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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: David Boston

Tumbledown (2016)

TumbledownposterFolk singers have the saddest lives.

After her husband dies, Hannah Miles (Rebecca Hall) goes into her own bit of hiding. While she isn’t necessarily depressed and doesn’t know what to do with her life, at the same time, it doesn’t seem like she’s making much movement on it, either. Aside from the every so often hook-up she has with the local hunter (Joe Manganiello), she doesn’t seem to be getting any serious about another relationship and, for the most part, doesn’t really seem to care that her husband was, when he was alive, a cult-followed folk singer who so many people loved, yet, didn’t fully get to appreciate because he died so tragically at a young age. However, one person in particular that wants to find out more about this singer’s life is part-time writer Andrew McCabe (Jason Sudeikis). Though Hannah is initially against the idea of bringing a stranger into her home and into her late husband’s studies to chronicle his, as well as her, life, she starts to give in and realize that she’s happy with Andrew around. Not to mention that he brings out a certain sparkle within her that hasn’t been around since, well, when her late husband was actually alive, well and writing songs all about her.

Why have dinner when you can just maul one another?

Why have dinner when you can just maul one another?

Tumbledown has all of the promise of a soft, sweet and tender romantic-dramedy, but sadly, it falls prey to its own conventions one too many times. For one, the movie itself doesn’t seem to want to take itself too seriously at first, which is fine, but it’s not very good at being funny, either. There’s a lot of annoying rom-com cliches and conventions that show up here that not only feel very beneath the cast and crew working here, but the material itself.

The idea of one moving on with their life after the loss of a very near, dear and loved one, is a universal theme. Not only is this shown in movies like I’ll See You In My Dreams, where the older women are shown to be living out the rest of their years, wondering where to go or what to do, but it’s very rarely shown for the younger women out there who are, believe it or not, widows. Death knows no boundaries, so it’s an honest wonder to me why we don’t have more of these kinds of movies about young widows trying to figure out what they want to do with their lives, where do they go from their certain situation, and most of all, whom do they choose.

Throw in the folk music angle and guess what? You’ve got a pretty interesting movie that goes above and beyond any melodramatic romantic story we’re so used to seeing and hating with Nicholas Sparks.

However, that’s the exact issue with Tumbledown: It turns exactly into that kind of movie.

Most of this is especially evident with the characters. Even though the cast here is understandably strong, it’s a bit of a shame to see some of them playing such types that, after awhile, it makes you wonder why they even bothered to begin with. Rebecca Hall gets the meatiest role as Hannah Miles, where shows both sadness, as well as loveliness to a character who seems like she’s at a bit of a stand-still with her life. Though she wants to live each and everyday in absolute tears, she doesn’t and it’s interesting to see how she still copes with the loss of her husband, even if she also knows that there’s more to life for her out there – it’s just a matter of whether or not she wants to actually go out there and see it for herself.

Mmmm! Ms. Hall just ain't got time for that Sudeikis charm!

Mmmm! Ms. Hall just ain’t got time for that Sudeikis charm!

So yeah, Hall’s character isn’t really the issue as much as it’s Jason Sudeikis’ Andrew McCabe who is, basically, Jason Sudeikis, but this time, playing a college professor and writer. Sudeikis is a good actor and, in the past few months, I’ve come to respect for at least trying to do something more interesting with his career than just sticking himself in every broad comedy he can find, but for some reason, he doesn’t feel right for this role. The character is a little too smarmy for what appears to be a really laid-back, almost reserved kind of guy. He and Hall have good chemistry, but the way that they’re relationship gets put together, or how they come to a certain common ground, doesn’t always feel believable and it’s a shame, because they’re both solid actors. Sudeikis just doesn’t seem like he’s the perfect fit for whatever kind of character Andrew McCabe is.

Other actors show up here like Joe Manganiello, Dianna Agron, the always welcome Blythe Danner, Richard Masur, and Griffin Dunne, but they’re kind of just here on the side to allow for Sudeikis and Hall to do their thing and develop their never-believable relationship. It’s good to see these actors here, but when they aren’t really around to do anything but play window-dressing to a poor plot and script, it almost feels like a disservice. Especially for Danner who, in the past few years at least, has shown that there’s more to her than just playing the sassy, sometimes way-too-smart mom that knows what’s going on with every relationship around her, but will sometimes keep her mouth shut.

I love Danner with all my heart, but I want to see different roles for her, especially since we all know she’s got the chops.

Same goes for the rest of the cast, because something like Tumbledown, while showing off a indie-sensibility, plays out like any mainstream rom-com. People fall in love, people fall, people get hurt, people get into fights, and believe it or not, people cry, but they always seem to brush it off with a laugh or two. This happens with life, but not nearly as much Tumbledown portrays it as and it can’t help but feel like a disappointment.

Consensus: Given the subject material and ensemble cast, Tumbledown can’t help but feel like a bummer when you see it all get wasted on a rote rom-com plot.

4 / 10

Will they? Or won't they? Oh, I just don't know!

Will they? Or won’t they? Oh, I just don’t know!

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

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Pride and Glory (2008)

Keep it in the family. Even corruptness.

After a bunch of his fellow cops are shot dead in what was supposed to be a drug-ring raid, Ray Tierney (Edward Norton) returns to the detective field to figure out just who killed these cops and just exactly how it all happened. And because his daddy (Jon Voight), his brother Francis (Noah Emmerich), and brother-in-law Jimmy (Colin Farrell), are all apart of the force as well, it should make absolute sense that he should have no problems getting the right kind of answers he so desperately seeks. However, what Ray begins to find out, though, is that the details surrounding the killer and what happened are a bit shady. For one, nobody can find the supposed-shooter, and to make matters worse, it turns out that perhaps some brothers in blue may also be a little bit dirty. Which is expected, but there’s a possibility that these dirty cops may have been involved with the killing of the other cops, leading Ray to start questioning all of the cops around him, including his family. Obviously, they’re all appalled and shocked by Ray’s findings and accusations, but at the same time, there’s still some truth to it, and this is when everybody involved starts getting desperate and finding a clean way out of this dirty situation.

"Please tell me! Why did you get those corn-rows?!?"

“Please tell me! Why did you get those corn-rows?!?”

If you’ve seen one cop movie, generally, you’ve seen ’em all. Hardly do they ever stray away from the norm of what we’ve all come to know and expect with a cop movie, which begs the question: Why does Hollywood keep making them? Is there really any huge sell or draw in them that makes people flock out to the theaters to check them out? Or is that Hollywood can’t get over its weird affection and interest in the brothers in blue, so they still continue to make movies about them, not offering anything new or interesting to say about them, either?

Well, whatever the answer may be, Pride and Glory doesn’t really do much to make sense of it.

Although, Pride and Glory is a different kind of cop movie; for one, it’s about dirty cops, being, well, dirty and corrupt as all hell. Given today’s political climate, you’d think that this would be a hot-button topic worthy of being touched upon and prodded at, but director Gavin O’Connor doesn’t really seem interested in diving deep into that discussion. Instead, he just sort of wants to show off his dirty cops as they were; doing stuff they shouldn’t be, pointing the fingers at others, and telling lookie-loos to “mind their own business and shut their mouth”. O’Connor may have some sort of interest in what drives a seemingly normal, everyday cop, to become a drug-dealing, money-stealing baddie, but he doesn’t quite show it.

Most of the time, O’Connor allows his movie to fly-off the rails with fine actors going a tad bit over-the-top. Gifted character actor Frank Grillo is sadly the clearest example of this as his cop character, albeit a dirty one, wants absolutely each and every person in the movie to know it. It’s almost as if any and all subtlety was lost here and O’Connor told Grillo to “just have fun”, and he really did. Problem is, all of the yelling, punching, kicking, and gun-slinging doesn’t do much to help create a character, but further highlight a type that needs to be done with.

But Grillo isn’t the only one who is dialing it way, way up.

Colin Farrell is intense, doing his best De Niro impression here, but once again, his character feels like he has no rhyme or reason for breaking bad. Sure, we get the idea that maybe greed took over and he couldn’t stop himself, but we can only assume that because we never see this character actually be a good cop – we just see him as this dirty one, who can’t be trusted with anything. There’s an unpredictable nature to Farrell that he brings onto the screen each and every chance he gets, but mostly, it just ends with him yelling or acting out in some way.

Just imagine Micky Donovan, as a cop.

Just imagine Micky Donovan, as a cop.

I mean, hell, the guy almost hot irons a baby! What the hell!

Edward Norton, thankfully, dials it down a bit more and seems to actually be more interested in diving dig into his character’s psyche. Issue is, this tends to make his character feel a bit more boring and dry than he probably should, which is an even bigger shame because he’s the lead protagonist we’re supposed to stand behind, root for and spend all of our time with. Norton has solid scenes with just about everyone around him, but when it comes to pushing the story-line along, there’s a never ending sense of normality that overtakes Norton, as well as the movie and it’s hard to get away from.

By the end though, O’Connor decides to stop sitting around and let everything and everyone, within Pride and Glory, run wild.

This means that guns are shot, people are beaten-up, noses are bloodied, faces are battered, people start shouting, and out of nowhere, which was, at one point, a slow, almost meandering drama, is now this wild-and-out, action-thriller where people can’t stop beating the hell out of one another. Is it exciting to watch? Sure. Does it feel like a whole completely different movie? Oh, most definitely and it’s an issue that seems to make Pride and Glory, yet again, just another cop movie.

Although still plenty more watchable than season two of True Detective.

That’s for sure.

 

Consensus: Despite a solid cast, Pride and Glory is drenched into too many cop movie cliches and conventions to really do much, other than just mildly entertain those looking for some entertainment.

6 / 10

"We're brudders. We ain't eva gain to brake apaart."

“We’re brudders. We ain’t eva gain to brake apaart.”

Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz

Spotlight (2015)

Of course Thomas McCarthy would know a thing or two about journalism.

In 2001, with the internet slowly rising to become the top source for news and information, the Boston Globe felt as if they had struck gold. Through their investigative unit known as “Spotlight”, the Globe came upon a bunch of sources and stories about Massachusetts priests molesting children and then covering it all up with fancy lawyers and lingo that made it seem like a crime wasn’t committed. While the Spotlight team realizes that they’ve got something really strong and ground-breaking to work with here, they’ve got to do more uncovering and following to get the full story. And, well, due to the fact that Boston is a primarily Catholic-based city, it makes sense that just about everyone and their mothers are pleading with the Globe not to release this story. However, these journalists know better than to let such issues get in their way of telling the full story and uncovering what the truth about these priests are, what they did to these kids, who are mostly all now adults, and try to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again.

Somebody definitely does not fit in here. Hint: It's the dude with the tie.

Somebody definitely does not fit in here. Hint: It’s the dude with the tie and facial-hair.

As most of you can probably tell, Spotlight is the kind of movie that’s made exactly for me. Not only do I love journalism movies that feature journalists, doing journalism-y things, but I also love it when the journalists in the journalism movies use their job, their smarts, and their skills, to take down big institutions. Whether it be the government, hospitals, or the Catholic church – any huge institution that gets a much deserved dressing-down, then you can count me in.

Which is to say that, yes, Spotlight is not only a great movie, but possibly, for now at least, my favorite flick of the year.

One of the main reasons why Spotlight works as well as it does can all be traced back to writer/director Thomas McCarthy, who is hot of the heels of the disaster that was the Cobbler. What’s so interesting about McCarthy’s previous films (even including the Cobbler, sadly), is that they’ve mostly all been small, simple, and understated human stories that deal with the big emotions, but in a very subtle kind of way. While much of the style is still the same, with Spotlight, McCarthy is now dealing with a bigger story, that takes on a whole lot more fronts and ends than he’s ever worked with before. Still though, despite what troubles this may have caused any director in the same shoes as he, McCarthy handles it all perfectly, making sure that the story that needs to be told, is done so in an efficient, understandable and most importantly, compelling manner.

That the way Spotlight‘s story begins to unravel once more revelations come to fruition, as well as the way it begins to blend-in together, makes all the more reason why this movie is a true testament to the art of journalism, as well as those who work within it. Just like the best parts of a movie like Truth, Spotlight loves that feel and utter rush someone can has when they feel as if they’re walking upon something that could make their story, as well as the certain heartbreak and utter disappointment they can feel once they walk upon something that could feasibly break their story. There’s a certain bit of joy and pleasure one gets from watching people, who are not only great at their job, do everything in their absolute power to make sure that they keep doing their job to the best of their abilities, while also not forgetting the true reason for it all.

And while a good portion of this movie is a dedicated to the world of journalism, it’s also a dedication to those who are passionate and inspired to uncover the truth.

But, trust me, it’s not as hokey as I may make it sound; while McCarthy’s movie definitely flirts with certain ideas of self-importance, he never falls for the fact that the story he’s telling is BIG, EMOTIONAL and IMPORTANT FOR EVERYONE TO SEE. There’s an argument that Mark Ruffalo’s and Michael Keaton’s characters have where they’re combatting between the two different oppositions of this story; whether it be to tell it to sell some copies, or to expose the problems that have been going on for so long. It’s not only riveting, but also very smart, as it definitely reminds us why this story matters, but does so in a way that gets us back on-track for what needs to be told – which is, that the Catholic church covers all their wrong-doings up, and it’s time that somebody called them out on it.

Once again, though, this may sound all incredibly melodramatic and corny, but trust me, it isn’t. McCarthy doesn’t let the story get out-of-hand with overt cliches, but also, makes sure that the characters in this story stay true, realistic and above all else, actually humane. Nobody in this movie is ever made out to be a superhero for what it is that they’re doing; most of them, quite frankly, are just doing their job. While they definitely feel the need to tell this story and make it so that their points are seen, they also understand the utmost importance of faith and Catholicism, which, all being residents of Boston, means a whole lot.

No! Don't go on the computer! It's the devil!

No! Don’t go on the computer! It’s the devil!

And though the movie may not dig as deep into these characters as possible, it still does a fine enough job of making us realize just who these characters are, what their part of the story is, and just why exactly they matter. Ruffalo’s Michael Rezendes is always jumping around and running to the next piece of information that, despite the sometimes pushy Boston-accent, is quite entertaining to watch, but at the same time, we still get the idea that this guy loves his job so much and will do anything to keep himself alive and well.

Rachel McAdams’ Sacha Pfeiffer is the sweeter one of the ensemble, who is there with the abuse victims when they’re airing their disturbing stories out in the most matter-of-fact way imaginable; Liev Schreiber’s Marty Baron doesn’t have much of any personality whatsoever, but still feels like the voice of reason for this story, when it all seems to get a bit haywire; John Slattery’s Ben Bradlee Jr. also feels like the voice of reason, but at the same time, still very much like Roger Sterling (which is a compliment); Brian d’Arcy James’ Matt Carroll has a neat little subplot about finding out one of the accused priests live in his neighbor and how he goes about finding that out is well-done; and Stanley Tucci, is very energized here, but also seems like the most understandable character in the whole flick, showing a person who not only cares about the cause he’s fighting for, but also knows that he has a civic duty.

However, as great as everyone is, it’s Michael Keaton who steals the show, with just one look.

There’s a scene towards the very end of Spotlight where it becomes very clear just what this story means and the sort of effect it’s going to have – and it’s all on Keaton’s face. Though I won’t get into the nitty, gritty details of what occurs during the end, but after everything that has come along with the story – from the facts, to the sources, to the edits, to the fragments, to the re-writes, to the push-backs, and to everything else that has to do with it – the movie makes us understand what it was that these journalists were fighting for. Keaton, who is superb, as expected, throughout the whole movie, doesn’t fully want to believe that the Catholic church would have been involved with something so dastardly and maniacal as the evidence proves. However, though, he eventually does come to believe that evil can be real, not to mention that it can take all forms, shapes, and sizes. But rather than pissing and moaning about it, late night at the bar, he, as well as his fellow co-workers, are doing something about it. There’s a look in Keaton’s eyes as he sees this all happen and then, he accepts it, metaphorically pats himself on the back, and moves on with his job.

That’s what journalism is all about and that’s why Spotlight is one of the best flicks of the year.

There. I’m done.

Consensus: Gripping, intelligent, and above all, important, Spotlight takes on its subject without ever editorializing or leaning one way, but instead, telling its story as it was ought to be told, with some of the best actors in the game today.

9.5 / 10

Bad priests, bad priests, watcha gonna do? Watcha gonna do when the Boston Globe comes for you?

Bad priests, bad priests, watcha gonna do? Watcha gonna do when the Boston Globe comes for you?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Irrational Man (2015)

If you’re depressed, sometimes, all you need is a little crime.

Philosophy professor Abe Lucas (Joaquin Phoenix) isn’t exactly in the right place of his career, or his life currently. For one, he’s just taken up a new teaching job at a Rhode Island college, Braylin, for summer courses and he’s always bored. He’s also going through something of an existential crisis where he contemplates suicide daily and can’t seem to maintain an erection, even when he’s with the lovely and super horny Rita (Parker Posey). And now, to make matters worse, he’s starting to find himself fall head-over-heels for a student of his, Jill Pollard (Emma Stone), who feels strongly about him too, even though she’s already gotten a boyfriend (Jamie Blackley). Though Abe doesn’t want to have any sort of romantic relationship with Jill because it would be inappropriate and unprofessional of him, he still can’t seem to hold back on his affections. So basically, Abe is not feeling too happy about his life right now and needs something to wake him up from this metaphorical slumber and put him back on-track. What will wake him up, though? Or better yet, will it even be legal?

It’s hard to talk about a movie like Irrational Man, because from what I know, not many people know about the twist that occurs about half-way through. Even though it was definitely hinted at in the months of pre-production and filming, many people I have spoken to, or at least have read reviews of, claim to have not known anything of the twist. Honestly, that surprises me a bit, but because I am a nice, kind, and generous human being, I will decide to hold back on spoiling anything related to the twist.

To be with Stone....

To be with Stone….

Which is a shame, because it surely makes this movie a lot harder to review now.

But what I will say about Irrational Man, in relation to that twist, is that when it comes around and shakes things up, Woody Allen’s writing gets a whole lot sharper. What’s interesting about a lot of Woody Allen’s movies is that they’re very hard to classify as “dramas” or “comedies”. He’s definitely had many that are either the latter, or a combination of both, but he doesn’t quite do the former nearly as much as he should. Even though Cassandra’s Dream was a bust, Match Point and Crimes and Misdemeanors forever rank as two of his better movies because they show Woody Allen in a different light than ever before. Sure, he may be able to deliver on the funny when need be, but when he wants to deliver a dark, sad and sometimes harrowing story, he can still hang with the best of them, even if there is a small wink at the audience every now and then.

And with Irrational Man, it seems as if he’s definitely come back to being slap dab in the middle of being a comedy, but with many, many dramatic undertones. Sometimes, that can cause a bit of a problem with this movie as it’s never full-known whether Allen himself is intentionally trying to make a drama, or if a lot of his dialogue just comes off in an incredibly stilted way, that it seems like comedy, but either way, there’s something more interesting here to watch than there is in say, something like To Rome With Love. Even if the bar isn’t set very high with that one, it’s still worth pointing out as a lot of Allen’s recent movies are very hit-or-miss nowadays.

Still though, there’s a lot to like here.

With Allen soon approaching 80, it’s not as if he really has anything new or interesting to say about life, love, relationships, poetry, literature, or anything else that’s discussed in his sorts movies, but there’s still something entertaining about the way in how these characters talk to one another. While the philosophical squabbles don’t really go anywhere, it’s interesting to see the likes of Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone deliver them to one another; the dialogue may not be as sharp as a tack, but it’s something different than what we’ve seen from these two before and it offers some entertainment just based solely on that level. There are bits that are funny, as well as there are ones that are just plain dramatic, but no matter what, it’s neat to see how Allen, no matter what number movie he’s on, seems to get certain stars to deliver his dialogue to the best of his ability.

Or, to be with Posey?

….0r, to be with Posey?

And with that said, Phoenix himself is pretty good here in a lighter role than from what we’re used to seeing from him. Phoenix doesn’t too often get to do comedy nowadays, and while he isn’t exactly supposed to be the most hilarious guy in the room here, there’s still some shadings of slight humor to be found if you look closely and deep into the cracks of this character and this performance. At the same time though, there’s still a lot going on with this character that’s a tad unsettling, and it just goes to show you the kind of talent that Phoenix is, to where he’s able to make you laugh along with him, as well as be disgusted by him as well.

The perfect antihero if there ever was one; something that Allen doesn’t write much of anymore.

Stone is quite good here, too, and gets to show that she’s a bit better at handling Allen’s dialogue than she was able to do in Magic in the Moonlight. The only problem that there is to be found with this character is that, sometime by the end, she goes through a change that makes her go from this lovable, doe-eyed and naive schoolgirl, to this Nancy Drew-like character who picks up on all sorts of clues that are miraculously dropped in her way. Once again, I’m being as vague about this fact as humanly possible, but it is something that didn’t seem too believable to me, even if Stone does try her hardest to make it work.

Because no matter what, it’s hard to hate this face. Maybe this face, but not this one.

Okay, I’m done now with my crush.

Consensus: A tad darker than most of Allen’s recent outputs, Irrational Man is slightly uneven, but benefits from solid performances from the cast and a smart twist that keeps certain themes from growing old.

7.5 / 10

Think it over, Joaquin. You've got some time.

Think it over, Joaquin. You’ve got some time.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

A Most Violent Year (2014)

It’s rough out there for a oil salesman.

Abel Morales (Oscar Isaac) is an honest man, trying to make an honest living, with an honest wife (Jessica Chastain), and an honest family. However, during the winter of 1981 in New York City, that’s a lot easier said then done. Because once Abel makes a deal with a local money-launderer, everybody around Abel who either loathes or envies him, don’t want him to pay any of that money back. Instead, they want Abel to go broke, get found out by the cops, and possibly even dead. Though, the problem for Abel isn’t that it seems like everybody’s coming after him, and only him, it’s that he doesn’t who it is, nor does he want to stoop to their levels of violence, murder, and corruption. He believes he is better and doesn’t want to dirty-up his business one bit. But now that the cops are hot on his tail, Abel believes that it may be time to step up and defend his business, or become what everybody around him wants him to become – a goner.

Sometimes, it’s incredibly easy to classify a movie as what it seems to be, or better yet, actually sounds like. For instance, A Most Violent Year is the kind of movie that looks and sounds like that it would be another violent gangster-pic in the same vein as a Scorsese flick. Heck, it even has the word “violent” in its title, so how could it not have people whacking one another?

"Ya heard?"

“Ya heard?”

Well, sometimes, looks can be deceiving, kids. While that usually means something bad for movies that look good and end up turning out to be junk, here, we’ve got something different – a movie that may seem like it’s chock full of bloody violence and action, actually isn’t. Sure, there’s the occasional gun-fight, or chase through the streets, but they don’t feel thrown in there for the sake of livening up the proceedings; instead, what writer/director J.C. Chandor does best is that he allows them to flow smoothly into the story, and make it seem pertinent. That this is a story of a man who’s trying to keep him, his family, and his business strictly clean and legal, makes it all the more understanding that, when push comes to shove, he can’t help but loose control a bit and take all sorts of drastic decisions.

And that’s mostly where Chandor’s flick stays to talk about; it’s not whether one can stay afloat with their business, it’s that they can do so without having to become one with the rest of the wild and rowdy pack you are sometimes grouped-in together with. It’s an interesting dilemma that Chandor poses with his protagonist and for the story as a whole, but it never actually loses steam. Instead, it keeps us guessing as to whether or not this lead character is going to lose his cool, and if so, how so and at one costs. We don’t want to see him have to be forced to kill anybody, but if he has to, we hope that he does so at a reasonable level that doesn’t put him, or anybody that he loves in harm’s way.

As you can tell, it’s not just an interesting dilemma for the lead character, but for us, the audience, as well.

The parts where I do feel that Chandor as the story lose a bit of steam, is when it seems like he’s being as vague as humanly possible, only to throw us for more curveballs, but to also remind us that his movie isn’t like other crime-thrillers out there. A good portion of that is true, but when it comes to making a gripping, interesting-to-listen-to thriller, you have to give the audience enough details and bits of info to allow for them to draw their own conclusions. You don’t have to spell everything out in big, bold letters and practically hold the audiences hand, but when it seems like you’re not going further into detail about a certain aspect of the story, it seems like you’re cheating the audience out of what could be an even more engaging tale.

That said, Chandor, in my humble opinion, is a director who is three-for-three. Which is even more of an impressive feat considering that the two other movies he’s created (Margin Call, All is Lost) are all completely different from one another. Call was talky and almost Mamet-like; Lost was a Cast Away-ish tale of one character, and one character only; and this one here, is a moral, crime tale, that seems like something Sidney Lumet would have made and been quite proud of. If there is one similarity between all three of these movies, however, it’s that they all feature desperate people, in some very tragic situations, who are trying their hardest to survive by any means necessary. They may not always make the smartest decisions, but they are at least trying to save their own head.

And that’s the exact case with Abel Morales, played to perfection by the always powerful Oscar Isaac. With Morales, we get a character that we like, if only because of what he stands for; he’s an immigrant who came over to this land, to create his own business, and get what each and everyone of us want, “the American Dream”. So already, he’s winning points with us, but once we see him starting to get all sorts of pushed and pulled by these local gangsters that are practically suffocating him, then it’s obvious to see that we may be losing him a tad bit. He’s not just losing his sense of morality, but he also might lose the dream he set-out for himself and it’s hard to fully root for him with the actions he commits. Then again, there’s also the sense that it’s all for a good cause and it puts this character into perspective as to whether he’s a good guy, or a bad one.

Mostly though, it comes down to him just being a guy, trying to make a living for himself, and those that he loves. That’s it.

"Mhmmmmmmmmm."

“Mhmmmmmmmmm.”

Isaac is wonderful in this role and has you totally believe in the constant struggle he goes through with this character. Isaac plays both sides of this character very well in that we never quite know whether he wants to be apart of this bloody, violent underground, or not. All we do know is that his intentions are good enough that makes it easy for us to root for him, even when we don’t know if we’re not supposed to. Once again, Isaac is great at showing these dueling-sides to this character and always has you on-edge, wondering when he’s going to turn the other cheek and how.

Another great performance here is from Jessica Chastain as Abel’s mob-daughter wife, Anna. As great of an actress as Chastain may be, for some reason, I just didn’t know if I could fully believe in her as an Italian, New York-housewife; this isn’t to say that I’m doubting her talents, I just don’t know if she’d been able to pull it of well enough to where we’d see more to her than just the act of what a stereotypical, Italian-woman looks, acts, and sounds like. Thankfully though, I was proven wrong as Chastain absolutely owns this role and allows us to see her as less of an accessory in Abel’s life, and more of a factor in the reason as to why he is as successful as he is. She constantly pushes him further than he could ever imagine and when he needs her the most, she’s there, sometimes, with nearly as much fire-power as he. I don’t want to call her a Lady Macbeth-like character, but she pretty much is; just not nearly as corny as that kind of role was for Laura Linney in Mystic River.

Ugh. So bad.

Anyway, while these two are incredibly solid in these roles, there’s plenty more where they came from, with each and every character still seeming as interesting, and as thought-provoking as they could be. For instance, the character of Lawrence, the detective who is constantly behind every corner Abel and his business turns down, may seem like he’ll be just as dirty and as corrupt as the people he’s going after, but more or less, stays true to himself or any kind of code that he may have set out for himself as a cop. Sure, David Oyelowo is quite solid in this role, but he’s also helped-out quite a bunch by the writing for this role, that doesn’t have him act like the standard-version of a cop we see in these kinds of movies; he goes by-the-badge, but also doesn’t forget about certain aspects of the job that may need to be looked at a bit differently. He’s not a bad, or immoral person; he’s just a person. With his own needs, hopes and desires.

As we all are.

Consensus: Exciting without ever over-exploding, thought-provoking without being too obvious, and well-acted without a weak-link, A Most Violent Year is a solid crime-thriller that asks hard questions of both its characters, as well as its audience.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

The perfect, Reagan-era couple.

The perfect, Reagan-era couple.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Just when you thought saving the world from evil, maniacal villains was enough.

Last time we left Peter Parker, he was trying to save the world from the havoc of a super-duper evil villain; win the heart of his lovely neighbor, M.J. (Kirsten Dunst); ace his college courses; still have a roof over his head; and be able to sleep soundly at night, knowing that he’s saved the day. And well, not much of that has changed a bit. Well, maybe instead of having the Green Goblin as a villain, he now has the incredibly smart Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina), and the four metal arms that control his every action and thought, leading him to want to destroy the world that’s been so crummy to him as is. Or, you know, something like that. Also going on, Peter has a problem with telling his Aunt May (Rosemary Harris) the truth about what happened to their dear old Uncle Ben, on that one, fateful night. And then of course, there’s Harry Osborne (James Franco) who is rich and powerful now, after inheriting the family business from his deceased-father and still having a bit of a problem with Pete and the fact that he takes the man who killed his father’s pictures all of the time.

I’ve seen this movie many quite a couple of times and it hardly ever ceases to amaze me. Of course when I was a lot younger, this was considered “the best movie ever made, by far”, but now that I’m older, and hopefully wiser, it’s stooped-down to being “just as good, if not better than the first”. That’s just what happens with age, though, people. You get older, you learn a lot more and you know what you like, and dislike.

Here though, I like pretty much everything, even if I have seen this movie about ten or more times. That’s not an understatement either; I was brought-up on the Tobey Maguire – Sam Raimi Spider-Man movies, which is why I have such a hard time loving these new ones, as well as being able to hate on the magic these two made in the first place. Sure, they’re definitely a lot goofier and lighter on their feet than what most of us are used to with superhero movies (thanks for that, Chris Nolan), but there’s something about their fun spirit and excitement that’s too hard to hate or ignore. Even when it comes close to running into “campy territory”, there’s still an essence that everybody involved is having a great time making this and for that, my soul just cannot hate any of them.

"Dammit M.J.! I mean, I love you and all, but you got to stop getting captured!"

“Dammit M.J.! I mean, I love you and all, but you got to stop getting captured without wearing a damn bra!”

Even the third one. But that’s a different review, for a different time (aka, tomorrow).

But anyway, like I was saying before, what Sam Raimi does so well here is that he does keep the same frothy, sometimes goofy and joy-free mood and tone of the first one, but ups the intensity of this by adding both bigger, bigger stipulations, but also giving us characters we can care and love a lot more than we did with the first one. It’s not like we didn’t get any character-development in the first Spider-Man movie, but it definitely didn’t go any further than “good guy”, or “bad guy”. Here though, we get characters, in a comic-book movie no less, that also happen to have dimensions and qualities that most human beings contain.

Sounds crazy, right? Well, that’s because it totally is! However, Raimi has just about each and every moment here that’s dedicated to building and making these characters who they are, feel somewhat genuine. He also does something strange for a mainstream, superhero blockbuster in that he lets a lot of scenes where two characters may be having a heart-to-heart or talking about something rather emotional, play-out in total silence, as if he isn’t telling us when the sad moments are coming. We’re just supposed to know what to feel, and cry, shake, tremble, or smile on our demand.

We so rarely see that with superhero movies, but Raimi took a big time risk here, and it paid-off especially well.

Another risk he took was in actually showing us the shitty side of being a superhero. Most of the time, we always see the person in the suit, messing shit up, being a boss, saving the world and getting the girl, the glitz, and the glamour by the end of the day, but what most of us really don’t see is what goes on when that said person gets out of that said costume and becomes what most of us are: Actual humans. Here, with Peter Parker, we get an idea that not only does it suck being depended on just about every second of every day, at every location in the heart of New York City, but that it’s even more of a drag having to deal with all of your other problems when you’re not out saving the world, one criminal at a time.

For Peter Parker, life kind of blows – the girl of his dreams is with some total meat-head, his best-friend doesn’t trust him, he’s not paying his rent, he hasn’t told his Aunt the dreaded secret that may ruin their relationship forever, and he can’t seem to hold down a steady job, or wage. But when he puts that suit on, life is suddenly better, if only by a bit. Still though, it’s apparent that being a superhero, no matter how many people look up to you as a result, it’s still a hard life to live. That’s why when Pete decides that it’s time to take a sabbatical of sorts, we want him to get all of the rest and chillaxing he can get; but also, not to wait too long either. Because, let’s face it, he’s Spider-Man and he’s a pretty awesome superhero when he’s kicking all sorts of butt.

And kicking all sorts of butt is what Sam Raimi allows for Spidey to do, more times than he did in the original. Though there is plenty of dramatic moments here where it’s just a couple of characters or two just sitting around and talking, Raimi still never forgets about the action, which features some of the most memorable brawls of recent-memory. That bank-robbery that turns into a fight on top of a skyscraper? Damn! The train-battle? Gosh! The moment Octavius becomes “Doc Ock”? Well, yeah, it’s pretty disturbing, even for a PG-13 superhero movie, but man, it was awesome!

In other words, Raimi gives us all the goods an average, everyday moviegoer could want, especially if they were coming to see a Spider-Man movie.

And of course, the cast is great too, with a few even putting in their best work of the whole franchise. Tobey Maguire may get a lot of crap for being the good-looking nerd everyone aspires to be (myself included), but it’s totally undeserved because the kid can act and handles his own as Spider-Man, and most importantly as Peter Parker. In fact, if Maguire wasn’t putting in great work here, this movie probably would have failed considering mostly all of it is focused in on Peter Parker, the person, rather than Spider-Man, the superhero the person becomes. Maguire may get a bit too earnest for his own good at times, but it’s easily forgivable since he’s just so likable and easy-to-root-for, because you know that while he wants to be at his girl’s play more than anything else in the world, he’s got a world to save and maintain peace within. If that doesn’t sound like a total dream-boat, I have no clue what does.

Ladies, we know the sex with him would be awesome. Let's just keep our heads out of the gutter for the meantime.

Ladies, we know the sex with him would be awesome. Let’s just keep our heads out of the gutter for the meantime.

Speaking of “his girl”, Kirsten Dunst is another who seems to get a lot of crap from those who think she can’t act, and I think that’s terribly wrong. For starters, she totally can and as she’s gotten older, she’s only been able to prove that moreso, time and time again. However, back in those good old days of the early-21st Century, I could see why some people got on her case as M.J. definitely isn’t the best-developed or most believable character out of the whole bunch, but at least Dunst seems like she knows what she’s doing when she’s delivering some of the cheesy-lines to be heard here. Same goes for James Franco as Harry Osborne, another one not many knew what to make of back in the day, but clearly has made a huge name for himself by just being him.

God, how time has changed.

With the absence of Willem Dafoe as the main baddie, we get Alfred Molina as Dr. Otto Octavius and the guy’s very good, as many could probably predict seeing as how Molina’s been a stand-out actor, putting in great work, time and time again. With Octavius though, Molina not only gets to show a human-side to a person who could be seen as a total monster, but even makes us see those small spots of humanity, even while his mind is practically being taken over by the evil chip in his brain. Though he’s clearly not as hammy as Dafoe was (therefore, eliminating some of the fun), Molina still feels like a real person who has been utterly driven to do bad things, for bad reasons and under extreme circumstances. Sort of like how Sam Raimi must have felt doing the third movie.

But like I said: Different review, for a different day, folks. Just you all wait.

Consensus: With a perfect mixture of heart, humor, action, excitement, and fun, Spider-Man 2 will go down in the books as one of the best superhero sequels of all-time because it never forgets what makes its story kick as well as it does, while also not forgetting to give the audience the high-flying, ass-kicking action they come to expect with a product like this.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

How could you hate that heart-throb? I mean, heck, it's a freakin' subway he's holding back!

How could you hate that heart-throb? I mean, heck, it’s a freakin’ subway he’s holding back!

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

Inside Llewyn Davis (2013)

If Mumford & Sons weren’t featured on the soundtrack, this would have been a total slap-in-their-faces.

It’s New York City in 1961, and Llewyn Davis (Oscar Isaac) doesn’t quite know what to do with his life. He knows that he wants to continue being a musician, so that he can make the money, to get the house, to have a roof over his head that’s actually his, to have food to eat, to not rely on others, and basically, to just be left alone from the rest of the outside world. In case you may have not been able to tell now, Llewyn isn’t the type of guy people enjoy being around, or vice versa. He’s got a stingy attitude towards everything and everyone in his life, and with an ex of his coming out and saying she’s pregnant (Carey Mulligan), it seems like most of it all may be coming back to bite him in the rear-end. However, Llewyn Davis has a dream and he knows that if folk music isn’t the biggest thing since slice-bread in the Big Apple, then it may just be the case somewhere else, which is why he decides to venture out into the rural country-side and see if he can land some steady gigs, get a record-deal, get some nice cash-flow and eventually, settle into his own secluded life.

Need I remind you, this is a movie about folk music in the early-60’s? If you don’t already know the significance of that time-frame and genre of music, then I’ll just allow you to let it sit around and linger in your mind and see what I mean for yourself.

Get that cat a nomination too!

Get that cat a nomination too!

Here’s the thing with me and this movie: I love the Coen Brothers. Absoloutely, positively adore them, and if this past week was any indication of that whatsoever, then you’ll realize that I feel very strongly for these guys because of what they’re able to do with any plot or genre that comes their way. They’ve always had a knack for re-constructing genres to the best of their creative abilities and it’s never seemed to fall-back on them. They’ve always came out unscathed of something that may not have gone over so well with critics and audiences alike, but it doesn’t matter. You know why? Because they’re Joel and Ethan Coen, baby. And they can do whatever the hell they possibly please.

That’s why when I saw that they were making a film that’s was going to chronicle the life and times of this folk singer, during its hey-day in the early 60’s, something didn’t sit too well with me. I know that they appreciate folk music, but I don’t, and that’s where I was a little bit worried with this flick. I didn’t know what to expect, whether it be a love-note to this era of some sorts, or another one of their “stories that start out normal and simple, then turn into a complex tale of love, sex, lies and violence.” However, I got, neither. Instead, I just got a simple, slightly steady tale of a dude that practically hates almost everyone and everybody around him, yet makes some of the most beautiful folk music I have ever heard.

May not sound like much coming from my finger-tips, but trust me, if you’ve grown up in a day and age where hack bands like Mumford & Sons and The Lumineers are being called “the best rock bands around”, then you’d at least sympathize with me. Or at least see what angle I’m coming from. At least.

But that’s where this movie really caught me off-guard, in the best way at all possible. The Coen Brothers take this conventional story of a down-and-out folk singer, and rather than spin it in a way that has him reach some life-changing prophecy or realize that there’s more to life than just pissing and moaning about useless things in day-to-day life, we just get a story about a down-and-out folk singer, who pisses, moans and has a problem with everything, and/or everyone that comes at all into his path of wrath. Sounds like it would be one of the most grueling and uncomfortable experiences to have to sit-through the whole year, but knowing the Coens, like I know the Coens: They manage to pull it off perfectly and make this guy’s life one that’s full of all sorts of interesting and entertaining happenings, even if there’s nothing really happening in his life at all.

More than likely, we’ll get a scene or two, in a row, where it’s just Llewyn walking from one destination, to the other, with his guitar case in hand and sometimes a cat in the other, and we’ll just follow him. We are never told where, why or when this is all happening, but we just watch and keep our eyes peeled to the screen because everything that’s said, heard or felt, is raw and realistic. Sure, there’s plenty of colorful and hilarious moments of comedy that usually come from the Coen’s writing-style, which goes to make sure that this thing isn’t a total drab to watch, but overall, I didn’t care too much about that. All I did care about was, believe it or not, this guy Llewyn Davis; the type of person he was, is and what he sees himself as being in the near, not-too-distant future.

Sounds crazy, I know, but it just so happens that I fancy myself a Coen Brothers movie where practically nothing happens, and yet, so much does seem to be happening. It’s just all about looking closer at the way a certain somebody does something, how they say something or just how they are in general. I know I’m getting all emotional over here, but really, this flick will surprise you with how compelling it is, without really doing anything at all. I guess the Coens finally got tired of killing people, and decided that maybe it was time to take a chill-pill and just let their actors and mood do the talking.

And if my prediction is correct and that was their thought-process when making this movie, then smart move on their parts because it’s one of the best casts I’ve seen this year.

You’ve seen him many times before, but you can never match the face with the name. After this movie and this star-making performance, you better remember the name Oscar Isaac and you better be able to match the face. Why? Well, for starters, he’s in my profile picture (that’s always a plus in my book), and well, let’s just say that the guy is the total package: He can sing, play guitar, act, be funny, be sad, be mean, nasty, hilarious and do all of these sorts of things, and find a way to incorporate them all so perfectly into the character that is Llewyn Davis, one character I didn’t expect to like or even come close to caring for, but as time goes on and you realize that there’s a lot more simmering beneath this guy other than bouts of rage, you just can’t help but want to give him a high-five. Nothing too touchy feeley. Just yet, that is.

Anyway, what makes Isaac so amazing here is that the dude nails every aspect of this character that he needed to, and gives us the impression that we’re seeing a man for all that he is. Sometimes we can see a fictional character, and sometimes we can see a character made upon other elements of other people; but the whole time, I saw Oscar Isaac as Llewyn Davis, a guy who was not only a huge dick in his own right, but an entertaining dick that realizes all of the problems he causes in his life, and is trying to the best of his ability to make up for them. While he definitely doesn’t go about doing so in the best of ways, it’s the thought, in his mind, that counts, because while he is trying to make end’s meet with whomever is on the opposite end of his deal, he’s still never losing that edge that makes him such a smart guy that you want to be around, but never get into an argument with. Not only to top that off, but the dude can freakin’ sing his heart out and when it came right down to it, the guy brought a tear down my eye more than a few times. Not just with the weeping of his guitar, but with his soft singing voice, that shows more depth into his character than any back-story we ever hear about.

Oh, the good ol' days. You know? When you actually USED TO BE ABLE TO SMOKE ANYWHERE!

Oh, the good ol’ days. You know? When you actually USED TO BE ABLE TO SMOKE ANYWHERE!

And I could go on and on and on about how great the soundtrack is, but in all honesty: I won’t. The reason being is that the soundtrack is so good, that it should already speak for itself as is. And I’m telling you now, if “Please Mr. Kennedy” doesn’t walk away with the Oscar this year, then I’m straight-up protesting! You heard it here first, people! Mark my words!

Anyway, while Isaac is amazing in the lead role, as expected, so is everybody else in this supporting cast, which just goes to show you that the Coens never make a bad move on their parts. Carey Mulligan gets down, dirty and mean as the ex Llewyn screwed over and ever single chance she gets, she lets him have it in a very funny, entertaining way. However, once we do get past her usual tantrums of anger-spouting, we do get to see a gal that loved Llewyn, and probably still does, for the sad-sack, asshole that he is, which gives their scenes more emotion than I ever expected it to. Some may shiver and scratch their heads at the thought of Justin Timberlake showing up in a Coen Brothers flick, but the dude holds his own quite well, especially when most of what he does concerns singing and just being charming as hell. Same goes for Adam Driver who is another reason why that song up top mentioned is such perfection.

I said it once and I’ll say it again: Oscar-gold, baby! Oscar-gold!

However, the supporting cast doesn’t just begin with Mulligan and end with Driver; there are two other peeps in this cast that get a lot of attention for quite some time and are great at what they have to do, yet, don’t feel wholly in-sync with everything else that’s happening. In case I’m being too vague as it is, the two performers I’m talking about are John Goodman as an aging blues musician who gives Davis a bit of a run for his money in the insults department, while Garrett Hedlund plays his brooding and mysterious driver, Johnny Five. While both were a treat to watch, especially Goodman who just revels in playing a total dick whenever he sees fit, they fit more with the Coens’ more off-kilter flicks like Barton Fink, or Blood Simple, or if you really wanted to get crazy, Raising Arizona. Nothing against them as performers, but they felt more like caricatures, rather than actual living, breathing human beings that had hearts, emotions and feelings, like Llewyn and the type of people he hated to surround himself with. Like I said though, nothing against them and their performances, it’s just that they could have easily been placed in another Coen Brother flick, and probably fit like gloves. Here though, they just seem a tad too goofy, especially since you know Dylan’s just around the corner.

Consensus: Rather than giving us a strange, slightly odd flick that just so happened to involve the folk music scene and singers, the Coen Brothers make Inside Llewyn Davis a sad, heartfelt, but overall, complex look inside the life of a guy that you’d never thought you care about or want to spend time with, yet, with Isaac’s superb performance and the Coen’s writing, you never want to leave his side.

8.5 / 10 = Matinee!!

Just a man, his guitar and his voice. Who just so happens to not be Bob Dylan.

Just a man, his guitar and his voice. Who just so happens to NOT be Bob Dylan.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net