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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Ben Mendelsohn

Una (2017)

We’ll always have Junior year.

Una (Rooney Mara) arrives at a warehouse one day, looking for an older man by the name of Ray (Ben Mendelsohn). But why? Turns out, the two had something of a relationship when she was 13 and it lead to him not only being incarcerated, but even let out, forced to become a sex-offender, and move on with a different life, name, and in another part of the country. However, he wasn’t able to get away from Una, and on this one fateful day, where it seems like corporate has come in and promised to make cuts on certain employees, Ray doesn’t really have much of any time for this. But it also gets him wondering if he still loves Una for the little girl that she was and the awfully ruined and disturbed one that she is today. After all, he’s moved on and married, whereas she’s a drug and sex-addict, who seems to be using it all to mask her pain. Will she ever get over him? Will he ever get over her?

“So, uh, we doing this?”

The original play in which Una is based-off of, Blackbird, is a very interesting, riveting and smart piece of writing. It’s all in one room, with literally only two characters, yelling and speaking to one another and never losing sight of the heart and humanity in the desperation of these two lives. It’s why bringing the stage to the screen, can be a bit problematic.

Cause sure, while it would have been nice to have Mara and Mendelsohn in one room, doing the same thing that the play did, it’s different here, as director Benedict Andrews has a lot more time and money to work with. Meaning, he now gets the opportunity to tell the story in different ways, go to different places, and do whatever he wants with it, so long as he keeps the heart and sadness of the original. And while he definitely gets a bit too ambitious, who cares?

The heart and the sadness is still there and that’s all that matters.

Also what matters, is that we have two of the best actors working today, together and playing ridiculously challenging characters that we don’t get to see too often on the big-screen. Though her British-accent is a little wary, Mara is great as the lonely, self-destructive and beautiful Una; there’s always a huge frown on her face and you can never get past the fact that she’s lived a hard life where she doesn’t know if she’s loved, or ever will be again. Though we get tons of flashbacks to help us see what happened with the supposed “relationship” she had with the much-older Ray, the movie didn’t need it, as we can clearly see through the  long, winding and tearful eyes of Mara. It’s one of her more disturbing and compelling performances, yet, because of the small-distribution of the film, many won’t see it.

Clearly doesn’t stick out in a warehouse full of hot, sweaty men.

But they should. Not just for her, either, as Mendelsohn, as expected, gives another one of his great performances as a truly despicable, yet somehow, also somewhat sympathetic guy who knows the mistakes he’s made and does what he can to get past it. The movie paints him in a challenging light, where we never know if he’s truly just a dirt-bag, or a guy who actually fell deeply in love with a 13-year-old; by the end of the movie, we’re still not sure. What we are sure of is that Mendelsohn, once again, gives us a person we love to have, but hate to love, and it’s why it’s always a treat seeing him on the big-screen.

Together, the two create something of a tragic relationship that the movie tries to move around and make more difficult with subplots about big corporations, scandals, courtrooms, and family-dramas, but at the center of it all, is these two and they are what’s worth watching above all else. Andrews direction, mind you, should also be noted for the fact that the movie’s quite sleek and beautiful, but in a rather gritty way that never lets you forget about the darkness surrounding each of these character’s lives, whether they want to see it or not. The movie never lets us forget that, while we are seeing something of a love story, we are also seeing a story about two sad lives, who were once happy, in love, and together, were taken apart and had their lives ruined forever, because of it.

Is it a true love story? Honestly, who knows. And that’s the small, unfortunate beauty of Una.

Consensus: Anchored by two amazing performances from Mendelsohn and Mara, Una‘s a sad, honest, and rather frank tale of love, tragedy, sex, pedophilia, and romance, that sometimes gets a bit too carried away with other subplots, but almost doesn’t matter when the core-material is this compelling.

8 / 10

Kiss! Or don’t! I don’t know what I want!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

We’re like all connected, man.

After her mother is killed and father (Mads Mikkelsen) is taken from here at the age of 16, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has set her sights out on for her whole life to take down the Empire, in whatever way she can. After receiving a random message from him that he has plans on how to destroy the almighty Death Star, Jyn sets out with a group of fellow rebellious souls who, in one way or another, want to hope for a better world and future that isn’t so controlled by the Empire. One such person is Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a Captain who has definitely done a whole lot in his life that he’s not proud of, but knows to push all of that to the side in hopes that he and the rest of these ragtag folks will be able to hurt the Empire where it hurts the most.

Oh yeah, and it’s somehow all connected to A New Hope, which isn’t a spoiler and trust me, you won’t soon forget about, considering that the movie seems to remind us just about every second that it’s all tied together, through some way. Which isn’t all that bad because yes, it is a prequel of some sorts and yes, it is taking place within this universe that we all practically know by heart, so it would make obvious sense that they would try and tie it all in, make constant references, and give greater context to things we’ve been mulling over since the first one was released nearly 40 years ago.

Leia and Han? Kind of. But more British and Hispanic.

Leia and Han? Kind of. But more British and Hispanic.

That said, a movie should stand on its own, prequel or not, and honestly, that’s where Rogue One sort of falls short.

You basically have to know everything that they’re talking about here and if you don’t, well, then you’re going to feel left out. The one good aspect surrounding the fact that the movie hearkens back to the original so much is that director Gareth Edwards films the movie to where it’s kind of goofy and light, but at the same time, still incredibly stylish and polished to where it still feels especially modern. In fact, it’s hard not to look at Rogue One and see not just how much money was put into it, but how much time, effort and care was put into assuring that the movie had the look and feel of the other movies, yet, still sort of its own thing.

Sure, it’s a movie that connects one too many times to the other flicks and has to remind us incessantly about the larger universe that we already definitely know about, but when this baby’s moving and not focusing a whole lot on what it’s plot is going to turn out to be, it’s quick an enjoyable ride. Edwards definitely knows how to film action -whether it’s on the ground, or in space, or between a bunch of foot-soldiers, or androids – and to do so in a manner that’s compelling, as well as comprehensible, is definitely a step-up from the rest of what we get in the world of summer blockbusters and shaky-cam.

Then again, as good as the action may be, there’s still something that Rogue One lacks in and that’s good, substantial and above all else, memorable characters that, in the many, many years to come, we’ll never get out of our heads and/or stop quoting.

Basically, I’m talking about another Darth Vader, or Han Solo, or Yoda, or hell, even Luke, which doesn’t of interest to Rogue One. And okay, yes, that’s fine – I understand that it’s hard to sometimes strike gold twice when it comes to lovely, absolutely memorable characters and of course, they have a high order to work against, but still, anything would have helped here. Not just a certain trait that lasts long in our mind, but anything.

Rogue One seems to know how to bring all of these shady, random characters from all walks of life together, give them a mission to work towards and basically leave it at that. There’s nothing to any of them, with the exception of a particular set of skill that they’re able to utilize in the heat of the battle, which makes it feel like we’re watching a bunch of characters that we’re supposed to like, sympathize with, and root for, all because of what they’re doing, but it’s kind of hard when we don’t really know any of them. We get some small bits and pieces among the whole talented ensemble, but it still feels like perhaps the movie is holding back on something to keep us glued on to me, until it eventually shows its hand and, well, there’s not much there.

Sorry, Darth. Not as vicious anymore.

Sorry, Darth. Not as vicious anymore.

We’re supposed to care and roll with it, because well, it’s fun and it’s Star Wars. So why should we complain?

Well, it’s easy to complain when you have the talented likes of Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Alan Tudyk, and Jiang Wen, all doing material that allows them to have a few lines or so every once and awhile, along with a lot of kicking, punching, shooting and fun stuff like that. And of course, I’m not complaining that the movie takes their fighting habits, over their, I don’t know, real life, human habits, but it definitely doesn’t help that every character feels like sketches of someone/something far more interesting that either wasn’t filmed, or cut-out of the final product entirely.

Yen’s blind jedi-like character is pretty bad-ass and honestly, makes me want to see him more and more, but blindness and ass-kicking is pretty much all he gets; Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO droid is memorable because he’s a lot like C3PO, but much more violent and witty, stealing most of the scenes it’s in; Luna’s character tries a little hard to be Han Solo and mostly just feels like a far distant cousin; Ahmed’s barely here; Mendelsohn and Mikkelsen are pros at trash and can elevate anything that they’re working with; Whitaker is pretty bad here, but it seems like he was left without much to do; Wen is there to aid Yen’s character and gets to partake in some bad-assery, but what purpose her serves is never fully explained; and yes, Jones’ Jyn Erso, while not necessarily the most memorable heroine to exist in sci-fi, she still gets the job done, showing us someone we can trust in, but also want to know more and more about, in between all of the planning, and shooting, and killing.

Maybe I showed up to the wrong movie.

Consensus: Stylish and exciting, Rogue One definitely delivers on the epic, grand-scale action that’s become synonymous with Star Wars by now, but also substitutes most of that for a standalone story, with well-written, memorable characters.

7 / 10

True besties.

True besties.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Knowing (2009)

Nic Cage could probably save the world. Issue is, we’d all have to put up with a lot of yelling.

Professor Ted Myles (Nicolas Cage) makes the startling discovery that an encoded message predicts with pinpoint accuracy the dates, death tolls and co-ordinates of every major disaster of the past 50 years. As Ted further unravels the document’s secrets, he realizes it foretells three additional events – the last of which hints at destruction on a global scale, which leads him to go totally gonzo and do whatever it is that he can to warn, as well as possibly save the rest of society. If that’s at all possible, without being laughed at first.

"Okay, but seriously, which one is Earth?"

“Okay, but seriously, which one is Earth?”

This is one of those rare “bad movies” that are pretty terrible and you know that. Yet, there’s something so bad about the way they go about themselves, that they’re actually pretty interesting, as well. Not because you like the story, or anything that the movie is doing really, but because there’s just something about itself that draws your mind to it, if only because you want to see how it all turns out at the end.

That’s exactly how I felt with Knowing – yeah, it was a terrible movie, but one that I couldn’t stop watching.

While, at the same time, not laugh my rear-end off at.

Calling this flick “terrible” and a “piece of a crap” probably isn’t right since it honestly isn’t the worst thing that I’ve ever seen grace the screen, it’s more or less that it just doesn’t do much for you or what your thinking. Director Alex Proyas knows how to make anything beautiful and there are a couple of scenes here that he definitely shows that. There’s a plane crash sequence very early on that’s all filmed in one shot and definitely has a look and feel as if you were right there to begin with. Then, there’s another crash sequence with a subway station that’s well-done and features special-effects that actually make it more realistic than I had imagined the plane crash one as being. There’s also a couple of other scenes where Proyas really cranks up the special-effects volume and allows there to be more than you’d expect from him and his vision, but sadly, it falls like a dud.

"Give me my agent! NOW!!"

“Give me my agent! NOW!!”

If anything, the problem with these scenes is that no matter how striking they are, they still don’t have any emotion or feeling in them whatsoever. For both crash sequences, you hear yells, screams, hollers of terror and fright, but you never get that upset feeling in your stomach, nor do you ever feel anything for these characters whatsoever. It’s almost as if Proyas just wanted to throw these scenes in cause he had the money and he thought it would look cool; which is fine, because it can definitely look cool, but when there’s hardly any emotional connection to something like the world exploding, then that’s a huge problem.

Get all the artistic points you want, but this is the end of the world, dammit! Let’s feel that tragedy!

And it’s not like there isn’t any recipe for that to happen here throughout Knowing. There’s a story between the father-and-son here, but is so under-cooked that it’s easy to forget there’s a kid even in this; the religious themes come and go as if Proyas was just Spark Noting some parts of the Bible to make himself seem more smart; and, aside from the last 20 minutes or so, there’s never really any big surprises to be found.

Oh and of course, if you couldn’t tell by now, Nic Cage is in this movie and does what he usually does – give goofy-faces, deliver some terrible lines, and make us feel as if we are watching the same performance he did, two movies ago. However, Cage owns it all and is pretty fun to watch, because you don’t know if he sees this as a crap script, or is just really giving this his absolute all. Cage pulls a lot of his usual Cage-isms here as Ted Myles, and while I never fully believed him as a college professor, I still believed him as a guy who may, or may not, be slowly, but surely losing his cool and letting people know of a possible apocalypse. If anything, I’d like to see that movie, where instead of us just getting what appears to be a rip-off of the Day After Tomorrow and Armageddon, we get something more interesting and thoughtful to where we don’t know if we can trust this guy and all of his rants – all we do know is that he’s Nic Cage, so he could either be insanely out of his mind, or telling the surprising truth.

Either way, none of that is found in this movie.

Rose Byrne is here and mopes around practically the whole time, which is a huge shame. Considering we’ve seen her light the screen up quite well in the past few years with comedies like Bridesmaids, Neighbors, and Spy, it’s interesting to look back on these earlier flicks of hers, where she was still on Damages and everybody saw her as this drop dead, serious actress who couldn’t crack a single smile. Now, that seems to be what most movies rely on her for and it’s great to see that kind of transition from her.

Cause I bet you she’ll definitely think twice about taking up another part in a Nic Cage movie.

Consensus: Knowing is all bits of bad, but at least gives some entertainment in the form of Nic Cage and the occasional burst of inspiration from Alex Proyas, but they come very few and far between utter garbage.

2.5 / 10

I would not trust Nic Cage to save me from a plane crash.

I would not trust Nic Cage to save me from a plane crash.

Photos Courtesy of: Thecia.com.au

Mississippi Grind (2015)

You can never lose in poker. Until you lose. And then your life is done with.

Gerry (Ben Mendelsohn) is a bit of a gambler. This has then carried out into the rest of his personal life because he’s not only lost a marriage because of it, but owes a lot of people, a lot of money. Though he intends on paying each and everyone of those debts off, he still can’t seem to take himself away from the poker-table nearly as much as he’d like. One fateful game, however, he meets Curtis (Ryan Reynolds), a charming, silver-tongued fellow gambler who has a lot more lady luck on his side than Gerry. In Curtis, Gerry not only sees a gambling-partner that he can bet, gain and lose money with, but a pal that he can go on a road trip with and have all sorts of fun that he hasn’t been able to have in quite some time. However, while on the road to Mississippi for a huge gambling event, they get to know one another better which, in some instances, can prove to be more problematic than either would have liked. But at the end of the day, they’re both two gamblers, just trying to get by in a world that they constantly seem to owe money.

Reservoir Dogs remake? Too soon?

Reservoir Dogs remake? Too soon?

Gambling movies are, for the most part, fun. Which, if you think about it, is kind of screwed-up. For one, gambling is an addiction. And just like many other addictions out there, it takes over a person, strips that person of everything they’ve got and, if they aren’t lucky enough, may ruin said person for the rest of their lives. So yeah, as you can tell, addiction’s not a fun thing to deal with, let alone, a gambling one, so to make gambling movies, actually fun and exciting, seems odd.

However, Mississippi Grind is smart enough to be a little bit of both.

While on one hand, Grind shows gambling and being in the midst of having luck go your way, as an absolute blast and the greatest feeling in the world. The dice are coming up clutch, every hand is in your favor, and the chips seem to constantly be coming your way, no matter how risky or daring your bets may tend to get. That same feeling of electricity and anticipation is in the air during nearly every gambling scene in Grind (which is saying a lot), and it shows people why gambling, in and of itself, can be so addicting to those who want to get a whole bunch of money, in a quick, relatively easy fashion.

On the other hand, however, Grind also shows how all of this constant betting, gambling, winning, and losing, can also be draining – not just emotionally, but financially as well. Like they did with the stellar Half Nelson almost a decade ago, co-writers and co-directors Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck show the dark and miserable side effects that come along with any addiction, of any kind. While getting your kicks off by fueling your addiction may have you feeling as if you’re on top of the world and nothing can bring you down, the sad reality is that when everything does crumbling down and you do begin to think clear, sober thoughts, you’ll be constantly chasing after that same high, all over again. But this time, by any means/costs necessary.

And all of this is especially true with Gerry, played exceptionally well by Ben Mendelsohn.

While we get the picture early on in the movie that Gerry is, a bit of a sad sack who owes just about everybody and their mothers, money, we also can see that he’s trying to get better and forget about his addiction that’s slowly, but oh so surely, swallowing him whole. Gerry may go out to the scummiest casinos and clubs out there to play a little game of Texas Hold ‘Em and throw a few bills down, but he knows that he can’t go over any limit, or else it’ll be too late. And while the film definitely shows that that time may have already come, Gerry is still trying to make ends meet with his real-estate job and constant promise of giving those he owes money to, the money he’s already supposed to have been given to them by now.

But because Gerry seems like the sort of poor guy who is in so over-his-head with just about everything, he’s interesting to watch and root for. While we don’t want him to go to these poker-tables and throw all of his money away, at the same time, we also see what kind of over-zealous joy it brings him, so it makes sense that we’d want him to continue on doing what he’s doing. And Mendelsohn, as usual, is great in this rare-lead role of his, but also seems to fit into the role of playing “a good guy” for the first time in quite awhile. While there’s no doubt in my mind that he’ll soon follow this role up with about a dozen or so more smarmy, dirty and disgusting villainous ones, it’s still a nice breath of fresh air to see that he’s able to switch things up every once and awhile, and still have people believe in who he’s portraying.

How could anyone say, "You've reached your limit", to a face like that?

How could anyone say, “You’ve reached your limit”, to a face like that?

And while Mendelsohn deserves some fine credit here as Gerry, Ryan Reynolds deserves just as much playing the smooth-talking charmer that is Curtis.

Because Curtis always has something witty to say and seems to be the life of every party he shows up to, it only makes perfect sense that someone like Reynolds wouldn’t just get the role, but play it to perfection. But what’s so interesting about Curtis is that while he may seem like a good guy because of how fun-loving and easy-going he is, there’s also a hint of menace underneath it all that makes it seem like he’s definitely full of bullshit and is also trying to screw Gerry over if that means getting to more money for himself. These are two sides to Reynolds’ persona that we so hardly see, but here, as Curtis, the man does wonders with.

Together, Mendelsohn and Reynolds strike-up a wonderful chemistry that not only sees them having hearty laughs over the good times, but coming close to punches when the hard ones come around, too. You never know whose playing who, or if there’s even a play to begin with; we just know that someone is going to get more lucky at the poker-table than the other, and it’s going to completely set the other one off. And like I said before, Boden and Fleck do solid jobs at presenting these two characters as opposites, in terms of their personalities and whatnot, the movie still highlights the fact that their shared-interest (i.e. gambling), may also be the one that sets them apart forever and ruin both of their lives.

Now, who wants to go out and hit the slots?

Consensus: Both engaging, as well as entertaining, Mississippi Grind does justice to both the world of gambling and also the talents of its cast, creating a movie that’s definitely worth the watch.

8 / 10

If I saw these two at the bar, I would probably have to rudely interrupt and involve myself with whatever they were speaking about.

If I saw these two at the bar, I would probably have to rudely interrupt and involve myself with whatever they were speaking about.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Slow West (2015)

Slow and steady doesn’t always win ya races, people.

16-year-old Jay (Kodi Smit-McPhee) is currently stranded 19th Century frontier America. For some odd, inexplicable reasons, the woman that he grew up to know, learn from, and love (Caren Pistorius), has vanished. Because of this heartbreak, Silas figures that the only way to fix it all would to actually set out on a journey to find her, once and for all. Little does Jay know, the West can be a pretty rough and ragged place to travel through, and if you’re not careful, you could find yourself in some very tense, life-or-death situations. That’s why when Jay runs into the company of Silas (Michael Fassbender), a charming and smart outlaw that seems to collect bounties anywhere he goes, he wants to stick with him in hopes that his life will be protected. The only problem know is that Jay eventually finds out that his old love is know wanted dead or alive for a murder she may not have even committed in the first place, and now, nearly every dirty, mean cowboy in the West is gunning after her. It’s up to Jay to make sure that he finds her before it’s too late, whereas it’s up to Silas to make sure that the boy does, but that he also gets his money, as well.

Slow is exactly right. With a movie like Slow West, it’s hard to be mad at it for what it is: A slow, melancholic Western that doesn’t over-stay its welcome too long, nor does it ever really seem to find its own footing. With first-time writer and director John M. Maclean, it’s clear that there’s a certain look and feel to this film that’s supposed to matter to the story, to these characters, and especially to our own general feeling to the film as a whole. While it’s easy for me to say that Maclean clearly has an eye for visuals, it doesn’t translate as well to the rest of the flick.

Even if he hasn't taken a shower for what seems like a couple of weeks, M-Fass still rules the land.

Even if he hasn’t taken a shower for what seems like a couple of weeks, M-Fass still charms socks off.

But, then again, it’s hard to get on a movie that features not only Michael Fassbender, but Ben Mendelsohn as well.

Two for the price of one, people!

With Fassbender’s Silas character, we get the sort of soft-spoken, but charming-as-all-hell outlaw character that we so often see in these kinds of Westerns, however, they mostly feel like parodies of themselves. While they’re supposed to be taken seriously, these kinds of characters have been practically done to death by now, that no matter how cool, calm and collected you are, the character you’re playing may still come off as corny. However, this is not a problem that gets in the way of Fassbender, one of today’s most talented actors.

As Silas, Fassbender proves that it’s sometimes best to say two words, rather than to say 15 or so, and yet, still get your point across. Sure, it’s safe to say that this Silas character seems like he knows it all, been there, done that, and has seen whatever the world threw in front of his eyes, but Fassbender plays it in such a manner, that it almost didn’t matter to making this character work; Fassbender just finds his own ways in doing so. He could either be shooting people, calming gunslingers down, or smokin’ a stogie in the middle of a gun-battle and no matter what, Silas would still be cool, without ever seeming like he’s trying too hard.

And of course, having Ben Mendelsohn just show up and do his thing is great, and that’s how he is here. Not much different from before, except to say that there’s still an unsettling feel surrounding him where you don’t know whether or not he’s actually a cold-hearted killer, or just a guy looking for a quick money-grab. Either way, there’s something interesting to his menace, and that never seemed to go away here for him.

Problem is, Maclean doesn’t really find a way to make sure that the plot services both of these guys’ talents, as well as Smit-McPhee’s.

The fur just adds more creepiness, surprisingly.

The fur just adds more creepiness, surprisingly.

For one, the plot is simple at best, meandering at its worst. Whereas some will be pleased to see that Maclean sort of just lets his movie move along at its own pace, find its own direction, and even figure out what story it wants to work with, to me, it didn’t quite gel well. Constantly, it felt like Maclean didn’t know where he wanted to go with this story and didn’t have much of anything mapped-out to work with. So, instead of writing something down in concrete, he just let the movie go on and on, without much of a rhyme, reason, or direction.

Sometimes, this works if the movie itself seems to be a fun piece of random, but Slow West isn’t that kind of movie. Sure, it has some moments that are tense, including a gun-packed finale that’s surely the highlight of the whole movie, but overall, it’d be hard to make sense of just what’s going on and why. I’ve seen some people refer to this movie as “a dream”, and while I agree with some of those statements, I still don’t think it works in the movie’s favor; it never seemed like it deserved to be seen as a dream, no matter how many random characters popped in and out.

Then again, it all comes back to the fact that this is a Western that ends on a high note, with guns a blazin’, bullets a flyin’, and people a droppin’. To me, that’s always a fine time to watch, whether it’s a Western, a regular, old action movie, or a family drama. And if that shows anything, it’s that Maclean, while not fully ready for more and more pictures, definitely has a future in just filming action sequences, no matter where they’re taking place.

Because lord knows I’ll watch them. With or without a lame story.

Consensus: Slow West takes its good old time to get where it needs to get going, and because of that, feels meandering and random, but still doesn’t take away from solid performances and bits of action.

7 / 10

 

Trust the barber, kid. For your own sake.

Trust the barber, kid. You’ll never regret it.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Lost River (2015)

Working with Nicolas Winding Refn can do quite a number on a person.

Billy (Christina Hendricks), a single mother who has no job, no money, and hardly even a house, decides that it’s time for her to get employed so that she can support her and her boys, before the big, bad Bully (Matt Smith) comes around and does some seriously bad things to all of them. She takes up a job in a sleazy, nightmarish night club, where people simulate murdering one another for the love and cheers of the crowd. Think stripping, but instead of a pole, you have blood-squibs. While Billy is off getting fit into her new job, her oldest son (Iain De Caestecker) is left to fend for himself and his little brother, which isn’t easy, considering where they live is practically in shambles, where every native seems to be hitting the high road as soon as humanly possible. Eventually though, he finds much solace with a local girl named Rat (Saoirse Ronan) who looks after her grandmother, but is also being sought out by Bully, and might have to stop him, using any force necessary.

A part of me that wants to think Ryan Gosling meant to make this movie. Somehow, I feel as if Gosling is so smart and charismatic that he knew he wanted to make a total mind-fuck of a movie that, while may not be perfectly accessible to the mainstream crowd who usually ushers out to see his movies, would please him and his own creative tendencies. Maybe this is the movie he’s been clamoring to make for the past couple years or so, but just didn’t have the time, nor the resources to do so. But now that he does, he’s throwing it all out on the line, seeing what sticks, what doesn’t, and not giving a single crap because, at the end of the day, he’s the one who feels creatively wasted and also, gets to go to home to this.

Wait, why is she in this?

Wait, why is she in this……?

But sadly, another part of me, feels as if Lost River is just a jumbled-up, over-the-top, Lynchian-wannabe that makes no sense, doesn’t want to make any sense and isn’t really worth bothering to see, even despite the talent it features both in front of, as well as behind the camera.

Which is to say that there’s something inherently intriguing about Lost River – it’s the kind of movie that has no real point, yet, still features something resembling a plot and a whole bunch of crazy, off-putting happenings that can hardly be explained other than with a confused-expression on one’s face. If there’s one thing you have to give Gosling credit for, above all else, is that he didn’t settle for the easy project to make for his directorial debut. Instead, the movie is challenging, unique, and chock full of all sorts of beautiful camera-work that gets by being any one thing in particular, but also, is hardly about anything to begin with.

Instead, Gosling seems more interested in just allowing for certain scenes to take us off-guard and get more and more increasingly stranger by the minute. It’s sort of like Lynch, but whereas Lynch draws on real aspects of life that most people can relate to, even if doing so is a complicated task in and of itself, Gosling seems like he’s just showing us weird stuff because, well, he can. That may help stimulate himself, as well as our eyes, but when it comes down to doing something for the story, it doesn’t work.

So, in that case, it’s obvious that this is Gosling’s first rodeo as a director. He doesn’t yet have the creative skills to make a film like this work, nor does he know how to get a point across, if there is even one to begin with. That isn’t to say that every movie made needs to have a message at the end of it, telling us all that we’re supposed to think about and leave with in our heads, but to have some reason for telling a story is better than nothing at all; if you have nothing at all to say, then what’s the point? To have some fun?

Sure. I guess. But Lost River isn’t fun.

It's like a metaphor for like loss of innocence, or something.

It’s like a metaphor for like loss of innocence, or something.

In fact, it’s actually kind of boring. Once you realize that it doesn’t really have a direction and is sort of just making itself up as it goes along, then any sort of anticipation or excitement goes away. Say what you will about Lynch, Winding Refn, or even Lars von Trier for that matter – while they aren’t everybody’s cup-of-tea and sure as hell don’t always make sense with every decision that they make, they at least try to give us a plot that keeps things speeding along at a rapid pace, even while they’re continuously messing with their audiences’ minds. This is more like a Terence Malick film in that there’s no plot, no character-development, and barely any discernible dialogue; it’s just a lot of pretty, swooping images that may be pretty to look at, don’t make a movie, well, good.

Is this to say that Ryan Gosling doesn’t have a good film to be found in his handsomely-detailed body? Absolutely not. In fact, something as unpredictable as this, only has me look forward more to what’s next on the horizon for this guy. While I do hope that he gets some more skill behind the camera and the typewriter before he decides to take up another project, I can still see Baby Goose making a good movie, hell, maybe even a great movie. When that time will come, is totally up in the air. But for now, we’ll just lean on Lost River to be our example of what R-Gos has to bring to the table in terms of being a director.

And while that may not sound promising, for someone who is able to go from this, to this, in the span of maybe a decade or so, it’s to show that nearly anything is possible.

Both good, as well as bad.

Consensus: Incomprehensible, weird, wild, and random, Lost River shows signs that Ryan Gosling may make for a smart, inspired director in the future, but for right now, that will remain to be seen.

4 / 10

I don't know. Don't ask.

I don’t know. Don’t ask.

Photos Courtesy of: IndieWire, GeekTyrant

Black Sea (2015)

Submariners are the new pirates. Thankfully, no Jack Sparrow.

After all of he and his buddies get laid-off from their jobs, a submarine captain named Robinson (Jude Law) catches wind of a possible way to make plenty of dough. The only problem is that it’s from a sketchy backer (Tobias Menzies), who may or may not be exactly who he says he is. However, Robinson isn’t taking any chances because what he really wants is that money so that he can get himself, as well as his lads, back to see their families. So, Robinson gets a rough, ragged and culturally diverse group together and lets them know right away that he won’t put up with any sort of shenanigans going on/around the submarine. Problem is, after he tells them this, he also lets everybody know that they’ll all get equal shares of whatever it is that they find in the sea. Which brings up the question: If people know that there share’s get bigger, once some crew-members die-off, then will they commit any sort of wrongdoings? Well, Robinson and the rest of the crew are about to find out first hand, which wouldn’t be so bad if they weren’t at the bottom of the pitch black sea itself.

"It's either my way, or the highway! Or, erhm, wherever we stop for air next!"

“It’s either my way, or the highway! Or, erhm, wherever we stop for air next!”

Submarine thrillers, more or less, depend on one element and one element mostly to get its viewers paying attention: Claustrophobia. It works in all of the biggest and best movies in a submarine, and with good reason – normally, people don’t like enclosed spaces they can’t get out of. It doesn’t matter if they’re watching it, or simply witnessing it from a first-hand account, if you are able to create the allusion that you have to be up close and person with the walls that surround you, or else you’ll have to perish, then you’ve already done your job. People will instantly freaked-out and very tense.

This is the element that director Kevin Macdonald uses, but it’s not the only card he shows. Rather than just showing the audience these enclosed-spaces, with plenty of men sweating, Macdonald also takes time to focus on the dynamics amongst the crew that may, or may not, bring everything to ahead. That the crew is split-up between Russians and non-Russians, already gives you the impression that anybody could flip out on another person, because they may have misconstrued something in the wrong manner.

But once again, Macdonald does not stop there. And a part of me sort of wishes he did.

Because while the movie has plenty of excitement going for itself with the constantly yelling, running, crashing, shooting, and explorations into the deep blue sea, there are moments where it feels like maybe Macdonald and writer Dennis Kelly aren’t totally comfortable with just having these various characters argue and threaten one another to create tension. Instead, there’s got to be more twists added-on that maybe, just maybe, these guys are doing this all for nothing? Or maybe, these guys don’t have anything else to live for, so in a way, this job was nothing more than a swan song for all parties involved? Either way, the story gets a little too wrapped up in itself and it made me wish that Macdonald and Kelly trusted themselves enough to know that the simple they kept it, the better it was. The more that they threw on, only complicated matters much worse.

However, there is something to be said for a submarine thriller that is able to be just that, thrilling, without ever feeling like it’s re-inventing the wheel that’s been steered so firmly many times before. Macdonald doesn’t get into the mechanics of this submarine, as much as he just shows what works, why and how it can work for the group. It’s a simple understanding between the audience and the director that we don’t too often get in movies such as these; more special because Macdonald himself doesn’t seem to want to throw any of his intelligence on the audience members who may not know a single thing about submarines except that they go deep underwater and stuff. Macdonald shows an appreciation, almost an adoration for these submarines, but he never forces us to follow him and his love for them – simply, he just wants us to watch as these chums all try their hardest to pull off the greatest heist in submarine history ever.

The face you just can't trust.

The face you just can’t trust.

That said, Macdonald gets a lot of mileage out of his cast, most especially Jude Law in the kind of unattractive, challenging role we’ve been seeing him taken as of late. As Captain Robinson, Jude Law uses a Scottish-accent that may seem like no biggie at first, until you realize that it gives him this kind of hard-edge to make you think that this guy’s seen it all in the world, been through hell and back, and is just trying to make a living, regardless of if it is a simple one or not. With this role and the title-character in Dom Hemingway, Law has proven himself to be a far-better, more talented actor than most of us maybe had taken him for in the past. Sure, he’s still got his good looks, but he’s also getting up there in age and it’s finally about time that he’s at least approached this aspect of his life, and allowed for it to play-off so well in his career-choices.

In other words, I’m interested in seeing what “old-head Jude Law” has to offer.

Though Law’s definitely the one to pay most attention in this flick, he isn’t the only one who leaves a mark as there are character actors aplenty in this ensemble and all of them put in great work. Ben Mendelsohn, as you could suspect, plays something of a trouble-maker early-on, only to then slightly turn the other cheek and become something of a nice guy, even if he’s one you know to never fully trust, no matter how many times he says to grab his hand and pull-up; Konstantin Khabensky is one of the Russians here who doesn’t speak much English, but leaves you with the impression that he wants the same thing as his non-Russian counterparts want, and are just as capable of pulling-off some evil acts of vandalism as well; and Scoot McNairy, despite clearly being the odd duckling out of the whole group, fits in well as the whiny, annoying member who had to come along for the ride, but also works as the voice of reason well enough to put this whole story into perspective and remind all of these characters who they are all on this mission for in the first place – their families.

Consensus: Without trying to change the game of submarine thrillers, Black Sea is a tense, rather fun piece that focuses on all aspects of its story well enough that it makes the finale all the more effective, even if the twists do get a tad over-zealous with themselves.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Marcellus Wallace's dirty laundry?

Marsellus Wallace’s dirty laundry?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Exodus: Gods and Kings (2014)

Exactly why you never mess with guys named Moses. Especially when you’re near the beach.

If you don’t know the story of Moses by now, you probably should. But anyway, here’s what this movie’s all about. In 1300 B.C, Moses (Christian Bale) is a general and a member of the Royal family, which makes him a brother to  Prince Ramesses (Joel Edgerton). However, he is not blood-related, so therefore, when Seti I (John Turturro) passes away, it’s Ramesses who is next to claim the throne. While this doesn’t upset Moses, he knows that this won’t be good because Ramesses doesn’t take responsibility well and lets his emotions get the best of him. Ramesses knows that Moses thinks this and therefore, he banishes from the land and forces him to survive on his own. While in exile though, Moses finds out that not only does God want him to continue out his plan, but that he needs Moses to take control of whatever the hell crazy stuff Ramesses is doing to his land. Obviously Ramesses isn’t going to fall for all of this mumbo jumbo, which makes God very angry and nature so drastically turns on humanity.

And the rest is, I guess, history.

"Guy-liner is cool!"

“Guy-liner is cool!”

A lot of has been said about Exodus: Gods and Kings, and most of it isn’t about whether or not it’s actually good and worth your time at all. Most of it is, and reasonably so, is about the casting of the white actors in roles that were made especially for Hebrews and Egyptians. It was a small bit of controversy that held some ground, but it was made all the worse by the fact that Ridley Scott couldn’t quite shut his trap and therefore, seemed to have kick-started a huge list of people boycotting his film.

Is it reasonable? Yeah, I guess so. But that isn’t really the point of this movie, or even this review. The point of this movie is to inform and possibly entertain the audience about the story of Moses. However, the point of this review is to tell you that while it does the former, the later is hardly anywhere to be found.

Most of this has to do with the fact that Scott doesn’t really do much of anything entertaining, interesting, or even enlightening about this story. It’s all as plain as day. It may all look incredibly pretty, but honestly, there’s only so much one viewer can do with really pretty visuals. Eventually, you need an interesting story, to be told in an incredibly compelling way. If you can’t do this, then there’s something wrong with your film, all problems with casting aside.

And no, I’m not making the argument that Scott’s movie somewhat fails because we all know the story of Moses, it’s mostly because he doesn’t know where to go with it. He shows us that, yes, Moses was a person who spoke to God, set out to do what he was called on to do, and when it didn’t, all hell (literally) broke loose. This aspect of the film is, at least, exciting, fun, and interesting, something you don’t get from the rest of the movie. It shows us that not only does Scott still appreciate a nice monologue when he wants to use one, but that his exquisite eye to detail still pays off.

That said, I’m talking about what’s maybe 15 or so minutes in a movie that runs on almost two-and-a-half hours. Which wouldn’t have been a huge cause for concern, had the rest of the movie been at least somewhat worthy of watching, but it’s so slow and meandering, you’ll wonder if Scott fell asleep while making it, or was already in the midst of planning and filming his next picture, that he totally forgot about what was already on his plate. Either way, it’s a bit of a snoozer of a film and it’s made worse by the fact that some signs of Scott’s genius shows, teasing us more and more about what this film could have been, had it not decided to get bogged down in whatever it was blabbering on and on about.

And the same could also be said for the cast who, despite all being pretty big, respectable names, don’t really offer much to a movie that desperately needed something to liven it up.

Fleece on horse. Strike a pose.

Fleece on horse. Strike a pose.

Though Christian Bale is one of the best actors we have working today, it seems that whenever he is in a major blockbuster picture, he never quite gets the chance to show everyone those skills he’s known to have. Here, as Moses, he gives a pretty wooden performance that, at times, can seem inspired, but for the most part, just makes it seem like he’s reading from a Gideon Bible and doesn’t really care whether or not he’s putting any effort into anything. It’s not a terrible performance, but definitely one of Bale’s high-points, I have to say.

Same could be said for the rest of the cast. The likes of John Turturro, Sigourney Weaver, Ben Kingsley, Ben Mendelsohn, Aaron Paul and María Valverde all show up here, but hardly any of them leave a lasting impression on us. They’re just here to service a script that doesn’t know what it wants to say or do about itself, nor does it really know how to treats its characters, so it just has them talk a lot about seemingly nothing and see if they can draw up any sort of emotion whatsoever.

It seems like that was the same guideline given to Joel Egerton, although he’s a lot better off with his role as Ramesses because he’s call on one thing and performs it well: Be campy. Egerton seems like he’s not only having a fun time with this role, but is at least more interested in diving deep into who this person may have been and why he was inspired to make the actions that he did. Though most of this gets lost in a muddled film that could really care less about any sense of humanity there may be in these characters, the effort is still noticeable and it’s worth commending Egerton for. Even if, you know, the character was written as a guy who yells a lot, forces people to die, and eats a lot grapes.

Consensus: Everybody in Exodus: Gods and Kings seems to be trying, except for Ridley Scott himself and it proves to be a major problem for a two-and-a-half-hour epic that moves slow, doesn’t say anything interesting, and hardly ever seems to know what it wants to do with itself, other than just try and inform people about the story of Moses that they may already have known since kindergarten.

4.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Gotta give it to those Egyptians - they sure did have style.

Gotta give it to those Egyptians – they sure did have style.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Starred Up (2014)

When in jail, make sure to start as many fights, with as many inmates as possible. Heard that always works right away.

Young, feisty and chock full of piss-and-vinegar Eric Love (Jack O’Connell) heads to the slammer with a bang: Not only does he trash his cell, but even comes close to killing a security-guard. He does this not to just show dominance and that he isn’t afraid of anyone stationed in the various cells around him, but to remind people that he’s not a lad to be messed with. However, due to his constant angry-bursts, he has to cut a deal with the warden to keep himself closer to his father (Ben Mendelsohn) who also is, believe it or not, incarcerated at the same prison and taking on something of a new life, in the vaguest sense I can explain it as. The deal: Frequently go to and behave at a few meetings with the prison counselor (Rupert Friend), while also maintaining to stay out of trouble outside of the sessions as well. Though he’s clearly not going to back down from a fight without throwing a few elbows or two, Eric finds himself actually adjusting to new life in prison quite well, but sometimes, what happens in prison, stays in prison and with the enemies that he’s already made, he may have to look twice behind his back to stay alive and well.

Prison-dramas are usually effective, if only because they’re quite simple to make: One setting, a few characters, and only a few more situations/dilemmas that a certain amount of prison-dramas can actually explore. Though that may make the prison-drama genre as a whole, seem somewhat boring and unoriginal, there still seems to be enough life left in them to where something as small as Starred Up can make a noise, as measly as that may be.

"Stop being such a silly twat!"

“Stop being such a silly twat!”

See, with this movie here, rather than taking itself out of the prison itself and focusing on these characters, how they got to be in the slammer in the first place, and why, underneath it all, they’re tragic characters, the movie just stays pit. We hardly ever leave the prison itself, nor do we ever really get to hear much of a back-story as to why certain characters are where they are in the first place; we just assume that the outside world is there, moving on naturally, and that anybody in this prison, who also happens to be behind bars, did something bad to get them there in the first place.

Sounds simple, right? Well, that’s because it is and yet, somehow, director David Mackenzie is able to dig a bit deeper and make this movie more than just a standard prison-drama; it’s a movie about life, love, the pursuit of happiness and how we all, no matter how troubled our lives may be, want to just make us, as well as the ones we love, happy. Okay, maybe that’s a bit too sappy for a movie which, in the first five minutes, already features the use of the words “cunt” and “fuck” more times than I’ve heard my British grand-mother use (I don’t have one, but you get the drift), but there’s something to be said for a movie that shows itself as being so hard-edged, violent and mean, yet on the inside, beneath the surface and all, is actually quite heartfelt and sweet.

Okay, now I know I’m really losing you, as well as myself, but bear with me here! Please! Because even though this movie definitely battles with some issues and themes that may make the inner-man that all of us have, tighten-up a bit and demand muscle milk, there’s still plenty that most of the usual, testosterone-fueled viewers can enjoy when they decide to take time out of their day and watch a prison drama. Meaning, yes, there’s a lot of blood-shed, knives, fighting, tossing, kicking, hitting, swearing, and all that good stuff we can expect to see from just watching a single episode of Oz.

And it’s all pretty effective; though some of it is gratuitous, that’s sort of the point. Prison is a harsh place and if you can hang around in it, then you’re better off dead (and surely, you will be soon). But like I’ve said before, the movie gets down to the nitty gritty of who these inmates truly are and why most of them stick together, especially when they sure as hell shouldn’t. Most of these inmates are genuinely angry, distasteful people that deserved to be exactly where they are, but some of them, are just troubled and confused individuals that may have made a stupid decision in their life and paying for it as peacefully as they can.

That’s why Eric Love is such an intriguing protagonist to have – he’s a small, rather skinny lad, yet, has so much anger bent deep down inside of him, that when he has time to actually allow for it to vent out onto those around him, we’re absolutely terrified and see why he got himself into this place in the first place. But then, something strange happens, as the movie goes on, we realize that Love is actually the kind of character we expected him to be: Tiny, scared, self-conscious and would much rather use his fists to end an argument, rather than actual words of reasonable wisdom. And though we don’t get too much pretense as to who this guy really is underneath all of the body-tattoos, we know enough by how he reacts to those around him in prison and the various situations he is thrown into.

Somehow, I feel like therapy and prison don't quite together so well.

Somehow, I feel like therapy and prison don’t quite together so well.

Which is to say, that I think it goes without saying, that Jack O’Connell is downright breathtaking in this role here as Eric Love. From the very few seconds we meet him, to where we end, O’Connell seems to be on another planet of “Crazy”. Throughout the flick, O’Connell gets scream, holler, beat his chest, take off his shirt, run, throw fists, choke people out and do all sorts of other bad things, yet, he’s constantly compelling to watch the whole time. We get the feeling that there’s still a heartbroken and upset little boy trapped down inside of him, and rather than write him off as a “dick”, we see him as a character that can, yes, be nurtured and maimed, given the right supervision and guidance in his life.

Which is why it was also a great idea on behalf of the casting-department to go through with giving the role of Love’s daddy to none other than Ben Mendelsohn himself. If you’ve ever seen Mendelsohn in anything before, you’ll know that a role in which he plays a ruthless, tough-love prison-inmate is pretty much perfect, but Mendelsohn even takes that a bit further. See, rather than making his character a tough-as-nails guy in prison trying to teach his son how to survive in the hell-hole that is prison, Mendelsohn gives off a certain level of vulnerability and sweetness that makes you see this man, not just as a father-figure, but a man who is genuinely upset that he never got to be with his son during his formative years. Though he has a hard time of showing it, Mendelsohn’s character is really one who cares and just wants what’s best for his son, even if that means having to take down a couple of inmates in the process.

And that’s why, my friends, prison is not a place you never, ever want to be in. But the film doesn’t end on that corny note; instead, it focuses on the fact that, it doesn’t matter where we are in this world or what sort of situations we are thrown into, it’s never too late to be involved with the ones you love and their lives. Though the film doesn’t openly preach this out to the choir, it’s obvious that it wants to be about what it means to be a human being, and to love, feel, and emote, even when the environment surrounding you tells you to do the exact obvious.

Okay, now that’s very sappy, but so what!??! Prison is harsh, man! We all need a hug every so often!

Consensus: Simple, yet as incredibly detailed as possible, Starred Up may be another harsh, unflinching portrayal of life in prison, but it also doesn’t shy away from getting to the heart of the place, as well the various people who just so happen to be stuck there.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

How I usually look while waiting for the pregnancy test results to get back to me.

How I usually look while waiting to hear of the pregnancy’s test results.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Animal Kingdom (2010)

I knew there was more to those Aussies than just Steve Irwin.

Following the death of his mother, J (James Frecheville) finds himself living with his hitherto estranged family, under the watchful eye of his doting grandmother, Smurf (Jacki Weaver), mother to the Cody boys. J quickly comes to believe that he is a player in this world. But, as he soon discovers, this world is far larger and more menacing than he could ever imagine.

It’s a conventional plot-line, but writer/director David Michôd does a great job at handling this rather familiar story-line that most Hollywood flicks cover, and gives it an exciting and almost unpredictable edge that keeps this film ticking and ticking, until the very end. However, the whole film is not like that and I have to give it some credit for that.

The first hour of the movie, slows things up, focuses on its characters, and places us in a setting that we know isn’t nice, and is filled with people that are totally influenced by that setting. We also get a big glimpse into the lives of these criminals and just who or what they are, and it provides us with enough material to actually care for them, once their lives all become in-danger. This is one of those kinds of films were it features a slow but breezy pace to set its story up, but it’s not boring at all really, because even though there may be a lot of talking and posing going on, we know that sooner or later, the shit’s going to hit the fan real quick. And trust me, once it does hit, oh damn, it really hits!

All in the 'stache, ladies.

All in the ‘stache, ladies.

What’s so impressive about Michôd’s is how he is able to change the tone up right in the middle and act as if none of that even happened. We all know that pretty much all of these characters in this movie, are bad people, hell, even the cops can be a little dirty here and there. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that since every character don’t quite have the best morals in their heads, you know that you can’t trust any one of them, and they feel the same way in this film. Somebody’s going to end up double-crossing somebody and when that does actually go down in this flick, it’s not predictable and it sure as hell isn’t bloated. It feels realistic and understanding considering the types of characters were dealing with here, and we see why they do the things that they have to do just to get by. Maybe they aren’t the best acts of morality, but it’s what they all think is right and what continues their existence on this planet.

The problem I had with this usual, gritty crime-drama right here, is that this film doesn’t really seem like it’s trying to say anything new that hasn’t already been said before. One of the main themes in this flick is about the dedication and bonding of family-members and how each and every single person in a family, no matter how dysfunctional or corrupt, should stick up for the other one because in the end, that’s all you got is family. This type of theme wouldn’t have bothered me if it was used back in like, say 1972, right before The Godfather came out. It seems like every one of these crime dramas says the same thing, just with a different execution and this one really had me wondering just if this genre has anything left to say at all. I was glad the way that Michôd used a different way of speaking to convey this theme, but maybe it’s time to hang-up the whole “dedication to family” element in these types of films.

Then again, if it works for the mob, I guess it can work for crime-dramas, so what do I know!

It’s impressive to know that this was James Frecheville’s first feature, and what a first feature it was as Joshua ‘J’ Cody. Right from the start of the movie, you know that this kid is a sweet little innocent guy that means no harm to anybody around him, but is stuck in a pretty crummy family and continues to get himself stuck in some terrible situations. The kid chooses to hang around this, but that doesn’t make him a bad boy and it’s obvious that this J-cat, is one of those characters that is so nice, that he almost seem like he wouldn’t even hurt a fly. However, this kid has a lot more to him than that and I have to give a Frecheville a lot of credit for bringing out some major emotions in him to have us still care for him, whenever it seemed like he really went on to the dark side. I don’t know who the dark side was in this film was, but either way, it just wasn’t going to be good for him.

"Pizza!"

“Pizza!”

Ben Mendelsohn shows up here as J’s crazy, and I do repeat, crazy uncle, Pope, and gives one of those performances where every time he is up on-screen, you can’t take your eyes off of him no matter what. This guy is a nut-ball type of a character that seems so unpredictable and so damn wild, that it would almost be a crime drama fantasy to have him in here, but the character plays out in a realistic way and almost comes off as if he was grounded by Mendelsohn’ performance. I don’t want to say that I got scared every time this guy came up on screen, but I can tell you for sure that I wasn’t looking forward to it, either. In a good way. Also, sporting one of the sickest ‘staches in all of film-history as Officer Leckie, Guy Pearce gives a very comforting performance where you know that every time this guy comes in front of the camera, that something interesting is about to be said or done, courtesy of Mr. Pearce.

The one Oscar nomination this film actually got was for Jackie Weaver as the the very touchy-feely, mommy-figure, Grandma Smurf. At first, Weaver’s character seems to take the back-burn to this story for all of these other characters to get more and more developed, while she just stayed in the back and made-out with all of her sons. However, when the tone and pace of the film starts to change, so does her character, and layer-by-layer, we start to find out who she really is. Weaver just looks downright evil with those pointy, Cartoon Network-like eye-brows and she ups the ante with the evilness whenever she talks, because it always seems like she’s going to lead to a threat from her. It’s hard to say, but she may be more scary than her kids in the movie. Which yes, is totally saying something!

Consensus: With just enough detail to focus in on its characters, tone, plot, and performances, Animal Kingdom offers us a tense and unpredictable crime story that may have the same things to say as any other movie of the same kind, but still will keep you wondering what’s going to happen next to all of these characters.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Woah, mom. Love you too."

“Woah, mom. Love you too.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Adore (2013)

Knowing my friends and their moms, why can’t either of them be this open to experimentation?

Lil (Naomi Watts) and Roz (Robin Wright) have been besties ever since they were children. They grew up together, got married and had families together, and are not banging each other’s son together. Wait, what?!?! You heard me, right: They are banging one another’s son, and what’s the strangest thing behind it all is that they like it, and don’t want to put at end to it. Roz’s relationship with Ian (Xavier Samuel) gives her a way to escape the problems she’s having with her hubby (Ben Mendelsohn); whereas Lil’s relationship with Tom (James Frecheville) is mostly spurred-on by the fact that Roz is in one with her son, so why not her, right? Anyway, the two seem to enjoy nailing these younger dudes, but what happens when the idea of them moving on and getting acquainted with women more their age, becomes a reality?

You could only imagine how a premise like this would settle in with any real person, mother or not. It’s pretty weird to think that one second, your best-friend’s mom is cooking you sandwiches for lunch, and then the next second, she’s cooking you sandwiches for your post-sex lunch. Pretty weird idea, don’t you think? Well, what may be construed as “weird” in the eyes of normal folk like, say, you or me, may not be in other people’s eyes and believe it or not: I could totally see something as outlandish as this actually happening in real-life. Hell, it could practically be happening right from underneath my nose for all I know!

"So it's cool, right? Not weird at all if you start locking arms with my son, and mine with yours?"

“So it’s cool, right? Not weird at all if you start locking arms with my son, and mine with yours?”

With that said, the movie takes the daring, but bold choice in showing these characters and their situations as real human-beings, that not only have a reasoning for mom-swapping, but also do not judge the other for doing so either. They’re all fine and dandy with the idea that they’ll be having dinner like a normal bunch of friends and family, and then be spankin’ the hell out one another right after. Pretty weird, I know, but the movie never judges these characters for partaking in such actions either, and I have to give it credit for that, if nothing else.

We see them, for them, and, in terms of our main female characters, paints them in a way that shows them as sexually-dominating, getting what they want, how they want it. Usually in movies like this, the shoes are on the other-foot, with the male getting whatever type of sexual-satisfaction he wants, whenever he says so; but here, it’s a bit different and I liked seeing a movie approach a story in that light. It may have not been able to work any other way (except maybe if you showed it from the guy’s perspectives, and had the movie written and directed by Neil Labute) and I’m glad they rolled down the avenue, making it more appealing to all MILFS world-wide.

And hell, if that gets their rumps in the seats, then count me in! Can’t lie, but I wouldn’t mind myself an older woman here and there, knowing what I’m saying? Probably not, but so be it! I know what I like, people! Leave me be!

But despite the brave approach the movie takes to its story, somehow, someway, none of it ever seems to come flying off the screen. You’d think that with this much sexual-tension lying underneath each and every frame of this movie, that you’d probably need about four fans and bottles of water around you just to make sure you stay cool and alive for the rest of the movie, but it surprisingly never reaches that point. There are signs that it may go that way, but after the first scene where the act of sex has already been initiated, it all sort of gets repetitive after that, showing how these four characters all entangle themselves in affairs, and don’t really seem to care for much else, except for maybe time away so they can bang each other some more.

You know, weird stuff like that.

The film does make you wonder though, and it brings up this question more than often: What are these young dudes and older women going to do with their sexual-lives together when the idea of moving-on, meeting new people, and exploring life shows up? Well, probably sit down, cry, and pout like it’s no tomorrow, because that’s exactly what these characters seem to do and it didn’t really make much sense either; and it should have, however, the film didn’t bother to spend much time developing these characters further than just that they like having sex, and best of all, with each other. More time spent on who these characters are, the way they function when they aren’t spreading themselves across the sheets and what they think about doing for the rest of their lives. would have done a sexualized-story like this wonders, but it somehow doesn’t get off the ground or make much sense.

Or, "The MILF-slayers" as they like to go by in some circles.

Or, “The MILF-slayers” as they like to go by in some circles.

For instance, take the two characters of the young guys. Both are chiseled, sexxed-up, in-shape, ready-to-go, and able to get any woman all hot and ready upon first-glance, so why the hell are they settling for these older ladies, who also happen to be each other’s mommies? Never made much sense, mainly because they aren’t weird dudes. They definitely are young and use their dicks more as tools than as meaningful parts of their body, used for creation and years of love, but it never hit me why they would get so far as to bang these gals, and then stick with them for so long. Never made much sense, and as much as Frecheville and Samuel do try with their roles, they aren’t anything more than just a bunch of pretty faces, slapped on to some sexy bodies. Hey, I’m not going to lie, I was pretty dam impressed with what they had packing.

As for the two older ladies that they’re banging, Naomi Watts and Robin Wright, both seem to like this material and put their hearts into it, but the movie doesn’t really do them any favors either. Even though the movie is on their side and shows that they have wants and needs too, it never feels like it gives them much credit for being the great actresses they are. They don’t develop that much, and in ways, get really strange at times, almost to the point of where it really creeped me out. It is creepy to see them all hang out like a normal family that goes to dinner, chats, and hangs out together, but it was even creepier to see them try to step out into the real world, and act like there isn’t anything more going on between them all. Now that, my friends, is strange as can be.

Consensus: The premise for Adore is odd and will definitely shock most normal, run-of-the-mill humans out there, but it does take a respectable-stance on its material, and doesn’t pass judgment on these characters, as thinly-written as they may be.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

The future looked so bright for these friends, and then puberty hit.

The future looked so bright for these close friends, and then puberty hit.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

The Place Beyond the Pines (2013)

All you need is a little hug and support from daddy, and you won’t start robbing banks.

Handsome Luke (Ryan Gosling) is a stunt motorcyclist at the circus who returns to an upstate town where he meets up with a former fling of his (Eva Mendes), only to find that she has a baby of his. In need to support his child and soon-to-be family, Luke decides to start robbing banks and pulling off heists with a buddy of his (Ben Mendelsohn). After this, we see the cop who runs into a problem with Luke, Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper), and how he deals with the corrupt cops in his jurisdiction, while also keeping his head afloat. And we also see two kids, Jason (Dane DeHaan) and AJ (Emory Cohen), meet up together in high school, develop a friendship, and realize that there may be more between them that they never thought was possible.

Not only is this movie hard to describe with it’s synopsis, but it’s also even harder than hell to review it. Why? Well, it’s one of those flicks that just so happens to be built on the idea of it’s twists, it’s turns, and it’s surprises, which therefore means, any type of spoiling of those said twists, turns, or surprises, would not only be a crime against me as a critic, but a crime against you as readers. Also, it’s pretty damn hard to review, because I still don’t know how or what I still feel about it all.

What made me think this flick was going to be close to the second-coming of Christ, was not just the kick-ass trailer or the wonderful reviews it’s been getting so far, but was because of it’s director: Derek Cianfrance. Many people know the dude from his directorial-debut, the perfect date movie, Blue Valentine, and know that the guy has a knack and flair for telling an effective, compelling story just by using characters, plot, details, and dialogue. That’s it, and it’s nothing more. That’s why when it came to him tackling a flick that was like a mixture of the Godfather and the Town, I had no problem with it all, mainly because the guy seems like he knows what he’s doing and seems like he’d do anything that’s far from being deemed “conventional” or “predictable”. Granted, we’ve only seen him do one movie so far, but if that’s the consensus the guy has to work on: it’s pretty damn solid, I”d have to say so for myself. Sadly, this movie doesn’t come close to hitting his last. Sadly indeed.

Ryan Gosling: stackin' his money, layin' low, and chillin'.

Ryan Gosling: stackin’ his money, layin’ low, and chillin’.

But without jumping down it’s neck about the bad, let’s get into the good that will most likely lead into the bad. Rather than jumping back-and-forth from story-to-story without ever making it clear as to what the hell’s going on or how are these peeps’ paths going to cross next, we get three stories, that are told in their own, separate formats, without barely any interruptions at all. The first story is about Luke and how he handles being a daddy, but also a bank robber at the same time. Not only is this the most exciting story out of the three, but it’s also the best. The main reason being because it’s filled with so much energy, entertainment, tension, suspense, and emotional heart, that it gets you ready for what you think you’re about to witness. You automatically think that this whole movie is going to play-out like this first story where we all get all the action and flair, but still some grounded-sense of reality and depth, but that’s not how it all plays out.

Instead of doing the smart thing and keeping up with this sense of intensity, Cianfrance takes the film down a notch and keeps it grounded in the sense that we are watching a movie, and a tad predictable one at that. After we switch gears over to Cross’s story, we start to see the movie delve more into the conventional-side of itself where we see police corruption, people with badges doing mean things, and worst of all, Ray Liotta playing a sincerely, despicable human-being. He’s good at it, but can’t we put Tommy Vercetti up to something else nowadays. How about a role as an inspirational father-figure that does sensible acts for the rest of society? Huh? Not buying it? Oh well, at least I tried.

Anyway, where this flick takes a turn for the worse is not just because it begins to get, dare I say it, generic, but because it seems so obvious. Without telling you exactly what happens or how, there are certain elements of the plot that seem to be so predictable, that it gets to the time of where I could literally pin-point exactly who knew who, how they knew them, and how they were going to tell each other how they knew one another. It got to be a bit of annoyance and seemed more like Cianfrance took the idea of conveniences between two characters, as a way to show us that there’s a twist coming up, or something that we don’t seem to expect, but yet; we do.

That’s not to say that the whole film is like this, because as a matter of fact, most of it is damn good I have to say. There are moments where I was literally on-the-edge-of-my-seat without any other thought or idea that would take me away from this movie, anywhere near my head, and it completely compelled me. And that’s not just the Gosling parts, that’s the whole movie and it surprised me with what Cianfrance was able to bring up next, and how. The guy doesn’t depend on his dialogue here as much as he did with his last flick, but the atmosphere and mood is still there to mess with you and because of that, I have to still give the guy kudos for always allowing us to set our sights on something worth watching here. Can’t say that about many film makers who churn-out a movie a year, but thankfully, I can say it about this dude.

Same one from Hangover?

Same car from Hangover?

The problem is, after two hours and thirty minutes (yes, that’s how long it is), I was still left with an idea in my head: what the hell was that all about? The ideas and themes of there being issues between a father and a son, how we all look out for one another, and how hard it is to stay true to yourself in a world of evil and hate, are abundantly clear and here, and hit us in the face as much as beers to an alcoholic, but never seem to be worth the wait for. Honestly, when all of these stories do finally get the chance to come together, make some sense, and have us make up our minds on what to think of, it feels like a bit of a waste, mostly because nobody really solves anything. Gosling’s story ends a bit too quickly for us to feel like his life’s problems are solved, Cooper’s goes on and on without any clear happiness in sight, and the final story seems like it was all made for us to see how tension still arises, even as the new generations come alive.

It made no sense to me as to why this flick was named the way it was. The Pines definitely serve some sort of metaphor for each of these characters and the way they go about their business, but it didn’t seem reasonable. Certain things are said, and are left unsaid, but they never felt right. As the film continued to go on and on, these characters begin to pull off acts and stunts that not only seem unreasonable, but almost stupid. I get that people can deal with grief and sadness in all sorts of ways, but there comes a point in this flick where it just doesn’t make sense any more and feels like instead of dealing with real human-beings that have feelings, emotions, and a sense of right and wrong, we are dealing with a bunch of wacked-out peeps that act solely on a gut-feeling of anger and violence, without rhyme or reason. There are people out there who live like this, but in a flick like this, it didn’t seem right and didn’t make sense when you take the whole ending into actual consideration. If none of this makes sense to you now, please, go and see this movie and realize that there is a message to what I’m saying, as confusing and as bum-fucked as I may sound.

Thankfully, the ones that hold this flick together is the more-than-able cast of heavy-hitters that do what they do best: be compelling, no matter who it is that they are playing. The person from this cast that I think of the most when I say that, is without a doubt Ryan Gosling as Handsome Luke. Gosling not only uses that innate-likeability to his favor here, but also shows us that he still has the able chance to still scare the sheets off of us, and never know whether we can root for him, or boo him. Gosling has what it takes to make this character work and makes him the most fascinating out of them all, mostly because he strives to be more than just a convention: he actually has a beating-heart that doesn’t always make the right decision every step of the way, but at least tries to make up for them.

Eva Mendes plays his sugar-bunny that’s good, in probably the most-dramatic and compelling role we have ever seen her play before. Not only does Mendes do a perfect job at being able to not look hot or sexy, as hard as that may be for her, she also never forgets to remind us that this is a troubled and lonely woman, that we never lose sympathy for. Ben Mendelsohn is also a butt-load of fun and joy to watch as his buddy, a former-robber who helps him out nowadays, but don’t be fooled: this guy has a mean-streak to him that shows in a despicable-way.

Reminds me of the type of kids I'd hang out with in school. Except they didn't look like Leo DiCap. I did....

Reminds me of the type of kids I’d hang out with in school. Except they didn’t look like Leo DiCap. I did….

Bradley Cooper is great as Avery Cross, the cop with a heart. Cooper really does well at being the type of guy we can feel for and trust, even when he doesn’t seem to do the right thing, and makes you understand why the guy has such a hard problem to think for himself, or take matters into his own hands. He gets to be a bit of a self-righteous dick by the end of this thing, but no matter what, he always stayed true to his character, his motivations, and what he strives for in life. Rose Byrne plays his wife, that I wouldn’t say is still in dullsville here, but doesn’t seem to have much to do other be a chick that never stops complaining about how he’s a cop and always has the chance of dying on the job. You did marry him, didn’t you? So why the ‘eff you bitchin’ at him?!? Let a guy do his job and get that money, money!

Lastly, the performances from Dane DeHaan and Emory Cohen as the two kids that meet-up in school, is good in the way that it paints an interesting portrait of what it’s like to meet someone, and not have any idea what to expect from them, but that’s about as much as I can tell you right there. Just know this, DeHaan is great and definitely uses that angst-fueled look to his advantage, and know that Cohen tries to do the same, but his character is too much of a dick for us to really care about him at all. Okay, I think you know enough by now. Time for me to shut up and just go the hell home.

Consensus: With a more-than-reliable cast, suspenseful mood, well-written characters, and interesting plot-changes, The Place Beyond the Pines never loses focus on it’s story or what it’s trying to convey about it’s character, but loses grip with reality and begins to get more and more theatrical and obvious as it goes along. No matter what, you will feel compelled by this, but it starts to shy-away sooner than later.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Lucky-ass baby.

Lucky-ass baby.

Killing Them Softly (2012)

https://i2.wp.com/www.anomalousmaterial.com/movies/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/killing-them-softly-movie-poster-2-472x700.jpgRoberta Flack is so ironic.

Brad Pitt stars as mob hitman Jackie Cogan, who is hired to hunt down three low-level criminals (Ben Mendelshon and Scoot McNairy) who robbed a mob-protected poker game, that just so happened to be run by a top mob-boss (Ray Liotta).

I think it’s pretty clear by now that this is not the typical, shoot ’em up action-thriller everybody, as well as the trailers/posters/TV ads have all been making it out to be. It’s a thriller, that uses the suspense and actual thrilling-element of this movie in talks, discussions, and most importantly, it’s pacing. If you go into this movie expecting that, you’re going to have a hell of a time, but if you don’t, you’re going to find yourself dozing off quite a few times and wondering just when the hell somebody’s going to get their head blown-off. Trust me, it happens but you got to have some patience. Actually, quoting a Guns N Roses song would have probably been a bit better, but hey, that’s just me.

Another justice I think you would be doing this movie before-hand, is seeing writer/director’s Andrew Dominik‘s last-movie that came out a couple of years back called The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, because with that movie, you’re expecting a whole bunch of show-downs, people getting lassoed by bandits, people drinking whiskey, hookers flinging themselves around beds like pillows, and many, many trips to the local saloons. However, like this one, that movie depended more on it’s conversations between characters to really build things up and get to that point of where you actually get to see heads blown-off and feel like you just witnessed something totally, and completely awesome. Once again, you’ve got to have patience and see Dominik’s last-movie to really understand just what the hell to expect. I did both, and I feel great.

What makes this movie so entertaining is that right from the start, you know that it’s going to be full of tension and suspense but how the film goes about it is something that really caught me by surprise. Instead of going right for it, starting off with the heist and getting-on with the simple plot at-hand, we get back story  we get character development, and we actually get time to know what type of people/atmosphere we’re dealing with, and whether or not it’s exactly what we expected in the first-place. Hell, if you think this movie is going to be your typical, gangster shoot ’em up-like thriller, then you’re going to be dumbfounded once you actually realize that it’s already been 25 minutes into the movie, and we have yet to actually see the lead-character of the show.

And speaking of that lead-character of the show, Brad Pitt does an amazing job as the ruthless and toothless hitman known as Jackie Cogan. What makes Pitt so damn great and compelling in these types of roles that he chooses that are like Cogan, is that he looks and feels like this guy who just goes out there, wants whatever type of bloodshed he can get for money, and take it anyway he can, but at the same time, still be the smartest guy in the room that knows more than you may think. Because of this aspect to his character, we are always on-edge watching Pitt in every single scene he’s given because you know he has composure, you know he can play it cool, and you know that he’s not a slouch when it comes to getting the job done the right way, but you also never quite know just when the hell the switch is going to flip, and he’s going to take over anything and everything that stands in his way. Pitt is great with these types of roles and watching him play a character that was one-step ahead of everybody else around him, was just as fun to watch him, as much as it was for him to actually portray it.

Make no means though, because this is still Dominik’s movie and he still never lets you forget about it. His last movie felt like he was trying a bit too hard to go for that Malick look and feel, but here, the only type of style that I think he comes close to is the one of Stanley Kubrick, and that’s just me reaching for the stars. There’s no real style that this guy portrays and even though he may not have his own yet to where I can look at a frame or two and declare, “That, my friends, is an Andrew Dominik picture”, there is still something about this guy and the way he paces his movie’s and their stories to where he can do real-damage.

But then again, there were also these times where I felt like the guy was trying a bit too hard to be like his main character Cogan: one-step ahead of everybody else. In a way, that’s not a bad thing because it keeps us, the viewer on our toes as to what to expect next, but it also makes this movie seem like it’s biting-off more than it could possibly chew. For instance, the whole political-message is very bothersome and wasn’t as heavy-hitting as I thought, except until the very-end and everybody’s starting to spout-out some form of political exposition about how the world works, how our economy does what it does best (ruin lives, sorry too political), and how people are able to make a living (ruin lives, once again, too political). I get it, the story here of Cogan having to come in and take care of a mistake that the mob made is the mob’s own-form of capitalism, but that doesn’t mean in every single, freakin’ scene of the movie where there is a radio/TV present, that we have to hear the voices or see the faces of Obama, McCain, or George Bush. It doesn’t get that annoying, until you actually focus on it and realize that maybe Dominik should have just stayed with all of the conversations, by building-up a message and great deal of suspense, up until we get the bloody-violence, in that way and then we would have had a more clearer, understandable thriller that’s nothing but.

Then, when you actually do think about the bloody-violence, then you can’t think of anything else except for how freakin’ awesome it is. Just like in Jesse James, the violence doesn’t take over the whole story and make you feel as if you’re watching an action-epic of the highest-order, but only shows-up in short spurts in the most violent, most disturbing, and most realistic-way possible. A couple of scenes that come to my mind is one that concerns a slow-mo, build-up of a hit conducted by Cogan, and another scene where Ray Liotta gets his ass beat to a bloody pulp. The reason why it sticks-out so clear in my mind is because it’s not like what you expect from a movie like this: the guy yells, screams, and pleads for his life just like you or I would, and what’s so shocking and disturbing about this, is that the guy is a mobster-like character that shouldn’t feel pain, be scared, or even cry like a little girl. It’s bloody, ultra-violent, and very realistic in the way it portrays the pain felt for one character, and the pain we the audience feel when we watch a guy get the ever loving shit kicked-out of him. Gawd, I miss that feeling.

Speaking of Ray Liotta, this is probably the best piece of work he has done in the past-decade (that’s if we’re including Tommy Vercetti) and just goes to show you that the guy may be a mean-old, nasty mobster-dude that doesn’t take shit from anybody, but also is pretty human, too once you think about it. However, everybody else is pretty damn good too, to where you almost feel like the show can’t be his, or anybody else’s for that matter. Richard Jenkins shows up as the corporate handler who is hired to meet and talk “business” with Jackie, and does a great-job playing the ultimate square, but also a guy you sort of feel for since he is totally out of his element in terms of what there is for him to do, how, and why. Scott McNairy and Ben Mendelsohn play the two crooks that get a bit too hot-headed after the whole robbery and are both very different in their portrayals, but also seem like the two, perfect guys to come together on something like this that could really seem to go either way. Especially Mendelsohn who with this, Animal Kingdom, and The Dark Knight Rises, is playing the corrupted, evil-as-hell characters that we all see and hate in these types of movies, but yet, can’t keep our eyes off of, either.

The one that really steals the show out of the whole cast and may, just MAY, have a slight-bit chance of getting himself nominated for an Oscar this year is James Gandolfini as the old mobster that Cogan brings back to help him out on the dilemma he has at-hand. From the first-shot, you think that this is going to be Gandolfini playing, surprise, once again another Tony Soprano-like mobster, but this is the farthest thing from it. Yeah, he’s still ruthless, mean, and nasty as hell, but he also has a bit of a drinking-problem that escalates into us seeing underneath a convention we already know about in so many similar movies like this: the mobster. Like Liotta, Gandolfini’s portrayal of a mobster is subtle with his angry-emotions, but not so subtle with his sad ones, neither, and this is what culminates into the two best scenes of the whole movie and makes you feel like Gandolfini really needs to come back and bring-out quality performances like these, once again. Hell, I wouldn’t have even minded watching a whole movie where it’s just him and Pitt, shooting the shit about life, money, and crime, the way two old mobsters like to do it, and with the the two scenes of that I got here, I was happy.

Consensus: Going into this movie and expecting exactly what you see in the ads for this movie (countless shootings, crime, and cool walking scenes), then you’re going to be terribly disappointed with what the final-product of Killing Them Softly truly is: a slow-burning, tension-filled thriller that relies more on the performances, than the actual-violence that takes place itself, no matter how bloody or gruesome it is to watch.

8.5/10=Matinee!!