklyn who is constantly falling prey to evil people, on both sides. However, her only sense of safety and perseverance is Stupe (Dave Bautista), a burly war veteran who has seen horrors like this before and knows what he’s getting himself into, but at the same time, isn’t too happy about it.

Can’t wait for their second date.

The whole gimmick behind Bushwick is that it’s not just all taking place in real-time, but it’s supposed to be shot in one, continuous-sequence, a la Birdman or, from what I hear, Woody Harrelson’s Lost in London. Which already proves to be a problem for the movie; we can tell when the cuts and swipes occur, but the movie’s also not very subtle about breaking its own rules, either. Both co-directors Cary Murnion and Jonathan Milott earn some praise for at least attempting something rather difficult and time-consuming, but at the end of it all, it can tend to be a bit distracting.

Still though, it kind of works.

See, Bushwick puts us right in all of the action, which helps the movie move from scene-to-scene, even if a lot of it can seem repetitive. It’s the kind of movie that doesn’t really ask for us to think of things like logic, or even expectations, but sit back, watch, and continue to be all wrapped-up in all that’s happening. A lot of the action takes place off-screen, far away from our eyes, but heavy in our minds and the imaginations can honestly run more wild than what’s actually seen. It’s something so rarely done in modern-day thrillers, that it’s nice to see it here, even if it was probably unintentional.

And sure, the movie’s a little silly. When the action slows down and the intensity sort of dissipates, the characters aren’t all that smart. And this is where the one-shot gimmick runs afoul – we can always tell when these actors are acting, no matter what. They’re made to seem like real people, in a disastrous situation, without anywhere to go, or any shelter to hide in, but really, because we don’t get the hundred or so edits to get that right shot/take, we’re watching what is, essentially, actors running lines as if they’re petrified and all shaken up.

Uh oh, bro. Don’t talk about that other wrestler-turned-actor, who is also one of the biggest stars in the world. Dave doesn’t like that.

The only one who really gets by with all of this is Dave Bautista because, well, he’s such a menacing force, he doesn’t have to act scared or worried. He actually downplays the role much more than you’d expect, and it’s much more interesting than you’d want from a movie about a five-block trek through a war-zone. Even in the smaller moments where the movie decides to take its time to develop characters, as dumb as they may be, Bautista shines and shows us that there’s more behind the big arms and body.

Believe it or not, the fella can actually act. Wow.

And nothing against Brittany Snow, or any of the few others here, but yeah, they don’t quite work. The movie much more about the mood and the tension in the air, as opposed to being a smart, thought-provoking allegory for the current state of affairs in America. While something such as this is perfectly relevant in the same way that the Handmaiden’s Tale sort of is, Bushwick doesn’t care too much about really developing these ideas any further than just using them as a, you know, backboard for showing some real cool action and using a neat style.

Does it totally work? Eh. Not totally. But hey, it’s better than anything else I’ve seen in the past week, so why not be nice.

Consensus: Despite its odd gimmick and silly writing, Bushwick is still a rather tense and exciting thriller, that has some stakes in the real world, but never goes beyond much of any of that.

5.5 / 10

The couple made in hell. Literal, hell.

Photos Courtesy of: RLJ Entertainment

Death Note (2017)

Books are bad anyway. Don’t bother with them.

Light Turner (Nat Wolff) is like any other high school kid his age. He’s angsty, pissed-off, and just trying to do whatever he can to get by. While doing other students’ homework for money, he stumbles upon a book called “Death Note”. It’s mysterious and weird-looking, with random names in them and Light has no clue what to make of it. Somehow though, he discovers that names can be written into the book and whoever they are, they’ll be killed by an evil, maniacle death god, Ryuk (Willem Dafoe). Ryuk torments Light and forces him to write more names down and while Light is initially against this form of punishment, a girl he’s been crushing on mega-hard (Margaret Qualley), begins to fall for him, as well as the book. So what’s the harm in using the book, so long as it’s used for the greater-good? Well, law-enforcement begins to catch wind of something funky happening, which leads expert L (Keith Stanfield), to help out the police in nabbing just who, or what, is behind all of this.

Just what America needs. Another sort of masked crusader.

For a short while there, it seemed like director Adam Wingard was going to be the bright new voice in horror. With two films under his belt (You’re Next, the Guest), Wingard showed us that while he loved paying homage to the old-school horror flicks of the 70’s and 80’s, he also enjoyed developing some original ideas of his own, where he was able to be inventive and original, while also still maintain a sense of fun for anyone who decided to check out what he was doing. Then, he took an odd step last year with the incredibly misguided remake, Blair Witch, and then things got weird. All of a sudden, it seemed like the fresh, young talent involved with these indies was all wrapped-up in the world of mainstream, big-budgeted film-making.

Surely, this wouldn’t be the same case with Death Note, right?

Unfortunately, nope. It seems as though we’ve lost Wingard again. And while Death Note isn’t nearly as bad Blair Witch, there’s still an issue with it in that it seems messy and almost rushed; it’s as if Netflix had a certain, specific-date of when they wanted this to hit the streaming-service and gave Wingard just enough time to film and edit everything. But for some reason, it just doesn’t quite work, or ever seem to come together.

CGI’s cool, though. Right, guys?

It wants to be many of things. For one, it wants to be a coming-of-age flick in which a young kid tries to grapple with school, life, his family, his career, and death. Another, it wants to be a creepy, cruel and spooky horror-flick in which a death god speaks directly to him. Then, it also wants to be a dark-comedy that sort of plays with the goofy idea of a book being able to kill people. And last, but certainly not least, it sort of wants to be a superhero flick. In a way, all of these different strands of story are interesting and, if put together well enough, could actually work, side-by-side.

But that never happens.

Instead, we get a lot of hinting and swimming over these certain aspects, without any really being fully developed. For instance, we never really actually get to know Light beyond what we’re told of him and his life; he and his dad don’t get along, his mom was killed, he’s smart, and yeah, he’s a bit of social outcast. Nat Wolff is constantly getting better and better with each role and he truly does try his all here, but this character is so thinly-written that at the end of the day, it feels like a waste of his talents. Same goes for everyone else in this talented cast, with the exception of Keith Stanfield as L, a possible hero/possible villain, who gets enough wacky moments to have some fun, but also falls prey to the weak writing here.

And that’s what it all comes down to: Weak writing. The action isn’t all that tense, the drama isn’t really compelling, and the premise, while promising all sorts and sorts of fun and excitement, never actually gets to that point. It feels too much like Wingard and company are doing fan-service to those who loved the manga from which this is adapting, but also actually forgot to really give the fans a good time.

Which is all anybody wants.

Consensus: With a talented cast and crew, as well as an interesting premise to-boot, Death Note should have been fun, exciting, and worth the watch, but instead, it’s misguided, incoherent, and boring. Good thing it’s short. Right? Is it. I don’t even know.

4 / 10

“Gonna finish that?”

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire