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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Bill Camp

Hostiles (2017)

Wish I could say we treat Native Americans any better.

It’s 1892 and legendary Army Capt. Joseph Blocker (Christian Bale) is coming closer and closer to retiring once and for all. He’s seen and done a lot of crap that would take its toll on any man in his own right, and for Blocker, who is no doubt messed-up in the head, he’s done. But, asked by his superiors, there’s one last mission for him to take out and it’s one he reluctantly agrees to on the basis of self-respect: Escort a dying Cheyenne war chief (Wes Studi) and his family back to their tribal land. Why does he not want to do it? Well, it’s the near-end of 19th century and let’s just say that Native Americans weren’t all that loved by practically anyone in the deep and dirty West. But still, orders are orders, which means Blocker, along with a great deal of his most trusted-soldiers, embark on a journey from Fort Berringer, N.M., to the grasslands of Montana. On the way, they encounter a young widow (Rosamund Pike) whose family was killed on the plains. But that would only turn out to be one small surprise, on a journey that would soon bring many, many more to come.

Give him a gun and he’ll run wild. Trust me.

Hostiles is the rare kind of Western that isn’t really a Western, at least not in the general sense. There’s not much gun-play, there’s not all that many trips to small towns, or even really that much conflict. It’s a movie that plays by its own rules and moves to the beat of its own drum, which is cool in a sense, but when it’s actually playing out on-screen, shocker, it’s kind of a bummer.

Like a huge bummer.

And coming from director Scott Cooper, it’s a bit of a disappointment, because even though he doesn’t have the best track-record around, he’s still a solid enough director to keep things interesting, even when they’re not. In Hostiles, the story is moving at such a slow, languid pace, it almost feels like it’s going to end up everywhere, but nowhere, even if we’re already told a clear-objective up front. Sure, it’s admirable that Cooper’s trying to make the anti-Western, in that there’s not many conventions and the movie’s much more about grief, sadness, and depression, but when you’re movie’s a little over two hours and feels like it’s about three, it’s a bit of a problem.

Which isn’t to say that there isn’t a lot of good stuff to find in Hostiles, cause like with Cooper’s other flicks, there’s always a few great sequences every so often. The only issue is that they’re strung along this rather long and melodic movie that never picks itself up. It can, often times, be gruesome, intense, and a little dramatic, but these scenes, how few there are, happen about ever ten minutes or so – the rest of the time is spent watching as these characters travel from one spot to another, all to a slow-tune. That may work for some people who are expecting a whole heck of a lot different from their Westerns, and usually I’m in that boat, but here, it just didn’t get me as involved as I would have liked.

Hitchhikers have never looked so beautiful.

The only real benefit to this direction is that there’s more attention on the performances, all of which are great, including Christian Bale in a shockingly un-showy role.

For one, it’s nice to see Bale dial things down, almost to the point of where he’s practically a mute. But his silence works well for a character who, we’re told early on, was a bit of a reckless savage in his war days and has done all sorts of hurtful, dangerous, and downright violent things. He gets celebrated and praised as a “hero”, but you can tell, just by looking into Bale’s eyes throughout the whole thing, that there’s something truly messed-up about him and the movie, as well as Bale himself, are both very subtle about that. It’s the kind of performance that saves a movie, because it makes you interested in seeing what happens next, if not especially to the rest of the movie, but to him.

And the rest of this ensemble is pretty good, too, although, it’s such a huge ensemble, there’s only so much love and praise that can go around. Rosamund Pike, like Bale, plays her role very grounded and quiet, to a devastating affect; Rory Cochrane has some truly powerful moments as a fellow-soldier of Bale’s who may be just as messed-up as he, if not more; and Ben Foster, about halfway through, shows up to be crazy and almost steals the show. The only disappointment of this cast is that the Native Americans here (Adam Beach, Wes Studi, Q’Orianka Kilcher), don’t really have all that much development to them, except that their stoic and in-touch with their spiritual side, or something. Maybe that was the point, but it seemed like a waste to just have them around, not give them much to do, and that act as if the movie truly cares about them at the end.

After all, it’s kind of their story, isn’t it? When will Hollywood ever learn?

Consensus: With such a slow-pace, Hostiles can take awhile to get used to, but with such a great cast, including a spectacularly subtle Bale, it’s hard to fully not be interested in.

6.5 / 10

Cry it out, Chris. Go for that Oscar.

Photos Courtesy of: Entertainment Studios Motion Pictures

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Molly’s Game (2017)

Win or lose, it’s always a good time.

Molly Bloom (Jessica Chastain) was on-track to become one of the best skier in the Olympics when a tragic incident ended her career in one fell swoop. Young, talented, smart, and without any sense of what to do with the rest of her life, Molly moves to L.A. where she begins working for some awful talent-agent (Jeremy Strong), who demands a lot of her, but also allows her to help out with his high-stakes poker games that he uses to hop-knob with all of the Hollywood Elites. Eventually, Molly starts becoming more and more of a regular at these games, learning the people, getting to know them, their skills, the tricks, the trades, the rules, and most of all, the lay of the land and how to run your own successful poker-table. It’s what gives Molly the grand idea: Start her own. And it works. She soon becomes so recognized for these games that, after awhile, the FBI catches on and it’s now up to her lawyer (Idris Elba) to come in and hopefully save the day. But the issue is: Just who are these Hollywood Elites that Molly got to know so damn well?

That’s the kicker: She won’t tell.

“Seriously, that much f****n’ money?”

It’s odd that it took Aaron Sorkin this long to direct one of his own scripts and well, Molly’s Game shows us why. Sure, it’s got everything that you could possibly want and need from a Sorkin movie – snappy dialogue, humor, drama, cheesiness, solid performances, and a zippy pace. But it’s also 140 minutes, which makes it total and complete overkill of what we know and are able to handle from a Sorkin production.

Sometimes, especially in the case here, we just need that middleman to help the audience handle what Sorkin’s putting to the paper, and it’s why all of his previous movies, are so damn good. Whichever director was handling it (whether it was David Fincher, Rob Reiner, or hell, even Bennett Miller), they knew what they were working with, what worked, what didn’t, what needed to be cut-down, and what made sense in the long-run. Those directors helped give us some of Sorkin’s best bits of writing because, well, they were tight and constrained.

In Molly’s Game, there is no constraint, and that’s both amazing and annoying.

It’s amazing because a lot of what’s in Molly’s Game isn’t just enjoyable, but it’s downright exciting. As a directorial-debut, Sorkin shows a great pizzazz when it comes to keeping this movie ever so quick, almost to the point of where it seems like he’s skimming the surface. But he really isn’t – he’s informing us of what matters in these games, what the stakes are, who the characters are that matter, why they matter, what their backgrounds are, etc. It’s a lot to take in and the movie could have easily been a lot, lot longer, but thankfully, it isn’t and even at 140 minutes, it can zip by and entertain.

That said, there is still so much here that feels and seems like overkill that it, yes, could have easily been cut down to size and yes, actually helped the movie out. But because it’s Sorkin directing his own script, he has no constraint and is practically pleasing himself. There are bits and pieces where you can tell that some stuff should have been cut-out, and other cases where you’re almost too entertained to care, but more than not, it’s just a lot.

Like really a lot.

A Molly in a man’s world.

But still, inside of the movie, lies a couple of great performances that help keep this movie interesting and most of all, watchable. And it helps because with Sorkin’s dialogue, you need actors that can handle it all; one of the main reasons why the Newsroom didn’t always work was because some actors knew what they were doing, and others, didn’t. In Molly’s Game case, everyone shows up to the table, ready to play and can handle themselves.

Most especially, Jessica Chastain herself as Molly Bloom, a person who’s perfect to be subject of a Sorkin film. Why? She loves excess, she loves living a fast-style, and most importantly, she has a billion-and-a-half flaws, yet, hides them so well with the snap of her tongue, you won’t ever notice. In this role as the sassy, but smart woman, Chastian gives a ferocious performance that reminded me a lot of her performance from last year’s Miss Sloane, but here, there’s more to her than just pure nastiness and cynicism. Once you get to the core of this character, you realize that she’s just a sad, rather lonely girl who wanted all sorts of fame, fortune, and a pat on her back from her daddy and she got it all, but it came at a price.

It’s a great performance that feels like another amazing showing for Chastain.

It’s also great to see others work well with Sorkin’s writing, that you probably wouldn’t expect. Idris Elba is quite solid in the role as Molly’s conflicted lawyer who doesn’t really want to represent her, but also can’t help; Kevin Costner shows up every once and awhile as her demanding and rather strict-father, but has a nice couple of scenes where he chills out with her and shows his true heart; Chris O’Dowd’s shady character shows up halfway through and, unfortunately, feels like filler; Bill Camp’s little bit by the end of the first-act, shows us everything that the man does so well; and Michael Cera, as “Player X”, proves that he can be an a-hole, but a rather intimidating one, despite looking and sounding like he’s 12-years-old,

Sort of like the person his character is meant to be portraying. And I’ll leave it at that.

Consensus: Quick, snappy, well-acted, and more entertaining than it has any right to be, Molly’s Game is an impressive showing for Sorkin, who’s pulling double-duty, but at 140 minutes, also feels like all filler, but no real killer.

7 / 10

Hero? Or heroine? Or a little bit of both? Who knows!

Photos Courtesy of: STXfilms

Crown Heights (2017)

Once again. Not. Much. Has. Changed.

Colin Warner (LaKeith Stanfield) is just another teenager living in Brooklyn. He’s an immigrant from Jamaica who is getting used to his surroundings, has a girlfriend, a job of stealing things, and oh yeah, plans on going to college. If not now, then at least sometime soon. That all changes, however, when the police arrest and charge him with murder. Colin has no clue who the victim was or who actually did it, but the police say they have witness-testimony of someone who looks like Colin, so it has to be him, right? Well, no, but still, Colin gets locked away for a little over two decades, without any sign of hope whatsoever. The only breath of fresh air he has is that his best friend, Carl King (Nnamdi Asomugha), is fighting for his innocence on the outside and doing all that he can to get a retrial and to prove that once and for all, Colin did not murder someone.

A conjugal, or dream? Who cares, right?

If it weren’t for the true story behind it, Crown Heights would have been another conventional, run-of-the-mill biopic about injustice and racism in America. Even if it wasn’t based-off of a true story, it would still hold an amount of truth and harsh honesty that with the current prison-system we have in America, makes it all the more of a bitter pill to swallow. But as it is, on its own, true story-aspect or not, it’s still a conventional, run-of-the-mill biopic about injustice and racism in America.

In a way, you want to give it a passing-grade because it’s a story that can be told one too many times, but you also don’t want to get past the fact that it really doesn’t bring much of anything new to the table that the Hurricane didn’t already do, almost 20 years ago. If anything, Crown Heights proves that the human spirit is the most powerful force of all and the fight for justice, should never wane, no matter how many years go by, no matter how much money is lost, and how much hope is lost in the wind. It’s a little schmaltzy and most definitely cheesy, but hey, it’s true.

Oh, and yeah, it’s a true story.

Eagles best corner-back. Just saying.

Writer/director Matt Ruskin does try, time and time again to really let this material jump off the screen, but it doesn’t ever happen. There are times when it flirts with true tension (like whenever it’s in the courtroom), but it never becomes more than just a sad story of an investigation gone wrong and a life possibly lost to an already corrupt justice system. As it is, it probably would have worked much better as a documentary, where we would have been able to get all of the information thrown at us, with such quickness and velocity, that it didn’t matter if we already knew how it ended. Documentaries allow for a human-face to be shown and it’s why true-crime documentaries are currently the bee’s knees today – they can be quick, fun, sad, exciting, and most of all, suspenseful.

Crown Heights never comes close to that and it’s a shame. Even LaKeith Stanfield, who is slowly becoming a leading-presence to keep an eye on, seems wasted on a role that keeps him playing one-note, the whole way through. He’s either sad, wistful, or crying and it can get to be a bit draining. Due to him being in jail, too, Stanfield doesn’t really get to do all that much with those around him, except for the scenes he has with Asomugha or Natalie Paul’s Antoinette. Everyone here tries, but like I said, if the material just isn’t there, there’s only so much they can do.

Consensus: Crown Heights is an unfortunate story, trapped in an unfortunately dull and lifeless movie that, without a great deal of truth behind it, would have been another cable-TV movie-of-the-week.

5 / 10

Too many faces like him, going through the same crap as him.

Photos Courtesy of: Amazon Studios and IFC Films

The Killing of a Sacred Deer (2017)

All family’s are screwed-up.

Dr. Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell) is a renowned cardiovascular surgeon living in Cincinatti and not having to worry about too much. He loves his wife, Anna (Nicole Kidman), and their two children, Bob (Sunny Suljic) and Kim (Raffey Cassidy). Both of whom are getting a little bit older so they are starting to show some signs of rebellion, but nothing too much. When he isn’t performing surgeries, however, Dr. Murphy normally spends his time with Martin (Barry Keoghan), a fatherless teen who insinuates himself into the doctor’s life in many ways. At first, it’s just casual hang-outs that no one feels weird about, but then, it begins to change and Steven has to soon try and cut the chord between him and Martin. However, this decision results in some awful things happening to his family and it’s now up to him, to not just make a choice, but think of the rest of his life, in retrospect.

Ascent into darkness. That works, right?

The Killing of a Sacred Deer proves, once again, that when it comes to building and creating worlds/universes full of our weirdest imaginations, co-writer/director Yorgos Lanthimos really can’t be stopped. Mostly all of his movies, while obviously taking place on planet Earth, all seem to live in these sort of odd realities, where people act, speak, and get by in randomly weird ways. Whereas the Lobster was literally about a whole world being changed, the Killing of a Sacred Deer still takes place in our day-to-day world, where single people aren’t being turned into animals, but instead, people say and do weird stuff.

And unlike the Lobster, the Killing of a Sacred Deer is a pretty downtrodden and dark movie. Whereas the former was much more comical in its darker-efforts, the later is an out-and-out horror flick that feels a little smarter and interesting than that genre usually represents. Lanthimos and co-writer Efthymis Filippou don’t really seem to be making fun of anyone, or any one thing in particular, but instead, showing us how humans act, when their backs are up against the wall and have to think quickly, and in ways, correctly.

As you can tell, I’m being very cagey about what this film’s actually about and what it’s premise eventually turns into, but that’s for a good reason: It’s best to see this wide eyes and ears.

But that’s also one of the main issues that seems to be holding the Killing of a Sacred Deer back: That it’s almost too much plot. After the first hour or so, once Lanthimos has built-up his characters, the conflicts, and the world in which they live, he sort of just sits there and lets it all play-out, rather than just going from one plot-point, to another. In a way, the Killing of a Sacred Deer ultimately comes down to being about one situation, but stretched-out to a whole hour and you can start to feel it; it’s still compelling and interesting to see just where it all goes, but mostly, it also feels like it’s just another case of Lanthimos loving his creation too much, he never wants to leave it.

Instead, he lets it settle, which can sometimes make the movie feel like a slog, especially when it shouldn’t.

But still, Lanthimos gets by on never letting loose of the tension that it’s in the air and because of that, the movie is always worth watching. You never quite have an idea of where it’s going to go, how dark it’s going to get, or even who’s going to be alive by the end of it, and that makes Lanthimos one of the far more dangerous directors out there. It’s something that we don’t too often see in modern-day cinema and it’s why it’s nice to see Lanthimos get some mainstream exposure, so that he can continue on his awfully deprived and sickening ways.

How envious I am of that perfectly bushy beard.

It’s also nice to see Lanthimos play with the big-leagues because he also gets the chance to work with an incredibly talented ensemble. Colin Farrell, returning for another outing with Lanthimos, works very well as the tight, straight-laced everyday man, Dr. Murphy. Farrell’s Irish, in case you didn’t know, but he’s always had to hide it in American-accents – but as Dr. Murphy, he’s Irish full-and-through and it’s kind of jarring. But hey, it also kind of works. We’re never explained too much about his backstory, or why an Irish doctor is over in the states, with a wife, kids, nice house, and seemingly never lost his accent, but that sort of stuff doesn’t matter because when it comes to playing slow-burning nuts, Farrell’s one of the best. He’s so devoid of any personality, that it’s almost funny and it’s why Farrell works so well here.

Same goes for Nicole Kidman who, once again, seems to be playing another suburban mommy with darker-edges surrounding her. But really, it’s Barry Keoghan as Martin who steals the show, seeming as if he’s just another sweet, rather innocent kid, who may also be something of an evil, despicable psychopath. There’s always questions surrounding him and his relationship to this family, which also works in favor of Martin who never seems to tell us exactly what’s on his mind, or what his next bit of action is going to be, but man, it’s so hard to look away from him.

Sort of like all teens out there, am I right?

Consensus: Less comedic than Lanthimos’ previous-ventures, the Killing of a Sacred Deer is also a tense, upsetting, and incredibly well-acted look at family-life and the decisions we all have to make. I think.

8 / 10

Just make-out already and be hot! Please! We need it here the most!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Only Living Boy in New York (2017)

We all long for the New York City of the 50’s!

After graduating from college and moving into an apartment, young Thomas Webb (Callum Turner) doesn’t quite know what he wants to do just yet with his life. He’s at that age where he’s stuck, but also inspired and full of ambition, yet, at the same time, still left sitting down and wondering, “What’s the point?” With the help of his alcoholic neighbor (Jeff Bridges), he hopes to find out what his purpose in life is next, even if that means sleeping with his father’s mistress (Kate Beckinsale). Wait, what? Yep. For some reason, Thomas finds out that his father (Pierce Brosnan) isn’t just sleeping around, but sleeping around on his mother (Cynthia Nixon), who is sick and doesn’t seem to be getting any better. Thomas is sad and confused, but mostly, he just wants to grow-up, even if that means taking up after his dad.

Yeah. Neither of these two are attractive. Like at all.

The good thing about the Only Living Boy in New York is that it’s just a tad bit over 85 minutes, making it a swift, quick, and meaningless little race of punishment. That said, the bad thing about the Only Living Boy is that it’s still painful to get through, regardless of how long or short it is, because as we all know with bad movies, it doesn’t matter how short they actually are, they always seem to go on forever. And ever.

And ever.

And that’s the problem with the Only Living Boy, it just never works. Director Marc Webb and writer Allan Loeb seem to be working on two different platforms in terms of how they want this story to play-out, or even what the hell it is. Webb’s a lot more grounded and subtle, whereas Loeb’s writing, when not overly-talky and silly, feels like a crazy piece of melodrama that loves long-winded monologues about the good old days of New York, love, marriage, and fine pieces of literature. The movie just never comes together in a seamless way and it’s a shame, because although Loeb has proven himself to be an awful writer, Webb’s better than this, as we saw not too long ago with Gifted.

That said, there’s no saving this sort of script. People go on and on, without making any sense, there’s barely any drama, and the characters, as thinly-written as they may be, don’t really register as actual characters, but as types. Callum Turner’s Thomas is a typical frustrated and confused young adult who, underneath the glasses and shaggy hair, is just another male model waiting to crawl out. Jeff Bridges’ alcoholic neighbor is just another one of those typically mysterious strangers, who has all of the answers and almost seems to be imaginary, until it turns out that he isn’t in the most silly fashion imaginable. And yeah, that’s about the same for almost everybody else.

All the ladies love the old Bond charm.

Save Kate Beckinsale’s Johanna who, honestly, both seem to deserve better than this.

For one, Beckinsale is a good actress who deserves better material to work with than whatever Loeb has here, but Johanna does give off some interest and promise every so often. She’s the typical hussy character who sleeps with married-men, doesn’t care, and is happy to just have money, fancy clothes, and a nice loft, but really, there’s a bit more to her. She’s sad, damaged, and in desperate need of some love – it’s not just about sex for her, it’s much more about actual human connection. It makes her surprisingly stronger of a character than you’d expect from something as dumb as this, but as I’ve said, it goes nowhere.

When your movie is so concerned with third-act twists about surrogate fathers and possible life-changers, who cares what’s interesting or not? You just want the movie to end. Which, eventually, the Only Living Boy does.

Not as quick as its run-time would suggest, however.

Consensus: Despite a cast that tries, the Only Living Boy in New York is poorly-written and chock full of melodrama that neither connects, nor ever seems to be an actual story.

3.5 / 10

“Let me tell you a story, about a house of blues.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Gold (2017)

Greed is sort of good, so long as your ugly, bald and fat.

After his father dies, Kenny Wells (Matthew McConaughey) is left without much to do in his life. He was so successful for so very long, but now, without the inspiration of his dear old daddy to help him out, he’s basically hitting rock bottom, drinking, smoking and eating a whole lot more than he used to. Even though his wife (Bryce Dallas Howard) is there to cheer him on every step of the way, there’s still something just dragging Kenny down and not making him able to catch that big break just yet. Then, out of nowhere, it hits him: Set out on an adventure to the uncharted jungles of Indonesia and look for gold. Kenny feels that this idea is great enough that he could get funding from just about any person with half a brain – unfortunately, that doesn’t happen. Instead, Kenny has to reach out to a local businessman, Michael Acosta (Édgar Ramírez), to help him on this adventure and see just what kind of gold mine they’re actually working with here. Turns out, there’s a whole lot of it hidden, and now, it’s up to Kenny and Michael to get it all out, make a whole lot of money, and not get dragged down by other various greedy sons-of-bitches.

"Trust me, bro. I can smell the gold. Or it could be my liver rotting away."

“Trust me, bro. I can smell the gold. Or it could be my liver rotting away.”

It’s interesting to compare Gold and director Stephen Gaghan’s last movie, Syriana, to one another because while they definitely have a lot in common, they’re also quite different in many ways, too. For one, they’re both movies that preach about billionaires, greedy businessman, and the whole mentality of making more money, by any means, at whatever costs. However, while the later was far more ambitious, taking on what were basically four different subplots all at once, it also happens to be the far more boring of the two.

Gold, on the other hand, is quite a wild ride.

The only issue is that it does take some time to get going. For at least the first hour or so, it seems like the movie doesn’t quite know what it wants to be; does it want to poke fun at this overweight, balding businessman who can’t seem to get the idea that he’s just lost “it”, or, does it want to celebrate him for the courage, the drive and bravura that it takes for him to get up, each and every day, expecting to make millions and millions of dollars? Gaghan, for the longest time, seems like he doesn’t quite know and it’s why the first-half of Gold is probably going to start people off on the wrong foot.

Because after said first-half, things are a whole lot better, in that they’re quicker, more interesting and most of all, just fun. After a short while of not knowing what it wants to say or do, Gold eventually figures out that making there’s some true joy and loveliness to be had in making all of this money; it seems as if it’s never going to end and basically, the world is your oyster. Gaghan cranks up the pace and all of a sudden, rather than having a dark, dramatic and rather slow piece about businessmen doing whatever they can to stay afloat, we get a dark, yet, slightly comedic, and rather exciting piece about businessmen making all sorts of money and having a great time doing it.

What? You're telling me you wouldn't trust this guy with your livelihood?

What? You’re telling me you wouldn’t trust this guy with your livelihood?

It’s not hard to get swept up in all of this fun and excitement, either, which is why Gaghan deserves praise for knowing just how to tell this story, the right way. Because even while it’s all fun and games, the movie still does have a little something to say about the ridiculousness and cut-throat world that all of these men seem to inhabit and it turns the movie on its head a bit. Of course, the Founder explores the same ideas and probably does a better job, but the fact that Gold does, at the very least, try and discuss these very real issues, is smart and makes it feel like something far more different than one would expect from the first-half.

And yes, it also gives McConaughey to have a great time with this role, too.

Of course, Gold will probably be best remembered for the absolute dressing-down and uglying-up of McConaughey in a role that gives him weird teeth, a potbelly, and a balding hair-piece. While it may seem like a showy-stunt to show us all just what lengths McConaughey will go to, it still works for the character; this Kenny Wells can be so vile and disgusting at times, it’s hard not to feel irked by him, if only by his appearance alone. That said, McConaughey is more than capable of showing the dark sides of this character and it’s hard to take your eyes off of him, even when it seems like the movie’s getting a whole lot more nuts and convoluted.

And yeah, the rest of the ensemble is pretty amazing, too. Édgar Ramírez has a nice chemistry with McConaughey, making it seem like the two could be more than just business-partners, but actual buddies; Bryce Dallas Howard doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but does have a few moments to shine; Corey Stoll and Bill Camp show up as vindictive and toothless Wall Street dudes and are perfect at it; Bruce Greenwood has an odd British accent, for some reason; Toby Kebbell puts on a weird American accent, for some reason; and yeah, there’s more.

Just know this: Gold is fun. End of story.

Consensus: Despite starting off relatively weak, Gold gets going and shows us that greed isn’t good, but with a great cast and lively pace, it’s hard not to enjoy.

7 / 10

See! Making money is fun! Now shut up!

See! Making money is fun! Now shut up!

Photos Courtesy of: Hollywood Reporter, Indiewire

Loving (2016)

Love the one you’re with. Screw the haters.

It’s 1958 in Central Point, Virginia and Richard (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Loving (Ruth Negga) fall in love with one another, are having a child together and you know what? They decide that they want to get married. However, because she’s black and he’s white, they’re not allowed to get married in their own home state, so they decide to drive all the way to Washington and get hitched the right way. When they get back to their hometown, not only do they realize that almost everyone in the town knows about their marriage, but they’re not quite happy about it, either. Most importantly, though, it’s law enforcement who wants both of them out of their town and somehow, find a way to make that happen. So now, Mildred and Richard are forced to move to Washington, D.C., away from the rest of their family and feeling more ostracized than ever before, until they realize that what’s happened to them, above all else, isn’t right and sure as hell isn’t legal. So they band together, pick up a lawyer (Nick Kroll) and decide to take their case to the Supreme Court, against all odds and with some sort of sliver of hope that they’ll be able to stay married and get back to their families, once and for all, like they have the right to.

Love is someone you can literally lean on.

Love is someone you can literally lean on.

Although he’s one of the far more interesting and compelling voices in film today, writer/director Jeff Nichols still found a way to disappoint the hell out of me with Midnight Special. Sure, it was an ambitious change for him and to be fair, the first two-thirds of it are probably great, but man oh man, that final-act and twist? Yeah, just didn’t work for me and felt like maybe, just possibly maybe, Nichols got a bit too ahead of himself and stretched out further than he could go.

But now, over eight months later, and Nichols has got another movie, which in ways, is still a bit of a change for him – a true, fact-based tale about Mildred and Richard Loving. It’s a tale that deserves to be told with absolute tender, love, care and integrity, which is everything that Nichols brings to the material; he’s very much in his wheelhouse of giving us small details about these characters and their lives, without ever seeming like he’s overdoing it or trying to get at something. If anything, he’s just telling a story of two people, who fell in love, got married and for some reason or another, weren’t allowed to.

In a way, it’s a change for Nichols, but it’s also very much what we’ve seen from him before.

And because of that, Loving works in small, glorious ways. Nichols is a smart writer and director in that he knows how these “based on a true story” movies can go – over-the-top, melodramatic, corny – and opts out for the exact opposite. Instead of going overboard with the raw and powerful emotions, he downplays everything, as if we aren’t just watching a movie happen in front of our very own eyes, but life itself. It works, in that it makes us feel closer to the Loving’s than ever before and also helps make us feel more and more for their situation, as if that wasn’t hard to do in the first place.

It also helps that both Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga are quite great in their roles, showing off a great deal of sincerity, even when they’re trying so hard to bottle-up all of their feelings and emotions. It’s interesting that the movie paints the them as two separate people who feel differently about the situation that they’ve unfortunately been thrown into; she’s all about the spotlight and believes that the more eyes on the case, the better, while he just wants to be left alone, stay quiet, and sit in the corner, unseen or unheard. It’s an interesting contrast that does wonders for their performances, especially Negga who’s smile and pure beauty lights up any room that she pops up in here.

Love is someone you can get locked-up with.

Love is someone you can get locked-up with.

Then again though, the movie does drop the ball on actually making us feel something for their love and their passion, which was, above all else, the most important aspect. Due to Nichols having to focus on so many other aspects of the story (the court case, the racial prejudices, the other family-members drama), it’s hard not to realize that the Loving’s themselves sort of get shoved away to the side, in that we never quite feel their love, their passion, or their fight for one another. They sort of just dance a little bit, kiss a lot, have babies, hold hands, and yeah, that’s about it.

If that’s true, inspired love, then hey, maybe I’m missing something. But either way, if you’re going to make a movie about a married-couple who love one another so damn much, that they’re willing to beat the odds and take on the man, to ensure that they have those God-given rights, then why not allow for us to feel that said romance?

Either way, Edgerton and Negga always stay good and compelling, regardless of the shortcomings of the script.

Same goes for the supporting cast who are all fine, with the exception of maybe one. It’s hard not to mention Nick Kroll when you’re speaking about Loving, because, as much as I hate to say it, he does stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a bit of inspired casting to have Kroll play the Civil Rights lawyer who does eventually pick up the Loving’s case, but it also doesn’t help that Kroll, for some reason or another, decided to play this character as a fun-loving, somewhat chirpy dude from the 50’s who talks as if he was a deleted scene from Fargo. It’s weird, too, because I’ve seen Kroll really do some great work with dramatic-material, but here, he just doesn’t fit in, especially when you have the likes of Bill Camp, Michael Shannon, and Martin Csokas, and others, showing up and putting in great work.

Consensus: While imperfect, Loving is still a sign that Jeff Nichols is back on the track to telling small, character-driven stories about love, romance and happiness, even without ever seeming preachy or melodramatic, given the true story-aspect.

7.5 / 10

Love is someone who, once again, you can actually lean on. Man, be independent!

Love is someone who, once again, you can actually lean on. Man, be independent!

Photos Courtesy of:Indiewire

Jason Bourne (2016)

All right, everyone! Let’s just leave this poor, ass-kicking, former-CIA agent alone already!

After the events of Ultimatum, Jason Bourne (Matt Damon) has, essentially, gone off the grid. No one knows where he is, what he’s up to, and quite frankly, they don’t care, either. As long as he isn’t causing any static and opening his mouth up about confidential stuff, then the government is perfectly fine with him doing whatever it is that he’s up to. However, Bourne gets tracked down by a former confidante of his, Nicky Parsons (Julia Stiles), and all of a sudden, he’s now back in the spotlight. Now, government-agencies want after him and super secret assassins, want him dead. Clearly Bourne doesn’t want to die, so he fights these agencies and assassins with all that he’s got, while also carrying around a hard drive that will hopefully bring out some of the shadier secrets of these agencies to the mainstream, for everyone to see. But Bourne is going up against some pretty heavy-hitters this time and he may have to take it to the next level, in order to make sure that he not only lives, but that the truth is exposed once and for all, so that no one falls prey to these agencies like he has.

Uh oh. Who was talking bad about this latest season of Project Greenlight?

Uh oh. Who was talking bad about this latest season of Project Greenlight?

So yeah, you can tell that Jason Bourne is following a pretty familiar thread: Bourne gets tracked down from government agency, Bourne kicks ass, he runs, he forgets stuff, he remembers stuff, and oh yeah, he has some bad things to say about these agencies after his butt. It’s definitely not original or groundbreaking by any means and it’s definitely at-fault for that, considering that we’ve got not just Matt Damon back, but Paul Greengrass, too. In fact, the only reason either of them are doing this movie in the first place is because they’re both back together and not working side-by-side with Jeremy Renner, or Tony Gilroy.

Would there have been such a problem with that? Not really.

Would I have liked to see how that movie actually turned out? Most definitely.

In fact, the way I see it, the only way for this Bourne franchise to continue on and not show its wrinkles, is by teaming-up with Renner-Gilroy Bourne franchise. Legally speaking, I know this may be downright impossible, however, there’s a part of me that wants it to happen, because both characters are strong enough to keep a movie interesting, regardless of what they’re doing. That isn’t to say that this lone edition of the original Bourne franchise isn’t so bad, it’s just that you can tell that some people are losing interest in making these stories more compelling, interesting, and smart, and more or less, just deciding to fall for the same old tricks and trades that made the original franchise such a hit.

Cause as is, Jason Bourne works both as a follow-up to the old franchise, that’s meant to continue the story of Jason Bourne alive and well, for more installments to come, but then, at the same time, the movie also feels like its own standalone feature. It’s almost as if the creators had the intentions of keeping this story going, but also knew that they may have to tied-up loose-ends, just in case. It feels very odd, actually, but also, doesn’t take away from the fact that when this movie wants to, it can be as thrilling as humanly imaginable.

Which is saying something, because the first three Bourne movies are pretty damn exciting.

CIA Agent Who Grows to be Sympathetic Towards Jason Bourne #70

Pictured: CIA Agent Who Grows to be Sympathetic Towards Jason Bourne #70

Most of this is because Greengrass, despite everyone’s qualms with his shaky-cam, knows how to make an action scene snap, crackle and pop, just like an action scene should. He gets a lot of mileage out of showing how these sequences, as small and contained as they may initially appear to be, can get so wild and crazy, that it’s hard not to get caught up in the chase and excitement of it all. There’s a nifty sequence by the end when the story finds itself in Vegas and there’s a crazy chase throughout a five-star hotel, with people running all over the place, causing all sorts of havoc. It’s the kind of fun, yet, thrilling action-sequence, that only gets more and more exciting to watch, once you start to piece together all of the pieces of the possible puzzle, not knowing what’s going to happen next, or to whom.

And that’s the real beauty of these Bourne movies – the fact that we don’t always know how they’re going to end, even if, yes, we totally do.

Which isn’t any hit on Damon, or anyone else here. As is, the movie treats them as well as it should – they’ve all got plenty of meaty material that can sometimes be silly, but can also sometimes be cool to watch. For instance, all of the scenes with Tommy Lee Jones are fun to watch because, well, we know he can handle material like this as good as the next guy – he’s basically playing the same role he played in the Fugitive and you know what? It still works. He’s still cranky and stealing every scene imaginable. Then, there’s also Riz Ahmed, Bill Camp (strangest the Night Of reunion) Alicia Vikander, and Vincent Cassell showing up, and adding a little bit of flair to the proceedings, reminding us that every little cast-member, regardless of how much time they got dedicated to them, are definitely worth watching because they add a little something.

But no matter what, it’s Damon who ends the movie on a bright note, showing what he can do, with so little and still reminding us that this protagonist is someone worth caring about and seeing more movies of. Sure, the backstory with his daddy and all was a bit overwrought, but hey, it gave us more time to see what happened in this character’s past, as well as gave us more time to spend with Gregg Henry.

Now, when’s that such a bad thing to have in your movie?

Answer is: Never.

Consensus: Though the story may be lacking in originality, Jason Bourne gets by mostly on its tense, exciting and always fun action, to go along with some pretty solid acting in a summer blockbuster that would have otherwise not taken the time to even care about such petty things in the first place, had different people been working on it.

7 / 10

Still not coming to you, man? Oh well. Maybe the next movie you'll remember the expiration date on the milk.

Still not coming to you, man? Oh well. Maybe the next movie you’ll remember the expiration date on the milk.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Midnight Special (2016)

Somebody’s been watching a bit too much Spielberg.

Alton (Jaeden Lieberher), a young boy who possess special powers and has lightning beams shoot out of his eyes whenever he takes off his goggles, is on the run from the law, as well as some cult who needs him for something. Taking him away from these cruel and mean baddies is his father (Michael Shannon), his daddy’s friend (Joel Edgerton), and his mother (Kirsten Dunst). All of them want to get Alton away to safety, not just because he’s their his actual kid, but because he has the one and only way to some sort of promised land that they’re promised. Call it religion, call it what you will, but they believe Alton can do something for the greater good of their society. However, hot on their heels is the FBI, but most importantly, a new agent by the name of Paul (Adam Driver) who, surprisingly, finds himself more drawn to what’s actually going on, rather than anything illegal in nature. He, like basically everyone else, wants to figure out just what key Alton holds and whether or not he can live up to the odd promise that it seems like everyone around him is making.

You know he's about ready to freak the 'eff out any second now.

You know he’s about ready to freak the ‘eff out any second now.

Writer/director Jeff Nichols has been making some great films for quite some time and, in my mind at least, he’s probably four-for-four. Not all of his movies have been masterpieces, but, for the most part, they’ve all been good and have at least done something better than most movies out there. Also, they seem to exist in the real dark, gritty and Southern-fried world that we currently live in, where all men have daddy issues, don’t know how to relate to one another, and experience death, in at least one way or another. They’re smart, somewhat relatable stories about humans who you can’t help but be interested by.

That’s why, Midnight Special, while not a slam-dunk like his other movies, still works well because it features a lot of what Nichols does best: Human-drama.

But what’s probably the most interesting aspect about Midnight Special is that there’s more than just humans and drama here – there’s an air of mystery surrounding just who this Alton kid is, what he’s able to do, and whether or not he really can live up to some promise of possessing the keys to the kingdom, or something. The movie never makes much sense of what it is that Alton can do, but for awhile, it doesn’t really seem like that’s going to be the key, main focus; instead, it felt like it was just going to be about how these people relate to one another, in a situation that’s pretty tense and dire. Sure, we may not have a clue as to why people are chasing after these characters, with shotguns and whatnot, but still, we know that it’s not a good situation, and because we get some time to spend and share with these main characters, it’s worth getting involved with them and seeing where their adventure takes them.

And that’s why, when the focus is placed solely on these characters and not much else, Midnight Special works great. It helps that Nichols himself is able to, once again, gather up a solid cast to make his material even better, but still, there’s certain details to each and everyone of them that make them worth being compelled by. Mostly though, it is, once again, Michael Shannon who delivers the best performance as Alton’s daddy, who may or may not have sinister intentions. It’s probably no surprise to anyone to see that Shannon’s the best, because yes, he is the one who constantly appears in Nichols’ work, but still, there’s something to be said for an actor who is and a performance that is constantly making us wonder just what this person is going to do next.

We know he’s a good guy, but what is he using this Alton kid for?

To destroy the world, slowly but surely?

Or, does he just want his son to be happy and feel free in a world that accepts him and isn’t trying to hunt him down for one reason or another?

Cheer up, Joel. If you don't like your time spent here, there's always another movie like the Gift, you sick and twisted f**k.

Cheer up, Joel. If you don’t like your time spent here, there’s always another movie like the Gift, you sick and twisted f**k.

Yeah, take those questions as you will and make up your own answers, because honestly, Nichols doesn’t seem all that interested in answering them. And that is totally fine. Nichols has enough strong material going on here that it all mostly works, even when it seems like he’s just jerking us around, giving us constant red herrings to shake our heads at, but still remember when the time comes for the ending.

And speaking of that ending, well, it’s pretty crummy. Maybe, yeah, I shouldn’t say “the ending”, because it’s more or less the big “reveal” of what kind of powers Alton possess and what everybody’s been waiting around and searching for, for the past two hours. It comes as a big surprise, really, but not a good one; it almost seems as if Nichols knew that he was thrown into a corner and had to deliver on some sort of twist that allowed for everything to make some sort of sense, and rather than just leaving it up in the air and pissing people off, he decided to give a reveal, but not actually work at making it understandable.

Of course, this is all spoiler-y material which I won’t dive into here, however, I will say that it disappointed me with whatever happened. For awhile, it seemed like Midnight Special was going to be a smarter, but more thrilling adventure into the Southern farmlands that we usually get from Nichols, but for some reason, the mystery starts to take over and become more of a central focus than any of the characters. It’s fine at first, until you realize that the end-game doesn’t quite work, or make that much sense.

But hey, at least getting there is good enough.

Consensus: A solid cast, a smart, tender direction from Nichols, and an aura of odd mystery, allows for Midnight Special to work, all up until the final few minutes, where it doesn’t make much sense and just seems like it was forced to make something up, unfortunately.

6.5 / 10

Kids. What the hell are they even looking at half the time?

Children. What the hell are they even looking at half the time?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Black Mass (2015)

Tim Burton must feel pretty useless right about now.

Whitey Bulger (Johnny Depp) was one of the most notorious criminals in history. He ran South Boston by his rules, which, for the most part, consisted of a lot of drugs, booze, women, and murder – actually, there was lots and lots of murder involved. But the reason why Whitey was so able to get away with all of his criminal escapades was because he aligned himself with an old pal of his, John Connolly (Joel Edgerton), who just so happened to be part of the FBI. Because Connolly looked up to and adored Bulger, he gets the FBI to strike some sort of deal where they’ll take down all of Bulger’s enemies (the Italian mob, local kingpins, etc.), and Bulger himself will practically be able to get away with anything he wants. Nobody quite catches on to this fact just yet, but eventually, the blood-shed, the drugs, and the murders become too much and too frequent to the point of where people start to notice that something is awry with this deal between Bulger and the FBI. And it all comes down to Connolly and Bulger’s relationship; one that will ruin both of their lives forever.

"Don't you dare say your sunglasses are cooler than mine!"

“Don’t you dare say your sunglasses are cooler than mine!”

Finally, after a few months of sitting through some okay-to-good movies, it seems like the time has come for extraordinarily great movies to start hitting the cinemaplexes. While I am very tempted to say “Oscar season is upon us”, my better-half doesn’t want to because that seems to have recently given off a negative connotation. Rather than just being about good movies that deserve our attention, Oscar season is more about how studios finagle and manipulate their way into getting more votes and notice from the Academy, so that they can make more money, become more successful, and continue to do so for as long as they want to. And while Black Mass may not be a total Oscar-bait-y movie, through and through, it’s still a sign of good things to, hopefully, come in the next few or so months.

Oh yeah, and Johnny Depp’s pretty good in this too.

In fact, he’s really good. As good as he’s been since he started hanging around with Tim Burton. And while you could make the case that, yes, Depp is once again playing a notorious gangster (like he did in Public Enemies as John Dillinger not too long ago), there’s still something that feels different about this portrayal here that makes it seem like we’re not watching Johnny Depp playingJohnny Depp“. But instead, we’re watching Johnny Depp play Whitey Bulger, a ruthless, cut-throat, mean and sadistic crime-boss that intimidated practically everyone around him, that nobody ever dared to step up to him.

Sure, some of that has to do with the sometimes-distracting make-up job that’s trying so desperately hard to make Depp have some sort of similarities to the infamous Bulger, but Depp is so dedicated to making a character, that it works throughout the whole movie. He’s one-note for sure, but he’s so scary and terrifying to watch, even as he holds conversations that seem to go south as soon as somebody steps slightly out-of-line, that it’s hard to take your eyes off of him. Which is an all the more impressive feat when you consider that Black Mass isn’t exactly a Depp-centerpiece, as much as it’s an ensemble piece, where everybody gets their chance to show up, do some solid work, and give Depp a run for his money.

Depp may still own the movie at the end the day, but it’s an effort that’s compelling.

This is mostly evident with Joel Edgerton’s performance as John Connolly, a close friend and confidante of Bulger who, after awhile, you begin to feel bad for. Though Connolly is dirty, corrupt, and tries to avoid every idea that Bulger may get incriminated for all the wrongdoings he’s committed, there’s still something interesting to view and dissect. That Connolly looks up to Bulger more as a big brother, rather than a pal, makes it all the more clear that there’s something inherently wrong with Connolly’s own psyche, but he doesn’t own up to the fact and watching Edgerton play around with this character, showing-off all sorts of shadings, is enjoyable. It may not be as showy of a performance as Depp’s, but there’s something that sits with you long after that puts Black Mass over the hill of being more than just “an entertaining gangster pic”.

Come on, David Harbour and Kevin Bacon: If you're an FBI agent in the 1970's, you've got to have a sweet-ass 'stache!

Come on, David Harbour and Kevin Bacon: If you’re an FBI agent in the 1970’s, you’ve got to have a sweet-ass ‘stache!

Which is to say that, yes, Black Mass is in fact, an entertaining gangster pic. Director Scott Cooper and co-writers Mark Mallouk and Jez Butterworth clearly have a love for these kinds of raw, gritty, and violent gangster flicks in the same vein as Scorsese and do well in constructing a movie that’s both fun, as well as emotional. While it’s hard to really get attached to any character in particular, there’s still interesting anecdotes made about certain character’s and their lives that make it more of an interesting watch.

For instance, though she only gets a few or so scenes, Julianne Nicholson is spectacular as Connolly’s wife who, from the very beginning, doesn’t like a single thing about Whitey Bulger. While she knows he’s helping her hubby out in getting a nice promotion, she also knows that the dude’s bad news; so much so, that she won’t even bother to sit at the same dinner table as him, let alone socialize with him at a party at her own house. Though this role is clearly limited to “disapproving wife”, there’s a lot more to her in the way Nicholson portrays her that makes us want to see a whole movie dedicated to just her.

Same goes for a lot of other characters here, as well.

Benedict Cumberbatch’s Bill Bulger, Whitey’s bro, is a mayor who knows that his brother is up to no good, but is so willing to push it off to the side if that means he gets to have more power, politically speaking, that it’s actually scary; Peter Sarsgaard plays a drug-dealer that gets in on Whitey’s dealings and, although a total mess, still seems like a real guy who is easy to care for; Dakota Johnson only gets a few scenes as Whitey’s wife, but sets the basis for what Whitey himself will live by until the day he died; and of course, there’s the likes of Jesse Plemons, Kevin Bacon, Adam Scott, Corey Stoll, W. Earl Brown, Juno Temple, and a very emotional Rory Cochrane, that all add more layers to their characters, as well as the movie itself.

Though it doesn’t make the movie great, or better yet, perfect, it still makes it a highly enjoyable, mainstream gangster pic that has more to it than meets the eyes.

Or should I say, more than just bullets that meets the eyes.

Consensus: Led by a breathtaking performance from Johnny Depp, Black Mass benefits from its stacked-ensemble, but also has plenty more to say about its characters than just guns, blood, and crime.

8 / 10

Jack Sparrow who?

Jack Sparrow who?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Love & Mercy (2015)

Dude should have just stuck with the surf rock genre. Clearly, it was going places.

Beach Boys member Brian Wilson is covered at two points in his life, both of which seem to unveil certain problems he faced with his wild personality. In the 60’s, he was a lot younger (Paul Dano), and decided that it was time for he and the rest of the Beach Boys to test the waters out and see what they could do next with their sound. This lead to Pet Sounds, which ultimately, lead to a whole lot more tension within the band, and left Wilson to start losing his mind a little. Then, in the 1980s, Wilson is a bit older (John Cusack), but also under the watch of self-appointed therapist Dr. Eugene Landy (Paul Giamatti), which means that his life and every decision he makes, is being monitored so that Landy can keep track of what it is that Wilson does, regardless of whether or not it’s actually worrisome to his health. However, one fateful day, Brian meets a car saleswoman by the name of Melinda Ledbetter (Elizabeth Banks) and automatically knows that he wants to be with her. However, due to his “condition”, and also the fact that Eugene doesn’t like it when he disobeys certain rules, Brian’s left to act out a little.

Not crazy.

Not crazy.

I think it’s safe to say that a lot of people know about Brian Wilson, the music he created, his personality, his career, and all of the controversy that came along with the decisions that he’s made throughout it. Some of it’s good; some of it’s bad; and some of it is, well, just what you get when you have a small-time musician who all of a sudden gains tons and tons of success, whether they wanted it or not. Sometimes, they go crazy – other times, they just blow it all away on drugs, guns, beer, women, and end up dying because of so.

Hardly do you ever see a musician go from being small, to big one day, without any screw ups occurring between, or after the fact.

But this is all to prove a point about the idea of the rock biopic itself: In all honesty, it’s sort of becoming tired. Sure, it’s nice to see high-quality actors like Paul Dano, John Cusack, Elizabeth Banks, and Paul Giamatti, among others, take over the roles of some of these more famous types, but when you have a figure as famous and as notorious as Brian Wilson at your forefront, are you really trying to shed some light on anything new about him, his personality, or the music he created? Not really, and it shows so often here in Love & Mercy.

While this isn’t to say that the movie’s bad, it does, by the same token, still make it seem conventional, even if director Bill Pohlad tries very hard to make sure that this doesn’t happen. But even though it does, Pohlad still doesn’t forget the idea of what makes movies like these so interesting, is that all you need is a compelling angle to make things sizzle and spice a whole lot more. While that doesn’t wholly happen here, there’s something neat about watching the likes of Dano and Cusack just sink into these roles, playing practically the same person, without hardly looking anything alike, and still coming off as believable.

Now, once again, that’s talking about the acting, and less about the actual story itself and how it’s structured. The structure is, like I’ve said before, typical of these sorts of movies. We get a flawed musician who has a bit of problem, tries to get past it, and faces plenty of adversity from those around him due to this problem that he features. This is what we’ve all come to expect with these kinds of movies and it’s a bit of a shame, because you’d think a movie about such an innovator like Brian Wilson, wouldn’t try to walk the same patterns that some of Wilson’s fellow members always seemed to bring up and argue about.

Either try to change things up? Or stick to the script and do what people like? This is the main question of at the end of the day, but even I know if it’s able to make up a conclusion.

Still not totally crazy just yet.

Still not totally crazy just yet.

Which makes sense because the movie seems all the more infatuated with its performances, rather than any actual surprises in the narrative. As mentioned before, Dano is very good in the role as a younger version of Brian Wilson, where we get to see him in the studio, working with just about each and every person he employed to help out with his wild and crazy project ideas. He sinks right into a role that we think would be hard to do, but comes off as the right amount of odd ballish and sincerity, even if he is still a bit on the cooky side.

As the older version of Wilson, John Cusack puts in a great performance that he hasn’t seem to interested in giving for quite some time. However, what works so well for Cusack here is that he isn’t afraid to make us feel unsettled by Wilson’s demeanor, but also realize that he’s actually something of a sweet guy once you get beneath all of the weird mannerisms. Though it’d be easy to suggest that the real life Melinda Ledbetter would have fallen and gotten married to Wilson so quickly because of his name and the money, in the movie, you’d be wrong. Banks and Cusack have legitimate chemistry where it seems like, even despite the significant problems in Brian’s personality, they still want to make it work.

And of course, there’s Paul Giamatti, who is absolutely milking it to death as Dr. Eugene Landy. Because Landy was a pompous joke in real life, the movie really plays up the fact that it may have been him after all, that was the true psycho – not Brian. While the movie makes this strong argument (and Giamatti is very helpful in that effort), there’s still a part of me that feels like he was maybe a bit too wild and crazy to be taken as seriously as the movie wants us to take him. Sure, Giamatti’s scary, but Landy? Puh lease. It’s just another rich dude, scamming to make himself even more rich.

What else is there to know?

Consensus: Even despite the conventional format of Love & Mercy, the well put together cast helps keep it thoughtful, entertaining, and interesting, all at the same time.

8 / 10

Oh yeah, toates crazy. No doubt about it.

Oh yeah, toates crazy. No doubt about it.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Aloha (2015)

This time, it means goodbye.

After being away for many years, defense contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) returns to Hawaii where he sees people from the past that haven’t been in contact with him for nearly 13 years. People such as a former flame of his (Rachel McAdams), former co-worker (Danny McBride), and person who used to employ him and now, may need him more than ever, business tycoon Carson Welch (Bill Murray). However, Brian is now setting his sights on the future when he’s partnered-up with Air Force pilot Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who is supposed to take him all around Hawaii, guide him through certain places, and overall, get to make his stay a whole lot more comfortable. The reason being is because Brian’s in Hawaii to oversee the launch of a weapons satellite that comes strictly from Carson Welch’s own pocket. While Brian realizes that this is illegal, he still has to go through with it considering that he has nowhere else to go, or nothing else to do; Allison, on the other hand, knows this is wrong and despite her feelings for Brian, can’t find it in her to stand by such a decision.

Or, you know, something like that.

Fly. Fly far away from here.

Fly. Fly far away from here.

Honestly, the plot synopsis I just wrote is a bit of a stretch, because I’m still not sure what exactly this movie was all about. None of that has to do with the fact that I didn’t have my cup of coffee beforehand, or was constantly on my phone – it’s all due to the fact that whichever studio heads decided to chop Aloha up, chopped it up real good. Meaning, that any sign of what may have been Cameron Crowe’s original idea for a movie, gets totally lost in something so messy, so incoherent, and something so odd, that it made me feel bad for just about everybody involved.

However, regardless of what you may hear or see, it’s not terrible. The reason for that being is because the cast actually seems to be trying and although a lot of what they do here doesn’t add up to a cohesive whole, it’s hard to be angry at everybody here and blame them. Especially since, in most instances, they’re the main reasons the movie’s worth being watched.

Like, for instance, take Emma Stone as Allison Ng, a character who is actually supposed to be Asian, but we’ll leave that alone for now. Stone, as usual, is fun, light, perky, and charming as hell. It’s seemingly impossible to despise her presence in anything she shows up in, and although Allison is a lot like Kirsten Dunst’s Manic Pixie Dream Girl in Crowe’s Elizabethtown, I found her a lot more believable, if only because Stone made her so. Even when she starts to have feelings for Bradley Cooper’s character, it comes from a place of adoration and respect, and isn’t just because she wants to bang the hottest the guy who just so happens to step into Hawaii.

Because if that were the case, clearly she’d be gunning for Bill Murray. Like, come on. No competition whatsoever.

And of course, Bradley Cooper’s fine, too. Brian Gilcrest seems like the same kind of challenging, incomplete, and imperfect protagonist that Crowe loves to write about and while he may not get the movie that say, someone like Tom Cruise deserved with Jerry Maguire, Cooper still tries, time and time again. Same goes for the likes of Danny McBride, John Krasinski, Bill Camp, Alec Baldwin, Rachel McAdams, and most of all, Bill Murray, who, oddly enough, is saddled with a villainous role that never seems to actually step over the line from being “bad”, but instead, just stays like the Bill Murray we all know and love.

But most of the problem with an ensemble this so finely stacked, is that they don’t get much to do in Aloha. Perhaps in the original cut that featured a lot more character moments, as well as explanation of just what the hell Brian Gilcrest is doing in Hawaii in the first place, but not here. Instead, what we’re stuck with here is an odd movie that wants to be so many things at the same time, and while it slightly succeeds at one of them, the rest feel useless and just thrown in there for the sake of taking up time.

Which is especially odd, considering that the movie’s hardly even two hours.

Please hook up. Make this some bit of interesting.

Please hook up. Make this some bit of interesting.

In a way, you could say that Aloha would have probably benefited from another half-hour or so, just so that we could have gotten more of whatever Crowe had initially written-out. The elements with Stone and Cooper were fine as is, so no tampering needed to be done with them, but what about the whole love-angle between Cooper and McAdams? That was probably the juiciest part of this whole movie, where our protagonist has to deal with the missed-opportunities he has to face in his life now, and instead, it’s treated as a minor subplot in the grander scheme of things. Instead of learning more about this character’s past through the way he interacts with those around him, we get to see him constantly battle with whatever demons are taking over his mind during this “mission”.

Once again, the movie never makes clear of what said mission actually is, up until it’s actually happening and even then, it’s still never clear. This is just another example of a studio not liking a final product, getting scared, and instead of working with the creator on it and seeing what could work best, they decided to mish and mash it up anyway that they saw fit. That isn’t to say that Crowe doesn’t at least deserve a partial amount of the blame, because he does, but it’s also to point out the fact that sometimes, movie studios really can rip apart anything that they want.

However, Crowe can be blamed, too. With Crowe’s movies, his dialogue usually feels heightened in the sense that we know that the dialogue his characters use, aren’t actually how real people talk. But for some reason, you sort of wish real people did and for that reason, it’s interesting to hear what they have to say next and how they say it. Some of Crowe’s earlier films are great examples of this, but lately, he’s gotten a bit ahead of himself and now, it’s starting to seem like he’s trying to recreate that piece of magic he had with “You Complete Me“.

Either way, it’s a dragon that Crowe should stop chasing, because it’s not helping himself out, or the actors that are forced to utter his stupid lines.

Consensus: Aloha isn’t a total and complete, unwatchable misfire, but it does feel as if it’s been tampered with too much to the point of where it takes away from the story, the message, and the talented cast that deserve better.

5 / 10

The love triangle that deserved a better movie.

The love triangle that deserved a better movie.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Birdman (2014)

Val Kilmer, here’s your future, bud.

At one point in his career, Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) was on top of the movie-world. Not only was he selling movie tickets out the wahzoo by playing a superhero character by the name of “Birdman”, but his popularity was at its highest-peak where it wasn’t that fans knew exactly who he was and loved him, but because he was respected amongst his peers as well. However, that role for Riggan was quite some time ago and now, in the present-day, things aren’t going so fine for poor old Riggan. For starters, he’s washed-up and senses his popularity is waning so quickly that he could be considered practically nonexistent. He plans on changing this, though, by producing, directing and even starring in a stage-adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. He’s got the cast in line and while there’s the occasional hiccup here and there, Riggan is feeling confident enough that this show will not only be a smash hit, but bring him back to the world wide hemisphere of pop-culture where everybody will know and adore him, just like they did before. Problem is, aside from the fact that the show runs into quite a few problems, is that Riggan has a voice inside of his head that not only pushes him to do certain things, but even bends the differences between fiction and reality.

Consider Birdman (or The Unexpected Virtue Of Ignorance, which is its full-title), the perfect Alejandro González Iñárritu film, for people who aren’t fans of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s work. Because see, while the impression is with all of Iñárritu’s films so far is that they are dark, depressing, and downright ugly in its depiction of human being’s lives, there’s something fairly different about Birdman. I mean, yeah, sure, it’s a meta-comedy that sometimes jumps right over that hoop into satire, making it a huge leap in terms of versatility for Iñárritu, but there’s still that sad feeling we get here with our main character, and the situation he’s thrown himself into here.

However, rather than making us ache from his pain and suffering, Iñárritu focuses most of his attention on just letting the movie itself run loose, without ever trying to hit us over the head with some random melodrama; he just lets his movie glide right along, at a perfect-pace. And considering that this movie is shot in a way to make it like one, long tracking-shot (courtesy of cinematography genius Emmanuel Lubezki), it’s a wonderful combo, albeit a very surprising one.

Batman vs. the Hulk? Fuck yeah!

Batman vs. the Hulk? My money’s definitely not on the character once played by Eric Bana.

Because yes, if anybody out there has ever seen either Amores Perros, 21 Grams, Babel, Biutiful, or all of them (like yours truly), then they’ll know Iñárritu is all about showing us that there’s no light at the end of the tunnel and that, well, life can pretty much suck for everybody. But though I like most of his movies, I myself am even glad to see this change-of-pace for Iñárritu; not because it shows that he can do more than just make me want to leap off of a bridge, but because the guy’s got a perfect tendency here to just let his movie go on its own tangents, seeming as if it could practically fall apart at any moment.

Which, for a movie that’s about a Broadway play being produced and the people involved with it, seems perfectly fitting. It not only puts you on-edge practically the whole time, but gets you up, moving around, and constantly paying attention to what is happening, what is being said, and what a certain character is doing, and to whom. Which, yeah, I know, sounds incredibly obvious, but there’s something fun and vibrant about this movie that just keeps you awake here, even when it seems to go off into these strange places that I don’t even know if Iñárritu himself could fully describe in perfect, full-on detail.

You sort of just have to go with it and see where it takes you – which is a perfect summation of the whole experience I had while watching Birdman.

But even while Birdman is an exciting and rather fun movie, there’s also a couple of moments splashed throughout here where the hip b-bop score is turned off, the camera settles down (although, to be fair, it is constantly moving no matter what is going on), and Iñárritu allows us to focus in on these characters, their relationships to one another, and exactly what they should mean to us. Cause, trust me, this goes a long way for a movie as brutal and as a painstakingly honest as this.

Yes, earlier I alluded to the fact that Iñárritu has made Birdman as a comedy of sorts, but sometimes, it’s so harsh and on-point about who it’s poking its finger at, it’s almost like a horror movie. Everything and everyone from the actors to directors, assistants to lawyers, Hollywood to the stage, the Baby Boomer Generation to the current Generation Y, and hell, even from the fans to the critics – no one here is safe from the sharp-edge knife that Birdman is waving around. Which is, of course, hard to stomach at times, but incredibly hilarious that it feels like maybe Iñárritu has almost too much knowledge on the subject matters at hand and really has a grind to ax. But nonetheless, it’s a constantly hilarious that has more to say then just, “Yeah, people who act are usually pretentious dicks”. Instead, it’s more like “Yeah, people who act are usually pretentious dicks, but hey, they’re people, too.”

So yeah, it’s not all that mean.

Regardless though, where Birdman the movie really excels at, like I was getting to talk about early before is whenever Iñárritu just lets his cast do the talking for him. Sure, Iñárritu employs a directorial-style that’s, literally, all-over-the-place and constantly moving, but when he settles everything down to a low-volume and allows for his story to really tell itself, then it makes the whole experience of watching this movie all the more enjoyable, if incredibly emotional as well.

But still, if you look at the cast, there’s still some hilarity to be had; most especially with the character of Riggan Thomson. The reason being is because, well, think about this: Riggan Thomson is an aging, washed-up actor who hasn’t had a role to keep him relevant since the days of him playing a superhero-ish character back in the good old days. So yeah, it would seem pretty perfect to cast somebody like Michael Keaton in the role because, well, that’s practically his story. Which is to say that, yes, this is total stunt-casting at its most painfully obvious. But it’s stunt-casting that actually works.

This is mostly due to the fact that the role of Riggan Thomson is a rich one that finds Keaton (a favorite of mine ever since the early days of my childhood), showing all of the shades in his acting-ability; the guy can be funny, mean, nice, determined, sad, and most of all, angry as hell. It’s the kind of comeback role that so many older actors wish they had come their way, which makes it all the more of a joy to see Keaton relish in it and actually make us care for this Riggan Thomson guy, even if he is sort of distasteful dick at times. Because yeah, he treats his ex-wife and daughter like shit sometimes, but at the end of the day, you feel bad for him because he’s put so much work into making this play work that you sort of want him to succeed, while also learning a major life-lesson to hopefully turn things around for himself, as well as those who actually care about him.

I sincerely do hope that Keaton gets a nomination for his work here. Not just because it will put his name back on the map like it deserves to be, but because it’s a role that literally goes in all sorts of different directions, yet, never rings a false note.

How I imagine Emma Stone greets the day every morning. Except probably with that damn Brit next to her.

How I imagine Emma Stone greets the day every morning. Except probably with that damn Brit next to her.

And trust me, this could have been a big problem for everybody in the movie, had nobody been able to adapt well to Iñárritu’s style; because it’s all filmed in one shot (or at least, edited in a way to make it appear so), the camera is constantly on them, watching their every move, whether it be a physical one or a mental one. That’s to say that everybody here feels perfect for their roles and makes it seem like they actually are having real-life conversations with one another, giving us more of the impression that we are right there with them, along for the ride that is this play being made.

Another actor who gets away with stealing this movie a bit for his bit of stunt-casting too, is Edward Norton as the pretentious, Marlon Brando-ish thespian, Mike Shiner. Anybody who has ever worked with Norton, the person, will tell you that the guy’s a handful, which is why I found it incredibly fitting that he’d play the same kind of person that’s like that both on, and off the stage. Shiner’s a smug a-hole and is definitely all about himself, which allows for Norton to really just take the piss out of his image and play all of this up. But, like with Keaton’s Riggan Thomson, whenever there’s time for us to see more in Shiner than what’s originally presented to us, the movie makes sure to do this in an understandable way, with Norton’s dramatic-abilities coming into full play.

Most of these scenes come from when he’s around Emma Stone’s character, Sam, the ex-junkie daughter of Riggan. Stone’s charming here, as usual, but she’s got more of an edge to her here that makes it seem like she’s more than just about being sassy, she’s downright pissed-off and willing to let everybody know it. This side to her is exciting and it makes me wish she’d just step away from making movies with Spidey, and testing out her obviously capable abilities as one of today’s best-working actresses. And trust me, there’s plenty more where she came from – Zach Galifianakis is hilarious as Riggan’s co-producer that’s all about making sure the show does in fact go on, while also fearing that he may be out of job if this all goes South; Naomi Watts gets a rare chance to be funny playing an actress who wants to make it big with her first appearance on Broadway; Amy Ryan has a few sweet scenes as Riggan’s ex-wife; Andrea Riseborough deliciously plays Riggan’s co-star who he may, or may not be, having a child with; and Lindsay Duncan plays the New York Times critic that Riggan despises the hell out of, yet, wants nothing more than to impress the shorts off of, if only so that she can give him a good review and not have to worry about people dismissing his play.

Don’t have to worry about that here, Riggan. You’ve got me sold, man.

Consensus: Loose, wild, perfectly-acted, and altogether, fun, Birdman is a hilarious satire that takes a bite out of everybody involved with the entertainment-business, while also not forgetting about those said people and remembering that they all have feelings, too.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

Fly away, Mikey. There's a better career ahead of ya. I promise.

Fly away, Mikey. There’s a better career ahead of ya. I promise.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

12 Years a Slave (2013)

I thought all slaves walk around to the sounds of James Brown and Rick Ross.

This the true story of one Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a free black man who, in 1853, was expecting to be in business with two circus men (Taran Killam and Scoot McNairy) looking to make a quick buck with the very talented violinist, but instead, found himself to be drugged, kidnapped and sold into slavery, all within a 24-hour time-frame. As soon as he’s shipped off to the South, he meets and interacts with fellow other slaves, as well as other slave owners that range from sympathetic (Benedict Cumberthatch), to downright despicable (Michael Fassbender). But through this all, Solomon realizes that he can’t continue to plead that he’s a free man who can read, write and work as well as any other white folk can, and just has to accept the reality that this is his life from now on and he must face it head-on. A sad reality, but a reality for many African-Americans (and whites as well) out in the South during this time.

Hard to believe that even after all of these years of coming very close to hitting the nail on the head of the slice of history that was slavery, it took a Brit director in the form of Steve McQueen to give us the most definitive, honest, painful and realistic look at it, and then some. We all know that there’s been some hype and some buzz surrounding this movie for quite some time, and while it may have taken me longer than expected to actually get out there to my local indie theater and give it a go, I’m glad I did because this is one of those flicks that many people will be paying attention to for awhile. Not just at the end of this year when Oscar talk is running rampant, but for many, many years to come, as it presents us with a view of slavery that has never been as grueling or as painful as this is.

"You're pretty much my best buddy. Just don't tell anyone. EVER!!"

“You’re pretty much my best buddy. Just don’t tell anyone. EVER!!”

And yet, all of that importance still doesn’t make it the best movie of the year, heck, maybe not even Top 10.

I know, I know, I know. The pitchforks are already seized and the torches have been lit, but please, I urge you to bear with me and see if we can maybe come to an understanding. And if not, I don’t care. I’m a movie critic, dammit! I got opinions, regardless of popular-belief!

The aspect in which I must give this movie credit for, is mainly in the way that it does not back-down a bit from what it wants to show us. Most of that credit does deserve to go to McQueen, as he has proved that, time and time again, he is one of the masters at giving us a downright nasty piece of subject-matter, throwing it out there on screen and allowing us to just watch as it all plays out in front of our eyes, while also having us come to our own conclusions about what he’s showing as well. I respect this decision, not just here, but with his other two flicks (Hunger and Shame) as it shown him as the type of director we all have to look out for as he might be changing the ways movies are made and looked at in today’s world. I know that’s one huge leap I’m taking, but it’s one that I feel confident supporting as the guy really seems like he hit his stride here. And then some…

See, the real reason why this movie works as well as it does is because it gives us the story of slavery that we all think we know by heart by now, and yet, shows us that we still don’t know all that much about it, nor do we actually even realize the REAL harshness behind it. We see Solomon go through all sorts of travesties in his time as a slave: People suddenly get killed, raped, sold, left-for-dead, or are simply never heard from again. But the saddest reality of all that this movie brings up more than a few times is the fact that, for these slaves, it didn’t matter if they lived, died, or how many times they were constantly being sold-off and moved around; because nobody knew about them, nor even cared. Most of these people were already born into slavery as it was, so they already knew that they had no lives outside of picking cotton to live, but even for the ones who were free and then eventually sold into slavery, they still had no certain level of existence in their loved ones’ minds.

These types of slaves couldn’t write to their loved ones, let them know where they were and how they could free them, because usually, it was too much of a risk to take in the first place. Not just by being caught actually trying to transport a letter from Point-A-to-Point-B, but letting your owner know that you are in fact a free man or women,who can read, write and do all sorts of other things that a typical slave doesn’t have the ability to do. That realization could have you either killed, sheltered away from the rest of the public till the end of your days, or threatened to keep your mouth shut and realize that it doesn’t matter what you can or cannot do; you are a slave, and you must work, work, work, and work. And when you can’t work no more, you’re dead.

End. Of. Story.

But see, that’s the strangest idea about this movie, as well as our society itself: We already know this harsh reality, and yet, we still can’t seem to get our heads around the fact that this was America at one point in time. All of these brutal feelings, thoughts, ideas and standards we set for the rest of our society were felt during that time-period, but are still ever so present in today’s day and age, that a movie like this must be seen to inform others about what happened back in those days, and how we’re still getting over it all. Because honestly, let’s face it, nobody will ever be able to live slavery down: Whites, blacks, Jews, Chinese, etc. None of them will be able to live it down, and that’s a mind-set that will probably be forever tattooed in our minds. The fact that slavery, although being abolished for more than 140 years now, will still never, ever go away. Will we ever move on as a society, or we will just continue to remind ourselves of what our nation used to be like?

Questions, questions, questions.

As you can tell, this movie definitely gave me plenty to think about, mainly important stuff, but while all of those ideas ran around in my mind, I still couldn’t wrap my head around the fact that despite it being an unflinching, powerful and important look at slavery, there was something holding me back from thinking it was the end-all, be-all masterpiece of the year. While the true story of Solomon Northup is one that should never go unnoticed, the framing of the story itself just felt too normal to me, as if everything we were seeing, all happened in a sequence, without much rhythm or rhyme. I get that this is most likely how Northup experienced most of these events, but for a movie, it just makes it seem less like a story being told to us, and more like a series of things that are happening. For instance, we get to see Solomon get sold-off to a couple slavers throughout his life-span which, rather than making you feel awfully terrible about the type of predicament he’s in, comes off more episodic, as if it’s a new chapter in the life of Solomon Northup, or how it probably read on paper.

He's also a producer on this. Wonder if he's got a big, rather important role?

He’s also a producer on this. Wonder if he’s got a big, rather important role?

The problem I had with this movie wasn’t that it was told to me in a way that easily understandable and comprehensive so that I understood all that McQueen was doing, at any given moment, it was just that there never really felt like much of an emotional-connection here that would have had me running along with Solomon and everybody else around him for as long as they wanted me to. Granted, I did tear-up a couple of times to the point of where I needed a clean wipe-down, but that was mainly because I was reaching for something to cry about. The movie that McQueen was giving me, wasn’t the nearest thing to “sentimental”, and while I give him credit for not soaping this story up to where it could have been laughable, a hint, or hell, even a smudge of sappiness would have really put me over the edge to where I felt like this movie was the emotional-experience of a lifetime. Instead, I just felt like it was a series of bad things, happening to good people, from bad people, and that was about it.

Oh, and slavery was bad, too. Mustn’t forget about that fact.

That’s why, even though many will disagree with me, this flick feels like it delivers on what it sets out to do, and yet, could have gone deeper and even further into it’s subject story, by creating emotions and feelings. But McQueen doesn’t roll that way, and although I respect his decision to keep it so, I still feel like it would have done him a great deal of good if he had decided to throw something in there for good effect. Maybe a couple more crying-sessions? Or character-development? Maybe? I’m just a dude with a blog, what do I know?!?!

What I do know though, is a great performance when I see one, and there is an exceptional one given by the always-excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor as none other than Mr. Solomon Northup himself. Ejiofor is one of these actors in which, it doesn’t matter how many great pieces of work he does in a year or throughout a whole career, he still will never be a household name. Which is a damn shame because the dude is so freakin’ talented, and has been showing this talent for years-on-end. I think now may be that time where it all changes, and he finally gets the credit he deserves. Now, I am not saying that he’ll win the Oscar this year, however, he will definitely be nominated and a sure-pick because of just what he goes through here.

Every emotion that that Northup feels, every thought that crosses his mind and every pain-staking reality that he is coming to terms with, Ejiofor channels in the most perfect ways. He’s very subtle with his emotions, but when he has to do let loose every once and awhile, you really feel the man’s strife for freedom and getting back to those that he loves the most: His family. You already feel bad for Northup in the beginning, considering that he’s practically tricked into slavery in the harshest way imaginable, but once things get going and he has to make decisions that will alter the rest of his future on Earth, then you realize that this is a human-being, no matter how many slavers around him try to prove to him otherwise. Some decisions he makes for the betterment of those around him, but sometimes, he makes decisions for the betterment of himself and to save his own ass. While any other movie based on this same story would have probably shown him as being a bit of a selfish guy, McQueen shows him with a moral compass in hand, making us realize that he’s just trying to survive, by any means necessary. He knows what’s right and what’s wrong, and the lines rarely ever get blurred. It’s only when others get in the way, is when they do, and Ejiofor shows this inner-conflict wonderfully, giving himself one of his best performances ever.

And trust me, that’s saying a lot. Don’t believe me? Just check out anything the cat’s ever done in his huge body-of-work. Trust me, you’ll be shocked to see what he was in. Minus this one. Yeah, on the second thought, don’t even bother with that one.

"Wanna go kill something? ANYTHING!?!??"

“Wanna go kill something? ANYTHING!?!??”

But while this is easily Ejifor’s show, he doesn’t necessarily steal it away from everybody else in this heavily-stacked cast. Which was a nice act on his part, considering that everybody you see in this movie, speaking-role or not, is a face that you’re at least familiar with. Actually, let me just get right off of a face that you’re not familiar with, as she is easily the most compelling character you’re going to get in this whole movie that isn’t Northup himself: Lupita Nyong’o as Patsey. If you don’t know that name, don’t worry, you’re not alone. Neither does anybody else, but after this movie, I think you’ll be hard-pressed to forget it as she is amazing in every scene she has as the slave that Northup sticks with the most, and easily runs into the most problems with. Early on, it’s shown that Patsey starts a relationship with a slaver, that is less about rape, than it’s more about her trying to pleasure him and stay alive for as long as she can. While this act may be deemed “dehumanizing” in most eyes, it seems like the only act that she has left to live by, therefore, is giving it all she’s got with every hump she takes. Nyong’o’s eyes are expressive and convey an emotion everytime she shows up on screen, so definitely expect a nomination for her come Oscar-time.

Another person that you may also expect to be hearing whose name pop-up a lot is Michael Fassbender, playing that said philandering-slaver, Edwin Epps. Fassbender’s character is one demented soul; the type of guy you wouldn’t want to be around when he took one too many shots, nor would you want to be owned by him neither. Basically, Fassbender goes crazy in all of the right ways that gives you the idea that this guy is a twisted person you do not want to get on the wrong side with, nor do you actually want to be around. You just want to do the work he’s demanded you to do, no “ifs”, “ands”, or biggity “buts” about it. However, there is some semblance of a soul deep inside of this man’s crazy well-being, and Fassbender allows that play out very rarely, but still in a believable way to where he isn’t so over-the-top, he’s downright laughable. Same can be said for Sarah Paulson, who plays his wife, Mary, in a very chilling, yet understated performance that tells us a lot about this character, without telling us much at all. She’s just that damn good of an actress, one that I wish got more notice.

Others in this movie that are pretty damn hard to watch, mostly by of how despicable and unlikable they are, are performers such as Paul Dano as a worker that feuds with Northup many times, Paul Giamatti as an owner whose trying to make a quick buck as a business salesman who specializes in human-lives, Garret Dillahunt as a rare-case of being known as a white slave, among many of the black faces, but still can’t be trusted, Alfre Woodard as mistress that takes pride in the fact that she bangs her owner and gets treated like a white woman and especially Benedict Cumberthatch who plays one of the first slave owners Northup deals with, and is more sympathetic than the others out there, because even though he realizes is bad, he still does nothing about it. Instead, he just continues on with his business, selling away more and more humans lives, like many others were doing at that same point in time; the same point in time we will never soon forget.

Consensus: Most definitely going to be the one film you must see before the year ends, 12 Years a Slave is a harrowing, uncomfortable, somber and disturbing look inside the life of one man who had a journey much like many others during this time-frame, and yet, still never gave up hope and did all he could do to survive at any costs.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Yep, even he's ready for what's to come by the end of the year.

Yep, even he’s ready for what’s to come by the end of the year.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Compliance (2012)

The best anti-fast-food flick in the past decade, ever since Super Size Me.

The film focuses on a mysterious caller (Patrick Healy) who says to be a police officer and convinces the manager of a fast food restaurant (Ann Dowd) that one of her employees (Dreama Walker) committed a crime.

See that poor plot description up there? Doesn’t seem to interesting, does it? Well if there’s anything to spice that whole thang up it’s probably to say that this is all based on a true story. And trust me, that line is no gimmick, this really happened not once, not twice, not three times, hell not even 20 times, over 70 times in 30 other countries. And just when you thought fast-food didn’t get a bad-wrap already.

Writer/director Craig Zobel really kicks some ass with this flick as he starts it all off perfectly, with just the right amount of underlining tension to where we feel like any second now, something bad is going to start happening. You know that going into the flick, so there’s not much of a surprise when some weird things start to happen, but what’s worse is that we never know if or when they are ever going to end. You almost feel like this whole situation has gone from bad to worse in a matter of 10 minutes and it almost seems like nobody, not a single person can stop it. It’s almost like a horror movie in a way to where you feel all trapped and composed to this one dire situation that you can’t get out of, no matter how hard you try and all you have to do there is sit and watch as it all goes down. It’s a dark drama, that plays on it’s thrills as if it was an old-school horror film that shows very little, but still scares the absolute jeebers out of you.

However, calling this flick a piece of horror would be terribly wrong because Zobel has made something that will probably be discussion-worthy, long after the initial first-viewing. Zobel isn’t just showing us how a certain situation went from bad to worse in a period of 4 hours, he’s showing us how humans minds think when they are simply told something. If I told you that I was a military sergeant for my day job and was able to back it up with tons and tons of valuable information, 9 times out of 10 you would probably believe me. I mean here I am, typing all of this down into a review but you don’t know who I am, nor have you ever seen me in real-life so you probably wouldn’t know.

Everything that I just talked about up there is exactly what happens here and what’s even worse is how these people respond to one dude, simply calling in and saying that he’s an officer of the law. What’s bad at first is that these people actually believe this guy in the first-place, but what’s even worse is that some of them actually go along with some of the insane and terrible stuff that he tells them to do just to further on a situation. It goes to show you that anybody, no matter who it may be, will usually take one person’s opinion over the other, once they say that they are a person of great power and dominance and that they are able to back it up with some believable information. Everybody is gullible and that’s fine because that’s just the way human nature is most of the time, so it was no surprise that I was getting so, so damn pissed at half of these people by the stupid stuff they decided to go along with but then again I thought to myself, what would I have done in the same situation? It’s a hard piece to get through one’s head and I think Zobel conveys that perfectly by not only focusing on the situation at-hand, but the psychosis of the people actually involved with it.

The script, by all means, is just about as perfect as you can get it but there seemed to be something lacking in his direction. One of the biggest problems I had with this flick was half-way through the middle when Zobel decided to show “the mysterious caller” off to the audience as we watch him parade around his house, sometimes making a sandwich or just writing weird shit down to remember from the phone calls. I’m of the opinion that what you don’t see, is probably a lot scarier than what you do see so my imagination could have really been running wild if I never saw what this guy looked like, what he was doing, and how he was going about these phone-calls. Just the guy’s voice was creepy enough and I think that’s all we really needed. Sort of like the same thing about Kiefer Sutherland in Phone Booth, but instead, we rarely see that guy in that movie.

Another problem I seemed to have had with this flick was that I feel like Zobel tried too hard to add tension onto some scenes that didn’t really need that extra level of style. A score would sometimes randomly kick in, the camera would cut-away to any of the grueling stuff that takes place, and the film seems to get a bit too jittery at points, especially by the end. If Zobel just relaxed with this material and the way he showed it all off, there would have most likely been just as much tension, if not more, of what there was to originally work with here. Then again, maybe that’s why I’m not a director and I sit on here all day talking shit on these other ones.

Despite these problems, you still can’t get over the performances for this flick as they are as natural as you’re going to get for the longest time from a huge list of unknowns. Dreama Walker has the toughest role in this whole flick and absolutely nails it by displaying plenty of rays of emotion that will make you feel for her character, but also realize the desperation in her character as well. The girl has to do some pretty sick things (without giving too much away) and I think Zobel found the right beauty-queen for it as those eyes just made me feel like I was a watching somebody on the verge of breaking down for good.

The highlight of this whole cast, and probably the whole movie if I dare to go there, is Ann Dowd as the restaurant manager, Sandra. Right from the start, we can see that this character is a complicated one, but also one that we may be able to stick to because of the certain layers she has to her. She seems very sad, as if she always got pushed around her life, but is now having her own time to shine and be the boss, but still wants to be cool with everybody and relate in the only ways she can. It’s sort of depressing to watch for the first 7 minutes or so because you can tell that this gal has a deep sadness to here, but also wants to prove herself right and still be treated by others with love and respect. So, that’s why when she is actually treated and manipulated into feeling like that person, Sandra relishes in it and that’s why Dowd is so great here.

There are so many layers to this character that Dowd is able to explore as we see her be sad, be mad, be glad, be happy, and be upset that she has no effin’ clue as to what the hell is going on. There are so many times where I wanted to punch this character in the face because she can, and does do, some stupid things that aren’t worth praising but you never fully lose interest or faith in Dowd, or her character. You also feel like if you were put in the same situation, you may act just like her in a way and just do what you think is right because of what you think you hear is true. There’s a whole bunch of Oscar-talk going around for Dowd and her work here and I think it’s deserved as the girl proves that she is more than just another character actress, she can own a film just like anyone else and is ready to break-out. If that is still a possibility with her long-lasting career.

Consensus: Though it gets a bit light on the whole tension aspect by the end, Compliance is still a smartly-written and expertly-acted real-life mystery thriller, that feels like it has the rhythm of a horror movie but plays to the beat of an honest, human-drama that shows the way us human-beings think.

8/10=Matinee!!