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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 Warshofsky

Wilson (2017)

Life’s crap. So talk it out.

Wilson (Woody Harrelson) is a guy who, well, likes to talk. To anyone. About anything. Most of the time, though, he just annoys people by being outspoken, always having something on his mind, and normally, being smart and well-equipped for any conversation. It makes him a nice guy, but also someone who doesn’t quite like the world, making him feel more lonely and isolated. That’s why he decides to track down Pippa (Laura Dern), the ex-wife who left him 17 years earlier. And while they reconnect and everything seems to be great and wonderful, wouldn’t you know it, that the two actually have a kid together, in the form of Claire (Isabella Amara). And while she gave her up for adoption, Wilson decides to bring Pippa along for the ride of finding Claire, getting to know her, and striking up something of a relationship that was clearly missed out on before. It’s something that Wilson wants and, at this point in his life, needs. But it’s also something that may prove to be his ultimate undoing and a true sign that he needs to get with the times and grow up a bit.

I don’t know if she’s shocked that he found their kid, or that they had sex together to begin with?

Wilson is from the masterful brain and mind of Daniel Clowes, who knows a thing or two about making fun of the social norm and everyday life that is regular society. And in this movie, we do get a bunch of that; constant conversations about technology, life, love, friendships, work, and so on and so forth, casually gets discussed and honestly, they verge on being brilliant. Clowes is a smart writer who actually has an ear for dialogue, even if the dialogue does lead to characters just going on and on about silly stuff.

In a way, he’s a pessimistic Kevin Smith, for better and for worse.

But what’s odd about Wilson is that it feels like a lot of that brilliance gets lost in the shuffle of a story that doesn’t quite make sense, nor ever really come together. It’s as if director Craig Johnson knew that Clowes’ material was great and hilarious, but also realized that in order to make this all work in one, cohesive picture, he needed to create a story, with plot-archs, character-development, and well, feelings. He gets some of that right, but really, it feels like he’s straining a bit; it’s almost as if he just wants to keep on sitting by and listening to these conversations and not really get brought down by something as lame and conventional as plot.

Life is grand. So stop talking about it, bro!

And who could blame him? As Wilson, Woody Harrelson is pretty great, showing a funny, nice, and rather sweet guy, who often times gets brought down by his own anger and frustration with the world around him. It’s a role that could have been very one-note and, well, boring, but Harrelson handles this kind of thing with absolute charm, allowing for the material to click when it should. And the rest of the ensemble, with Isabella Amara, Judy Greer and Laura Dern, among others, are all pretty good, too, showing off a great deal of lightness and fun, even when the material gets sort of stuck.

And it’s why Wilson can often times be a disappointment. Johnson’s past two movies (True Adolescents, The Skeleton Twins) have both been thoughtful, smart, and heartfelt looks inside the lives of people we only see in indie-movies. While that can sometimes give off a negative breath of air, in ways, it works for him. He tries to do the same thing with Wilson, but mostly, he gets lost in a plot that doesn’t know what it wants to be about. Does it want for Wilson to grow up and accept his responsibilities? Does it want him to leave his only child alone? Does it want him to be sad? More depressed? Fed-up with the world around him?

Honestly, I’m not sure. And nor do I think Wilson himself is, hence why this is a bit of a disappointment. So much more could have been done, had there been more attention paid to the things that truly, honestly matter.

Consensus: Wilson has some streaks of absolute hilarity, but mostly, feels like a sad attempt on trying to string together a bunch of character-beats and ideas, alongside a plot that doesn’t gel.

6 / 10

They’re a happy family. They’re a happy family.

Photos Courtesy of: Roger EbertThe PlaylistFilm Blerg

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The Two Faces of January (2014)

Stop fibbing, already!

Rydal (Oscar Isaac) is a low-time swindler who, while vacationing and, assumingly, ripping people off in Greece, meets a very wealthy couple, Chester MacFarland and Colette (Viggo Mortensen and Kirsten Dunst). Though he doesn’t know much about them, where they came from, who the hell they are, and how they both got so damn rich, he is still somehow intrigued by them and decides to join them on a dinner late one night. It goes off splendidly, with the two parties leaving one another and hoping that each of their lives entangle once again. Well, sometimes, what you wish for, isn’t exactly what you want to get. After the two parties separate, Rydal realizes that he has to give Colette her wedding ring back, but while doing so, he discovers Chester getting rid of a body of a man that he presumed to be an FBI agent. What the agent was doing in Greece and tracking down Chester, is totally beyond Rydal’s knowledge, but now they’re in this together. Meaning, all three of them are on the run and have to find whichever ways they can figure out to escape the police who, seemingly, should be hot on their tails as more and more information comes out about who these people are, their past and why they are running and hiding in the first place.

If you’ve ever seen the Talented Mr. Ripley, then you’ve kind of seen the Two Faces of January. It’s probably no accident either, because both are adaptations of Patricia Highsmith novels, and both concern the same kind of themes and ideas constantly thrown around: People not appearing to be who they say they are, crime, lies, murder, beautiful locations, etc. And while the former film, is definitely better than the later, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some fun to be had here; it’s just that there’s all you really need here, fun.

"What you say?"

“What you say?”

See, though this movie definitely flirts with the idea of being about how we all, as a society and just basic, pure human beings, lie to protect ourselves from the real truth of the world and those around us, it’s mostly just a suspense-thriller that features a bunch of people on the run. Whether or not they’re who they actually say they are, is totally left up to us, the audience, to make our own conclusions.

And yes, people, that’s where most of the fun to be had in the Two Faces of January can be found: Constantly guessing. Not just who these people are and why they actually lie as much as they do, but where exactly this story is going to take place next. Because honestly, there’s only so many lovely locations a movie can take place in, but better yet, there’s also only so many actual places these characters can escape and constantly be on the run towards. That doesn’t mean the film is over-the-top or too crazy to handle, but there is something to be said for a movie in which we are repeatedly being shown certain areas of Greece that not even the most dedicated tour-guide could.

Which basically means that if you’re seeing this movie now, in the fall, where the weather outside is more than likely going to get a bit chillier, you’re going to be incredibly bummed-out and want to hop on that next plane to Greece as soon as humanly possible! Trust me, I did and I saw this nearly two days ago!

Damn, I’m already missing summer.

Anyway, like I was saying before, this movie really isn’t much more than “cons play mind games on other cons”, which is yes, very fun, but also, made it a bit better that the three actors playing these cons are very good with what they’re given. Oscar Isaac plays Rydal like he seems to play every character of his: Smart, charming and handsome, yet, always seems to have a sinister side to him that he isn’t afraid to utilize to his advantage. The guy’s made a killing off of these sort of roles and while we want to think of him as “the bad guy”, because of the way he looks and how we’re introduced to his character (he’s taking money from very naive, very foreign girls), we soon find out that he really isn’t. He’s just a human being is all, and sometimes, humans have to make certain choices that don’t always benefit the others around them.

The same could be said for Viggo Mortensen’s Chester; we’re supposed to think he’s a low-level con that has hardly any soul, or moral compass, but we soon realize that he too, is just another misguided guy trying to make a living, as well as the woman he loves, happy. Mortensen is another actor like Isaac who can sometimes seem like a bad guy, only because of the menacing look he constantly has on his face, but there’s shades of his character being a genuinely good guy that just wants to save his ass, regardless of anybody else’s. Sure, he’s a selfish-fellow, but given the circumstances of some of the situations he’s thrown into, I can’t help but assume that plenty others would be acting the same way, too.

Oh yeah, old guy, don't mind that dude sitting next to you or anything. He's just going to be in the next Star Wars for god's sakes!!

Oh yeah, old guy, don’t mind that dude sitting next to you or anything. He’s just going to be in the next Star Wars for god’s sakes!!

Just saying, people. Just saying.

The only one I have yet to really mention is Kirsten Dunst, which is actually on purpose because her character isn’t all that well-written. Sure, she’s definitely charming, sweet and honest, whereas nobody else around her seems to be, but there’s just a dull-presence about her that kept making me wish the creative-team involved gave her more than just being the damsel in distress. Also, say what you want about her, but Kirsten Dunst, when given the right material to work with, can really do wonders. It’s just such a shame she isn’t allowed to really show her fellow male co-stars off, like I totally know she’s capable of doing.

Damn men and their penises. Damn them to hell!

Consensus: Nothing more than a simple game of cat-and-mouse between a trio of talented leads, the Two Faces of January never really transcends its narrow plot, but doesn’t quite need to, considering it’s fun to watch these characters mess with one another.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Ah, this seems like a good place to continue on running and hiding from the law."

“Ah, this here land seems like the perfect place to continue on running and hiding from the law.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Fair Game (2010)

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

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

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

She blends in real nice.

She blends in real nice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even if they just so happen to be Sean Penn.

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

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

 

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

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

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Captain Phillips (2013)

Move on over, Captain Jack. There’s a new king of the seas!

Rich Phillips (Tom Hanks) is your everyday boat captain. He’s a family man, he knows what’s right with the world, what isn’t, he’s strict, he’s determined, he doesn’t quite play-well with others, but he’s cautious to a certain point. However, the cautious-nature that makes him who he is may help him out this time when four Somalian armed-pirates jump aboard his ship and take hostages, demanding money. Phillips is more than able to oblige, but he realizes that these four are some insanely dangerous people you do not want to mess with, especially when they have AK-47s pointed directly at his face. But Phillips doesn’t allow for that to get in his way too much and finds the solution to their problems by giving them all of the money he has in his vault; all $3,000 of it. Obviously, as you could expect, the pirates know that they can’t go back with that chump-change and needed a bigger bang for their buck. So, like any normal-thinking human-being anchoring a hostage-situation, they decide to kidnap Phillips and put his life on the line so that they can get more money through ransom. They don’t realize though, it ain’t that easy when you’re working the U.S. army, baby! And Richard Phillips too, but this isn’t even his story, right?

"Jenny?"

“Jenny?”

While many out there (myself included) have been a bit skeptical of Greengrass’ career and how long his “frantic, shaky-cam” gimmick would run dry, the man always finds a way to keep us coming back for more. More for him, more for the material he chooses to adapt, and best of all, more for the disastrous, real-life situations he chooses to display and re-create, if you will. The man did it with United 93, one of the most dreadful, yet, powerful pieces of cinema about 9/11 you’ll ever see, and hell, despite the story not being as known to me as that deadly tragedy was, he does the same thing again with Captain Phillips, the true tale of a man who threw himself into a deadly situation and somehow, someway, came out by the skin of his teeth.

That’s not a spoiler, by the way. So please, please do not get all up in my grill, because in all honesty, it doesn’t matter. Knowing the outcome beforehand or not knowing won’t make a single lick of a difference because Greengrass, using any skill he has in his tool-belt without over-doing it, makes this movie so freakin’ tense, so sweaty, so gripping, and so suspenseful, that you may even, at one point, wonder just what the hell is going to happen. So many movies that are based on real-life events try so hard to make you feel that tense in the most manipulative ways possible, but not this one. Greengrass knows better and believe it or not, seems like he’s learned from his mistakes and dials-down a lot of his gimmicks.

No loud, swelling music trying to make you feel a certain way; none of the infamous “crack-cam”; no fake emotions trying to make you see Phillips story from all sorts of perspectives; and thankfully, not a single piece of forced-patriotism thrown onto us, as if Greengrass wants us to be chanting, “U.S.A.!!! U.S.A.!!!”, by the end of it. And even if that was the case, it probably still would have worked because he finds a way to make you gain hope in anybody who’s just trying to survive this situation and save Phillips life if they can. Even Phillips himself who, despite being played by everybody’s favorite actor, doesn’t really come off as the nicest guy in the world, yet you still care for him.

And you can totally credit that to Hanks’ utter-charm that has him win over anybody he meets, in real-life or in the movies, but you can also credit that to Greengrass for giving us a guy who feels real, doesn’t feel like the happiest/most pleasant person on the face planet, and may even be a bit of a dick. Yet, you still care for him and realize that every step he makes, good or bad, may be a step he takes to his grave or to his warm, cozy bed at home. Either way, he’s going to get out of this situation one way or another, and he will stop at nothing to make sure he comes out of this alive. And if not, well then, he’ll make sure he’s the only one because it’s his ship, his decisions, and his life that he’s throwing out on the line. Nobody else’s and if that doesn’t make him a natural-born hero, then I don’t know what the hell does!

But, like I was saying about Tom Hanks, you know you love the guy in almost anything he shows up in (Larry Crowne included) because lord knows I do. Problem is, the man hasn’t really been showing much of his talent lately. Sure, he’s taken some interesting projects here and there, but nothing to the point of where I was reminded why this man is usually regarded as one of the best working today, best of all time, and why the hell he won two Oscars, back-to-back! Needless to say, I was a bit worried seeing him here as Richard Phillips as it seemed like the type of role that would have had him talking all of the time, being loud, trying to be charming, and not allowing me, not for a single second, to get past the fact that it was Tom Hanks playing a role.

Which one's blackbeard?

Which one’s blackbeard?

Instead, Hanks totally showed me up, and I’m glad he did so. Not only did he have me believe that he was this frightened, desperate man in this very tense hostage-situation, but he also had me believe that he could get out of it alive if he just used his smarts and brains a bit. Granted, he’s not the nicest guy in the world, like I said before, and we don’t get to know too much about his background other than that he loves his wife, his kids, and is scared that the times are changin’. But that small crap doesn’t matter because Hanks gives one of his best performances in the past decade or so and it gives me more and more faith in him as his career continues to chive on.

As for those “Oscar whispers” he’s getting, he totally deserves all of them and should get a nomination, no matter what. Hanks was great throughout the whole movie by the way he was able to still have us care for him without using his insane-amounts of charm, but nothing measures up to the last 5 minutes of the film, and what he does in front of the camera. You’ll be hearing a lot of people talk about these final moments for quite some time, and with good reason: They’re so emotional, so effective, and so inspiring, that you’ll be absolutely astonished how Greengrass and Hanks were able to come together and make it work so damn well, and in such a realistic, honest matter as well. Just watch these final minutes and you’ll see what I mean. One of the best, most memorable scenes of the year that I’ll most likely be remembering for years to come.

As for the rest of the cast, with the exception of a 5-minute role from Catherine Keener as Phillips loving, but barely seen wife, it’s character-actor central, with the occasional unknown thrown in for good measure. Everybody in this cast is good, but the one that really caught me off-guard was newcomer Barkhad Abdi as Muse, the leader of these Somalian pirates, and the one that takes charge early on. The one aspect behind this movie that could have really tore it down was how completely one-sided its view-point could have come off as being, and while Greengrass sure as hell doesn’t support these pirates actions, he still shows them as human-beings doing something so inhumane and so evil like threatening somebody’s life, but also giving them reasons for why it is that they are doing so. Greengrass never tries to make us feel bad for them to the point of where it’s near-Liberalism, but he does hold his hand out to them a bit more than usual, more for Abdi who you feel the worst for, because you know he’s not a bad guy, he just does bad things due to outside influence. Still, they were Somalian pirates that tried to kill a man for money. That immoral behavior should never be forgiven, no matter who commits it.

Consensus: The story is one we may all know, yet, Captain Phillips is still one of the most compelling, most tense thrillers of the whole year with plenty of food-for-thought and a Tom Hanks performance that anchors the material the whole through; keeping it humane, grounded, and placed in a sense of reality, as if we are really seeing this happen in front of our faces, the way it’s meant to be seen and understood.

9 / 10 = Full Price!!

"No no no! I forbid you from eating mah box of chocolates!"

“No no no! I forbid you from eating mah box of chocolates!”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, Collider, Joblo, ComingSoon.net

Now You See Me (2013)

Imagine if David Copperfield, David Blaine, and Criss Angel got together to rob a bank. It would never happen.

They are known as The Four Horsemen, and they are made up of four magicians (Jesse Eisenberg, Isla Fisher, Woody Harrelson, and Dave Franco), who have found themselves in some hot water, after being considered suspects in a bank-robbery that occurred in France, while they were taking bunnies out of hats in Las Vegas. However, FBI agent Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) doesn’t believe this shite and along with his rookie Interpol investigator (Melanie Laurent) and well-known magic debunker (Morgan Freeman), they band together and figure out what is real and what isn’t. But in the world of magic: what you see, isn’t always something you can believe. Or, is it? Who the fuck knows!

Movies about magicians are sort of like real-life ones: they’re interesting in the way that you want to see what they pull off, how they pull it off, and where all the time and effort comes into play. Add that with a whole crime-caper aspect, and you got yourself something that might just be a bit of a winner, in terms of the audience and the box-office. But after awhile, like most magic tricks you see in real life, once the secret is revealed; you believe in certain things, and you don’t believe in others. It’s all a matter of time until the cracks begin to show, and that is exactly what goes down with this movie.

But hey, at least it starts out fine and dandy, for the most part. What was surprising the most about this flick is that how after the first 25 minutes, instead of having all of our attention and eyes locked onto the Horseman, we then find ourselves watching and following the story of the cop who’s trying to figure out just what the hell they did. Some will be surprised, some will be pissed, some will think it’s a clever-way of presenting the twists, and some will just be content. Overall though, it was a smart move on the movie’s part, because it puts us in the dark about what really happened, almost as much as it puts the cop himself in as well.

Like her real-life hubby: she's fucking with everybody.

Like her real-life hubby: she’s fucking with everybody.

Once this part of the story gets going, then things get a bit conventional with the typical, “cops-and-robbers” film that we have seen all of the time, except now: WITH MAGIC! It is interesting to see how these peeps pulled off have of these tricks and what expenses they went to in order to make them happen, but the problem I had the most was that it just didn’t all add up. I’m not one of those guys who gets crazy about a movie that has to deal with sci-fi, the powers that be, or some sort of mystical powers some person might have, because I know it’s all made for the purpose of being somewhat fake and unrealistic, but here; it felt like a cheat. That’s all thanks to Louis Leterrier who doesn’t seem like the type of director I’d trust with this material, since the guy isn’t really known for his smart, tricky moves.

But what the guy is known for, is mainstream film making, and that shows so evidently because of the way he is able to constantly mess with our minds by doing quick-cuts, fast-editing, and non-stop music blasting throughout the whole thing, as if we were at a rave, popped-up on some of the finest X (I could have only wished). By doing all of this, Leterrier is trying to distract us into thinking that everything that is being revealed to the characters and us, is reasonable and believable in a world where magicians are the top, money-makers of the world. As much as it may work on the average, movie-going audience, it did not work on this cynical, d-bag film critic.

Once the reveals are (ahem) revealed, we see what this movie is trying to throw down our throats and trying to make us believe in, but it doesn’t work because not a single bit of it seems like it could have actually happened, real-life or not. The Horseman start off as magicians that can pull off some neat tricks and whatnot, but after awhile, we see that they are more or less a bunch of meticulous planners that knew exactly what they wanted to do, at what time, when, who, where, and how, but it rarely makes sense once we see it all. However, Leterrier isn’t too concerned with that and instead; just wants to entertain the hell out of us with his spastic direction that honestly never seems to take a chill pill. Even when two peeps are just talking, Leterrier seems bored and almost like he needs to get going, or his dosage of ADD meds will ware down and he’ll have to take another five.

And entertained is what we are for the most part, but when the entertainment-value is mostly based on what we believe in, and the tricks the movie plays on us; then it gets a bit sour and unbelievable. I’m usually down for any movie that wants to give us a bunch of twists and not always giving us the right clues to set our minds straight, but it has to be done in an understandable manner, that doesn’t seem just to be used for mind-fucking us. Even the ending itself is a bit of a mind-fuck, if only for the fact that it seems preposterous, even after all of the time that we spent with these characters, this plot, and this heck-of-a-mystery.

At least the ensemble is amazing, right? Well, sort of. Nobody in the cast really sucks the wind out of the movie and brings it down by the antlers, except for Leterrier who seems to have an awesome cast of characters on his plate, yet, doesn’t know what to do with them so instead, just gives them a bunch of two-dimensional characters, lets them play around, and hope that they do the job he was supposed to be doing in the first place. Maybe it’s not such a bad strategy for some directors, but when you have a cast this good and a plot this interesting, you need more, more, more! Come on, Louis!

"See this card? Next second, it won't be there due to our impressive usage of CGI."

“See this card? Next second, it won’t be there due to our impressive usage of CGI.”

Jesse Eisenberg is a good fit as the egotistical, cocky leader of the Four Horseman who obviously seems to know it all and have more confidence on display than we have ever seen from him before; Isla Fisher is sweet, sexy, and sassy as his former-assistant, who seems to be more of the brains of the group, rather than the boobs (although they are as fine as can be); Woody Harrelson seems to be having buckets of fun as the hypnotist of the group, and looks like the only dude out of this cast who was in on the joke; and Dave Franco is still coming up fine in his career, playing the youngest member of the group, with a chip on his shoulder, and plenty of time to learn and think. All are fine together, but since the movie is less concerned with their dynamic, and more about the tricks they pull off; each and every performance seems like a bit of a waste.

And instead, the movie’s more focused on Mark Ruffalo as Dylan Rhodes, our cop for the 2 hours. It doesn’t suck that the movie is based-around Ruffalo’s character and whether or not this dude figures out just what to get done, but it doesn’t help that his character is at least a bit boring. Ruffalo does all that he can with this dude by giving him the scruff, the loosened-tie, and the few sips of a Jack Daniels, but he still isn’t as interesting as you would have liked to see, especially coming from the guy who can make any character he plays worth watching. However, being a lover of Ruffalo, I still have to give the guy credit for at least trying to make this character work, going out of his way, and at least showing some effort. Hell, even if the attraction between him and Laurent doesn’t quite work, at least you want to see them together in the end.

And last, but sure as hell not least, we have the men with the plans: Michael Caine and Morgan Freeman. Together, these two are dynamite and seem to be having the times of their lives just playing-off one another and seeing what they can pull-off next. But even when they are separated and moving on with their own stories, they still seem to be having butt-loads of fun, and really make this movie more entertaining, just with their charm and wit. Obviously Caine gets the shorter-end-of-the-stick with his slightly maniacal character, but nonetheless, the dude still seems to have that sprinkle in his eye that makes you want to give him a big-ass hug.

Consensus: Though it has the ideas and promise that may make any, average moviegoer locked and loaded for a good time, Now You See Me still comes off as a cheat that was made for the sole purpose that it would mess with our minds, yet, not really make much sense by doing so. It would just trick us into being tricked, and leave with our money in it’s hands.

5.5 / 10 = Rental!!

"Okay, I get most of it. But what the hell did he do with the card I originally had?"

“Okay, I get most of it. But what the hell did he do with the card I originally had?”

The Master (2012)

Move over Katie Holmes, Tom Cruise officially has a new arch-enemy.

A charismatic intellectual named Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman) launches a religious organization following World War II. A drifter named Freddie Quell  (Joaquin Phoenix) becomes his right-hand man, but as the faith begins to gain a fervent following, the drifter finds himself questioning the belief system and his mentor.

Whether you’re a Scientologist and have been waiting to protest outside of every movie theater across the nation, have been waiting to see the return of “normal” Joaquin Phoenix, or have been waiting to see what writer/director P.T. Anderson has kept himself busy with over the past 5 years, chances are, you’ve been pretty amped for this flick, as well as I have been. I mean hell, I reviewed two movies, from the same director, for the past two days! I rarely do that, and I was definitely willing to make an exception for this guy just because he once again, proves that he is one of the best directors we have working in America today. Without a doubt.

One thing that could be said about this tale (but not taken away from, however) is that a lot of it plays out in the same vein as There Will Be Blood. Don’t believe me? Okay, well think about this: instead of oil, you have religion; instead of oil tycoon Daniel Plainview, you have religion-starter Lancaster Dodd; instead of the loose-cannon Eli, you have the loose-cannon Freddie; and instead of the relationship between Daniel and Eli being at the fore-front, you have the relationship between Freddie and Lancaster. The only difference here is that Freddie and Lancaster actually seem to get along with one another, rather than drinking each other’s milkshakes. But I digress.

Whatever way you want to look at this film, you cannot deny the artful skill and compelling nature that lies behind every frame of this movie that Anderson beautifully constructs. From a technical standpoint, this film honestly could not be any better as certain scenes will just have you forgetting about what’s going on screen by how beautiful and wonderful they look. Anderson captures the look and feel of the 50’s as if he actually took a DeLorean back to those days, along with his film crew, and just started filming right on the spot. The long landscape shots that Anderson captures are even more beautiful and breathtaking as the ones he took in There Will Be Blood and I highly suggest you see it in the 70MM way it was meant to be seen in. I would like to complain and say that it was almost distracting how wonderful this film looked sometimes because it really does take your eyes off the action at-hand, but I can’t diss art and that’s exactly what Anderson has painted here.

Then of course, you got the score from Johnny Greenwood that uses the same exact trifling with sounds as he used in There Will Be Blood, but this time almost plays out a bit differently as Anderson gets back into the grand scheme of things by allowing pop-music to ironically poke it’s head into some key scenes that will probably fit any type of emotion Anderson was going for in the first place. No, there’s no Sister Christian or Aimee Mann songs to jam out too, but still some nice quality tunes that shows Anderson is the perfect guy for when it comes to meshing music with scenes.

One of the biggest buzzes surrounding this flick is whether or not this is Anderson’s take on the early days of L. Ron Hubbard’s Scientology. There are a whole bunch of similarities between “The Cause” and Scientology, but Anderson never seems like he feels the need to go so far and just openly describes what it is and that was a pretty brave step coming from Anderson as he could have taken as many cheap-shots as he wanted to with this subject material. However, this does give him plenty of room and opportunity to talk about religion and whether or not this “Cause” is actually good for any of the people that follow it. You can tell that these people love being able to believe in something that makes them feel like they live in a beautiful and wondrous world, but at the bottom of it all though is the fact that some of this may just be all based on a bunch of lies. But still, even though this seems like an area that Anderson can get into and almost badger the hell out of, he smartly doesn’t and allow the viewers to make up their own interpretations about whether or not this religion is the right one to follow. Once again, another brave move by Anderson and shows you why he is in fact, one of the smartest-working writers and directors on the planet. That’s right, ON THE PLANET.

But as much as this film may seem to be about this underground religion and all of the effects it has on its people, this film is really all about the relationship between the two main characters: Freddie Quell and Lancaster Dodd. Both are very, very different from one another as one is the leader of a smooth-talking, happy-all-the-time “religion”, and the other one is just a drifter who can never seem to control his anger, or his drinking for that matter. This contrast between the two characters is probably one of the most interesting and entertaining aspects of this whole flick because we see them both work wonders for each other in ways that we thought weren’t even imaginable from the first meeting the two. They actually care for each other and both want what’s best for them, even if they don’t fully make it work every single time they try. One scene that comes to my mind the best when I think of the relationship between the two is when Dodd actually tells the cops to not hurt Freddie, even after he continues to beat the ever loving crap out of them all. It’s one of the most memorable scenes in the whole film not because it’s a turning-point for the whole direction in where the story was headed, but because it shows you the depths of the relationship these two have together.

What I think makes the relationship between them both the most memorable, is the fact that they are played so brilliantly by its two leads: Joaquin Phoenix and Philip Seymour Hoffman. I was so damn happy to see Joaquin back in full-on acting mode because it’s performances like these that make me realize the type of talent this guy has that shouldn’t be wasted on a faux-rap career. Phoenix is mesmerizing as Freddie Quell because he brings all of that vent-up frustration and strangeness that he had with his “character” in I’m Still Here, and let’s that play-out in a way that’s as memorable as it is compelling. You can tell that this guy is going to flip any chance he gets the chance to and it’s pretty obvious that he doesn’t have the best conscience out there, either. However, there are a couple of key scenes that show Freddie in a very sympathetic light that may have you understand why this guy is always so off his rocker. He comes off as a fully-realized character that has plenty of sides to him and you honestly can’t take your eyes off of. This performance is nowhere near the type of actor’s play-day performance Daniel Day-Lewis had with Plainview, but it’s still something that’s worth loving and remembering come Oscar time.

Then, you got Hoffman playing the type of Plainview-like character as Lancaster Dodd, a character that couldn’t have honestly been played by anybody else except for Hoffman. Hoffman does a great job with Dodd because he plays the character, like a guy that has so much charisma, so much heart, and so much warmth to him that it makes you realize why everybody feels so close to him that they could follow him and every word he speaks out. He’s almost reminiscent of Orson Welles in a way of how he’s all tight-lipped with his speeches and rarely ever loses his cool, but when he does, it’s one of the more memorable scenes since we see this character slowly start to unravel right in front of our eyes. It’s not like this character is treated like an evil piece of crap that nobody should care for, but is instead shown off to be a guy that believes in his own way of life and wants to spread that across to everybody else. Yeah, that could be viewed at as a bad thing but the film never quite portrays it as that and it’s another brave step Anderson was not only able to take with this story, but this character that Hoffman has also fully-realized in his own charismatic way.

Some may be surprised to see that Amy Adams doesn’t have a bigger role here as Dodd’s wife, Peggy, but does a nice job giving her character a very dark turn that I wasn’t expecting in the least bit. Still, out of the other two, she sort of comes off as the weakest-link and could have used a bigger and better role to be more substantial to everything that’s going on and the plot itself. Everybody else is good here too, and I like how Anderson made every character in this cast worth something and have their own moment, even if it may only be for a second or two.

So, here I am, going on and on and on about this flick and how amazing it is and you are probably sitting there wondering, “Oh em gee! Is he going to give it the prized 10/10 I haven’t seen in God knows how long??!?!”. Well, no. Sorry to burst your bubble everyone but this film did still have some problems in its own right and it’s that I think the emotional connection for this film was a bit more off this time around, probably due to the fact that the story is always weaving around and whatnot. With Daniel Plainview, it was easier to follow this character and know him for all that he was because it mostly just about him doing his own, evil thing, but here, the story goes back-and-forth between Freddie and Lancaster so much that it was a bit hard to build-up the tears when that ending came around. Also, there was this really strange scene that had to do with Amy Adams, Hoffman, and a bathroom that is still fresh in my mind because it made no sense and seems to be a bit misplaced in a film that seemed to really go for it all, in terms of being sane and keeping itself in reality. Still though, minor quibbles if you ask me.

Consensus: The Master could easily be a title that director P.T. Anderson is giving himself, because that is exactly what this guy is. Everything from the visuals, to the landscapes, to the score, to the performances, to the fully-developed story, to the religion movement; all are done with the masterful craft of Anderson and is sure to be one of the films to watch out for, come Oscar season.

9/10=Full Price!!