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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Denzel Washington

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017)

Don’t let the system get you down. Even though it eventually will.

Roman J. Israel, Esq. (Denzel Washington) is a defense attorney living in Los Angeles who, despite his pure and inner-genius, doesn’t really know how to deal with other people. It’s why his mentor, for the most part, handles the clients and all that jazz, whereas Roman handles all of the paperwork, the stats, and so on and so forth. It’s what’s made them both successful over the years, while also allowing them to stay true to themselves as strong-willed, independent, and powerful black men trying to prove injustice within the system. However, that all changes when Roman’s mentor dies, the firm is sold, and Roman is left without a job. That is, until corporate lawyer, George Pierce (Colin Farrell) shows up, likes what he sees in Roman, and decides that he wants him there for his firm, but obviously doing what he did before: Handling paper-work, stats, and all that jazz. It’s what Roman does best and because he’s at a much better firm, he’s making a lot more money, which also means that there’s a lot more temptation to do the wrong thing and get swept up in all of the fame, fortune, success, and most of all, corruption.

“So uh, nice weather we’re having. I think? I guess? I don’t know.”

Roman J. Israel, Esq. is a few different movies rolled into one and jammed in altogether, they don’t really work. One is a character-study about a guy, who is essentially “on the spectrum”, trying to get by in a world that doesn’t know what to make of him. Another is a formulaic, crime-thriller about a lawyer and his shady-dealings. And lastly, the other is about an older black man, trying to stay true to himself and the cause, even while it seems like the world around him could care less about him or what he’s fighting for.

Through all of the mess, however, Washington remains a shining glimmer of hope. Not only does Washington take this role on, head first, but he makes Israel’s constant quirks and trademarks, interesting. We get the feeling that this man’s had an issue with people all of his life, but when it started, why he’s still like that, and what he does on any normal day, is very interesting to watch. We get a sense that Israel’s a very sad man who wants to do what is right, but at the same time, can’t really make sense of how dark and evil the world can truly get. He’s almost like a child; loud, a little bratty, rude, and despite dealing with some awful crimes, from even more awful people, a little naive about how awful the world is.

White man employing a sad, somewhat mentally-disturbed black man, all for the sake of profit. Anyone see a problem with this? Gilroy?

It’s a terrific performance that is, unfortunately, trapped in a movie that, like Israel himself, doesn’t always know what to make of itself.

That said, writer/director Dan Gilroy knows how to make this material, for the most part, work. You can tell that Gilroy wants to go deep into the mean and dirty corruption of the justice-system, but also wants to discuss race-relations, how a certain SJW can also lose themselves to a system that sucks them all up and spits them back out, while also not forgetting about Israel himself. The movie, for lack of a better word, isn’t dull; Gilroy keeps things moving and compelling, even when he himself seems to be spiraling a tad out of control. Had the movie featured one or two dull subplots, then yeah, it would have been a problem, but they all do remain worth watching and paying attention to it.

It’s just that, once again, in the context of the rest of the movie, it just doesn’t fully come together. Washington, Farrell, and Carmen Ejogo, all remain great and help the material jump off of the screen, but Gilroy also gets a bit carried away, going down different avenues for his story, then back-peddling to his original story, when it’s almost too late. It reminds me of that episode of Community when Abed was looking for a B-story to fulfill the whole episode, but rather than finding one, the A-story just continued and was interesting enough, therefore, making the B-story, inessential. That’s how Israel feels: It’s in search of more stories, more plots, and more conflicts, when really, one is enough.

One is all it needed.

Consensus: With all the different strands of plot going on, Roman J. Israel, Esq. can’t help but feel jumbled and stuffed, but also gets by on being a compelling look at the justice-system, as well as an interesting character-study on its titled-character, played to perfection by a charming Washington.

6.5 / 10

Denzel, preparing for all those damn awards-speeches.

Photos Courtesy of: Sony Pictures

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Fences (2016)

Man, dads can be a drag.

Troy Maxon (Denzel Washington) could have had it all. He was a great baseball player who could have made it in the pros, but considering he was black and this was America during the 30’s and 40’s, black people just weren’t allowed in professional sports. So of course, he didn’t get to live out his dream and is now working as a trash man in Pittsburgh, with his lovely wife Rose (Viola Davis), his talented son Cory (Jovan Adepo), his freeloading son Lyons (Russell Hornsby), and his special brother Gabe (Mykelti Williamson). For Troy, though, everything’s all good – he’s working on putting up a fence around his place and is enjoying time he spends with his wife. However, Troy’s also got a bit of a temper and a bit of a drinking problem, which means that with a combo like that, he tends to get in people’s faces about stuff that he shouldn’t be. But because Troy is very antagonistic, he chooses fights that he sometimes can’t win and due to this, he begins to push those away from him more and more, leaving him to make even worse mistakes.

In case you didn’t know, or better yet, never had to suffer through Intro to Theater, Fences is actually a play by August Wilson. If you didn’t know this and saw the movie version of Fences, you’d probably get the picture real soon and think this immediately. Why?

Uh oh. Denzel mad. Look out.

Uh oh. Denzel mad. Look out.

Because like so many other adaptations of plays before it, Fences feels very stagey.

Which okay, may not be the worst thing, but at times, can still be awfully distracting, especially when the person who is adapting it to the screen, isn’t really trying everything that they can to make it more than just a bunch of people standing in the same room for roughly a half-hour, talking about something that was said nearly ten minutes prior. And Denzel Washington, while a good director, for some reason, doesn’t feel the need to actually get out in the world, live a little, and get this material going elsewhere. Sure, you can call this adaptation “faithful”, but does that mean it was a smart move to be that way?

Probably not and that’s why a good portion of Fences, while compelling, can still feel like it’s stuck inside of itself. It’s the kind of movie where people talk a whole lot and while a lot of it can be interesting to watch and listen to, a lot of it also does feel like filler. Washington, as well as everyone else here, has actually performed this play countless of times, so it makes sense that he would feel such a love and affection for it as to not change a single thing about it, but by the same token, there are bits and pieces that need to be updated.

For instance, there’s a whole other character that we hear so much about and eventually factors into the plot quite a great deal, and yet, we never see said person. Same goes with a few other events that take place off-screen, leaving whatever happened to either never come up again, or come up in conversation in perhaps the most obvious manner imaginable. Once again, it’s understandable that Washington himself would want to be as faithful to this material as humanly possible, but there does come a point when you have to realize that you’re making a film, and because of that, you have to make sure everything works. And also, because you’re making a film, you’re able to do so much more that actually matters.

Uh oh. Viola sad.

Uh oh. Viola sad.

Washington just never seems to realize this and unfortunately, Fences does suffer because of it.

But honestly, a good portion of what I said doesn’t even matter, because what Fences truly is, despite what August Wilson may have originally intended for it to come-off as, is an actor’s workshop and man, they clean house here. Even though his directing skills aren’t quite great here, Washington, the actor, is terrific; he’s able to go big, loud and bombastic, as if he was in the theater, playing to the nosebleeds, but he can also be small, quiet and subtle and makes this challenging Troy fella, all the more complex and interesting to watch. Washington knows what he’s working with here and because of that, his performance comes off strong and it’s hard to take your eyes off of him.

But Washington isn’t stingy and doesn’t forget about everyone else here, either. Everyone here, like Mykelti Williamson, Russell Hornsby, and the always underrated Stephen Henderson are all quite good, but it’s really the one performance that makes this movie shake the most. Viola Davis, as Rose, is very good because she gets to do the same thing that Washington does – she gets to play it big and loud, but also short, sweet and subtle. She’s great at both sides and together, they create quite the couple that actually makes me want to see them do something else, where they aren’t so confined to just one room, or one backyard, or one topic of conversation the whole, entire time.

Still though, as Fences goes on, it eventually comes together and Washington begins to make more and more sense of his material.

There’s a final-act that’s downplayed and quiet, which is definitely different from the rest of the movie, yet, it still works. In fact, it actually feels like a reward to all of those who sat by, watched and listened to all of these characters hooting and hollering at one another. In a way, it’s a lot more melancholy than the rest of the movie, where it seems like everyone has chilled-out, had a few beers and realized that life is beautiful, so why fret so much? Due to this, the movie may just bring a tear to your eye and make you realize that Washington is a good director.

It’s just a shame that he felt so damn confined.

Consensus: Fences feels exactly like a play, with great performances from everyone, but also a very limited scope in which it lives in.

7 / 10

But it's okay, they're both happy. Let's hope it stays.

But it’s okay, they’re both happy. Let’s hope it stays.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

The Great Debaters (2007)

Yell as loud as you can.

Poet and professor Melvin B. Tolson (Denzel Washington) wants to teach the current youth so that they don’t grow up to be angry, spiteful human beings, despite all of the racial bias and prejudice sent towards their way. That’s why he decides to teach at a predominately black Wiley College in Texas. The year is 1935 and he decides that it’s time to start a debate team, which wasn’t something ever heard of at a relatively black school. While people aren’t initially all for the idea, eventually, people begin to join and Tolson’s got himself a pretty loyal, smart group of youngsters, looking to not just have a good debate, but tell the world of what’s really going on out there. However, it’s Tolson’s own personal politics that end up getting in the way and overshadowing the team and their efforts, leading him to think long and hard about how he wants to stick with this team, or if it’s best to just walk away and let them debate their lives off.

Denzel Washington does something very smart with the Great Debaters – he frames it all not just as a movie about a bunch of people who hoot and holler at each other in long, winding monologues that seem to last for days, but something of a sports movie, where a bunch of rag tag people who have a particular set of significant skill, band together, use their strengths and take on the ultimate opponent. In this case, the ultimate opponent is racism and if there’s a sport, then yeah sure, it’s debating. It may sound incredibly boring, but believe it or not, Denzel is able to make it quite fun and exciting.

So, will it be televised?

So, will it be televised?

Then again, there’s not much debating in the first place.

If there’s an issue to be had here with the Great Debaters is that while there quite a few scenes of actual debating occurring, we never really get to know much more about what goes into debating, or planning an argument, or framing it in a way. Of course, early on, we get the typical training monologue in which the characters use words and get frustrated on how to use them and whatnot, but it doesn’t really feel like we’re actually getting to know how to debate in the process, or better yet, what makes a good debater in the first place; what can be taken away is that whoever yells, hoots, screams and hollers the most and the loudest, seems to actually win. Surely, this isn’t how debating actually works, but a few more scenes dedicated to us understanding just what it is that can help a person become a better debater, would have definitely helped.

Cause instead of getting these scenes, we get a lot more character development, which okay, isn’t always such a bad thing. It does help, however, that Denzel has put together a very good ensemble that knows how to work with this sometimes preachy material and at the very least, keep it grounded and focused. For instance, whenever Denzel himself is on the screen, you can tell that he’s the absolute pro; you feel his presence in every scene he’s in and hell, even the ones he isn’t in. Of course, that’s probably purposeful considering he’s practically behind the camera every scene, directing, but still, it goes to show you just the class-A actor he truly is.

Hell, even the very few scenes he gets with Forest Whitaker, make you clamor for a movie where they just sit in a room together and talk about whatever is on their mind. Honestly, a smaller, much more contained movie like that probably would have been better, because here, while they make the best of what they’re both working with, it still makes you wish for more, more, more.

Debate team, or the rugby team?

Debate team, or the rugby team?

Thankfully, the young talent here is quite good.

Despite all of the controversy surrounding him that seems to probably killed his career, Nate Parker seems to be a perfect acting surrogate for Washington, channeling a lot of the same charisma and energy that the later always showed in his earlier roles. Parker’s Henry Lowe may not always be believable as a character, but Parker’s good enough to where you can see that this brash, sometimes arrogant guy would want to get up on a stage and yell for a few minutes, about all of the injustices he has been of witness to in this world. As his fellow teammates, Denzel Whitaker and Jurnee Smollett-Bell are also quite entertaining, showing different sides to how they feel about debating, and the certain hardships that they too face on a daily basis.

In fact, the movie does get across a very smart and powerful message about race and equality that, yes, may seem conventional, but also doesn’t make it less true. Late in the last-half, the movie brings up certain issues about how the rest of the world, mainly, the Northeast, look at racism a whole lot differently than those in the South; the former is predominately a lot whiter than the later, which also brings more questions into the discussion. The movie shows that people who think differently about racism because of what they’ve been brought up and raised around, aren’t necessarily bad people, just very limited in their viewpoint – sometimes, it’s best to wake up, open your eyes and realize what’s really going on out there in the world. Sure, arguing about it and having a nice little debate is always good, too, but it’s always best to know what’s really wrong with the world, before you go off and start talking about it and all of its changes.

It’s definitely a relevant message that plenty could benefit from today.

Consensus: Entertaining and important, the Great Debaters may be formulaic and conventional, but also packs a hearty punch and shows us that as a director, Denzel’s skills still translate.

7.5 / 10

Please. More. Of. This.

Please. More. Of. This.

Photos Courtesy of: The New York Times, Popcorn Reel

Courage Under Fire (1996)

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

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

Meg and Matt? What a dynamic duo!

Meg and Matt? What a dynamic duo!

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

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

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

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

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

"No blinking!"

“No blinking!”

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

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

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

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

8 / 10

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

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

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

The Magnificent Seven (2016)

It takes one to ruin a village. And about six more so blow it the hell up.

Looking to mine for gold, greedy industrialist Bartholomew Bogue (Peter Sarsgaard) has been taking over small towns, wiping out any man, woman, or child who comes into his way. Why? Because he’s an absolute savage and does not give a single hell what anybody else thinks, says, or does – as long as he’s rich and powerful, then there’s no issues. Eventually, he seizes control of the Old West town of Rose Creek, wiping out quite a few of the townsfolk there, too, leading some residents, like Emma Cullen (Haley Bennett) desperate and in need of some help. That’s when they discover bounty hunter Sam Chisolm (Denzel Washington), who is more than up to the task, but may need a little bit of help from some talented, incredibly violent pals of his. That’s when he recruits the likes of a gambler Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt), a sharpshooter Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke), a tracker Jack Horne (Vincent D’Onofrio), an assassin Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee), a Mexican outlaw Vasquez (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and a Comanche warrior Red Harvest (Martin Sensmeier), all to take down this Bogue, even if they have to get over their differences and whatnot at first – something that’s actually quite easy when they all have a common enemy.

Possibly the beginning of a great friendship? Let's hope.

Possibly the beginning of a great friendship? Let’s hope.

The original Magnificent Seven isn’t a perfect movie, to be honest. Like a lot of other movies from its time, sure, it’s dated, but it’s also pretty slow and takes a little too long to get going, when all it seems to do is focus on such icons like Steve McQueen and Yul Brenner measuring dicks and beating their chests like true alpha males. Sure, that’s some bit of entertainment in and of itself, but after nearly an hour of that, there needs to be something to help speed it all along, which is why when the action does eventually come around in that movie, it’s glorious and a healthy reminder of what sort of magic can happen when you have a lot of bad-asses, picking up guns and shooting other bad-asses.

So yeah, in that sense, it’s a good movie, but not a perfect one.

And the same goes for the remake, which for some reason, takes even longer to get going. Yet, for some reason, I didn’t mind that as much here, as it’s very clear that director Antoine Fuqua, is just enjoying his time with this cast and these characters so much, that to jump right to the action where most of them may go down in a blaze full of bullets, would almost be a disservice to them all. Fuqua isn’t the best director out there, regardless of the fact that he drove Denzel Washington an Oscar with Training Day, but when he decides to settle all of his crazy tendencies down, believe it or not, he’s actually a pretty solid director. He may love the blood, gore, guns, and women a whole lot more than the actual characters themselves, but he does something smart here in that he keeps the character moments here for safe keeping.

Of course, too, it also helps that Fuqua himself has such a solid cast to help him out, with his pal Washington back in action as the sly, but cool and dangerous Sam Chisolm. Washington may seem like a weird fit, but he works it all out perfectly, showing that he’s the clear-headed individual of the whole group, while also proving that he’s not afraid to lose his cool and shoot some mofo’s down, too. Chris Pratt is also a bundle of joy to watch Faraday, showing off another sense of cool and charm that works in his character’s favor, as well as for him, too. It’s nice to see Pratt, even after something like Jurassic World, that didn’t allow for him to even crack a smile, well, get a chance for him to do that and prove that there’s also something a little more sinister to him, as well.

Yeah, where's Eli Wallach? Oh, never mind.

Yeah, where’s Eli Wallach? Oh, never mind.

The rest of the cast and characters don’t get nearly as much attention, but they’re all still fine, nonetheless.

Ethan Hawke has some interesting moments as Robicheaux, showing a serious side effect to all of the gun-slinging and killing that he talks so famously about; Vincent D’Onofrio is goofy and weird as Jack Horne, a big bear of a man, but it’s right up his alley; Byung-hun Lee is cold and dangerous Billy Rocks, even if he doesn’t have a whole lot to say; Manuel Garcia-Rulfo is probably the weakest of the crew as Vasquez, never quite getting the chance to really show off any charm or excitement; and Martin Sensmeier, while barely uttering a line as the Red Harvest, is still a pretty intimidating figure nonetheless and it works.

The only shame about the movie is the inclusion of both Haley Bennett and Peter Sarsgaard. Nothing against either performer, who both do fine jobs here, but it also feels like they may have been a little tacked-on. Bennett literally has a leading role here and honestly, a part of me wanted to believe that she’d be one of the so-called Seven, all sexist issues aside, but sadly, that doesn’t happen and she’s lead to just be the smart gal who, yes, can take care of herself and yes, can shoot a gun, but also doesn’t feel like she’s that part of the crew. And Sarsgaard, enjoying his time as a campy villain, doesn’t have many scenes to show off all of his evil tendencies and instead, seems like an afterthought in the movie’s mind; so much time is spent on the Seven, their dynamic and their training for this battle, that the movie forgets the actual threat himself, which is Sarsgaard’s Bogue.

Still, the final battle itself is solid and saves any sort of bad feelings going into this ending. It’s bloody, brutal and surprisingly, unpredictable, with a few people biting the dust that you wouldn’t expect to. It’s nice to see a mainstream movie not afraid to take off some famous people’s heads, while, at the same time, still have the chance to offer up a sequel in the near-future.

Would I see it? Probably. Just give me a better next time.

And no, I’m not talking about Marvel.

Consensus: With a talented and more than capable cast, the Magnificent Seven works as an entertaining, sometimes incredibly violent Western that’s a lot like the original, but also feels more concerned with characters this time, even if the villain himself doesn’t appear all that much of a threat.

7 / 10

Yeah, I'd turn around, too.

Yeah, I’d turn around, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Malcolm X (1992)

MalcolmposterSometimes, one biopic will do.

At an early age, Malcolm X (Denzel Washington) faced racism almost everywhere he went. His family was terrorized by local KKK members, his family was broken up, and he was always told that he would never be allowed to practice law. So basically, Malcolm X, no matter how hard Malcolm tried, he was always brought down to the color of his skin. As Malcolm grew older, and the troubles he enduced became more frequent, he started to realize that the only person who was going to look after him was him and himself alone. That’s why, when he was put into the slammer for burglary, he found a new calling in life. Around this time in his life, Malcolm began to find faith and discover a new voice that was always inside of him, just waiting desperately to come out. Finally, it did. Problem was, many people didn’t like what he had to say; rather than being like MLK and promoting peaceful protests in order to gain the respect and gratitude of the white man, Malcolm was all about fighting back and giving white man the hell that they deserved. Many adored and praised Malcolm for this stance, however, many others didn’t. Eventually, the latter would ultimately change his life forever.

He was a leader.

He was a leader.

At three-hours-and-20-minutes, there’s a lot of ground that Spike Lee covers. Malcolm X is the kind of biopic that knows that it should be the only biopic ever made about Malcolm X, so in order to ensure that no others come out and try to tarnish said person’s legacy, it goes out of its way to focus on just about everything in Malcolm’s life, without leaving any gray areas whatsoever. In a way, you have to applaud for Lee going as far as he can possibly go.

At the same time, the movie’s pretty long.

There’s a good half-hour or more that I felt like could have been blocked-out of this movie and made it just nearly three hours. All of the early scenes concerning Delroy Lindo, as he good as he is, don’t really work in the latter-part of the flick; while it’s trying to show how Malcolm has changed and is willing to forgive those who he has wronged, it’s also, at the same time, feeling a bit unnecessary because, well, we get it. Malcolm X is a changed man and he wants to let the whole world know it.

That said, there’s a lot about Malcolm X that deserves to be seen, regardless of the small amount of filler that always seems to be around in Lee’s films. For one, it’s a powerful statement on the act of protesting. While Lee has been known to be awfully preachy with just about each and everyone of his flicks, here, he seems to genuinely sit back and just let the speeches, and film tell itself. Because Malcolm X was such a compelling presence no matter what he was doing, when you hear his famous speeches play-out here, and the sort of effect they have, it’s hard not to want to get up, scream, and shout along with him. It doesn’t matter what color, gender, or class your are – there’s something about Malcolm X that’s easy to relate to.

That general sense of telling the opposing side to, “f**k off”, is universal and it’s one of the main reasons why Malcolm X works so well. It not only gives X’s teachings more spotlight, but also likes to show us just exactly what he was fighting and yelling for; while maybe not all that much has changed, it still goes to show that somebody like him, who was way ahead of his time, wasn’t afraid of those he may piss-off or offend. While some people may say that X’s teachings were more than just pure “fighting words”, the fact remains: When Malcolm X did a speech, you sat down, listened and hung on to every word that he had to say.

There’s nothing more powerful than that.

And as Malcolm X, Denzel Washington is, in all honesty, a revelation. It’s actually no surprise to anyone, but throughout the near three-and-a-half-hours, Washington remains engaging, interesting and most of all, believable through it all. This is all the more special due to the fact that X himself, went through so many transformations over his 40 years of living that to have someone play all of these different sides and personas in an understandable manner, to where we can still believe it’s the same person, is definitely something to boast on and on about. That Al Pacino won the Oscar that year is totally beyond me, but hey, it’s the Oscars.

A lover.

A lover.

How am I not surprised?

Perhaps what surprised me most about Malcolm X was how Spike Lee doesn’t set out to fully lionize X, his words, or even the movement he was so desperately fighting for. While this could have been an easy praise-piece where, no matter what he did, Malcolm X was always in the right and never made a mistake, the movie shows that he did, like many other humans and civil rights activists, get stuck in some sticky situations that he couldn’t get out of. That not everyone around him is fully on-board with what he has to say or do, already shows that maybe, just maybe, X himself may have taken things a tad too far in some perspectives.

Some could make the argument that X himself needed to take that extra step, just to force the change to happen, but still, it makes you wonder. Malcolm X, above all else, is the biopic that gives us every shade to X’s character; he was a kind, warm-hearted man who loved his wife and family so much that he never wanted anything harmful to ever happen to them, but he was also a bit of a nasty, sometimes irresponsible man who let his emotions get the best of him. Was he human? Of course he was. Was her perfect? Hell no. Then again, that’s what made Malcolm X, the person, such an iconic figure to latch onto: He was a person trying so hard to see a change.

Sadly, it didn’t bode out so well and most of us are still stuck, trying to figure out what to do next.

Consensus: Though it is quite lengthy, Malcolm X is, at the same time, a necessary biopic that gives power to its figure’s voice, and also allows for Denzel Washington to give one of the best performances of his career and keep us intrigued practically the whole way through.

8.5 / 10

And yeah, a pretty solid speech-giver, too.

And yeah, a pretty solid speech-giver, too.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Glory (1989)

Yes. People did go to war over the Confederate flag.

During the Civil War, the 54th Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry was one of the more infamous troupes, due to the fact that they were, for the most part, filled with black men. Some were freemen from the North, others were slaves, but all of them were under the command of Robert Gould Shaw (Matthew Broderick), a commander who is still reeling from the affects of the warfare he’s experienced in his lifetime. Already, before they even set out for battle, there was already plenty of trepidation towards the 54th, because some believed that blacks could not be controlled, or commanded in such a way that would have them prepped and ready for war. Despite this, Shaw, along with his second-in-command (Cary Elwes), try their hardest to not only discipline the soldiers, but even relate and connect with them, as hard as it may seem to do. Some soldiers, like John Rawlins (Morgan Freeman), are more than willing to go along with all of the problems they encounter fighting for a country that doesn’t accept them as human beings, whereas others, like Trip (Denzel Washington), aren’t and want the whole unit to know that they aren’t fighting for freedom at all – they’re just fighting to die. Obviously, this causes problems between each and everyone and all culminates in the disastrous attack on the Confederate fort in Charleston, S.C.

Goofy-looking 'stache.

Goofy-looking ‘stache.

Glory is, as most people say, a “classic war film”. Not to take any spit out of that statement, but that’s sort of true. It’s a very good movie, in fact, and one that shows both the humane, as well as harsh realities of the war. At the same time, however, it’s also a film about slavery, and how two races can simultaneously connect to one another, while also having to prepare for a war that they may not actually win and come away alive from. Edward Zwick clearly had a lot on his plate here and it’s one of the many things that makes Glory a solid war film that deserves to be seen by any person out there who either, loves film, history, or a combination of the two.

But, that doesn’t make it a perfect movie, as some may call it.

For one, its extremely dated in the way the story is told. What I mean by this is that rather than getting a story about black people trying to get by under extreme war-conditions, told by a black person, we are told the story through their white commander, as played by Matthew Broderick. It’s understandable that the reason for this is to show how the black soldiers are helping to make Shaw open his eyes a bit more to the realities that, well, believe it or not, African Americans are humans, too. Even though he lives in a world where slavery does exist (although, not for much longer), he knows that these black men are just as honest and humane as he is, which is why we see the tale told, in his own words, through his own eyes, and in his own way.

However, at the same time, it sort of feels like a disservice to the actual black folks in the story. Why are we being told that these fellas are all magical and lovely people, when we can clearly see that happening, right in front of our very own eyes? Did we really need to deal with Shaw’s voice-over to begin with? In all honesty, probably not, because it’s already understood that Shaw will start to warm up and grow closer to these black soldiers that are under his command. So, for anything else to be thrown on, makes it feel like stuffy and, well, a bit schmaltzy. Not saying that it didn’t happen in this way, but the way Shaw is used as our heart and soul of the story, makes Glory seem like it’s taking the easy road out – rather than letting the story be told by those who are most affected to begin with.

But, everything else about Glory, aside from that little nugget of anger, is great.

Like I stated before, Zwick clearly had a lot to work with here, and he does so seamlessly. He gives enough attention to the black soldiers that matter most and show how each and every personality can, at times, clash, while at other times, rub against one another to create a far more perfect and in-sync union. No character here is made out to be a perfect human being, and because as such, it’s easy to sympathize with these characters early-on – and makes it all the more tragic to realize that, in all honesty, they aren’t really fighting for much.

There’s one scene in which this is presented perfectly when Denzel Washington’s Trip goes on about the fact that even when the war is over and everybody goes home, he’ll go back to whatever slum he’s been forced to stay in, whereas Shaw and his white counterparts will be able to head back and relax in his big old mansion, and continue to live his life of total luxury. This scene, above all else, drives home the point that these soldiers may, yes, be fighting for their lives, but are doing so in a way because, quite frankly, they have nowhere else to go, or nothing else better to make up with their time. Most of the soldiers are slaves, so therefore, they have no freedom to begin with; however, even the ones that are free, don’t really have much to do except still be treated as minorities and non-equals, although not as harshly as slaves.

Mediocre 'stache.

Mediocre ‘stache.

So yes, it’s a very sad tale, if you really think about it. But Glory shows that there is some light to be found in the folds. There’s heart, there’s humor, and above all else, there’s humanity here that shows that each and everyone of these soldiers were, race notwithstanding, human beings. And because of this fact, the performances are all the more impressive by showing the depth to which these characters are portrayed.

Though Broderick’s Shaw didn’t really need to be the central figure of this huge story, he’s still solid enough in the role to make me forget about that fact. Ever since Ferris Bueller, it’s known that Broderick has always been trying to get past that image and, occasionally, he’ll strike gold. This is one of those times wherein we see Shaw as not only a clearly messed-up vet of the war, but also one that has enough pride and courage to still go back to the battle and ensure that each and everyone of his men are fit for the same battle he will partake in. Cary Elwes is also fine in showing that, even despite him being more sympathetic to the slavery cause, still has to push his men as far as he possibly can, without over-stepping his superior, obviously.

But, as expected, the best performances come from the three cast-members who get the most attention out of all the other black characters: Andre Baugher, Morgan Freeman, and of course, the star-marking turn from Denzel Washington. As an educated, smart and free black man, Baugher’s character faces a lot more tension from the rest of the black soldiers, and his transition from being a bit too soft for all the training, to becoming a far more rough, tough and gritty one, is incredibly believable. Freeman, too, stays as the heart and soul of the black soldiers and proves to be the one who steps up the most when push comes to shove and a leader is needed. Freeman, in just about everything he does, always seems to become a leader of sorts, so it’s no surprise that the role here fits him like a glove.

However, the one that shines above the rest is, obviously, Denzel Washington as the rebel of the group, Trip.

And the reason why I said “obviously”, is because it’s well-known by now that Denzel was given an Oscar for his work here and understandably so; not only does he steal every scene, but when you get down to the bottom of the story, you realize that he’s the heart and soul of the whole thing. Without him, this would have probably been a normal tale of blacks and whites coming together, to fight the obstacles set against them, and fight a war, but it’s Trip who’s the one that hits everybody’s head and wakes them up to the harsh realities that is the world they live in. Denzel is, at times, hilarious, but also brutally honest, and it’s his voice that keeps this movie’s humanity afloat.

Now, if only the movie had been about him to begin with and not the white dude.

Consensus: Heartfelt, emotional, and well-acted on practically all fronts, Glory is a solid war picture, that also happens to have a message about racial equality that doesn’t try too hard to hit you over the head.

8.5 / 10

No 'stache at all and guess what? He's the coolest one.

No ‘stache at all and guess what? He’s the coolest one.

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

The Manchurian Candidate (2004)

Run, Denzel, run!

Denzel Washington plays Army Major Bennett Marco, a career soldier who grows suspicious about his experience in Desert Storm after Squad Sergeant Raymond Shaw (Liev Schreiber), son of the powerful Senator Eleanor Shaw (Meryl Streep), becomes a candidate for Vice President. Something feels very eerie about Marco, and both of the Shaw’s and that’s why Marco is going to go out and settle the truth.

Jonathan Demme is a very skilled director that can go from making movies about Neil Young, to making one about a pilled-up Anne Hathaway that loves crashing weddings, and make it all work out in his own way. Of course, like with most directors, the guy has had his fair share of blow-outs (The Truth About Charlie, anyone?), but I think it’s safe to say that he’s definitely had more hits than misses and this flick is one of those rare hits, that somehow misses a mark it could have hit a littler harder.

What makes this flick work is that Demme puts us in the same state-of-mind as it’s main character is in, and has us disheveled and confused as he is, and never lets us know exactly just what the hell is going on. We get a lot of dreams, flashbacks, hallucinations, ideas, drug-trips, and plenty more devices that are used to mess with our minds, just like our main character’s as well, and that’s what Demme succeeds at the most. He keeps us in the dark with what we think we know, and what we expect to happen next in a flick like this.

And yes, it most definitely works.

Just think about it: Naomi Watts would be OUR first lady.

Just think about it: Naomi Watts would be OUR first lady.

There are certain places that this movie goes, really will surprise you, in terms of twists and material. The twists are good and kept on flying when I thought they would end, but still added more and more layers of tension and mystery to a story that didn’t need it, but didn’t suffer from too much of it either. But in terms of material and where this flick goes with it, it can be pretty damn surprising. Certain things happen that you don’t expect to considering this is a mainstream thriller with A-list names and Hollywood producers, and you also don’t expect certain characters to get killed-off when they do. Basically, with a filmmaker and story-teller like Demme, nothing is as what it seems and you can’t seem to trust anyone. Once again, that’s the same sort of mind-frame that our main character takes and it’s a real delight to see that work so well by the inspired hands of Jonathan Demme.

Although, something just wasn’t clicking for me in the right ways that I was expecting it to. What I mean by that, is that the movie has all of these ideas, all of these mysteries, and all of these conspiracies to it, that enhance the plot as well as our confusion of what we think is actually happening, but never seems to get off-the-ground. The reason for that being is because it feels like Demme is so considered with laying down the groundwork of this story and telling us what he feels like we should know, that he never kicks the story into full-gear and having us feel like we are on a ride that’s never going to end, and shows no signs of it either.

Maybe the problem I had with this movie and this pace, was that I think I was expecting something more of a slam-bang, action-thriller, and that’s exactly what I did not get. This is more along the lines of a psychological thriller that takes it’s good old time to get where it needs to go, and doesn’t really worry about the people watching it, squirming in their seats and just waiting for the tides to change, and start having people beat the shit out of one-another and run away. That never happens and even when it does show signs of that actually occurring and speeding everything up: it still disappoints. If it wasn’t for this snail-like pace, Demme would have really been onto something here, but the guy just never lets his material move at a speed that cannot only gain our attention, but have us more intrigued in seeing where it all goes and ends-up.

Thankfully, we have an A-list cast like this to save the day and thank the heavens for them. When you see a movie that Denzel Washington stars in, you automatically assume that he’s going to be the downright lovable, cool-as-shit Denzel Washington that we see him play, and master in just about every one of his movies. However, he’s a little different and shows that the guy can play crazy, pretty damn well, mind you. The guy’s still got some charm to where you feel like he’s a good-guy underneath all of the lost-marbles, but you still don’t know what to make of where he’s going, in terms of character and his motivations. No matter where this character ends up, Denzel is always compelling and always makes it easy for us to root him on, as if it’s him vs. the world, and we are on red corner’s side, just hoping he comes out of this alive and without a single-scratch on that voluptuous forehead of his. Yeah, I went there and I make no apologies for it either, bitches.

Not walking up the public-escalators? Yeah, totally crazy.

Not walking up the public-escalators? Yeah, totally crazy.

The one in this cast that I was really surprised by was Liev Schreiber as Raymond Shaw, because not only does the guy portray his character’s smugness in such a way that really had me want to punch him in his corrupt-face, but he has the most challenging-role of all. For instance, Shaw is the type of character that is typically a bad guy because he looks bad, is on the bad guy’s side, and is rich, powerful, and smart. Pretty much any person that has those qualities in a movie, or life for that matter, fit the bill of being a total and complete villain that we just don’t like and want to see dead as soon as possible. I’m talking about in the movies, not real-life. Although I do think you could arrange that if you needed to.

But I digress.

What makes this character of Raymond Shaw so complex is that yes, he does fit the role of the type of guy you would normally hate and root-against in a movie like this, but there’s more to him than just that. You sort of feel bad for him because you can tell that he doesn’t really have the brightest-clue as to knowing what the hell is going on, and feels bad that he’s being played-with as a result of all of this confusion. Therefore, he has to take the higher, and sometimes more difficult road of taking everything he sees, hears, and thinks in stride and going about his business, but still having wonders in his head as to what the hell is right and what is wrong with his life. Schreiber plays this moral-dilemma so very, very well and shows the type of dimensions you can get with a character like this, no matter how one-sided he may seem on-paper. Schreiber is always a solid actor that continues to turn in good-work-after-good-work, and his role as Raymond Shaw, is one of the glaring examples of this.

Perhaps the one who really knocks this out-of-the-park, but didn’t surprise me as much was Meryl Streep as Raymond’s “mother”, Eleanor. I think it goes without saying that we all know and love Streep for being the powerhouse-force of in almost everything she does, but her performance as Eleanor shows a darker, meaner-side to the things that she can accomplish and show-off as an actress. She doesn’t necessarily chew the scenery, as much as she takes a look at it, contemplates whether or not to take a bite, and then, decides to eat the whole freakin’ thing and spit it right back out. Streep is the type of actress that can pull-off this hard-hitting woman role like gangbusters, and it was so glorious to see her play a character that isn’t all wholesome and happy; she’s actually pretty terrible.

Consensus: Demme doesn’t allow The Manchurian Candidate to fully pick itself up off-the-ground with fun and electricity in the air, but instead allows the eerie, and mysterious atmosphere kick in and mess with your minds as much as it’s messing with the lead character’s, and many other’s as well.

6.5 / 10

Rawr!

Rawr!

Photo’s Credit to: Thecia.Com.Au

The Equalizer (2014)

By now, everybody should know not to mess with Denzel. Like, come on!

Robert McCall (Denzel Washington) is a quiet man who lives a simple, yet mysterious life. Nobody knows quite exactly what he’s done in the past, but know him now, in the present day, as a man who works at the Home Depot, lives alone, reads a lot, and goes to his local diner whenever he can’t sleep. That’s all really, but when Robert meets a very young hooker by the name of Teri (Chloë Grace Moretz), there are certain shades of his past that begin to show. For instance, when Robert sees that Teri’s employers have been beating up on her pretty bad, he decides to take matters into his own hands to ensure that something bad won’t ever happen to her again. He gets a chance to do so, but as a result, ends up pissing off most of the Russian-mafia that is now looking for this mysterious man and won’t stop until they do so. Little do they know of who they’re messing with. Then again, neither do we!

We’ve all seen this kind of movie before. Hell, we even seen it with Denzel in the lead role! Which can only mean one thing: Hollywood is surely running out of ideas. Surely this can’t be much of a surprise to anyone out there who has been paying attention to the movie-business for quite some time and are able to realize that fresh, original and innovative ideas in mainstream movies are quite hard to come by.

Normally, this interaction would be creepy and inappropriate, but since it's Denzel, at his most Denzel-iest, then it's all fine, baby.

Normally, this interaction would be creepy and inappropriate, but since it’s Denzel, at his most Denzel-iest, then it’s all fine, baby.

But that said, there is something to be said for a movie that can take a traditional story we’ve seen (especially an original one that was made for a TV show), and give it something of a “boost”, if you want to say that. See, while I’m not too sold on Antoine Fuqua’s total abilities as a director I can trust with my life, I can say that he can make some very entertaining movies, even if they aren’t for people with an IQ level higher than 48. And that’s pretty much what the Equalizer is – a fun, slightly silly movie that doesn’t always set out to be more than just the typical revenge-tale we see a middle-aged star like Denzel Washington take.

Although, that’s where this movie actually surprised me a bit more than I expected it to, because while there’s plenty of action, blood, guts, revenge, crime, explosions, and murder, there’s also some drama that Fuqua is able to throw in here.

Take for instance, the first-half of this movie that actually sees Fuqua playing around with the idea of being a subtle director. Rather than focusing on the action and violence that is soon to come of this story and its characters, Fuqua takes his near and dear time to build this lead character, the way he lives and just exactly how he gets by in life. Sure, there’s a total essence of mystery surrounding this character, and it should probably come as no surprise to anyone that what we do end up finding out about him, is quite scary, but we, the audience at least, are thrown into this guy’s life and it’s one that’s easy to get compelled by.

But even when the action does get thrown in there (as expected), it’s still effective. While it may be a bit gratuitous at times, it’s still neat to see the violence coming from the view-point of a character we are interested by, and also exactly how he punches, or kicks, or stabs a person, and in what particular order. Also, to add another layer to this character, we get certain hints that he’s OCD in certain ways and it’s cool angle on a story/character that could have easily been, “He likes to beat the shit out/kill baddies.”

That could have been the whole story in a nutshell. And although some may argue and say that’s all there is to this story, it felt like there was a bit more meat to the tale than just that and I was definitely happy for it. Not just because it was another crime-tale that was a tiny bit more than just all about showing violence to bad people, but because it showed me Antoine Fuqua is actually capable of bringing some tender drama to a scene. Not going to say he’s a “subtle” director, because we all know that he isn’t, but he proved himself this time and I for one, was quite pleased with that.

The more body-tattoos, the more vicious you're supposed to be.

The more body-tattoos, the more vicious you’re supposed to be.

I was even pleased with Denzel Washington in this lead role, because while he too isn’t really doing anything different from what we’ve seen before, he technically doesn’t need to; he’s just Denzel, being Denzel. Meaning that he gets a chance to be charming-as-all-hell, kind to others, menacing when he wants, and even a chance to lay down on some mofo’s who seem to be asking for it the whole movie. If that’s what you want from Denzel in your movies, then this is all fine and dandy for you. I like to see Denzel in these types of movies, and although a part of me wishes there was just a tad more for him to do here, I’ll take a solid performance from Denzel, in a solid movie any day, much rather than a shitty performance, in an even crappier movie.

But even when the film does get pretty wild and insane, as we usually expect from Fuqua’s movies, it’s mostly by the end and by then, we’re already sort of realizing that this story has taken a turn for the worse. Not to say that it gets bad, per se, but more of that it’s just goofy and almost like a Home Alone finale that will surely be a crowd-pleaser to most that are expecting Denzel to whoop some bad guy-butt, but is also rather disappointing to those who thought that there’d be a bit more than just that. And by “those”, I mean just mostly me.

But what can I say?!? I’m just a guy who appreciates a movie that’s more than just what it presents on the surface!

Consensus: Though it gets silly by the end, what the Equalizer does well is build a suspenseful story, around a compelling character, while also allowing Denzel Washington to just put in some fine work.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"Good evenin', Clarice."

“Good evenin’, Clarice.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

2 Guns (2013)

Can’t ever trust a cop. Unless they’re Marky Mark and Denzel. Then, it’s safe to live again.

Two criminals-on-the-run (Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg) decide that it’s best for them to rob a bank, in order for them to take it away from a drug-lord (Edward James Olmos) who launders it there. However, in the midst of the heist, both find out that they are not who each other seem to be, and both decidedly turn on the other, leaving them both stranded and helpless by their superiors. To make matters worse, they owe a slew of money to the said drug-lord, and also have a scary, vicious secret enforcer (Bill Paxton) hot on their tracks and ready to get back the money that was stolen from him during the bank-robbery. Basically, it sucks being these two right now, but damn does it look so good.

It’s been quite awhile since the last time I saw a straight-up, unapologetic R-rated action-er like this, and although it didn’t have me miss those types of flicks, it still reminded me how much fun they could be when they’re done right. But as we all know, R-rated flicks don’t do much bang at the box office, so of course every major studio has to give us the watered-down, PG-13 version of any action movie. Whether it be with superheros, crooks, or zombies, the PG-13 action-flick seems to be in full-force for now, but it’s movies like this that remind me that the R-rated action-flick may not be around as much, but it sure as hell won’t die.

"Darn toots, boy!!"

“Darn toots, boy!!”

That said, can’t say I loved the hell out of this movie all that much either. It was just nice to get a shot in the face and be reminded of how much fun these types of movies can be, especially when they feature a full, lean, mean 100 minutes of double-crossing, gun-play, bullets, curse-words, corny jokes, and even some nice nudity from Paula Patton herself. The first 5 aspects, when done right, make any movie worth watching, but when you throw in that last one: Well, you got something that you need to see! And NOW!

But as I cool myself down, let me just remind you that this flick isn’t perfect. It’s obvious, it’s a bit by-the-numbers, and very convoluted into where it goes and how it ends up, but for awhile, a lot of the usual meanderings my mind would take with a movie like this, did not show up in my system at all. Sure, I could see who was going to kill who and how it was going to be done, but for a split-second, if only that, I had a slight bit of fun because I was able to let go of all the previous-knowledge I have for these types of movies. A movie that can do that for me deserves at least some credit, if not enough to be worth seeing.

Like I said though, not perfect. I only continue to say this because so many people will probably see this movie as stupid, badly-written, and over-the-top with it’s odd sense of humor. And to all of those fair points, I strike no objection whatsoever: It is a dumb movie; the plot doesn’t make sense half of the time; and I do think that they went a little bit overboard with some torturous scenes of action or grimness. However, I couldn’t help myself a single bit! I had fun, I enjoyed what I saw, and I definitely won’t remember this flick in 2 years or so, but that idea doesn’t matter when you’re just soaking up all of the air-conditioning in for an-hour-and-fourty-minutes. Hell, maybe it was the cool air that got to me, and if that is the case, then so be it.

I had fun, and if you like these types of movies, then most likely: You will too. There, I said it. Let it be done with!

Clothes on? Boo!

Clothes on? Boo!

Most of the fun that I did have with this movie, mainly came from the solid cast involved, even if it does feel like a hint of this material is a bit a cut below their pay-grade. Washington and Wahlberg have done far-better movies in the past decade or so, but they absoloutely live it up here together when they’re on screen. They joke, they kid around, they get serious, and they get very brutal as well. However, they always seem like people that enjoy working together, and didn’t let a single second of their first team-up go to waste, especially Wahlberg who really seems to turn on the charm here, in a slightly different way than we’ve seen from him before. Yeah, he’s still a bit goofy and stupid, but he’s got a bit of a cockiness to his act here that works, and makes me feel more and more confident about what he has next to accomplish with his grade-A, acting-career so far. As for Denzel, the guy just oozes cool. Nothing more to it.

I’d actually probably say that the weakest parts of this flick came from when these two weren’t together. See, they hold so much energy and life together, that when they’re respective stories take them down different roles, we are kind of saddened and missing something as a result. We know that they’re ways are going to collide again soon, but when they aren’t doing their thing and making this movie fun, it seems like a bit of a dull-experience. Not that the supporting cast isn’t good, it’s just that they don’t quite light the screen up like it’s two stars do. Actually, save for Bill Paxton who plays the shadowy government-connected enforcer who is red-hot on his trail for blood, and wants to find these two peeps on the end of it. Paxton’s so nutty and so cunning, that it’s almost a bit too much of a service to take him seriously, but you can’t help but roll with it and enjoy what the dude has to offer you, even when he isn’t screaming, “Game over, man!!”

Consensus: May not break any new ground, or change the frequency of R-rated action-flicks in the mainstream, but for the time it’s up on the screen, 2 Guns is still a bunch of quick, tense, action-filled fun, made even better by the always-entertaining chemistry between Wahlberg and Washington.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"After this, wanna sip down a couple brews? I'm buying..."

“After this, wanna sip down a couple brews? I’m buying…”

Smashed (2012)

Anybody wanna split a case?

Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) and Charlie (Aaron Paul) are a happy, and young married-couple that like to let the good times roll, enjoy the night-life, and drink non-stop. It’s all fun and games for them, that is until Kate goes too far and decides it’s time for her to cut it all out and get her life back on-track. She does, but with most sobriety tests; there’s always perks somewhere to be found and that’s the problem Kate and her hub, will most likely run into.

Movies about addiction are nothing new, and 9 times out of 10, that is usually the case. Flight took everybody by-storm because every person that saw it, thought it was a realistic and disturbing look at alcohol addiction. Those people weren’t necessarily wrong, but they weren’t necessarily right either. Rather than getting into a debate about this and that movie, I’ll just state that this movie is a more-realistic look at addiction, the steps it takes to come out of it, and how the people around you influence you the most. In Flight, all we cared about was whether or not Denzel was going use the mini-bar or not. Once again, not bad, but not as humanizing as this movie is.

What I liked so much about this flick, is the way that writer/director James Ponsoldt approaches this topic, this story, and these characters, and he never really frowns upon them or makes judgement. You can tell that this dude, whether or not be him or somebody close to him that he might have known, might have gone through the same exact problem of addiction, and it shines through this movie because nobody ever seems to get the terrible-look that most movies make the mistake of. Of course there are a couple of characters that show-up here and there, and are just as sneaky and dirty as you’d expect, but they aren’t caricatures that are all about sex, drugs, rock n’ roll, and brew, they just like to have a good time, even if that means they end-up sleeping on a couch in the middle of the street.

"Honey, the eggs have been burning for an hour..."

“Honey, the eggs have been burning for an hour…”

Ponsoldt seems like he has a clear head on his shoulders when it comes to showing us what it’s like to go through a problem like addiction, moving on in the world, and trying your damn near hardest to get through it. Like this flick presents, it’s not that easy and usually, it’s like freakin’ hell, but the movie never seems to glamorize the life that these people have made for themselves. They get drunk, they get stupid, they get wild, and they forget about it the next day, and go through the same cycle. It’s just the way of life for some people, and that frank, but honest look at the reality of the situation, is what really resonated with me. I’m not saying that it made me think twice the next time I go to my buddies’ dorms and decide to throw back a couple of Natty’s, but hey, at least it gave me the view on what it’s like to be a person that has a problem such as this, and what it’s really like to get through it all.

But I can’t continue to go on and on and on about this movie without mentioning the person that really makes this movie fly: Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Winstead has shown-up in a bunch of movies, done her thing, but never really lighted the screen-on-fire. Sure, she was pretty awesome in Scott Pilgrim, but if that’s the only claim-to-fame for her to have, it isn’t anything showwy for her. That’s where this role for her comes through and shows us that yes, she can act. Winstead is amazing as Kate because she never loses her own self of living throughout the whole movie, no matter how much she is at the bottom of the bottle. She does get insane-o drunk sometimes, and always goes too far, but you always feel for her because you know she is a nice person and would never, ever do anything to hurt a fly. That’s why when things start to change for her and she starts to think twice about drinking all of the time, we really feel for her and we really stand-behind her, no matter how hard it is to stick with the sobriety. There are a couple of scenes where I thought her drunken-act was a bit much, but she still nailed it in making us worry for a person, that we knew didn’t deserve this type of a problem, but then again; who does? Kate could be you, could be me, could be your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, your dog, your cat, your pigeon, anyone. That’s the whole point of this movie, or at least what I thought it was, and that’s where Winstead really shines through the most.

Basically Ron Swanson, if he was sad, lonely, depressed, and feigning for a scotch.

Basically Ron Swanson, if he was sad, lonely, depressed, and feigning for a scotch.

Aaron Paul plays her hubby that’s always drunk and always acting like an ass, but he still has a nice presence to him where you feel like he is a nice guy, really does love his wife, and wants what’s best for the both of them, but just can’t put down the bottle. Once again, Charlie is probably like anybody we know, but he still has those problems and the marriage between these two, as troubled and as problematic as it may be, still touched me in a way I sure as hell didn’t expect, especially when that ending came around. Woo-wee!

The rest of the cast is pretty damn good too, even if a bit strange. Nick Offerman (Ron Swanson) plays Kate’s co-worker and is great at playing it short, sweet, and subtle, even if I do think that a couple moment she lets loose just a bit too much. What I mean by that is that the guy is funny, we all know that, and when they give him the chance to be funny, it seems a bit misplaced. That being said, Offerman is still good and gives me fine hope that he may have the chance to do more than just Parks & Rec. Maybe. His real-life wife, Megan Mullaly plays the principal of the school that Kate works at, and is a lot better when it comes to pulling-off the dramatic and comedic sides of her skills, but even sometimes she feels a bit misplaced. If the movie decided to take a full-on comedic-approach, with dramatic splishes and splashes, then they would have fit right in. But this is not one of those movies and it doesn’t work quite well as I would have liked. The only person in this supporting-cast that seems to nail the tone down real well is Octavia Spencer as Kate’s sponsor, and does a perfect job at nailing that hard-look at being sober, but what pleasure and happiness it can bring to a person.

Consensus: It may not all add-up, but Smashed is a surprisingly dark, but realistic-look at addiction  and shows that this can be anybody in the world, but just so happens to be a young, promising young woman named Kate, played perfectly by Winstead.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"Wanna go out for a couple of drinks?"

“Wanna go out for a couple of drinks?”

The Last Stand (2013)

Ah’nuld is back, and yes, still old.

Arnold Schwarzenegger stars as a aging sheriff of a peaceful border town who is called upon to take on a drug kingpin who escaped from FBI custody and is trying to cross the border into Mexico. Once again, it’s Arnold’s time to save the town, as well as the day.

Since he’s not the Governator of Kellyfornia anymore, is done banging house maids (so far as we know), isn’t bangin’ Maria Shriver (as far as we know), and has basically nothing else to do with his spare time and money, Ah’nuld is back and better than ever! Okay, maybe he’s not better than ever but dammit, he is back, in full action-mode, and shows us all what we’ve been missing out on for the past couple of years. Hey, you had to know this was coming once his role in Expendables 2 got bigger, you just had to.

And speaking of Arnie, at 65, the guy can still kick some ass, even if it is a tad goofier now than we ever remember. Yeah, he may have had a lost a step or two in his action-feet, and especially in his acting-chords, but as being an old, bad-ass that takes no prisoners when it comes to the law: Arnie is still at the top of his game. It’s been way too long since the last time we’ve seen Arnie handle a shotgun, tackle some thug, and chew-down one-liners like it’s his job (it sort of is), and this is the type of roles that reminds us why we love the guy so much in the first-place and don’t give a shit who, or what he bangs. Just as long as one of those bangs just so happen to be coming from a double-barrel shotgun, than it’s all fine and dandy with me. May not be fine with his kids or Maria, but hey, for an action-movie lover and Arnie-lover, it’s a-okay in my book.

But it’s not just Arnie’s show, as much as it is the rest of the cast’s as well, as they all get a chance to shine and have fun with dialogue that may be a bit below their pay-grade, but still shows all of the fun and joy each person can have. Johnny Knoxville has been getting top-billing for this movie (alongside Arnie, of course), but the guy is probably in it for no less than 15 minutes, but still does his usual thing: act like a dumb-ass and win our hearts over. The guy’s been doing that act for over a decade, whether it be scripted or unscripted, and that is no different here when he’s along the Terminator. Luis Guzman is a bundle of joy as the cranky deputy; Jamie Alexander is feisty and hot as the only police-woman of the county; and Rodrigo Santoro does what he can as the ex-star football-player-turned-total-bum, which is saying more than he could offer in What to Expect When You’re Expecting. Yes, I know I liked that movie, but still, his acting blew in it.

Never thought that these two would ever share the big-screen together. And I guess, neither did Whitaker, himself.

Never thought that these two would ever share the big-screen together. And I guess, neither did Whitaker, himself.

All are fine playing Arnie’s helpers/side-kicks but it’s really weird to see Forest Whitaker in a role of this standard. It’s not that he’s bad in the role, actually, he livens it up pretty well, it’s just that the material and role feel like they were written for a whole other movie, and a whole different place. Think of it as a role from Inside Man, stuck inside the setting of The Expendables. It just doesn’t gel well, no matter how much drama and class Whitaker tries to add. Poor guy. I bet he’s just waiting for the day that Denzel gets sick with the flu.

As for the opposite-side of the spectrum, things sort of get shaky. Yes, watching Peter Stormare chew-up the scenery with his Southern-growl and heavy-thick accent is fun, but it’s cartoonish and as over-the-top as you can get, especially with a performance from Stormare himself. And yes: that is saying something. However, he fares a lot better than our main baddie; a professional-driver-turned-bad-guy “played” by Eduardo Noriega. The reason I put the quotation-marks around the word, “played”, is because not only is this performance terrible, but the character just opposes no threat whatsoever to anybody around him. Yeah, so what if the guy knows how to turn-off all of the lights in his car at night, and so what if he can swerve around three SWAT vehicles on an open road. The guy still seems like a bit of a bitch and when he’s going against Ah’nuld, you just cannot wait for him to get his ass beaten, just so you don’t have to see him act, say, or try his hardest to be cool, but sinister. Then again, maybe that’s the point.

Anyway, who the hell cares about the cast in this situation?!? This movie is all about high-octane thrills, chills, jumps, rumps, and laughs; all of which are here, on full-display. Making his American-debut with this flick is Korean director Kim Jee-Woon, who has made some pretty impressive flicks in the past, but shows he is able to make relatively-mediocre material, a lot better just with a couple of modern-day spices here and there. Typical action-sequences like a chase through corn fields, or a shoot-out through the street, would have been handled in such a dull, conventional way that it wouldn’t have mattered if Ah’nuld was kicking ass and taking names, because it would have been boring. However, Jee-Woon gives us something new and stylish to take and breath in, and it’s great to see what can happen to obvious-material like an action-thriller starring Arnie, when you bring in foreign-prospects that are just waiting to hit the big time in the States. Hopefully, this means that we are going to see more of Jee-Woon, not only the action-genre, but in American movies in general.

Yeah, he's drunk. But that's what we call: PETER STORMARE.

Yeah, he’s drunk. But that’s what we call: PETER STORMARE.

However, as much as this movie may strive to be something new, refreshing, and an improvement on the conventional action-genre; the fact remains that it just isn’t. It is stupid, it is loud, it is obvious, and it is very, very much like Arnie’s past movies and as much as that may be a turn-on to some people who have been wanting a bit of old-school flavor to their action-movies, some still do not feel the same way. If this is the type of stuff you like, then yes, by all means, go out, buy a ticket, get some popcorn, slap-on some butter, get a large soda (diet or non-diet, your choice), take a seat, sit-back, relax, and just have a good time with all that’s to be seen on-screen. However, if this is not the type of stuff you like or would put in your Netflix queue, then just don’t even bother because it would be a waste of your precious time and money. Then again, just by seeing the names “Schwarzenegger” and “Knoxville” head-lining the same poster, I could already assume that you’d be able to decipher whether or not this is your type of movie, long before you even made a trip out to your local theater.

Consensus: The Last Stand isn’t necessarily re-inventing the wheel when it comes to the genre of action movies, but still offers more than plenty of fun, excitement, action, and lovable quips, courtesy of everybody’s favorite Austrian, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Welcome back, Arnie. Glad to see you’re with us and still can’t speak a lick of understandable-English.

6.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Please come save Delaware County. Please!

Please come save Delaware County. Please!

Flight (2012)

As if landing a plane was a real challenge for Denzel.

Denzel Washington stars as Whip Whitaker, a seasoned airline pilot who miraculously lands his plane after a midair collision, saving the lives of hundreds of passengers. But as more details emerge, Whitaker becomes the focus of the investigation about what truly happened on that plane.

You have to wonder if Robert Zemeckis got as tired as we did watching all of his family, motion-capture movies, because right in the first scene of this movie we see a chick in full-on nudity (yes, pubic hair and all), Denzel slugging down a brew or two, and then, even going so far as to snort a line of cocaine. Pretty shocking to see once you think how this same guy directed The Polar Express and A Christmas Carol, not all too long ago. However, Zemeckis is sick and tired of motion-capture movies (thank God) as well as making movies for families. He’s going back to making the types of movies he wants to make, that are strictly to be seen by people who vote for Oscar nominees  Good job, Robert, you got ’em again.

If there is any credit I have to give to Zemeckis, it’s that the guy doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to how he focuses on this character of Whip Whitaker, who, as you may already know from the trailers, is a very, very flawed man. Something else you may already know from the trailers is that there is a pretty intense plane-crash that is as tense and as suspenseful as you’re going to see for a long, long time. The last plane-crash sequence that ever hit me as hard as this was United 93, and before that was probably Cast Away, another movie directed by Zemeckis that shows the guy hasn’t lost his touch when it comes to providing tense, plane-crashes that has you gripping onto your seat as much as the characters in the actual movie are.

However, let me get back to what this film really is about: Whip Whitaker. The most powerful element behind this movie is Whitaker himself, his alcohol addiction, and how Zemeckis allows that to be shown on-screen. Zemeckis doesn’t shy-away from the fact that this guy has a drinking-problem and keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering just whenever this guy will actually kick the addiction, or just simply rot away like many other addicts out there. This would all make it too easy to hate the guy and not give a shit what happens to him, but Zemeckis doesn’t paint it that simply, and makes this more than just a standard, portrait of a flawed-man. It has layers and that’s what’s so important about this movie.

The idea that this guy Whitaker, got onto a plane, drunk and high, but landed it in the safest way possible by killing only 6 people in the whole-crash definitely leaves some food-for-thought as to what should really happen to this guy. Yes, he endangered everybody by putting himself on-board of a plane under the influence of some drugs and booze, but does that really matter when the fact still remains is that he still saved many lives that day and is probably the only pilot that could have done so? This idea and theme that comes on throughout the whole movie leads you to wonder and to think just what is right, what is wrong, and what should happen to this guy who did both, a bad thing and a good thing at the same time. You never know what answer this film is going to end on and you never know exactly what it’s standing on Whitaker really is, but what you do know, is that this guy has some real problems and it’s hard to think about him as anything else other than a dangerous drunk that did a heroic deed, but also an evil one as well.

Even though I may make this film seem like a Sundance-type, character-based drama from the hand of Robert Zemeckis, it doesn’t stay like that and definitely turns into what could be considered a Hollyw0od-type, character-based drama from the hand of Robert Zemeckis. What I mean by this is that for a good hour or so, the film feels very subdued, very subtle, and very ambiguous with where it’s going to go, what it’s trying to say, and how it’s going to all play-out, but somehow, the story loses that and becomes the typical shit we always see from Hollywood. The whole idea of this guy being a drunk, knowing it, and never making excuses for it is pretty fresh to see in a big-budget flick like this one here, but that idea starts to go away as he gets a tad too nice towards the situation and almost feels a bit shoe-horned in. Especially that second ending where it seems like Zemeckis wanted to really have us happy by the end, and give us an ending that sent us away with a smile on our faces and a brighter out-look on life. I’m not the type of person that wants a sad, depressing story that ends on a dark-note, but come on, certain stories don’t deserve to be cheapened-up because big, ‘ol Hollywood says so. Come on, Zemeckis you’re better than that.

And something else that Zemeckis is better at too, is picking good music for his movies and that is something that he does not showcase well here at all. Every single piece of music here is just another song that hits you on-the-nose with what it’s commentating on and how it affects the scene. For instance, every time Goodman shows up, Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” starts blasting as to show us that something bad is coming Whitaker’s way, and should be played more for laughs. Another example that annoyed me to death was the use of Joe Cocker’s “Feeling Alright”, every time Whip decided to snort a line and walk down a hall-way with his signature-strut. Okay, I get it Zemeckis. Denzel is high and is feeling alright, no need to tell me with the use of Joe Cocker’s voice. There’s other examples as well, but these were the two that really got to me and kept bothering me every time they just so happened to be blasted through the speakers.

Where Zemeckis fails though, is where Denzel Washington passes and it’s one of the best performances I’ve seen him give in a long, long time. It’s been awhile since Denzel has actually played a role that’s really showcased him as the powerhouse he is known to be. A couple of middle-of-the-road thrillers sometimes show this, but not the full-extent that this character-drama does and I’m so glad that Denzel is Whip Whitaker, because I honestly don’t think anybody else could have played this role and make it work as well as Denzel does. See, even though the guy is constantly-drunk, doesn’t care about it, knows that he’s bad fool, and knows that he can stop whenever he wants, he is never unsympathetic. For some odd, dumb reason, you still care for this guy and root for him, so much to the point of where every time he picks up a bottle or you see a bottle around him, you gasp or shake your head by how quickly the guy went right back to his old ways.

It starts to get even worse when you think about what Whitaker did before the plane-crash, and after and how it shows that not only is this guy a troubled, piece of garbage, but is also a man that is a hero in a way and used his better-judgement for something that saved the lives of many people on that plane as well. Whip Whitaker is as complex and as three-dimensional as you’re going to get with a character this year, and thanks to Denzel, the guy is watchable the whole time. Denzel is just about in every single scene in this movie and that is not a complaint whatsoever because it is a thing of freakin’ beauty to watch Denzel just act his off in a way that’s unlike anything we’ve seen before. We see everything in Denzel’s acting-skills come out here for show, like when he gets mad, or when he gets sad, or when he gets happy, or when he’s just being the coolest, sliest, mother ‘effer in the whole film. Honestly, I could go on and on and on about Denzel and how great he is here as Whitaker but to not bore the hell out of you, I’ll just leave it at the fact that Denzel may very well be looking at an Oscar-nom come later this year, which is something I cannot wait for. Even though he may not win, I still think he deserves that damn nomination because he is absolutely terrific here.

Denzel’s supporting cast is also pretty damn good, too, even though none of them really rank-up to the type of “Oscar-caliber” that he does. Kelly Reilly co-stars as a strung-out junkie that meets and sticks with Whitaker for the most-part, and is a very interesting character to watch as we see her cope with her own, personal demons, as well as Whitaker’s as well. They both work very well together, and I think that Reilly deserves more roles like this even though I was a bit suspect of her Southern, Georgian accent. Don Cheadle brings a lot of power to his role as the crack lawyer that’s brought to protect Whitaker from serving any type of jail-time and does exactly what you’d expect of the guy: act his ass off. Still, I wish that Cheadle would up his game again and see what he can do with leads again.

Bruce Greenwood seemed like the most interesting character out of the whole bunch because his first-scene with Whitaker really had me tearing up by the end of it, because it showed the level of friendship these two have and how Greenwood stands beside him the whole-way. I wish that more of the film was like this one scene, in particular, but damn was it still great to see and witness. John Goodman does exactly what he did in Argo, and steals just about every scene he’s in and gives some of the funniest lines in this whole drama. Then, the one that really surprised the hell out of me was the small-cameo from James Badge Dale as a cancer-patient who shares a smoke with Denzel and Reilly, and gives the type of role that makes you think about him, long after he’s gone. It’s not just how he acts is what makes us think about the most, it’s what he says and how the reoccurring theme of God and the actions he bestows onto continues to play-out throughout. It’s a role that deserved to be as long as it was, mainly by how powerful and though-provoking it was left as.

Consensus: Robert Zemeckis definitely loses himself by the end of Flight, mainly because he gives into what Hollywood likes to consider “happy”, but still features a top-notch performance from Denzel Washington, in one of the best character-studies of the year and in one of the better performances I have seen so-far. Not a perfect movie, but still a very good one none the less.

8/10=Matinee!!

He Got Game (1998)

Ray Allen ain’t got shit on Denzel.

Denzel Washington stars as Jake Shuttlesworth, a prisoner who suddenly finds himself temporarily paroled and with the promise of a commuted sentence if he can accomplish one task: he must persuade his estranged son Jesus (Ray Allen) the number one high school basketball player in the USA – to sign with Big State, the Governor’s Alma mater.

Writer/director Spike Lee has been known to love the game of basketball, but it seems pretty strange that he would almost go as far as actually casting a real-life basketball player in one of his leading roles. It’s also even more strange how much he makes people not want to even think about pursuing their basketball careers considering how much ish talking he does.

No matter what he does in any film, Lee always knows how to make everything pretty. He uses a lot of different lenses that add this dirty and gritty feel but he’s also able to change it up at any moment and place us in a different time and place. Once again, Lee is just playing around with his certain camera tricks and is seeing what he can and can not do, but it still works all of the same and makes Lee the wonder he is usually known as. Well, that is when it comes to his art-direction.

What Lee does perfectly here with his script is that he is able to talk about two different story-lines but have them both come together in the end. Lee satirizes the whole art of a celebrity where we see Jesus going from person, to person, to person and being asked the same damn thing as to where he’s going and if they can get some pieces of that pie. We get to see how much promises people actually make to Jesus just to have him play some b-ball at their universities and the way Lee shows this in a more grotesque way than ever before, is a real surprise. Lee exposes the underbelly and daily happenings of what happens in college recruiting and how much pressure this can put on that high school basketball player themselves. Even though I don’t play any sports (does Ultimate Frisbee count?), I can definitely say that I’m glad I don’t have to worry about getting all these offers, promises, and calls either.

At the center of the flick though, and where it really works, lies within the father-son relationship that just gets better and better each and every time these two show-up on-screen together, which is a very rare thing here. We see how much of an impact Jake had on his son’s basketball playing skills and as much as Jesus wants to deny it and push himself away from his father, he can’t escape the fact that it’s his father who made him the man he really is today. Lee’s script touches on a lot of points about family, moral issues, and staying loyal but I think it was the fact that Lee chose to show this hurt relationship these two had in such a compassionate and realistic way is what made this flick ten times better than your ordinary sports movie and a hell of a lot more emotional.

My main gripe with this flick is that I do think that the ending was wrapped up a little too well for my taste. I get that the film was definitely trying to appeal to the natural audience that wants to see a happy ending but Lee could have done so much more at the end, that could have really made this film’s ending emotional impact stick on you. Still, don’t get me wrong when I say it’s a happy ending because it still is a little dark and sad but nothing that you would really expect from the dude that showed us Radio Raheem getting his ass chocked out.

Denzel Washington is once again playing another great role here as Jake. This is one of the first roles that shows Denzel in a very subdued and laid-back feel rather than being that hero type and going all-over-the-place with his emotions and it’s also one of those rich performances that gives you the kind of comfort that you should feel whenever he’s on-screen. The character he’s playing may be a guy that is obviously effed up in the head, but he is also a guy that you know is good and only wants to do the right thing which is what makes this character so much richer and better, especially because he’s being played by the man himself.

The one performance that I was really surprised by was how good Ray Allen was here as Jesus (yes, that really is his name). Whenever people see that a first-time actor is given his chance for a lead role, they usually shriek and see horror happen right before their eyes but somehow Allen makes me think otherwise about that idea. Allen was a great pick because he shows a character that is obviously very angsty, very confused, and very angry at everyone around him and Allen shows that perfectly on-and-off the court. Even his scenes with Washington feel real and it’s a real wonder as to why Allen didn’t get more acting roles or even go for other ones during his off-season. At least he has a championship under his thumb now but whats better: Oscar or NBA Championship? Hmmmmmm, I think I would go with the first.

Consensus: Though it may end a little too neatly, He Got Game is a film that not only looks great, but also has a real emotional story at its core and works with just about every point it’s trying to make, even if it does sometimes get a little too over-stuffed. Then again, that’s what we come to expect from a Spike Lee joint.

8.5/10=Matinee!!

Safe House (2012)

Van Wilder ain’t got shit on me!

Denzel Washington plays the CIA’s most dangerous traitor, Tobin Frost, who stuns the intelligence community when he surfaces in South Africa. When the safe house to which he’s remanded is attacked by brutal mercenaries, a rookie (Ryan Reynolds) is forced to help him escape.

Heyoooo everybody! So I got this new review up and running but once again it’s not here, it’s on another website called “Philmalot!”. It’s a big movie site for all Philadelphia-area writers and it’s a site that I’m proud to say that I have started writing for even though there’s been plenty of them.

Anywhoo, go on over to the site and check my review out, show me some love by putting a little something something in the comments, and just go on over and check the rest of the site out because it’s pretty rad. Check out the link here:

http://philmalot.com/2012/02/14/film-review-safe-house/

Thanks everybody! Happy buy your woman something really expensive day!!

 

John Q (2002)

I wonder if my daddy would hold up a hospital for me.

Blue-collar worker John Q. (Denzel Washington) finds that his meager insurance won’t cover his son’s heart transplant, so he holds a hospital emergency room hostage until doctors agree to perform the surgery. Meanwhile, gung ho police chief Gus Monroe (Ray Liotta) and hostage negotiator Frank Grimes (Robert Duvall) try to diffuse the situation amid a media frenzy.

Well, you know from the Propaganda that John Q is a “good man vs the system” flick. The twist comes from the lengths to which John Q is willing to go.And I must say that a lot of this here works, but then a lot of it doesn’t.

The whole film I was on the edge of my seat, wondering what just was going to happen next. I liked how this was just an ordinary man, who one day loses control, because nobody will do anything about his son’s soon arrival of death. But beneath this suspense of what is going to happen next, there’s actually a very sweet theme. The film shows the drastic measure this father would do for his son, and there are plenty of scenes where we can’t help but root for John Q, because we know how we feel for a loved one and who knows what we would do to keep them alive.

There are also plenty of social messages speaking about the flaws within the American health care system, and their brought up well, but the problem is that director Nick Cassavetes isn’t letting us decide our own opinions and how feel about this for ourselves, he’s more or less, blatantly telling us what we should think. I didn’t like how they made these doctors seem like money-hungry assholes, because it’s just the world we live in. Money is money. I agree that the health care system is messed up, but blaming certain individuals just isn’t right, and won’t get anybody anywhere.

Despite these problems, Denzel Washington takes this whole film over in every way he can. Every chance Washington gets to show us this human being, he delivers every single emotion that this guy has. He’s not a bad guy, he’s just a guy who’s struck in a rut and will not bury his son. The film has his back the whole way, and with Denzel playing John Q., I did as well. The supporting is filled with many good stars as well. I liked seeing Ray Liotta and Robert Duvall play off each other every chance they got as the two cops trying to handle this situation. Anne Heche and James Woods are also very good, as well as sometimes evil as the two doctors here. Last but certainly not least, Kimberly Elise is absolutely marvelous as John Q’s wife, who does not once back down from a fight, and will not let her son die.

Consensus: John Q. benefits from great performances from the cast, especially Denzel Washington, but tells us what we should think about the American health care system too much, and is a little too messy. However, you will still like what you see by the end hopefully.

6.5/10=Rental!!

American Gangster (2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8/10=Matinee!!

Crimson Tide (1995)

Black vs. White, in a submarine.

Controversy boils over when Soviet rebels point nuclear weapons at the United States, and a message for the nuclear-missile sub USS Alabama gets cut off during transmission. Capt. Frank Ramsey (Gene Hackman) thinks he’s been ordered to launch a pre-emptive strike, while Lt. Cmdr. Ron Hunter (Denzel Washington) believes the submarine has been ordered to stand down. Will the Alabama prevent a nuclear holocaust, or start one?

Crimson Tide is directed by my not-so favorite director, Tony Scott. He has always been known to make crazy action/thriller films with no real purpose, other than to just have you brainlessly entertained.

This film film looks like a thriller and plays like a thriller, but what distinguishes it, are it’s ideas it has. In the high pressure world of submarine-in-crisis, this film stages a debate that gets to the very heart of nuclear deterrents. The paradox is that nuclear weapons only deter war as long as you don’t use them, and you have to be instruction of your own side. There is also a lot of questions about right-and-wrong, which will stay in your mind long after your done watching this film. You’ll also notice some pop-culture references randomly in here, probably because some of this script is written by Quentin Tarantino. That crazy bastard finds himself in everything!

Tony Scott also does a good job at directing this film keeping a lot of tension built to the point of where you think something just terrible is going to happen. With this film, I knew exactly where Scott was going but he puts us in this submarine with these men, and we feel stuck in there with them as their lives are being threatened. When the energy picks up Scott kicks it into high gear, but when its slow and working on suspense, it works as well. In my opinion, this may be one of Scott’s best directorial efforts.

The only problem I had with this film was the ending. I felt a little bit too much of it was uninspired, and way too hokey for a film of this raw nature. Now I know you can’t judge a whole film on it’s ending usually, but in this case I can, cause when you see it, your honestly going be so letdown.

Denzel Washington is as usual, awesome here, and keeps that strong and smart man act up. He doesn’t do anything completely different here, but that’s not a problem, cause he is just great at it. Gene Hackman is down-right amazing playing Frank Ramsey, the guy who we all soon start to hate, and love at the same time. He is just so callous about his job and so prideful, that when he starts to see his high-position getting taken away from him, he just gets so pissed and does things you would have never expected. However, you believe it because Hackman is so good at playing this type of character. Others who are good in this are Steve Zahn, Viggo Mortensen, James Gandolfini, and Matt Craven.

Consensus: It may look like slam-bang action thriller, but it has more ideas and messages than just your ordinary popcorn thriller. The cast is having a ball with this material, and Scott is probably at his best keeping the suspense, as well as energy up the whole time.

8.5/10=Matinee!!!

The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (2009)

Makes me think twice of taking subways now.

When a group of hijackers led by criminal mastermind Ryder (John Travolta) take the passengers aboard a New York subway train hostage and demand a king’s ransom, it’s up to subway dispatcher Walter Garber (Denzel Washington) to bring them down.

Having not seen the original Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, I went into this film fairly open-minded. But knowing how director Tony Scott can annoy the hell out of me sometimes with his camera-work, kind of made me scared of this project, but it was not all that bad.

Director Tony Scott does it once again, and makes this film really annoying to watch with his constant frenetic camera-work that never seems to work. He does this in films like Unstoppable, The Last Boy Scout, and others, but for this film it was really unneeded. I think that Scott thinks that he needs to stylize every scene so he can make it all look cool, and keep the film thrilling. Oh, and let’s not forget that there is about 3 unnecessary car crashes involved. Why they were in this? Mainly because Tony Scott just wanted one for shits and gigs.

However, the main reason why I did like this film was because it actually was pretty entertaining. I was on the edge of my seat throughout the course of the film, and I didn’t quite exactly know what was going to happen next which is the least I can say for a lot of thrillers nowadays.

The first hour is very tense, and keeps our minds on the film, but by the end it does get to the very generic ending that we have all come to expect by now. While the first hour of this film is extremely – again – intense, around the last 30-40 minutes, the movie just becomes your typical action, chase film. It’s all kind of shame too, cause I really was having a grand time with this film.

Probably the best thing about this film is the constant inter-play between these two amazing actors. Denzel Washington, who looks like he was eating enough Subways for this role, does a great job of playing that likable, every-day man hero we have all come to love and know him as. John Travolta may look like a Hell’s Angel member, who enjoys porn on the weekends, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t convincing. Travolta was great because I believed he was crazy enough to hi-jack a subway, and wildly enough to pull it off, but also two steps ahead of me, the viewer. What makes this movie work is the interplay between these two main characters. They both speak through a box to one another throughout the course of the film, but not once did I want to get up, and go to the bathroom. Throughout that final act of the movie, I was just thinking “C’mon, go back to the two of them talking!” That’s how good it was watching them talking, and that’s why this film really does work. There is also some good side performances from the likes of James Gandolfini, John Turturro, and Luis Guzman.

Consensus: The direction may be too frenetic for this type of work, but the first hour, and constant interplay between Travolta and Washington make this film an enjoyable, if a bit generic thrill ride.

7/10=Rental!!

Unstoppable (2010)

Yes people, this movie is about an out-of-control train. Proof that Hollywood has run out of ideas.

A massive unmanned locomotive, nicknamed “The Beast” and loaded with toxic cargo, roars through the countryside, vaporising anything put in front of it. A veteran engineer (Denzel Washington) and a young conductor (Chris Pine), aboard another train in the runaway’s path, devise an incredible plan to try and stop it – and prevent certain disaster in a heavily populated area.

I’m not going to lie, when I first saw this trailer, I said to myself: “this is literally going to be a piece of crap!”. Now that I have seen this, well I can say that it’s honestly not as bad as I expected.

It started off slow, and that is one of my big complaints with this movie, it just didn’t have that steam (pun intended) going throughout the movie, that I would have liked. There are parts in this film, where really nothing is happening, people are just talking about something, or walking, and that’s fine and all, but there were too many scenes like that and it didn’t keep my interest fully.

Despite not much happening at points, this film does keep you on the edge of your seat at times, and it’s suspense works. Director Tony Scott, uses plenty of that gimmicky shake-camera that he always uses, and if you don’t like that, then this isn’t your film, because he uses that shit even when nothing is happening. But I felt like that camera use, added a lot to the suspense, and thrilling elements of this film.

However, this film is very by-the-numbers. You know from the start where this film is going to go, and when, which takes away from the film in a way, but while the fun is happening you don’t care, your just on the edge of your seat. The plot was a little too thin for my liking though. There were parts where these characters were talking about their personal lives, and troubles, and not to lie, some of it was pretty cheesy and recycled from countless other films really.

I did like seeing Denzel Washington actually do some good to this film though. He’s got his usual charm that everybody knows and loves him for, and although his character may be pretty lazily written, he still does what he can with this character, and that’s all we asked for. Chris Pine is also good here as well, mostly playing second-in-command to Denzel, which is not a bad thing, cause he handles it all pretty well. There are also some nice side performances from Rosario Dawson, Ethan Suplee (who’s back on the big-boy diet sadly), and Kevin Dunn.

Consensus: It’s exciting with it’s actual thrilling moments, but Unstoppable is let down by it’s lazy script, and utterly by-the-numbers story we have seen, time and time again.

6/10=Rental!!