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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Forest Whitaker

The Color of Money (1986)

The Color of Money

“Fast” Eddie Felson (Paul Newman) has been out of the hustlin’ game for quite some time. Nowadays, he spends most of his time, jumping from town-to-town, checking out all of the local pool-halls and seeing what new, exciting and unknown talent lurks in the sometimes seedy underworld. One day, he ends up catching Vincent Lauria (Tom Cruise) playing and realizes that the kid’s not just cocky and brash, but he can also play a pretty mean game of pool, too. However, Eddie feels like it can still be worked on in ways, so he decides to take Vincent under his wing, where the two will go from town-to-town, playing all sorts of talented and colorful characters, sometimes for money and other times, just for plain and simple respect. Vincent wants to learn from Eddie, but he’s also got a chip on his shoulder, making Eddie feel like he has to try harder to teach the kid a thing or two. And of course, the relationship only gets more complicated once Vincent’s girlfriend, Carmen (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio), comes along for the trip, catching the eye of Eddie.

Old school....

Old school….

The Color of Money, as a movie all by itself, is okay. In a way, it’s a perfectly serviceable sports movie, in which we get to see a certain side of society that we don’t often get to see, with a story that’s conventional, and some pretty good performances. But when you also take into consideration that the Color of Money isn’t just a 25-year-late sequel to the Hustler and directed by none other than Martin Scorsese, well then, it takes on a whole new life.

If anything, it feels like a total disappointment.

Which isn’t to state that the Color of Money is a bad movie in the slightest, but it doesn’t feel like anything particularly fun, exciting or ground-breaking as it probably should have been. Did we really need a sequel to the Hustler? Probably not, but the idea here is promising and the fact that the movie was able to get Newman back in the iconic role of Eddie Felson, makes matters all the better. That’s why, while watching the Color of Money, it’s not hard to sit and imagine, “How could something with so much working for it and with so many damn talented people involved, turn out to be so ‘meh’?”

Honestly, I don’t have the answer. The only person who probably does is Scorsese himself as, as much as it pains me to say, seems like he was doing this for nothing more than just a paycheck. Sure, there’s brief, fleeting moments of the same kind of energetic inspiration we’re so used to seeing from him and his movies, but for the most part, the movie’s slow, the momentum barely ever picks up, and the times where it seems like there’s going to be some real stakes and/or emotional tension in the air, the movie suddenly backs off and continues on some path that we aren’t totally interested in.

It’s odd, too, because like I’ve stated before, the performances are quite good here, it’s just that they’re not playing with all that much.

It’s nice that Newman won the Oscar for this, but it’s also a shame, too. The reason being is because out of all the other 8 times that he was nominated, the one time that he won had to be for his least-compelling role to-date, not to mention an inferior take on a character he already played to perfection over two decades before. That’s not taking anything away from Newman, because he’s one of the absolute greats of cinema in general, but it goes without saying that it’s a little bit disheartening when someone who is so talented, so amazing and so compelling to watch, wins the highest prize an actor could win, for a role that shows him not doing much but just coasting along like we’ve seen him do before.

...meet new school!

…meet new school!

Because most of the movie is actually spent on Cruise and his character, who also seems like doesn’t have enough to really work with. Cruise does a nice job with the super-hyper, super-cocky Vincent, but also gets to be a tad annoying, mostly due to his character just being boring. We’ve seen this kind of character before a hundred million times, we know he’s got talent, we know he’s going to put it to good use, and we know he’s going to be successful, but we also know that he’s got a huge ego and will most likely make a terrible decision that not just hurts him, but all of those around him.

Sound familiar yet?

Surprisingly, the one who actually leaves the biggest mark is Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio’s Carmen, who not only feels like the voice of reason here, but in a totally different movie altogether. Mastrantonio’s best skills as an actress has always been that she was the cool girl in the corner, who always had something to say, but didn’t mind keeping it to herself – here, she plays that role and is perfect with it. The chemistry she has with Newman is actually pretty electric, making it all the more clear that the movie should have probably been more about them, and less about the mentor-student relationship that’s overdone with Cruise and Newman.

Oh well, at least Newman got that Oscar. We can all walk away happy from this knowing that fun fact.

Consensus: Even with the talented cast, Scorsese being the camera, and promising material leftover from the original, the Color of Money unfortunately still feels conventional and tired, like the sports genre itself.

5.5 / 10

Wow. They sure do learn quick.

Wow. They sure do learn quick.

Photos Courtesy of: Moon in Gemini 

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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

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

We’re like all connected, man.

After her mother is killed and father (Mads Mikkelsen) is taken from here at the age of 16, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has set her sights out on for her whole life to take down the Empire, in whatever way she can. After receiving a random message from him that he has plans on how to destroy the almighty Death Star, Jyn sets out with a group of fellow rebellious souls who, in one way or another, want to hope for a better world and future that isn’t so controlled by the Empire. One such person is Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a Captain who has definitely done a whole lot in his life that he’s not proud of, but knows to push all of that to the side in hopes that he and the rest of these ragtag folks will be able to hurt the Empire where it hurts the most.

Oh yeah, and it’s somehow all connected to A New Hope, which isn’t a spoiler and trust me, you won’t soon forget about, considering that the movie seems to remind us just about every second that it’s all tied together, through some way. Which isn’t all that bad because yes, it is a prequel of some sorts and yes, it is taking place within this universe that we all practically know by heart, so it would make obvious sense that they would try and tie it all in, make constant references, and give greater context to things we’ve been mulling over since the first one was released nearly 40 years ago.

Leia and Han? Kind of. But more British and Hispanic.

Leia and Han? Kind of. But more British and Hispanic.

That said, a movie should stand on its own, prequel or not, and honestly, that’s where Rogue One sort of falls short.

You basically have to know everything that they’re talking about here and if you don’t, well, then you’re going to feel left out. The one good aspect surrounding the fact that the movie hearkens back to the original so much is that director Gareth Edwards films the movie to where it’s kind of goofy and light, but at the same time, still incredibly stylish and polished to where it still feels especially modern. In fact, it’s hard not to look at Rogue One and see not just how much money was put into it, but how much time, effort and care was put into assuring that the movie had the look and feel of the other movies, yet, still sort of its own thing.

Sure, it’s a movie that connects one too many times to the other flicks and has to remind us incessantly about the larger universe that we already definitely know about, but when this baby’s moving and not focusing a whole lot on what it’s plot is going to turn out to be, it’s quick an enjoyable ride. Edwards definitely knows how to film action -whether it’s on the ground, or in space, or between a bunch of foot-soldiers, or androids – and to do so in a manner that’s compelling, as well as comprehensible, is definitely a step-up from the rest of what we get in the world of summer blockbusters and shaky-cam.

Then again, as good as the action may be, there’s still something that Rogue One lacks in and that’s good, substantial and above all else, memorable characters that, in the many, many years to come, we’ll never get out of our heads and/or stop quoting.

Basically, I’m talking about another Darth Vader, or Han Solo, or Yoda, or hell, even Luke, which doesn’t of interest to Rogue One. And okay, yes, that’s fine – I understand that it’s hard to sometimes strike gold twice when it comes to lovely, absolutely memorable characters and of course, they have a high order to work against, but still, anything would have helped here. Not just a certain trait that lasts long in our mind, but anything.

Rogue One seems to know how to bring all of these shady, random characters from all walks of life together, give them a mission to work towards and basically leave it at that. There’s nothing to any of them, with the exception of a particular set of skill that they’re able to utilize in the heat of the battle, which makes it feel like we’re watching a bunch of characters that we’re supposed to like, sympathize with, and root for, all because of what they’re doing, but it’s kind of hard when we don’t really know any of them. We get some small bits and pieces among the whole talented ensemble, but it still feels like perhaps the movie is holding back on something to keep us glued on to me, until it eventually shows its hand and, well, there’s not much there.

Sorry, Darth. Not as vicious anymore.

Sorry, Darth. Not as vicious anymore.

We’re supposed to care and roll with it, because well, it’s fun and it’s Star Wars. So why should we complain?

Well, it’s easy to complain when you have the talented likes of Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed, Donnie Yen, Ben Mendelsohn, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Alan Tudyk, and Jiang Wen, all doing material that allows them to have a few lines or so every once and awhile, along with a lot of kicking, punching, shooting and fun stuff like that. And of course, I’m not complaining that the movie takes their fighting habits, over their, I don’t know, real life, human habits, but it definitely doesn’t help that every character feels like sketches of someone/something far more interesting that either wasn’t filmed, or cut-out of the final product entirely.

Yen’s blind jedi-like character is pretty bad-ass and honestly, makes me want to see him more and more, but blindness and ass-kicking is pretty much all he gets; Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO droid is memorable because he’s a lot like C3PO, but much more violent and witty, stealing most of the scenes it’s in; Luna’s character tries a little hard to be Han Solo and mostly just feels like a far distant cousin; Ahmed’s barely here; Mendelsohn and Mikkelsen are pros at trash and can elevate anything that they’re working with; Whitaker is pretty bad here, but it seems like he was left without much to do; Wen is there to aid Yen’s character and gets to partake in some bad-assery, but what purpose her serves is never fully explained; and yes, Jones’ Jyn Erso, while not necessarily the most memorable heroine to exist in sci-fi, she still gets the job done, showing us someone we can trust in, but also want to know more and more about, in between all of the planning, and shooting, and killing.

Maybe I showed up to the wrong movie.

Consensus: Stylish and exciting, Rogue One definitely delivers on the epic, grand-scale action that’s become synonymous with Star Wars by now, but also substitutes most of that for a standalone story, with well-written, memorable characters.

7 / 10

True besties.

True besties.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Arrival (2016)

If they can’t speak English, can’t trust ’em. Right?

On one random day, for unexplained reasons, multiple mysterious extraterrestrial spacecraft touch down across the globe. What do they want? What are they? And what the hell could they possibly do? No one quite knows, which is why, as expected, the government gets on it immediately. And in doing so they, they put together an elite team including linguist Louise Banks (Amy Adams), mathematician Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), and US Army Colonel Weber (Forest Whitaker), to help investigate these matters and see if there’s any harm going to be done to planet Earth. No one quite knows how to communicate with these extraterrestrial beings, but Louise believes that she’s able to and starts figuring out what they’re language is, how to decipher it and yes, how to figure out all that they’re feeling or saying. It’s not an easy task, and with the rest of the world watching, sitting on pins and needles, not sure of what to make of these things, it becomes extra stressful for Louise. However, she has a plan and knows that it’s always best to treat outsiders with the utmost respect and dignity, especially if they could exterminate your whole population with the drop of a hat.

Hey, Am? Yeah, something weird over there.

Hey, Am? Yeah, something weird over there.

Another year and guess what? Another Denis Villeneuve movie. While saying that may make it seem like I’m discouraging the fact that one of our brighter, more inspired directors of today’s day and age continues to make a movie each and every year, it’s not meant to. As opposed to someone like Woody Allen, who churns out flicks because he’s got nothing else better to do and well, has the money, Villeneueve’s movies seem like they took forever to direct, are handled with care, and yes, for the most part, pretty damn good. Sure, at the same time, they’re dreary, sad, sometimes, violent, and yes, a little disturbing, but hey, they’re mostly all good movies and they deserve to be appreciated as such, right?

Anyway, with Arrival, it’s interesting to see Villeneuve sort of in a new light. He’s tried out the thriller genre by now, so instead of just focusing his sights on that, he goes towards sci-fi and it’s actually surprising how different this flick is from his others. While it’s still thrilling and sometimes unpredictable, it’s not dark, it’s not dreary, and it sure as hell isn’t ultra-violent – it’s actually quite heartfelt and inspiring.

Yes, for a movie about so-called aliens, I’m as shocked as you are.

What it all mostly comes down to though, is that Villeneuve himself never keeps us as informed as viewers, as we ought to be. Like Louise and all of these other characters, we don’t quite know what these beings what, or what they’re put on this planet for – what we do know is that they’re here, on Earth, and they may pose something of a threat. However, it’s interesting to watch as Louise and all of these other scientists get together and try to communicate with these beings in a relaxed, peaceful, and sometimes civil manner.

Most of the time, with sci-fi flicks especially, we see that the alien-beings up in the sky are evil and out to get the human race, but it’s a little different here; the aliens here look different, for sure, but they also have different intentions that we haven’t quite seen, or heard before in sci-fi movies of this nature. Even the layout of the pod is interesting; it’s literally one dark room, with a clear-glass and totally left up to our imagination – it’s dreamy, beautiful, but also terrifying, and seeing this on the biggest screen possible, honestly, the better.

Do scientists really look this sexy and cunning?

Do scientists really look this sexy and cunning?

Oh and yeah, Arrival is quite thrilling, but not in the way that you’d automatically expect. There’s some guns, there’s some explosions, there’s some running, there’s some running, and yeah, there’s some cursing, but it’s not all played-up for dramatic-effect because Villeneuve had nothing else better to do – it all feels earned. The movie’s main source of tension and excitement mostly comes through not knowing what to expect next and constantly waiting for this situation to get out-of-hand and spiral out of control, which it sort of does, but not in the way that you’d expect. Villeneueve and writer Eric Heisserer are constantly flipping the script on sci-fi conventions here that it is, yes, smart, but also interesting to watch, as we never quite know where they’re going next, nor does it seem like they know, either.

They’re just having way too much fun living life in a sci-fi flick and well, I can’t blame them.

The only aspect the movie sort of falls a tad apart in is the fact that it relies a little too heavily on this final-act twist that, for all the red herrings, curve-balls, random dream sequences, and symbolism, is still obvious and doesn’t quite pull the rug from underneath us. It’s hard to really be mad at a movie for not having a solid final-act twist, but there’s also something to be said for a movie that seems to harp on it so much and so often, that after awhile, it becomes annoying. We get what the movie’s getting at and because of that, it feels overdone.

Still, the cast is quite great here. Amy Adams is a sweet and peaceful presence as Louise, but also hints at having something of a darker side to her; Jeremy Renner plays the hip, cool and joking scientist that aids her in all of her work and has a nice bit of chemistry with her; Forest Whitaker shows up as the as the army Colonel, making it seem like he’s going to be the evil, dispirited villain of the story, but surprisingly, doesn’t turn out that way; and Michael Stuhlbarg, despite not being given a whole bunch to do, still has some fun as the coordinator of this mission and it’s just nice to see him around.

Consensus: Despite a weak final-act, Arrival is interesting, thrilling and smart, while also feature another win for Denis Villeneuve, one of film’s more compelling talents who seems to be challenging himself more and more with each flick he does.

8.5 / 10

Yeah, so what?

Yeah, so what?

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire, TwiCopy

Street Kings (2008)

Don’t mess with Johnny Utah. Ever.

Tom Ludlow (Keanu Reeves) is a veteran member of the LAPD who has definitely seen better days. While he does still do his job and take down the bad guys that need to be taken down, he also does so by sucking down bottles of vodka. He does this because he is still mourning the loss of his wife and as is such, has alienated a lot of those around him. One person in particular is his former partner, Officer Washington (Terry Crews), who now looks back on his time with Ludlow in disgust. Ludlow knows this and doesn’t like it, which is why he decides that it may be time to get Washington to shut up, before certain people start listening in on to what he has to say. But wouldn’t you know it that when Ludlow does get a chance to shut Washington up, Washington is gunned-down in what happens to be a random corner-store robbery. Feeling some echo of guilt, Ludlow decides to set out and find out who did this to Washington, but unfortunately, the more he digs up, the more dirt begins to show.

That Forest Whitaker eye is not to be messed with.

That Forest Whitaker eye is not to be messed with.

David Ayer can handle these types of dirty, gritty and violent thrillers about corrupt cops and politicians being, well, just that, corrupt. However, there does come a point where eventually, all of the same things that you made your name on, can get to be a bit too old, especially when you’ve got nothing left to say. Sure, a movie like Street Kings should resonate more so now, than it ever has before; police corruption is at an all-time high and people seem to really be demanding questions more than ever, but for some reason, it’s the kind of movie that brings these hard and questionable figures up, without ever seeming to bother to really say much more about it.

Instead, Ayer is more interested in shooting things and throwing blood anywhere he can set his sights to.

That’s fine because Ayer can handle action well. The best parts of Street Kings, actually, are when it’s just a few characters sitting in a room, expecting there to be some violence occurring soon, with their hands firmly on the trigger’s of their guns, not knowing when the other shoe is going to drop and people are going to have to be lit-up. It’s why some of the best moments of Training Day, were the ones where you had no clue exactly what was going to go down, even if you had a general idea.

Problem is, with Training Day and countless other flicks that Ayer has attached his name to, he’s become a tad too conventional. Street Kings feels like the kind of cop flick that would work somewhere back in the mid-90’s – ideas like these weren’t new, but they were still sustainable for entertainment. You could make the argument that Street Kings is sort of working with the same environment, to just be fun and nothing else, but when you have brothers in blue, who are literally doing terrible, immoral things, or getting killed, left and right, there’s a feeling that maybe, just maybe, someone needs to ask, “why?”

In a way, it’s almost like Ayer has a responsibility to ask those questions and get, at the very least, an idea of an answer. To just service your plot with cops and criminals getting shot and killed, without ever saying anything else about it, seems wrong. Trust me, I’m all for the down, dirty and immoral action when push comes to shove, but Ayer doesn’t really have his flick placed in any sort of fake world, or universe – it’s a real world/universe, where cops are meant to stop bad people, from doing bad things.

In fact, it’s the world in which we live in now.

"Uh. Hey. Freeze, man."

“Uh. Hey. Freeze, man.”

But honestly, besides that, Street Kings can be fun, when it actually cares to be fun. There’s a lot of the same stuff seen before, especially from Ayer’s pen, and you can tell that he’s trying to change everything up, yet, fall back on  the same conventions that have made cop-thrillers, such as his, hits in the first place. Ayer is a good director and writer when he wants to be, but here, it feels as if he’s just moving along, steadily, not trying to rock the boat and rely on what he knows best, without trying to change up any sort of format.

The only opportunity Ayer really gets a chance to liven-up things in Street Kings is with his wonderful ensemble, all of whom are having a great time. Keanu Reeves is actually quite good as Ludlow, mostly because the guy doesn’t always have to say something – some of the times, he just backs it up with his gun, or his fists. This suits Reeves just fine, just as it suits him playing the mentor-role to Chris Evans’ young, hotshot rookie character, both of whom work well together. Evans, too, in an early role before he truly broke-out into stardom, seems like the heart and soul of this cruel, dark and upsetting world, which works, until the movie decides that it cares less about him and more about just shooting people’s heads off.

Once again, there’s nothing wrong with this, but there comes a point where it’s overkill.

Others randomly show up like Common, the Game, Cedric the Entertainer, Jay Mohr, John Corbett, and Terry Crews, and all add a little something to the proceedings. You can tell that Ayer likes to cast these known-actors in roles that you least expect them to work with and it actually works in his favor. However, had he given more screen-time to Hugh Laurie and Forest Whitaker, equally the best parts of this otherwise mediocre movie, all would have been right with the world. The two play opposing chiefs who may or may not be as evil, or as good as they present themselves as being. Ayer always treads the fine line here between these characters and it makes me wish that he decided to do more with the other characters, or even the plot.

Consensus: As conventional as cop-thrillers can go, Street Kings boasts an impressive cast and some fun moments, but ultimately seems to concerned with blowing stuff/people up, and not ever asking why.

5 / 10

"Let me give you my card. And no, I'm not playing that cynical doctor this time."

“Let me give you my card. And no, I’m not playing that cynical doctor this time.”

Photos Courtesy of: Roger Ebert.com, IMDB, Deep Focus Review

Southpaw (2015)

From what I hear, the more jabs to the head, the merrier!

Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhaal) faced all sorts of adversity over the years to make himself one of the best boxers in the profession today, and still be able to come home to his beautiful wife (Rachel McAdams) and kid (Oona Laurence). However, all of that changes when tragedy strikes and Billy is practically left to fend for himself. Due to all of the blows he’s taken to the head, not only is he a punch-drunk, fumbling mess, but he’s also lost all sorts of control over his emotions, which puts him in a lot of legal trouble. This all eventually leads to his house, car, money, and worst of all, kid get taken away in hopes that he can change his act for the good. Problem is, the only way Billy can get back on top, is through boxing – a sport he has been told, time and time again, that “he should retire from before it’s too late”. Still though, Billy sees his fight against the current champ, Ramone (Victor Ortiz), as his comeback one, regardless of what the nay-sayers may spout on about. To get back in shape, Billy enlists the help of Titus “Tick” Wills (Forest Whitaker), a trainer who only helps out younger boxers, and nobody else. However, in Billy’s case, Tick is willing to make an exception.

That is, if Billy changes his act a whole bunch.

Hey, you two! Stop PDA'ing, and give 50 some cash money! Dude clearly seems to be begging for it!

Hey, you two! Stop PDA’ing, and give 50 some cash money! Dude clearly seems to be begging for it!

I think it’s pretty safe to say that if you’ve seen one boxing movie, you’ve practically seen them all. Of course, there are the noble exceptions to the rule (Raging Bull), but for the most part, each and every movie that concerns with the sport of boxing, plays out like another take on Rocky. Underdog has dreams; underdog faces adversity; underdog faces set-back; underdog gets back on his feet; underdog sets out to defeat the champ. It’s all been said and done before, many, many times and you know what?

Southpaw isn’t going to change that formula.

Thankfully though, it’s the kind of movie that’s lucky to benefit from a talented cast who, despite having to deal with a very over-dramatic and sometimes corny script from the wild and wacky mind of Kurt Sutter, make better because they’ve come ready to play. Case in point, Jake Gyllenhaal who, believe it or not, is actually taking up a role written for Eminem. While I would have definitely liked to see how that played out, in hindsight, I’m still glad that the second person to get the call was Gyllenhaal, cause not only is he proving himself to be one of the better actors we’ve got around working today, but he’s able to throw himself into any role where it doesn’t matter who was supposed to be in it originally, or not. Gyllenhaal’s going to make you believe it should have been him all along and that’s why he works wonders with Billy Hope – the most conventional character he’s had to work with since Bubble Boy.

Which I know sounds terrible, but it actually isn’t; Gyllenhaal’s more talented as an actor now, than he ever was before, and it’s great to see him sink his teeth deep into what could have been a total paycheck gig. Though it most definitely is the kind of role that’s paying for Gyllenhaal’s pad in Malibu, he still gives it his all, showing the sadness and sometimes, vulnerability to this character of Billy Hope. He’s conventionally written in that he’s an underdog who brought himself from nothing, to something, only to have to do it all over again, but Gyllenhaal takes it some steps further, by showing that this character really needs to box for his life.

Because without it, what is he?

Just another average Joe, working a 9-to-5, having to come home to a wife, two kids, dog, and white picket fence? Or, is he a guy that has to constantly wade through the thick, the thin and do what he can to provide love and support for those he cares for the most? The movie itself seems to lean more towards the latter, but Gyllenhaal, even despite the fact that he got himself all jacked-up and scary for this role, constantly makes you wonder where his mind is heading toward and thinking of the most.

And of course, Forest Whitaker’s great as Billy’s trainer, as well is Rachel McAdams as Billy’s wife, but the reason why I’ve high-lighted Gyllenhaal’s performance so much is because he’s clearly the heart and soul of this movie, and proves to be the best part of it when all is said and done. Sure, Southpaw is entertaining in that it features plenty of boxing, running, training, cursing, and rap music, but at the same time, it’s a little too hard to take seriously at times, even if it so desperately pleads and begs you to do otherwise.

Imagine how he looked in Nightcrawler, but with a whole lot more muscles.

Imagine how he looked in Nightcrawler, but with a whole lot more muscles.

You can, once again, chalk that up to the fact that Kurt Sutter is here writing this thing, but you can also add on the fact that Antoine Fuqua directed this and even though he’s had some good movies in his past, he’s no master of subtlety, that’s for sure. Every time it seems like Billy’s going to lose his shit and break something in his way, have no fear, because he will. Heck, every time that you think Whitaker’s character is going to have something inspirational to say to give Billy more hope, don’t worry, because he definitely does. It’s not much of a problem because Whitaker and Gyllenhaal are both pros at what they do and share incredible chemistry with one another, but after awhile, it’s get to be a bit disappointing when you know that they’re working with mediocre material.

Granted, you should always take a movie for what it is, and not what it could have been, but in this case, I’m making the exception. Whereas, on paper, with the premise and cast involved, Southpaw could have been a huge, hot and heavy Oscar-contender (like it was originally planned to be), with the likes of Sutter and Fuqua combined, their brand of unsubtle melodrama takes over everything and has it play out a bit more soap-opera-y. It’s what we’ve got, so I shouldn’t complain too much, but man, imagine what it could have been with some other people involved. Like, I don’t know, say, Marty Scorsese?

Yep, that sounds like a perfect idea. Somebody call him up next time.

Consensus: With Gyllenhaal in the lead role, Southpaw turns out to be a lot better, but can get so over-the-top and silly at times, that it takes away any sort of momentum that it can sometimes build for itself.

7 / 10

Good thing Rach wasn't around.

Good thing Rach wasn’t around, cause she’d definitely want to butt in…..

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Dope (2015)

Kids, don’t do drugs, or sell them. But definitely listen to A Tribe Called Quest when you get the chance.

High school senior Malcolm (Shameik Moore) is on the verge of graduating, figuring out of his major, getting into a good college, and getting the hell out of Inglewood. Though he will definitely miss his best friends, Diggy (Kiersey Clemons) and Jib (Tony Revolori), he knows that this is what he needs to do to survive and make himself a better person, and not just a cliche of what everybody thinks as “the young, black kid in America”. However, all of his dreams and hopes get a bit blindsided when he’s at a party and things get out of hand – drugs are dealt, money is taken, guns are shot, bullets are flying. But, when it’s all over, somehow, Malcolm has a gun and a stash of drugs in his backpack, which seem to have gotten in there deliberately from the local drug-dealer, Dom (A$AP Rocky). Now, Dom wants Malcolm to take the drugs to a place to make sure that he’s able to get out of jail, but now, somebody very threatening wants the drugs, too and now, Dom, has no idea what to do! All he knows now is that he has to rely on both his book, as well as his street smarts to get him out of this terrible situation.

Oh, and of course he's got to be in an ironic punk band!

Oh, and of course he’s got to be in an ironic punk band!

Oh, and it all happens to the back-beat of some sick 90’s hip-hop jams; which, I have to say, is kind of strange considering that this movie, minus a few plot-points here and there, could have easily taken place in said decade. The movie very much feels like it’s trying to be the Boyz N the Hood for the new generation, but at the same time, still seems to be placed in the same time and place as that movie, that it can’t help but feel a tad bit like it’s unoriginal. But that’s the beauty of Dope: On the surface, it seems like you’re average, coming-of-age flick, but it somehow finds smart, interesting ways to spin itself that makes it feel fun, fresh and original, as if this were a story that was just being told to us for the first time, and excluding all of the other times we’ve seen movies about young drug-dealers just trying to survive.

Nope, Dope is something smarter and it wants you to know that, too.

Don’t get me wrong, though, no way in hell is Dope pretentious; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. While it’s a movie that seems to love and appreciate its characters, it still doesn’t shy away from the fact that they too, like all of us, make some incredibly terrible mistakes. Because Malcolm and his friends are so young, dorky, and closed-off from everyone else around them, it makes sense that they would only be able to react to a situation such as the one they’re thrown into, acting on pure ingenuity, regardless of what they think happens next. After all, they’re kids just acting like kids, so sue ’em!

But this is getting away from the reality that Dope is a familiar story, told exceptionally well by director Rick Famuyiwa. Even in the smaller, more intimate moments where it literally consists of two characters talking to one another about life, or what have you, there’s still a certain sense of energy behind Dope that’s infectious. While the movie takes place over a few weeks or so, it moves by so quickly and rapidly, that it literally could have been taken place in a single, hellacious day. And because of this, the movie never loses its muster; even if it is taken time to develop its characters a bit, there’s always a sense that there’s somewhere to go and that the plot needs to constantly unwrap.

Of course, by the end, the unwrapping gets a bit ridiculous. Though there’s a lot of eyebrow-raising coincidences that occur throughout a good majority of this movie, it’s the last-act or so where it seems like Famuyiwa loses a sense of this story a bit; then again, it seemed like it was inescapable. Because Dope is so swift and so willing to throw a twist and turn at us every chance it gets, it also suffers from the problem that it gets a bit too ahead of itself – even when it seems like we’re done with the whole drug-angle, the movie still continues to hammer away at it. Which is to say that the movie’s 110 time-limit could have easily been trimmed-down to at least 90 minutes and all would have been fine.

Then again, it’s hard to hate on a movie that’s having as much fun as Dope is.

Word of advice: Don't tell her about your band. She's probably heard a bit too much music in her lifetime.

Word of advice: Don’t tell her about your band. She’s probably heard a bit too much music in her lifetime.

Which, by a summer viewing standpoint, is exactly what you want. But at the same time, there’s still a message at the center of Dope that’s noteworthy and smart, and doesn’t try to cram down your throat (that is, until the last-act). Rather than being a tale about racism and how it affects our everyday landscape, Dope is more about how one person can get through that all and focus on what makes them better as a human being, rather than what it does for society. The characters in Dope realize that racism is indeed an issue, but they’re more or less concerned with how they’re going to get by in a world that constantly seems to be crushing them from both sides. Whereas some want to stay on the straight and narrow path of studying hard, getting a good job, and having a lovely life, others can’t ever see themselves doing that, so therefore, they stick to the streets where they deal drugs, rob people, and risk the chance of getting arrested and/or killed each and everyday. It’s a sad reality, but it’s the reality we live in.

And nobody knows this more than Malcolm, our main protagonist, played wonderfully by Shameik Moore. Malcolm is the 21st century definition of a “nerd”: While he’s definitely not the most popular kid in school, he’s far from being the dweeb. He dresses cool, isn’t too socially-awkward, and knows how the outside world works, even if he definitely gets picked-on by his confidantes because he’s smart and is able to use that to his advantage. Moore is great in this role because even though Malcolm seems to have it all figured out about what he wants to do with his life, he’s still far from growing up, or better yet, understanding everything there is to understand about life. He’s smart and inspired, but when he’s talking to girls or college counselors, he’s still a naive, 18-year-old kid that has an idea of what he wants, but when he gets right down to it, is still spacing out on all of the details.

Which we were all like at one point!

Playing Malcolm’s two buddies, Kiersey Clemons and Tony Revolori do solid jobs at making their personalities seem more than just “loving side kicks”; they too, like Malcolm, have their own dreams and aspirations, and are more than willing to support Malcolm in this poor situation. But perhaps the one that I was most impressed with was A$AP Rocky as the drug-dealer who puts the drugs in Malcolm’s bag in the first place, Dom. Even though it doesn’t seem like Rocky has to stretch himself too much to really fit into this role, he still impressed me with how he was able to embody a character that you’re never too sure about. Does Dom really like Malcolm? Or, basically, is he just using him for his own personal gain? And if so, what will he do to Dom when all is said and done?

Either way, you never know and it goes to show you that the list of good rappers-turned-actors just got a bit bigger.

Consensus: Despite a problematic last-act and run-time, Dope still treads along fine enough to where it’s entertaining, funny, and most of all, heartfelt to the point of where it seems like it’s offering you a glimpse into a character’s life whose is worth glimpsing into.

8 / 10

Dare to dream, kid.

Dare to dream, kid.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Taken 3 (2015)

This family should just never step outside ever again.

After a few run-ins with foreign thugs, Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson) can finally sit back, relax, and soak in that his family, for once in what seems like an eternity, is safe and sound. His daughter (Maggie Grace) seems to be spending some lovely time with her new boyfriend (Jonny Weston), as well as getting an education in college; his ex-wife (Famke Janssen), is also currently dating (Dougray Scott), but doesn’t know whether or not she should take it to the next level; and there’s even a possibility of their being another member of the Mills family. However, that all goes away once Bryan’s ex-wife mysteriously turns up dead and, wouldn’t you know it, Bryan’s the one who is framed for it. Without standing by and allowing for himself to be wrongfully imprisoned, Bryan takes justice into his own hands, goes on the run, and does whatever he can to clear his name. That means kicking a lot of ass, questioning a lot of folks, and figuring out just who the hell is behind all of this. Also trying to do the same is Inspector Franck Dotzler (Forest Whitaker), somebody who believes Bryan is innocent, even if he can’t fully prove it just yet.

"Act your age, missy!"

“Act your age, missy!”

Unlike everybody else on the face of the planet, I was never so hot with the Taken franchise to begin with. Sure, it was a neat concept – place an aging-actor, well-respected actor in an action-packed, take-no-names role and just let him be as menacing and scary as humanly possible. However, both movies hardly ever did anything for me. The first Taken was too serious for its own good, and if we’re being honest here, Taken 2 may have been a bit better for me, if only because it was absolutely balls-out wild and hardly ever made excuses for itself. Action movies that are like always win my heart, even if they do feature one of their characters throwing random grenades all over a city.

But hey, let bygones be bygones.

Now, with Taken 3, it seems like the franchise has finally hit its peak, or I guess, lack thereof. The story itself always showed signs of getting old, tired and stale, and that’s exactly what this movie proves as fact. There’s no real story here, except that Liam Neeson is on the run in a Fugitive-kind of way, where we’re left to sit back and enjoy all of the crazy, adrenaline-fueled close-calls he runs into to protect his life, as well as his family members. Honestly, it’s kind of a bore to watch, which shouldn’t at all be the case.

Some of that problem is due to the fact that the story just isn’t all that engaging to begin with, but it’s also because Olivier Megaton’s direction is constantly irritating. Rather than allowing for us to see how an action-sequence plays out, who is affected in it and why, Megaton feels the urgent need to shake the camera up all over the place, and cut every single shot that comes the slightest bit close to hitting four seconds. In a way, it’s almost nauseating and makes it seem like Megaton knows he’s not working with anything worth writing home about, so he just does whatever he can to distract us, in the most manipulatively obvious way possible.

Where’s Tony Scott when you need him?

Also, let me not forget to mention that this movie is PG-13 in the worst kind of way possible. People get their throats slit, shot in the face, blow-up in car accidents, stabbed in the abdomens, and so on and so forth, and there is absolutely no blood to be found. I get that the powers that be behind Taken 3 wanted to appeal to a larger-audience, so rather than scaring the hell out of anyone who wanted to have a good old time at the theater and not think of the harsh consequences for such violent acts as these, they wanted to soften it all up, without showing any sort of ketchup whatsoever. Like with Megaton’s direction, Taken 3 is made solely to distract you from the real problems that may be lurking within the movie itself and rather than being sly, or even coy about it, it’s easy to pick apart every little problem it has, which makes it all the easier to see why this trilogy needs to end, and end now.

"Excuse me, miss? Have you seen my agent anywhere? They seriously need to be fired."

“Excuse me, miss? Have you seen my agent anywhere? They seriously need to be fired.”

Which is definitely a shame because this is the same franchise that helped re-invigorate Liam Neeson’s career. Say whatever you will about these movies, without the first Taken, we wouldn’t have the Liam Neeson we see and sometimes love, in today’s world, had it not been for the unpredictable popularity of that movie. It helps that Neeson brings some gravitas to this role and allows for Bryan Mills to feel more of an actual, living, breathing human being who also just so happens to be able to karate-chop people to death. However, here, in his third-outing as this character, Neeson seems tired and, dare I say it, bored. And he definitely should be. The guy’s had some of his best roles in the past few years, with a lot better movies, and from what it seems, there’s only more of them to come.

So, people, whatever you do, don’t feel bad for Liam Neeson. The dude’s going to be mighty fine for many years to come.

The ones who you should probably feel bad for are the likes of Famke Janssen, Maggie Grace, and new-to-the-franchise Dougray Scott. Because, honestly, I don’t know if either of these three are going to get anymore shots at glory like they have with these movies. No offense to Grace, but she’s never been the best actress for this role (especially considering she’s always looked 30, whenever she was supposed to be roughly around 17 to 21), and here, those problems show. She’s got at least one look on her face throughout this whole movie and she wears it to a T. Though I can’t say much about Janssen, due to the fact that she dies pretty early on, the relationship she has with Bryan borders on being friendly, to downright four-play and it makes you wonder whether these two are going to just let all of the bullshit go away and bang, right here and now. That’s the movie I would have liked to see, but sadly, didn’t. Oh well.

Then, of course, we have Dougray Scott, who has actually been pretty good in past movies, but is pretty terrible here. He’s forced to do some sort of American-accent that does not at all work one bit for him, and his character is so clearly not who he says he is at first, that when we eventually get to see some of his true colors come out, it’s no surprise to us whatsoever. And as for Forest Whitaker, he’s just here to service the plot, occasionally dueling out a nice bit of charm here and there. But mostly though, he’s left to just eat bagels.

And there’s your sales-pitch, everybody.

Consensus: With hardly any story to work with, Taken 3 is a relatively boring, aimless piece of PG-13 action, where people practically get beheaded, and there’s not so much as a pint of blood to be found.

3 / 10 = Crapola!!

It's okay, Liam. Just get rid of it and let the good times roll.

It’s okay, Liam. Just get rid of it and let the good times roll.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

Think of a duel between Don Corleone and Samurai Jack, with the Wu-Tang Clan blasting somewhere in the background. Yeah, pretty weird.

Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a quiet, lonely hitman, living in the modern world. Nothing really all that strange about that right? Well, he is a hitman that adheres to the code of the samurai; meaning he doesn’t use technology, has total respect for those who employs him and can only be contacted by carrier pigeon. As odd as this may seem, it somehow has been working for him for the longest time, all until he finds himself in a huge pickle once the mob that hired him to do the job, decide that he botched it up and want him dead. However, Ghost don’t play that shit and they’re going to most likely find that out.

To be honest, I’ve never been a huge fan of Jim Jarmusch. The guy seems like he has his own certain style that pretty much leans only towards his audience and kind of says, “‘eff off” to those who aren’t as fond of it, or not nearly as hip as those who do like and appreciate his work. I think I’m a bit part of the latter, which is why I wasn’t really looking forward to watching his mash-up of a gangster and samurai film. Seems a bit of a strange mixture to put together in the first place, and having Jarmusch being the one to combine the two, only made it seem the more odd.

However, it seems like without Jarmusch, this material couldn’t have even worked any other way.

Don't you just hate it when that happens?!?

Don’t you just hate it when that happens?!?

What I liked about this flick and Jarmusch’s direction is that the guy settles things down pretty quickly, and allows us to feel the nature and essence of this story. It’s a pretty standard story of a hired-job-gone-wrong and the people having to pay for it, but the way Jarmusch focuses more on the characters, the style behind the characters, and the setting that surrounds them is something that makes this a tad different than many other crime movies of this nature. There’s a laid-back feel to this movie that doesn’t really kick-start up once the action does; it sort of just moves around. But it’s never boring because of that. Instead, it gave me a clearer-view of whom I was working with here and got me ready for the grisly violence that actually came to be a bit of a shock for me.

Though Jarmusch is, in essence, a very stylish-director, the violence he portrays in this movie doesn’t really have all that much style to it. There’s a lot of guns being touted-around like candy; gun being fired; blood squibs flying; limbs being torn-apart; and more than enough people getting offed in some pretty reckless ways. It’s all standard crime-thriller stuff that we’ve seen a hundred times before, but Jarmusch does something neat with it that makes it work moreso for him and his legion of fans.

That mainly has to do with how Jarmusch is able to incorporate humor and a bit of dark comedy to each scene that features somebody getting shot-up. It almost reminded me a bit of a Coen Brothers movie where somebody’s head could be practically on the ground, and they’d still find a way to make a chuckle or two about it. That’s how Jarmusch is with the violence and material here and even though he isn’t as subtle or surprising with it as the Coens, he still has something to show and provides us with plenty of violence to cure any crime-movie lover’s needs. Still, it’s a movie about a samurai who lives in the current-world, so why the hell didn’t Ghost Dog at least draw the sword every once and awhile on some unlucky piece of Italiano shit? Seriously, I mean we see him practicing with it and laying by it, but it’s barely ever used.

Oh well, the guy could definitely kill me in a heartbeat so I won’t go on any longer.

Even though this isn’t as weird and quirky as most Jarmusch films are, you still can’t help but feel like this guy really carries the film back. For instance, all of the samurai babble that would literally come in every six minutes was okay for the first two or three times it was done, because it made sense to the story and to our main character. But after awhile, when they dived themselves into about 15 sayings that nobody cared about, then I got annoyed. And it wasn’t even that I didn’t try to care about them and pay attention, because trust me, I did but after awhile, I just started to realize that they had nothing to do with the story and was just one way of Jarmusch trying to get us inside of the head of this character that I feel like we connected with already. There’s a whole bunch of other liberties that Jarmusch takes with this movie and even though they didn’t all piss me off, they still made me feel like it was just another case of Jarmusch trying too hard.

Also, I get that everybody loves this soundtrack because it featured all of RZA’s work before he went-off and did the score for Kill Bill, but it is literally the same noise over-and-over again. Every time there’s a sequence of Ghost Dog walking down the street, driving down the street, or just looking plain and simply cool, the film starts to play this over-bearing track of RZA rapping over a bunch of bells and weird drum-beats. Just like the “samurai babble” I alluded to earlier, once or twice is good but after it gets into the double-digits, then I have a bit of a problem. Mixing mobster and samurai movies, to the beat of rap music is a pretty nifty-idea, I just wish there was more rap involved to where I felt like it really made a difference to the story and not just used as a gimmick to show how whack those old, Italian mobsters are because they can’t connect with the modern-world.

From one true samurai, to another.

From one true samurai, to another.

Despite all this, the highlight of this movie for me was probably watching Forest Whitaker (and his lazy eye) just kick total-ass as Ghost Dog. Whitaker is the type of actor that’s all about presence and having a look to him that can scare the hell out of you. That’s what he does here as Ghost Dog, but the guy isn’t one, big walking cliche of the silent stranger who does his dirty work and gets on with his life like a bit of a scarred-weirdo; he’s actually pretty down-to-earth and you like him for that. Yeah, he’s a bit weird because he talks to pigeons half of the movie, but then again, you would too if all you did was kill people, send people messages by birds, and never want anybody to know who you are.

Actually, I think I’d just get a dog instead, but that’s just me.

Anyway, Whitaker is awesome as Ghost Dog and makes you feel like you can stand fully-behind this guy to do the right thing and hopefully, just hopefully, just come out on-top at the end. Watching him kill all of these old, out-of-date mobsters was hilarious because they just fumbled around like a bunch of worthless goons and watching them get taken down by a dude who seemed to be in a whole, different time-zone than they were, really made this a bit more enjoying to watch. Sounds quite morbid, I know, but it’s the simple pleasures like that, which make movies like this a lot better in my mind.

I’m a sicko, I know. It’s what I live with on a day-to-day basis.

Consensus: There’s a couple of instances in which Jim Jarmusch allow his goofiness to get too in the way of Ghost Dog‘s story, but nonetheless, it’s still a neat mixture of everything that mobster movies do so well, along what samurai movies as well.

7.5 / 10 = Rental!!

Beautiful New York: Where African-American samurais run free on roof-tops.

Beautiful New Jersey: Where African-American samurais run free on roof-tops.

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJoblo

Out of the Furnace (2013)

Does anything pleasant ever happen in rural Pennsylvania?

Russell and Rodney Blaze (Christian Bale and Casey Affleck) have been through some tough times as it is, and in the year 2008, they only seem to be getting wore. Russell still continues his daily-job working at the local mill, where Rodeny is sort of a wild card of sorts when it comes to his own forms of payment. He’s a vet who may be looking at more service in the future, but in another way to get money, he gambles, he bets on horse races and he does a lot of underground fighting. One night, however, Rodney doesn’t come back after he and his manager of sorts (Willem Dafoe) don’t return from a fight happened all the way in New Jersey, and was ran by the menacing, utterly nasty Harlan DeGroat (Woody Harrelson). When Russell realizes that the police aren’t able to take this case any further, he decides to take the law into his own hands, even if that does mean risking his life and eventual freedom for doing so. However, it’s all in the name of his little bro, so it’s worth it, right?

In case you haven’t been able to tell yet by the two very obvious pieces of info I’ve given you about this story, let me just reiterate them for you: It’s rural Pennsylvania, and it takes place in 2008. Why? Well, because people have to brood, have something to be sad about and basically be working their rumps off just to get a nickel and say, “Oh, gee whiz barkeep! Tough world we have here, but an even tougher economy!” And I’m not firmly against movies that like to stress the problems with the lower-class and today’s current economy, but it has to be done in the right way, that’s not just thought-provoking, but feels realistic as well. Even if it is coming from a major studio, and filled to the brim with attractive, A-listers.

"We don't take too kindly to those with a full of set of teeth, boi!"

“We don’t take too kindly to those with a full of set of teeth, boi!”

Writer/director Scott Cooper, despite his best intentions, was not able to convey this movie’s message in the right way, however, he still has something to make-up for it, and that’s a pretty gritty, raw and brutal story of people who just do whatever they can to make it by in this world, even if that does mean cracking a bit of skulls along the way. I get that some may view this story as “tired”, “conventional” and “nothing new”, and to that, I’d have to agree. The film is, by no means at all, breaking down barriers that haven’t already been broken down and put back up before; instead, it’s just telling a small, tight crime story to the best of its ability, while not getting everything right along the way.

Rather than just making this flick a thinking-piece on the people who were there and effected when the Stock Market crashed those some odd years ago, like Killing Them Softly did and did somewhat well, the movie never feels like it’s meaning to go deep enough so that they don’t hide away from more of the grittier aspects like the underground fighting rings, or the drug-dens, or the grisly killings. Makes sense since this movie’s got to appeal and please to somebody out there in the large sheet of canvas we call Earth, but it takes away from what could have been a more powerful story, that took its punches, but never lost its point it set-out to make. Which is why when Cooper decides to back-pedal a bit in the end, it felt like a cheap move on his part, especially since he laid down so much groundwork for this story to continue to develop more and more as it went on along.

However though, I have to give Cooper some credit for at least entertaining me and giving me a solid crime-thriller, that is all about its tension, and less about the nonsensical blood, gore and murders. There are quite a few moments of bloody and brutal violence that occur, but they aren’t done so in a way that feels gratuitous or in a manipulative manner in order for Cooper to show you how unrelenting and bleak this world is, it just feels like how it should feel: Quick, mean, in-your-face and effective when it wants to be. It isn’t that Cooper wants to give us a violent tale of revenge so that we go out there in the world and start taking down random people left and right, it’s more that he just wants to give us a story that goes deeper than just plain-old revenge, and hits the core of our families.

Okay, it definitely comes off a lot hokier than I may make it sound but do believe me: There is some emotion to be had here. It just won’t leap out at you and grab you by the neck so that you feel its tears. It’s just a sad movie that you can choose to feel sad with, or sad for. Either way, you’re going to feel sad.

And one way you may feel sad for this movie is the way that it assembles this huge cast, and how some of them feel wasted, and others don’t. In my eyes, nobody felt wasted, but that’s just me. I’m a lover, and I never find anything bad to say about anyone…

Anyway, leading this cast of beautiful, Hollywood celebrities is Christian Bale who, once again, carries a movie on his shoulders without ever showing signs of stumbling and slightly losing it, or falling and dropping it all for good. His character of Russell isn’t the best character he’s played in the past decade or so, but Bale gives him more complexity to where you can understand why the guy feels like he needs to change his brother’s life around, even if that does mean causing some heated dinner-discussions. You can tell that there’s always this sense of rage and bitterness lingering behind Bale’s eyes, but he never fully lets it out in a sea of angry yelling; he sort of just continues on with this performance, with this character and with this story, trying his hardest not to let-go of us and lose us for the rest of the flick. Needless to say, he doesn’t and he keeps this character, as well as this movie, very interesting, even when it seems to not be talking about much at all.

Casey Affleck also does a pretty solid job as Bale’s brother, Rodney (weird, right?), giving us the type of dude you’d actually understand and believe as the loose nut in the batch. He’s not all that there in the head, doesn’t always make the smartest decisions, thinks more with his head than his heart and always finds himself looking down the pipeline of something terrible and awful to happen to him, or to the ones he loves. So basically, he’s a classic fuck-up, in every sense of the word, however, he’s a sympathetic one that you feel bad for because he knows he could do so much better with his life, he just doesn’t have much motivation to do so or doesn’t even want to, despite it being the best thing for him and the ones he loves. Affleck has a few scenes where he lets loose of his emotions in the ways that Bale has been known to do in the past (mainly behind-the-scenes) and he does pretty well with each and every one of them, while still laying down the groundwork for an arrogant character, that we’re definitely supposed to reach out to and care for, even at his dumbest moments. And he definitely has plenty of them.

Times are tough when you've just been replaced by Ben Affleck.

Times are tough when you’ve just been replaced by Ben Affleck.

Woody Harrelson is the one big baddie in this whole sea of ’em, playing Harlan DeGroat, and god, he’s good. With all of the lovable, kind and happily-spirited roles he’s portrayed in the past, it’s hard to remember how damn menacing a figure Woody can be when he’s given the chance to be that way, and he’s pretty damn good at it too. He seems like the type of guy that wouldn’t have an ounce of kindness to be found anywhere in his heart, and it works better for this character, rather than working against him as an obvious cliché. Sure, we get that he’s a bastard that doesn’t like anybody he crosses (he practically even tells us early on), but he never feels like one that you couldn’t walk into if you weren’t watching where you were in the backwaters of New Jersey. He’s the type of disgusting human being we all love to poke jokes at for being inbred mother-humpers, yet, would never want to be in a face-to-face fight with. Never, ever in a million years.

Everybody else who aren’t the main characters of this story, still do pretty well even if its fairly obvious they’re just here to collect a paycheck, do their work and be gone. Willem Dafoe is a sleazy guy whom manages poor ol’ Rodney, who owes just as much money as he does, despite being more “professional” about it; Zoe Saldana has a great couple of scenes as Russell’s ex that he so desperately wants back, but just can’t have because of one big problem that gives us one of the best scenes of the whole movie that doesn’t concern shooting, killing or any acts of violence, if you can actually believe that; Forest Whitaker’s character is thrown into the weird position where he’s banging Russell’s ex, and yet, at the same time, being that he’s the cop called onto the scene, has to do his jobs, strictly by-the-books without judgment clouding his mind and he pulls it off well; and Sam Shepard gives us another role where he plays the older, wiser and more silenced member of the family, but is so good at it, I don’t even have time to complain about it. I’ll just let it be, baby.

Consensus: While Scott Cooper would definitely love if Out of the Furnace was more than just gritty, raw and down-to-Earth crime-drama, he still delivers a tense, revenge-soaked story that never lets us go, even in its messiest moments.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

"If your bro needs help with the voice, just tell him to give me a call."

“If your bro needs help with the voice, just tell him to give me a call.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBColliderJobloComingSoon.net

The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Fear the lazy eye.

Scottish doctor Nicholas Garrigan (James McAvoy) has just graduated from school and has no idea what to do with his life, nor how to make the best use of his talents. He then decides to spin his globe, stop it with his finger, and wherever it lands, he will go to and try out his profession there. Miraculously, his finger lands on Uganda, which leads him to an even more miraculous twist of fate when he becomes very close with Uganda’s most iconic, most barbaric figures in history: Idi Amin (Forest Whitaker). At first, they develop a friendship over sheer understanding and joyfulness of just being around one another, but once things in Uganda start to get hotter and more riotous, Amin’s true colors show, and their friendship becomes strained. So strained that James wants to leave and get the hell out of town, yet, what he doesn’t know is that when he accepted Amin’s friendship, he also accepted all of the problems and pitfalls that would come along with the man’s dictatorship as well.

It seems like every other year, we get a movie about Africa suffering and how the white people came into to try and sweep it all away. Sometimes they do work and offer us plenty of thoughts to toil around in our heads, and other times, they feel like a sad-sap attempt at a bunch of white Hollywood liberals trying to throw their guilt onto us. It’s almost as if we did something wrong, just by deciding to do nothing, even though they’re country has been killing themselves from the outside-in for many, many years, and hasn’t seem to slow itself down a bit. However, this is a movie review blog, and it shall stay as that. So all political-stances aside, let’s get back on with the movie we have at hand here.

"No, no. no, my fine people. Over 300,000 Ugandans dead is a good thing."

“No, no. no, my fine people. Over 300,000 Ugandans dead is a good thing.”

So yeah, The Last King of Scotland. Pretty good movie, want to know why? Well, remember what I was just talking about in the last paragraph about how Hollywood uses the suffering of Africa to make us all feel guilty and spoiled in our righteous minds? Well, surprisingly, director Kevin Macdonald doesn’t take that stance, and instead gives us a story about the powers of evil and corruption, and how easy it is to be succumbed by. While you can tell that Macdonald feels like Africa should have been better aided in terms of where they were headed and who could have helped them out, he surprisingly keeps things rooted in a sense of realism, despite the story being fictitious in a sense.

Don’t have me taken as an idiot: I know that Idi Amin was a real person and is considered one of the most notable faces of the 20th Century, but the story of the Scottish doctor, who later became his personal physician, only to become his personal whipping-boy, isn’t true. It’s simply a character used to place us in on the side-lines as we watch and witness all of the terrible things that Admin did throughout his reign as dictator of Uganda. However, we never quite get to see all of those terrible, horrible things, despite them being mentioned to many of times (most notably at the end when a post-script says that he killed over 300,000 Ugandans). We hear about the “disappearances” of the people closest Garrigan, and maybe one or two shots of being, *ahem*, shot and killed, but never anything so brutal and realistic to the point of where we understand this man’s brutality and horror that he bestowed upon citizens that he considered “his people”. Sounds like a weird complaint, I know, but it just made me feel like I was only getting Garrigan’s story, and nothing else; which felt like sort of a cheap-attempt at getting past all of terribly real, awful stories that actually happened, to real-life human-beings.

That said, it’s a movie, and I can’t hate on it for everything that it was supposed to be in my eyes, and not what it is. And what it is, if you must know, is a pretty solid movie considering how easily left-ended this flick could have went. The main character, Nicholas Garrigan could have easily been a distasteful piece of work that we not only love to hate, but want to see bad things happen to, just so we feel better about our own insecurities about not being as privileged, good-looking and as charming as he is. And for a quite awhile: He totally is that type of character. He’s snobby; he’s in way too over his head; he falls too quickly in love with the glamorous life that comes with the title of being the dictator’s “closest and most-trusted”; and he gets his magic-stick stuck in some places that no man would ever dream of being stuck, ever, and yet, we still care for him and want to see him come out of this whole situation alive.

A lot of that credit for making this character work deserves to go towards to Macdonald, but it also deserves to go to James McAvoy as well, because he’s able to make us sympathize with this dude, all because he shows us that he’s human, and what would a human like you or I do in the same type of situation he’s in? Would you throw away all possibilities of having a grand-spanking, awesome time living in it up in Uganda? Or, would you take it, follow the first instinct that comes to your mind in any given situation, and still live it up in Uganda? I feel like I would take it as well, especially knowing the type of guy I was dealing with in this type of situation; and for that, McAvoy deserves credit because he makes us feel like we’re watching a real, honest and truthful person that yes, makes a whole bunch of mistakes along the way, but still has his mind and heart in the right place to where you could see him pulling it all off at the end. Also, not forget to mention that every lady he runs into, instantly falls head-over-heels for him, and seconds later, fall right into the comforts of his own bed and living-space.

"Here is my third wife. You can bang her as you please. I have too many wives to keep a full-watch of."

“Here is my third wife. You can bang her as you please. I have too many wives to keep a full-watch of.”

Dirty, cad-like Scot. That Anne-Marie Duff sure is a lucky gal.

But as I’m sure you all know by now, even though McAvoy is the leading-character in this whole movie, he’s not the main centerpiece to what this story is really all about. Who is, is Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin, giving one of his greatest performances ever, and I’m not just saying that because he won an Oscar for this. No, he really is THAT good and shows us that he can take a famous, real-life figure such as Amin, spin the way we view him as a monster, and make us see the world and his decisions from his side of the desk. Don’t worry though, it’s not like the movie makes a reasonable-argument for the mass-murders that he committed under his reign and shows that he was just a troubled dude; no, instead, it gives us a glimpse at a real dude, who had lovable and charming features to him, but also had some very evil and monstrous ones as well, and sadly, they began to take over his whole persona later on in his life and in his reign. But where Whitaker succeeded the most in portraying this man was not by giving us a sympathetic figure, but by showing us just how pure hatred can overcome a man, take all of the nice qualities about his character away from him, and drive away any sort of logical thinking or reasoning from his mind. It’s scary to think that this guy who one second, could be hugging and kissing a bunch of Ugandan women and babies, telling them that “they’re the future faces of Uganda”, and then the next, could be yelling at the top of his lungs about how he wants respect and will stop at nothing to get it, even if violence is needed, and was the figure everybody believed into to save them all from their dreadful days of living and pick them right up from the ground. But what’s even scarier, is how well Whitaker allows us to see a man who obviously had nice things going for him, but just lost sight of what they were once his power became too big, even for him. Great performance, and it’s one that reminds me why this dude is the finest, working-actor out there today.

All Battlefield Earth jokes aside.

Consensus: Less of a character-study, and more of a look at how hatred, anger and evilness can boil inside a person’s mind for so long, The Last King of Scotland features Forest Whitaker’s best performance of all-time, one that goes beyond the usual, “noticeably, bad guy-gone-sympathetic” route we usually see from biopics, and instead, gives us a raw, unrelenting, gritty look at what the type of man he could have been, had he not gone so far off the radar with his own sense of self-worth.

8 / 10 = Matinee!!

"WE! WE! WE ARE UGANDA! And some white Scot."

“WE! WE! WE ARE! UGANDA! Along with some white Scottish dude.”

Photo’s Credit to: IMDBComingSoon.net

Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)

Good call on making it Lee Daniels’ The Butler, because there would have been a whole lot of confusion differentiating this movie, from the 1916 short film of the same name.

The years from 1952 to 1986 saw a lot of change. Change in economy; change in society; change in people; change in politics; and just change in general. However, the one thing that didn’t change in this world was Cecil Gaines (Forest Whitaker), and the job that he had as a White House butler. Remember though, he was the butler for more than 8 presidential terms, and saw them all: He started with Dwight D. Eisenhower (Robin Williams) and ended with Ronald Reagan (Alan Rickman), and witnessed all of the change, the turmoil, the happiness, the problems, and all of the social happenings that occurred in our country, and had the best seat in the house. However, on his home-front, away from the very white, very rich people who lived in the nation’s capitol, Cecil Gaines found it a little hard to keep everybody in his happy, mainly his drunken wife (Oprah Winfrey) and rebellious, but racially-inspired son (David Oyelowo).

When you see a movie like The Butler (which I will continue to call it for the rest of this review), you have to know what you’re getting yourself into right from the start. Obviously its going to be predictable, ham-handed, preachy, episodic, and beyond earnest, but that’s what you expect with something that people are considering “The Civil Rights movement meets Forrest Gump“, right? But like with most movies of this type of nature, if you can get past all of the politics of what the story’s trying to get across, then you can actually find yourself a bit touched by this story, even a little inspired. Nope, I am not black and nope, I am not a Civil Rights activist that still fights to this day, but I’ll be damned if this movie didn’t make me want to raise my fist up to the white man!

"Dear Lord, please get this black man out of dining-area. He's scaring the shit out of me."

“Dear Lord, please get this black man out of dining-area. He’s scaring the shit out of me.”

What’s very strange about this movie though, and what ultimately does it itself in, is that it’s seemingly two movies spliced into one, 2-hour-long feature. One is a flick about a meek and kind butler working for these rich, white politicians who are sometimes as mean a they come; while the other is a flick about a father and a son who obviously love and care for one another, but can’t find an agreement on where they both stand when it comes to the Civil Rights movement, and what needs to be done in order to get the same respect and gratitude that the white man’s been practically getting forever. One’s very interesting, if a little conventional, while the other is surprisingly well-told, and holds most of the core emotions that Lee Daniels himself has this flick bottle-up, just in hopes that it will eventually cork right open and have everybody crying in their seats.

Eventually the cork does come flying out and the emotions do run high, but it could have hit harder, had the other-half of this movie not been so coincidental.

And yes, I do get that if Gaines’ story didn’t have some sort of meaning in the grander scheme of things, then ultimately, we wouldn’t have a freakin’ flick; but some of this is just a little too hard to let slide by. A couple of scenes with Gaines and the president-at-the-time felt honest, realistic, and believable (mainly the ones with JFK, played very well by James Marsden, who not only looks, but feels the part, for as short of a running-time as he gets), but others just claw their nails into your face, just trying their hardest to get a tear out of you. The scenes with Nancy and Ronald Reagan mean well, but end up somehow spitting in the face of both of those familiar faces, making them seem more like fame-whores, rather than actual humans, that were considered at one time, the saviors of this country. I guess hating on Nixon is all fair game by now, but the Reagans? Really?!?! Oh well, maybe it’s just me, but something with their story left a little bit of a sour taste in my mouth.

But then of course we have the stronger-half of the movie: The father-son drama, that’s more compelling than it ought to be. I don’t know who to chalk up the credit to for this part of the movie working the most, so I’ll just give it to all involved with it. Firstly, Lee Daniels has never really impressed me with anything he’s done yet as a director, mainly because the dude’s nowhere near being subtle. Even Precious, as dramatic as it was, was completely over-the-top and got away with it all, because it was adapted from something people consider “truer than art”. Didn’t see that at all, but whatever. I didn’t drink the Kool-Aid on that notion, but hey, I guess it’s time to get blind-sided every once and awhile, right?

Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that Daniels doesn’t pull as many punches here, and it shows. When he keeps it grounded in a sense of comforting reality, you feel closer to these characters and have an emotional-placement in them and what it is that they do. Sometimes Daniels gets a little too over-his-head with various cuts to news footage of the South, where it was practically legal to kill a black person (only if you were a white person that is), but overall, the guy made sure that his story stayed on track and never lost sight of what he was really trying to tell us here. Maybe Gaines’ story didn’t impact the world like Daniels thinks it does, but it definitely is a story worth telling, especially on the big screen, and you can tell that Daniels loves that fact and doesn’t want to lose us, or our interest.

Like I was saying though, the aspect of this movie that mainly keeps it going throughout is the father-son relationship between Forest Whitaker and David Oyelowo, two actors who give their best work in a long time, especially for the former, who has been churning out dull-role-after-dull-role ever since he won “The Big One” way back in ’06. Both characters, Cecil and Louis, are fighting a fight and doing it all for a cause; and that’s racism. But what separates one from the other is how they’re doing it. Cecil stays loyal, workable, and dedicated to his job, just to show that a black man can make a living in the White House, even if he isn’t at the head of it; while Louis, on the other hand, believes that taking to the streets is the one, and possibly only, way to get your voice heard and to make matters finished. At first, when he’s teaming-up with MLK, it’s all about resilience and control, but once the man gets assassinated, and Malcom X takes over the wheel, then it all becomes about violence, installing fear into society, and doing a whole bunch of other questionable acts that would end anyone in a slammer, regardless of their skin-color.

"Don't worry baby, I'll just buy you the White House."

“Don’t worry baby, I’ll just buy you the White House. I mean, cause Christ, I’m Oprah, bitch!”

Anyway though, I’m avoiding the fact that these two, despite them being both father and son, are fighting the same battle. They want to speak their minds and be heard for the rest of the world to take notice of, but are doing it completely differently, if not at the same time. But they don’t disagree with how either goes about it, and that just causes more friction between the two, even when they aren’t together. It’s very clever how Daniels stretches this aspect of their story, and it never gets old or over-done, especially since Whitaker and Oyelowo inject their characters with some real-life heart and trouble. Whitaker gives the type of tour-de-force performance that always is able to get his name noticed come Oscar season, but it’s mainly Oyelowo who shows us that he’s capable of taking someone who’s a little too young and brass to fully get a grip on the world, and still be arrogant about it. Yet, at the same time, still fully gain our sympathy because we know his heart is in the right place, it’s just that he doesn’t have the total understanding on what the world means or where it’s going to end up. Pretty interesting stuff once you think about it, and thankfully, Daniels doesn’t hammer that idea in too much, to where it practically becomes over-shadowing everything else; even if it still does, unintentionally so.

And the rest of the ensemble is great too, if not a bit too stacked for it’s own good. Going into this movie, I felt like I was going to be annoyed to high heavens of Oprah Winfrey here as Cecil’s wife, Gloria, all because it seemed like a piece of stunt-casting used just to get the movie’s name out there more and more for the rest of the world to see (because honestly: Everybody loves Oprah!). I have no qualms with Oprah, but it seemed like a dumb idea to cast her here, if not a very obvious one. However, the woman totally shocked the hell out of me with her portrayal here because she never over-does it, always brings out something new within this character, and charmed me with every scene she was in. Heck, she even made me forget I was watching Oprah act as somebody that wasn’t Oprah! Didn’t think it would happen, and nearly thought I was doomed once I saw her face on the big screen, but she sure did show my pretentious ass. Glad she did, too.

Also, glad to see my main man, Cuba Gooding Jr., getting more work and still being able to knock it out of the park. Take note, Hollywood. The man may be on his comeback trail. Guess Daddy Day Camp wasn’t such the career-killer everybody thought it was….okay, yeah, it was. But still, he’s back, baby!

Consensus: Lee Daniels’ The Butler touches plenty of schmaltz throughout it’s 2-hour running-time, but does it so in a way that will actually compel you, while also serving a history-lesson on how far we’ve come as a nation, and how many times we’ve screwed-up in the past. However, the future looks bright and that’s something I feel that is worth seeing, especially during these hard times.

7 / 10 = Rental!!

When he isn't responding to politicians who want his input on legal matters, the Butler still finds enough time to stare out into space, still being unresponsive. Whatta man.

When he isn’t responding to politicians who want his input on legal matters, the Butler still finds enough time to stare out into space, still being unresponsive. Whatta man.

Photos Credit to: IMDBCollider, JobloComingSoon.net

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!

Phone Booth (2003)

Could have been perfect advertising for Boost Mobile.

Slick New York publicist Stuart Shepard (Colin Farrell) picks up a ringing receiver in a phone booth and is told that if he hangs up, he’ll be killed. Turns out Shephard is being watched by a rooftop killer with a sniper rifle — and the little red light from an infrared rifle sight is proof that the caller isn’t kidding.

Director Joel Schumacher is known for his duds (‘Batman & Robin’, ‘The Number 23‘) and his studs (‘Tigerland’, ‘Falling Down‘), however, what’s to happen if he has just a film that’s right in the middle of everything else. I can say that its probably better than what he released earlier this year.

The premise here is simple and could have easily been used wrong but somehow, Schumacher really does keep this plot moving and tension-filled the whole entire time. There are constant twists right at every corner of the story, and you don’t know what’s going to happen next or how each person is going to react and it just will really keep you going.

I think Schumacher’s best element with this film was how he keeps the camera constantly moving, and never lets loose. It’s all told in real-time and the film never steps away from Stuart and the phone booth which will give you this sort of “no way out” feel.

The voice of the bad boy is also a lot louder than everybody else around him and you constantly hear him, which I think is very truthful because when you are put into a situation like this, you only hear what the dude on the phone is saying and everybody else around you is sort of silent. I thought this added a lot to the film and to have Keifer Sutherland as the voice was just a perfect choice altogether, because that laugh is just so damn sinister!

The problem I think this film runs into is that it kind of loses focus as to what it wants to be and who exactly its trying to focus on. It felt like the movie was trying to show that we should all re-examine our lives because what we do everyday could be wrong to others, but to have that shown in a film where a guy has a sniper locked on a dude in a phone booth seems a little strange. Also, just because the guy apologizes and admits his wrong-doings doesn’t mean he’s naturally just a changed man, he’s just more honest.

Another problem with this film was that it’s focus was kind of on both of these two and it wasn’t necessarily well-executed to say. The film spends time basically trying to get us to empathize with b0th rather than with just one and this sort of divides us because we don’t know who to care for and who to not care for. There are signs that this killer isn’t a real bad dude and has reasons for these things that he does, but they are more or simply just left open, with nothing to really cover it in the end of the overall product.

Colin Farrell is the freakin’ man as Stuart in this film and I think this is what certified his star-power. Farrell starts off like a total hot-shot asshole that has no real compassion for the bad things that he does, and constantly tries to weasel his way out of the situation he’s in until he’s basically forced to come full-force with his mistakes and acts in anyway a normal human being would. Farrell controls himself with this film and doesn’t over-act it by any means at all, which is definitely something to applaud because I know so many other actors would have.

Consensus: The direction and acting is what keeps Phone Booth tense and entertaining, but the focus seems a little bit too divided and there isn’t much that this film really tries to answer by the end of the film either.

7/10=Rental!!

Species (1995)

Sexy Alien: two words that don’t seem like they would go together well until now.

When government scientists (led by Ben Kingsley) receive a transmission from space containing alien DNA, they create the ultimate femme fatale: a hybrid woman named Sil (Natasha Henstridge) with supermodel looks, deadly shape-shifting abilities … and raging hormones. When Sil escapes, a team of specialists scrambles to find her before she can reproduce.

If you have ever seen the sight of an alien, they are always known to be ugly, hideous, and just downright nasty. Finally, somebody came up with the idea of actually having a sexy female alien but it’s just a shame that the idea wasn’t cool enough really.

To be honest this is actually a clever premise that is a creature feature, horror film, and altogether a total B-flick that does well with what it has. You have some good cheap thrills that come when you expect them but still effective, and the idea of having this sexy female alien looking for her next prey and the people she encounters along the way actually kept me glued.

If you are also looking for some nice gore, action, and explosions to be popping up out of nowhere than look no further than this film because half of the demographic actually looking at this film, will expect that and actually get it.

However, despite the actual good action and premise, there’s not much else here other than some pretty lame dialogue with an even more disappointing screenplay. I thought it was pretty funny how they made this film with a super-sexy and horny alien who just basically wants to get it on, but when she doesn’t get it, she get’ pissed and kills people. This was a pretty funny idea considering the film actually has us taking it seriously and trying to get scared by this idea, even though it had me doing just about neither.

There are also many lines of total cheesiness and just bad wording overall that will make you cringe even worse. There’s this one incident where the whole team stumbles upon one of Sil’s murders and a member of the crew says, “Something bad happened here”. Wow, no shit Sherlock. And just about every other scene where these people are talking just reminded me how cheesy it was and took from other sci-fi films as well.

The cast here is actually impressive with a lot of good names that I didn’t expect to actually take material like this. I have no idea why Ben Kingsley was even in this and he’s pretty cheesy as Xavier Fitch; Michael Madsen is his usual bad-ass type as Lennox; Forest Whitaker is sweet and confused as Dan Smithson (although other times people call him Darren); Alfred Molina is just here as Dr. Arden; and Marg Helgenberger is just there to keep this team of scientists from just being a total sausage fest. Nobody here is that good really but they at least try, but to almost no effect thanks to the script.

The best performance of the whole cast here is actually Natasha Henstridge as Sil who is very sexy but also scary as well and with a “character” like this, that really means a lot. It’s a shame that she showed so much promise with this performance, and nothing really happened with it other than The Whole Nine Yards and that unspeakable sequel. Also, be on the lookout for a short little kiddy performance from Michelle Williams, which makes me see why she was picked for Dawson’s Creek a couple of years later.

Consensus: There’s enough gore, action, sexy scenes, and some good shock moments to keep you watching, but the script’s problems with believable dialogue and even worse plot holes, just make this another cheesy sci-fi B-flick.

5/10=Rental!!

The Crying Game (1992)

The twist heard all over the world. And then was kind of forgotten about.

To free their jailed comrade, Irish Republican Army terrorists Fergus (Stephen Rea) and Jude (Miranda Richardson) abduct British soldier Jody (Forest Whitaker), hoping to make a swap. Fergus and Jody bond, and, sensing death in the offing, the prisoner asks his captor to look up Dil (Jaye Davidson), Jody’s London paramour. When the IRA’s plan backfires, Fergus takes flight, locates Dil, falls into a romance and … gets the shock of his life.

Back in 1992, this film was making head-lines for a certain twist that had people all over the world going bonkers. No, I will not tell you the twist but if you know it already going in like I did, you will still like this film.

Writer and director Neil Jordan does a great job with the film here because it starts off very bleak with a kidnapping and being all confined to this green-house, but then we are taken to the streets of London and everything changes, but yet there is still that bleakness in the air. A lot of this film is focused on the story and characters being developed while not forgetting to actually keep a certain sense of suspense here and there.

Another thing about Jordan and what he does here, is that he actually combines all of these different types of genres, with some twists and turns while still staying on track and giving us some much-needed themes and messages about sex, gender, and race. There is a lot of dark things here but Jordan somehow just knows the right way to keep this material compassionate for the characters that inhabit this story, and how each and everyone of us have a mask, and when we take it off, the real person comes out. Whether that person being nice or bad, it’s what we are as humans.

The problem with this film as it goes along, I felt myself sort of falling more and more out of the story because what started off really engaging, turns into something interesting, then just turns into a predictable and cliche-ridden thriller that comes out every Friday at the movies. It sort of disappointed me because I was really starting to get involved with this story but then I guess I just saw where it was all going, and then my interest was sort of lost, even if it was sort of still there.

Stephen Rea is very good as Fergus, a guy who I did not imagine being as compassionate and easy to like as I imagined, but somehow Rea plays almost every emotion Fergus has, to his core. Rea practically plays the same guy he plays in every film now, but that’s not really a bad thing since he is so good at doing it. Jaye Davidson is very good as Dil, and without giving too much away, plays this character that we don’t want to believe, but just somehow really stand behind and enjoy every time she’s on screen. It’s a shame that this person doesn’t do much anymore, because this performance shows a really bright career. Forest Whitaker may be considered one of the leads in this film even though he’s not in it for too long, but every scene he has is so perfect and just made me realize that he had Oscar written all over him back in 1992.

As for our little twist, it’s pretty shocking, but that’s if you don’t know what’s going to happen. I knew it from the beginning because everybody told me, but to be brutally honest, if I didn’t know already, I would have been able to tell right away. It’s pretty obvious but back in a time where this twist was completley daring, I could see why so many people would freak over it. If you know it don’t tell your friends, but just be expecting a shocker….kind of.

Consensus: What starts really strong, soon turns into pretty predictable and cheesy, but with a dark direction, great writing, and a pair of powerful performances, The Crying Game works about 1 hour and 25 minutes in, but then just falls. Also, be ready for a shocker, even though many of you actually reading this already probably know what it is.

7/10=Rental!!

Repo Men (2010)

I feel bad for the dude who has to get found out with the organ as his schlong.

In the world set in the not-too-distant future, artificial organs are readily available to anybody with a credit card. But what happens if a buyer falls delinquent on his payments? Jude Law stars as an organ repo man who’s now fleeing his ex-partner after failing to keep up the payments on his own recently installed ticker.

Going into this film, my expectations were totally lowered beyond belief and I was in for some dumb, sci-fi fun, but what I got was better than I actually expected. Love when that happens!

The thing for this film that it has working for itself is the fact that it has a lot of fun elements to it. I have to say that the story will keep you entertained for the most part, there are also some jokes here that will have you laughing, and the action is relatively good which will keep you watching. All of this was going good for quite some time until the middle act comes around, and how bad that really was.

To say the least I didn’t understand just why on Earth I was supposed to care for this “killer”, who all of a sudden gains a conscience and doesn’t feel like killing anymore people. I mean this dude has no problem with killing all of these other people, but when it comes to his own life, aww hell no! I also didn’t really understand why everybody was getting these artificial organs in the first place. I get it that their all easy to find, but why the hell does everyone keep on getting them if they know that they can’t pay and will eventually end up getting killed.

Another problem that this film has is that if you have seen all of the other films that this one has ripped off, it gets really tedious after awhile. The city seems like it’s the same exact one from Blade Runner, and anytime this film over’s up something cool, it’s something we’ve seen before and probably done 10 times better the first time around. The first act also had this really weird vibe going for it, but then by the end, started to get all serious which I couldn’t take into consideration.

However, despite all of these problems with the story, there are some really well-shot action scenes by the end, filled with guns, knives, blood, and gore flying all-over-the-place which made me go “hell yeah” when the scenes were over. The ending will also probably piss some viewers off but I have to say that I liked it, even though it did seem like it was backing out from a sucky story transition.

Jude Law seems like a weird casting for this role as Remy, but somehow he makes it work and for the whole film while were watching him, he actually allows us to sympathize and root on his character. Forest Whitaker is also good as the conflicted thug, Jake, who brings a lot of menace as well as humor to a role that seemed like it was written for cheep jokes. Law and Whitaker have good chemistry and it was pretty much a bummer to see them separated as the film went on. Liev Schreiber, Alice Braga, and RZA are also good in their own little roles, but the script is just pretty lame as a whole.

Consensus: With good performances, fun bloody action, and a surprising twist at the end, Repo Men is what I call a somewhat guilty pleasure that suffers from not-so original writing with plenty of plot holes that seem to over-come this film, and a bad transition into a story that seems lame.

5.5/10=Rental!!

Panic Room (2002)

Home Alone 4: The Revenge

This thriller centers on a divorcée (Jodie Foster) and her daughter (Kristen Stewart) who are caught in a deadly game of cat-and-mouse with three burglars (Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam) in their New York City brownstone, retreating to the vault-like safety of their aptly named panic room. As the intruders try to breach the room’s security, the embattled duo must stay one step ahead.

Out of all of David Fincher‘s films, this one is considered his weakest (that’s if you’re not including Aliens 3). However, this one isn’t so bad, considering it’s his most Hollywood-friendly film to date.

What Fincher does best here is make this pretty simple plot, and make it something that leaves you on the edge of your seat, the whole time. The dark style that Fincher uses works well for this film because it takes down the idea that your house is a beautiful little place, that no intruders can ever get into, and thinking about somebody breaking into our place is just unsettling to think about.

Fincher takes his dear old and sweet time with this pace which makes all of the suspense a lot more taut, and keeps you guessing even though you have a feeling you know what’s going to happen next. There’s a couple of cool camera-tricks that Fincher uses to fully get us knowing that we are in this one little house, with these people, and basically trapped with no way out. It’s crazy because Fincher really tools with our mind in all the right ways, and makes this film more than just your simple, average hostage-thriller.

The main problem with this film is not in Fincher’s directing as much as it is in the story itself. I liked the whole plot and thought it was simple enough to be thrilling but I did find myself guessing just what was going to happen next, and woolah, it did. The problem here is that three bad guys here just so happen to be a bunch of misfits that are pretty much psychopathic, or inexperienced with the exclusion of one person, who is pretty easy to figure out right away. In a way, I knew who was going to die, and who wasn’t (or in this case, who can’t) and what was going to happen in the end. However, I was still in suspense the whole time really.

From what I heard, Fincher was going to cast Nicole Kidman in the lead role but then she messed up her knee or something so she was put as a cameo here, and I have to say that I’m glad that they chose who they chose. Jodie Foster is really good in this role because she starts off all nerdy, and actually sad, but then turns into this vengeful, stop-at-nothing, crazy ladies who wants nothing but to get out of this situation alive. Foster is very good at driving all these emotions from her character just from her facial expressions, and although she almost rarely smiles in this film, she still is a delight to watch. Kristen Stewart does a good job in a very early role, and will probably stop any Twi-hard fans from having any boners over her after watching this. Forest Whitaker, Jared Leto and Dwight Yoakam are all good as the bad dudes, and each contribute great performances for three guys that you wouldn’t expect to actually be written well at all. Pretty small cast, for a relatively small film, but overall good job from the whole cast involved.

Consensus: Panic Room may suffer from it’s script, but David Fincher creates suspenseful tension and makes this simple plot, better than just your average-thriller.

8/10=Matinee!!

Our Family Wedding (2010)

I hope my wedding isn’t like this, and Carlos Mencia isn’t at it.

Forest Whitaker and funnyman Carlos Mencia butt heads as two domineering dads forced to set aside their culture-clash differences and team up to plan their children’s wedding, with only two weeks until the big day arrives. America Ferrera plays the pregnant bride-to-be opposite Lance Gross as her medical resident fiancé.

Basically think of Father of the Bride mixed with a little bit of the racism from American History X. Yes, I know, that is a terrible way to describe it although those movies are actually good.

The film has an interesting premise surprisingly, the problem here is that the film doesn’t know how to be funny one bit with its script. There are too many racist jokes that just aren’t funny, or even tasteful to say the least. I mean, for the most part at least bring out good jokes, with enough heart to satisfy its viewers, but don’t shower me down with crappy jokes, and a goat taking Viagra and humping people at a wedding. That is right, you heard exactly what I said. Goat, Viagra, humping, I thought I’d never say those words in the same sentence.

The film also has plenty, and I do mean plenty of plot holes that come right out as soon as the film gets going. In the beginning, we see that Whitaker has a job as a DJ, but that is the only time we see him doing it, and apparently due to that job hes a millionaire. How can this dude be a millionaire, when he has been at work once in the past two weeks? There is also a lot of formulaic stuff here, but the fact of the matter is that its not just a film about two clashing races, its more about an Oscar winner, and a turd comedian.

The performances are what makes this film seem a bit enjoyable I guess. Ferrera and Gross are good as a couple and you can actually see how they could turn out to be a couple, but the film takes down their chemistry so much, that you are just wishing they would get a divorce. Whitaker is likable here, but likable does not mean funny, ad that is not what he is at all. If anything, i should call him awkward, cause that is exactly what he is but not as bad as the other dude, Mencia. Carlos Mencia actually had a good show running on Comedy Central, then it got canceled, and he hasn’t really been in much since. Then he gets this script, and if I was the director I would choose anyone: George Lopez, Erik Estrada, hell even Speedy Gonzales, would be a better choice than this failed funnyman. Mencia has that hammy, terrible comedic timing, that all comedians-turned-actors dread, and for some reason I actually felt pity for Mencia, something I don’t ever want to feel again.

Consensus: Our Family Wedding may be a good movie for the family, but other than that is just written awfully, with its contrived plot, and even worse jokes, with performances that just turn out to be awkward.

3/10=SomeOleBullShitt!!!!!

The Air I Breathe (2007)

Ehh, could have been better.

Kevin Bacon, Forest Whitaker, Brendan Fraser and Sarah Michelle Gellar co-star in this Jieho Lee-directed drama that mines four basic human emotions — love, pleasure, sadness and joy — for cinematic inspiration. A banker discovers true happiness, a mobster finds hope, a celebrity sees life lose its luster and a doctor wrestles with matters of the heart that can’t be addressed within the confines of an operating room.

For me and this film I was expecting so much. I love these kind of inter-twining stories, with a great ensemble, and instead what i got was just mediocre.

The film is directed by Jieho Lee, who is all known for his crazy Japanese music videos, and you can tell this is a directorial debut just by the sloppiness of the film. The writing isn’t top-notched but isn’t terrible. Some lines I heard were cheesy, and weren’t believable, but the philosophical beliefs of these four themes are what were interesting to see play out in this film. The most interesting story in the beginning, is honestly the best, but then is cut so short. Why this happened?? Needed more time for great lines belched out by Brenden Fraser.

The random tastes of humor that jumped in and out of this film actually kind of threw me off cause I was confused on whether or not to take this film seriously, or take it seriously. The stories start to get a little less interesting by the third story, because they lost the emotional flair that the first two had.

The one thing that did it for me was the great performances from its cast. Whitaker for as long as he’s in the film does a great job and actually brings the whole heart to this film, more than you could think. Fraser is OK, I guess, but i couldn’t quite take him seriously as this big and tough mobster, because the whole time I was thinking about George of The Jungle. The best performance here surprisingly is Sarah Michelle Gellar who actually gives a knock-out performance as her talented and socially disturbed pop-star who makes some scenes that could have came out as corny, actually believable.

Consensus: The Air I Breathe tries hard to be something its not, with its not so creative inter-twining plot, and use of different methods of screenplay writing, but is saved by its enchanting performances from its cast.

5/10=Rental!!!