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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Chiwetel Ejiofor

Doctor Strange (2016)

He’s strange, but then again, aren’t we all?

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is, for lack of a better term, a deuche. He’s constantly rude, always showing-off in front of those around him, and throwing around his genius that after awhile, everyone around him learns to just accept it for him being just himself. However, his whole life changes when he gets into a near-fatal car accident that leaves him with career-ending nerve damage. Strange being the ignoramus that he is, believes that there’s a cure that save him and won’t stop at a single cost to figure out just how he can get his life back on-track the way it was before.  life changes after a car accident robs him of the use of his hands. Eventually, he ends up at Kamar-Taj, where he is told that, in order to receive the use and feeling of his hands again, he’ll have to believe in himself and everything that everyone tells him. Strange isn’t up for this, but decides that the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) may know a thing or two about achieving all sorts of crazy powers. And achieve all sorts of crazy powers is exactly what happens to Strange, however, he now has to think about how to use them: For himself, or for the greater good of the world?

He may be strange, but man, he sure is sexy.

He may be strange, but man, he sure is sexy.

Marvel is on a roll. You know this, I know this, Disney knows this, even Grandma Pearl knows this. It’s just a thing that every person in the world, even Zack Snyder and all his cronies, have come to accept and just embrace. Even the movies that are, at the very least, “meh” (Ant-Man), are still fun, entertaining and good pieces of popcorn fun because they’re Marvel – they’ve got a winning-formula and no one will stop them.

That’s why Doctor Strange, for some reason, feels like a breath of fresh air.

It’s not just a good Marvel movie, but close to being a great one. It is, yes, an origin story, but it also doesn’t try to make us understand each and every little thing about its mythology, what it’s all about, or what the tie-ins actually are – in fact, with the exception of maybe one or two mentions, not a single other Marvel character shows up here. Call me crazy, but I don’t mind that; sure, seeing the likes of Iron Man, Captain America, or even the Hulk pop-up, say a witty line or two, and then be off into the sun is nice, but it also makes the movie feel more and more like a product, than less and less of its own, actual thing.

Does that make any sense? Probably not, but it doesn’t matter, because Doctor Strange is a good piece of Marvel. Director Scott Derrickson clearly has a certain love and affection for these characters and this universe and it shines through just about every single shot. The constant trippiness and mind-bending of the visuals and the fight sequences, in 3D no less, make you feel as if you are actually stuck inside someone else’s dream and can’t get out of it; while that may sound absolutely horrifying to some, to me, it worked. Doctor Strange is the kind of Marvel movie that can get away with a lot because of its obvious tie-in, as well as its huge cast, and because of that, it’s better off.

It’s the kind of movie that gets to be all sorts of weird and goofy, but yet, at the same time, still work wonders that most superhero movies aim for.

Because even if it doesn’t want to admit it, at its heart, it is still a redemption story, with Stephen Strange at the center, showing us a person who can be awfully mean and unlikable, but at the same time, because he’s Benedict Cumberbatch, charming as hell. In fact, it’s perhaps perfect casting that even though I was initially thrown off by the awkward-sounding American-accent Cumberbatch uses, after awhile, it’s easy to get used to, because you accept this character for kind of a d-bag who, sometimes does the right thing on others behalf, and other times, doesn’t. The movie never makes him out to be a super, duper awesomely great guy, but more or less, some a-hole who just so happened to get some super powers. It’s a nice, refreshing touch that seems to be lacking in so many of the other Marvel movies, even including the Iron Man flicks.

"People didn't like our casting. Screw them."

“People didn’t like our casting. Screw them.”

And the rest of the prestige cast is quite great, too, even if they do have some silly material to work through. Chiwetel Ejiofor is good as Karl Mordo, something of a mentor to Strange, even if he becomes more of a sidekick by the end; Rachel McAdams pops up every now and then as the only human here and is fun and charming, bringing a nice bit of chemistry and flair to the screen with Cumberbatch; Benedict Wong doesn’t have a whole lot of stuff to do, but he makes the best of what he’s got with Wong (yes, that’s actually his name); Tilda Swinton is pretty great as the Ancient One, making her plea for her own movie, all the more understandable; and Mads Mikkelsen, as Kaecilius, is fine as our villain, but his character is also the main problem with Doctor Strange and Marvel movies as a whole.

See, it’s no shock that Marvel has its fair share of issues with villains; they do such a great job of building up and developing these ultra superheroes, that when it comes time for the foes to show up and act menacing, it feels rushed and weak.

Sure, Loki’s perhaps the only exception to the rule, but he hasn’t been seen in a Marvel movie in nearly three years, so it’s kind of a problem. And while Mikkelsen is as menacing as ever as Kaecilius, the character himself just feels weak and random; the issues that he brings up, or better yet, the reasons for why he’s acting out in evil, maniacal ways, never quite register. It’s hard to really talk about it at great lengths without giving a little bit away, but the realization of what’s going on and why he’s trying to destroy the world, never quite makes sense and feels rushed, as if the writers themselves were thinking of something to make him so mad about. That doesn’t ruin Doctor Strange, but it definitely does keep it away from reaching the heights it so desperately comes close to touching.

Oh well. Maybe Black Panther will hit the nail on the head?

Consensus: Even with the weak villain, Doctor Strange is still a wild, yet fun adventure from Marvel that adds another great superhero to its already stacked list of great superheros.

8.5 / 10

"Wingardium Leviosa!"

“Wingardium Leviosa!”

Photos Courtesy of: The Nerds of Color

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Dirty Pretty Things (2003)

If only Trump’s dreams come true.

Okwe (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a Nigerian refugee currently living in London, where, as a way to stay alive and prosperous, he works two jobs. One is his job as a cab driver, whereas the other, is a bellman at a hotel where he sees and witnesses all sorts of weird and shady things, but because he’s in the country illegally, he never makes a problem of it. Instead, he just goes about his life in London and act as if he didn’t have a more lovely life in his native land, where he was actually a doctor (a job, in ways, he is still doing, if only to look over men’s penises for gonorrhea). Senay (Audrey Tautou) is a Turkish Muslim who works as a maid at the same hotel that Okwe works at and, though she is in the country legally, she is not allowed to hold down a job, or have anyone living with her. Though Senay doesn’t listen to these orders sent on down to her from the immigration police, she may start to have to, considering that they’re now snooping around left and right. Together, though, Senay and Okwe try to live and maintain something of a respectable lifestyle in London, even if that is a lot easier said then done.

Get this at Motel 6 all the time.

Get this at Motel 6 all the time.

Dirty Pretty Things is an oxymoron of a title, mostly because it is, and of itself, a dirty movie, featuring some very pretty things. The “dirty” stuff in this movie is in fact the setting of where these characters live and navigate their lives, and the “pretty” stuff is actually the actors in these roles. No matter what though, the picture that director Stephen Frears paints of this world is in no way a beautiful, or caring one – instead, it’s the underbelly of London, a place we think we know all about from what movies and TV tell us, but in reality, we really don’t.

And because of this, Dirty Pretty Things can sometimes be almost too gritty for its own good.

The fact that the movie starts off with someone finding a human heart in a toilet, already makes you think that it’s gone too far, way before it even began, and some of that is true. For one, the heart itself serves as a bit of a manipulative McGuffin to not only give our main protagonist, Okwe, more time and energy spent in this dark and dirty underworld of London, but also search for his own soul. Writer Stephen Knight clearly knows what he’s trying to do with this aspect of the story and where he wants to go, which is why it’s kind of a shame to see everything start off so obvious and, dare I say it, silly.

But then, the movie, as well as Knight’s script, gets back in line and reminds us that, yes, this story is about immigration, but not the kind of preachy, overcooked story you’d expect. In fact, it’s a whole lot smaller and smarter than that. For example, the movie isn’t necessarily as much of one about immigration, as much as its about these two characters who, yes, happen to be immigrants, but are also trying their absolute hardest to succeed in life, even if every possible blockade stands in their way. Because of the bleak tone, Dirty Pretty Things never amounts to being an inspirational, or better yet, sappy tale about how these characters give it their all when faced with adversity, which helps the movie when it actually comes to discussing and approaching just how cruel the lives these characters live.

But like I said, Dirty Pretty Things is not as corny as I make it sound.

Most of what works here about the writing is that the two lead characters, Okwe and Senay, are so well-done, developed, and interesting, that the fact that there may be something of a romance between the two is the least bit compelling thing about them. The movie touches on it many of times, and each time, it’s about as effective as the last, but really, the insight we get into these two character’s lives, whether together or not, makes us see these characters for who they are and get something of a full-portrait of them. Okwe, despite clearly not having as lavish of a lifestyle as he did back at home in Nigeria, still believes that, one day, things will get better and he’ll live that dream of his, whereas Senay dreams of living in America, but sadly, is stuck in London, and doesn’t want to just sit around all day, wasting her time and being practically useless. Both of them definitely want to work and amount to something, which is why it’s easy to sympathize with them right from the start.

Amelie? What happened to your smile?

Amelie? What happened to your smile?

And it matters so much that, early on, we sympathize with these characters, because Knight’s script moves on and on, the more and more it becomes to get more cruel and mean. However, this isn’t in a so-bleak-it’s-actually-freakin’-depressing way, but more of in this-is-how-it-actually-is way. The movie doesn’t pull back any punches and reminds you that these characters have it bad, which is why when it seems like it couldn’t get any worse – it in fact does. But still, there’s that slight feeling, no matter how small it may actually be, of hope that keeps them, as well as us, the viewer, going. Just to see a character constantly get crapped on, day in and day out, isn’t compelling – it’s just dull and repetitive.

What Dirty Pretty Things does, is that it shows that these characters are capable of having a better life – they just have to search farther and wider for it. Okwe and Senay, played to perfection by both Chiwetel Ejiofor and Audrey Tautou, are both characters we want to see live a happy life – whether it’s in America, or in London, or together, or not, we want to see them happy and living the life they want to live. Though the movie takes all sorts of opportunities to show us why that can’t happen, the idea that they may be able to, at least at one point in their lives, is what keeps engaging and, surprisingly, heartfelt. These two characters do in fact deserve, well, happiness, and because of that, it’s hard not to root for them, and boo on those that try standing in their way.

Perhaps Okwe’s and Senay’s story is the same as any other immigrant trying to make something of themselves in another country, eh?

Consensus: With a detailed, but smart direction from Stephen Frears, a bleak, but ultimately uplifting screenplay from Stephen Knight, and a surprisingly honest and heartfelt tale about immigration, Dirty Pretty Things becomes a movie that’s so much more than just that, and more about how two humans can connect to wanting the same thing and trying to achieve that dream that they so desperately want, by any means necessary.

8 / 10

A Nigerian bellboy and a Turkish maid meet in a hotel lobby. I don't know where the joke goes from there, but it sounds like the punchline to something.

A Nigerian bellboy and a Turkish maid meet in a hotel lobby. I don’t know where the joke goes from there, but it sounds like the punchline to something.

Photos Courtesy if: Indiewire, Reeling Reviews

Triple 9 (2016)

Dirty cops do dirty things. Like not take showers, apparently.

A group of bank robbers are running high on their latest heist and feel as if, finally, it’s their time to settle up, kick back, relax, and enjoy all of their riches. However, that’s all short-lived once the the ruthless and notorious gangster Irina Vlaslov (Kate Winslet) orders her men to pull off another job – the one they keep on calling “the last job”. While none of the guys are happy about this, they see this as their only way out, so they devise up a few plans on how to steal another huge amount of cash. Eventually, they have a million-dollar idea, the only issue, is that it involves cops. But this isn’t much of a problem considering that two of the members in the group, Marcus Belmont (Anthony Mackie) and Jorge Rodriguez (Clifton Collins, Jr.) , actually happen to both be cops. But to make their plan even more difficult than before, Marcus gets saddled with Chris Allen (Casey Affleck), a by-the-books cop who is now for playing it on the straight-and-narrow. Will the guys be able to get the heist altogether, even despite the obvious issues standing in their way?

Corrupt cops never smile.

Corrupt cops never smile. That’s just a fact.

What’s so interesting about Triple 9 is how little it’s being promoted, or how it doesn’t seem like many people will see it this weekend, even though it features an insanely stacked, all-star cast list of who’s who. Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Anthony Mackie, Aaron Paul, Norman Reedus, Woody Harrelson, Kate Winslet, Clifton Collins, Jr., Michael K. Williams, Teresa Palmer, Wonder Woman herself, Gal Gadot, and more, all show up here in Triple 9, yet, you wouldn’t know it. And it’s not like the studio’s trying to bury the movie, either; this much talent can’t be attracted to something so terrible that it would be thrown in the February time-slot, due its horribleness. While you could definitely make the argument that that has in fact happened before, I still rest my case and say that, for what it’s worth, Triple 9 is a fine movie.

In fact, it’s a very fine crime-thriller, which makes it all the better.

John Hillcoat loves him some blood, action, and crime, which is why it’s no surprise that Triple 9, in nearly every shot, seems as if everyone and everything in it, needs a long, steaming hot shower. However, it’s quite refreshing to see something so down, out and gritty as Triple 9, that isn’t pulling any punches when it comes to its violence, nor when it comes to giving us characters we don’t necessarily hate, or love. In some ways, we can sort of feel very “meh” about a character, depending on how much time they’re given to develop, but really, Hillcoat isn’t trying to make one character in particular, better than the rest. Everybody’s conflicted; everybody’s got an issue; and most of all, everybody’s got at least some sort of “bad” to them.

That’s why, with this solid cast, it can sometimes feel like Triple 9 isn’t giving each and every person a whole lot to do, even if there are a few exceptions to the rule. Woody Harrelson and Kate Winslet get the two showier roles of the movie, and even then, it feels like they aren’t here enough. While Casey Affleck could easily be classified as “the protagonist”, he still feels like an afterthought when it becomes clear that Hillcoat himself is a tad too enamored and caught up with all that’s going on with bank-robbers and their own personal lives. No issue with this, as the bank-robbers here are all played by solid actors, but at the same time, it still can’t help but feel like a little too much, for a movie that’s so simple to begin with.

Why does Daryl always get stuck driving?

Why does Daryl always get stuck driving?

Sure, Triple 9 may combat with the idea of it being a far more “serious” and “complicated” crime-thriller, but really, it isn’t all that much different from any other crime-thriller out there.

Every character feels like a type, every situation that they’re thrown into, when it’s not predictable, has been done before, and really, there’s no real message at the end of the day. Not that every movie ever made needs to have a message at the end of it to wrap everything up in a neat, little bow, but Triple 9 thinks that it has one and that’s its biggest issue. It’s maybe far too self-serious and brooding for its own good, when really, all we want it to do is crack open a beer, chill out, and turn that frown upside down.

The more entertaining moments of Triple 9, other than the violence, is when the actors seem to be dialing it up to 11 with reckless abandon. Harrelson and Winslet are definitely the main ones here who take advantage of their limited screen-time, having as much fun as they seemingly can, but there’s others in the cast like talented character actors, Clifton Collins, Jr. and Michael K. Williams, who seem like they showed up, ready to have some fun and just let loose. That’s why, when Triple 9 is just living it up in these moments, it’s hard not to enjoy yourself.

But then, like I said, the actual story comes around and everything gets so super serious, so super quick and it’s a bit a slog to get through. Not to say that people like Affleck, Mackie, or Ejiofor can’t do some interesting stuff with this kind of material, but by the same token, it also feels like they’re bringing down the whole ship with them. Although, not nearly as much as Aaron Paul is, with his one-note, rather annoying character who is addicted to drugs and constantly causing problems everywhere he goes. In fact, if there’s a weak-link in this huge cast, it’s Paul, but it may be less of his problem, seeing as how he doesn’t have much to work with.

Sort of like a lot of other people here. Even if they all make a go of it, for the longest time.

Consensus: Given its well-stacked ensemble, Triple 9 may be a tad bit disappointing for those expecting something far more powerful, but for those expecting a bloody, ruthless, gritty and sometimes, fun, crime-thriller, then enjoy.

6.5 / 10

Red means "they're onto something". I think. Or the bar just has crappy lighting.

The red glow means “they’re onto something”. I think. Or the bar just has crappy lighting.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

She Hate Me (2004)

She hate me, she hate me not.

Jack Armstrong (Anthony Mackie) is a young, brash hotshot at a large biotech company that’s on the verge of creating a vaccine for AIDS. However, a whole swirl of controversy surrounds him and the company for supposed wrongdoings, when he’s the one who blows the whistle. Obviously, Jack’s bosses aren’t too happy about him opening his mouth, so they make him the one to take the fall, which the leads the government to look further and further into Jack’s life and freezing all of his accounts. This wouldn’t be much of a problem, however, Jack leads the life of a young, New York bachelor. So now, Jack needs some way to make any bit of cash he can find – that’s why when his ex-girlfriend (Kerry Washington), comes by with her girlfriend (Dania Ramirez), in desperate need of a sperm donor, he’s more than willing to accept the offer. But because Jack is so good at what he does, word has spread about him and now, every lesbian who wants to have a baby are hitting Jack up for sex. Of course, they give him money and all that, but really, what Jack wants, is a love in his life and some meaning.

Is this love?

Is this love?

Deep down inside the dark, fiery hells of She Hate Me, lies, believe it or not, a funny movie from Spike Lee. What with all the impregnating of lesbians and such, Lee finds a certain bit of energy that he’s utilized in practically every film, but actually seems to be having fun. There are some small points he seems to make about gender-politics and homosexuality, but really, none are too preachy to where they take over what Lee’s trying to do – basically, he’s setting out to make us laugh. It’s not the kind of Spike Lee we’re used to seeing, which is why She Hate Me, for a meager amount of time, feels like Lee’s funniest flick where, he doesn’t care about preaching or yelling at the audience, but instead, having them chuckle.

Then, it’s all downhill from there.

See, while a good portion of She Hate Me is about this young guy having sex and impregnating lesbians, there’s also another good portion of the movie that concerns itself with being about AIDS, about Congress, about big, Enron-like corporations that swallow-up the middleman and don’t take the blame, about the mafia, about sexuality, about Italians, about African Americans, about Caucasians, about racism, and well, so much more. Really, She Hate Me is packed to the gills with numerous subplots, ideas, themes, statements, and viewpoints that, after awhile, it all becomes tiring.

But I sort of liked that.

Spike Lee hasn’t always been known as the easiest director to follow or like; most of his films are preachy and one-sided, but are still, for the most part, compelling to watch and be apart of. While some may not agree with his general viewpoints on certain issues like race, sex, or class, there’s no denying that his movies are entertaining and get you thinking harder than most other film-makers. So what if Spike Lee creates a mess? If the mess is, at the very least, interesting and seems to want to say something, no matter how muddled it may be, then so let it be!

That’s why, no matter where She Hate Me goes, tries to say, or ends up, I wasn’t pissed. I was confused and a little befuddled, but I was never bored and there’s something to be happy about with that. While Lee could have made a drag of a movie that goes from sexuality-to-politics at the snap of his finger and not really done much with it, he does, at the very least, push it to its extreme limits where we can see where he’s going – we may not know why he’s going there, but hey, at least he’s keeping us watching. Once again, it may just be me who feels this way about She Hate Me, but I don’t care: A mess is a mess, no matter what.

Or this?

Or this?

But sometimes, it’s all a matter of just how well you dress that mess up to appear like something extraordinary or, better yet, smart.

And in the midst of all this havoc that Lee creates, Anthony Mackie does a great job as Jack Armstrong. Now, Mackie’s a force to be reckoned with and constantly shines in everything he shows up in; however, back in 2004, he wasn’t known for much (except for getting chewed the ‘eff out by B-Rabbit), but here, for what appears the first time, he gets a chance to show his range and just how well he can handle and adapt to Lee’s idiosyncratic style. Because there’s so many different flicks going on at once during She Hate Me, Mackie has to handle each and everyone with a certain level of believeability, as if this is in fact, the same character, going through all these sorts of different transformations and situations – all of which, Mackie does quite well with and actually comes out on top. Of course, there’s a very interesting movie to be made about what Jack’s life and romance, but Lee is less concerned with that at times.

This allows for the rest of the ensemble to show up and, in some ways, light the screen up just as much as Mackie, even if it seems like they may be showing up from the sets of other flicks. Kerry Washington is sexy and dangerous, both at the same time, but also has a nice bit of chemistry with Mackie; Dania Ramirez is sympathetic as her girlfriend who, despite wanting a baby and being a lesbian, is willing to have sex with a man, even if she doesn’t really want to; Ellen Barkin and Woody Harrelson are, oddly enough, hammy and over-the-top as Jack’s former bosses who get rid of him and seem every bit as detestable as Lee wants them to appear to be; John Turturro shows up as an Italian mob boss that has an interesting scene, but once again, appears literally out of nowhere and doesn’t seem to add much to the final product; and yeah, there’s plenty more where they come from. Everybody’s fine and trying to do what they can do, but really, they’re stuck trying to work within Spike Lee’s mind.

And what a crazy, but watchable one it is.

Consensus: Jumbled, odd, sometimes confusing, and always interesting, She Hate Me is the kind of mess we expect to see from Spike Lee, even if it does occasionally lapse into being one too many films for one movie.

6.5 / 10

Oh, no. This definitely is. Thanks for the info, Spike!

Oh, no. This definitely is. Thanks for the info, Spike!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Kinky Boots (2005)

I don’t care what gay men say, but Crocs are amazing.

With the sudden death of his father, it’s all up to Charlie Price (Joel Edgerton) to take over the reigns of his family’s traditional, Northampton shoe business called Price and Sons. But unbeknownst to the rest of the loyal staff, the factory is on the verge of bankruptcy. Charlie, in a chance encounter, discovers sassy cabaret star, Lola (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who’s Soho world of outrageous fashion and stylish, erotic boots for men, opens his eyes to an alien new niche market that he may try to exploit to keep his family’s company alive and well.

Don't judge a book by its cover. 'Cause Chiwetel Ejiofor looks pretty good in that leather!

Don’t judge a book by its cover. ‘Cause Chiwetel Ejiofor looks pretty good in that leather!

Pretty much I could just review this movie in one word, and that one word would probably just be: Formulaic. Seriously, every scene, every character-detail, every frame, every-line, every anything that happens in this movie, is obvious, predictable, and nothing new that you haven’t seen before. However, being “formulaic” doesn’t always mean “terrible”, especially when your movie has a bunch of dudes in stilettos and make-up, dancing and prancing around to all sorts of funky disco hits.

Which is basically Kinky Boots: All formula, but with enough flashy eye-shadow to keep you somewhat distracted.

But before I go on any longer, I might as well and just get it off my chest now and say that if it wasn’t for Chiwetel Ejiofor being in this movie, then there would have been little to nothing at all to talk about here at all. However, because he is in this movie and takes over the role of Lola, the movie is a lot more watchable and entertaining to watch. Ejiofor is one, diverse dude in terms of acting; the guy can, and probably has, played it all and he shows here that he’s not just a guy people take too seriously and all, because he can actually do comedy, and do it so well. It also helps that the character he’s playing, is also written well, too.

Lola is such a fun, lighthearted character that looks at anything everything around him in a way that’s pretty obvious when you take into consideration all of the other LGBT characters out there in movies, but Ejiofor does a great job with it and definitely kept me interested in where he was going with this character. There’s more heart to him as well, and even though it does seem obvious to have in a movie like this, Ejiofor actually makes us believe it’s true and have it come off as a bit less manipulative than you would expect.

Basically, in a nutshell: Ejiofor makes this movie better, everytime that he shows up on the screen and really, I wish there were more of him to go around.

Joel Edgerton ain’t so shabby either as Charlie Price, but definitely gets the far more boring character here. Nowadays, watching Edgerton appear in anything, adds a certain level of excitement as he seems to constantly challenge himself as an actor and have us see him in new, interesting lights. Here, as Charlie, he doesn’t get much of a chance to stretch his wings, and because of that, the performance comes off like a bit of a disappointment. Thankfully, the times have changed and Edgerton is taking over the world of Hollywood, one great performance at a time.

But still, it’s hard to really like this movie anymore because it’s just so darn cliché! But it’s also so darn cliché in that it begins to feel safe.

Gosh. What I wouldn't do to see these two in a movie nowadays, and away from this.

Gosh. What I wouldn’t do to see these two in a movie nowadays, and away from this.

For example, the movie contains plenty of men, dressed in drag, with make-up, wearing stilettos, having fake breasts, and dancing to awful covers of famous disco songs from yesteryear. This all sounds like a relatively naughty, but frothy good time, but Kinky Boots still tries to keep it all well-meaning enough so that it can hold on to that PG-13 rating it’s been luckily slapped with. There’s a part of me that wants to feel proud of the MPAA for not jumping down this movie’s throat due to it featuring LGBT characters and slapping it with an unnecessary R-rating.

Then again, the fact that the movie is, at the center, very safe, also feels like it’s keeping itself away from achieving any sort of greatness it should have had in the first place. Sure, we get to see Lola for what the character is, but really, it can often feel like surface-material; just enough focus so that the general, predominately straight audience doesn’t get too uncomfortable when there’s a full-grown, masculine man trumping around on heels, singing Olivia Newton-John. I’m most definitely thinking about this a lot harder than I should, but for some reason, my mind just can’t get by this fact and it’s what’s keeping me from loving this movie more.

However, I did love the Broadway show. So much fun! So yeah, see that instead.

I guess.

Consensus: Chiwetel Ejiofor’s spirited performance is just enough to save Kinky Boots from staying stuck in its pile of conventionality, where almost everything you expect to happens, happens, except this time, it’s with more gay people.

6 / 10

It doesn't matter who's wearing the shoes - if they look nice and sexy, then that's all that matters.

It doesn’t matter who’s wearing the shoes – if they look nice and sexy, then that’s all that matters.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Secret in Their Eyes (2015)

Does anybody in law enforcement love, or trust one another?

13 years ago, Ray Kasten (Chiwetel Ejiofor) was an FBI agent who had to work a very tough case. His partner at the time, Jess (Julia Roberts), had a daughter that went missing and wound-up dead. Automatically, everyone and their mothers started looking for suspects and while Ray knew he had the guy, locked and loaded, for some reason, said suspect was freed. The reasons behind this are a bit shady, but it left Ray, as well as his partner, and a confidante/possible flame of his, Claire (Nicole Kidman), in some tough situations. Now, in the present day, Ray believes he knows where this suspect is, what he does and just how he can get him back into the slammer, where he’ll hopefully live out the rest of his days in a jail cell. However, because Ray isn’t a cop anymore, he has to go through some legal hoops and curves to ensure that he’s not only doing everything by-the-books as humanly possible, but also to keep this suspect in jail and for good this time. Searching for this suspect also allows for Ray to get back in touch with former confidantes of his and remind himself of what it was that he left all those years ago.

Shades of gray = present. None = past. Got it?

Shades of grey = present. None = past. Got it?

Despite the original, 2009 Argentinian film having won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film all those years, for some reason, I just never got around to seeing it. Though I knew an English-language, big, bright and shiny, American remake is in the works and was more than likely going to tarnish the legacy of the original, I still couldn’t sit myself down in front of a screen and actually watch the movie. Call it bad timing, call it me being lazy, call it what you will – sometimes, stuff just happens.

But regardless of all that nonsense, having now seen the English-language, big, bright and shiny American remake, I’ve still got that feeling of not only wanting to watch the original, but also see how good it actually was to win the Oscar all those years ago.

See, for one, Secret in Their Eyes isn’t an awards-caliber movie; despite there being a nice amount of solid performances from just about everybody on-board here, the movie never once seems like it’s trying to reach for that infamous gold statue once. And in a way, there’s something refreshing about that, especially in a time like now, where it seems like each and every film was created for the sole purpose of being remembered and touted during the early winter of next year. Sometimes, it’s best to just have a solid, well-acted, and relatively fine crime-thriller and leave it at that.

And that’s exactly what Secret in Their Eyes is. It’s not setting out to light the movie world on fire, nor is it trying to have you remember by the year’s end and everybody’s trying to remember their favorite movies of the past year; it’s just trying to tell its story, give you a jump or two, make you think, and have you go home, feeling as if you spent a solid time at the movie. Though there is definitely a feeling that, considering the talented cast and crew involved, there could have been a bit more added to the proceedings, there’s also the feeling that it’s also not a remake made for purely cynical purposes.

That Secret in Their Eyes is targeted towards a much more mature, older audience, already sets it apart from most movies out there playing right now.

What’s interesting about the film is that we actually get a sense of who these characters are, amidst all of the troubles and turmoils this case may be bringing. Though it is a tad difficult to figure out which year we’re in (Ejiofor’s beard’s color is usually the clue), we still get a sense, through the relationships and personalities these characters have, of who they were both before, as well as after this horrendous murder. The movie doesn’t try to dig too deep, but because these actors are so good at what they do, they’re given that extra push that probably wouldn’t have happened, had some lesser-actors been cast.

Of course I’m not going to name any names, but you get the picture.

And of course, with the story, there’s a lot going on that can, in some ways, be interesting, and sometimes, not so much. There’s a chase-sequence that happens in and around Dodgers stadium that is absolutely breath-taking and exciting to watch. There’s also, now that I think about it, a very neat interrogating scene both Ejiofor’s and Kidman’s characters that have them stretching out the whole “good cop/bad cop” cliche and doing something intriguing with it. And while I’m at it, there’s a few other scenes that are pretty cool to watch, but really, that’s about it.

Which is to say that a solid hour or so of this movie is really solid – problem is, it hits nearly two hours. That means there’s another hour of this movie that’s not quite up-to-par as the other half. Therefore, while watching the flick, I couldn’t help but tune-out. The mystery at the center, although a bit simple and obvious from the very start, doesn’t take as many times as you’d expect it to, all up about until the final act and there’s two twists that seemed a little silly for a movie like this that was, already, way too serious and stern with itself. Granted, had there been a third twist, I probably wouldn’t have gotten up and left the theater, but thankfully, they just left it at two – as odd as they may have been.

Oh no, Julia! A gun? So against-type!

Oh no, Julia! A gun? So against-type!

But really, the main reason Secret in Their Eyes works, is because the cast is so good. It’s probably no surprise to anyone that Chiwetel Ejiofor does give, once again, a fine performance here, but there’s also something troubling about his character that I didn’t particularly buy. For example, there’s an arch surrounding his character which concerns his character, in something of a relationship with Kidman’s character; while we’re never too sure or not on whether they actually did anything intimate that would make them more than just office pals, the movie continues to hammer it into our brains that, you know, something could have happened.

Why? Because their attraction for one another is strong!

Well, the problem with Ejiofor and Kidman is that they don’t really have a chemistry together. If anything, throughout the majority of the flick, they feel like two people who just started working together at the same time and are just getting to know one another, slowly but also, steadily. This would have been a fine feeling in the “past” portion of the flick, but they still act like this together in the “present” part of the story and it’s weird.

Separated from Ejiofor, Kidman does a great job in a role that gives her plenty to do. While her chemistry with Ejiofor is, like I stated before, lacking, she still finds time and space to make sure that her own characters get built enough so that we have a feeling of just who the hell she is. And also, there’s Julia Roberts really dirtying herself up for a role that, although may seem like pure Oscar-bait, actually isn’t. In a way, it just feels like Roberts wanting to try something new and have the audience see her as this character, and not the beautiful celebrity that she is.

And considering that her husband is the one behind the camera, it makes sense that she looks every bit as anti-celebrity as she sees fit.

Consensus: While Secret in Their Eyes is, one-half a fine movie, and the other half is a bit mediocre, it still adds up to a solid crime-thriller that benefits largely from a talented cast.

6.5 / 10

What a love-triangle Chiwetel may hope he's involved with.

What a love-triangle Chiwetel may hope he’s involved with.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

The Martian (2015)

Didn’t Christopher Nolan already make this movie?

After a crazy super-storm hits Mars, the Ares 3 mission is forced to abort their mission and head on back to Earth. Problem is, they do so without one of their members, a fellow by the name of Mark Watney (Matt Damon). Because he got by some space-thingy during the storm, everybody assumes that Watney died, but wouldn’t you know it? He wakes up the next day, stranded and no way to contact home. The only thing he’s got to work with is whatever gear the crew left back, which eventually equals out to a month’s left of food. Considering that it’s going to take nearly four years for NASA to send out another mission to come and rescue him, Watney’s got to come up with some neat, interesting and MacGyver-ish ways to create some food with what he’s got around. While he’s doing this and not trying to lose his freakin’ mind, back on Earth, NASA headquarters is figuring out a way that they can save Watney and to be able to do so in the most efficient way that’s not only safe to Watney, the crew, and the spaceship, but also to NASA’ public persona, as well.

Yep. Totally not the same director who did Prometheus.

Yep. Totally not the same director who did Prometheus.

Take all of those challenging, rather annoying aspects of Interstellar and Gravity, give them a sense of actual humor, throw in a Cast Away subplot (with no Wilson), and ensure that the audiences understand just what the hell is actually going on at any given time, and you have the Martian. And while I’m definitely not doing it any favors by making it sound like a carbon-copy of other, much better movies, I can assure you, that it’s better than that.

In fact, it’s way, way better than that.

For one, the Martian is a movie that never takes itself too seriously. While all of the trailers and ads have been promoting an ultra-serious, inspirational survival story, the movie’s actually a lot more fun and lighter than that. In fact, it’s humor is what just about saves it! At times, sure, it can seem like they’re playing “the joke card” a little too much, but if a movie about a dude stuck in an amazingly depression, isn’t depressing and finds ways to have me howling at the Lunar Eclipse, then sure, count me in. Hell, take all of my money!

Just make me laugh, dammit!

And while I wouldn’t necessarily tag the likes of Ridley Scott and “the comedy genre” together, somehow, they work perfectly with one another. Scott has been in desperate need of a winner these past couple of years, and now, seems like he finally has it. Sure, Scott isn’t trying anything new, experimental, or awfully hard that’s taking him into new areas that we may never see him try again, but there’s a nice feeling about that. For one, he’s not getting in the way of the movie and/or the wonderful script by Drew Goddard.

Secondly, he just allows for the story to tell itself. I know that this may sound like an easy compliment to give away – in fact, it may sound like something I’m just throwing out there to make my job a tad bit easier (you’re right). But no, seriously, making a movie with a story that seems as simple as this, and having it play out that way, yet, still being able to travel through little alleyways and side-streets to make it still seem fresh, exciting and most of all, original, is something extraordinary. Like I mentioned before, we’ve seen the Martian many times before in movies that, occasionally, are better. But the fact that this movie still finds a way to get you glued into its story, never let its grip get loose, and make you give a hoot about what happens to which characters, is a beauty to behold as it is.

There’s literally no reason we should care at all about Mark Watney, his crew, or those ass-bags back on Earth that work in a place called NASA (never heard of her), but as soon as Watney gets hit, the crew leaves without him, and NASA gets word of this, it’s an automatic adventure right from then on out. Now, to be honest, did we really need all of the NASA headquarter shenanigans? Probably not, but they help round the movie out a whole lot more and keep things exciting and above all else, interesting.

See, even though it is Matt Damon playing Mark Watney, watching him, and only him, try to survive on Mars, talk to cameras, listen to disco, use clever witticisms to express his feelings of the situation he’s in, and eventually, get a grip on the life he’s living and try to keep it going, probably would have gotten a bit boring and tedious. I mean, despite the recent flubs he’s been letting loose of, Matt Damon is, generally, a guy we all love to watch on-screen; he’s got that general, normal guy, everyday kind of feel where he seems like a bro you could hang around, enjoy his company, and go on happy about your day.

He wouldn’t give two shits because, well, he’s Matt Damon and he’s got celebrities to have brunch with.

A few years of community college and woolah! You're working for NASA, baby!

A few years of community college and woolah! You’re working for NASA, baby!

But what I’m trying to say is that yes, Matt Damon is a charming dude in practically everything he does, and that’s no different here with his performance as Mark Watney. Because Watney’s a wise-cracking, smart-ass dude that would much rather use sarcasm to mask his actual, genuine thoughts, Damon fits perfectly. He not only seems like the kind of dude who would have the next best, funniest thing to say in a conversation, but could also, in his own words, “science the hell out of this thing!” Not just because he works at NASA, mind you, but because he’s Matt Damon and he always seems like the smartest dude in the room.

Like I said though, the good thing about the Martian is that it takes its focus away from Damon’s Watney a bit and show just what the hell’s going on on planet Earth, what’s everybody trying to do to get him back home, and how it’s all going to come together. Now, the science in this movie I’m not too sure of, but I don’t think I needed to be – which is a good thing. Most sci-fi movies get themselves all tied-up in trying to explain too many loose-ends where it’s almost as if, rather than just actually giving us a random doohickey and letting us roll with, they have to go on and on about it as if it cares!

We get it! The thingy-ma-bob goes back in time! Cool! Move it along, folks!

But with the Martian, the science is there as a placement to show just how brilliant NASA is. And I kid you not, I am not joking here; the Martian is, in many words, an absolute, unabashed tribute to NASA, the powerful, enigmatic and brilliant minds that inhabit it and the inspiration it can give us all, so long as we think just like each and everyone of its workers do. This is as hokey as a blind girl touching a horse’s nose, but somehow, it all works and is, as much as I hate to admit it, inspiring.

Though the Martian is, basically, a sarcasm-laced, sci-fi survival tale, above all else, it’s a movie about the power of what can be done when you’re using your brain. If you think things through to the best of your ability and seem to know what you’re talking about, then you too, can learn to live and survive on a planet like Mars longer than anybody ever expected you to. All you have to do is put your mind to it, long and hard enough, and eventually, you’ll get there. If you don’t, then think harder or open up a book! Learn something dammit!

Gosh! I gotta go back to school!

Consensus: Exciting, compelling, emotional, and surprisingly hilarious when you don’t at all expect it to, the Martian is the best kind of sci-fi blockbuster that has you using your brains, but at the same time, still enjoying the wild and fun ride while it lasts.

9 / 10

I won't even dare tell you what that actually is.

I won’t even dare tell you what that actually is. Just know this, count me out for a trip to Mars anytime soon.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Z For Zachariah (2015)

Leave three attractive people alone on Earth, things happen to get a little wild.

After a nuclear blast hit the world and has practically wiped-out the human race, a few remain alive and are simply trying to survive. Ann (Margot Robbie) is a simple gal from the Southeast who still believes that there is a God, even despite all of the terrible events that have occurred in the past year or so. Though Ann thinks that she’s all alone in this vast landscape, John Loomis (Chiwetel Ejiofor) unexpectedly walks into her life, leaving her now with a new companion to help continue living on in this world of theirs. Eventually, the two get so close to one another that they, for lack of a better term, start to fall in love, which scares both of them because they know that the other could very well as be as the last loves they ever have in their lives. Then, walks into a mysterious stranger by the name of Caleb (Chris Pine) who seems like he’s there to help Loomis and Ann survive, too. But then, things get very tense and all of a sudden, this fearsome foursome get into some very tense waters with one another.

If a dude I just met, starts sitting in a room like that, remind me to get rid of him. ASAP.

If a dude I just met, starts sitting in a room like that, remind me to get rid of him. ASAP.

This is as simple as you can possibly get with a premise and somehow, director Craig Zobel finds a way to make it a little more complicated than that. However, that is not at all a complaint because Zobel’s smart with how he makes this plot more than just three characters trying to live after what is, essentially, a nuclear holocaust. And no, it’s not just a movie where two characters constantly fight over who’s going to get the girl in the end; it’s more about continuing on your path and learning to live in a world where you’re all by yourself.

Sometimes, though, as this movie shows, that’s a lot easier said then done, especially when you add any sort of love into the equation.

But like I said before, Zobel doesn’t allow for the movie to go into any sort of direction that you expect it to. Sure, spit is swapped, feelings are spoken about, and tears fall down cheeks, but they don’t come at such a capacity that makes the movie seem like an melodramatic soap-opera. It’s more that the movie is busying studying these characters for who they are, what they are, and how they act when thrown into a horrid situation such as this, and what it does to the three of them as a whole. In that light, the movie’s a lot more interesting than your usual, post-apocalyptic tale that’s more about the brooding, tired and sad world surrounding its story.

Which isn’t to say that Zobel doesn’t shed at least some light on the treacherous land the Earth has become; there are many beautiful moments of mountains and land in the distance that give you an even larger idea of just how much of an impact this disaster left. And even though the movie initially makes it seem like it’s going to be one, huge depression-fest for an-hour-and-a-half, it soon turns the other cheek and turns out to be a bit more of a positive movie.

Albeit, a very tense one, but still, there are some smiles to be found.

What mostly helps Z For Zechariah to be a whole lot more compelling to watch, is the fact that it features three solid actors who, well, know how to make lemonade from lemons. Although, it is worth speaking about how odd this cast actually is and what a gamble it may have been for Zobel to get by on such names, placing them together in a movie, and see if all of their conflicting acting-styles/experience could gel together.

Needless to say, it does, but it’s just interesting what was thrown into Zobel’s mind that made him feel as if these three exact actors were perfect for their own respective characters? Maybe the idea that they come from different backgrounds and may not be the three exact people you’d expect in a movie together like this, is exactly what Zobel’s going for. After all, it’s the apocalypse and it’s not as if the apocalypse chooses who meets and who doesn’t. Sometimes, it’s just pure chance.

So anyway, yeah. The performances.

I'd sit at that dinner-table. If they'd let me, that is.

I’d sit at that dinner-table. If they’d let me, that is.

There’s no denying the fact that Chiwetel Ejiofor is a solid actor. Even before the dude nabbed an Oscar nomination for 12 Years a Slave, he’d been doing amazing work in so many other eclectic pieces of work and here, as Loomis, there’s no difference. As usual, Ejiofor is a powerful force on the screen and makes you question this guy’s attitude and actions every second of this movie. Does he want to solely just survive, regardless of he’s got someone by his side to do so? Or, does he want somebody to love and to hold in his life, once again? And if so, at what costs will he go to ensure that’s so? It’s a very intriguing character and the fact that Ejiofor doesn’t have to do much except stand there and stare to further that effect more, makes it all the more of a treat to watch.

Then, there’s Chris Pine who, thankfully, is starting to show off his true colors in a some darker roles as of late. Though Pine comes in about half-way through as Caleb, he still commands the screen as you never know what he’s up to, either. Clearly, he seems a whole lot more dangerous than Loomis, but why? Does he just want to get laid? Or, does he want to try and survive, too? It’s never made fully clear, and that’s one of the main reasons why Pine constantly takes this character into odd directions that are to see coming.

And last, but sure as hell not least, is Margot Robbie, playing the terribly simple and naive Ann. Because Robbie is so incredibly gorgeous and stunning in real life, it was a bit hard for me to fully take her in as this regular-class, Christian-gal, that sort of dresses like a 12-year-old boy, but Robbie made it work for me. She’s still great-looking, but the movie doesn’t play on that fact to create tension and make it so that these boys can continuously fight for her; she’s obviously the source of the attraction because she’s, well, all that there’s left of the female gender.

From what they know, that is.

But what makes Robbie’s character so good, as well as the film itself, is the fact that she’s a Christian who never seems to be preachy about it. Sure, she loves to go to the church her daddy built, pray at the dinner-table, and look to God whenever it is that she needs him most, but other than those instances, the movie never makes it clear that it has an agenda to be about Christianity, or if everything happens for a reason. The movie also never criticizes her character, or for anybody else for having a certain idea about God, or not; they’re sort of just trying to get by, regardless of if they have a cross in their bedroom or not.

And honestly, if hell gets too crowded and zombies begin to walk the Earth, that’s exactly what’s going to happen.

Consensus: Though its thin on certain details, Z For Zechariah gets by solely on the strong trio of leads, as well as the fact that Zobel never allows for his film to get conventional or obvious in any way.

8 / 10

Yep, I'd still tap that. Applies all three of them, too.

No matter how much dirt you throw on them, I’d still tap.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Salt (2010)

What about Pepa?

CIA officer Evelyn Salt (Angelina Jolie) has served and protected her country for many years, so when she’s accused of being a Russian spy, she’s absolutely baffled. Not just by the claim itself, but the fact that people who know and have worked with her for so many years, would actually start to believe this claim to be a fact and hunt her down as if she was some sort of Splinter Cell. But Salt knows that she can’t just sit around while she’s being thought about, so instead, she decides to take matters into her own hands by going on the run. This puts the CIA on a heavy, electrifying chase of sorts, where they find out more about Salt’s history/background and also see if they can get in contact with her husband (August Diehl). However, what’s strange is that he’s nowhere to be found, but what’s even stranger is that Salt’s past does seem a bit sketchy. Almost as if she could be some sort of spy who, for all these years, has been feeding off countless bits of info to her homeland of Russia. Then again though, nobody knows for sure and that’s how Salt plans on keeping it.

While this seems like a general, run-of-the-mill action-thriller, that would more than likely star either Matt Damon or Tom Cruise in the lead roles, all of a sudden becomes something of a different beast when you get rid of those two, manly-men and replace them with none other than a woman. Better yet, a woman by the name of Angelina Jolie who, despite what you may think about her questionable choices in her personal life, is a movie star in every sense of the word.

Yup. Toates Russian.

Yup. Toates Russian.

She’s not only proven herself, time and time again, that she can in fact act with the best of them, but is also able to kick some fine ass and even have us believe that a skinny little thing like her would be capable of doing so, too. Sure, most of her action-movies are the typical fodder for dudes who are just begging to see her naked to love and adore, but what she does well is that she can turn her “action-mode” off, as well as on, and have us believe her every second. She may not have many fans out there, but for me, Angelina Jolie is the exact kind of Hollywood star I want head-lining my major blockbuster; not just for the major dough involved with having her name attached to something, but because she always seems to put in the best that she can.

That, and the fact that she’s a woman who reminds us why girls can be tough, too.

All that said, this movie isn’t really trying to go out on a limb and make some sort of grand, feminist-statement – much rather, it just wants to be exactly what it sets out to be in the first place: A general, run-of-the-mill action-thriller. However, what’s so different here, is that something feels slightly “old school” about it all. Most of that can be chalked up to the fact that the writing is something of pure 80’s cheese, in which the CIA is running rampant all over the globe and Russians are still the bad guys, but another part of that can be chalked up to director Phillip Noyce, the kind of director that is able to bring us back to the good old days of action-thrillers.

You know, before Bourne had to come around and shake things up a notch. I mean that literally, and figuratively.

But what’s so interesting here that Noyce does, that not many action-thrillers do, or just seemingly forget about because they just want explosions and bullets, is that there’s more to this movie than just a bunch of simple, yet exciting action-sequences; it’s actually a mystery of sorts and adds more to the final product. Sure, the action-sequences are great and all, and more often than not feel as if they are riding the thin line between “absolutely absurd” and “somewhat believable”, but it’s the mystery as to who the hell this character is that really keeps it moving. It also keeps the movie interesting, because even when they do call it a lunch on all the action and decide to explore more and more about this main’s character life, it’s still compelling to figure out. Not that the writing for these flashbacks are great at all, but what they are able to get away with is being placed in at the right times, for the right reasons.

They're still holding a grudge over who's getting paid the most here.

They’re still holding a grudge over who’s getting paid the most.

That said, Salt herself is a bit of a bland character. I get the fact that since she’s a woman and she can kick more than a few asses on a good day is supposed to make her “different” from the rest of the other ass-kickers out there in a genre filled to the brim with them, but here, she does begin to feel less and less human as the movie goes on. And I don’t mean that because of the fact that she jumps on moving, speeding cars while on the highway and hardly ever gets a scratch; I mean that just because the writing never allows us to get to know as much as we should about her, in order to have us fully care for her journey into clearing her own name. Yeah, it kind of blows that everybody around her would all of a sudden go gung-ho after hearing that she may possibly be a Russian spy, but is that it? I needed a bit more, and maybe that’s asking too much as is.

That’s not to say Jolie isn’t bad here, because it’s quite the opposite – she’s good, meaning that she’s capable of having us believe her as both an ass-kicker, as well as a woman thrown into a disaster of a dilemma. The rest of the cast is pretty fine too, with the likes of Liev Schreiber, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Corey Stoll showing their faces and letting everybody know that they can hang with Jolie, too. However, most of the time, especially for the first two names I mentioned, they’re just spent staring at monitors and spitting in each other’s faces when everything starts to go haywire for them and this mission of tracking down Salt. It’s fun to watch these guys scream and yell, like most of us imagine CIA officials do on a daily basis, but the fact that they’re both technically fighting and hollering over a woman, makes it even funnier.

Better yet, make that woman Angelina Jolie and you’ve got yourself a comedy. Except one with a lot more running, jumping, killing, explosions, shooting, bleeding and death. Does that still qualify as a “comedy”?

Consensus: Exceptionally well-made as an action-thriller of yesteryear, Salt feels like it’s constantly keeping us, as well as itself moving, and while that may not make it more than just a standard action flick, it’s still a good time regardless.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"That'll take care of that fly."

“That’ll take care of that fly.”

 

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.AuGoggle Images

12 Years a Slave (2013)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

End. Of. Story.

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

Questions, questions, questions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Amistad (1997)

Jack Sparrow definitely had something to do with this as well. I know it for a fact.

I think it’s safe to say that anybody who has ever took history in the 5th grade or below knows this story, but if not, here’s the gist of it all: Newly-captured African slaves somehow broke free and revolted against their owners aboard a ship called La Amistad. They eventually got brought into the states where they were tried for their wrong-doings, but thanks to their leader, Cinqué (Djimon Hounsou), they are able to have a voice and get a fair trial. Or at least they sure hope so, or else it’s back to the poop-deck for them!

Steven Spielberg is considered one of the greatest directors of all time, and that’s usually something I can never argue against No matter how schmaltzy and disappointing some of his pieces of work can be, you can still count on the fact that every once and a blue moon, he’ll come back in full force and shut our negative mouths up. The guy’s got a knack for doing that and he can do it especially well when he’s telling a true story of those who have suffered the most. Whether he’s focusing on the Jews, the horses, or the living robots from the future, the guy knows how to take one person’s side, show how wronged they are by the rest of society, and let them have their time to shine. Add African slaves onto that list, just not to the tippy-top.

What makes this material so hard-hitting and inspirational in the way that it plays out is the fact that it’s all real, and yes, even though some parts here and there may be fabricated for theatrical-purposes, the main idea of it all stays the same. These were real people who had to go through a real rough time to get their freedom, try to hold onto it for as long as they could, have it taken away from them, and (SPOILER, I guess) then, given right back to them with a full introduction of hope and happiness still in their hearts. It sounds like a sappy story, and the way that Spielberg has it all play out, it certainly can be, but the fact that this a true story, true case, and true. real-life people that went through it all, really touched me more than I expected. And I don’t mean in the Sandusky way, either.

"Why can't anybody understand me? I can speak English too, it's just that nobody's asked me."

“Why can’t anybody understand me? I can speak English too, it’s just that nobody’s asked me. Fuckin’ white people.”

However, this isn’t the type of Spielberg flick where you get all sunshines, rainbows, and a bunch of over-dramatic music-cues; there’s some real smug ugliness to this movie that will catch you by surprise. First of all, the beginning of the flick is quite gruesome where Spielberg shows us, in full-detail, jusr how the Amistad raid occurred, and how the owners of these slaves were killed. It’s a pretty disturbing way to start off with and when it was over, I was slightly relieved because I felt like Spielberg backed away from that dirty stuff and got back on with the emotional-core of the story.

Oh, but how wrong I was.

Somewhere, about half-way through the movie, we get to see what it was like for all of the slaves to be aboard the Amistad, before the raid even occurred, and I have to say, it’s 10-times worse than the opening. You see how all of these people were treated, how they were tortured, put to non-stop work, fed, clothed (if at all), put to sleep, and in many ways, killed. It’s some real, gods-to-honest disturbing stuff that still stays put in my head. Still, I have to give the benefit of the doubt to Spielberg because it never feels like he’s exploiting any of it in the least bit. He’s just showing us how it was to be aboard that slave ship, which means we get a lot of blood, nudity, and grittiness, almost to the point of where you feel dirty just for watching. Some people will rag on Spielberg for usually crapping-out from going all of the way with his nasty-material, but for those naysayers: Watch the beginning and middle-half of this movie and then come back to me saying the same thing.

That whole sequence actually helps the movie out in many ways, but mainly because it has you understand these slaves even more than ever before. Not only does it give them inspiration to take charge with their lives, but it also gives them the right amount of hope and clarity they should have in their lives, and makes us root for them even more. I also like how they weren’t all just portrayed as a bunch of wild, gibberish-speaking black folks; they actually had personalities, they actually had words, they actually had meanings, and in some ways, had more ideas than most of the white people they encounter throughout this whole flick. Spielberg definitely showed his balls with this movie, but when it came back to getting with the story and showing us all how we love to root for the underdog in any story, regardless of if it’s true or not, he’s always solid in my book.

But to be fair, Spielberg isn’t always the most grateful man when it comes to humanizing his stories and doesn’t always let everybody get the same treatment as the Amistad slaves he’s portraying. I get that he wanted us to fully feel the internal-strife that these African slaves were going through, and so by doing so, really put the hammer down on some of those opposed to it, but didn’t feel right to me. It felt like, to me, that Spielberg was a little too quick in his movements to start pointing the fingers at other people for being racist, bigoted, and all about making money, when that was just how the times were. To me, it felt like Spielberg could have taken his hand back and realized that it’s not right to point, no matter how wrong or immoral you thought a certain set of persons or people were. Didn’t your mother ever teach you anything, Steven?!?

And as always with most of Spielberg’s flicks, the guy is always able to assemble a highly-qualified cast of characters and lets everybody do their thang, no matter how showwy or subtle it may be. Rarely does anybody ever go for the latter, but at least they keep it entertaining. Even though he has practically faded into obscurity now for no apparent reason, I was surprised to remember just how much of a powerhouse Djimon Hounsou was. What worked so much for him was that he had these eyes and this physical-prowess to him that showed you so much more than he could probably say or put into words. That’s especially true in this movie, because his character cannot speak English at all, but still gets the chance to show everybody around him what he’s feeling by expressions on his face, the tone in his speech, and the look in his eyes, no matter how cold or inspired they may be. The guy has been nominated twice for an Academy Award, and I was sure as shit surprised to find out that this wasn’t one of them. Still, the guy needs to come back and win something, because he’s a great actor and could also snap my neck with the twitch of his leg. No doubt about that.

Even Djimon is surprised by how over-the-top Anthony is.

Even Djimon is surprised by how over-the-top Anthony is.

The one who did get the Oscar nomination for this movie was Anthony Hopkins, playing former President John Quincy Adams, and does what he does best: Command the screen every chance he gets. Watching Hopkins just take this script, chew it up, swallow it, and spit it out, making himself a new one, was so exciting and entertaining to watch that it was no wonder why he was nominated for this. He shows up every once and awhile throughout the whole movie, but there’s this whole sequence at the end where he just tells it like it is when it comes to politics, living in the U.S., being a human-being, and just doing the right thing, that was compelling the whole time, even if it did seem like Hopkins may have went on some tangents a bit. Still, it’s Anthony Hopkins and the guy always give it a 110% so if anything, there’s always something to see.

Matthew McConaughey plays the lawyer that stands beside the African slaves in the first place and is very, very good, but it almost feels like his role from A Time to Kill, but dashed with some 19th Century apparel, and a goofy, Southern accent to boot. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with that, because the guy was pretty damn solid in both flicks, but it does show you that maybe more originality could have gone into choosing the right people for these roles. Then again, McConaughey’s career seems to have gotten a bit of a resurgence as of late, so I guess it doesn’t matter what happened to him 16 years ago.

The one out of this whole cast that I was really bummed to see play such a bland and mediocre role was Morgan Freeman as Theodore Joadson. He’s an Uncle Tom of sorts, but a man of color nonetheless, which makes it a great role for Freeman to just roam free with everything he has. However, he doesn’t. Don’t get me wrong, Freeman does what he can with this role, but it seems like one of those roles that was made for a small amount of time and only there to be the token black guy on the opposite end of the fence. A dull role that Freeman tries to save, but just can’t help but fall underneath the rest of the cast and story. There’s many more in this cast, as well, but as you can tell, I’ve pretty much exhausted myself talking about these four already, so just know that there’s plenty, plenty more.

Consensus: Steven Spielberg is the king of being schmaltzy and manipulative when it comes to his movies, and Amistad is no exception to the rule, but it still proves to be an inspirational, and very true tale of fighting for what you believe in and doing what we were put on this Earth to do in the first place. Corny, yes, but still gets you in the fighting spirit nonetheless.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

Quick! Which one of these things does not look like the others?

Quick! Which one of these things does not look like the others?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBJoblo

Redbelt (2008)

You can only say so much about a sport where the objective is to beat the absolute crap out of the other person.

When respected jujitsu master Mike Terry (Chiwetel Ejiofor) eschews a lucrative prize fighting career in favour of opening a self-defence dojo, it appears that he has chosen a peaceful path in life. The dedicated martial artist’s fate takes an unanticipated turn, however, when he is manipulated into participating in ultimate fighting championships by a group of unscrupulous actors and fight promoters. Mike is way in over his head and tries to find whatever it is that he can do to bring back his old life that he knew and loved before it all went to shite.

It may sound pretty strange, but this martial arts film is written and directed by David Mamet. Yes, Glengarry Glen Ross-David Mamet. It may seem like a weird-fit to try on and get used to, but much to my surprise, as I’m pretty sure everybody else’s as well, but Mamet actually practices jiujitsu in real-life and considers it a nice hobby of his, when he isn’t writing out characters that say “fuck” a lot. But don’t worry, people, this more of a Mamet film than it is a carbon-copy of Never Back Down, but don’t be surprised if you can’t tell a total difference between the two.

Mamet’s dialogue in this flick is, once again, very well-written. This time, instead of being just another pile of snappy one-liners that Mamet just continues to toss at the audience, the dialogue here is more natural than you would expect from this dude and it works in it’s approach to this story. This isn’t your non-stop, kick-ass martial arts movie. Instead, it’s actually more character-based and has a story that may draw you in a lot more than the actual fight sequences themselves. And although that may turn people off expecting a bunch of karate chops and take-downs left and right, for me, I wasn’t bothered at all. In fact, it kept me more involved with what was going on because there should always be more back-story to any extreme sport, especially one like martial arts.

One of the instances where this isn't responded with a police call, lawsuit, and a person going to jail.

One of the rare-instances where this isn’t responded with a police call, lawsuit, and/or a person going to jail.

But even when the fight scenes do come onto the screen, they actually work and bring a lot of energy to this film mainly because Mamet is able to get so up-front and personal with each tussle. There’s not many fights (maybe about 3 or 4 in this hour, 34-minute movie) but whenever they came on, I liked it and I think it’s obvious that Mamet just enjoys the art of ultimate fighting. This really isn’t the type of film you just got forced to do and it’s apparent that Mamet wanted to do this film and his curiosity and attention to detail, pays off here. People do say “fuck”, a lot too, but not like you’d expect them to and it’s not all about the cursing that makes this movie work which is what I actually liked for a nice change-of-pace.

However, as good as the script was, I couldn’t help but think he tacked on way too much here with this simple story. The main story itself is pretty much about this guy who can kick anybody’s ass, gets into some major debt, and is trying to find a way out of it the hard way. This in and of itself is a pretty simple story and even though it may not be the most original ever in the whole, widest world, you would think Mamet’s skills as a writer would be definitely more than enough to save it from the same old shit we usually see. But Mamet doesn’t stop there and continues to go on and on and on with this story, almost to the point of where it’s random. He tries a little too hard  with such a simple story about the underdog coming out on top, but adding so many characters, so many random twists, and so many consequences that could either happen this way, or not, and show how it effects the rest of the story. Seemed like way, way too much for a story like this and actually lost me a couple of times.

All of this wasn’t as terrible as I thought, until I got to the final act and that’s where I noticed that everything came full-circle for me. In a bad way, of course. The final act comes on pretty strong with the right bit of tension but Mamet pulls the rug from underneath us, gives us something to think about, and adds yet another twist to the already-confusing plot developments. But what I noticed about this ending is that I wasn’t as glued to the screen because Mamet had so much going on, that the central story itself just sort of gets lost in the muddle of it all. Surely, there must have been an easier way to get our main character back in the square-circle, without having to go through all of these life hurdles and surely, there must have been an less predictable and ludicrous ending like the one they have here. It could have just been simple, plaid, and usual, but that’s not how David Mamet rolls and whether or not you like that about this dude, is all up to what you prefer in life.

"Pick on somebody your own size, and gender." (Hint: if you don't get my joke, look up at the 1st picture I have.)

“Pick on somebody your own size, and gender.” (Hint: if you don’t get this joke, look up at the 1st picture I have.)

Mamet’s plot may get lost, but at least his characters stay true and that’s because of the performances from the stars involved. Mike Terry is an awesome role for Chiwetel Ejiofor because the guy, once again, gets to prove that he has what it takes to be a leading man and turn in a convincing performance, no matter what the movie or role may be. Not only can the guy spout-out Mamet-dialogue like it’s his job (technically, it was) but he also shows that he has a lot of great physical skills and it surprised me to hear that this dude didn’t have any previous martial arts training because he looked like a pro at what he was doing. Good thing that Mamet focused the film mostly on him, too.

The two females in Terry’s life are played by Alice Braga and Emily Mortimer, who are both good but aren’t given much to work with. Braga is Terry’s bitchy, money-hungry wife that would leave him in a heartbeat for some extra moolah, and Mortimer is Terry’s newly-found friend/student that is going through a rough time but her story never fully gets developed enough for us to care about her. Shame too, because both can give off some awesome work when they can. As for everybody else, you have the villains like Joe Mantegna, Ricky Jay, Rodrigo Santoro, and surprisingly, Tim Allen who all turn in some good work as a bunch of shady baddies, but are just all over-the-place that it’s hard to declare which one was the “baddest”. My money is on Buzz Lightyear. That guy seems like a total dick behind closed doors.

Consensus: David Mamet definitely brings a lot of fun to this curious, passion-project of sorts but Redbelt features way too many ideas, twists, and characters going on at the same time, to do nothing else but add confusion and take away from the final-product. It’s not a thrill-ride, but a more-sophisticated look at marital arts, with the occasional beat-down here and there.

6 / 10 = Rental!!

"Life's been hard since Home Improvement ended. Almost 2 decades ago."

“Life’s been hard since Home Improvement ended. Almost 2 decades ago.”

2012 (2009)

Glad we all died this year!

With the Mayan calendar ending in 2012, a large group of people must deal with natural disasters such as volcanic eruptions, typhoons and glaciers.

Director Roland Emmerich stated that this was going to be his last “disaster flick” and since he already did ones like Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow, you can tell he needed to go out with a total bang. So you know what that means: more people dying, more destruction, more shit blowing-up, more corny one-liners, and more special effects to eat-up, and shit-out like an all-you-can-eat, Chinese buffet.

Everything I just described up there may make this seem like another piss-poor attempt at trying to just throw a bunch of dollhairs at the screen, in hopes that it will actually make most of it back, and then some, but it actually makes this film a lot of fun because Emmerich knows he isn’t trying to make some piece of “art”. It’s not one of those flicks that makes you think twice about the world we live in, what could happen, how it could happen, and nor is he trying to make a film that’s going to make a run for Best Picture. He’s just trying to make a movie where the Earth, the beautiful world we all love and live in, goes, “BOOM! CRASH! BANG! SPLAT!”, and everybody else suffers because of it. It’s pretty fun, and sometimes exciting to see what Emmerich puts into this type of destruction and the special effects look pretty good, for the most part. Other times, they look like something that came straight out of GTA: Apocalypse but you have to give this movie the benefit of the doubt: showing the world blow up in every which way possible, is a pretty hard thing to pull off. And it’s definitely something that Emmerich shows total joy and glee in doing-so.

Actual, real-life footage taken from the Weather Channel.

Actual, real-life footage taken from the Weather Channel. Seriously, just ask Rolan Emmerich.

Still, whenever the destruction wasn’t going down, this film tried it’s hardest to give us some melodrama that just didn’t work and made me laugh more than anything else. The screenplay is obviously terrible and of course, we get all the same old melodramatic speeches and corny-ass catch-phrases that show up here but what bothered me more about this writing was that it was way too predictable for my taste. The whole story about Cusack saving his family from every line of death imaginable is all good and fun to watch, but there’s so many coincidences here, that I wondered just how this guy didn’t break a leg, a hand, an wrist, a shoulder, a tibia, a collar-bone, or any type of bone in his body, for that matter. Hell, the guy actually drives a limo through a volcanic eruption and he barely even gets a scratch on his cheek, let alone, a scratch on the fine set of wheels he’s been trucking around this hell-whole full of destruction. I don’t want it to seem like I wanted to see the guy perish in the first earthquake, but I thought him, as well as plenty others, just got by without anything really bad happening to them whatsoever and it was a little too unrealistic and too obvious for me to really just let slide-by and act as if it’s not really happening in-front of my eyes. I know, I’m hating on a Roland Emmerich film for not being realistic, but I just couldn’t get my head past it.

Watching places like Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and Yellowstone National Park get blown up into tiny little pieces and get sucked into the ocean is pretty cool to watch, but I could only imagine how a person would feel had they actually lived there. There was no mention or scenes showing Philadelphia being destroyed, but I would think that if they had, I would feel pretty sad about it because that’s my home and just the thought of everything around me, anything I ever knew, and every person I ever met, being killed instantly would put me in a total bummer of a mood. It also started to hurt me once Emmerich started showing all of Vatican City being thrashed up and made me think: why would you want to kill the Pope in a movie like this? I get it, it’s realistic that him and plenty of other holy people would die in catastrophic events like this, but really!?! Of all people to show being killed in the Apocalypse  you’re going to show the Pope and all of his followers? Did you even need to show that, or could it just have been implied? Just bad taste, that’s all and a bit too extreme for a popcorn flick.

"I'm getting way too old for this Apocalypse shit."

“I’m getting way too old for this Apocalypse shit.”

Also, why the hell did this film need to go on for 2 hours and 40 minutes. I like disaster movies, but not when they can take up about 3 hours of my life and have me practically wasting my day, wondering just what the hell I’m going to do with the rest of it. And if that was the case, I would just watch a double feature of Emmerich’s last two disaster flicks and find more enjoyment out of them both than this junk. It actually got to a point of where I started dozing off by the end when this film decided to go all The Poseidon Adventure on us and it just goes to show you, that once you run-out of ideas about destroying the whole world, just go back, and try stealing from other movies, because nobody’s going to notice. They’re already wasting their times to see your dumb-ass movie, so screw em! Not my thoughts, they’re Emmerich’s and the other Hollywood producers who help him put-out this crap.

The film has a pretty huge cast that works fine with what they are given, but are pretty much wasted on such a shit script like this one here. John Cusack is pretty freakin’ awesome as our central hero, Jackson Curtis, mainly because he doesn’t over-do it one bit. He doesn’t take this role too serious, nor does he ever really freak-out whenever it seems like he and his family are going to perish just like the 95% rest of the world already has. He plays it cool and still has that great comedic timing that we all know and love him for, back from his Peter Gabriel listening days. And also, it’s about freakin’ time that we gave more, heroic-roles like these to Cusack because the dude’s got that, every-day-kind-of-guy look to him, that makes you want to stand-up, pat him on the back, and just cheer him on until he can’t go on no more. Thanks Roland Emmerich! Even if the rest of your movie sucks, at least you have Cusack the shot he so rightfully deserves!

Danny Glover plays the President (as you would assume) and does a pretty good job bringing out some emotions in a guy that I feel like I would blame all of this bad shit on in the first place (don’t know why, but I would probably just be mad); Woody Harrelson has a nice cameo as Charlie Frost, the bearded and dirty hippy that knows all about the end of the world and loves spreading it all out on the airwaves; Chiwetel Ejiofor is fine as the scientist with a heart, Adrian Helmsley, but he also seems a little too good for this ass-like material; Oliver Platt plays his usual “dickhead” role as top government official, Carl Anheuser, and just oozes the corruption; and Amanda Peet and Thandie Newton just stand there and look scared the whole time. Pretty fine bit of casting as everybody here have proven in other flicks, that they are some heavy-hitters. However, when Roland Emmerich gets ahold of them, they have nothing to do other than ham it up like it’s nobody’s business. That’s exactly what they do here and although it may have made their banking-accounts a bit more filled, it made me a bit more ashamed to see them all stoop this low. Oh well, each and every one of them have done something better since then, so I can’t complain too much.

Consensus: 2012 may remind you how much the end of the world is going to suck with its constant explosions, endless use of special effects, and cheesy-ass writing, but also isn’t as thrilling as you would expect from the dude who did Independence Day and The Day After Tomorrow. And yes, despite them not either of them being, written-down masterpieces, this one still should have been as fun as them.

3/10=Garbage!! 

Yup, the only two black people left on Earth are THIS good-looking.

Yup, the only two black people left on Earth are THIS good-looking.

Children of Men (2006)

We need to start making babies now and quick!

In the year 2027, eighteen years since the last baby was born, disillusioned Theo (Clive Owen) becomes an unlikely champion of the human race when he is asked by his former lover (Julianne Moore) to escort a young pregnant woman out of the country as quickly as possible.

Director Alfonso Cuarón takes what we see in every apocalyptic film that Hollywood chunes out every year, and totally turning it on its side with a film that’s more reliant on its story and style rather than just the annoying special effects and action sequences.

Something that Cuarón does masterfully is these amazing tracking shots that almost last between 6 to 10 minutes, which may not seem like a lot at first, but once you start to think about it, you realize that in almost every action sequence, the camera has stayed the same and it feels like the whole time were just with these characters as they constantly move around. This all felt so realistic for me and worked so well because I love tracking shots and to see them used in a way that they have never been used before, really adds so much more of an innovative feel to it.

This is also some real bleak and depressing stuff here that actually seems reasonable as opposed to other apocalyptic films of this nature seeming way too far-fetched. There is just a certain type of depressed feel to this world we live in and it actually doesn’t look any different from what we see around us now, just tired and a lot darker. I liked this because this was one of the more believable near-future dystopian films that focuses more on the overall atmosphere rather than just what looks different and how.

You’ll also start to notice that Cuarón starts to bring out some great questions about racism,  fertility, war, terrorism, technology, paranoia, and even life itself. Cuarón also makes a lot of slight references if not illusions to9/11 and even the Holocaust in a way because you see how everyone is treated, especially these immigrants, and you can’t help but think something just isn’t right about the way everything looks and you know that the looks and inspiration come from somewhere.

The only problem I actually had with this film was that I didn’t understand as to why women were all of a sudden infertile. It’s occasionally brought up every once and awhile but nothing here really stuck out as the real sole reason as to why ladies weren’t allowed to have babies. This problem may seem a bit minor but in sometimes the best dystopian films, they still at least go out of there to explain just why the main epidemic/problem happened, but here I kind of felt a bit cheated.

Clive Owen is amazing in this role as the rugged everyday paper-pusher, Theo Faron, who is basically hurled into an unthinkable situation and forced to confront almost every demon in his life. There are moments where Owen could have easily just cheesed this performance up but really he handles this role so well and keeps everything going even when nothing seems like it’s actually going on. If you  also notice, as Owen is running through the war-torn countryside he never picks up a gun of any kind which I think says a lot about his character.

Julianne Moore is actually pretty good as Faron’s feisty wife and leader of The Fishes; Sir Michael Caine is also great as the hippie confidant, Jasper, who looks a lot like Meryl Streep with a beard but we have never seen Caine in this type of role and it really works; and Chiwetel Ejiofor works well too as another member of The Fishes, Luke. Claire-Hope Ashitey plays the pregnant girl Kee, but wasn’t that good and actually didn’t seem to confidant when it came to actually reading her lines but the rest of the film kind of hid this problem away.

Consensus: Children of Men may be a bit too dark and depressing for some viewers, but the future that director Alfonso Cuarón portrays is a dark, sad, and lonely time that he beautifully creates with great camera-work, compelling themes that add an extra layer to the story, and a couple of good performances from the cast, especially Clive Owen who has almost never been better.

9/10=Full Pricee!!

American Gangster (2007)

It doesn’t matter what drug you deal, it all depends on how cool you look when your dealing it.

Armed with ruthless, streetwise tactics and a strict sense of honor, crime boss Frank Lucas (Denzel Washington) rules Harlem’s chaotic drug underworld. When outcast cop Richie Roberts (Russell Crowe) sets out to bring down Lucas’s multimillion-dollar empire, it plunges both men into a legendary confrontation.

Looking at this all on paper, you have Oscar winners Russell Crowe, Denzel Washington, and Ridley Scott all working together on one film, you should be expecting something perfect, right? Well, not quite.

Ridley Scott does a great job here of directing this thing to the core. Scott keeps the camera on both of these character’s and their own stories, and not once do we lose a sense of what’s happening. He also gets the look for this film, including a very gritty atmosphere behind all the glam and beauty of the drug world, and perfectly captures how the late 60’s early 70’s felt and looked. He also tells the story, not through explosions, and random gun-fights, but through more story and development as time goes on, but he doesn’t lose his pace and keeps this entertaining.

The only problem here is that although Scott is doing a good job of keeping this film entertaining, he’s not necessarily doing much different that what has been done before. I think the main problem with this film is that it’s not to different from any other crime thriller we’ve seen before. Now, there were moments of originality with Washington out-smarting all the cops, but the drug deals, the lines these characters use, hell even the characters themselves all seem like something we have seen before. It’s not to say that this film doesn’t do those things right, because they do, it’s just that it’s nothing different.

Also, with these crime films the tension is always somewhat lacking. We all know how this is going to end, since it is a true story, so your just waiting for the big climax of these two to finally meet, and eventually have the main bad guy get his time in jail. The problem with this film is that we are waiting for almost two-and-a-half hours for that to happen, and although it keeps your interest for the time being, you still can’t help but wonder why the hell it had to be so long to get where it got.

However, this ensemble cast just kept me watching the whole time. Denzel Washington is perfect as mob-boss Frank Lucas. He’s got that swagger that makes him so cool, that brain and wit that has you believe he can outsmart any cop, and just so cool that he’s the most likable gangster ever. I think Denzel should have gotten nominated for an Oscar here, but hey the man is always great no matter what you put in front of him, just ask Ridley’s brother, Tony. Russell Crowe doesn’t get much praise here but he’s also very good as Richie Roberts who is so attached to finding this guy, that he stops at nothing to do it. He also very likable enough to have you root behind as well. The rest of the cast is also very good and just has a bunch of random faces that pop up out of nowhere such as T.I., Chiwetel Ejiofor, Common, RZA, John Hawkes, Idris Elba, Ruby Dee, Josh Brolin, Carla Gugino, and the return to Hollywood acting of Cuba Gooding Jr. God it has been so long since I have seen him in a film that hasn’t been released straight-to-dvd, but he has only a couple of minutes in this film, but he still makes it worth awhile.

Consensus: The performances are great from all over the spectrum, and the direction from Ridley Scott makes this film a gritty but entertaining crime thriller, but never goes anywhere we haven’t seen before, and almost seems like a drag to get to the last scene that we all see coming.

8/10=Matinee!!

Inside Man (2006)

A Spike Lee Joint, for people who don’t like Spike Lee Joints.

Dispatched to the scene of a bank robbery, detective Keith Frazier (Denzel Washington) must match wits with a cunning thief (Clive Owen) who’s always one step ahead of the cops. When a loose-cannon negotiator (Jodie Foster) is called on for help, the unstable situation spins out of control. Keith soon finds himself questioning the motives of everyone around him.

One of my fav directors, Spike Lee, is always known for making witty dramas on race, prejudice, sex, gang violence, and etc. I know plenty of people who don’t like his films mostly because of his opinions on the various subjects. But this is one everybody can enjoy.

Lee does not write this film, which I was pretty bummed out about. I like how all of his films usually have a compelling script, with some great character spotlights. This film doesn’t really have much of one. It is your ordinary heist film, but there could have been more that went the extra mile. We get little hits on prejudice and race, but the questions are brought up to the point of where it’s the main theme. For some, I guess their glad it wasn’t like that, but for me, who loves it when Lee get’s big into the themes, I was kind of bummed.

The good thing about this movie is that it is entertaining, with a screenplay that has plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. I like hostage films, like Dog Day Afternoon, and this was a fun modern-day scenario twist. It keeps you on the edge of your seat, and although not everything is not fully explained, it soon does all come together. Everything you would expect from a heist film, is turned on its side, and made in a smart way.

There are also some beautiful shots of New York City, not as beautiful as the one’s in 25th Hour, but they still give off the post-9/11 vibe that all of Lee’s films do now.

The one part of this movie that keeps it going, is the incredible ensemble cast. Denzel Washington is perfect here, he’s funny, strong, and you can also tell that he’s a character, when pushed to the edge, he can really just set off, and become your worst nightmare. There is one scene that shows it, and its great. Clive Owen plays the villain in this film well, and he’s smart. He doesn’t give too much of his villainous character away, and by the end you actually start to wonder if he’s the good guy, or the bad guy. Jodie Foster’s character is played well, but she’s put in the film without any real reason, and it doesn’t make sense as to why she’s in there, but it’s still well-acted. Chiwetel Ejiofor, Willem Dafoe, and a great casting job of Christopher Plummer, are also all good too at what they do, and each give in their own little tidbit of acting skills.

Consensus: Inside Man is not one of Lee’s best, and not like his others at all, for better or worse, but keeps you on your seat with its twists and turns, and great ensemble cast.

8/10=Matinee!!