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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Bruce McGill

Courage Under Fire (1996)

Who to trust? The hunky guys? Or the gal?

While he was on-duty during the Gulf War, Lieutenant Colonel Nathaniel Serling (Denzel Washington) accidentally caused a friendly fire incident and it caused him to rethink his military career, even if his superiors were able to look the other way for it. Now, with the war-effort over, he is assigned to investigate the case of Army Captain Karen Walden (Meg Ryan), a soldier who was killed in action when her Medevac unit was attempting to rescue the crew of a downed helicopter. And while it seems like a simple case of a solider being killed by enemy-fire, the more and more Serling begins to look, the more he realizes that there’s more to this story than just what’s on the surface. In a way, someone on the U.S.’s side could have killed Walden and if so, for what reasons? By interviewing everyone involved with the incident and who worked closely with Walden on that one specific day, Serling hopes to find it all out and then some.

Meg and Matt? What a dynamic duo!

Meg and Matt? What a dynamic duo!

Courage Under Fire is a lot like A Few Good Men in that, yes, it’s a fairly conventional drama-thriller that deals with the Army and a case that needs to be solved, however, it ends on a far more interesting note than it may have ever set out for. With the later, it’s become infamous for its final showdown between Jack Nicholson and Tom Cruise and all of the countless conversations to follow, but with Courage Under Fire, that discussion is literally the whole two hours. In a way, Courage Under Fire is a conversation and an argument both for, as well as against the Army and the war-effort during the Gulf War of ’91, that neither pays tribute, nor attacks the soldiers who have, or haven’t participated in it.

Which is to say that it’s a good movie, yes, but it’s also more than just your average war-drama.

Director Edward Zwick knows how to handle a lot of material all at once, but what’s surprising the most here is that he does seem to actually settle things down and focus on the smaller details of the story that make it so dramatic. Sure, whenever he takes a flashback to the actual incident itself, the movie is chock full of action, with bullets flying, people dying, and explosions coming out of nowhere. At first, it may feel a tad uneven, but eventually, the movie, as well as Zwick, begin to find a groove that works in helping for the movie get to its smaller moments, while also giving the action-junkies a little something to taste on.

After all, the movie, from the ads and posters and whatnot, does appear to be promising this slam-bang, action-thriller of a war flick, which is also very far from the truth. However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t thrills, chills and action – there is, it’s just not in the forms of any sort of violence. Instead, it all seems to come from learning more and more about what really happened in this incident, realizing the conspiracy theories and cover-ups, and then, also seeing all of the different perspectives and how those characters shape the perspectives themselves. It’s a whole lot like Rashomon, but there’s a whole lot going on that keeps the similarities at bay, and instead, just feels like an interesting way to tell a mystery that could have been dull, boring and, honestly, uninteresting.

It’s also very hard to make a movie as dull and and as uninteresting as the one it could have been, especially what with the great cast on-hand.

"No blinking!"

“No blinking!”

As is usually the case, Denzel Washington is great in this lead role, showing a lot of dramatic-depth and compassion, without hardly saying anything at all. He’s the kind of actor that gets by solely on a look of his face and totally makes the scene his, and even though his role may not have been as fully-written as he’s used to working with, it’s still a role that Washington himself works wonders with, even if he does have to put in a little extra here and there. It’s also nice to see the likes of Lou Diamond Phillips, Seth Gilliam, and a young Matt Damon, as the soldiers involved with the incident, showing us more into their souls and what they saw.

But really, it’s the performance from Meg Ryan that makes the movie so good, as she shows a rough, tough and brave character who, despite what version of her, we hear and/or see, is still an admirable one. Ryan may seem like an odd-choice for this role, but as she proved in the 90’s, she owned almost every role thrown at her, and it was nice to see her do well with a role for someone who was, essentially, shown in just flashbacks. It honestly makes me wish she did more drama and stayed away from all of the non-stop rom-coms, as she clearly had the chops to pull it all off, but yeah, unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

And now, nobody knows quite where she’s gone.

Consensus: With a timely, smart message about war, Courage Under Fire brings a lot of thought and discussion to its sometimes predictable format.

8 / 10

Just one of the guys. Except, a lot prettier. Depending on who you ask.

Just one of the guys. Except, a lot prettier. Depending on who you ask.

Photos Courtesy of: Writer’s Digest, Teach With Movies, Empire

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The Last Boy Scout (1991)

Throw a football, solve a major scandal. Makes sense.

Joe Hallenbeck (Bruce Willis) used to be a first-rate Secret Service agent who, for one reason or another, got kicked off the squad. Nowadays, Joe spends his time as a work-for-hire private dick, who smokes a lot, drinks, sleeps in his car, has a kid that doesn’t respect him, and even worse, has a wife who is sleeping around. Basically, Joe’s life ain’t all that grand, but when a friend of his dies (Halle Berry), he can’t but feel inspired to figure out who did this to her and why. Another person who wants to find out the same thing is Jimmy Dix (Damon Wayans), an ex-football star who has a tad bit of a gambling problem. Though the two don’t necessarily get along, they both feel the need to figure out just what happened and get the sons of a bitches who caused their friend’s death. However, what they soon find out behind the scenes, leads them to the shady people dealing with the professional football league, as well as the President of the United States.

That's Brucie for ya. Always protecting the kids!

That’s Brucie for ya. Always protecting the kids!

Shane Black can write scripts like this in his sleep. While the Last Boy Scout may not feature cops in the lead roles, it still features two people who are, in a way, supposed to be “buddies” in the buddy-cop genre. Black loves these kinds of stories and always adds a certain flair of panache and fun to them that even when they don’t fully deliver, they still like fun pieces of action-comedy, rather than just another waste of time. After all, a movie written by Shane Black is at least a few more times better than most of the action flicks we get out there, right?

And also, having Tony Scott in the mix as director helps out, but not as you’d expect it to. Sure, when the action is happening, it’s as frenetic and crazy as you’d expect a Tony Scott movie to be, but it’s the smaller, more quieter moments between the characters that actually work best. Obviously, this is definitely attributed to Black and his interesting way of writing likable characters, but it’s also a compliment to Scott for taking a step back and let the script do the work itself. Scott hasn’t always been known as the best director for drama or anything of that nature, however, here, he decided to take it easy and it pays off.

Which is great, because Damon Wayans and Bruce Willis are so good in their roles, as well as together, that it almost doesn’t matter how many scenes we get of them just hanging around and talking to one another, rather than just shooting stuff and killing people.

At first, it appears that Wayans isn’t going to handle Black’s dialogue so well, but after a short while, he gets the hang of it and needless to say, we get the hang of him. His lines actually turn out to be funny and even though he’s playing against-type here, Wayans still finds a way to break in that nice charm every so often. Sure, you could chalk that up to Black’s great screenplay, but you can also give some credit to Wayans for knowing just the perfect moment to remind the audience that he’s still Damon Wayans, and he’s a pretty charming fella.

However, Wayans is nothing compared to how great Bruce Willis is here.

For one, Willis seems perfectly tailor-made for this kind of role. He’s not just an everyman who has a certain set of killing skills, but he’s also just an ordinary guy who we’re getting to learn and know more about the flick goes on. Willis handles this dialogue oh so well to where, yes, he nails all of the humor that this character has, but he also gets the smaller, more emotional moments, too. He doesn’t overplay them, though, just as the script doesn’t; he keeps them short and subtle enough for a movie where there’s so many explosions and gun-shots that it doesn’t matter if characters exist in it or not. Why Willis didn’t work with Black on more projects, is totally beyond me.

If I had their recent track-record, I'd be slammin' the bottle pretty hard, too.

If I had their recent track-record, I’d be slammin’ the bottle pretty hard, too.

In fact, I’m pretty sure Bruce could use that now.

But if there is an issue to be had with the Last Boy Scout, as there is to be with most of Black’s screenplays, is that they don’t always know how to end well, or at all. In a way, it almost feels like Black starts off with something simple and understandable, but ultimately, gets bored and just wants to everything and anything come into play, regardless of if any of it makes any actual sense. While this is fine to have in an action movie, where no one really cares about believability or anything like that, after awhile, it sort of seems like Black’s either making stuff up, or just throwing whatever he can at the wall and letting stuff stick as they please.

Sometimes, it works, other times, it doesn’t.

However, at the end of the day, the Last Boy Scout is really just a fun action-comedy. Take it or leave it, I guess.

Consensus: Though it doesn’t always work, especially in the end, the Last Boy Scout is still a nice combo of Black’s hilarious script, with Scott’s wild direction, culminating in a fun movie, if nothing else.

7 / 10

"Hey, agent? Yeah, get me more movies like this. You know, the ones where I actually give a hoot."

“Hey, agent? Yeah, get me more movies like this. You know, the ones where I actually give a hoot.”

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, All Movies I Like

Run All Night (2015)

No kidnappings. Just running. For a whole night, too. In case you couldn’t tell.

Jimmy Conlon (Liam Neeson) is an aging hitman that doesn’t really have much to live for. He’s a drunk, lazy and an overall embarrassment to himself, as well as to those around him. However, he’s a good childhood friend of the boss, Shawn Maguire (Ed Harris), so nobody messes with him; they just let him go about his day to where he mostly ends up in a pool of his own piss and vomit. But, the one aspect of his life that keeps Jimmy alive is his son Mike (Joel Kinnaman); someone who wants nothing to do with Jimmy. That’s why, when Mike is thrown into a situation where Maguire’s son (Boyd Hollbrook) shoots and kills somebody in front of him, he goes right to his dad. Jimmy knows that he needs to hash these things out with Shawn before they get way too out of hand and everybody involved ends up dead, but what starts off as a promising compromise, soon goes awry once Maguire’s son is shot and killed by Jimmy, because he was going after Mike. Now, both Mike and Jimmy aren’t only the run from Shawn and his people, but every cop within the New York City police department. It’s gonna be a long night for these two, which means that they might have to let bygones, be bygones.

Say what you will about Liam Neeson and the direction he’s career has been heading in since Taken: The dude’s making more than enough money for most 60+ actors out there, not to mention that the movie’s he participates in, aren’t all that bad. Sure, take away Unknown and especially the recent Taken movie, and you’ve got a pretty solid track-record, for somebody who’s screen-presence was practically dead in the ground no less than a decade ago.

"Just saying, mine's a lot bigger. And I'm not just talking about the lobster we just had."

“Just saying, mine’s a lot bigger. And I’m not just talking about the lobster we just had.”

That said, there’s something about Run All Night that I’m just not too sure about yet. Is it good? Is it bad? Is it mediocre? Is it so trashy that it’s supposed to be bad on purpose? Or, is it just so self-serious that eventually, after much male-posturing and dick-measuring between the characters and yourself, you learn to accept it for what it is and run along with what it does?

Sure, I guess you could. But to be honest, I’m still racking my head over this movie.

So, with that said, this review’s going to be a tad bit weird. Because though Run All Night can be fun and rather intense at times, there’s still a muskiness to it all that makes me feel like it’s the kind of movie made strictly for guys who love it when bad dudes, do bad things to one another, and talk bad to each other about how they’re going to eventually do all of these bad things to one another when they actually shut the hell up and get on with. But then it gets all serious with its heartfelt story about dads, sons, the old times vs. the new times, and how the golden-age of the mob is all gone by now.

So, whatever this movie was going for here, I’m not too sure. All that I know is that it wants to have its cake, eat it, too, but if nobody’s watching, possibly go the bakery and get another cake, in which they would consume that as well. At times, it’s a thrilling piece where the action sequences actually seem like they could go anywhere, literally at any second, but then at others, it tries to water it all down by being about family, and love, and sons, and brothers, and mothers, and fathers, and all that sappy crap that, quite frankly, is made for a whole other movie. Not the kind of one that features a stealthy, overly-athletic hitman (played by Common), who goes around literally killing anybody who walks in his way of his target, without ever worry about racking up too much of a kill-count that would have him easily identified as public enemy #1.

But hey, it’s a Liam Neeson! So ‘eff all logic!

Which, yes, I am perfectly fine with in a movie like, I don’t know, say Non-Stop (another movie that just so happened to star Neeson and be directed by Jaume Collet-Serra). That movie wasn’t perfect and it sure as hell had plot-holes that needed some more tending to in the writer’s room, but it didn’t take itself too seriously, nor did it try to be something that it wasn’t; it was just another goofy, over-the-top, Liam Neeson-starer that was going to take its story wherever it pleased. Here, Run All Night wants to be fun, unpredictable and wild, which it sometimes is, but when it focuses on its story and its deeper-meanings, it feels odd.

Not that a story like this can’t have anything deeper or more meaningful to say, but when most of that just revolves solely around the fact that one guy was a crummy dad his whole life and only just decided to change his ways once his son’s life was in the balance, it doesn’t seem worthy. It seems tacked-on, so the directors didn’t feel guilty about all of the bloodshed. They want to make these lives have some sort of meaning, but by doing so, they’re taking away the electricity of what makes these kinds of movies so fun in the first place.

Holder playing Holder. And no Linden. Boo.

Holder playing Holder. And no Linden. Boo.

I don’t know, maybe I’m just a heartless person with no soul.

Though, no matter how lame these movies can sometimes get, there’s no denying that Liam Neeson does a fine job in them and here, there’s no difference. Jimmy Conlon is a sad excuse for a human being, but as the movie goes on and his character develops, we see a smart, wise man who has come to a crossroads in his life and genuinely wants to make good. The character is written this way, so of course I had to believe it, but had the movie just left this idea up to us, the viewer, it still would have worked because of Neeson’s portrayal of a man who wants to do good, yet, doesn’t know how to make up for his sketchy past well enough to where all can be forgiven.

Also, giving Neeson some seasoned-pros like Ed Harris, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Nick Nolte (who is in it for maybe two minutes), brings a certain amount of dramatic-heft to the proceedings, although some of it can be a bit cheesy after awhile. Harris is a solid actor at playing these mean, sometimes despicable crime-bosses, but here, he seems like he’s doing a parody of those characters he’s so well-known for, which makes the scenes with him and Neeson entertaining, but also slightly teetering on over-the-top. Which, yet again, wouldn’t have been such a problem had the movie realized that it didn’t need to be so serious all of the time and should have just embraced its hardcore, overtly-violent goofiness. And yet, we have a movie where people are killed, blood is shed, and tears run down cheeks.

Wait, this is a Liam Neeson movie I’m talking about here, right?

Consensus: The grimy action is fun and intense, but for the most part, Run All Night also wants to be a heartfelt story about broken relationships and even more broken people, and tries to mistaken itself for something that isn’t another Liam Neeson action flick.

4.5 / 10 

"Time to run."

“Come on son, time to run………………all night.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Insider (1999)

Just another reason why cigarettes are not good for you.

The true story of how the commentator of 60 Minutes, Mike Wallace (Christopher Plummer), and his producer, Lowell Bergman (Al Pacino) were black-balled into dumping a segment on tobacco industry defector Jeffrey Wigand (Russell Crowe), because CBS execs were in the midst of a multi-billion dollar merger with the corporation that owned Wigand.

Anybody who hears the name “Michael Mann”, automatically thinks of a high-tech, energized-up mofo that did epic-thrillers such as Collateral and Heat. In fact, I’m one of those people considering I think those are the only two films he truly kicks ass with. However, my mind has officially been blown by what he’s able to do with a straight-forward story where I don’t think a single shot is fired. Except for when it’s people actually getting fired themselves.

What Mann does so perfectly here with this story is that he take his time with it. Everything starts off rather mysterious if you aren’t already familiar with the true story this movie is based on, but it’s also very thrilling where we don’t know where this story’s going to go, how it’s going to go, and what’s going to set it off. Thankfully, after about the first 15 minutes, we realize what type of story we’ve stumbled upon and that’s when everything starts to become clearer and more understandable to take in, but by the same token, still mysterious. We know that the walls are going to drop eventually, but as a matter of when and where is what’s really interesting.

Life in the cameras. So depressing.

Life in the cameras. So depressing.

Then again, it doesn’t really matter because the characters were given to watch are already interesting enough as is.

Most of the Insider is concerning a bunch of evil people, talking about evil things, and actually doing most of those evil things that they discuss. Granted, this may not sound like the most exciting thing in the whole world, but Mann makes it so. The whole film is one tense ride from start-to-finish where twists come absolutely out of nowhere, but they make sense and keep the story moving on and on until it reaches it’s breaking-point. Every single shot/scene in this flick seems like it actually means something and furthers the story, rather than just being placed in there for a time-killer and to add more exposition to a story that was filled with it already in the first place. It’s over two-and-a-half hours, and while that would normally kill me, this time, it doesn’t. Hell, I don’t even know how this could have been shorter! Nearly two-hours and forty-minutes seems like the perfect amount of time for Mann to give us a story, where almost nobody does the right thing, and still be able to keep our attention glued onto the screen.

Bravo, Mr. Mann. Bravo.

As entertaining and tense as this story may be, the emotional-level of this film didn’t fully connect with me, and I think that has something to do with some of the characters here. Maybe I wasn’t supposed to really feel bad for anybody in this flick as they all do bad things that better themselves and nobody else, but there was a certain amount of disconnect that I was feeling with everybody that came off as a bit too dreary. The only person that could be considered remotely sympathetic and actually good, is Wigand, and even he comes off as a bit of a jerk that sort of screwed the pooch on himself this time and should have just done the right thing, rather than put himself, and everybody else around him in jeopardy. Then again, the guy had a story to tell and it just goes to show you that not everything in this movie, let alone life, is as cut-and-dry as some people make it out to be.

Going along with that last point, I feel as if the whole story behind the actual story, lacked any type of real feeling. This is, as I put it up above, a story about how 60 Minutes got sued and was almost bought out for millions and millions of dollars by a huge corporation, but even that said corporation has an interesting story to tell; one that never fully grows to get you as excited as when 60 Minutes begins to get hit hard in their pockets. This could have really twisted everything up and got us, the audience, rooting for the home team the whole time, but just had us sitting there, and watching it with barely any feelings or emotions left still intact. Maybe this is just a weird problem I had and nobody else, but so be it.

A lot of people that see this flick will probably not only be surprised by how freakin’ tense this movie is, but by also how Al Pacino doesn’t really get into his infamous “insane-o mode” that we all know, and sometimes, love him for. Instead, his character, Lowell Bergman, is more of a straight-man to everything else that’s going on around him; keeping his cool, and not really having much to talk about or keep at-stake, other than what he gives everybody else around him, his “word”. It’s a character who doesn’t seem all that interesting right from the start, as he’s mostly content with just sitting around and letting the wheels turn as they go, but eventually begins to build more of an arch as the film continues. This makes it even better to see Pacino actually playing it subtle for once, and still be able to garner the same emotions he would if he was all coked-up and shooting the shit out of people. But don’t let that fool you, he still has a freak-out here or two, and they’re both pretty awesome.

"You talkin' to me? Oh wait, sorry, wrong guy to be doing that bit to."

“You talkin’ to me? Oh wait, sorry, wrong guy to be doing that bit to.”

God, why did this guy have to do freakin’ Jack and Jill?

Playing opposite of him, Russell Crowe gives one of his finer performances as the strange, but compelling technician that starts this whole shit-storm in the first place, Jeffrey Wigand. Crowe is great here as Wigand because the guy has to go through a lot in terms of emotions and feelings, and Crowe pulls it all off with ease. The guy does seem very sympathetic as he’s the only person who seemingly does the right thing and the whole time we are left sitting there, watching as his whole life comes crashing down, without him ever being able to recuperate. It’s pretty sad to watch at times, and makes you wonder just how the hell this Wigand guy kept his cool and didn’t end up taking a leap off the Brooklyn Bridge for good measure. My only complaint about Crowe here isn’t really a bad thing about the movie, it’s just more that he plays this role, almost the same in every movie where he stars as a middle-class, American man. Not a huge complaint, but still something that’s obvious when you look at any other Crowe film where he practically plays a regular guy, with a more than less-than-regular problem brewing up inside of him.

The other performance that really took me by surprise was Christopher Plummer as Mike Wallace. Plummer plays Wallace as your stereotypical, high-class dick that demands respect and wants everything done his own way, even though he doesn’t really contribute much except for asking a person a bunch of dumb, meaningless questions most of the time. Still, the character comes full-circle by the end of it all and shows that Plummer was, and still is able to, convey all types of heartfelt emotions out of any character he plays and it’s another reminder as to why this guy was long over-due an Oscar win. Everybody else in this film do superb jobs, as well, but these are three that continue to come to mind when I think of the exact stand-outs.

Consensus: Though it is, essentially, a two-hour-and-40-minute flick dedicated to a bunch of unsympathetic people, talking about doing unsympathetic things, the Insider is still one hell of a thrill-ride that asks the right questions, portrays them the right way, and still has us thinking about what was right, and what was wrong even after it’s all done.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

After these comments, I think Russell definitely has the right to be as paranoid as he is.

After certain comments, I think Russell definitely has the right to be as paranoid as he is.

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

Ali (2001)

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

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

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

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

"West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!"

“West Philadelphia, born and raised, beyatch!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Fair Game (2010)

Does anybody in the CIA ever smile? Better yet, do anything pleasant whatsoever?

Valerie Plame (Naomi Watts) and Joe Wilson (Sean Penn) live a relatively comfy-life together in Washington with their two kids. She works for the CIA and is currently in the middle of an important mission that would allow for her to receive info on possible terrorists’, whereas he’s a former United States diplomat who takes pride in making sure that he gets his point across in any way possible, regardless of how unpopular it may be amongst the post-9/11 society. But their lives change in a drastic way when Plame allows for her husband to get sent on a mission to Niger, where he would inspect certain yellowcake uranium to see if it was being made for the construction of nuclear weapons. Wilson does not think so and lets his voice be known, however, his strong-willed opinion is practically ignored when the President of the United States himself decides to go after Africa anyway. This drives Wilson into a bout of late-night madness where he writes an op-ed for the New York Times, uncovering what it is that he saw and he believed. The White House catches wind of this and to say the least, they are not happy. Therefore, they decide to take matters into their own hands and drop their almighty power and weight on Wilson, as well as Plame, even going so far as to uncover her as an “CIA Agent”. That’s something that should never be unveiled to the public, but when you’re the United States government, you can practically do whatever you damn well please.

Though most of those may think otherwise, I do keep up modern-day politics and all sorts of happenings. But even for me, I had no clue of this story about Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson, and I can bet you donuts to dollars that not many others do either. Which is definitely an element you have to take into consideration while making a movie about it, whether it be a documentary or full-on narrative-flick: It must be as interesting and feel just as important as the film-makers behind the camera think so.

She blends in real nice.

She blends in real nice.

Here, director Doug Liman clearly feels a passion and an anger with this injustice done to Plame and Wilson, and because he feels it’s important, that feelings brought out onto us. However, it isn’t done so in a needy, obvious way that has Liman practically grabbing you by the head and saying, “Pay attention to how important this is!” Many movies of the same nature can and will do that, but thankfully, Liman doesn’t fall for that trick and instead, allows us to follow through the story in the easiest way possible that not only makes it understandable to any regular citizen, but also to anybody who has heard a bit about this story, but didn’t know all the nitty, gritty details of it.

And in making sure we follow along with the story and actually give a hoot about it, Liman focuses most of his attention on the core of this story: Plame and Wilson themselves.

See, it’s easy for a movie like this to get all sorts out-of-whack when there’s as much CIA-talk/espionage/back-stabbing/bullshit that goes on here, and while that does distract from the main reason why this movie’s worth seeing in the first place, it’s not terribly distracting. We still get an idea and feel for who these two people were before all of this havoc came into their lives, and just exactly why it did in the first place.

It would have been real easy for us to hold plenty of judgement against Joe Wilson for speaking his mind and landing his whole family in hot water, when he was assuredly guided to do otherwise, but the movie makes it seem like he needed to. Joe Wilson was the type of man who didn’t want to stand by all of these wrong-doings occurring around him and he sure as hell wasn’t going to stand by while it happened to him and those that he loved. It should be noted that Sean Penn is great as Joe Wilson, although there is one key problem with this casting and that’s because Joe Wilson himself does seem a lot like Sean Penn, the guy in real life. Especially towards the end, when Liman decides to hell with subtlety and starts really preaching to the choir, and gives us many scenes where it’s just Penn ranting, yelling and raving about how we all, as a society, should stand up for what we believe in and not get knocked down by the power of the metaphorical “man”.

"So I said to her, "FuckyoufuckingbitchI'llkillyou." Funny, right?"

“So I said to her, “FuckyoufuckingbitchI’llkillyou.” Funny, right?”

There’s nothing wrong with these scenes or what it is that they are trying to get across, per se, it’s just hard to separate a character Sean Penn is playing, from the person Sean Penn is in real life. Heck, there’s also another scene in which Wilson himself comes pretty close to beating the shit out of a reporter/paparazzi! Art imitating life? Maybe, maybe not. But what I do know is that Sean Penn was a wonderful choice for the part of Joe Wilson, for better or worse.

That’s not to say Naomi Watts is chopped-liver as Valerie Plame either, it’s just that she gives the type of performance we expect to see from Naomi Watts: Strong-willed and emotional, yet, still keeps a lid of silence on all of it. Watts is always great and it’s no surprise that she and Penn have a very comfortable, relaxed chemistry together, considering that they starred together in two movies before this. Together, they build a couple that has an understanding between what’s expected of a married-couple with kids, as well as what is expected to ensure the safety of them and their said kids. They’re the quintessential couple, except that this time, they’re practically facing off against the whole United States government. And while Liman realizes that this is a challenge for them (hard to believe, I know), he still realizes that when everything in life seems to be working against you, the ones you can always fall back on are your loved ones.

Even if they just so happen to be Sean Penn.

Consensus: Fair Game clogs itself up a bit way too much with unneeded subplots, but the arch of the story, Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame, is done well and effectively, to where we stand behind them with every decision they make, regardless of how risky it may or may not be.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

 

"Honey, can you do me a favor and shut your mouth? Maybe just for a few minutes?"

“Honey, can you do me a favor and shut your mouth? Maybe just for a few minutes?”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Ride Along (2014)

More reasons as to why we shouldn’t trust our current police-force.

Ben (Kevin Hart) is a fast-talking, very eccentric and slightly goofy that longs for the day he gets his chance to be in the Police Academy. He thinks he is able to do so, all because of the constant video-games he plays on his XBOX, and also because his girlfriend’s brother, James (Ice Cube), also happens to be a cop, and a pretty bad-ass one at that. So if there’s any problems Ben may have, he can always count on his girl’s big bro. Then again though, no he can’t, considering that this said brother doesn’t particularly like Ben, nor even think he’s “man enough” to be the man who takes his baby sister’s hand in marriage. That’s when James gets the bright idea that he’s going to take Ben out on what the task-force calls a “ride along”l which means that the two are going to spend a whole day together where they try and solve crimes, maintain peace and basically, get done all the jobs a normal policeman would normally do. However, there is this case that’s been eating at James for quite some time and it’s starting to all make some sense to him now with Ben around, the only problem is that he may be a bit too in over his head.

Take last year’s the Heat, get rid of the two female leads, as well as their skin-color, and you have Ride Along.

Anybody else find it strange that a member of the NWA is now playing a loyal, by-the-numbers cop?

Anybody else find it strange that a member of the NWA is now playing a loyal, by-the-numbers cop?

And there you have it. That’s all there is to know about this movie and that’s all that you need to know, in order to judge whether or not you should see this flick. Personally, I like a good, old-fashioned, buddy-cop flick when it’s done right, and I thought that with the inclusion of both Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, that things would be a lot better.

However, they aren’t, they’re just mildly acceptable, which is fine, especially considering that we’re in the month of January and, as we all know, the movies released during this uneventful month usually suck terribly. While I definitely would like to say that this movie is “absolute garbage”, I can’t help but think that there were a few times that I actually laughed, and more often than not, had a nice, measly chuckle to go along with the fun as well. For me, that’s all I want in a comedy and if that’s good enough for me, then hell, I think it ought to be good enough for you.

But like I was saying before, this movie definitely isn’t great nor should it be recommended for those who are looking for something that’s going to re-invent the wheel, or even throw them a few surprises they weren’t expecting to see from something that looked as conventional as this. There are a whole bunch of twists concerning certain characters that are easy to pick out right from one of the movie’s earlier-shots; and hell, even the biggest surprise this movie may have had to offer (a cameo from a certain, well-known “someone”) is practically spoiled to us when we the person’s name pops-up in the opening-credits.

And aside from those issues, the plot doesn’t really make much of a difference, because even at an hour-and-40-minutes, the thing still does seem a bit long and lag very, VERY heavily in the middle. It actually lagged so much, that I caught myself dozing-off a few times and barely woke-up from my slumber, despite a crowd of 50-somethings laughing their assess off like hyena’s around me. Almost rarely ever happens to me, hence why I’ve took the time out of this review to make a very big note of it. May not happen to you out there, but it definitely happened to me and it reminds me why coffee comes in so much handy before these types of movies. That, or the fact that the movie itself that I am watching has to be even remotely entertaining.

I wonder why there's so much focus on these guys in the first--half of the movie............

I wonder why there’s so much focus on these guys throughout the movie…………

What’s strange though is that even though I did doze-off during this movie, which would usually kill any other one from getting even the slightest recommendation, this flick had just enough charm and energy about it to where I didn’t mind that it put me to sleep for, oh, I don’t know, say seven or eight minutes. Which means that most of the praise for this movie has to go to both Kevin Hart and Ice Cube, who seem to perfectly placed together as the type of buddy-cop duo we usually see. Cube is very stern, serious and dismissive most of the time; whereas Hart is wild, crazy, energetic, always able to have fun and even take some chances. Together, they make for a very entertaining dynamic, in which you can actually see Cube try his damn near-hardest not to crack a smile whenever Hart is around and doing his thing. And while Cube himself may not be acting his ass off or really lighting the screen-up with his charisma, he’s still fine keeping it as straight-laced as he can be, without ever seeming like a total square that doesn’t know how to have fun.

But as for Hart, the guy’s very fun to watch; although, I do have to admit that some of his screeching and hollering did get to the point of where it was over-bearing. In fact, he reminded me a lot of Chris Tucker in that way, but a lot smaller. And his size, as you could expect, does get a lot of jokes thrown at it from all ends, but Hart’s down with it enough to suck it up and let himself be on the butt-end of a joke. Actually, that’s how he practically is throughout this whole movie, constantly throwing himself everywhere and anywhere, desperately trying to get even the slightest hint of a chuckle out of the audience. Though some may see this as “annoying”, or “over-the-top”, it worked for me and showed me that when in doubt, just trust Kevin Hart to make some goofy, whiny noise to make you laugh. It may not always work and have you soiling your pants, but in the off-chance that it does work, you’ll laugh, you’ll hoot, you’ll holler and most of all, you’ll appreciate that there is a comedian like Kevin Hart out there who is more than willing to sacrifice life and limb for a laugh. Or, even a chuckle. He’ll take what he can get, run with it and leave us enjoying ourselves. True comedian, right there.

Consensus: Shouldn’t be your first, nor your second pick at the movies this weekend, but if worse comes to worse and you end up finding yourself sitting in the same theater that’s showing Ride Along, don’t be alarmed because it’s funny for what it is, without doing much else out-of-this-world. Aka, a typical January movie.

5 / 10 = Rental!!

He is from Philly, so the fact that he wouldn't be able to handle a gun correctly was just a totally unbelievable plot-point. At least for me it was.

Make a note that he knows how to hold that gun through “playing video-games”. Yup, definitely not a movie for the kids.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

The Sum of All Fears (2002)

Don’t trust your government. Because apparently, they have no clue what the hell’s going on half of the time.

The new Russian President, Nemerov (Ciarán Hinds), seems like he may be giving the good ole’ boys of America a hard time. Actually, probably a lot harder than either the president (James Cromwell) or CIA director William Cabot (Morgan Freeman) feel comfortable with! Apparently, a nuclear bomb that was mysteriously lost during a 1972 Israeli-Egyptian conflict, somehow finds its way back into prominence with the Russians who, in their sneaky ways, are making a secret bomb of their own. Some of it makes sense, and some of it doesn’t, but one thing’s for certain: America won’t be taking any chances with this whatsoever. This is when they decide to call in CIA Agent Jack Ryan (Ben Affleck) who, having already written a book on Nemerov, seems like an expert of sorts on this type of stuff, and goes so far as to call him a “good man”. The U.S. government doesn’t agree with this and sets up defense as soon as they can. However, “as soon as they can”, may just be a little too late.

"I said, "CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW??!?!?!""

“I said, “CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW??!?!?!””

Let’s not forget that this movie was released only nine months after the 9/11 attacks occurred and, in case you were born just yesterday or have been living under a rock for the past 12 years, America still hasn’t quite gotten over it. And nor should we; not only was it one of the worst travesties to happen to our country in the past hundred or so years, but it showed every citizen that yes, our country is vulnerable enough to where a couple of terrorists could actually get into planes, strapped with bombs to their chests, run those said planes into the Twin Towers and during the process, even blowing themselves, as well as everybody within a 10-feet-distance from them, up into smithereens. The images, videos, sound-bites, etc. are still shocking to this day and it has us wonder if anything as tragic like that will ever happen again to our country.

That’s why, when a movie that not just discusses the same ideas of terrorism like nukes, mass-genocide and paranoia, but even goes so far as to give us a shocking sequence in which all of Baltimore is hit by a nuclear bomb, it comes off as a bit “in poor taste”, for lack of a better term. Though some of you out there may get upset with me “spoiling” what happens about half-way through, I think it deserves to be noted because not only is it the turning-point for this movie, but it also still does the trick, even twelve years after it’s initial-release, and a little near-thirteen years after the infamous attacks themselves. It’s still shocking, it’s still brutal and, even despite some choppy-visuals here and there, still feels somewhat realistic.

Strange to think that seeing certain stuff like that in movies still gets us to this day, but so be it. That’s what happened to us on that fateful day, and for most of us, we’ll continue to be scarred till the rest of our days.

But anyway, like I was saying about how it effected this movie, because before this sequence, the movie was rather by-the-numbers. Sure, some of it had energy and intrigue added to the proceedings, but for the most part, I didn’t get what was really happening, nor did I really care. Nobody feels all that fleshed-out, with the exception of Freeman’s Cabot who, as you probably guessed, steals the show every time he shows up. Hell, even when he isn’t around, his presence can still be felt and you’ll wonder just when it is that he’ll show his lovely face again, and give us a character that we both enjoy to watch and be around, but also respect enough to where if he was in the same room as us, we’d automatically shut our traps and let him do whatever it is that he wants. He just has that type of control and prowess over a movie, which is why he was the only real reason to stick with this flick for its first-half, because everything else, is rather boring.

Then, the already-mentioned nuclear attack happens and all of a sudden: Everything in this movie is cranked-up to eleven and everybody is going absolutely ballistic. Though you could argue that this later-half of the film is as conventional and plain as the first, you can’t argue that it wasn’t entertaining to watch a bunch of heavy-hitting, grade-A character actors like Bruce McGill, Ken Jenkins, James Cromwell, and Philip Baker Hall walk around a board-room, just yelling at one another. Even if certain lines like, “It’s the Russians who did it! Nuke ’em!”, are a tad corny, they’re still fun to hear, especially when you have talented dudes like these delivering them. There’s also a stand-off between the Russian and United States government in which both presidents talk to one another through some sort of a computer-messaging system and though it may be a bit silly, it’s still suspenseful to watch and listen to. Yeah, typing on a keyboard has never been the most thrilling, nor exciting thing a movie can do, but here, it worked for me.

"Quick advice kid: Leave the heavy-lifting to me and go get drunk or something."

“Quick advice kid: Leave the heavy-lifting to me and go get drunk or something.”

However though, whenever we don’t focus on these powerful men screaming, figuring stuff out and yelling demands at one another, we focus on Jack Ryan as he ventures all throughout what rubble is left of Baltimore, which may have been exciting to watch, had Ryan’s story been all that interesting to begin with, but it isn’t. That’s not to discredit Ben Affleck too much here in the lead role, because while the guy definitely does try, the movie isn’t all that focused on him to begin with and only shines a light on him whenever necessary. I’m not saying that if you took him out of this film, it would work better, but you could probably have featured somebody awesome like Liev Schreiber’s very mysterious, yet ruthless spy in the same role, and it would have been a lot more entertaining to watch.

Then again, everybody out there in the world knows exactly who Ben Affleck is, and not Liev Schreiber. Hence why one is in main leading-role, whereas the other is in the strange, rather under-written supporting role. Sucks to say, but it’s true.

As it remains though, this is Jack Ryan’s story so when it does focus on him to really deliver the thrills, chills and elements of suspense, it isn’t that Affleck blows the chance to do so, it’s just that we don’t care that much. We see that he’s clearly a nice guy that has a bright head on his shoulder, but can’t fight worth of dick. Which means, that when he has to drop-down in the mud and get his knuckles dirty, it doesn’t fully work, nor does it make you believe too much in him. So it stands, Ford may have been the best Jack Ryan to-date, with Baldwin running a close-second. Sadly, that leaves poor Ben in last place, which isn’t so much of his fault, as it was more of just a wrong film, and wrong time. If Big Ben had been in either the Hunt for Red October or Patriot Games, something tells me he would have been a nice fit and worked well with Clancy’s exposition-heavy dialogue. That’s not the case though. Poor guy. At least he’s onto portraying bigger and better characters than some chump named “Jack Ryan”.

Consensus: May not quite pick-up its full head of steam until half-way being over, but nonetheless, the Sum of All Fears is a well-acted, tense, exciting and rather visceral thriller that takes on a new life when you think about what our country had been going through at the point in time it was released, but also how the shots of a post-apocalyptic Baltimore still have us cringe a bit.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

I think we all know by now that once you step into the state of Baltimore, shit's about to get real.

I think we all know by now that once you step into the state of Baltimore, shit’s about to get real.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

My Predictions for the 2013 Oscars

Everybody, everybody, everybody!

It’s that time of the year again that we’ve all been waiting for. A whole year has been prepping for this and it’s finally come! The 2013 Oscars!

WOOOOO-HOOO!!

Since the Ceremony is tonight (let’s hope Seth MacFarlane doesn’t pull a James and Anne), here are my predictions on what could possibly happen, and a tiny-bit of my own thoughts because let’s face it: nobody is ever fully-pleased with the Academy Awards! That’s just the way the world works, people, but hey, enough of me, let’s get on with the predictions, shall we?

BEST PICTURE:

Will Win: Argo

Should Win: Django Unchained

Dark Horse: Lincoln

BEST ACTRESS:

Will Win: Jennifer Lawrence

Should Win: Jessica Chastain

Dark Horse: Emmanuelle Riva

BEST ACTOR:

Will Win: Daniel-Day Lewis

Should Win: Joaquin Phoenix

Dark Horse: Denzel Washington (nobody will ever beat DDL)

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:

Will Win: Tommy Lee Jones

Should Win: Christoph Waltz

Dark Horse: Philip Seymour Hoffman

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:

Will Win: Anne Hathaway

Should Win: Anne Hathaway

Dark Horse: Amy Adams (like she’s gonna win)

BEST ANIMATED FILM:

Will Win: Wreck-it Ralph

Should Win: Wreck-it Ralph

Dark Horse: Brave

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT, BEST ANIMATED SHORT, BEST SHORT FILM (LIVE-ACTION):

I never had a chance to see any of these flicks. But I’m sure they are fine pieces of short-cinema, and hope somebody wins here.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY:

Will Win: Life of Pi

Should Win: Life of Pi

Dark Horse: Lincoln

BEST  COSTUME DESIGN:

Will Win: Lincoln

Should Win: Les Miserables

Dark Horse: Anna Karenina

BEST DIRECTOR:

Will Win: Steven Spielberg

Should Win: Ang Lee

Dark Horse: David O. Russell

BEST DOCUMENTARY:

Will Win: Searching for Sugar Man

Should Win: The Invisible War

Dark Horse: How to Survive a Plague

BEST MAKEUP AND HAIRSTYLING:

Will Win: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Should Win: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

Dark Horse: Les Miserables

BEST EDITING:

Will Win: Argo

Should Win: Zero Dark Thirty

Dark Horse: Lincoln

BEST FOREIGN FILM:

Will Win: Amour

Should Win: Amour

Dark Horse: No

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE:

Will Win: Lincoln

Should Win: Lincoln

Dark Horse: Life of Pi

BEST ORIGINAL SONG:

Will Win: “Skyfall”

Should Win: “Skyfall”

Dark Horse: “Everybody Needs a Best Friend” (the guy’s hosting, so why the hell not?!?)

BEST SOUND EDITING:

Will Win: Life of Pi

Should Win: Life of Pi

Dark Horse: Django Unchained

BEST SOUND MIXING:

Will Win: Life of Pi

Should Win: Life of Pi

Dark Horse: Skyfall

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS:

Will Win: Life of Pi

Should Win: Life of Pi

Dark Horse: Marvel’s The Avengers (would be pretty awesome)

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:

Will Win: Lincoln

Should Win: Silver Linings Playbook

Dark Horse: Argo

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:

Will Win: Django Unchained

Should Win: Django Unchained

Dark Horse: Moonrise Kingdom

So, there ya have it, folks! Another year down, another year for the Oscar’s. Enjoy and have fun! Let’s hope that Big Ben pulls it out big in the end.

Lincoln (2012)

Sorry guys, no vampires this time around.

Daniel Day-Lewis stars as the sixteenth President of the United States of America, also known as Abraham Lincoln, and paints a portrait of him during the tumultuous final months of his life, during which he fights to abolish slavery by putting forth an amendment in the House of Representatives.

For over a decade now, we have all been waiting for Steven Spielberg to deliver on his promise of an actual, Abraham Lincoln biopic and for awhile there, it was going to happen. Actually, at one-point, Liam Neeson was supposed to star as Honest Abe but Neeson himself even declared he was “too old” for the role, even though Daniel Day is five years younger than him, but hey, if Oskar Schindler says no, Oskar Schindler means no. Thankfully though, after all of this time, Spielberg delivers on his promise and gives us a movie that isn’t quite the epic biopic we were all expecting out there. Hell, it’s the farthest thing from actually.

Instead of going for the full-scale, sweeping epic idea that he has gone with on such pictures like War Horse, Saving Private Ryan, and Schindler’s List, Spielberg takes a step-back and decides to play it down a little bit and make it a more intimate, focused piece of work that doesn’t focus on Lincoln’s whole life, but the last couple months of his life where he had to put up with all of these problems, that it’s a real wonder how the guy didn’t just die of a heart-attack right then and there. In a way, a part of me wishes that Spielberg went all-out here and tackle Abe through his life, but seeing him in the latter years of his life does seem like a better fit for Spielberg to play it safe, and not get way too in over his head, like he has been known to get in recent-years. However, that’s not to say that Spielberg still doesn’t have what it takes to deliver some the top-notch directing moments we all know and love him for.

I think what really intrigued me the most about this flick was how it shows just how hard it was, and probably still is, to get a bill passed and all of the twists and turns that come along with that mission. Abe had to talk to a lot of people, had to plan out a lot of ideas in his head, had to win over a crap-load of people, and most of all, had to still keep it in his mind to do the right thing. It’s a very hard, especially in today’s day and age of politics, to not only do the right thing but also keep with that idea in your head and never mess-up on that. Abe never gets dirty with where he gets with his mission to abolish slavery, and it’s really fresh to see considering this is a guy that America still reveres to this day.

We get a great glimpse at a guy, we can only read about in bore-fest books and Spielberg, for the most part, delivers on that spectrum. The story is as simple as they come, yet, Spielberg never loses sight of what he really wants to show and what he really wants to convey and we get that perfectly. It’s a slow-burn of a movie, but Spielberg keeps it surprisingly entertaining with a couple of nice touches here and there where we feel like we are placed in the same exact setting that the movie’s portraying, and also feel like we’re on the edge-of-our-seat, wondering just how the hell this bill is going to get passed. Yeah, yeah, yeah. We all know that the bill gets passed and whatnot, but the film still kept me wishing and hoping that it would, considering there is so much anger and aggression against it, that’s a huge wonder how it didn’t continued to get denied until this very day.

However, I still can’t lie to you and tell you that I loved this movie, because I really didn’t. The problem I had with this movie was that it would go on for so long (it clocks in at 150 minutes, if that tells you anything already) with just talking, arguing, and political-jargon being used, that I actually felt myself dozing off a couple of times and wondering when they were going to get a move on with this story. Playing it subdued and intimate was a nice approach that Spielberg decided to use, but when your whole film is about a bunch of people just talking about a bill that we all know gets passed at the end of it all, well, it can be a bit repetitive, as well as, dare I say it, boring.

Another problem I had with this movie was that I wasn’t as emotionally-invested as I feel so many other people were with this movie. Ever since this movie came out, I’ve been seeing reviews from people that are just talking about how much they couldn’t handle their emotions during this film and just had to let out all of the tears. My question is, how the hell are all of these people crying at a movie that’s about a story we all know, a history-figure we all think we know, and features a screenplay, where everybody talks and hollers at each other in this sophisticated, political language that is rarely ever muttered in today’s day and age (thank god for that, too)? Seriously, I would get it if we all watched Lincoln from the start of his life, to the end of it but something just did not connect with me and have the water-works moving at the end. Instead, I felt like I knew the man more than I ever did before and I think that’s all I needed, really, a history lesson, not a life-changing experience.

However, I don’t blame these people for getting emotional, either, because when you have Daniel Day-Lewis in the lead, it’s hard not to tear-up. As always, Daniel Day is perfect in a lead role that shows him off to be one of the finest actors we have working today but it’s not the type of role you’d expect from the guy. With roles like Bill Cutting and Daniel Plainview being some of his most famous in recent time, it’s a refresher to see him go back to his old-ways and play soft, gentle, and kind fellow that means no harm to anyone around him, but just wants to do what he thinks is right for the country and what feels right in his heart. He’s obviously a nice guy that you can tell has some real charm to him that wins everybody over that he meets, as well as a knack for story-telling that are some of the funniest, if not thought-provoking pieces of tales that I have ever heard. How many times did Honest Abe break out of regular-conversation just to tell a story about a man and his farm? I don’t know and I don’t care. All I do know is that they were lovely stories to hear, mainly because it was Daniel Day who was delivering them in his sweet, gentle voice that doesn’t even seem recognizable in the least bit.

Daniel day lights up the screen every time he pops-up on it and delivers one of the finest performances of the year, and really does have you sympathize and feel something for a man we rarely know about how he was in life. We read about it in books, but it’s all up in the air as to what or who this guy really was in real-life, but I think Daniel Day’s portrayal is the most accurate depiction we can all go along with and agree on. If Daniel day doesn’t get a nomination this year, hell will freeze over, but then again, I think it’s a pretty sure thing that no matter what the movie the guy signs up to do, he’s going to get an Oscar-nomination regardless and you know what? I have no problem with that because this guy is an actor’s actor, and I can’t wait to see what he does next. That was a pretty obvious statement though, because everybody looks forward to what the guy does next, it’s all just a matter of how long will it take this time around.

Even though Daniel Day is perfect in this lead role, he almost gets the spotlight taken away from him from an actor that could also be considered “an actor’s actor”. Tommy Lee Jones plays Thaddeus Stevens in a way that we all know and love Jones for playing his roles. He’s cranky, he’s old, he’s witty, and most of all, he’s a bastard that you do not want to go toe-to-toe with when it comes to an argument. As Stevens, Jones allows this fact to be even more truer than we already know it to be and really gives us a glimpse at a man that may even want this bill passed more than Lincoln himself, and there’s an amazing, final scene with him that shows us why. Jones is on-fire in this role and I really do think that he’s a sure-thing for an Oscar nomination this year and I do not disagree with that one-bit because the guy is always spectacular, he’s just been wasting too much of his time as Agent K to really allow us to see what is so spectacular about him in the first-place.

Playing Lincoln’s wife, Sally Fields probably gives one of her best performances I’ve seen from her in the longest time. Fields plays Mary Todd Lincoln the same exact way you’d expect her to play her, she’s weird, she’s paranoid, she’s always angry, but yet, she’s always supportive of what Abe does and to see that play out in this film is a thing of beauty, considering her and Daniel Day have great husband-wife chemistry between the two. As opposed to Jones and Lewis, I don’t think Fields is a sure-shot for an Oscar nomination this year, but hey, if she does end up getting one I will not be pissed in the least bit. The gal is great with all that she’s given and it’s finally time that somebody’s given her a role to chew down on.

This whole movie is filled with a supporting cast that will probably shock you by how many names it really does have and to be honest, there’s a bit of a problem with that. See, there are so many damn people in this movie that even though they are all so good with each and every one of their own, respective roles, it becomes a bit of a waste to see such good talent in roles that sometimes don’t show-up on-screen for any longer than 5 minutes. Having a huge, supporting cast is great if you want to make sure every character is well-done, and every performance is good but after awhile, it sort of starts to tick you off once you realize that half of these people can do some quality work in their own flicks, they just aren’t given the chance all that much. Still, it’s great to see such big names show up in a production together and show how much people still want to work with Spielberg.

Consensus: Lincoln may take some people by surprise to how it plays-out, but if you can handle a bunch of talking, then it will definitely keep you watching from beginning-to-end with a spectacular lead performance from Daniel Day, and a message about doing the right thing, no matter who gets in the way that is still relevant today, especially in the world of politics.

8/10=Matinee!!

The Lookout (2007)

Memento mixed with any heist thriller that has ever come out. Honestly, just pick one.

After experiencing a brain injury, and facing a mental disability where he suffers from short-term memory loss, janitor Chris Pratt (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) becomes part of a heist at the bank where he works.

Writer/director Scott Frank does something pretty cool here. He takes a heist flick, give it a character-based drama feel to it, and still have some action at the end to boost things up. Maybe it’s not the most unique thing out there, but it still worked for me and you I need more of that in the crime genre.

Frank did a pretty good job taking his first bite at directing and gives this film a very low-budget, “indie” quality to it that showed you don’t need to have all of the money in the world to make a low-key film like this to work. All it takes is enough skill to make a story like this to work and somehow, Frank pulls it off very well because he decides to focus on the characters more, rather than the heist and action itself. We actually get a good feel for some of these characters, and we see them more as human-beings rather than just another bunch of walking-action movie cliches. I’m not saying that every single person here is so unique and all given the same character development as the main ones, but for the ones that Frank does focus on, it works well and has you root for them even when things start to seem really turn shitty for our heroes.

But as much character development Frank puts into this story, he also has a nice build-up for the heist itself and it gets very tense by the end. Even when the film does totally change its ways into to full-on, action-thriller mode, it doesn’t seem fake and seems like this is the right way to go with a story that just continued to build-up, and up, and up until the very last shot (pun intended). Can’t say that it’s most exciting piece of cinema I’ve seen in quite awhile, but it worked well and kept me involved with this story when everything could have easily gone out the door.

However, as good as that heist and final 20 minutes were, the film did bother me with a couple of problems I kept running on in to. First of all, the heist itself seemed way too easy. I don’t want to give anything away as to how these peeps pulled it all off the way they did, but I will say that the way they did was so easy, that almost any person could rob a bank, regardless of the size of the bank itself. It was a plain heist as it was but it also seemed like one that was a bit too easy, even for these characters. Wasn’t the anchor of the flick, but it was still something that bugged me.

Another aspect of this film that bothered me was that things did really get predictable by the end, and it was kind of a disappointment considering this film had me on the edge for a good part of it. After the heist “goes down”, things start to go haywire and every situation becomes just another action-movie cliche that you always expect from these types of movies. There’s even one scene where Chris Pratt is talking about how he used to hunt with his daddy’s shotgun, only to be filmed holding it later on in the film, and it was an obvious, fore-shadowing moment that I got too many of throughout this whole flick. Was I entertained by most of this? Yes. But I think Frank could have done a better job with some of this because this guy did write Out of Sight. I mean,0 come on now!

Actually, what I think really held this film together for me was Joseph Gordon-Levitt‘s awesome performance as Chris Pratt (no, not Andy Dwyer, but how awesome would that be?). Pratt is a good character to have in a film like this because the guy obviously had it all at one time, but sadly, lost it all after a traumatic accident ruined his life forever and now he’s trying his damn near hardest to work with it. Maybe it doesn’t sound like the most well-written character ever made in film, but JGL plays him perfectly with just the right amount of sadness, sorrow, and anger in his system that makes you feel like this dude is a good with some mental problems that he can’t really help. This, along with Brick, was a role that showed off JGL’s skills at leading a film all on his own, and it’s so great to see what he’s become today in Hollywood.

Jeff Daniels is here as Lewis, Pratt’s blind room-mate and is just another role that proves how great Daniels is in any role you give him. He’s used as the comic-relief here, but that’s not such a bad thing since Daniels is great at creating well-rounded characters that know how to win you over, just with personalities. Matthew Goode was pretty good, too as Gary Spargo, but thing with him is that you know he’s the bad guy the whole time so there’s no real mystery to him. Isla Fisher is OK as the uber cute, and uber sexy Luvlee, but her role is sort of forgotten about by the end and it’s a shame since this gal could have done a lot more with this role. Like showed some more skin…right?

Consensus: The Lookout may run into some predictable territory by the end, but Scott Frank’s direction keeps this flick fun and entertaining, with plenty of good performances from this cast that makes every character seem even more well-rounded than the last.

7/10=Rental!!

Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

Jails not that bad after all, you can still do all of the things you want to do even if that is just getting revenge. Sweet sweet revenge.

Inventive master-mind, Clyde Shelton (Gerard Butler), wreaks havoc on prosecutor Nick Rice (Jamie Foxx) after one of the men who killed his family goes free. Basically, Shelton is out to screw everybody else who went out and screwed him, and I promise you that this is not a porno.

The whole legal system, regardless of who or where you are, is very flawed. I mean just by taking a look at this flick I have to say I kind of agree a bit with Butler’s character a bit. You got DNA evidence, an eye-witness, and even a confession from the killer themselves and you can’t make that stick? The criminal justice system is one that people have learned to trust less and less as the year’s go by and to be brutally honest, it may start to bring more rebellion to this country in the future. However, this is the only type of smart thoughts that went through this film.

Having the “whole legal system is flawed” aspect would have been a nice template for this film to fall back on but somehow it just starts to get more problematic as it goes on. The film tries to balance out the idea of us not knowing what’s going to happen next, even though we pretty much do and gives us these very gory and bloody death sequences of Butler just ripping a guy into 25 pieces. I did not understand what this film was trying to convey by showing this and I think that it was just director F. Gary Gray‘s way of trying to be hip and cool with the 21st century crowd by giving them some cool scenes that they would see in ‘Saw’. Let’s also not forget to mention that none of them are particularly original or new in any way.

I like the whole idea of this one dude getting even with the people that screwed him over in the first place and for the first 30-40 minutes, this film had me pretty entertained considering that this was practically Butler killing people left-and-right from the comfort of his own cell. Although, this all started to change as I soon realized how totally illogical and unbelievable these killings really are so that I started to have a feeling as to just where this flick was going.

The one thing about this film that really pissed me off is that I feel like the film wanted to have its cake but also eat it too. I already mentioned how the film brings up good points about the flawed legal system we have in today’s world but the film also feels like it needs to exploit it’s violence by having these savage killings. It doesn’t work both ways so by the end of the film, when everything starts to come full-circle after all of the blood-shed has been drawn, the film tries to go back to the points it made before and I just felt it was terribly phony right away. This film tried to cheat me but instead just failed miserably at trying to give me murdering with reason, and that’s the main reason why this flick made me mad.

Probably my favorite part of this whole film was probably the fact that I remembered when it was first getting filmed, that it all took place in Philadelphia and even a jail that is about 1 minute away from me. It was definitely cool to see my state and mainly my mayor in a film that gives it a bad name. However, if anybody who is reading this watches football, I highly doubt that this film is the only thing that gives Philly a bad name.

Jamie Foxx is a guy who is usually always a charmer in everything he does, so when he has to play an asshole lawyer (if that’s not a tautology) he seems very lifeless. The whole performance here that Foxx gives just seems lazy and the same emotion on his face the whole time. It also didn’t help that this flick tried to get us behind his character’s back considering that he made an asshole decision in the first place knowing the consequences going in as well. He definitely had more life in his eyes when he was playing Ray Charles. Getttt itt!??!

Gerard Butler struts his stuff and there’s nothing really with that here, however, his character just seems a bit one-note the whole time. Yeah, he’s mad and angry but does he always have to be? Can’t the guy at least show a little remorse and sadness over the things that have happened to him and the things that he does to others? I guess when you’re speaking of King Leonidas, who the hell cares! The film is also held accountable for the only time I have ever seen a bad performance from Viola Davis who plays the governor. Shame on you F. Gary Gray.

Consensus: Law Abiding Citizen is slightly entertaining in some spots and features a somewhat smart critique on today’s legal system, but it gets more and more implausible, unoriginal, and sillier as the film goes on and all of that critiquing goes away as soon as Butler blows up a 3rd car.

3/10=SomeOleBullShitt!!