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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Barry Shabaka Henley

Lucky (2017)

Realism truly is “a thing”.

Lucky (Harry Dean Stanton) is 90 years old and believe it or not, feels fine. He can’t move his body like he used to and sure, it’s a little creaky every so often, but for the most part, he’s getting by just fine. He spends most of his days doing the same things, like waking up and getting a coffee. Then, he watches game shows on TV and tests his knowledge. And then, lastly, he ends up at the local bar, where he wants to smoke, but doesn’t. Instead, he sits around and waits for someone to have a stimulating conversation with him, whatever it may be, or about whatever.

Lucky doesn’t have much of a plot and that’s actually fine. All it really needs is a solid bit of characters, good performances, and a sweet sense of time and place and it gets by just fine. Making his directorial debut, legendary character actor John Carroll Lynch seems to know how to let a story like this play itself out; he takes his time enough to where some could say it’s “boring” and “slow”, but really, it’s just languid and it fits with everyone and everything else here.

“Coop?”

Especially the one, the only and the late Harry Dean Stanton himself.

And yes, it’s pretty crazy to watch this movie and realize that this would end up becoming Stanton’s swan song, but it feels so incredibly fitting. Stanton himself has never really gotten the chance to have a movie all to himself and it seems like, even at age 90, he was due; the role doesn’t really challenge him, or stretch the talents we know him for, but it doesn’t necessarily have to, either. All it has to do is offer us another great glimpse of the never-ending and charming talents of Stanton, why he was great, why it was always nice to have him around, and why, above all else, he will be missed.

And yes, like I said, Stanton’s pretty great here. He’s charming, wise, and seems like he’s years above everyone else that he meets. But the movie is smart in that it isn’t just about Lucky and his life, as it’s also about the people he runs into on a daily-basis, most of whom put up with him and have been doing so for quite some time. Some will be happy to see David Lynch show up in a cooky-role as a guy looking for his tortoise, others will be happy to see Ron Livingston show up as a life-insurer with a huge mustache, and others, like myself, will be happy to see a nice little Alien reunion between Stanton and Tom Skerritt, in one of the movie’s sweeter scenes.

Seriously, why’s that ‘stache so huge?

But the movie isn’t just about one character over the rest – it’s about all of them and it’s why it’s so sweet.

Carroll Lynch and co-writers Drago Sumonja and Logan Sparks seem to understand how to get the heart of this tale, but never playing their hand too much. Some may not see this as having much of a point, or better yet, not really being about much other than just a bunch of old people talking and yammering on about things that can kind of seem random, but it really isn’t. It’s about watching life pass you by, understanding that reality, moving on, and doing whatever the hell you can to make the best of it while you have it. It sounds cheesy, in retrospect, but Lucky, the movie, as well as the character, aren’t and it’s why it’s a small joy of a movie.

And it’s why we’ll forever miss the talents of Harry Dean Stanton.

Consensus: Sweet and sultry, Lucky is the kind of small and oddly charming movie that works best because of its time, attention, care, and solid performances, especially from the late, great Harry Dean Stanton.

7.5 / 10

Goodbye legend. You will surely be missed.

Photos Courtesy of: Magnolia Pictures

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Paterson (2016)

There’s a poet in all of us.

Paterson (Adam Driver) is a hardworking bus driver in Paterson, N.J., who follows probably the same routine each and every day of his life, with the exception of a few changes here and there. He wakes up for work bright and early in the morning, eats his cereal out of a small cup, packs a lunch, goes to work, listens to the people’s conversations, observes the city around him, has lunch in front of a lovely, relatively soothing waterfall, comes home to his somewhat quirky wife Laura (Golshifteh Farahani), walks his dog Marvin (Minnie), around the town late at night, stops by the local bar, has a beer, talks to people, comes home, goes to sleep in the arms of his wife, and wakes up the next day to do it all again. However, the one thing that Paterson seems to really care most about in his life is his poetry and the hopes of one day making it big, so that the whole world can see what he’s jotting down in that notebook of his.

Paterson is perhaps the most relaxing and calming movie that I’ve ever seen. It barely follows a plot, there doesn’t seem to be much of any development found whatsoever, there’s no conflict, and there’s no real narrative driving the movie from one scene to the next. If anything, the movie just wanders around, following a familiar pattern that we get used to after the first ten minutes or so, taking its time to tell itself, and barely ever cranking up the energy a single bit. Normally, this would piss me off to high heavens, especially for an indie flick, and not to mention, one by Jim Jarmusch.

Public-transportation employees unfortunately don't all look like Adam Driver.

Public-transportation employees unfortunately don’t all look like Adam Driver.

But for some reason, I came close to kind of loving it for that reason alone.

Jarmusch’s movies, despite them not all being great, all clearly come from a very interesting mind who has a knack for telling stories the way he wants to tell them, regardless of if they actually work in the shown final product, or if they even make sense (the Limits of Control). But no matter what, it’s hard not to watch his movies and think long and hard about what must have been going on through his mind during the creative-process’ of making these movies and with Paterson, I’m probably the most interested in, because while most of his movies are slow, meandering pieces about goofy characters, this one’s a slow, meandering piece about relatively normal characters, with the pace feeling more deliberate and mannered, than just, well, boring.

And I think that’s what separates Paterson from a lot of these other slow-as-molasses indie flicks I see nowadays, especially those from Jarmusch – the feeling, the tone and the aspect that sticks inside of this town known as Paterson, is so calmed-down, that it only makes sense a movie about said town would play-out the same way. There are some brief, fleeting moments in which it seems like Jarmusch is going to step things up a bit, but nope, they go away the next second, and the movie moves on to whatever it wants to do next.

And you know what? That’s perfectly fine with me, because it worked here.

Normally, it doesn’t and can just feel like a director trying something new and it not working a bit, having them come-off as pretentious. Jarmusch has had this problem before, but here, it works in his favor, as he never really gets in the way of the characters, the story, or the mood. It’s just simple, non-stylish and show-offy storytelling that, quite frankly, needs to be done more in the world of indies. So often, film makers working in these independent frame of minds, no matter how seasoned or young they may be, often feel the need to show-off all their skills, talents and ideas into one piece, and actually get in the way of what could have been a very effective, smart story. Jarmusch, like I’ve said before, has done this before and may do it again, but he doesn’t with Paterson and that’s why it deserves to be cherished.

And the Oscar goes to..

And the Oscar goes to..

That, and because Adam Driver’s quite great in the lead role, too. Without sounding too much like Buzzfeed here, Driver is definitely having a moment in today’s pop-culture landscape, but you wouldn’t quite know it. He’s been in a lot of movies over the past few years, some big, some small, but regardless of the size of them, he’s always good in them, trying out something new and interesting, each and every time. As Paterson, Driver dials down a lot of that free-wheeling energy we so often know and sometimes adore him for like when he’s on Girls, but it works for the character and for the rest of the movie. Due to Paterson himself being an actual observer of the world around him, it makes sense that he wouldn’t take over every scene he’s in, but instead, allow others to talk, express themselves, and get us, as well as Paterson himself, a better chance to know them.

It’s sort of like a poem, right?

Anyway, as his wife, Golshifteh Farahani is an interesting choice and one that pays off, because not only is she charming as all hell, but she actually makes his scene’s better. Her character treads this very fine line between being annoyingly quirky and charming, but most of the time, it’s hard not to be charmed by her. The movie doesn’t know how to treat her, which is actually okay, because it just gives Farahani more opportunities to light the screen up and show us not just why Paterson loves her the way his eyes show, but us, the audience, as well.

It’s been awhile since my last screen crush has hit me, but I think that may be about to change.

Consensus: Incredibly slow and melodic, Paterson may drive most people away from its downtrodden pace, but will bring in those more thoughtful and attentive viewers, with an eye for clever detail and interesting storytelling, that never once feels showy.

8.5 / 10

Who isn't in need of a good spot to chow down on their bagged-lunch?

Who isn’t in need of a good spot to chow down on their bagged-lunch?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Big Year (2011)

These people care about these birds a lot; that is, until they find  that white stuff on their cars. You know what I’m talking about.

Three men (Jack Black, Owen Wilson, Steve Martin), each facing their own personal challenges, try to outdo one another in the ultimate bird-watching competition in 1998. However, bird-watching gets in the way of what’s best in their lives and has them rethinking their dedication and craft.

The whole idea and premise behind The Big Year? Well, it’s real. Every single year, a group of avid birdwatchers go around competing against one other to see who can spot the most birds in some set area. Doesn’t sound like the most happening thing to do on the street, but these people could all be doing something a lot worse with their time, right?

Either way, it makes you think: Did we really need a movie about bird-watchers?

Brian?!?

Brian?!?

Probably not and judging by all of the trailers/posters/ads, it’s made abundantly clear that everyone behind it were trying their damn near hardest to make sure that absolutely nobody knew this was a bird-watching movie, because really, who would want to go out and see that? Seriously. It doesn’t matter who you have, or how good the movie may be – movies about a group of bird-watchers, just isn’t all that exciting to the general audience. And it actually wouldn’t have been such a problem what the material was about, had the movie itself actually just been good, but that’s the icing on the cake, because it just isn’t.

Director David Frankel is your typical layman’s director who shows up to work and doesn’t do much, which probably made him the perfect candidate for the Big Year, a movie that’s so happy-go-lucky and cheerful, that it’s almost nauseating. Being cheerful isn’t always such a bad thing, though – sometimes, it can work in your movie’s favor – but the Big Year relies so much on its slapstick and humor, that it just doesn’t connect. The moments that the movie wants to be funny, just doesn’t work or even register as, well, “comedy”. It’s a problem that never ceases throughout the whole flick, making it all the more of a chore to sit through.

But trust me, it actually gets kind of worse.

Once Frankel takes this story into straight-on drama mode, things start to get really unbearable as all of these dumb stories converging together. The story behind Wilson’s character is probably the dumbest, because here he is being the #1 birder in the world (which is something he deserves credit for, I guess), and he can’t even choose whether he wants to be with the birds or with his wife. Need I remind you, his wife is played by the ever so gorgeous Rosamund Pike who always seems to always look the same as each and every single year goes by. So right then and there, the film tries to pull you into this story and give itself a dilemma – one that, mind you, would be solved if this dude was actually placed in real life. “Goddess or birds?”, seems to be the main dilemma and well, I think it’s pretty simple to figure that one out.

But it’s not just Wilson’s character who gets this type of treatment, everybody else gets it too and it’s only worse when you have three comedic stars like Steve Martin, Owen Wilson, and Jack Black, basically all kicking themselves in the ass just for anything resembling a laugh. Steve Martin used to be one of the funniest and most daring guys in comedy, but now, he’s stuck doing old-man, grandpa roles where his performances consist of him being ultra-serious, with his once-in-awhile signature dance. That dance is priceless, but when he pulls it out here, it comes out of nowhere and didn’t make me laugh at all.

Tim?!?!

Tim?!?!

Then of course, there’s Jack Black who everybody seems to hate, but I for one, don’t. I’ll give Black some love here and there because the guy can be good when he’s given the material to work with, but is really scraping the bottom of the barrel here. He plays his usual “zany” role where he does all of this wacky stuff, and says weird things and why is that, you ask? Oh, because he’s the 36-year old slacker that doesn’t have anything else better to do with his life or his money, instead of just waste it all on bird-watching. Black is probably the most bearable to watch out of the whole cast, but that is really not saying much.

 

But fine, Wilson, Martin and Black all putting in terrible performances? That’s fine. I can accept that because they’ve given terrible ones before and guess what? They’ll continue to do so. The real stab that hurts harder and harder that I think about it is the fact that there’s so many more people in this cast, like Tim Blake Nelson, like Dianne Wiest, like Brian Dennehy, like John Cleese, like June Squibb, like Anjelica Huston, like Rashida Jones, and like so many others, that honestly, deserve a whole hell of a lot better. Why they’re here, why they’re stuck with this crap material, why they needed the money so bad, well, is honestly a hard question to answer.

All I do know is that it’s over with and they’ve all moved on. For the most part.

Consensus: Unfunny, poorly-written, and a waste of everyone involved, the Big Year deals with an odd premise, takes it way too seriously and never knows just what to do with itself.

2 / 10 

"Nope. Not a good movie in sight, fellas."

“Nope. Not a good movie in sight, fellas.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Rush Hour (1998)

Oh, odd couples.

When a Chinese diplomat’s daughter is kidnapped in Los Angeles, Hong Kong Detective Inspector Lee (Jackie Chan) and his ass-kicking ways are called to the scene to help and assist the FBI with the case. However, seeing as how they’re incredibly stubborn and self-righteous, the FBI doesn’t want anything to do with Lee. As a result, they dump Lee off on the LAPD, who assign wisecracking Detective James Carter (Chris Tucker) to watch over him. Carter is already in the doghouse of sorts for botching a case where explosives went off, people were hurt, and his career was in jeopardy. But Carter doesn’t know that he’s the laughing stock, so he takes this babysitting job of Lee as serious as a heart-attack, having no clue just who Lee is, or what he’s actually capable of doing. And even though they can’t stand one another, they choose to work together to solve the case on their own when they put two-and-two together and find out that the case is a whole lot shadier than they had expected.

The guys that fight crime together, sing Edwin Starr together.

The guys that fight crime together, sing Edwin Starr together.

Rush Hour, in no way, shape or form, tries to reinvent the buddy-cop genre. If anything, the movie’s pretty generic by those genre’s standards. Two incredibly different people, both cops, come together on a ridiculous case and bring their two, very different backgrounds to help one another out, solve the case, and even possibly, grow closer as human beings and friends. We’ve seen this formula time and time again, however, what makes Rush Hour so damn charming about it all is that Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker really do, surprisingly, make a great team.

Not only does it seem like they get a long great in real life, but it works out well for the movie. The twist here is that while Tucker’s Carter starts out as being awfully racist and thinking hardly nothing of Chan’s Lee, he soon grows to learn to appreciate Lee for not just being a human being, but also being one that kick some ass and just wants to solve crimes like him. Sure, you could say that it’s awfully corny and generic, but this at least somewhat makes up for the fact that most of the jokes aimed at Chan are racist and a tad offensive. Then again, this is the brand of comedy to expect from Tucker, and it’s pretty hard to sneer at when it’s actually pretty funny,

That’s why a movie as conventional, uneventful, and simple as Rush Hour, despite being awfully stupid when it comes to its plot and its jokes, still works.

It’s obvious that the studio here was trying their hardest to try and make Jackie Chan a big hit in the United States by partnering him with someone like Tucker, in a buddy-cop comedy no less. But as manipulative as this may be, it still works because, from what it seems, Tucker and Chan really do have great chemistry that shows both stars working well off of one another and adding a nice dose of heart to the proceedings as well. One scene in particular features Chan unknowingly calling a bunch of black characters the infamous “n-word”, where he then starts to battle and brawl each one, unbeknownst to Tucker who is elsewhere. While this scene may have all the social commentary of a rock, watching Jackie Chan lay the smack down on a bunch of black dudes for calling them an offensive word, somehow works.

After all, this is a movie directed by Brett Ratner, so you get what you come for.

That said, Ratner doesn’t get too much in the way of this material here. All he really has to do is set the camera down so that stars like Tucker and Chan can do their things, be fun, be exciting, be charming, be funny, and leave it all that. With that all taken into consideration, yeah, Ratner does a fine job. He doesn’t need to add his own directorial-spin onto the sometimes silly material, but instead, just allow enough time and space for Tucker and Chan to do what they do best.

"Daaaaaaamn."

“Daaaaaaamn.”

And because of this, the action scenes do tend to work. While they mostly rely on having Jackie Chan fly around like a wild goose with its head cut-off, it’s still awfully exciting to watch, and see how it incorporates itself into the story. There’s one sequence in which Chan has to fight a bunch of guys, but meanwhile, also ensure that a bunch of priceless, almost rare Chinese artifacts don’t break. It’s a nice spin on the typical kind of action-sequences we’re so used to seeing with movies like these, but made only better by the fact that it’s Chan himself doing all of his own stunts and seeming to put himself into harm’s way, every chance he gets.

Of course, Tucker gets to work his shine, too. However, as is mostly the case with Tucker, the enjoyment of the humor here will mostly rely on whether or not you’re a fan of Tucker in the first place. For me, I love the guy and feel like he’s a comedic genius, so yeah, obviously I was hooked here from the very beginning. But yeah, he’s definitely of an acquired taste and it makes sense why some people who don’t like Tucker’s brand of humor, may not like Rush Hour.

But it’s also pretty hard to hate Rush Hour when it’s just trying to be a fun movie that entertains you, makes you laugh, and offer you up an odd pairing of Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan.

The kind of pair that nobody ever thought would see the light of day, let alone, actually work.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t set out to reinvent the wheel by any means, what Rush Hour does best is that it offers up a fine blend of humor, action, and fun, also made better by the wonderful chemistry between Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan.

8 / 10

Look out, Hollywood. Jackie's taking over!

Look out, Hollywood. Jackie’s taking over!

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

State of Play (2009)

Bloggers can’t pull off stunts like this. Not even me. And I’m Dan the Man, dammit!

Washington D.C. reporter, Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) is the type of guy you want telling the news. He gets his facts straight, no bias-stance whatsoever, and he always seems to find an impressive hook on how to make it worth reading or caring about. The latest story that comes his way, puts him in a bit of a rough position because not only is one of his close friends involved with it, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), but because it’s surprisingly a life-or-death situation that escalated to that level quite quickly. With young, hot-and-ready reporter Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), he’ll figure out who exactly was Collin’s mistress, whether her death was a suicide or a murder, why somebody would want her dead, and whether or not it’s even worth risking their life for. Then again though, he works at a newspaper, and I think any story, is a story worth telling, so he’ll go with what he can get.

"Be careful, Rachel. We all know what he does with phones when he's upset."

Be careful, Rachel. We all know what he does with phones when he’s upset.

Surely a movie about a newspaper industry seems already dated, way before conception and release, but that’s where this flick works so well. It is a modern-day thriller, where computers, the internet, smart phones, and texting reigns supreme; however, director Kevin MacDonald also frames this movie in a way that makes you feel like you’re watching one of those old-school, classy, and cool thrillers from the 70’s, where conspiracies ran high, and it was all up to the dedicated reporter to get the truth out. Nowadays, it seems like you go anywhere for any bits of news information, everybody knows about it and has reasoning/sources, but that makes it so sweet to get a flick that reminds us that the old methods of information-sharing still exists, even if it isn’t used quite as often as it once was. Then again, maybe being the fact that I’m a Journalism Major makes me more sympathetic to the issue.

Actually, that’s most likely the reason, but so be it!

Anyway, the film. What works well here is that even though it does seem to be very dense in every piece of detail, every clue, and every hint it throws at us, it never feels confusing. Practically, we are strung along on a trip of finding out anything we can about what’s going on, and are left in the dark about other stuff as well. We think we get the full picture more than a couple of times, and then, we are thrown right for a loop when a slight piece of info comes out and proves us wrong. It messes with our minds and has us curious by how it’s all going to pan-out; but it never feels manipulative.

Where most thrillers would make have conceit becomes over-used and overstay its welcome, MacDonald uses it more to his advantage, in a way to almost coax us into believing all that we hear and see as fact, and nothing but it. With most thrillers like these, we can’t always expect to take in all that’s thrown at us as pure fact, but we do have to believe in it, and I never felt like I was seeing a movie that went maybe a bit too over-zealous with its twists. Mainly, I always felt like MacDonald always knew what he was doing, what he wanted to show us, what he didn’t want to show us, what he wanted us to think at certain moments, and how he wanted us to feel when certain conclusions were made. Many times you’ll be surprised with where one twist will take you, but such is the skill of a thriller, when it’s a thriller done right. And to add on the fact that it’s a movie about the dedication and hardships that reporters take when it comes to getting their stories right, while also making sure to get them out there first; it’s almost like adding a cherry on top. Especially for me.

What can I say? I’m a sucker for these types of movies. Twisty-thrillers and movies about journalists!

But while the movie does work in keeping us on an unpredictable, turny path, it does show some weaknesses as well, ones that became more apparent to me once I got to thinking of them. First of all, I think that having the friendship-clash between Collins and McAffrey works as its own thing, so therefore, to throw in Collins’ wife to the mix, as to set-up some sort of love-triangle, feels manipulative and unnecessary. Don’t get me wrong, Robin Wright is solid as Collins’ wife, as she plays around with the feeling of being betrayed by her own husband, but also curious enough to get him right back. She’s the perfect form of snidely, evil, and sexy that I’ve ever seen from her, but her character doesn’t need to be used in this light, or even at all. She definitely brings on more guilt to the Collins character, but other than that: Not much else.

While I’m on the subject of the cast, let me just say that all-around, this is a very solid ensemble that feels as if they were hand-picked, for good reasons: 1.) they can all act, and 2.) they actually get a chance to show the mainstream world what they can do when they aren’t slumming themselves down for Hollywood. Russell Crowe seems like he’s a bit too brutish and tough to be taken seriously as this meek and soft, but determined reporter, but somehow, the guy pulls it off very believably. There’s an essence to his character where you know you can trust him to do the right thing, but you don’t quite know if he’s going to get coaxed into doing it, or not. Actually, that’s a pretty interesting point about his personality that movie brings up, but never really develops further, is the fact that not only does he have a job to do, which indicates responsibility, but he has a friend that he obviously cares for and wants to protect. So, basically: What does he do? Turn on his friend, and give the world the spicy story, no details left aside, or, does he stay true to his friend, and give the public a story that has him come out unscathed? The movie sheds this light a couple of times, but by the end, totally loses all sense of it and just stops worrying about it after awhile. Could have really done wonders for itself, but sadly, just does not.

Batman getting rough with Kal-El's daddy? Is this a sign of things to come?!?!

Batman getting rough with Kal-El’s daddy? Is this a sign of things to come?!?!

Boo.

Playing Congressman Stephen Collins is Ben Affleck, and I have to say, the guy does quite a swell job here. No, he’s not perfect and he isn’t as enthralling as you’d expect a conflicted-figure like his to be, but he does what the roles asks upon him to do: Show enough feeling to where you could be viewed upon as “sympathetic”, but not too weak to where you don’t seem like you couldn’t be a bit of a rat-bastard as well. With that idea, Affleck does wonders and shows the rest of the world that he can still act (even though by ’09, people already knew that).

Rachel McAdams is also a fiery-sword as the young and brass blogger that hops aboard this story, and seems to be really enjoying herself, whether it’s when she has her time on her own, or if she’s around fellow co-stars and gets a chance to strut her stuff. Either way, she holds her own and doesn’t come off as annoying, or way-too-in-over-her-head or anything along those lines. She’s just Rachel McAdams, and that’s perfect as is.

The rest of the stacked-cast is pretty awesome too, with some getting more notice than the others: I wish there was more of Helen Mirren, but then again, I feel like that could be a criticism for any movie, so I’ll leave it be with that; pre-Newsroom Jeff Daniels shows that he has the acting chops to, one minute, be playing a sophisticated charmer, and then the next minute, be as corrupt and evil as the same politicians he talks out against; Viola Davis gets a short, but sweet cameo as a morgue-employee; and Jason Bateman shows up all coked-up, high-living, and fun as one of Collins’ known-associates, and almost steals the movie all by himself. Almost.

Consensus: Sure, State of Play is nothing more than a classic-piece of deception, cheating, lying, and suspense, all placed around the idea of a newspaper, but for that reason, it’s still entertaining and compelling to watch.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

In this situation, I think Helen Mirren is the one to be feared the most.

In this situation, I think Helen Mirren is the one to be feared the most.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Ali (2001)

Float like a butterfly and sting like a, uhm, something. I forget.

Meet Cassius Clay, Jr. (Will Smith), a twenty-something boxer who is fresh, young and chock full of fight. He’s also got a bit of a mouth on him that doesn’t make him the most popular boxer among his fellow confidantes, but definitely makes him popular in the eyes of the media that wants to hear/see everything he says/does. But like it is with most celebrities in the public limelight, there usually comes controversy and Clay’s was filled with plenty of it. First came his name change; then, his alliance with Malcolm X (Mario Van Peebles); his numerous marriages and affairs; his defiance against joining the U.S. Army due to “religious reasons”; his relationship with known sports-commentator Howard Cosell (Jon Voight); and plenty more where that came from. All of this eventually leads up to the infamous fight he had with a boxer by the name of George Foreman, in which most people dubbed, “the Rumble in the Jungle”.

Some of you die hards out there may already take notice to the fact that I’ve reviewed this one before, but honestly, that was so far back when, I can hardly remember what I gave it. All I do remember is that I watched it, wrote a terrible review on it and hardly remembered anything after seeing it. That’s what happened to me with most movies back in those early, immature days of my life, but nowadays, when I see something, I give it my full, undivided attention.

So yeah, I decided to give this a re-watch because I knew there was something about I needed to see once again and decide what about it drew me back to it. And after having seen it, for a second time mind you, I can’t really come up with an answer. That’s not because I didn’t pay attention again this time; in fact, it was quite the opposite. I fueled up on so much coffee, I was about to jump right out of the window before seeing this. Meaning, that I was so ready to see this and be able to give it the response it’s worth and not something I put out those many years ago.

"West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!"

“West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!”

But nope. Somehow, nothing seemed to change. Sure, I remembered the movie a lot better now than I did before, but there’s just something odd about this movie and I think that all comes down to Michael Mann himself being the director. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with Michael Mann as a director; in fact, I think he’s one of the better ones out there nowadays and I can’t wait to see what he’s got cooking next with this new film starring Chris Hemsworth. However, the problem with him is that when he’s feeling extra “artsy”, it gets in the way of his story – or, in this movie’s case, the lack thereof.

Which, for a biopic about one of sport’s most influential icons ever, means something. Not only do you get in the way of actually connecting to a character that some can deem “misunderstood”, but you don’t really allow there to be anything remotely interesting driving this character, or their story along for us to say. Throw on a two-and-a-half-hour run-time and you’re asking way too much of an audience, especially when you’re not giving them anything to really hold onto.

And that’s not to say everything Mann does here is bad – the look, sound and overall feel of this movie is, predictably, wonderful. You can tell that Mann didn’t take this as some sort of “paycheck gig” and throw in the towel (excuse the pun); he actually puts a spin on the look of this movie when re-creating the environment the United States in the 60’s. Even the boxing sequences themselves are pretty neat, but not in the way you’d expect them to be; rather than having the boxing bouts be full of hooks, jabs, punches, punches and hugs every single second, Mann focuses on what most boxing matches can be: Boring. Now, I’m not saying that boxing in and of itself is boring, but there can be the occasional lull in the action and Mann focuses on that quite well, almost to the point of where it’s too realistic.

Still though, I’ll take realism over any goofy, over-the-top boxing match (which is pretty much what the Rocky films ended up being).

But, like I said before, those bold moves don’t really work unless you can find a way to make the story work as well and that’s just what the problem is here. Mann literally places us right slap dab in the middle of Ali’s life without much rhyme, reason, or even a background on who this person is, why he is the way he is, and exactly who/what made him this way. A part of me feels like Mann was just assuming that all of us know this, or simply don’t care, which isn’t true; getting to know somebody famous and iconic from where they came from is probably the most compelling aspect behind getting a full picture of a person really is and why they’re so worth studying in the first place.

Here though, we just get Ali, who talks a lot, bangs a lot, fights a lot, and changes his mind about whatever it is that he believes in with the drop of a hat. Which, yet again, is another interesting spin Mann takes on this story, but it hardly ever goes anywhere. Instead, we just see Ali act this way and hardly ever get anymore development on it. And that’s pretty much how the rest of this movie plays out: Stuff happens, you never really get a reasoning behind it and it’s off to the next sequence of stuff happening. But while for most movies, from some directors out there (namely Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson, etc.), this would work because of how exciting and compelling this stuff is, Mann goes at such a slow-pace, it’s downright dreadful to sit through at times.

For instance, did we really need a seven-minute concert performance by Sam Cooke to start the movie off? Better yet, did we need to see a whole, nearly ten-minute sequence in which Ali jogs through the streets of Africa? Sure, all of it looks and sounds pretty, but when it doesn’t really add much to the final product, what’s the point? By then, you’re just taking up space and precious time, so don’t bother with it!

The make-up department was just having a field day with this one I'm sure.

The make-up department was just having a field day with this one I’m sure.

Another problem that most seem to have with this movie that I can somewhat attest to is how Will Smith is doing more of a full-fledged impersonation of Ali, rather than an actual performance in and of itself. And while I don’t necessarily think Will Smith does a bad job in the role (he tries so very hard, it’s almost uncomfortable to watch at times because you never know if he’s going to sprain an acting-muscle), I can’t say that I think this performance is “Oscar-worthy” or even the best he’s given, ever. Regardless of what some may say, Will Smith is a very good actor when he wants to be and when he’s given the right material, and here, he just doesn’t have it. He’s supposed to sound, look, and act like Ali and he does a fine job at that, but really getting to the core of somebody the media usually portrays as a “misunderstood, yet incredibly influential icon”, is just not something he’s able to do.

Once again, most of that blame is put onto those who gave him this thin-material to work with, as well as Mann for not really pushing Smith harder than he’d ever been pushed before.

The same can sort of be said for the supporting cast as well, which has plenty of recognizable names and faces, yet, aren’t given much to do except just act like other famous people. Jon Voight, for no other reason than that he’s Jon Voight, was nominated for an Oscar here as Howard Cosell which, like in the case of Smith’s Ali, is nothing more than an impersonation aided by very well-done hair and make-up; Giancarlo Esposito shows up as Ali’s daddy and gets a few scenes to work, but seems like a lot of his stuff was cut-out; Mario Van Peebles has some impressive scenes as Malcolm X, but, yet again, is just doing an impersonation; and Mykelti Williamson, despite being quite hilarious as Don King, feels more like a caricature than an actual boxing promoter (much like the real Don King, I guess, but that’s not the point). The only one who really steps away unscathed is Jamie Foxx who, before this movie, was mostly known for his comedy, but at least shows that he had some dramatic-chops in his system as one of Ali’s trainers.

Makes total sense now why Mann would later cast Foxx in the much-better Collateral, but that’s another review, for another day, folks.

Consensus: While it’s clear that mostly everybody involved tries, Ali comes off more like an uninvolved highlight-reel of the famous boxer’s most famous and controversial moments, that would probably be more compelling to actually read in a biography, than everything here.

4.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

"You best watch what you say about Jaden! That kid's an intellectual!:

“You best watch what you say about Jaden! That kid’s an intellectual!:

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Collateral (2004)

L.A. is just a really shitty place now that I look at it.

Max (Jamie Foxx) is a failed comedy writer living in Los Angeles who makes a living as a cab driver. One very tumultuous day, he figures out that the fare Vincent (Tom Cruise) he’s been driving around all day is a contract killer, committing a series of hits. Now, it’s up to him to somehow stop the killer from executing the last witness… as well as himself.

The one thing I like the most about Michael Mann is that his stories may not be the best on paper, but when their played out, they are simply riveting. Heat, a film where cop chases bad guy, seen it done a million times, however, it’s considered his best work. For me, this is his best.

The film starts off really nice and slow, with a couple of nice little talking pieces, but then as soon Vincent gets in the car, it’s zooooooooom…..fast-paced thriller here we goooooo!!! Let me just say that this film does keep you on the edge of your seat. Your watching as these two dudes go from one place to another, killing people, and get stuck in the stickiest situations, but somehow end up getting away.

The way Michael Mann films everything is just brilliant here. He shows L.A. at night, at makes it beautiful, then gritty, and the beautiful again. The cinematography is rich in design because Mann is constantly switching cameras. Some scenes he will use a HD camera to get that real look of these dudes running through the streets, then you got you digital camera for the real real look, and then he uses 35mm for one scene that will just totally knock your socks off. Mann shows L.A. in a way that makes it one of the most beautiful places to be, despite the violent under-belly.

Between all the gun shooting, running, stealing, etc. There are still many moments of talking, and these people aren’t just talking non-sense that you would hear in your typical action thriller, these people are giving some honest insight into life and death, and how will your legacy be viewed as, once you are dead. It was surprising how much was actually said, and meant something in this film.

I had a few problems with this film, and I can see others did too. There just so happened to be too many coincidences in this film. I can’t give away too much, but at the end, it kind of makes you think, OK, why in the hell is he looking for this one person, out of the 2.5 million people in L.A. Also, there is another scene that will have you basically going, OK, bullshit. Sorry about being discrete, but once you see these scenes, then you’ll notice what I’m talking about.

Tom Cruise, goes against type playing Vincent, the bad guy, and makes one of the best career choices of his life. He is just brilliant here. When you first get to meet him, you can tell he’s a big charmer, a nice smooth-talker, and then you get to see him in action. You are just totally mesmerized by this dude. He’s great at what he does, and that just adds on an extra level of creepiness for his character that the film strives so much for. Jamie Foxx is even better, playing a dude that just wants nothing but to get out of this sticky situation, but there is just one scene where you see him totally change. It’s a great scene cause the whole time we’re rooting for him, and then we see him actually turn the other cheek, we are more ready than ever. The supporting cast is also good in here too. Filled with stars such as Jada Pinkett Smith, Javier Bardem, Mark Ruffalo, and a touching scene with Barry Shabaka Henley.

Consensus: Collateral may have unrealistic things in its story by the end, however Mann directs this film with inspiration, giving off great performances from the cast, and a suspenseful story, that have could been done wrong so many other ways.

9/10=Full Pricee!!!