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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

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

Tag Archives: Gretchen Mol

3:10 to Yuma (2007)

Most cold-blooded killers are, after all, misunderstood.

Ben Wade (Russell Crowe) has been on the run, gun slingin’, robbin’, killin’, and committing all sorts of crimes that have him number one on every person’s bounty list. However, Wade is a pretty ruthless man, to where he can get away from anyone looking to reel him in for justice; it also helps that he’s got the helping hand of his band of fellow thugs, especially his go-to-guy, Charlie (Ben Foster). But eventually, Ben gets caught by the local law and ready for the 3:10 train to take him to Yuma. But in order to get him there, he’ll have to be transported among many lines, where everyone is looking to take Ben down and get a little piece of the reward-money pie. However, Dan Evans (Christian Bale) is just looking to do this so that he can get some money, save his farm, and go home to his family, where he can feel like a responsible man again. As expected though, the trip goes through all sorts of bumps, bruises, and plenty of violence, where one thing leads to another, and it’s never very clear if Ben will ever get on that train and behind bars, like he should.

"Hold it! I'm not Batman here, but other places. Kind of."

“Hold it! I’m not Batman here, but other places. Kind of.”

3:10 to Yuma is the rare kind of Western that not only revitalizes the genre, but also proves why it’s so great in the first place. It doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel of the genre, make up new rules, and play by its own game, but instead, take everything that you know and love from all those other classics, bring them together, and let you have a great time. It’s as if it’s own beast, entirely, even if, yeah, it’s actually a remake, too.

Still, even if 3:10 to Yuma isn’t the most original story out there, it more than makes up for it in all the thrilling, exciting and rather unpredictable action-sequences that take place over its two-hours. James Mangold is a perfect fit for this material, because he knows exactly how to make it all crackle and pop, without ever seeming like he’s out of his depth. Even though Mangold sure does love to jump around from genre to genre, with sheer reckless abandon, it seems like the action-genre may be the one he sticks with, not just because he seems to enjoy it the most, but because he actually seems to know what he’s doing with it, as opposed to those like Michael Bay, or McG.

Why on Earth did I just mention McG’s name?

Anyway, moving on. 3:10 to Yuma more than gets by with its action, but at the heart of it all, and perhaps what makes it more than just another fun and exciting romp through the Old West, is that it’s also the tale of two interesting, challenging, and complex men. Both Christian Bale and Russell Crowe put in great work here, going beyond the silly accents, and showing that there’s more to these two guys. Crowe’s Wade may be a ruthless, toothless (not really, he has quite the set of chompers), and almost sadistic killer, but he’s also got a set of morals and he’s quite the charmer. Whereas, on the other side of the coin, Bale’s Dan is a man with plenty of morals, a simpleton, and family man, but at the same time, won’t hesitate to kill, if he ever has to.

Ben Foster. Up to his usual tricks of not taking a shower to prep for a role.

Ben Foster. Up to his usual tricks of not taking a shower to prep for a role.

Both men are different, yes, but they’re also quite alike in many ways, too, and it’s what makes 3:10 to Yuma quite compelling to watch.

Even when the action is gone for a short while and everyone’s sitting around a fire, eating beans, chewing the fat, it’s still entertaining to watch; the cast is so good, the characters so well-defined, and the script is actually polished. And with Bale and Crowe’s performances, we get to see two men who, despite being on opposites of the social spectrum, still respect the other enough to know where they come from, what their ideals are, and why they are, the way they are in the world. It almost comes close to a bromance, except for the fact that they do try and kill each other every so often, but even then, who knows.

Bromances work in mysterious ways, sometimes.

But anyway, aside from both Crowe and Bale, the ensemble’s a pretty good one. A very young Logan Lerman shows that he can hold his own as Dan’s son; Dallas Roberts plays the sheriff who has to take Wade in with Dan and shows that even the scrawniest of men, with a gun, can still kind of be bad-ass; Peter Fonda shows up and brings some class; Kevin Durand is, as expected, pretty crazy; Luke Wilson has a fun cameo; and Ben Foster, as Wade’s right-hand man, is so crazy, so deranged and so evil, that he almost ends up stealing the show. But still, it’s Bale’s and Crowe’s show to the end and when they’re together, their scenes never stop igniting the spark and make you wish that they’d work together more and more. It doesn’t even have to be in Westerns.

Couldn’t hurt, though.

Consensus: Even if it’s still a Western through and through, 3:10 to Yuma is a tense, exciting and incredibly well-acted piece of entertainment.

8 / 10

Look at 'em. Trying so hard not to make-out and measure sizes.

Look at ’em. Trying so hard not to make-out and measure sizes.

Photos Courtesy of: AV Club, Rotten Tomatoes 

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Manchester by the Sea (2016)

Life’s a little sad. So just take the boat out.

Lee Chandler (Casey Affleck) lives a pretty sad life. Most of the time, when he’s not cleaning out toilets, fixing sinks, or working on pipes in four apartment complexes, he’s spending most of the time drinking at the bar, getting drunk and starting brawls with people. However, his life is shaken-up a tad bit when his older brother (Kyle Chandler) dies of a sudden heart-attack, leaving Lee to pick up after his brother and become the legal guardian to the son, Patrick (Lucas Hedges). This means that Lee has to return to his hometown, watch over Patrick for the time being, take care of his brother’s affairs and figure out where to go next. But there’s something going on deeper and darker underneath Lee that makes his travel back down memory lane a whole lot more disturbing and it involves his ex-wife (Michelle Williams), who is still reeling from the affects of a tragedy she and Lee both had gone through when they were together, some many years ago.

Writer/director Kenneth Lonergan has such a distinctive ear for dialogue, it’s a wonder why more of his movies haven’t worked. You Can Count on Me, while perhaps his most famous, is a good movie, that’s still outdone by its quirks and Margaret, even despite all of the setbacks and controversies during production, is still an uneven, overblown, and occasionally interesting movie that gets outdone by Lonergan not having enough focus. But here, all of those issues and problems there, seem to have gone away. Now, with Manchester by the Sea, Lonergan has found focus, he’s found humor, he’s found heart, he’s found self-control, and most importantly, he’s found a great cast who almost never let him down, or let-up in giving him the best that they can.

manchester2

Uh oh. Get the Kleenex ready, boys.

So, what the hell took so long?

Regardless of the “whys”, or “whos”, of that inane question, Manchester by the Sea is one of the better dramas I’ve seen in quite some time, but it isn’t quite what you’d think. Sure, it’s a little sad, it’s a little depressing and it’s definitely a little hard-to-watch, but all feels real, raw and gritty, to the point of where it never rings true or feels overdone. Rather than just making this a sad movie, about sad people, Lonergan finds smart, small and interesting ways to not just inject some humor into the proceedings, but also have us more interested in these characters in the first place.

Rather than just being a tale about sad people being sad, Lonergan takes it one, small step forward and shows us why they’re sad in the first place, how they cope with it all, how they get by, and most importantly, how they all connect with one another. Manchester by the Sea is one of the rare drama’s where you may actually get excited by the sight of watching a bunch of characters gather into one room and just speak to one another; Lonergan, despite a heavy theater background, knows how real people talk and express themselves, without ever seeming like he’s reaching too far and wide to show that. We could have all easily been turned off and away from this sad, repressed world that Manchester by the Sea shows us, but Lonergan does the smart thing in that he embraces it all and shows that, underneath all of the quiet, dark moments, there’s some light and love found in there, too.

Which is why Manchester by the Sea is far better than most indie dramas out there.

Sure, it embraces the darkness and sadness its characters represent, but also doesn’t just wallow in its own misery, either; the movie takes pride in building its characters, showing them for all that they are, and never passing any judgement. A movie like this, with these kinds of characters, could have easily came off as pandering, or even rude, but Lonergan seems to adore each and everyone of these characters, warts and all, that after awhile, it’s hard not to follow suit. They’re not all perfect, they’ve all got issues, they’ve all got benefits, and they’ve all something about them that’s just not, for lack of a better term, “troubling”, but then again, so does everyone on Earth. This idea that we’re actually sitting around, watching real life people, talk and engage with one another, makes it not just easier to relate to them all, but come closer and closer to loving them all, as well.

Ain't nothing like a brother's keeper.

Ain’t nothing like a brother’s keeper.

Oh and yeah, it helps that the ensemble is pretty amazing, too. Casey Affleck is a pretty great actor, but over the past few years, hasn’t quite shown it. He’s been a little out of the spotlight, occasionally popping up in supporting roles, or being giving leading roles without much mainstream appeal, but here, as Lee Chandler, he gets the best role of his career and he makes every second work. Right from the start, there’s something interesting about this guy that makes us want to see how he lives his life, how he talks to people and generally, how he gets by. Affleck shows us that there’s more to him than just this downtrodden and slightly alcoholic shadow of a man – he shows that there’s a living, breathing and feeling human being that wants so desperately to get by in life, but for reasons that come very clear to us in the middle of the movie, just can’t. It’s a raw, gritty performance that doesn’t always go for the big emotions, but when it does, Affleck shines through it all and shows that he’s dangerously on the cusp of breaking out for the whole world to know his name and face.

Why it hasn’t happened yet, is totally beyond me.

As his brother, Kyle Chandler makes the best of what he can, what with the flashback structure popping in and out whenever it wants. However, as much as flashbacks can sometimes ruin a flick and seem obvious, above all else, it works here and helps make us understand more about these characters, as well as Chandler’s dead brother-character, who we see as a loving, adoring brother who was always there for his little bro, even when it was nearly impossible to do so. Despite playing the conventional role of the angst-y teen, Lucas Hedges does a nice job as the orphaned nephew in that he shows us a kid trying to come to terms with his life, where it’s heading and exactly who his family is. He has a nice bit of chemistry with Affleck that shows that there is some sort of a relationship there, but still clearly needs to be worked on.

However, the real standout in maybe just four or five scenes is Michelle Williams, showing up occasionally as Affleck’s ex-wife. While it may surprise some that she’s not in here a whole lot, every scene that Williams gets, she makes count for all that it’s worth; she’s funny, smart and dramatic, sometimes, all at the same time. There’s one key scene late in the movie where her and Affleck’s run into one another on the streets and it’s hard-to-watch by how emotional it gets. It shows that as long as the material is there, you can give an actress a small role and watch her work wonders for the whole product.

Not that Manchester by the Sea needed much help in the first place, because it’s quite great, but it’s definitely nice to have.

Consensus: At times, it’s funny and light, others, it’s dark, dramatic and sad, but no matter what, Manchester by the Sea is an expertly crafted and acted character-piece about life, love, regret, family and heartbreak, without ever coming off as melodramatic as it may sound.

9 / 10

It's okay. Go crabbing. Feel better about yourself.

It’s okay. Go crabbing. Feel better about yourself.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

Celebrity (1998)

Never mind. I’m fine with being a peasant.

After divorcing his wife, Lee (Kenneth Branagh) now has a new mission in life and that’s to be dive deeper and further into the entertainment industry, where he’ll be able to wine and dine with all sorts of celebrities, be a part of their lives, and see the world through their eyes. However, Lee gets too close to some and often times, he finds himself struggling to keep himself calm, cool, and collected, while all sorts of decadence and debauchery is occurring around him. Meanwhile, Lee’s ex-wife, Robin (Judy Davis) is trying her hardest to live life without fully losing it. While she’s working at a talent agency, she doesn’t really know where to go next with her love life. That is, until she meets the charming and successful TV producer Tony (Joe Mantegna), who not only strikes up a romance with her, but also brings her into the celebrity-world – the same one that Lee himself seems to be way too comfortable in.

Pictured: Not Woody Allen

Pictured: Not Woody Allen

In the same sort of spirit he had with Deconstructing Harry a year earlier, Celebrity finds Woody Allen with a fiery passion to get something off of his chest. However, instead of throwing all of his anger around towards those around him who he holds most near and dear to his life, Woody positions everything towards the whole celebrity culture in and of itself. Which isn’t to say that he makes fun of celebrities and mainstream talent (which he does do), but more or less that he criticizes the whole idea of being an actual “celebrity”; in Woody’s eyes, it isn’t if you have any talent, per se, is what makes you the biggest and brightest celebrity, sometimes it just matters who you’ve slept with and whether or not you’re at the right place, at the right time.

Sounds pretty smart and interesting, right? And heck, you’d even assume that someone who has to deal with celebrities, pop-culture, and tabloid sensations as much as Woody Allen has had to, that there would be some shred of humanely brutal truth, eh?

Well, unfortunately, Celebrity is not that kind of movie.

Instead, it’s one where Woody Allen tries to recycle old themes and ideas that he’s worked with before, but this time, with a much larger ensemble, more unlikable characters, way more of a disjointed plot, and well, the biggest issue of all, no originality or fun. Even in some of Woody’s worst features (of which there are quite a few), you do sort of get the sense that he’s still having fun, even if he doesn’t totally feel any sort of passion or creativity within the project itself. Here, with Celebrity, a part of me wonders where the inspiration actually began – I already know where it ends (at the very beginning of the flick), but why did Woody want to make this movie, about these characters, and using this story?

The question remains in the air, as there’s so many characters to choose from, it’s hard to really pin-point which one’s are actually more annoying and underdeveloped than certain others. But to make that decision a little easier for yourself, just watch whatever Judy Davis and Kenneth Branagh are doing here because, oh my, they’re quite terrible. And honestly, I don’t take any pride in saying any of that; both are extremely likable and interesting talents who have honestly knocked it out of the park, more times than they’ve actually struck out, but for some reason here, they’re incredibly miscast.

Seeing as how he never worked with Woody before, it’s understandable why Branagh was miscast, but Judy Davis?

Really, Woody?!?

Anyway. the biggest issue with Davis is that her character is so over-the-top, neurotic and crazy, that you almost get the sense that she’s doing a parody of what a crazy person should look, act and feel like. It’s never believable for a second and just seems like an act, above everything else. Then again, when compared to Branagh’s impersonation of Allen, Davis almost looks Oscar-worthy, because man oh man, he’s even worse. Though it’s never been too clear who’s idea it was to have Branagh act-out in every Woody-mannerism known to man (I say it was Woody’s, but hey, that’s just me), either way, it doesn’t work and just hurts Branagh; his constant flailing around, stuttering, pausing, and general awkwardness is painful to watch because, like with Davis, we know he’s acting. We never get a sense that he’s actually “a person”, but more or less, “a character” that Woody has written and made into another version of him.

Bebe knows best.

Bebe knows best.

And while nobody else is bad as Davis and Branagh, they’re not really all that much better, either. In fact, despite the huge list of impressive names, no one here really stands-out, or is ever given as much time as they should; Joe Mantegna and Famke Janssen are probably the only two who get actual real time in the spotlight, whereas all of the names get pushed to the side for what can sometimes be constituted as “glorified cameos”. Even Leonardo DiCaprio, in his very young-form, shows up, curses a lot, assaults Gretchen Mol at least a dozen times, snorts coke, has sex, and never hits a single comedic-note.

Of course though, that’s not Leo’s, or anybody else’s fault, except for Woody Allen himself.

While it may appear like Celebrity is Woody’s worst, it really isn’t; it’s got a funny moment or two spliced between all of the silly love-triangles and pretentious speeches, but there’s not enough. And honestly, Woody really missed the opportunity on reeling in to Hollywood and the celebrity-culture itself. Clearly, he knows a thing or two about it, so why not let your feelings heard loud and clear for the whole wide world?

Couldn’t hurt, right?

Consensus: Despite an immensely stacked and talented list of actors, Celebrity fails by not being funny, interesting, or original enough of a Woody Allen comedy, that sometimes wants to be satire, but then, other times, doesn’t want to be.

3.5 / 10

They've stopped following Gretchen around, but they haven't stopped following Leo. Thankfully.

They’ve stopped following Gretchen around, but they haven’t stopped following Leo. Thankfully.

Photos Courtesy of: A Woody a Week

Anesthesia (2016)

AnesthesiaposterLife sucks on so many fronts.

Professor Walter Zarrow (Sam Waterston) is coming up on his last day of teaching after nearly 40 years and now, he’s starting to put a lot of his life into perspective. His son, Adam (Tim Blake Nelson), is going through an issue of his own when he finds out that his wife has cancer and needs to have surgery immediately. Meanwhile, a student of Walter’s (Kristen Stewart), is dealing with and trying to come to terms with her depression, that can sometimes lead her to deadly and dangerous thoughts. While this is happening, Sarah (Gretchen Mol), a suburban housewife is getting tired of her husband running around on her and leaving her with the kids, which is when she starts to think long and hard about what it is that she wants to do with her life, or if she even wants to stay married in the first place. Then, there’s Joe (K. Todd Freeman), an acclaimed writer who is now suffering from an addiction to heroin; one that his brother (Michael K. Williams) wants to resolve and fix as soon as possible. And then there’s Sam (Corey Stoll) and Nicole (Mickey Sumner) a couple who, for some odd reason, are out on a trip where they talk about life, love and what their current situation is.

Cheer up, K-Stew. Life for you, is getting better and less controversial.

Cheer up, K-Stew. Life for you, is getting better and less controversial.

So yeah, as you can tell, there’s a lot going on in Anesthesia, and while it may seem like none of the stories have anything to do with the other, once time begins to roll on, it’s easy to piece together the pieces of familial-tree in which we can see why this story is being told and what their overall significance is to the story. Does it really work? Not really, but writer/director Tim Blake Nelson, gives it all that he’s got, offering us a handful of stories that can occasionally spark interest and life into a pretty depressed tone, but still sometimes feel like there’s a whole lot missing.

For instance, the main story here is Waterston’s Walter character who, having seen plenty of the world and done a lot for the young, impressionable youth out there, has finally come to terms with the fact that his career is coming to an end. Waterston, as well as the rest of the ensemble, is great here and clearly gives this character his all, but he’s really the only fully-developed character here as we get to see everything about this guy, without any questions left up in the air as to why he is, the way he is. Everybody else, on the other hand, isn’t so lucky and it’s a bit of a shame because, once again, Nelson’s got a lot going on here that’s, on the surface, intriguing, but is all put together and cobbled-up in an-hour-and-a-half movie, that no plot seems to get as much attention as they should.

Even the ones that are, perhaps, the most compelling of all, still have to side the bench for some stories that are far more dull and boring.

One of the later stories in question is Kristen Stewart’s in which she doesn’t do much except look sad, act a bit crazy and question life’s meaning. That’s about it. Considering that Stewart has been showing more and more promise as an actress in the past year or so, it’s a bit of a shame that she’s given such a limited-role to work with here, but once again, it’s less of her fault, as much as it’s Nelson’s for giving it to her and not getting rid of it all completely. And this would have definitely been a smart idea, so long as it meant that there was more room for such stories like Stoll’s and Sumner’s – both of whom are fantastic here and, quite frankly, I’d love to see in their own movie, removed from all of the other sadness going on around here.

And really, the only reason I’m focusing so much on these subplots, is because that’s all the movie is made-up of, without much rhyme or reason. Nelson, from what it seems, is only trying to tell us, with Anesthesia, that life is connected in some sad, utterly depressing ways.

And yeah, that’s about it.

You too, Glen!

You too, Glen!

We get this and understand this clearly from the very beginning and while it’s still interesting to see how some of these small stories play-out in their own, mini ways, there’s still a feeling that a lot is being left out. Of course, having to deal with such a huge cast, Nelson himself probably ran into scheduling issues and couldn’t get each and every actor in the movie together for one scene, but that wasn’t as much of my problem, as much as it was that some weak stories, got in the way of the more engaging, stronger ones, leaving a good portion of Anesthesia to feel as if it’s constantly starting and stopping back up. While it’s admirable that Nelson doesn’t shine a judgmental light on any of these characters, at the same time, there’s only so much we can handle when watching certain characters not do anything of interest, just sit there, argue and talk about things we don’t really have any prior knowledge about.

In ways, the movie can sometimes feel like we’re walking into a party late, only to then realize that either everybody’s been acquainted, too drunk, or already friends with one another, to the point where you almost don’t want to bother introducing yourself or joining in on the fun. You’ve already shown up later than everyone else, they’re now looking at you and they don’t really care because, honestly, they’re getting on fine just without you. Of course, the actual viewing-experience of Anesthesia isn’t as harsh as I may write it out to be, but it is still, in no way, a party you want to be apart of or fully invested in.

Maybe eavesdropping or scoping out from across the room is fine, but that’s about it.

Consensus: Given the cast and crew involved, Anesthesia should hit harder than it does, but instead, focuses on a slew of subplots that can occasionally engage, but never fully-developed.

5 / 10

Just be with Charlie Skinner and everything will be fine.

Just be with Charlie Skinner and everything will be fine.

Photos Courtesy of: Indiewire

True Story (2015)

Got to look out for those charming serial killers; they’re the hardest ones to loathe.

After being publicly shamed and fired for fibbing about a story he did on child-slavery in Africa, ex-New York Times journalist Michael Finkel (Jonah Hill) is left jobless, depressed and desperate to find any sort of work that may possibly come his way. Eventually though, work does eventually find its way to him – however, just not in the ways he had intended. After being on the run from the feds for the alleged murder of his wife and two kids, Christian Longo (James Franco) fled to Mexico, where he went under a false identity; who also just so happen to be Mike Finkel. Though Longo didn’t get away with this, the real Mike Finkel still finds plenty of interest in this and, seeing a book-deal in the horizon somewhere, decides to jump on the opportunity right away to interview Longo, get to know him better, and eventually, figure out the truth about just what the hell happened and whether or not Longo even committed the crime to begin with. Eventually though, Mike’s obsession with Longo’s life begins to grow almost too serious, which is when Mike’s fiancee (Felicity Jones) sees that it’s time to step in and check out what this Christian Longo guy is all about, if anything at all.

What we have on our hands here, folks, is the classic case where the real, true-to-life story the movie’s discussing and adapting, is way more interesting than the movie itself ever turns out to be. That’s not to say that there aren’t bits and pieces of True Story that don’t sizzle, pop and crackle, as reading this story straight from its Wikipedia page would, but there’s something to say about a movie where it’s constantly made clear that you’ll probably want to read the actual details on what really happened, rather than taking this movie’s word for it.

Pack your bags up, Jonah! You've got more movies with Marty Scorsese to do!

Pack your bags up, Jonah! You’ve got more movies with Marty Scorsese to do!

Because hey, Hollywood lies and they can’t always be trusted.

However, in True Story‘s case, there seems to be too many creative-licenses taken at times that makes this feel like a jumbled-up mess, when it sure as hell didn’t need to be. For instance, the inclusion of Felicity Jones’ character never makes sense here and, on more than a few occasions, takes away from what could have been a thoughtful, intriguing piece about the mental cat-and-mouse games we sometimes play on those who we feel are equal enough to us to play back. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some Felicity Jones and considering that she’s red hot right after her Oscar-nominated performance in the Theory of Everything, I’m especially happy to see her be able to take center-stage against the likes of Franco and Hill, but when her scenes with them are supposed to bring some heartfelt emotions, they can’t help but ring false.

And most of this can be attributed to the fact that this is director Rupert Goold’s first time behind the camera, and it damn well shows. According to what I’ve read (because people do that, you know?), Goold comes from a long history of theater and directing plays, which makes total sense; some of the best parts of this film are when it’s simply just two or more people, sitting in a room, talking to one another, and seeing what shoe drops next. Most of these scenes include both Hill and Franco talking to one another, but it works so well because not only are these two actors solid here, but their characters have genuine tension together that you don’t know whether they’re going to take out weapons and start brawling, or rip-off each other’s clothes, shut the lights off, and start making some sweet, hot and sexy love.

Either turnout seems interesting and more than likely, especially considering that these two seem so incredibly comfortable with one another, that even when they aren’t supposed to be laugh-out-loud stoners making us laugh, they’re die hard thespians that try to one-up the other, in any way that they can. In some ways, it’s less of a mind game between these two characters, and more of a mind game between these two actors, who definitely make the movie all the better by showing up, ready to work.

Goes to show you that it’s not such a problem to change things up every once and awhile and get downright serious with your work.

Franco, so smug right now.

Franco, so smug right now.

But Franco and Hill, as hard as they try, aren’t fully capable of keeping this movie above the water for long enough to where the problems within aren’t noticeable. Like I mentioned before, Goold comes from a theater background, and because of this, when he gets right down to making this story about something, rather than just about two guys talking to one another and constantly lying about what may have, or may not have happened on some fateful date in their lives, he stumbles a whole heck of a lot. There’s a point here to be made about the state of modern-day journalism, and how some people are so willing to stay successful and famous for as long as they can, that no matter what, they’ll cover whatever comes their way, but even that feels oddly-placed in a movie that doesn’t know who it wants to judge, or what it wants to say about these people.

Judging from this movie, Mike Finkel isn’t the best journalist who lied about his story to get it past the editing process and hopefully make him a huge star. That didn’t happen, and because of that, we’re supposed to feel sorry for him, even if the movie makes it seem clear that what he does after losing his job, is all the more humiliating. Then, at the same time, it still can’t help but to judge him for jumping on something as odd as Longo’s case, which is where the movie got odd. Is it against Finkel as a person? As a journalist? Or, as somebody who wanted to hold onto any sort of fame he could grasp a hold of?

Whatever the point to it all may have been, it’s hard to put a finger on. Even if Hill and Franco, yes, do seem to be trying here. And, most importantly, don’t seem all that stoned.

Okay, maybe a little.

Consensus: True Story gets most of its mileage out of the solid performances from Hill and Franco, but everything else about is messy, ill-formed and almost too over-dramatic to be considered “the truth”, even if the movie loves spouting that fact many times throughout.

6 / 10

PDA?

PDA?

Photo’s Credit to: IMDB, AceShowbiz

Donnie Brasco (1997)

Forget about it?

New York mobster Lefty (Al Pacino) walks into his usual diner, starts talking up a storm with some guy named “Don the Jeweler” (Johnny Depp), figures out that the ring he just bought his girlfriend was a Fugazi, takes him out to find the guy, gets his money back, and badda-bing, badda-boom, the deal is done. However, Lefty doesn’t want to just say “bye” to Don and be done with him forever – he wants him to be apart of his mob, walk him through the ranks so that one day, Donnie will be the new crime boss that everybody obeys and looks up to. Donnie has those aspirations too, but the problem is that his real name is Joseph Pistone and he’s not all that he seems to be. Rather, he’s an FBI informant that’s been working the streets for about two years now, and he’s getting more and more tied into this underground life, and leaving his other life, the one with his wife (Anne Heche) and kids, on the back-burner as if it almost doesn’t exist.

I honestly could not tell you how many times I’ve seen this movie. I want to say the perfect, rounded-up amount is probably ten-and-a-half times, but I can’t be too sure because it’s probably a whole lot more than what I can remember. Hell, probably a couple of drunken-views may have happened in there as well. Either way, whatever the total amount is, doesn’t matter, because each and every time I’ve watched this flick, not only have I liked it even more, but I get to see more and more about it, especially since, as a film fanatic, my eyes have been opened a bit wider to what makes a movie work, and what doesn’t.

"Ew, fugetaboutit!"

“Ew, fugetaboutit!”

However, I still have yet to call this movie a “favorite” of mine, and here’s exactly why: The problem I have with this movie is that, after all of the times I’ve seen this and plenty other movies of the same nature, I’ve come to realize that the “FBI-informant” story has all been dead by now. We get it; whenever you take a regular, FBI agent, throw him into a world where he has to have that one identity and nothing else, then most likely, that dude’s going to get thrown in there too deep. It’s what we see with every undercover-cop flick, and it doesn’t make it all the better or more original. It’s just there.

But there is that one aspect to this movie that makes that problem sort of go away: The drama involved here between the characters and the situation we have on our hands here. Everybody in this flick is essentially a cliché of what it’s like to be apart of the mob. Greased, slicked-back hair? Check. A bunch of Italian, mobster slang used that makes no sense? Double check. Paying for a coffee or a drink with a wad of cash? Way too many checks. An over-the-top scene of an act of violence to prove how much you do not want to get all tangled-up in with the mob? You got it. People getting whacked? Well now, would it be a mobster movie if it didn’t at least have one or two or more scenes that include that act?

I’ll allow for that last, hypothetical question to rest in your mind.

So, with all of that said, you see where I’m going with this? If not, follow through. The aspect behind this movie that makes it work, despite all of the obvious conventions and happenings of the usual mobster movie, is that there’s actual, real-life emotion involved with this story and the characters that inhabit it. Rather than making Joe, or “Donnie”, the type of FBI informant that’s way too in over his head, is a bit of a bastard for throwing his family to the side and focusing a little bit too much attention on the task at hand, the movie shows him off as being a troubled-soul, yet, one that knows what mission he has to complete, and to do it by any means necessary. Sure, he has to get his hands dirty a couple of times and may even have to pull off some risky moves of his own, but he knows that he has to get the job done and the movie paints him more as a regular-guy, who just so happened to stick to his guns, in more ways than one. I don’t want to call him a “hero” per se, but I do want to call him an inspiration to most people who feel like they can’t go through something because the shit’s too deep or too dangerous. And I’m not just talking about FBI informants – I’m talking about anybody, dammit!

Then, something strange with this movie begins to happen: You start to feel a bit wrapped-up in this world just as much as Joe does. Once Joe realizes that not all of these mobster-figures are as bad or as dastardly as they may seem from the outside, he begins to wonder whether or not he should fully go through with it, and if he does decide to actually say, “Yeah, arrest all their asses”, he still wonders whether or not it’s the right thing to do or if he should leave a couple people out of it. It’s a problem for us, almost as much as it is a problem for Joe, and it gets you more and more involved with the material, regardless of if you know how it all turns out. Obviously no major Hollywood production is going to fund a movie where the real-life protagonist gets killed, but you still feel like any chance the dude has to lose his cover, he will, and become a victim of it so.

Don't worry, honey. Just fugettaboutit.

Don’t worry, honey. Just fugettaboutit.

Very smart writing and directing on both sides of the camera, but in front of it all is the two stars we have on our hands here, none other than Johnny Depp and Al Pacino themselves. This was the first movie where I think Johnny Depp really broke-out of his shell, showed us that he could actually “act”, and, despite what his good looks may have you believe, make it seem like he’s a real person, with real problems, marital ones and whatnot. Depp’s character may go through the usual trip of where he gets in way too deep and can barely get out without keeping his hands clean, but it’s Depp himself who keeps his head above the water, allowing us to believe in him no matter how scary certain situations may get for him. There’s a real sense of likability and regularity to Depp here, that I wish he would just go back to, at least one more time. That is, before he gets back together with Gore Verbinski and starts acting all nutty and cuckoo again. Why Johnny?!?! Why not come back to the real world?!?!

As great as Johnny is here, though, he’s definitely not the one who walks away with the flick. Leave that recognition to Al Pacino, playing, yet again, another mob boss that has a bit of anger-issues and problems on the inside, but keeps them more bottled-in than what we’re used to seeing with this type of character, or even the way Pacino usually plays them. What’s so great about Pacino playing Lefty is that, we get that this guy is not perfect and definitely has some control issues that get in the way of his better-judgement at times, but we still feel like he’s a good guy, underneath the phis-age and all. In fact, we know it, it just rarely comes out in the most obvious, hackneyed way you’d expect from a movie such as this. Pacino yells and hollers at times, but he keeps it surprisingly subdued and quiet as well, and that’s probably some of the best parts of this movie. Actually, mainly the ones with Depp and Pacino together, because you can tell that they form a bond that’s like a father-son combo, but also one that feels like it could be best friends as well. It’s sad to see them together, but you can’t help but feel something for them both, especially Lefty, who feels like an old man who will just never, ever get it right in the world that he lives in. Poor guy.

Same can sort of be said for the rest of the rag-tag mobsters that these two hang with. Michael Madsen, Bruno Kirby, and James Russo all play members of their mob and all do great jobs with the roles, especially Madsen who gives us his bad-boy charm that we all know and love, but also shows a bit more sympathy underneath it all, as if he too has something to prove to the people he surrounds himself with and aspires to be in the same shoes of one day. They’re all characters you’d expect to hate right off the bat, but they surprisingly have more heart and charm to them then you’d ever want to see in a flick like this. Just like the character of Joe’s stay-at-home-wife, played to perfection by Anne Heche, who not only shows us a real hard-edged woman that isn’t taking any shit from her hubby, but is also easy to sympathize with, despite her being a bit of a nag for bothering her husband about a job that not only pays the bills and gets the kids to school, but she knew about when she married him. She should be the vain of your humanity, but she’s written very realistically and performed very well by Heche herself, an actress who doesn’t get as much credit as she should.

Consensus: Though on page, Donnie Brasco should not work and be considered as conventional and predictable as they come, it surprisingly becomes a more emotional, compelling trip about what happens when a man gets too deep, can’t quite get himself out right away, but still has the screws in tight enough to get through it all. Sounds corny, but in the hands of Depp, Pacino, and the rest of the cast and crew, it’s very far from.

8.5 / 10

"I'm serious. Just forget about it."

“I’m serious. Just forget about it.”

Photos Courtesy of: Movpins

Laggies (2014)

I don’t wanna be told to grow up! Or get a job! Or get married! Or hate my life! Or, okay, it’s not all that bad, dammit!

28-year-old Megan (Keira Knightley) has come to realize that her life isn’t really going anywhere, but nor does she want it to. She’s happy staying with her high school sweetheart (Mark Webber), even if that means that they never get married; she doesn’t care about not really having her own job and just holding up signs for her dad (Jeff Garlin); and she especially doesn’t care about getting hitched and settling down like her best-friend (Ellie Kemper) has just done. But that all hits her head-on when she gets proposed to, finds her dad cheating on her mom, and has a few verbal-spars with her bestie. So, like what any other responsible, full-grown adult would do, Megan decides to run away and ends up hiding out with 17-year-old Annika (Chloe Grace Moretz) who says it’s cool for her to chill out at her place, so long as so as her divorced dad (Sam Rockwell) doesn’t get in the way of the fun. But, sooner or later, he does, but here’s the strange thing: It doesn’t bother Megan. Which makes it easy for them to hit it off, which also causes a lot of problems for Megan and the life she’s trying to escape from, yet, has to confront sooner or later.

Basically, this whole premise could be simplified down to being, “growing up is hard to do”, and there’d be nothing wrong with that. Which yes, I know may bother some of those far more thought-provoking, complex individuals out there who want a little bit more meat on their one, but for someone such as myself who just goes to the movies to have a good time, be interested in what I see, believe it all, and most of all, learn a lesson or two in the process, it’s time well-spent.

"Just make sure that you don't get stuck doing pirate movies. Especially not the ones where the lead pretends to be Keith Richards!"

“Just make sure that you don’t get stuck doing pirate movies. Especially not the ones where the lead pretends to be Keith Richards!”

And that’s exactly what Laggies is: Well-time spent. Don’t expect anything else, and you won’t get anything less.

That said, being that this is in fact a film from Lynn Shelton (she’s directing a script from Andrea Seigel), who, in recent years, we’ve all come to know as a very interesting indie director who takes something which looks, on paper, obvious, simple and almost too contrived for its own good, and turns it on its head and makes you expect the absolute unexpected, I can’t help but feel a tad disappointed that this isn’t as deep as I feel it could have gone. Not saying I would have wanted something as deliberately as cloying as Touchy Feely, but maybe something refreshing and breezy along the lines of Your Sister’s Sister, would have been a bit better. But the fact remains, we have a Lynn Shelton movie here on our hands and it’s a lot more polished than we’ve seen her do before.

So, with that, she’s dropped the hand-held cameras, hidden away the natural-lighting, and even let somebody else take over script-writing duties for her, which gives us a slightly mainstream-ish movie. But not mainstream in that it’s going to sell-out loads and loads of crowds, but moreso in the way that Shelton’s name will probably be heard of and/or discussed more because of the larger-amount of people seeing this. Which I’m happy for and hopeful actually happens; Shelton’s been a favorite of mine for quite some time and if this is the movie that gets her name out there out there to some who aren’t already familiar with her enough, then yeah, I’m all down for her “selling out”.

I just hope that she doesn’t make a habit of it.

Anyway, Shelton’s film may not be as deep as some may want it to be, but that’s okay; it’s still pleasant, funny, and smart in the ways that it presents these as-old-as-time coming-of-age themes, and spins them in a way to make them slightly refreshing. Not saying that I didn’t expect our main protagonist to learn some valuable life-lessons about being responsible, growing up, or keeping one’s promises, but the way in which the film presents these small moments, are well-done and surprised me on a few occasions. It’s totally predictable and conventional-as-hell, but if anything, Laggies proves that you can get by those problems by just putting a smile on, wearing your heart on your sleeve, and just trying to laugh it all off.

In fact, that’s exactly how I felt Keira Knightley’s character Megan was: Funny, ditsy, and immature to a fault, while also not caring about what happens to her life next, so long as she doesn’t have to grow up. And while, to some, this may not seem like the kind of character Knightley excels in (with an American accent, no less), it’s a role that actually works for her and her bright, bubbly screen-persona that sometimes shows in movies, yet, has never been utilized as perfectly as it is here. Because while it may have been easy for us to dislike a character as irresponsible and as narrow-minded as Megan, there’s still a feeling that we want to be like her; not care about getting old, or having to conform to certain ideas about being an adult. Yet, the movie never fully sympathizes with her, her actions, or how she can sometimes do certain things that hurt others around her. For that, we care more about her, and whether or not she does actually “grow up” at the end.

Swag doe.

Swag doe.

Same goes for Chloe Grace Moretz’s character, although she’s a bit more standard in that she’s another one of those wild child teenagers that’s sassy, rebellious, and chock full of angst. Not saying Moretz doesn’t do well in this role, because she totally does, it’s just not as rich as I think it could have been (with the exception of an angle the movie throws on us about the character’s not-present mother). But thankfully, to pick up all the pieces is Sam Rockwell who, as usual, is playing his cocky, fast-witted, and constantly lovable-self. Except this time, there’s a bit of a twist on this kind of character: He’s a daddy, with responsibilities. Still though, it’s a role that sees Rockwell using his lovely screen-presence to brighten the mood of any scene and, in ways, even add another heft of dramatic-weight to a scene that’s already full of it. He’s just that talented of an actor that no matter what he does or shows up in, he always makes better.

Please don’t stop doing what you’re doing, Sam. You’re too good at it.

Consensus: Predictable and obvious to a fault, Laggies mostly gets by on its lovely cast, pleasant feel, and relateable themes about growing up, making the right choices when you’re called on to do so, and sometimes, making sure you put somebody else before yourself.

7 / 10 = Rental!! 

Don't worry, Keira. You look great in no matter what you wear.

Don’t worry, Keira. You look great in no matter what you wear.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

The Shape Of Things (2003)

Those artsy chicks will always eff with your life.

When shy, insecure English student Adam (Paul Rudd) begins a relationship with radical art student Evelyn (Rachel Weisz), she takes charge of his life and brings about extreme emotional — even physical — changes in him, stirring the suspicions of his closest friends.

Writer/director Neil LaBute is a dude that seems to have fallen off his rocker within the past couple of years making flicks like Death at a Funeral, The Wicker Man, and Lakeview Terrace. Personally, I don’t know what the hell has been up with him but I think it’s time to take a look at how he was before he started losing his mind.

It’s great how LaBute structures this flick as a romantic comedy and ends up making it something that’s almost like a horror flick. With many of LaBute’s flicks we get many themes and points about humans and the emotions they have in top discussion and with this one here, it’s no different. LaBute brings up points about how we view love as. Love is something that most people would do anything for and it is definitely something that changes people, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worst. Here, we see it in two different ways: with Adam losing weight and being a lot happier, but then we also see how he isn’t making his own decisions and basically gets bullied around into doing things he doesn’t really think he’s capable of doing. Love is definitely something that’s powerful but it’s also shown and discussed here in a way that may think twice about the person you love or that loves you. Love isn’t the only subject discussed here but it’s the only one I came out thinking about because of the reality-based truth that LaBute brings out about it. There’s a whole lot of darkness and meaness behind this though and I couldn’t help but think that LaBute knew exactly what he wanted to say, how he wanted to just let it all out through these characters, and when exactly he wanted it to happen in the film. It may not seem that hard to make your words count but there’s just so much timing that goes behind it all that makes LaBute’s writing oh so perfectly.

LaBute actually adapted this film his own play and instead of making it into one big theatrical presentation, he actually just makes it exactly what it was in the first place. The film is about an hour and a half with 11 scenes taken place in 11 locations and a cast that has only four speaking parts. Yes, this is definitely like a play but I didn’t feel like this film was claustrophobic or quiet at all and keeps just about every scene moving with dialogue that pulls you in right from the get-go and never fully lets go. There’s definitely a lot of talking going on here but it’s talking that feels like real people talk rather than just another piece of “cinema talk”.

I will say though that there are some parts of this flick that I didn’t really like even though the writing definitely kept me distracted. Every time the film would transition from one scene to another, LaBute would bring out this random punk rock song that made it seem like I was watching a TV sitcom or another one of those crappy American Pie straight-to-dvd flicks. I honestly think that he could have just went from scene to scene with just silence and it would have been fine but it sort of made me feel like I was watching a whole different flick because of the music and then that all changed once the ending came up.

Another problem I had with this flick and my only complaint about this great script was that I couldn’t find myself caring much for any of the characters here except for maybe Adam, but even then, he was a little too chumpish. What LaBute does with all of his films is that he gives us characters that are just plain and simply bad people, and when I mean bad I mean like unmoral, and let us watch them as shit happens to them and they do shit onto other people. This usually works because it’s so damn interesting to watch things play out but for some odd reason I couldn’t help but think that this flick was really hard to watch just because these people were either total dicks or just people that you can’t really sympathize with. I will say though that this is one of LaBute’s specialties with just about every single one of his flicks and that’s not really something that I can say that I wasn’t expecting from a film that was done by him.

The four speaking roles are also great and make this film a lot better to watch then expected. Paul Rudd is very likable and goofy in a more nerdy than we’re used to seeing him here as Adam, and the transformation he goes through is believable but also very sad. This guy starts out as a total schlub of a guy but then starts to build up some confidence and self-esteem in him as soon as Evelyn walks into his life and then we start to see him lose weight and become a better person. Rudd is great at playing these types of likable and awkward dude roles but there’s an under-lining sense of darkness here beneath the surface and I think he gives one of his best performances that I’ve seen from him.

Rachel Weisz is also perfectly cast as Evelyn because she’s just one tough bitch that’s hard to like and enjoy but at the same time, you can’t help but realize that her presence throughout this whole flick is always known. We feel her in the room when she is around; we feel her presence when she isn’t around; and the other characters are always talking about her whether they criticize what she thinks or what she’s doing to Adam. Basically this chick is always brought up in this flick and with good reason because she’s a character that is so damn hard to read and is also one of those characters that always blurts out the truth whether or not it’s the right time to do so.

Gretchen Mol is also great in this role as this sweet girl, Jenny. It was such a huge surprise to see Mol do very well in a role that’s emotionally demanding because half of the time that I usually see her, she just gives the most wooden performance of all and totally fits this role well. Fred Weller is also perfectly cast as Phillip, aka one of the biggest dickheads I have seen on the screen in a pretty long time. Yes, Evelyn is pretty unlikable here but Phillip is even worse and just about every time I just wanted somebody to slump the hell out of this dude considering how condescending and pretentious he is. Still though, Weller is great with this character and once again, LaBute picked another great star for this role.

Consensus: The Shape of Things is definitely one of those flicks that has a whole lot of talking but features some great commentary on the way the world works with love, life, art, and what one person would do in order to be with the one that they loved and also features a great cast that ticks away just about every scene. Let me also not forget that there is a HUGE twist at the end that is definitely memorable and will have you thinking for a long, long time afterwards.

8/10=Matinee!!