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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Caleb Landry Jones

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Always truth in advertising.

After months of her daughter’s rape-murder investigation stalling, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decides that it’s time to let the world know of her annoyance and pain. She gets the grand idea of renting out three billboards, right outside of Ebbing, Missouri, which read: “RAPED WHILE DYING. AND STILL NO ARRESTS. HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”. It’s enough to get her point across, but also to piss-off everyone in town, including Willoughby himself (Woody Harrelson), who has cancer and is just trying to live out the last few years of his life in peace and solitude. However, the whole town turns on Mildred and her sense of anarchy, which makes her public enemy #1 in the eyes of Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a police-officer who uses his mouth and knight-stick, more than he actually uses his head and code-of-conduct. In fact, that seems to be a general problem with this little town of Ebbing, wherein minorities are still mistreated, corruption is still swept under the rug, and oh yeah, rape-murder cases, where all sorts of DNA is to be found, don’t ever get solved.

Just bone already. He’s got a few months left. Might as well.

Writer/director Martin McDonagh has proved with his movies (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and this) that he doesn’t really care about what people like, don’t like, what’s considered “politically correct”, or not. He likes to write despicable, sometimes inhumane characters who say what they want, do what they want, and whenever they want, regardless of what kind of audience is out there to accept it and see it for what it is. In a way, that makes McDonagh a true risk-taker and a brash talent to keep an eye on.

It’s also why Three Billboards will really rub people the wrong way, as well as it should.

McDonagh writes a lot of questionable dialogue, for sure; the use of the word “retard”, the n-word, and “c**t”, to name a few, are spewed quite a few times by just about every character. Obviously, this is meant to shock and surprise us, but it’s also meant to get us closer and closer to this town, these characters, the lives they live, and give us an even better idea of what small-town America look, sounds, and acts like, post-Trump. There’s a lot of anger, a lot of cursing, a lot of misogyny, a lot of racism, a lot of corruption, and oh yeah, nobody gives a shit, because we’re supposed to be making America great again.

Whether or not McDonagh intended for this metaphor to be drawn or not, doesn’t entirely matter; it’s what how we view the movie, in this context that matters most and it’s why I’m able to give this movie, like his others, a pass. McDonagh doesn’t seem to love or entirely adore the way these characters are and the way they talk, but he’s more so fascinated by them and if anything, it’s why Three Billboards works much more than it should. It’s the kind of movie that likes to beat-up and make fun of its characters, while also realizing that they’re human, accepting them, and asking for us to do the same.

And at the same time, still being a very smart, well-written, hilarious, and sometimes tense dramedy that doesn’t know when to stop making jokes, or being mean.

And yet again, there’s something fun about that. McDonagh’s dialogue, while highly stylized and unrealistic, is also snappy and filled with something to laugh, while simultaneously, think about. A whole diatribe about how the clergy and the Crips and Bloods aren’t too different from one another, while seemingly out of left-field, is also a bit of dialogue that only McDonagh could make work, regardless of if it matters to the plot or not. McDonagh has a couple of speeches that are just like this – they don’t really matter to the plot, but they’re fun to listen to – but they also seem to exist in this world where everyone’s always thinking and having something smart to say, even if they themselves may not be all that smart to begin with.

Love him, or hate him. Actually, just love him.

But like I said, it’s the three-dimensional characters here that really allow for Three Bilboards to go above and beyond just being a bunch of funny pieces of dialogue, strung-together with a rubber-band. Frances McDormand, as per usual, is amazing as Mildred Hayes, a role that seems to have been written for her, only because it’s the same role she’s been playing for the past 30 or so years. Yet, it never gets old. She’s still sassy, rough, tough, and seeming like the smartest person in the room, but she’s also a human being, with a real heart, soul, and sense of humanity that shows up in surprising, but earned ways. A lot of McDonagh’s dialogue, coming out of the wrong mouths, just wouldn’t work, but thankfully, McDormand’s isn’t one of them.

Why am I talking about Frances McDormand’s mouth?

Anyway, she’s aided by a solid supporting cast who, like McDormand, know what material they’re dealing with and make it work. Harrelson’s Willoughby is a tragic and sad soul, and builds a nice chemistry with Mildred; Lucas Hedges plays Mildred’s son who’s all sorts of angsty, but still fits; John Hakwes shows up as the abusive and mean ex-husband, and is surprisingly effective; and Peter Dinklage, when not seeming like the butt of every dwarf-joke thrown his way, still gives us a sweet character who genuinely seems to love and appreciate Mildred. Then, there’s Sam Rockwell who, once again, proves why he’s one of the best actors working today. As Dixon, he’s still got that charm we all know and love him for, but there’s something deeper, darker, and meaner to him than we’ve seen before. It’s a slight change-of-pace for Rockwell, but it’s a welcome one that gives us a character we learn to love to hate and it will hopefully give Rockwell some sort of Academy love.

Then again, probably not.

Consensus: As per usual with McDonagh, Three Billboards is rash, brash, mean, and a little distasteful, but by the same token, funny, well-acted, unpredictable, and even heartfelt, once you get past all of the cursing.

8.5 / 10

I guess billboards are still a thing, post-Y2K.

Photos Courtesy of: Fox Searchlight Pictures

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The Florida Project (2017)

Disney’s overrated anyway.

Moonee (Brooklynn Prince) is a young girl currently living in a shady, relatively scummy hotel with her young mother Halley (Bria Vinai). Most days, Moonee is spending her time running around with her friends, causing all sorts of havoc, and getting into all sorts of trouble, while her mother is off trying to make money anyway that she feasibly can. Sometimes, this means selling cologne/perfume on the streets, other times, this means a little something more that Moonee doesn’t quite know about, but everyone around her does. Either way, the two try their best to make something of a lovely little life for themselves, given the current situation that they’re in, despite being only a few miles away from the Magic Kingdom itself. And one person who is also doing all that he can is the manager of the hotel, Bobby (Willem Dafoe). He too has been dealt a pretty crummy hand at life and is just doing all that he can to get by and also ensure that his tenants, that he tries not to get too close to, are safe and sound in their own little bundles of trash paradise.

Save the day for once, Willem!

Basically, it’s two-hours of misery and I loved almost every minute of it.

Actually, that’s a lie. The Florida Project isn’t as miserable, or as depressing as I make it sound; Sean Baker is such a talented film-maker that he knows how to keep downbeat, relatively disturbing material like this, not only quick, swift, and entertaining, but also make it all compelling, even when it doesn’t ever seem to have a real story-line or plot to work with. But that kind of works in the movie’s favor; Baker has always moved to the beat of his own drum and here, he gets the opportunity to tell whatever story, however he wants to.

And it’s why the Florida Project is his best movie so far. Sure, it’s a lot like his other movies, in that he focuses on a large part of society that has, unfortunately, been pushed away from the movies, or entirely forgotten about, but this one has so much heart, so much energy, and so much creativity, it’s hard not to get wrapped-up in all of it. Right from the beginning, you have an idea of where it’s going to go and end up, until, about halfway through, it switches itself up, decides to go down another path, and it’s just surprising.

Cause in a way, the Florida Project is a coming-of-age flick, that is very loosely following some form of a plot or story-line. Baker has done this in the past with all of his movies, where he doesn’t really concern himself with much in the way of plot, but instead, just relies on the strong characters and performances to hold things over. Occasionally, he’ll drop in a bit of story here and there, but it’s never anything too crucial to where it ruins the overall improvisational look and feel of the flick.

And it’s what the Florida Project specializes in.

Due to it being a movie about such a downtrodden and depressed group of people, it almost feels like it should be preaching a whole lot more and trying to say something about the way our society is forced to treat these people who we’d rather not admit to being alive, or taking up any space. Baker knows and understands that this is something the common, everyday person thinks and while he, as well as all of us, knows that it’s wrong, he doesn’t let it get in the way of this movie, or getting to actually know these characters. All of them could have easily been pedestals for Baker to jump off of, but he’s a much smarter film-maker than that, to just use compelling characters, for the sake of getting an agenda across – he knows that they are the heart and soul to a good movie and with the characters here, he gets a lot of mileage.

Which is to say that everyone here is great. But what’s really shocking is how very little everyone seems to be working from a script; this is something I thought to myself throughout the whole movie, but it wasn’t until I went home and actually checked-out interviews and realized that a good portion of the movie was improvised and sort of made-up, on the spot, with the actors making their stuff up as they went along. I’d expect this out of a pro like Willem Dafoe (more on him later), but with relative newcomers like Brooklynn Prince and Bria Vinaite, I was especially surprised.

That I never heard of them before now, doesn’t really matter. That they never actually acted before, is all the more shocking.

Damn kids and their ice cream.

In the case of both Prince and Vinaite, these will be star-making roles, and with good reason: Both are great and go well beyond convention. Prince is a smart, sassy, and charming little girl who, just about every second, actually feels like a little kid who may be a little too smart for her own good, but a smart girl nonetheless. Vinaite, despite seeming like the typical cliche of the awful mother who doesn’t really care for her kid and just wants to smoke, drink, and have sex all of the time, eventually, shows us a real heart and humanity within this character. It’s something that you don’t expect with this character – all of the tattoos and piercings, I’ll admit, are more than enough to turn any person off immediately – but that’s sort of the point.

Baker isn’t making a movie full of gorgeously beautiful A-listers, who are risking their lives and careers by slumming it down. In fact, what’s crazy about getting Dafoe here, is that even though he is quite the known-talent, he’s also one of the uglier guys in the business (which I mean, in a good way). So yeah, even though Baker was able to nab a top-tier talent like Dafoe for his small, scummy indie, he was able to get one who fit and looked the part.

That said, Dafoe, like everyone else here, is amazing. He fully understands and sinks into this Bobby character who, you think is going to be a terrible, awful human being who just wants money and lots of it, but shows a true heart after a short while. He actually cares for his tenants and the hotel that he imagines, and while he’s stuck with the hard task of keeping everything all together and in-check, he sort of loves getting the pleasure of keeping this close-knit family, well, together. It’s a wonderful performance filled with subtlety and beauty, sometimes, both at the same time and it makes me happy to not just see Dafoe giving this really small indie a chance, but also working wonders for it, too.

Basically: Give him the damn Oscar already. Same goes for Vinaite. Hell, same goes for the whole movie. Give them everything!

America needs it. We all need it.

Consensus: Scrappy and gritty, the Florida Project realizes the harsh conditions in which it is set, yet, never succumbs to the inherent sadness and is instead, a beautiful, well-told, well-acted, and honest film about growing up, loving those close to you, and making your own little piece of paradise, the only way that you can. It’s sort of sappy, but the best kind.

9 / 10

The American Dream, everybody. Learn it. Love it. Accept it. And shut up.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

American Made (2017)

The American Dream.

It’s the late 70’s and Barry Seal (Tom Cruise) is enjoying the hell out of his life. He’s got a nice job, working as a pilot for commercial airline TWA, married to a beautiful woman (Sarah Wright), and is relatively happy with how simple things are in his life. Sure, he could always have a little more money in his pocket, but hey, what’s he to complain about? Well, things change for Barry when he’s contacted by CIA agent, Monty Schafer (Doomnhall Gleeson), who asks Seal to fly clandestine reconnaissance missions for the CIA over South America using a small plane with cameras installed. But why? Well, it seems like Schafer has a little mission of his own, to not just get his name known, but use Barry as the reason for it. Eventually though, times begin to change and Barry begins to get ideas; rather than just doing these missions for Schafer and making a small amount of extra-cash, why not just help out the drug cartel in transporting such things as drugs, guns, and all sorts of other goodies?

“Guys. Come on. Do I have to call L. Ron?”

Most of the negative-press towards American Made has been mostly about the fact that the movie plays fast-and-loose with its facts and takes what is, essentially, a dark, gritty, and sad tale about a dude transporting drugs and weapons across country-borders, and not really having the CIA crack down on him for it. And while this is no doubt a valuable criticism, it should also be noted that the movie doesn’t really care about how serious you, or anyone else, takes it story – it doesn’t, so who cares? All that matters, in the end, is whether or not this story deserves the big-screen treatment and is told in the most efficient, entertaining, and knowledgeable way possible.

And yes, that’s exactly what happens.

As per usual, director Dough Liman knows how to make this material crack and sizzle at just about every second. While it takes some time to get off-the-ground, once we are sprung into this world of drugs, guns, sex, heat, and conspiracies, it never lets up. American Made very much feels like Blow, in that it’s about, basically, a low-level dude trying to achieve the American Dream, while also not settling down to preach or cry about its sadness, but this movie’s a whole lot more exciting and fun to watch – this movie takes its premise seriously enough to know of the very real-dangers, but also doesn’t get too bogged down by them much, either. Much like Barry Seal himself, the movie knows what it’s dealing with, but is willing and able to turn a blind-eye in hopes that it will make things a lot more enjoyable to watch.

And that’s exactly what happens with American Made, the kind of movie that feels like it should be a lot more serious, but gets by entirely on its charm and quick pace. You can focus on the fact that it’s about the government turning a blind-eye and using another middle-class American for their own game, but that’s already to be expected. American Made has very much the same rather jokey, wink-wink true-story aspect that Narcos gets away with, but in this case, isn’t a little afraid to play around with certain facts and anecdotes.

“All of this, Tom, could be yours. Just leave that freakin’ cult, bro.”

It’s still a true story as is, but how many liberties were taken, honestly, we don’t fully know.

What we know about American Made is that it gives us, in what seems like a millennium, an actual performance from Tom Cruise, that doesn’t include much running or fancy stunts, but instead, a character, a personality, and oh yeah, plenty of opportunities to have some fun. And yes, Cruise reminds us all that he is, no matter how many silly blockbusters he does, a movie-star through and through; he can hang with the best of them, take over every scene he’s in, and most importantly, sometimes make you forget you’re watching Tom Cruise, movie-star. Cruise hasn’t been able to do that in quite some time, but here, as Barry Seal, he does actually grow into this character and over time, we start to see less of Cruise, and more of Seal. Both are still charming as hell, but there’s some subtle differences here that makes the performance all the more lovely to watch and marvel at.

Cause honestly, who knows the next time we’re going to get a great performance from Cruise where he, believe it or not, actually acts? Let’s just take our wins when we get them and be happy. And oh yeah, forget about the Mummy.

Everybody else already has.

Consensus: As entertatining and as fun, as it is informative, American Made doesn’t pass itself off as a history-lesson, but feels like it’s pulling double duty, while also reminding us that Tom Cruise is a freakin’ movie-star.

7.5 / 10

“Can’t run from all of your problems, Tom.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Get Out (2017)

Stay away from the white ‘rents house. Always.

Chris (Daniel Kaluuya) and Rose (Alison Williams) have been dating for quite some time. So, this obviously means that it’s time for Chris to meet her parents – something they’ve both been holding off on, because well, Chris is black and knows how these sorts of things go. Rose brushes it off and it makes sense; her parents, Dean (Bradley Whitford) and Missy (Catherine Keener), both seem like well-intentioned white people who, sure, may not always say the best, most appropriate things, but love their daughter enough to know that if she loves Chris, well, he’s got to be something special. But Chris starts noticing some odd things going on around the house, like with the house-workers both being black and very odd, as well as some of the other black people in/around the area. It’s all very surreal to Chris, but maybe, maybe he’s just overreacting. Until he realizes that maybe something incredibly bad and dangerous is going on here, and it’s up to him to figure it all out, way before it’s too late and something bad happens to him. Whatever that may be, he doesn’t know. But he sure as hell isn’t going to stick around and wait to see what happens.

Young happy couple. Time to ruin their lives.

Young happy couple. Time to ruin their lives.

It’s crazy that someone like Jordan Peele had Get Out within him; all of those years of creating and writing some hilariously biting and funny satire, behind it all, there was a dark, rather sick and twisted soul who wanted to get his voice and vision out there for the whole world to see. It’s actually shocking how different Get Out is from what you’d expect from Peele, but to take it one step further, but also by how different it is from so many mainstream horror movies. It’s as if the movie was made on a hand-shake agreement between Peele and the studios, where he would give them the funny bits of his persona, only so that they would invest and allow his freak-flag to fly.

And yeah, it pays off. For the most part.

The one interesting aspect surrounding Get Out is that you never quite know where it’s going to go, both in terms of its story, as well as its tone. That can sometimes back-fire, but for the longest time, Get Out is a suspenseful, tense and rather exciting horror-thriller that doesn’t try to grab out at us with the big, loud and obvious shocks and scares that we’re so used to seeing with horror movies of this same kind (although there is that conventional scene early-on of the couple running into a deer for a jump-scare, but it’s easy to forgive). Instead, Peele shows a resistance in giving us everything we need to know about this story, and slowly builds this story, giving us small, itty, bitty clues and hints into where this story may be headed and what the overall shocker’s going to be.

It’s the kind of suspense-horror that the genre doesn’t quite utilize that much anymore – in a way, it’s as if Polanski’s influence has come and gone out the window, once it appeared like he himself left the genre in the back-burner. But Get Out does suspense right, never letting us forget where the story may head, as well as what it’s trying to say about numerous things, like race, gender, and the class-system in our country. But it’s interesting that Peele doesn’t quite hit us over the head with these points; you’d think that a movie about black people being practically whitewashed would be a lot more irate and angry, but instead, Peele uses it as a platform to discuss further more troubling issues about identity and losing one’s self-respect.

White parents. Nice and presentable on the outside, evil and heartless on the inside.

White folks: Nice and presentable on the outside, evil and heartless on the inside.

Oh, and yes, we are still talking about a horror movie here, folks.

So yes, Peele should definitely be commended here for taking the horror-aspect of the story and working it for all that he’s got. The only regard where Peele seems to lose himself and show a bit of a room to grow in his debut feature, is that he doesn’t quite nail the comedy down as much as he thinks he does. Lil Rel Howry – who is a scene-stealer in the Carmichael Show – plays Chris’ best buddy who is, for the most part, seen having phone-conversations and that’s about it. He’s funny and the scenes in the first-half that we get of him work and help break-up the tension every so often, but then it gets to become a little tiresome, with a whole ten or so minutes dedicated to watching this character make dick and sex jokes.

Howry’s timing is on-point, but the movie’s is not. It doesn’t do much but take away from the momentum that the movie has going for itself and just seems like cheap laughs, for no exact reason other than to have cheap laughs. Maybe in a far less serious movie, it would have been fine, but Get Out is not that movie. It’s very deep, very dark, very serious and very drab, and it deserves to be that way, with some comedy sprinkled throughout – not whole segments.

But hey, Peele’s just getting started and he’s constantly going to be creating. I’m excited to see just where he sets him ambitious sights next. Whether it’s in a comedy, or another horror movie, remains to be seen.

Can’t wait to see, though.

Consensus: Even with some narrative flaws here and there, Get Out is still a suspenseful, unpredictable and chilling horror-flick that also proves Peele to be a talent to keep a look on when he’s behind the camera.

7.5 / 10

White people will do this to you.

White people will do this to you.

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

War on Everyone (2017)

everyoneposter

Can corrupt cops be a funny thing in 2017?

Terry (Alexander Skarsgård) and Bob (Michael Peña) are two corrupt cops who have been together for so long, doing what they do, blackmailing criminals, and making a lot of money off of it, that they hardly give what they’re doing, a second thought. They don’t see it as something bad, nor do they see it as any bit of dangerous – if anything, they see it as another way to get some more money and not live off of the terrible salary that most cops in their positions would be stuck with. However, they start to re-think a lot of their decisions once they discover there’s an evil, maniacal and downright vicious criminal (Theo James) out there, looking to take them both down. Meanwhile, while the two are trying to crack this case and get rid of the baddie, Terry’s off starting a relationship and trying to fill that void in his life, and his mansion, that’s been so noticeable for so very long. He’s hoping that perhaps this Jackie gal he’s been taking up with (Tessa Thompson), will change his outlook on life and possibly have him rethink the decisions that he and Bob make when they’re out on the job.

It's not the 70';s, but fro's like this still exist?

It’s not the 70′;s, but fro’s like this still exist?

Remember that period of time in the mid-to-late-90’s when just about every crime/action/comedy/thriller tried so desperately to be the next “Pulp Fiction“? Remember how they were so clearly made out to be some sort of witty, yet, violent and demented ride of pure craziness, but just felt like a bunch of studio-executives getting together and coming up with stuff that they thought would be “hip”, or “cool”? Remember how most of them, for the most part, kind of blew?

Well, yeah.

And that’s sort of what War on Everyone is. It’s not terrible, or bad, or as much as a rip-off as some of those movies from the 90’s could definitely get – it’s just it feels like it’s trying so desperately hard to recreate some of the magic made from Tarantino, that it literally has no identity all by itself. It’s as if you’re listening to one of Tarantino’s best friends talk about the movie idea they had, with all the jokes, gags and scenes of violence that they wanted, and while some of the ideas are nice, mostly, they’re just afterthoughts and clearly trying way too hard.

Which is weird to say about this movie, because it’s written and directed by John Michael McDonagh, someone who has, with his two movies so far (the Guard, Calvary), proven that he’s capable of dark, comedic thrills, as well as giving us a fresh story to work with, too. For some reason, War on Everyone feels like it’s trying too hard, but by the same token, not trying hard enough; the plot is so simple and straightforward, that you’d almost wish for the nonsensical and crazy twists and turns, but nope, they never come around. Instead, we get a procedural with jokes and observations about music, art, movies, TV, life, death, one’s existence, and capitalism.

That may sound fun and somewhat interesting, but it’s odd, because they don’t really come off that way in War on Everyone.

I'll watch that for an-hour-and-a-half.

I’ll watch that for an-hour-and-a-half.

They mostly just come off as a way for McDonagh to make people laugh and think of him as some witty son-of-a-bitch, but it doesn’t quite work – it feels too often like he’s bragging, or showboating, when there’s no reason for him to be doing so in the first place. Giving us solid characters and a story would have been fine enough, but unfortunately, the movie’s just one punchline-after-another, without there ever seeming to be a rhyme or reason for it, but to just try and break up any tension that may be found.

The only instances in which War on Everyone truly comes to life is in the form of its ensemble, all of whom are very good and more than make this sometimes cheeky material play better. As a duo, Peña and Skarsgård work well together; you can tell that there’s a certain camaraderie between the two that wouldn’t have worked, had they not been able to get along and build some sort of chemistry. It’s really Skarsgård who delivers the best performance, though, as we get some brief moments of his life, realize how much of a sad-sack he is and, as briefly as we get it, realize that there’s something more to him than just good looks and witty one-liners. There’s a human being underneath the facade and it makes his character interesting, and his performance all the better.

Tessa Thompson also benefits from being the gal in this subplot, as she not only brings out the best in Skarsgård, but truly does seem to be going for something more emotional and dramatic than the rest of the movie probably had in mind. Shame, too, because they both work great together and it would have been lovely to just see a movie all about them two, falling in love, and having hot, steamy sex together.

Seriously, though? Where was that movie?

Consensus: Even with the occasional moment of fun and humor, War on Everyone seems as if it’s trying way too hard to recreate some sort of dark comedy magic that was long dead by the 21st Century.

5.5 / 10

We get it: You're bad cops. Go away.

We get it: You’re bad cops. Go away.

Photos Courtesy of: Fresh From the Theater, Cinema Axis, I Watch Stuff

Heaven Knows What (2015)

Kids, for the millenials.

After she commits suicide because the love of her life, Ilya (Caleb Landry Jones), doesn’t return the same feelings she has for him, Harley (Arielle Holmes) slices her own wrists and ends up in a rehab clinic. Eventually, she gets out and is supposed to be all clean, new, and fresh; however, what happens is basically the same old, same old. Harley turns back to the world of drugs, where she’s constantly trying to get by on scamming people, day in and day out, all just to get whichever heroin she can find next for the right price. She’s not alone in this seedy underworld as Mike (Buddy Duress), a drug-dealer and sometimes guy-she-hooks-up-with, has something of a partnership with Harley in getting as much money as they can so that they can pay their rent, get the drugs, get high, and continue into the same pattern the next day, and the day after that, and so on and so forth. But what keeps Harley alive and well is the fact that she still loves Ilya, even if he could care less about her. Because, to her, Ilya is the one she wants to spend the rest of her life, whether he wants to or not, and that causes a lot of problems once Mike and Ilya start feuding over most things teenage heroin-addicts feud over.

Take a long one, honey. You need it.

Take a long one, honey. You need it.

A lot of people may hate Heaven Knows What for solely being about, well, heroin addicts. Young heroin addicts, to be specific, but heroin addicts nonetheless who, really don’t have much to do with their lives. Their days, for the most part, consist of hustling whoever they can hustle, doing whatever it takes, and losing all sorts of self-respect, just so that they can have that next, wonderful, beautiful, and amazing high that they’ve been fighting for since the second they woke up. That’s basically it and you know what?

It’s hard to ever take your eyes off of.

Most of that has to do with the fact that we hardly ever see these kinds of stories/characters told and given to us on the big screen. And even when they are, they’re usually done so in a way that’s preachy, obvious and judgmental; here, the smart thing that the Safdie brothers do is that they don’t ever, not for a second, make it seem like they’re judging these characters for who they are, what they’re doing, and the naughty ideas they’ve got in their heads. The Safdie’s see these characters for all that they are and because of that, the movie itself takes a back-seat to what it is that these characters are up to.

And sure, while it may not seem like they’re not doing much of anything at all (except just getting high), there’s still something incredibly compelling that makes the events all the more interesting. Sometimes, they’ll be in the park, or on the streets, or in a McDonald’s, just generally acting like a bunch of hooligans, causing all sorts of shenanigans, and not giving a single turd about who it is that they’re bothering, offending, or pissing-off-to-high-heaven – they’re high and living life, so why should they?

In a way, Heaven Knows What feels like a documentary that the Safdie’s just got very lucky in being able to film. There are certain moments that are staged (and they’re the weakest), but honestly, there’s plenty of scenes here that make it seem like the Safdie’s just told their actors to go out there, do whatever it is that they wanted to, and not stop until they said, “cut”. Though it’s never clear just how much is made up on the spot, or actual, genuine dialogue written for those moments in particular, there’s no denying the fact that whatever’s going on here, it’s working. It could have easily been another one of those micro-budget, grit-pieces from first-time directors that are just about as meandering as a Joe Swanberg piece (early Swanberg, that is), but surprisingly and thankfully, it doesn’t turn out that way one bit.

And even if it does, so what?

Heroin chic?

Heroin chic?

These characters, literally, live each and every one of their days, meandering along the dirty, raunchy streets, having no clue of what they’re going to do, when they’re going to do anything, or where the hell they’re going to end up at by the day’s end. All they do know is that, well, they’re going to high as hell, yo. Because of that, the fact that the movie feels like there’s almost no direction behind it whatsoever, works perfectly; these characters clearly have no directions in life, so why should they have any direction anywhere else!

And like I said before, the movie doesn’t try to make any of these characters into saint-like figures that are clearly better and made for more than what they’re surrounded by. Of course, that’s implied, seeing as how they’re all young, aspiring and street smart kids, but the movie never makes any one person out like they’re the nice people of the group and therefore, should be seen as such. Granted, nobody here is really considered a sinner, either – there’s just people who are a lot more morally reprehensible than others.

The only one who doesn’t seem to be is Arielle Holmes as, Harley, who is basically just a semi-fictionalized version of her own self. You’d think that because Holmes wrote this, that her character would get the lovely and sympathetic treatment, but gratefully, that doesn’t happen. She is just as worse than the company she keeps, but she’s also one that seems like she’s got more of a head on her shoulders, as well as a heart in her chest.

Of course, she’s also always seeming to get a needle in her arm, too, but hey, nobody’s perfect!

Consensus: Gritty, dark, disturbing, and ugly, but in all the right ways, Heaven Knows What doesn’t settle for any sort of narrative and instead, gives us a compelling portrait of people’s lives we don’t usually see in movies nowadays, as sad as they may be.

8 / 10

See? The heroin world isn't all that bad! Cuddling's allowed!

See? The heroin world isn’t all that bad! Cuddling’s allowed!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Stonewall (2015)

I don’t even think homosexuals want Roland Emmerich voicing his support.

The 1969 Stonewall Riots that occurred in New York City are considered one of the main kicking-off points in LGBT history. But before this moment in history occurs, we get to see how everything was beforehand, and through the eyes of Danny (Jeremy Irvine). Danny is a small-town boy from Indiana who, for controversial reasons, has fled his hometown in hopes that he’ll find a new life and possibly go to college at Columbia. But for now, Danny wants to enjoy his time around people he never quite had the chance to back when he was living at home and it all starts with Ramona (Jonny Beauchamp) – someone who takes a liking to Danny right away. So much so that once Danny starts to shack up with local liberal rights activist Trevor (Jonathan Rhys Meyers), he’s as jealous as can be. For Danny though, he’s living the life that he never could and is absolutely loving every second of it. Eventually though, reality sets in and he not only realizes that he wants to make something out of his life than hustling on the street for whatever nickels and dimes he can scrounge up; he wants to make his voice heard and better yet, he wants to stand up for what he believes in.

"Freedom! Or, something!"

“Freedom! Or, something!”

When I hear “heartfelt, emotional, and character-driven historical account”, nowhere at all does my mind come near the name, “Roland Emmerich”. The same director who’s created such disasters (literally) like 2012, Independence Day, the Day After Tomorrow, Godzilla, Stargate, and many more that I don’t want to even speak of, is also the same guy who I imagines just sits around, throwing bricks around his mansion, seeing what he can break in the most awesomely outrageous and unbelievable way imaginable. He’s not, honestly, the same guy whom I’d expect to take an account of seminal moment in LGBT history and give it the movie it deserves.

And don’t worry, he still doesn’t deliver that movie.

However, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was at least somewhat tickled by what Emmerich is appearing to try here. Basically, Stonewall takes this moment in history, and plays it all out through the eyes of this random, seemingly fictional that, of course, has to be around so that we can see everything he sees, take everything that he takes in, experience the way he experienced it, and well, learn some neat anecdotes about being gay in NYC during the mid-to-late-60’s while he learns them. Obviously, this is a manipulative narrative-device so that the movie can appeal to a broader audience, but it was one that I didn’t mind.

For one, Danny himself has his own backstory that, albeit conventional, is at least interesting enough to deserve some attention. Also, the fact that Danny himself is a homosexual, trying to come to terms with his sexual orientation and the sorts of trials and trepidations he’s to face, makes the fact that he’s around and about, not all that annoying. Sure, Emmerich’s trying to make this something along the lines of Forrest Gump, but you know what? It worked. I was interested, I was paying attention, and most of all, I was learning a few new things that I didn’t know beforehand.

So sue me!

But then, of course, Emmerich’s usual tendencies come into play where it seems like we’re getting the work of a director who seems a whole lot more concerned with being over-the-top and making sure that his message hits everybody straight in the face. In a way, this is fun to watch in a campy, none-too-serious way, but by the same token, it also seems to do a great disservice to the actual story of Stonewall itself, the people who were involved with it, and what it helped to do for some time to come. None of that is ever quite evident or made known, mostly because Emmerich seems distracted elsewhere.

And most of that comes down to the fact that Danny himself, the blonde, chiseled, and hunky man from Indiana, really doesn’t need to be in this story and just gets in the way of everything. Through Danny, Emmerich seems like he’s trying to study the predicament of having a peaceful protest, against a violent one, but never seems to go anywhere deep, smart, or meaningful with them. It’s almost as if once Emmerich brought the idea up, he thought it’d be too boring and threw more scenes of Danny having sex where he’s either in pain, or crying, or clearly wanting to be elsewhere. There’s one exception, but honestly, it’s so slight, it hardly matters.

Where's the flying-saucers when you need 'em the most, Roland?

Where’s the flying-saucers when you need ’em the most, Roland?

This isn’t to say that Jeremy Irvine isn’t bad as Danny, either, it’s just that he’s such a brick wall, he doesn’t really factor in much to the story. The best moments Irvine has is when Danny’s forced to break out of his shell a bit by acting wild and flamboyant like his fellow friends – every other time, though, he’s mostly just there, helping the story to move on along. Everybody else around him is saddled with more eccentric, lively performances and while most of them try, they’re mostly given a poor script that makes it seem like they coached how to deliver each line, four or five different times, with almost each and every different time being put in the final-cut.

But to be honest, I want to give Emmerich the benefit of the doubt here.

It’s interesting to see him not just throw his own money on the table and create his own tribute to the Stonewall riots (or some hot dude named Danny), but to also seem like he’s giving it his honest-to-god shot here. For that, I give him at least some credit; however, it doesn’t make him, or the movie, itself, better. It just gives us a dude who clearly has good intentions, but doesn’t know how to display them in a smart way.

I guess this just leaves the path for another Stonewall movie to come around soon enough then, eh?

Consensus: Despite Emmerich seeming like he’s trying his hardest, and at least, succeeding slightly, Stonewall is too distracted and silly to really drive home the cause it’s fighting for.

4 / 10

Coming soon to a Broadway theater near you.

Coming soon to a Broadway theater near you.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Tom At The Farm (2015)

Stay away from farms. No matter what the stipulations are, just keep away.

After the death of his boyfriend, Tom (Xavier Dolan), is left utterly speechless. That’s why, even against his own best wishes, decides to travel out to the country and go to his funeral, where he meets the rest of his family. Problem for Tom is, nobody knows that Tom is the recently-deceased’s lover; everybody just assumed he was straight. Though Tom does get a bit close at times, he decides to keep to himself and not say anything to the family about the truth; however, that doesn’t stop the recently-deceased’s brother, Francis (Pierre-Yves Cardinal), from getting all up in Tom’s business from the first second he lays eyes on him. Though Tom doesn’t want to disrupt what the family has already going with themselves, Francis takes it upon himself to torture and toy around with Tom; some of it has to do with the fact that he himself is opposed to homosexuality, but some of it may also have to be because Francis actually has feelings for Tom. Weird feelings, but feelings nonetheless. And it’s these feelings that makes Tom feel as if his life is in danger and may need to do whatever he can to get away from Francis, as well as the farm, as soon as humanly possible.

Console grandma and leave!

Console grandma and leave!

It’s weird that Tom At The Farm is just getting its U.S. release date now. A few years ago, while vacationing out in Canada, I actually had the opportunity to check it out at a local theater and thought it was only a matter of time until it hit the States, won everybody over, and all of a sudden, made me the coolest guy ever, because I saw it before everyone else. But the weird thing here is that, nearly three years after its completion, it’s just now getting its stateside release.

Why is that, honestly? Is it because Xavier Dolan’s latest (Mommy) seemed to do so well that studios eventually had hope for more Dolan movies? Or, is it because the movie’s terrible, has been collecting up dust for so long that eventually, Canada got sick and tired of it and just wanted to pass off the horrid stench of it to the U.S.?

Well, thank the high heavens, it’s not anywhere near that last idea.

That said, Tom At The Farm does have its fair share of problems. Dolan, as young as he may be, has already been criticized an awful-lot for being what some describe as “pretentious”, “too artsy”, and “repetitive”, and while I may not agree with all those terms, while watching this movie here, as well as his others, it’s hard not to notice a trend and wonder if he’ll ever break out of it. For instance, there’s a lot of showy scenes where Dolan lights a scene a certain way, hits the slo-mo button, and blares some odd pop-song in a way that may make hipsters think is cool, but to others, may be a tad bit annoying. Annoying, not just because it’s a neat trick that Dolan uses well and instantly makes people jealous of, but annoying, because it feels unnecessary, especially given how strong this movie is already.

But like I said, all those problems go aside when you realize that Dolan, for all his repetitiveness, is a pretty solid story-teller. However, what makes Dolan feel like a true talent is that it doesn’t even seem like he’s trying; rather than giving us everything we need to know about these characters, their situation, and what to expect with this story, right up front and center, Dolan allows for everything play out in a timely fashion. He’s vague on certain details, but eventually, you start to see some threads and pieces of an odd puzzle come together in a way that works for the movie both as a thriller, as well as a character-study.

That we know early on that Tom is a homosexual helps us identify with him and a person put in his situation; while he means to do well, at the same time, he also may be causing a lot of trouble and interruption. A part of him knows this, however, doesn’t want to wholly believe it. He’d much rather just pay his respects, find his lover’s family, know who they are, feel as if he’s completed an objective in his life, and try to move on.

Always hated being backed-up in a corn-field.

Always hated being backed-up in a corn-field.

Then, there’s Francis who isn’t as cut-and-dry as Tom may be.

For one, there’s something completely unsettling about Francis the first moment we see him. There’s a certain feeling that this character knows what’s up with his deceased brother and Tom’s relationship, isn’t happy about it, and wants nothing more than for Tom to leave him, his family, his farm and never be seen, or heard from again. This is understandable, but Dolan’s writing takes it one step further to show that there are some homicidal tendencies within Francis that have less to do with the fact that he doesn’t like homosexuals because he doesn’t agree with their life-style, and more to do with the fact that Francis may in fact be jealous of this life-style and has a hard time controlling his temper, his wants, his needs, or most definitely, his pleasures.

Same goes for Tom and eventually, the movie turns into a cat-and-mouse game between two unlikely protagonists; one of which is clearly more evil than the other, but at the same time, still human enough to where it doesn’t seem like his transformation is all that made-up. This Francis dude may just be as nutty and twisted as some people make him out to be, and it’s from here on where Tom At The Farm gets to be a little bit conventional. It’s still interesting to see how things turn out for both of these characters, but what ultimately started out as an interesting look inside the mind of a sexually-deprived man, soon just becomes a slasher-thriller – albeit one with less blood and gore.

More sex, though. Which is always a good thing, no matter what movie you are watching.

And it should be noted that both Dolan and Pierre-Yves Cardinal are both very good in their roles. Having seen all of Dolan’s movies, I’ve come to learn that, when he gets the chance to do so, is much more willing to take the back-seat in his movies. That’s neither a good nor a bad thing, it’s just a thing. But here, it works out well because it gives Cardinal plenty of opportunities to push this character, as well as this movie, further and further into the realms of darkness that nobody will be able to expect.

Those damn Canadians.

Consensus: While Dolan’s been better, Tom At The Farm is still an effective, odd and eerie thriller that works both as a character-drama, as well as a bit of a real-life horror flick, however, the former definitely works a lot better than the later.

7 / 10

With those eyes looking at you, kid, I'd head straight for the city and never look back.

With those eyes looking at you, kid, I’d head straight for the city and never look back.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

God’s Pocket (2014)

Philadelphia is full of scum. Take that from a person who lives there and yet, loves it so!

Philadelphia, circa the 1970’s where the mob has practically taken over all business. And a fella by the name of Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is one of those mobsters who does his business, moves on, and goes back to his wife, Jeannie (Christina Hendricks), to make sure she’s happy and pleased with the life he’s made possible for her. However tragedy strikes for them both when Jeannie’s kid ends up dying in a surprising “freak accident” at work. Though there’s a lot of speculation concerning that “accident” and whether or not it was actually a cover-up, Mickey has to find enough cash to make sure that his wife’s kid gets the best funeral possible and also, that he’s able to do so without having to split any heads in the process. Problem is though, he’s owed money by a lot of people, and there comes a point where you have to stop being nice, and start taking action in order to get what you want.

Or you know, something like that.

Honestly, though there seems to be a plot on the surface here, the truth is, there really isn’t. I mean yeah, this Mickey fella has to find a way to squander up a certain amount of cash so that his wifey-poo’s kid can get the funeral she wants him to have, but you can sort of tell about half-way through that the movie doesn’t really know if it wants to pay much attention to that, or anything else in this movie for that matter.

Most of that has to do with the fact that this is the directorial-debut by one John Slattery who, if you don’t know by now, so charmingly plays Roger Sterling on Mad Men. And that’s why it’s really hard for me to trash on this movie because you can tell that Slattery wants to make a good movie and definitely has the potential to make one in the near-future if he decides to continue to go down this road of being behind the camera, but this sadly, is not that film.

5 o'clock shadow = struggling alcoholic.

5 o’clock shadow = struggling alcoholic.

Because honestly, it’s just that Slattery doesn’t quite know how to make the blend between comedy, drama, and bits of violence, seem all put together in a cohesive manner. To say this thing is messy, is to say you get wet when you step out in the rain without an umbrella; it’s pretty obvious. But what makes this movie worse than just something of a mess, is that it’s too dull to ever be considered “an interesting mess”. And this is where, as much as it pains me to do so, where I get a tad mean on Slattery because it just seems like he doesn’t really know where to go with this material, nor does he know of what to actually say about any of it, or the characters that inhabit it; he’s sort of just a pedestrian to all that’s happening.

And honestly, that’s not so bad for some movies out there, considering they have a great cast on their hands. Which is why this is an even bigger surprise to me, considering the ensemble Slattery’s been able to cobble up together here. Of course we all know that John Turturro is good at playing the sneaky, gangster-type, but rather than doing anything interesting with that role here, it’s more of a case in where you can sort of see him going through the motions without much heart or inspiration. Same goes for the always lovely Richard Jenkins who plays a journalist with a bit of a drinking problem. Though it’s a pleasure to see Jenkins on screen and acting like his usual smarmy-self, his subplot really doesn’t add much to this movie and feels unnecessary, especially when you consider how much time it’s actually taking away from the real story at-hand here, which is Mickey getting all of that money for this funeral.

And yes, while that plot seems ripe with all sorts of excitement and fun, Slattery’s direction doesn’t really get to portray any of that. Instead, it’s just a slow, uninteresting bore that you can tell wants to say something about these low-life characters, but in the end, isn’t really saying anything at all. In fact, if I had to really dig deep underneath this story, I’d say that Slattery actually glamorizes these characters a bit as being constantly funny, cool, and able to use violence whenever they want. Now that’s fine and all when you have well-written characters, but here, there’s nobody to really care for, nor even really pay much attention to.

Well, at least she's still like Joanie in THAT sense.

Well, at least she’s still like Joanie in THAT sense. Heh heh.

Same goes for the character of Jeannie who we’re supposed to care for the most, but instead, don’t really care for, because we don’t get much of her to begin with. We just see that she’s devastated with the news of her son’s passing and we’re supposed to build our opinions about her around that idea. It didn’t quite work and although you can tell Christina Hendricks is clearly trying to break away from her Joan Harris-image, it more or less feels like she’s not trying hard enough. Or that she doesn’t have much to really work with in the first place.

That could definitely be the sole reason and it’s an even bigger shame, too, because this movie will also go down as one of the late, great Philip Seymour Hoffman’s films. And, above everything else, is the true disappointment of this movie – giving one of the most compelling presences of the past decade or so, and hardly giving him anything to work with. Though Hoffman is totally trying his hardest with this Mickey character, in the end, he’s just a weak-character that’s like any other, low-time, two-bit gangster: He’s a nice guy, but also has some dark shadings as well. That in and of itself is a total convention of the mob-tale and it’s made even worse by the fact that a person who could do something with that convention and spin it in an interesting way, doesn’t get a chance to do so.

Not his fault of course, just bad material that he didn’t deserve.

Consensus: Everybody involved with God’s Pocket seems to be trying, but in the end, is just a disappointing mess that makes the mortal sin of not bringing anything interesting to the audience’s heads while on screen.

2.5 / 10 = Crapola!!

Hard not to get a bit teary-eyed over this picture. Just sayin'.

Hard not to get a bit teary-eyed over this picture. Just sayin’.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Contraband (2012)

Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch are back except this time, they’re robbing people!

Mark Wahlberg plays Chris, a former drug smuggler who must revert back to a life of crime when his brother-in-law (Caleb Landry Jones) botches a drug deal for his ruthless boss (Giovanni Ribisi). To settle the debt, Wahlberg’s character assembles a team of crooks and does what he does best: smuggling contraband.

Icelandic director Baltasar Kormàkur seems like a pretty inspired choice for a flick that seems so simple and could have easily been done by a schmuck like Joel Schumacher or someone else of that kind. However, it doesn’t matter who the director may be, it still needs to work which is something this film kind of does and doesn’t do.

Kormàkur starts this story off pretty well with just the right amount of mystery, energy, and suspense to fill the air. The plot does take its time getting to where it has to go but the action scenes, when they come, are very well-done. Notice how I said ‘when they come’. Still though, they are used to actually to move this plot along and not just used as an action flick device that we usually come-and-get. Also, I love heist films so going into this, I wasn’t expecting much else other than some really cool and tricky heists which is what this film provided enough to satisfy me and keep me guessing.

The problem with most of these action scenes, as fun and exciting as they truly may be, for some reason it’s filmed with the annoying shaky-cam that we always see and hate, but is used to create a feeling here that doesn’t work. Whenever action hits this flick, the camera always moves around at a rapid and paranoid pace, as if it kept constantly looking around each corner, making sure not to get caught pulling off the heist itself. The shaky-cam is obviously something I hate no matter what the film may be, but here it didn’t seem needed considering how slick the action sequences are in the first place.

I also think another problem with this film is that for some reason the direction and screen-writing never really seem on the right page at all. The film is marketed as a silly and dumb action flick but it’s a lot much more smarter than that and sometimes teeters on drama. When I mean drama though, I mean the kind of drama where they try to really discuss some real issues about family, betrayal, and alcoholism. Let me remind you, I am talking about the film called ‘Contraband’. The film could have honestly been a thriller, heist, drama, and action flick but for some reason, the film doesn’t know how to jell all of that together in the right way in order for it to seem reasonable and not so uneven. It also doesn’t help that the plot stops and starts so many times to the point of where I just wanted the damn boat that they were in to blow up just for the action to stay constant.

Mark Wahlberg is pretty reliable as an actor here to pull of this good-guy role as Chris, to where it isn’t an obvious attempt at making a former criminal seem like a hero. Actually, he doesn’t really do much here that we haven’t seen him do already but watching Wahlberg play in his comfort zone isn’t so bad in the first place. Kate Beckinsale plays his wife, Kate, and she really does try to give some weight to her character but she doesn’t really do much here and just comes off as a plot device for Chris to have a race-against-the-clock situation.

Giovanni Ribisi seems like a strange choice for the villainous role here as the thug Tim Briggs, but he’s actually very good with his eccentric and sometimes crazy acting style to make this bad guy a bit more menacing than I was expecting, and always entertaining; Ben Foster is also great as Sebastian, Chris’s best friend, who has a battle with alcoholism and always strides in these kind of roles; and it was also nice to see J.K. Simmons doing a role that was humorous but also never made you forget that he was a total dick-head as Captain Camp.

Consensus: Contraband features many problems with its script, tone, and annoying camera issues, but the cast somehow rise above the material and make this crime/thriller/action/heist/drama flick a very entertaining, if flawed one to say the least. But hey, it’s January and I was at least entertained rather than feeling depressed.

6.5/10=Rental!!